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A writer’s manifesto for 2012. Read this and get to work

Sometimes I like to pretend I’m writing “to” novelist Chuck Wendig. It helps me cut the crap when self-censorship creeps in. I love Wendig’s writing voice, and I just feel freer to speak my mind on the page when I’m in his literary presence.

What you’re about to read was actually blogged by Chuck Wendig last April. Who cares? If your manuscript or writing goals are in need of a New Year’s resolution-esque shaking of the collar, a smartening up, or a come-to-Jesus, you need to dig in and read these excerpts.

25 Things Writers Should Know by Chuck Wendig:

1.You Are Legion

The Internet is 55% porn, and 45% writers. You are not alone, and that’s a thing both good and bad. It’s bad because you can never be the glittery little glass pony you want to be. It’s bad because the competition out there is as thick as an ungroomed 1970s pubic tangle. It’s good because, if you choose to embrace it, you can find a community. A community of people who will share their neuroses and their drink recipes. And their, ahem, “fictional” methods for disposing of bodies.

2.You Better Put The “Fun” In “Fundamentals”

A lot of writers try to skip over the basics and leap fully-formed out of their own head-wombs. Bzzt. Wrongo. Learn your basics. Mix up lose/loose? They’re/their/there? Don’t know where to plop that comma, or how to use those quotation marks? That’s like trying to be a world-class chef but you don’t know how to cook a goddamn egg. Writing is a mechanical act first and foremost. It is the process of putting words after other words in a way that doesn’t sound or look like inane gibberish.

3.Skill Over Talent

Some writers do what they do and are who they are because they were born with some magical storytelling gland that they can flex like their pubococcygeus, ejaculating brilliant storytelling and powerful linguistic voodoo with but a twitch of their taint. This is a small minority of all writers, which means you’re probably not that. The good news is, even talent dies without skill. You can practice what you do. You practice it by writing, by reading, by living a life worth writing about. You must always be learning, gaining, improving.

Read the post in its entirety here

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts

Feel the Heat: Sex and Fiction. 8 Tips for Building Tension

Will your fictional characters, at some point, hit the sheets?

As most of us creative types enjoy a delicious romp in the sack in real life, it shouldn’t be too difficult to apply our trusty, book-enhancing observational skills to break down, scene by scene, moment by smokin’-hot moment, the escalating tension between our first horny thought and the ultimate coupling of bodies. Right?

Wait, should we depend on our own experiences, and are we willing
to “expose” our own life experiences on the page for everyone (hi mom) to see?

Dallas romance writer (and bewitching twitterati) Roni Loren  posted some effective advice for amping the sexual tension on her blog, fictiongroupie.blogspot.com. “From YA all the way to the steamiest of romances, this is a vital ingredient if you have any kind of romance thread whatsoever,” says Loren. “Even if a kiss never happens, you can have your reader sweating through a scintillating ‘will they/won’t they’ tension so that even if the characters grab one other’s hands, your reader will hold her breath.”

So how do we create this tension so that when you finally give your reader the big payoff–the kiss, the “I love you,” the boom-chicka-wah-wah?

Author Roni Loren’s advice for building sexual tension:

1. Make the attraction that each feels for the other obvious to the reader.

The characters are hyper-aware of all the little details of the person when he/she is around. Use all the senses not just sight. (Note: this is an
opportunity to illustrate aspects of your characters, whether those  are physical traits, or emotional: her Daddy issues, his preference for redheads thanks to an unexpected overture by a cherry-haired vixen in his youth, her need to learn to trust again, his tendency to rescue, etc. -RL)

2. No conflict = no tension

Make sure there are good reasons why these two can’t be together–internal and external.

3. Use internal dialogue

The hero may be clenching his hands at his sides, but tell us why: the urge to reach out and touch the heroine’s hair is overwhelming him.

4. Always on each other’s mind

If your hero and heroine aren’t together in a scene, then have their thoughts go to the other so that we know he/she can’t get the other off his/her mind.

5. Patience, grasshopper

Don’t relieve the tension too quickly. Frustration must build and build. There’s a reason why the first love scene doesn’t usually happen until 2/3 the way through a book. (Note: be true to your characters. Maybe it
has been a pattern of your character to hop into bed right out of the gate, but the reader must walk the long road with them as they uncover feelings of real love. -RL)

6. Here we go, wait, not so fast

Give you characters a taste of what they could have, then make them stop. This is the famous device on sitcoms where they start to kiss, but then someone bursts in to interrupt. It doesn’t have to be that obvious. One of the characters could be the one to stop (usually for some internal reason related to the conflict between them.)

