Posts Tagged Writing

3 Mistakes that Will Make Readers Want to Punch a Book in the Face

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To do my job well, I do a tremendous amount of reading. Additionally, I make it a point to make sure I read different genres so I get a sense of what writers do well (or not so well) regardless of the type of story.

I’ve been inhaling Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series as of late and I got ahead of my credits so I decided instead to take advantage of Audible’s Daily Deal. It was a suspense from a legacy published author. The book had almost a thousand reviews and almost all of them four and five stars. So I figured, why not?

Take a chance.

Shoot. Me. Now.

That was me.

That was me.

The book was absolutely awful. I won’t say which book because I won’t do that to another author. I have a personal rule. If I can’t give a book 4 stars or more I just shut up. Three would be the minimum. Since this one was a solid TWO? Yeah, just shutting up.

And FYI, I was beginning to think I was being too hard on the book but then went and looked at the handful of bad reviews and they complained about the same things…so I had NOT lost my mind.

Anyway…

I kept listening, thinking, “Seriously, this has GOT to get better.” It didn’t. So instead of just complaining about the hours I wasted getting dragged through this awful book, I figured I could harvest it for some lessons about what mistakes we can avoid.

Mistake #1—Protagonist Too Dumb To Live

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Our protagonist doesn’t need to be likable. There are all kinds of examples of this in literature and movies. Often anti-heroes are pretty despicable folks. We simply need a way to emotionally connect with this character, to empathize. Often this is done by making a character’s goal empathetic (I.e. Breaking Bad) even if the means are ugly, or by juxtaposing this character against a greater evil (I.e. Pulp Fiction).

This said, our protagonist doesn’t need to be likable, but we as readers have to respect them. When characters are too dumb to live, it doesn’t matter how good or noble the cause we don’t care.

In the book I was reading the protagonist was in a bad crash and is suffering from amnesia. She awakens to realize someone close to her has been brutally murdered and she is the #1 suspect.

Over the course of this plot that moved with the momentum of frozen maple syrup, this character “remembers” that her sister who has been taking care of her on their isolated farm since the accident…is actually a violent sociopath.

She is assaulted with visions of this sibling very literally torturing her growing up (including one scene where the sister kills a cat slowly and makes her watch). Though she hasn’t remembered everything, any person with one eye and half sense, might at least come to the reasonable conclusion that perhaps the sister murdered this loved one and is now framing her.

Everyone but the protagonist apparently.

What does she do? She decides to return back to the isolated farm unarmed without telling anyone (even the cops) to confront her sister about her memories.

WHYYYYY?

WHYYYYY?

I get that characters should not be predictable. But they should NOT do stupid stuff simply because we need to move them to a certain “place.” Because devoid of any threat (I’m holding your best friend hostage and you better come alone. No guns and no cops) it just made this character a Class A Moron.

If her sister didn’t kill her, I wanted to.

Mistake #2—Protagonist is Passive

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The protagonists needs to be proactive, meaning actively going after a goal. This is one of the reasons passive goals really don’t work in fiction. It also needs to be something the character earns.  Frankly, I knew better than to pick up an amnesia book, but in light of the rave reviews I second-guessed myself.

The protagonist needed to solve the mystery using outside clues that had nothing to do with the missing memories. But the entire book was really just her getting snippets or memory back then reacting…until she got enough memories back and then it all was clear.

That’s cheating. She didn’t earn any kind of a victory. It was all a matter of “remembering” of regaining something she already possessed.

Passive goals will make fiction fizzle. It’s like “containing communism.” Didn’t work in Vietnam or Korea and won’t work in our story.

Any plot that involves “protecting,” “evading,” “avoiding” or “remembering” is usually at the very least half-baked. These are all passive goals. “Maintaining” is not a story-worthy verb.

Mistake #3—Cheating at the End (Twisting is NOT Cheating)

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We all love a good twist. Part of why I LOVE the Bosch books is they are tough to figure out and always serve up excellent surprises. Same with Dean Koontz. Twists are wonderful and we need to work to get good at writing them. No reader likes a book she can accurately (and easily) predict.

This does NOT mean we get weird.

There was another book I read recently form a MAJOR author who is a household name. This author did a fantastic job of creating a serial killer that I found truly terrifying, which is a tough thing to do since I’ve been rather desensitized over the years. I recall even telling my mother how AMAZING this villain was.

So I’m cooking along and this killer is always, I MEAN ALWAYS ahead of the FBI. Then we get to the ending and the author serves up the twist total BS bait and switch…

“ARE YOU FRIGGING KIDDING ME?”

See, thing was, this author gave no clues to the “twist” (meaning it doesn’t count as a twist). We need clues and hints along the way. We as readers need some slim chance we might figure it out.

The author just suddenly banking hard left? I call foul.

We can’t have a novel end with a twist that absolves us of writing a great ending. “And just as the dragon closed in, she woke up. It was all a DREAM!” It’s a variation of deus ex machina and it pisses us off.

Real twists, great twists evolve organically from the plot and the facts given along the way. There is no strange deviation no one could have seen.

Real twists? The good ones? The reason they kind of sucker punch us is we go, “Ah, hell! I thought that was weird then blew it off,” “Oh, why didn’t I see that?,” “It was right there all along.”

Endings are tough to write well, but so are beginnings and middles😛 . We should strive for a twist, but if we can’t make it work with what we’ve already supplied to the reader? HUGE RISK.

Twists are like plants. They only grow from seeds we already planted.

Anyway, there are other bugaboos that might make a reader want to punch a story in the face, but if we can avoid these big no-nos then were are going to be doing pretty well.

What are your thoughts? What are some things that make you stop reading? What characters make you just want to scream? Do you feel the same about twist cheating?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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97 Comments

The Hard Truth About Being a Professional Writer

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I happened to see this meme (above) on Facebook and I lost it laughing. This is such a great metaphor for what it is like to be a writer. In the beginning I was a rose, then I learned to become the dandelion. The dandelion might not be as pretty, but it is prolific and it is a survivor.

When I decided years ago to leave sales and become a writer, I had a far more glamorous idea of what it was like to be a professional writer (pieced together from movies). Additionally, it didn’t help that my first “novel” was so much fun to write.

Of course it was fun! I didn’t have to be constrained by these pesky things called “rules” and “craft.” I was like some kid banging away on a piano believing I was, in fact, making music.

Yet, when I joined a writing group and quickly learned how little I knew, there was this interesting change in my energy and how I approached writing.

Because now I had to think of things like “genre constraints”, “plot points”, “pinch points”, “pacing”, “scene and sequel” I found that all the fun rushed out of the process with the violent force of a depressurized jet liner. I started getting stuck. Then I’d flit from new idea to new idea trying to recapture the magic I’d once had.

Like all newbies I too started wanting to know how the pros found “inspiration” because the only thing I felt inspired to do was drink heavily and complain.

Thus, today we are going to talk about what it is really like to do this job.

When we are new, there are elements we believe we MUST have to be successful, when in truth? They are great, but seriously overrated.