7. It’s addictive

Once you do let the two get together the first time (be that a kiss or full-out lovin’), leave them wanting more. Instead of satisfying their need/curiosity/etc., they want each other even more. Now they know what they could have if not for all that pesky conflict. Damn those mean authors who put so much in their way.

8. When all looks like it’s going to work out, pull them apart again.

Romantic comedy movies do this all the time: The characters seem to resolve some conflict and get together. Oh but wait, there’s more! Some conflict wedges between them again.

Don’t resolve the relationship until very near the end. Otherwise, the reader will lose interest.

So how about you? Does your novel have a romance or undercurrent of one?

What author do you read that is a master at creating sexual tension?

Roni Loren’s debut novel, CRASH INTO YOU, will be published by Berkley Heat in January 2012! Represented by Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @RoniLoren or visit her website at RoniLoren.com.

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Publishing with Kindle Single for not quite full length Books

I stumbled upon Debbie Weil’s thoughtful take on publishing through Amazon’s fabulous “new” concept, Kindle Singles. Weil is the author of one of the first and most definitive books about business blogging: THE CORPORATE BLOGGING BOOK.

Her article intros with perception I’ve wrestled with myself: your book is your platform. In Weil’s case, she is intrigued by her research about Baby Boomers and social media, but she knows all too well that when an author releases and speaks about her book, it becomes accepted as her area of expertise; young at heart, Weil is reticent about becoming the “old person” expert. I get it, too. I have a collection of published nonfiction materials on the topic of family and spirituality, and the makings of a nonfiction book outlining (what I believe could be) an entirely fresh take on making every part of your life more enriching. On the flipside, my novel in progress is decidedly more edgy, not always “pretty,” and my characters are not necessarily interested in thinking about spiritual or religious ideas.

Debbie Weil explains, “Amazon was clever enough several months ago to identify a new publishing space in the age of short attention spans. It’s called the Kindle Single and it’s for almost-book ideas, 10,000 to 30,000 words in length. For those who’ve written a book, a typical chapter is 5,000 words. Amazon calls a Kindle Single ‘a compelling idea – well researched, well argued, and well illustrated – expressed at its natural length.'”

“This is brilliant,” Weil adds. “It combines the possibilities of rapid self-publishing with the natural appetite of readers for less – quick, compelling and digestible.”

I couldn’t agree more. Like most writers with a variety of niches, this digital format gives the opportunity to cast a wider net to a variety of audiences.

Weil also included a solid list of Kindle Single related links:

Named one of the Most Influential Women in Technology in 2010 by Fast Company, Debbie Weil is a rare species – a Baby Boomer who is a digital native. She launched her first website in 1995, she has been blogging since 2003 at debbieweil.com/blog.

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Thoughts on Plots (and whatnot) with James Thayer

When people ask what your book is about, they are really asking about the plot. A response: “It’s about two German Shepherds sniffing for buried treasure,” only scrapes the surface. Why dogs? Why that breed? What kind of treasure? Where? When? What must they overcome in order to sniff it out? What will they do with it once they find it? Why should I care?

At the risk of digressing, the author and tweeter @NathanBransford pointed out that a pitch formula should read: When OPENING CONFLICT happens to CHARACTER, they have OVERCOME CONFLICT to COMPLETE QUEST.

Master Storyteller Jim Thayer, author of 13 books and new manual for novelists, The Essential Guide to Writing a Novel: A Complete and Concise Manual for Fiction Writers offers his take on novel plots. The following are excerpts from his post on authormagazine.org:

What is a plot? According to E.M. Forster in Aspects of the Novel, a plot is an organization of events according to a “sense of causality.”  Encyclopedia Britannica says a plot is “the structure of interrelated actions, consciously selected and arranged by the author.”

What isn’t a plot? Forster says this isn’t a plot:  The king died and then the queen died. But this is a plot: The king died, and then the queen died of grief, because of the causality.

Christopher Booker says there are only seven plots: overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy and rebirth.  Others think there are only five plots: man against man, man against himself, man against nature, man against society, and man against God.