Well, at least for the dandelion😉 …

Inspiration is Overrated

Seriously. I do believe inspiration is there and it is a necessary and vital ingredient of what we do, but it’s like trying to bottle a rainbow. We enjoy it when it appears then move on when it’s gone.

When I was new, I had to feel in the “mood” to write and if anything interrupted that mood? I withered.

I was like the rose in the image, needing the perfect Ph to bloom. When I got good, though was when I became the dandelion. Any crack I could work in? I did.

CONCRETE! WHOO! HOO!

Talent is Overrated

I have met countless writers far more talented than I am. Problem was, they never sat down and got their a$$es to work. Talent is useless unless it is employed. We still have to do the work. And, the more we write, the more “talented” we become.

I know what it is like to sit in a critique group and hear another (more talented) writer read…then to feel discouraged. But, what I found happened more times than not was that super talented writer rarely finished. So me getting discouraged was just a waste of writing time.

Bees (readers) visit a lot more dandelions than they do rose bushes with no blooms😉 .

Feelings are Overrated

Feelings lie. They are fickle and fleeting and secretly jealous when you pay attention to other things (like doing the work). One of the reasons I love writers (especially new writers) having a blog is it trains in discipline. Writing is a seriously tough job, especially in the beginning.

There is no evil boss who will write me up and fire me if I don’t get in my word count.

I have to be self-motivated.

Blogging trains in the discipline of a journalist. Journalists can’t wait to feel inspired to write about that five-alarm fire. They don’t have the luxury of reworking and reworking a piece because it isn’t worthy of a Pulitzer. Journalists have a finite amount of time to get the work done…then they SHIP.

Perfection is Overrated

One thing that will kill “inspiration” is to try to make the writing perfect. When we stop and fuss and futz with every sentence, we stall out. We leave a space for self-doubt, negativity and depression to creep in. Here’s the deal. No half-finished perfect book has ever become a NY Times best-seller, but a lot of crappy finished novels have.

Too may writers just are not giving permission to write that crappy first draft. Just write. Finish it. Then feel free to go back and refine. There is some really ugly hard work that is no fun that HAS to be done.

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Guess what? The more you write the better you get. The only way to become really good at writing novels….is to write novelS. As in plural. This is science so don’t argue.

Seriously, would you trust a brain surgeon who’d only performed surgery once?

Think about it.

Pretty Prose is Overrated

One thing that stalls a lot of writers is they are too busy trying to craft every sentence to be so beautiful it makes angels weep. This is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, this verbal glitter often comes at the expense of a story. Pretty prose does not a novel make. I’ve gotten lots of submissions from writers who had glorious prose…but there was no hook. No story. Nothing to draw me in.

Fiction is about one thing and one thing only. PROBLEMS. No problem? No story. Now, if we do have a problem and also the ability to weave in glorious prose? Awesome. Just we have to make sure we are not trying to substitute fancy language for actual story.

The next reason pretty prose is overrated is that if we use too much, it can actually harm the story. It’s jarring to the reader and adds nothing but confusion. Remember that this kind of prose is like super rich food. It’s incredibly tasty but we have to limit it and balance it with other lighter pairings or it’s too heavy (and makes the reader sick).

So what I hope you will take away from all of this is that writers write. Plain and simple. There are good days and bad days and days you will wake to the sound of your cat puking and the toilet overflows and the kid is sick, but it is still a job. It is a job that can be wonderful and rewarding and everything listed above—inspiration, talent, good feelings, perfection, pretty prose—are great when we can get them, but not necessary to bloom😉 .

What are your thoughts? Are you busy waiting for inspiration instead of writing? Do you find yourself procrastinating because you don’t think your work is good enough? Do you suck at finishing? Are you giving your feelings too much of a vote? Or did you once struggle with all of this stuff and now you are a proud DANDEFREAKINGWEED of a writer?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Upcoming Classes!!!

Remember that all WANA classes are recorded so if you miss, can’t make it or just want to refresh the material, this is included with purchase price. The classes are all virtual and all you need is a computer and an Internet connection to enjoy!

Blogging for Authors MAY 20th. Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

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102 Comments

5 Reasons Your Story is Stuck

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If you’ve been writing any amount of time you have been there—THE SUCK. This is where no matter how hard you try, you just cannot seem to move your story forward.

Though “normal” people might laugh at the above meme? Writers know that quicksand is freaking everywhere. You think you’re on firm footing and then down you go and the more you struggle, the worse it gets.

From personal experience combined with my experience with hundreds of writers the process can look like this.

Shiny Idea Time—You get the coolest idea ever conceived of and cannot believe such genius has never before been put to the page. It’s as if angels have come down and handed you a golden feather that will whisk you to the realms of literary nirvana.

First 20K Words—You’re flying high. You wonder why you ever had such difficulty with word count before. You cannot stop the flow. Perhaps you forget to eat, don’t want to sleep and you even dream of the world you’re creating.

20K-30K—This is when the pace begins to slow. It’s okay though. Perhaps you’re simply tired. It’s okay. This…THIS is the story idea you’ve been waiting for.

31K—Your pace slows dramatically. If you’ve ever been driving and suddenly had a flat tire? You know the feeling only this is in the brain-fingetips connection. There is a THWUMP, THWUMP, THWUMP…and your mental steering wheel jerks wildly. You might try to ignore, but eventually? You pull over to see what’s wrong.

But then? Nothing seems wrong. That’s weird. Mental tires all look properly aired. Maybe more caffeine is in order.

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Perhaps you make it to 40K but by then? All the glitter is gone and you wonder what the hell happened. At this point, you likely will be visited by other story ideas. They see you on the side of the creative highway bewildered and seeming to need a ride. Though you don’t yet have your thumb out, these other newer and shinier ideas are quick to pull over and chirp, “Hop in!”

Just abandon that old clunker and GO!

It’s all so tempting. Especially since the longer you stay trying to fix your broken down WIP, the more shiny ideas come passing by. When you started your journey, the road was free and clear for you to floor your brain and write like the wind! Now? You can barely concentrate on where you placed your mental jack because temptation whizzes by every other minute.

I think this is a fairly accurate prediction regarding word count. If it weren’t then NaNoWriMo would be a cinch. But, alas, there is something about making it to 50K. It’s a number that leaves most who attempt such a feat broken down wondering what went wrong.

Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

Before you call a tow truck for the WIP and sell it for parts, I’d like to offer you some insight and maybe even some solutions to get you speeding down the Imagination Express once more.

Problem #1—The Antagonist is Weak or Nonexistent

This is one of the reasons I love teaching my Bullies and Baddies class (and yes we have one coming up SOON). After years of working with writers, it became clear to me that many didn’t understand—truly understand—the antagonist. It doesn’t help that a lot of the teaching on the subject can be terribly confusing.

I’ve heard classes where instructors used the term “antagonist” and “villain” interchangeably, but that is grossly inaccurate.

A villain is only ONE TYPE of antagonist.

All stories must have a strong core antagonist, because the antagonist is responsible for the story problem.

No antagonist, no story problem in need of solving. Too often, new writers spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the hero and don’t give near enough thought to the opposition.

Problem #2—Plot Weak or Nonexistent

If a writer has failed to understand the antagonist (opposition) and truly know what this opposing force wants then the plot will simply disintegrate. When we’re crafting any work, we have to create a problem that is strong enough to bear the weight of the word count.

For instance, I’ve consulted many writers who had an excellent idea…for a short story. The problem was inherently too weak to sustain the bulk of a full-length novel.

Instead of plowing forward, often we can make some really simple adjustments to buttress that core idea. But if we don’t? It’s like trying to drive 90 pulling a crappy trailer. The wheels eventually WILL go flying off.

Often when we’re stuck, it’s the subconscious mind hitting the breaks. It’s trying to tell us our plot needs to be more robust or even clarified, which dovetails into my next point…

Problem #3—Too Many Ideas Crammed into One Book

Some writers might not have enough heft to the plot and others? Perhaps you’re loading on far too much. It’s not uncommon for me to talk to writers who are jammed up in a bad way only to find out they are trying to develop five ideas in one book.

Since the author failed to articulate what the book was about in ONE sentence (truly understand the antagonist’s agenda), then the author was at liberty to explore whatever cool rabbit trail presented itself.

This isn’t particularly bad, but it does require we STOP, get focused and maybe tease out those other ideas for subsequent books. You might think you only have one book, when you have two others freeloading and bogging down your momentum.

Problem #4—Wrong Protagonist

Casting the wrong protagonist is really easy to do, especially if we failed to properly develop the antagonist. Remember at the core of most great stories is an antagonist who’s essentially the shadow self of the protagonist.

For instance, in The Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller is a sleaze bag defense attorney. He represents drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, and gang members. He has grown jaded with the justice system and prides himself on his ability to manipulate.

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His greatest fear is representing a truly innocent man. What is the perfect story problem for such a character? Present him with an irresistible case that tosses him into what he fears the most.

Representing a truly innocent man.

This means that Connelly had to create a crime (case) where the client would undoubtedly look guilty and who would have enough cash to make Haller question any misgivings about taking on the case. Without a case where an innocent man is involved? The Lincoln Lawyer falls apart at the seams.

If Connelly had cast a lawyer who was all about truth, justice and the American Way? The plot would have been meh.

An attorney who works pro bono searching for truth is expected to risk everything to save the life of an innocent man. This would have been the wrong protagonist to cast for such a plot.

Fiction is the path of greatest resistance and Connelly, being a master, cast the one guy who probably would have run screaming from this case had he know was he was in for.

If your story seems to be sagging, check and make sure you’ve slated the right person for the job. Sometimes some quick fixes to who this character is or even giving that character some additional baggage might be enough to get you unstuck.

Problem #5—You Are Just Over Thinking

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STOP IT! This is the one I am most guilty of. It’s why I am a HUGE fan of fast-drafting because then we simply don’t have time to over think every step we’ve made.

All writers have two different phases:

Oh, wow! I wrote that!

Oh. Wow…I wrote that.

We all think we are geniuses…only to later read the exact same section and become convinced we are little more than brain-damaged chimpanzees banging away on a keyboard. It happens, especially when we are in the thick of the story. It is tempting to go back and perfect, but resist the urge to go BACK. Feel free to correct typos or make notes (in a different color) but do not change your writing.

Your subconscious could be planting seeds and what looks like a weed might just be the greatest plot-twist EVER germinating. Just leave it alone and stop being so hard on yourself.

Remember, no unfinished-but-perfect book has ever hit the New York Times best-seller list, but a lot of crappy finished ones have😉 .

Truthfully, if you finish and just cut yourself a break you will likely go back to those parts you were going to chop and see they aren’t nearly as bad as you’d imagined. Remember that while your subconscious is there to help you? Your ego is a selfish passive-aggressive diva who can’t stand that something might be prettier than she is.

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You really want to be hard on yourself? Fine, just do it in the correct places. Instead of nitpicking the life out of your prose? Get your @$$ in the seat and keep pressing. And just so y’all know? While I have one finger pointed at you, three are pointing back at me.

Before we go…

I have three classes to help you out with all of this. W.A.N.A. classes are all easy to use from home. All you need is an internet connection and pants are totally optional. Recordings are included in case you miss or you just want to refresh the information.

If your antagonist is weak and you need help learning to plot? Bullies and Baddies. If your story idea is jumbled, confusing or unformed? Your Story in a Sentence. I’ve been doing this a long time and I can almost always tell what is wrong (or right) with a plot by the log-line. The first ten signups are guaranteed to have their log-line shredded and fixed in class and for FREE.

Worried about the strength of your actual writing? Are you starting your story in the correct place? Take my First Five Pages class. Right now I am offering double pages for all Gold and Platinum signups (and I have only done this once before and that was almost a year ago). Friends, family and critique groups can only offer so much. So if you want a set of ruthless eyes on your work? I am here to help!

What are your thoughts? Do you nitpick your work to death? Is your computer filled with stories that started out golden then fell flat? Do you struggle with being able to just FINISH? Have you thought you might have cast the wrong protagonist? Are you stuck?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

April’s WINNER of my pages contest is:

C.E. Robinson! Please send your 5000 word WORD document (double-spaced, New Times Roman, one-inch margins) to kristen at wanaintl dot com and CONGRATULATIONS! *throws confetti*

ONE MORE CLASS!!! 

May 16th I am holding When Your Name Alone Can Sell—Author Branding. We can have the greatest book in the world, but if no one knows it exists? Yeah. These days discoverability is a NIGHTMARE, but I am here to help you learn how to get your work seen…so it can then be loved. Best of all? I’m not trying to change your personality. I’m here to give you the time to do what you do best…WRITE.

Also, for more help with branding and social media, if you don’t yet have a copy… make sure to pick up Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.

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Trouble With Your Plot? Three Reasons to Kill Your Little Darlings

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Frederik Andreasson

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Frederik Andreasson

I love helping writers and one service I offer that’s been particularly valuable is plot consult. Writers who are struggling to finish or who start off with one idea after another only for that great idea to fall flat? They call me. Querying and getting nowhere? Again, contact me.

I’ve busted apart and repaired hundreds of plots. Thus far I’ve yet to meet a plot I couldn’t repair.

But, in my many years of doing this, I’ve seen enough troubled plots to note some common denominators for a failed story. One ingredient for plot disaster stands apart.

Little darlings.

As writers, we are at risk of falling in love with our own cleverness. The “cool” idea, the super amazing mind-blowing twist at the end. We get so caught up in how smart we are that we fail to see that we are our own worst enemy.

Yesterday, I spent three hours talking to a new writer who was simply stuck. No matter how he reworked his novel, it was just going nowhere. This is one of the reasons I like to get authors to be able to state what their book is about in ONE sentence. Paring away all the pretty prose makes little darlings easier to spot…so you can then terminate with extreme prejudice.