Don’t worry about finding a truly fresh plot: Donald Maass says, “There are certainly no new plots.  Not a one.”  The legendary Simon & Schuster editor Michael Korda says, “In books, as in other things, there is nothing new under the sun.”  The fear of imitation is immature, according to Edith Wharton.

Make sure the plot is big and bold. Most of us are happy if our lives have a nice equilibrium.  We don’t want a life that’s a county fair ride. Not so for our plot, though.  Novelist and writing teacher Sol Stein says a reader “is primarily seeking an experience different from and greater than his or her everyday experience in life.”  Stein compares readers to sports fans: “The spectator seeks the excitement that does not usually occur in daily life.”  Erica Jong says a novel “must make my so-called real world seem flimsy.”  Kurt Vonnegut agrees: “I don’t praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways to keep readers reading.’’

How do we know if we have a workable plot? If we can reduce our story to one or two sentences—called the pitch in the movie industry and often called the handle in publishing—we may have a successful plot.  And if we can’t, something may be missing.

The pitch will force us to trim our idea to its essentials, to a plot.  David Morrell points out, “There’s a huge difference between having an ‘idea’ and elaborating it into a plot.”  Publishers don’t want an idea.  They want a plot.  As Gerald Petievich says, “If you can’t tell yourself what your story is in one or two sentences, you’re already running into trouble.”  A story has certain elements, and if your pitch doesn’t have those elements, you don’t yet have a story.  Petievich adds, “As complex as your novel might turn out to be, it’s essential you be able to state clearly what your basic story is and where it’s going.

What are the elements of a pitch?  Donald Maass sets them out: “1. Where is your story set?  2. Who is your hero or heroine?  3. What is the main problem they must overcome?  4. Where do you think this novel fits in the marketplace?”  If our novel can’t be pitched in one or two sentences, we haven’t thought about it sufficiently.  We may be missing some ingredients in our plot, or your story may be too rambling.

James Thayer’s thirteenth novel, The Boxer and the Poet; Something of a Romance, was published by Black Lyon Publishing in March 2008.  He teaches novel writing at the University of Washington Extension School, and he runs a freelance editing service: www.thayerediting.com.

Check out my recommendations for books writers should read on the topic of–what else?–writing.

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Lit Agent Laurie Abkemeier’s Advice on Connecting with Readers

The only thing better than buzz about your new book is PRE buzz resulting in pre-orders. I follow agent Laurie Abkemeier (Brian DeFiore & Co.) on Twitter, and found this blog post by Erin Reel at TheLitCoach.com featuring Abkemeier’s advice about connecting with your audience so that your book sales transcend the frontier of your family and friends.

This advice is especially germaine to me. The Ting Tings have a fabulous song, with lyrics that speak to my heart: “They call me quiet girl, but I’m a riot.” I’m not an attention hog by any stretch of the imagination, but I do love to laugh; I’m social enough and can be a little outrageous. Once, that is, I’ve come out of my shell. Connecting With Your Audience: A Blogshop with Lit Agent Laurie Abkemeier gives the required motivation to put away your shell and start building relationships with readers.

Excerpts from Reel’s article: How an author connects with their audience plays a major role in their book’s success and their overall success as an author. If you’ve been following any brand of publishing trade news you already know that the author with the biggest mouth enjoys better sales of their book (in this context, being loud about your book is a good thing). 

A large part of the effort that goes into to selling your book actually happens before your book launches – it’s called building pre-pub buzz. You want people talking about your book before it comes out. You want them anticipating it’s arrival. You want pre-orders! So how do you find your PR voice and connect with your audience before your book launch?

According to Literary Agent, Laurie Abkemeier: “During my years as an editor, and now as a literary agent, I’ve seen countless nonfiction books rise out of relative obscurity and become bestsellers. Some rode a trend, while others created their own categories, but in every case, the key ingredient to success was the author’s commitment to promoting the work. Too often, I see authors who are committed to writing the work, but when it comes time to promote, they lose steam or they have better things to do. They are too busy to contact bloggers or put together a mailing list of organizations. They don’t want to get on Twitter or Facebook or build a website or start a blog. They think that writing the book will be enough, and that people will, perhaps by telepathy, sense that the book is available. Or worse, they think that it’s the publisher’s sole job to get the word out to the largest possible audience. While expending time and energy can’t guarantee a successful publication, it is rare that an author can achieve success while also being a recluse. Even publishers know this. When editors get on the phone with authors, they often ask point-blank, “How are you going to sell this book?”