But, since this writer was 60, 000 words deep into his own woods? He needed my eyes.

Hey, sometimes it takes a Viking to raze a village…of little darlings😀

At first, I wanted him to explain his story to me…

Ten minutes later…

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Huh?

After listening to his idea, I pointed out the problem fairly quickly. He’d created what he believed was the world’s most interesting virus. Problem was, the only thing his virus killed was all the conflict in his story.

Because he was SO married to this clever virus, he’d built everything around it. The virus was a little darling and needed to go. Once we repaired THAT? The plot fell together effortlessly…and is pretty fantastic, btw. OUCH! I got a cramp patting myself on the back!

Seriously, once he got out of his own way? He had the story. It was there. I just helped him see it.

In fact, my biggest job consulting on plot is to pull the distraught writer off the body of the little darling and offer grief counseling and the assurance it was for the best.

What’s a Little Darling?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Niki Sublime

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Niki Sublime

Almost any of us who decided one day to get serious about our writing, read Stephen King’s On Writing. Great book, if you haven’t read it. But one thing King tells us we writers must be willing to do, is that we must be willing to, “Kill the little darlings.”

Now, King was not the first to give this advice. He actually got the idea from Faulkner, but I guess we just took it more seriously when King said it…because now the darlings would die by a hatchet, be buried in a cursed Indian flash drive where they would come back as really bad novels.

…oops, I digress.

Little darlings are those favorite bits of prose, description, dialogue or even characters that really add nothing to the forward momentum or development of the plot. They can also look like “never before thought of ideas” and “wicked twist endings that put Shyamalan to shame.”

To be great writers, we must learn to look honestly at all little darlings. Why? Because they are usually masking critical flaws in the overall plot. Why are little darlings so dangerous?

Because th-they come back….but *shivers* they are…different.

Let me explain why it is important to let go. Here are three BIG reasons your little darlings need to die.

#1 We Risk Mistaking Melodrama for Drama

Drama is created when a writer has good characterization that meets with good conflict. The characters’ agendas, secrets and insecurities collide.

As my awesome friend and talented author/writing teacher Les Edgerton mentioned a while back in his lesson about dialogue, subtext is vital. It’s more than what’s said. This can only happen when 3-D characters meet with real baggage that gets in the way of solving a CORE STORY PROBLEM.

In the new book I’m working on, my bike officer Landri had a father who wanted a son. She never quite lived up to his expectations. The need for his approval, in part, propelled her to become a cop. When she is reckless and legitimately criticized by a fellow officer that she should have waited for help, she takes it personally. Why?

She doesn’t hear that another cop is genuinely concerned for her. She hears the old recording from her father that she isn’t enough.

Fiction is a lot like life (only way more interesting). In life, we sometimes strike out at others not because of what they did or didn’t do, rather we are punishing them for unhealed wounds from our past often inflicted by other people. If my protagonist is pushing away the one person there to help her, she is five steps back from solving the core plot problem that’s upended her life.

Conflict.

Since little darlings are often birthed from a flimsy plot, the writer is left to manufacture conflict (melodrama). This weakness often manifests in pointless fight scenes, chase scenes, flashbacks or hospital/funeral scenes.

Zzzzzzzzzz.

We are creating bad situations, not authentic dramatic tension.

#2 We Mistake Complexity for Conflict

Complexity is easily mistaken for conflict. I witness this pitfall in most new novels. I teach at a lot of conferences, and in between my sessions, I like to talk new and hopeful writers. I often ask them what their books are about and the conversation generally sounds a bit like this:

Me: What’s your book about?

Writer: Well, it is about a girl and she doesn’t know she has powers and she’s half fairy and she has to find out who she is. And there’s a guy and he’s a vampire and he’s actually the son of an arch-mage who slept with a sorceress who put a curse on their world. But she is in high school and there is this boy who she thinks she loves and…

Me: Huh? Okay. Who is the antagonist?

Writer: *blank stare*

Me: What is her goal?

Writer: Um. To find out who she is?

Me: *looks for closest bar*

Most new novels don’t have a singular core story problem. It is my opinion that new writers, deep down, know they’re missing the backbone to their story—A CORE STORY PROBLEM IN NEED OF RESOLUTION. Without a core story problem, conflict is impossible to generate, and the close counterfeit “melodrama” will slither in and take its place.

I believe when we are new writers, we sense our mistake on a subconscious level, and that is why our plots grow more and more and more complicated.

When we fail to have a core story problem, often we resort to trying to fix the structural issue with Bond-o putty and duct tape and then hoping no one will notice. How do I know this?

I used to own stock in Plot Bond-o😀.

“Complicated” is Not Conflict

We can create an interstellar conspiracy, birth an entirely new underground spy network, resurrect a dead sibling who in reality was sold off at birth, or even start the Second Civil War to cover up the space alien invasion…but it ain’t conflict. Interstellar war, guerilla attacks, or evil twins coming back to life can be the BACKDROP for conflict, but alone are not conflict.

And, yes, I learned this lesson the hard way. Most of us do. This is all part of the author learning curve, so don’t fret and just keep writing and learning.

Little darlings are often birthed from us getting too complicated. We frequently get too complicated when we are trying to BS our way through something we don’t understand and hope works itself out.

Um, it won’t.

Tried it. Just painted myself into a corner. But we add more players trying to hide our errors and then we risk falling so in love with our own cleverness—the subplots, the twist endings, the evil twin—that we can sabotage our entire story.

“Complicated” is the child of confusion, whereas “complexity” is the offspring of simplicity.

#3 We Fail to Spot/Correct Weaknesses

We fall so in love with our fun characters, our witty dialogue, our amazing inter-stellar conspiracy that we never finish. We can’t finish.

Since we aren’t being honest about why the book isn’t working, we aren’t doing the hard work that would make the story publishable and we end up playing Literary Barbies.

In the end, be truthful. Are your “flowers” part of a garden or covering a grave? We put our craftiest work into buttressing our errors, so I would highly recommend taking a critical look at the favorite parts of your manuscript and then get real honest about why they’re there. Make the hard decisions, then kill them dead and bury your pets little darlings for real.

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You’ve rewritten me 14 times. You think I’m going to leave without a fight? Hssssssss.

So what do you do with your little darlings? What’s been your experience? Do you have any tips, tools or tactics to help us dispose of the bodies? I really recommend taking my log-line class that’s coming up. I help you pare your story to ONE sentence and this is invaluable for spotting little darlings, honing your plot and you’ll need it for pitching later anyway. Or if you need a Viking to raze your village? E-mail me at kristen at wanaintl dot com.

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MARCH, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

Before we go, I want to give you a heads up especially if you are thinking on attending a conference.

I’m holding my ever-popular Your Story in a Sentence class. Can you tell what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t? There might be a huge plot problem. This also helps if you are ever going to query or pitch an agent. The first ten signups get their log-line shredded by MOI for FREE.

Also speaking of FREE, I’d like to mention again the new class I am offering!

How and WHY are we using FREE!?

Making Money with FREE! As a bonus for this class, my friend Jack Patterson who’s so far sold over 150,000 books to come and teach us how to ROCK the newsletter. This is in excess of two hours of training and the recording (as always) comes with purchase.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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52 Comments

The Writer’s Journey—Staying the Course From Newbie to Master

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Some of you may or may not know that I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. BJJ is unique in that there are only FOUR colored belts (blue, purple, brown, black) and new practitioners are a white belt for roughly a year an a half before they can test for blue. I just earned my blue belt last Thursday. This is no small feat, seeing as how I am the ONLY female in a dojo of males much larger and most far younger than I am.

My first fight as a blue and SERIOUSLY? I get TYLER?

My first fight as a blue and SERIOUSLY? I get TYLER?

The parallels for BJJ and writing are profound though. In the beginning it really doesn’t seem all that difficult. Yeah, you just grab that leg, pull that knee, sure! Got it. Then? Once you get on the mats?

*head explodes*

The more you learn, the more you come to know how much you don’t know.

One would think I’d feel more skilled and capable with each class, but I don’t. Quite the opposite. As I peel back the layers and nuance? All I can see is how far I have to go.

Back to writing.

The mark of a pro is they make whatever we want to do look easy. From running a business to playing guitar to wicked cool Kung Fu moves, masters rarely seem to even break a sweat. Same with authors. With the pros? The story flows, pulls us in, and appears seamless and effortless.

As we take off for the holidays to rest and relax and ponder over what we’ve achieved in 2015, what we hope to still achieve in 2016, I want to close out the year with this elucidation regarding the process so that you have no surprises….

Many of us decided to become writers because we grew up loving books. Because good storytellers are masters of what they do, we can easily fall into a misguided notion that “writing is easy.” Granted there are a rare few exceptions, but most of us will go through three acts (stages) in this career if we stick it through.

Act One—The Neophyte

This is when we are brand new. We’ve never read a craft book and the words flow. We never run out of words to put on a page because we are like a kid banging away on a piano having fun and making up “music.” We aren’t held back or hindered by any structure or rules and we have amazing energy and passion.

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Woodleywonderworks Flikr Creative Commons

But then we go to our first critique and hear words like “POV” and “narrative structure.” We learn that maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do and that we need to do some training. We also finally understand why so many famous authors drank…a lot.

Act Two—The Apprentice

The Apprentice Phase comes next. This is where we might read craft books, take classes, go to conferences and listen to lectures. During the early parts of this phase, books likely will no longer be fun. Neither will movies. In fact, most of your family will likely ban you from “Movie Night.” Everything now becomes part of our training. We no longer look at stories the same way.

The apprentice phase is tough, and for many of us, it takes the all the fun out of writing. The apprentice phase is our Act II. It’s the looooongest, but filled with the most growth and change. It’s the span of suck before the breakthrough.

I’ve studied other forms of martial arts, but I am relatively new to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Right now I am in the span of SUUUUUCK. When I started as a neophyte, I “seemed” to do better because I just muscled my way around on the ground and being naturally strong? It worked…against an equally green opponent.

But it also wore me out and gave me more than a fair share of injuries. I had to learn technique. Technique looks awesome when Professor does it. It looks easy on theYouTube videos.

When I do it? Eh…not pretty and NOT easy.

But I am improving. As a beginning white belt, the upper belts just instantly laid waste to me. They had me in a choke or an arm bar in less than a minute. I made all kinds of stupid and reckless mistakes. I worked too hard. I used up too much energy. I used muscle power instead of brain power.

I had to learn to relax and breathe, which is counterintuitive when a 260 pound guy is smashing you. I had to instead, learn to use my small size, my speed, and my crazy flexibility. I had to learn to THINK. Now? I’m not winning my rounds, but I rarely ever lose and I fight some pretty big opponents who far outclass me. And YES, it is frustrating. There are times I’ve had to walk off the mat so they can’t see me cry. But, I have to give myself permission to be learning.

Same in writing. This gig is tough. There is a good damn reason not everyone can do what WE DO.

 

Many new writers will shy away from craft books because they fear “rules” will ruin their creativity. Truth is? They will totally ruin your creativity, but only for a little while😉 . It isn’t permanent.

Eventually we realize that rules were made to be broken. BUT, the difference between the artist and the hack is that the artist knows the rules and thus HOW to break them and WHY and WHEN. We start to see rules as tools.

In fact, one thing we do in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is we grapple blindfolded. The trick is to not get fixated visually, but to be able to flex and move in response to the opponent. THAT is how sensitive you want to become. Same in writing. We want to become so immersed that we can do this stuff blindfolded. We instinctively feel what needs to happen where without having to say “Oh, this is a scene, and this is a sequel.”

As we move through The Apprentice Phase and we train ourselves to execute all these moves together—POV, structure, conflict, tension, setting, description, dialogue, plot arc, character arc—it eventually becomes easier. In fact, a good sign we are at the latter part of the apprentice phase is when the rules become so ingrained we rarely think about them.

We just fight write.

We’ve read so much fiction, watched (and studied) so many movies, read so many craft books, heard so many lectures, and practiced so much writing that all the “rules” are now becoming instinct and, by feel, we are starting to know where and how to bend, break or ignore them.

Like anything, there is NO substitute for DOING. Watching Holly Holmes videos is a good idea for understanding ground-fighting, but it can’t take the place of mat time. Reading, taking classes, studying cannot replace writing crap until we don’t write crap.

At the end of the apprentice phase, writing is now starting to become fun again, much like it was in the beginning when we were banging away on the piano keyboard. Like the fighter who instinctively knows to arm bar an opponent without conscious thought, we now find more and more of the “right” words and timing without bursting brain cells.

The trick is sticking it through the apprentice phase long enough to engrain the fundamentals into the subconscious.

Master

This is where we all want to be. In fact, we all want this on Day One, but sadly, I believe this Day One Master is reserved for only a handful of literary savants. Mastery is when we return to that childlike beginning. We write with abandon and joy and, since the elements of fiction are now part of our DNA, our literary marrow, what we produce isn’t the off-key clanging of a neophyte, it’s actually a real story worth reading. Granted, it isn’t all kittens and rainbows. Masters have a lot of pressure to be perpetual geniuses.

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Portrait by Yosuf Karsh via Wikimedia Creative Commons

I believe most of us, if we stick to this long enough, will always be vacillating between the Advanced Apprentice Phase and the Mastery Phase. If we choose to try a totally new genre, we might even be back to Neophyte (though this will pass more quickly than the first time).

We have to to keep growing. The best writers still pick up craft books, refresh themselves in certain areas, read other authors they enjoy and admire to see if they can grow in some new area. Masters seek to always add new and fresh elements to the fiction.

The key to doing well in this business is to:

1. Embrace the Day of Small Beginnings—Starting is often the hardest part. Enjoy being new. Enjoy that feeling because you will reconnect with it later because you recognize it.