That’s why, when I work with an author to develop a proposal, a lot of work goes into the publicity and promotion sections. My authors detail their social media and online connections, their contacts at magazines and newspapers, and previous experience with radio and television. They list every friend who might endorse their work. They research the membership numbers of relevant organizations and associations. They build new websites, start a blog, and get on Twitter—long before the proposal goes out the door. Part of this is for the benefit of the editor reading the proposal; it’s important that the editor understands an author’s reach and ability to get the word out. But I also require my authors to go into this level of detail so that they can see what is expected of them, that their role in promotion is going to be critical, and that their responsibility to the publication goes far beyond the last word on the page.

1. Plan to earmark a certain percentage of your advance for promotion—whether it’s a new website, business cards, a freelance publicist, or ads in specialty publications.

2. Schedule a meeting with your agent, editor, publicist, and the marketing staff to discuss the publisher’s promotion plans. A good time for a meeting is six months before publication, when the publisher has a clear idea of what it will do, and it’s not too late for you to fill in the gaps.


3. Once your manuscript has been sent off to a copy editor, turn your former writing time into promotion time. Reach out to people about endorsing your work, keep lists of bloggers and their contact information, pitch original articles to long-lead magazines, continue to build your social media presence, and revamp your website to launch within four months of publication. (And it goes without saying, discuss your plans with your agent and editor.)

Writing a book is a big commitment, but the bigger challenge for most authors is to do the work to promote the book. Commit yourself to the long haul. Your book needs you more than anyone.”

Your action: Yet-to-be-published authors – get organized. Create a budget devoted to your pre-pub buzz efforts, NOW. You’ll be glad you did! Then, connect with your audience. Make friends. Collect emails and subscribers to your newsletter, blog posts. Gain followers to your social media accounts. Most of all, understand this takes a lot of time and focus.

Published authors: Get creative. Get together with other published authors in your area and create an event. Maybe the event has nothing to do about selling a book – maybe it’s a charitable effort, a major donation of your time for a good cause. Make sure you send out a press release…then consider holding a book signing/reading event to celebrate with your community. Have fun with it!

Originally from California, Laurie Abkemeier began her publishing career in 1992 as an editorial assistant in the Touchstone/Fireside division at Simon & Schuster. In 1994, she moved to Hyperion where she was responsible for five New York Times bestsellers and many other national bestsellers. Since 2003, Laurie has worked as a literary agent, exclusively representing nonfiction. Her talented roster of authors includes journalists, bloggers, poets, academics, and artists. You can find Laurie on Twitter (@LaurieAbkemeier) where she posts her AGENT OBVIOUS TIP OF THE DAY—the inspiration for her app, available as a free download for the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch.

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Reflections of an author’s year of revisions

This morning I stumbled upon Nova Ren Suma‘s refreshing blog post: The Year I Revised My Novel Seven Times. Is it simple enough for me to say that I’m touched by her tender and satisfied account of her hard work?

Like every writer, I want my finished manuscript to be my very best work, my heart, and if seven revisions is what I’m required to give, I will tip my hat respectfully to Ms. Suma and dig in. Cheers to her, and to every writer aiming to produce his or her own pride and joy. Here are excerpts form her post:

The first draft of Imaginary Girls was finished on January 1, 2010. I then went on to revise the manuscript over the course of this year SEVEN TIMES. One revision before showing my agent. One more revision after showing my agent. Then five more revisions with my editor. Some of those rounds of revision felt—and I think they were—pretty massive. I put my heart into that book. Then I tore it out and put it in again. I worked with an editor who really knew how to dig it all out of me, and the book that stands at the end is one I can honestly say I’m truly proud of… and I’m very hard to please.

All I know is that I’m going to look back on 2010 and be able to say—to myself, without any exaggeration—that I’ve never worked so hard on my writing in my life. I wrote the way Sugar said we should. For the first time ever in my life, I really did.

(I also started two new novels in 2010, which is miraculous now, looking back on all that time I spent in revisions.)

There’s more to this revision story, and maybe one day I’ll tell you why I ended up revising the book so many times. But I think the lesson here is that it is worth it to work hard to make the book as good as it can be. Even if you’re tired. Even if you think you can’t do it. (And I was tired, and I admit I thought I couldn’t do it.) It’s worth it to put your all into this again… and again… and however many times it takes. I have to tell you now, standing on the other side of it, it feels incredible.

Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls, her debut YA novel, is coming out from Dutton in June ’11, with a second novel to follow. She also wrote the tween novel Dani Noir, out now from Simon & Schuster.

What was the best thing that happened to you in 2010? And what was the hardest thing you did in 2010?

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Filed under Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Who is Writing What?

Upcoming Book Release? 5 Things Writers Should Do

Author Inara Scott sold her novel, Delcroix Academy: The Candidates, in October 2007. The book wasn’t released until August 2010. “This, you might think, would be ample time to plan my promotion activities,” she says. “In fact, I still missed the boat on a couple of things. But I also did a few things right. So to all of you who had recently sold your novels (congratulations!) and to all of you pre-published folks planning in advance (very smart of you!) here are some pre-release day tips:”

1. Do the Website. Like, Now.

Okay, you know you need a website. But release day is 18 months away. Do you really need one now? Short answer: yes.

Websites take a surprisingly long time to build, especially if you’re working from scratch with a designer. You can throw a holding place up on blogspot in a day, but if you want a quality, built-to-fit site with bells and whistles, START EARLY. Many designers have waiting lists or are backed up for months. Even once you get on their calendar, it can take months from first design meeting to launch. Make sure the site will be live several months before release day. You want to build internet buzz BEFORE your book is released, and that means a great website done well in advance.

2. Contact Bloggers, Get Them ARCs, Plan Your Blog Tour

Here’s the pre-release buzz thing again—you need to get on the radar of all those book bloggers before release day. You don’t know any book bloggers? Well, it’s time for some Internet research. I write for young adults, and I discovered there’s an actual directory of book blogs. About six months before my release, I went through and checked out, oh probably 100 of them, and if I liked the tone and structure of the blog, and if it had a significant number of followers, I contacted the blog administrator. I offered to send ARCs. They wrote back, many asking me for interviews. Plan a blog tour and make it interesting; don’t just recycle the same interview over and over again.

If you want an idea of how to promote via the Internet, check out this website. These guys are amazing. Fabulous promotion, unique blogs, and lots of ‘em.

3. Twitter, Facebook, Blog—Make Friends

Yes, the world of Social Media is crowded, and yes, you may spend a lot of your time talking to yourself. That’s okay. Do it anyway.

Once you’re there, do not spend all your time telling people to buy your book. You are there to MAKE FRIENDS. Friends don’t push their books. Friends don’t bombard their friends with sales pitches. Friends DO share their excitement over things like great reviews, new covers, and release days. They do this because they are friends, not because they are trying to get someone to buy their books.

4. Ask for Blurbs

You know those cover quotes you see on books? The “breathtaking” “spell-binding” “fast-paced” blurbs? Guess what—in most cases, the author probably asked for those blurbs himself.

It helps, of course, if you’ve got friends who are authors (see #3, above). But don’t despair if you’re friendless. Cold call (er, e-mail). Send out letters to authors you love. Make it personal—they should be able to tell that you’ve read their books and have an specific reason why they would be a good person to blurb your book. Be professional and polite. And do all this months before you need the blurb. People are busy and need time to read. Find out what your deadlines are and be generous with your lead-times. What’s the worst they can say—”no”?

5. Yes, You Need Bookmarks

Everyone hands them out, and many end up in the trash. That’s okay, make them anyway. In the months/weeks before your release day you’ll be attending conferences, meeting people in bars, and chatting with friends and neighbors. They will all ask you about your book. You will tell them the title and release day and they will promptly forget everything you’ve said.

Help them remember. Give them a tangible piece of paper with your cover, website address, and release day. Sure, many will end up in a landfill (or hopefully recycling bin), but some will go on bulletin boards, desks, and fridges. You will have done both your memory-challenged friends—and yourself—a service.

Inara Scott is the author of Delcroix Academy: The Candidates (Aug 2010) and the forthcoming Delcroix Academy: The Watchers. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook (Inara Scott) or via her website. (Note from Rebecca: Please check outInara’s bio page. It is a wonderful example of how an author can reveal herself to her audience without the trappings of showcasing an impressive compendium of writing courses, degrees or literary honorariums. Maybe Inara has all these commendations and therefore doesn’t need to brag. Or maybe she doesn’t. But I like what she says about herself so I don’t care either way. Your thoughts?)


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