2. Understand We All Have an Apprentice Phase—We will all be Early, Intermediate, then Advanced Apprentices. How quickly we move through these will be dictated by dedication, hard work and, to a degree, natural talent.

3. No One Begins as a Master and Few Remain Permanent Masters—Every NYTBSA was once a newbie, too. When we understand this career has a process, it’s easier to lighten up and give ourselves permission to be imperfect, to not know everything. Many writers get discouraged and give up too soon because they don’t understand there is a process, and they believe they should be “Masters” right away.

Hey, I did.

We need to give ourselves permission to grow. If we love and respect our craft, we will always be learning, so we will continue to dip back into “Apprentice” to refine our art even further.

Does this make you feel better to know this career has a process? Are you in the Act II span of suck and getting weary? It is okay, REALLY! It’s natural. What are you doing to remain focused? Which part has you the most discouraged? Write with the abandon of the Neophyte then edit with the eyes of an Advanced Apprentice or Master😉 .

I love hearing from you!

Just as a warning, I may blog between now and the new year. I am working on this “resting” thing, but then I do miss y’all. Alex also has some more amazing posts but I am saving those for the new year. They are too good to miss. Make SURE you sign up for my upcoming classes!

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Your friends and family can get you something you need for Christmas. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors. 

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

Enough of that…

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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47 Comments

Writing About LOVE—Ditch the Cliches & Turn Up the Heat in Your Romance

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Today, we have Alex Limberg guest posting with us once again. I’d already recruited Alex to do some guest posts for me because I just love his wit and style and he’s being a huge help because yes, I am seriously sick. I’m pretty sure Hubby tried to assassinate me with Ebola and make it look like “the flu”. I think I have Swine flu…NO! LAMB FLU!

I see a rainbow bridge and a light! No! I can’t go to the light! Not yet, Grandma! I am doing NaNoWriMo and I and on par for word count!

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Actually, I don’t know if my husband is really trying to kill me, I think the Mucinex is making me paranoid. I called the White House though and told them that Lincoln totally shot first and that if the Secret Service would just return my probiotic gummy bears I will stop ordering pizza delivery.

Anyway…of course what else would you think about when you are dying from the flu? Duh. Love scenes! Hellooo?

I totally just lied about that.

But Alex wrote this really freaking amazing post and I’m glad about that because I was born and raised in the bible belt, which means I can only write love scenes in my books when all of my family is dead. That and in Texas, romance involves a gun show or ammo sale.

To mix things up a bit, Alex is assisting me through the holiday season. His free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story helps you with creating intriguing novels and shorts. And this time, he is here to melt your hearts and minds with a fresh outlook at romance in fiction. Please cheer for him once again!

Yay, Alex!

***

Texans *rolls eyes*. If you are a gal, let me ask you one question about romance.

Imagine a guy is courting you. Which one of the following two scenarios do you find more romantic?

  1. He composes a minnesong for you and plays it on his mandolin under your window
  1. He invites you to the movies and to dinner

Take a moment to post your answer in the comments below. I’m not going to pompously prescribe you a “correct” answer, but instead have a second question for you (this post is getting worse than “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” right?).

Tell me, what do you think about the following love scene:

Heavy rain was pattering down on the streets.

“Wait, wait,” he suddenly shouted from behind, running after her. “You forgot something…”

Under her umbrella, she turned around surprised, with an expectant look on her face: “What is it?”

Panting he stood before her: “You forgot to give me a chance to tell you that I love you. More than I have ever imagined that I could love someone!”

“Oh, Mike!” She fell round his neck. Suddenly teardrops were mixing with the pouring rain: “I promise to love you forever, every single day of eternity.” She sighed. “Being with you is… like magic.”

They kissed passionately under the open sky, lost in a bubble of time and space, not even noticing the heavy waterfalls pouring down on them and getting them soaking wet.

Did this scene touch you deeply? Did it really get to you?

To me, it did nothing.

What you just read is a pile of cliches we have seen a thousand times before, all pressed into one single scene. I just fed you a learned code instead of serving you fresh fiction; yes, I force-fed you a learned code like traffic signals or like the bell that trained Pavlov’s dogs. The signals above are intended to get you salivating romantically… ring, ring!

Cliched setting? Check (“Heavy rain was pattering down on the streets.”)

Cliched expressions? Check (“I promise to love you forever, every single day of eternity”)

Cliched feelings? Check (“…I love you. More than I have ever imagined that I could love someone”)

Cliched comparisons and similes? Check (“Being with you is… like magic.”)

In short, the snippet above contains too many cliches and relies way too much on what the author thinks romance should be.

Fiction needs to speak truth, it needs to be raw and bold and unconditional, it has to touch our inner beings– like love. It should’t be a preformed template.

Here is the problem though: No feeling in fiction is harder to convey than love. That’s because being in love is a feeling that escapes any description– it’s too exciting; too strange; too magnetic; too rare. Pain, joy, disappointment, anxiousness are all easier to describe than love. They are more one-dimensional, more common and most of the time not as overwhelming as love.

Because love is so difficult to describe, many writers circle around it. Instead of taking a shot at painting the feeling itself for you, they give you placeholders you recognize from movies: “Ah, they are saying they will love each other forever! That’s how it works in romance novels, so that must mean it’s real love.”

So how can you do it better?

This post aims to show you a couple of ways to craft more authentic love scenes, drawing from deep inside. Also, because I know stereotypes can be hard to detect, you can find a free, downloadable goodie here to help you check your story for cliches and any other imaginable problem (it uses test questions).

Let’s take a look at refreshing ways to craft love scenes.

Romance Image 1

 

1. Use Commonalities

There is one thing all romances share in real life, and that’s definitely not a cliche: It’s the lovers’ commonalities.

The type of these commonalities might be completely different from romance to romance: One couple could be very similar in character, but very different in lifestyle; another one could have the same hobbies, but sport very divergent world views.

Common features and differences are what makes romance exciting; use the tension between the opposites and the attraction of the same to craft an emotional rhythm in your scene– or maybe it’s the tension between the same and the attraction of the opposites…?

One great ingredient of a love scene is two people “discovering” each other. Discovering commonalities is an exciting process and often lets love grow, so play with it. Let them be like magnets: Repelling when approaching each other from the wrong side, but attracting each other strongly when approaching from the right side.

2. Less Is Often More

The finest notes in good love scenes are often spoken without words, or they are articulated in a delayed or shortened way. It’s because we are operating on emotionally delicate ground: A lot of desires, reservations, suspicions and fears play into our notion of romance.

Don’t just let your characters plainly say what they are about! This rule holds true for all dialogues, but the difference in a love scene is that you have very believable reasons to not let your figures talk, be it awkwardness or reservation. Operate with unspoken words, silence, a sentence much too short at the right time.

You can let body language speak for itself.

This technique should force your reader to read between the lines; to turn on her own imagination, which is the most amazing thing you can do for her: Let your reader watch her very own movie.

Here is a quick example:

“Sometimes I feel like there is nobody to turn to,” Joe said. “Like… like the world is an empty place. Do you know what I mean?”

Scarlet just stared at her shoes.

“Nobody,” he said.

3. Draw from Your Very Private Experiences

Draw from your private treasure trove of experience instead of from experiences movies and TV shows have pre-canned for you.

Don’t commit the error we were just talking about and sidestep the challenge. Don’t fall back on cliches because you feel like you don’t have the ability to describe something on your own terms, following your own laws.

In other words: Risk something!

Anger, hurt, attraction, admiration, enthusiasm, guilt: Let your characters experience, express and withhold a broad range of emotions, a variety of complex feelings– love is complicated.

Think of all the emotions you could send your characters through. Try to express things the way they felt to you personally when you were there, not in the way you have seen others describe them.

The word “love” is so overused it has become one giant cliche in itself. You can find it everywhere, be it in movies, novels or song lyrics, not to speak of oversized ads or everyday language. So try not to use it. Instead, it makes much more impact to just describe what love does to your characters.

Using your private experiences also means that you will have to get naked and expose bits and pieces of your private feelings for everybody to see.

Luckily, nobody knows which parts stem from you personally and which parts are just made up. And contrary to an actor, you don’t have to pour out your soul directly in front of an audience, but have the laptop screen between you and your readers to protect you.

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4. Let Men and Women Talk Differently

There is a big misconception about men and women.

Maybe it’s just a misconception of language, because when somebody says, “Men and women are equal,” this person is only half right: We are equal in value, but not equal in nature.

We don’t feel alike. We don’t act alike. We don’t talk alike.

For example, can you quickly tell if the following phrase likely comes from a man or from a woman?

“Do you think he/she looks better than me?”

How about the following one, man or woman?

“If he does this again, I will teach him some manners!”

You might call this a cliche, but I can’t remember ever overhearing a woman saying the second sentence. I have heard men uttering similar statements though– we just have big egos…

So keep in mind to lend different voices to your guy and your gal. In other words, let the differences between men and women get into your scene and make sure the romance in your story becomes as complicated and as awesome as romance is in real life…

Use the Power of Authenticity

When you write your next love scene, keep these four signposts in mind, and your scene will make a powerful impact and touch your readers deeply; for sure more deeply than a cliched movie and dinner date.

You can see so much phony fiction around, a fresh approach will make you stand out like Johnny Depp amongst a stage full of cheap Elvis impersonators.

Take a risk and indulge in the power of truth– your readers will feel so strongly for your story, they will be ready to dive deeply into it and to love and suffer with you.

Alex Limberg is blogging on Ride the Pen to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Create intriguing stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story or check out his creative writing prompts. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Hey, it’s Kristen again and now it’s your turn: What are your own secrets for love scenes? Have you found a trick that works really well? Did you ever use a very personal experience in a romantic scene and did it feel awkward to “expose” yourself? Do you love love scenes? Hate them? Are you like me and can’t write love scenes until every living member of your family dies? Gotta love goring up in the bible belt.

Alex is going to be guest posting a few more times, so if there are any other topics you’d like HIM to explore, put them in the comments!

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

 

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42 Comments

Move Over Barnes & Noble, Hello Amazon Brick-and-Mortar—Bringing Back the Bookstore Only Better

Okay, THIS guy no longer is replacing B&N

Okay, I have to close my bookstore. DANG IT!

Man, I SO love being right. Not to brag, but those who’ve followed me any amount of time know my tract record for predictions is pretty darn impressive. Back as early as 2006 I knew social media was going to be a game changer for novelists. Until social media, fiction authors had zero ability to build a platform of fans before the book was ever finished/published, unlike non-fiction authors (which probably explained our 96% failure rate).

The only way a novelist could build a platform or brand was through already published books. This was NOT the case for the non-fiction author.

Unlike novelists, NF authors weren’t trying to spin an audience from the ether and praying the stars aligned when their books hit shelves. Non-fiction writers exhibited some control—actually quite a lot of control—in creating a platform of fans who were ready and eager for a purchase before the product came to market. Often this was done through activities like public speaking, lecturing or writing articles.

When Web 2.0 came on the scene (a product of the dot.com implosion) and user-generated content began accelerating, the future seemed very clear to me. User-generated content WAS the future. Who was best at creating content? Helloooo? WRITERS! Finally we had a small stage of our own where we could at least make a dent in that nightmare known as discoverability.

In 2008, I pitched numerous agents a book about social media for authors. I was laughed at. They told me that Facebook was a fad and that e-books would never be statistically significant. That they’d weathered the great “books on tape” scare that was supposed to render all paper books extinct and e-books would soon go away along with social media.

I countered:

Hey, paper is never going away. There is always going to be a market for that, but it’s going to be utterly reinvented. The paper model can’t be sustained the way it’s going. It’s too wasteful.

Also, e-books are going to be bigger than you realize. The only reason they haven’t been a big deal so far is no one has come out with a tablet or e-reader that is affordable and user-friendly. That happens? Game over. You need to be ahead of this curve.

Who cares how people read so long as they are reading? And paying YOU?

*does Jerry Maguire face* Help ME, help YOU.

Aaaaaand then Steve Jobs came out with the iPad and the iPhone went mainstream. All phones became smartphones and life as we knew it imploded. Then the Nook and Kindle and yeah. E-books are kind of a BIG DEAL. So are audio books, btw. Ever heard of Audible? Whispersync?

A little thing called Twitter?

And that agent to this day walks the other direction when he sees me.

I’ve been blogging eight years telling writers that social media is critical. Granted, the first year people ignored me. The next year readers just called me a witch. Then, people went from pissy to borderline violent, which is odd because hey, I am just here to help.

Don’t want to do social media? Don’t. But we are no longer in a world with a Borders and a Barnes & Noble on every corner…and I mean every corner. 

But this brings up what I wanted to talk about today. Anyway, I was patting myself on the back about what a GENIUS I a—-OUCH!!! CRAMP! BREATHE! Walk it off…

For the most part I have been pretty accurate in my projections. I’d love to say that it is that it is I am really smart. Or even that it has to do with that deal I made with Satan junior year, only that deal involved me being able to eat all the pizza I wanted and never get fat.

Where was I?

Thing is, markets never stay the same. They shouldn’t. Stagnation is actually bad juju.

Anyway, in my POV humans really never outgrow being toddlers. We get really, really enamored with something and then either drop it like Season 7 of Lost or we find a new homeostasis. That thing just gets integrated into our lives, because we dig it, but we are no longer all cray-cray with it.

Yes, “cray-cray” IS a legitimate business term.

See, I’m an entrepreneur and entrepreneurs love fixing broken stuff. We also hate it when businesses continue to be epically STUPID. In my book Rise of the Machines I go into more detail about all this jazz, but here is the elevator version.

The traditional paper model worked for a hundred years because there was no better way. But, when the world handed Borders and B&N a better way on a silver platter? They ignored it.

In the traditional model, agents and editors bank on previous sales to project future sales. This is why so many of your bookstores are all stocked with the same authors. Most of them big-name heavy-hitters. For the new author? This made (makes) breaking out next to impossible.

Most writers who are fortunate enough to make it into a bookstore are spine-out on a shelf and have to hope their last name lands them at eye-level because if they have no platform? Browsing Roulette is the best one can hope for. This is not the publisher being mean. Big names make the most money. Money means they actually have the means to publish new authors.

The fact that Amazon was going to dominate the e-book industry was a given. Low-hanging fruit. But, in my mind, I knew at some point it only made sense for them to at least try going brick-and-mortar. BUT, I knew this would probably only happen once the giants were dead or close to.

Now? Borders is a memory and B&N is struggling. Last I visited, they are now selling vinyl records, which is cool…albeit weird.

Amazon has always had several factors in its favor. First, it doesn’t have all the bloated overhead. It didn’t have giant 35,000 square foot stores on every corner. Then, B&N catered far more to traditional publishing. But, as we have all witnessed in recent rears, many of the breakout runaway successes did not come from traditional. Hugh Howey is a big one that comes to mind.

And even the books that DID sell a lot of copies (meaning generated revenue) that might have originally been traditionally published were backlist published by the authors themselves. Thus these profit centers (books) wouldn’t have ever been stocked by a B&N anyway because B&N generally only carried current stuff.

Amazon, conversely, was smart and saw the MAJOR advantage of compounded sales.

For instance in 2009, B&N had one new Bob Mayer NF for sale, Who Dares Wins (excellent book, btw). Hello! On Amazon now you can get everything that man has penned since the 80s, books the publishers no longer wanted but that were excellent books. Books I had to track down in secondhand stores before Amazon came along.

Why?

Bob was a New York Times and USA Today Best Selling Author and a damn fine writer, but NY publishing was only interested in one book at a time and the old stuff was old news. It’s why they handed Bob back his rights.

They weren’t going to do anything with those old books. WTH? I read ONE Area 51 book and hunted through every secondhand book store in DFW to get the series and NY had no interest in at least trying to put those in e-book?

Those suckers sold millions of copies when they were released. The stories were still awesome. They weren’t like the spinach I forgot in my vegetable crisper that grew e-coli and that would KILL you if you ingested after they were no longer available in print.

Anyway, NY didn’t want to republish them but, to Amazon? Ka-CHING! Why sell one Bob book when you can sell 50?

Back to brick-and-mortar.

Remember I said humans go through cycles. I think in the 90s we grew enamored with BIG. We loved the mega-store. Bigger was better until, frankly, it just got ridiculous. Do we really need to be able to buy a tractor at the same place we order our kid’s birthday cake?

Bookstores did the same thing. But stocking all these books (the same books) was really wasteful and this led to a major market contraction.

Okay the market snapped with more force than Kim Kardashian’s Spanx.

We snapped back the other direction. I love shopping on-line. OMG, I need a 12 Step group for my book-buying habit. But, frankly, I miss browsing a bookstore. We need bookstores!

Here Comes Amazon ;) 

Because Amazon is smart. Amazon looks at where its competitors went wrong and it improves. That is the beating heart of true capitalism. Evolution. Amazon has every major component to make this work. I predicted they would do this back in 2012. Seriously, here is one of the posts.

And it was funny, because recently I was talking to my husband and wondering what was up. Amazon makes killer business decisions and deep down my gut told me I was right about them eventually opening a brick-and-mortar. I couldn’t be wrong about that. Everything about it made sense.

Then, *ANGELS SING* I saw THIS! Amazon opened its first REAL BOOKSTORE in Seattle YESTERDAY.

Amazon Has Algorithms

If they open more stores than the Seattle location, there is NO NEED to make a big store. The only reason for the megastore was because it was a scattergun effect. Stock enough titles and hope. Also stock BIG names and those probably would sell. If you had some weird outlier? An indie or self-pub that went viral? A new author who didn’t get a big enough print run? You missed it.

Not Amazon.

But Amazon knows who is selling. It has the data. It also knows not all areas have the same tastes in books. When the movie American Sniper came out, I guarantee you more copies sold in Texas. Probably more here in my town since I am right down the road from where Chris Kyle lived.

Also, Millennials love retro. Heck, most of us like retro. Retro is huge! Um, Star Wars? Sometimes an old book for reasons unknown could pop on the radar. Old Conan the Barbarian books or maybe early Ann Rice titles that suddenly lots of readers would love to have in PAPER.

What if you could strategically stock every store? Wait! Now, you can.

Amazon is Loyal to the Customer

They don’t care if we are indie, self-pub, traditional. Heck, Amazon doesn’t care if we can even write (a topic for another blog). But, if we publish a book of nothing but commas?

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

And people DIG THAT? Readers WANT that? Amazon will print copies of the book of nothing but commas and have plenty of them in stock to keep customers happy.

Amazon Gives Authors Advantage

In the old days, premium placement at a bookstore (or any placement for that matter) was negotiated beforehand by an agent. Now? If Amazon expands this brick-and-morter biz? They don’t care about politics. They care about profit.

We finally have a business model that is based off of merit. It rewards books that sell. Period.

Amazon IS Skynet

Amazon is omnifreakingpresent. They are everywhere and in everything and Hollywood is next on their radar. And yeah sure sure maybe their time will come if they rest on their laurels and get stupid, but for now? They are pretty hot stuff because they do smart stuff. And I hear we don’t have to take the mark of the Beast if we sign up for Amazon Prime😀

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They are bringing back a user-friendly bookstore. Small, efficient, and intimate like the B. Daltons of our youth, but customized to our tastes. We can buy paper books AND load up the Kindle. Also, I guarantee you there will eventually be kiosks in there to give us what we can’t find on shelves.

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B&N…HELLOOOOO?

B&N…HELLOOOOO?

Can find it? Heck, they will ship it to us for FREE with a Prime Membership.

In my mind, this is great news for authors. I never really worried. I always knew there would be a place for the bookstore. I figured Amazon was doing exactly what it was doing (gaining a stockpile of talented authors who sold a crap-ton of titles, signing up most of the global population to Amazon Prime, gathering data and perfecting algorithms).  The ridiculously large superstores? Not so much. That was just dumb business in my POV.

Yes, people love paper books. We love e-books. But the digital age has been a fascinating era of exploration. This new evolution of creating an actual bookstore is a boon for readers. They now have a browsing space where they can discover new books and physically touch them.

It also gives us writers a new goal to shoot for, because, frankly, making it onto the Amazon landing page was not in my “little girl” dreams when I envisioned my life as a successful writer.

Book signings are SUPER awkward when you break into people’s homes and it is really hard to personalize your signature when the cops are hauling you away in handcuffs.

Just saying…

What are your thoughts? Are you excited about the reinvention of the bookstore? Do you miss being able to walk through a small bookstore in your local mall?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

I will announce OCTOBER’S WINNER later. Hubby STILL has flu and I need more time to figure out who won…because I have not slept in a freaking WEEK. Sorry. I love you.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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