Thursday, September 15, 2011

Why Won't My Publishing Company Market My Book For Me?

It seems funny, right?

You're the author. You just write the book. Then everyone else should do the rest of the work.

Really? Really?

Please don't tell me you think that way.

I hope I don't have to explain how backwards that is. It's your book. Why would someone else sell it for you?

And yet, so many authors assume that they don't have to market their own book. I'm not sure why. It's probably because they see in movies some author sitting in their nice house, clacking away at the type writer. They are creating their next big hit, which they send into their publisher. And that's it--they're done. They never have to lift a finger, only to write another book.

Sigh. Come on. All of that is fiction, people.

A publishing company is supposed to publish your book. That typically includes editing, formatting, and producing a bound copy. Did you see the work "market" in there somewhere?

And yet, authors expect publishing companies to market. So some publishing companies have marketing people or departments, because after all, the publishing company stands to make a profit if the book sells. But really, they started the publishing company because they love books and editing and making books.

Here is the problem--no one knows if your book is going to sell. And with limited staff and budgets, publishing companies have to put their time and money into books they know will sell.

It's really a Catch-22. And for new authors especially, who have never done this before, they just simply don't know. So many new authors give up way too early. Publishing a book is such a huge risk.

It's a gamble for everyone involved. Everyone wants to see the book succeed, but the person who cares most is the author. The author needs to be the one to jump start this thing.

Think of it as a business. The author starts a small business, and the product is the book. The author takes it to a publishing company to make it shiny and ready to sell. The publishing company has other products to prepare, so it's pretty busy. But it wants the author's book to sell well, because that means job security for them, because they get to keep making the book and earning money too. But they don't know if the public is going to like it, they don't know if it's what people want right now, and they don't know of the author is going to get on TV talk shows or in newspaper articles in order to launch sales.

The publishing company can tell the author what to do, educate them on what works, how the industry has changed, how it has worked for other authors, but they can't DO it for them. The author has to do it. Because no one knows this author's book so well, or no one has developed contacts in this author's genre like they have, or a publishing company is not what people want to see in the interview chair next to Oprah--they want to see the author.

So, author, here is what you do--you make that happen. You prove to the publisher that your book is going to sell. Pound the pavement and get it sold. Give copies to the media so they will review it and write articles about it. Get on local radio and TV, then regional, then national. Get a following via your blog/Facebook/Twitter. Get a website with lots of info and free stuff, and interact with your readers. Give books away as prizes, give talks at events, and keep copies with you wherever you go. Read books about how to be a salesman, because that is what you must do.

Do all this, and don't give up. Keep going for at least a year or more.

Once you produce some numbers, the publishing company will relax a little. They will know that you aren't a risk. "Hey, people actually like that book. And that author is serious about selling it and connecting with people." Those are good words to hear. The publishing company will change its mind about you and your book, and it will clear some space for you and join you in your quest to continue (not start) marketing your book with you.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Writing Articles to Promote Your Book

Your publisher has asked you to write some articles to promote your book.

"Wait, didn't I just write an entire book? Isn't that enough?"

It would be if you were already a famous author (ouch!).

If you're not famous yet, you need all the publicity you can get. Especially free publicity. The media is the perfect place for new authors to be. Ideally you want the media calling you and interviewing you for TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and blogs. But it takes time for these media people to realize you exist.

You need to get noticed. Right now, your best bet is to write your own articles (that's why your publisher probably asked you in the first place). Just think-- if you can get an article published, think how many people could read it and then perhaps buy your book.

Hopefully you're convinced that writing your own article is a good idea. Now, the next step is figuring out what to write about.

Your topic is very important. Think about this carefully.

"That's easy... my book. I'll just summarize my book."

Um no. Please don't do that. As a journalist by training and profession (on a freelance basis now that I have three little kiddlets at home), I can tell you that no one will accept an article like that. This is what they want: news. Something that is current. Something that people are talking about. They are very picky, trust me. Only the most current and exciting news will get published.

Obviously your topic should relate to your book somehow -- but only bits and pieces.The rest should be news. When you pick a topic and write your article, a good balance between NEWS and BITS RELATING TO YOUR BOOK is the most ideal. It can help a new author get published while getting the word out about his/her book. Does that make sense? In essence, you are proving, through writing a news article, that your book is news. That this media outlet should publish your article and pay attention to you.

"But my book just came out. Isn't that 'news' enough?"

Nope. Sorry. Do you realize how many books come out EVERYDAY?  A book coming out isn't news in and of itself, unless it's by a famous person OR relating to something that's already in the news. Get it?

You need to write an article. And make sure your topic includes news.

How do you find out what is "news" right now? Read the New York Times. Watch the evening news. Go to Google News and type in key words that also describe your book. Then head to Twitter and do some searching.

Come up with any topics yet?

One new author, Adele M. Gill, wrote up an article for American Book Publishing, the company that published her book 7 Pathways to Hope. She recently wrote an article called Top 10 Healing Benefits of Prayer and ABP published it on their company blog.  The article mentioned and linked to a recent news story about a boy who almost drowned. It was very current but also tied back to her book's topic very well.

Through marrying a topic similar to what she talks about in her book along with some real news, the blog post was able to get some attention through other media as well. This is just what an article should do. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Author Interview

Mormons: Tall Tales & Truths
By Jenni Rose Maiava

About the Author:
I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and my husband and I are raising our family there now. I graduated from Brigham Young University-Hawaii with a bachelor's degree in information systems and computer science. I met my husband while in our junior year--he's from American Samoa. We have lived in Hawaii, Washington twice and Arizona. We have five (amazing, lovely, talented) children. 
A few years ago, I went back to school to get my master's degree in public administration. During my last year in school, as I was turning 39 and feeling angst about 40, I decided to submit one of my manuscripts to a publishing company. American Book Publishing company contacted me 4 weeks later with an offer to publish my book! I currently work for the Providence Medical Group as their EMR Manager; I just had my 15 year anniversary with Providence. I was raised LDS and we are raising our family in the church.

Book summary:
Mormons: Tall Tales & Truths is a book about myths and misunderstandings abound about Latter-day Saints and our faith. My book shares stories and experiences I have had over the years with people curious about the Mormon religion and attempts to clearly define what we do believe. 

Do Mormons have horns?!? 
...tails, or religious tattoos?
These are a few of the more bizarre assertions I’ve heard over the years. I included them because as odd as they are, I’ve heard them each several times.
We have friends that throw a Halloween party every year. Most of the guests dress up. One year, my brother and his wife showed up as a devil and an angel. My brother’s costume was pretty simple; he had on a red shirt and little stick-on horns. One of the other guests wasn’t sure what he was and asked about his costume. Before he could answer, I said, “He’s a Mormon!” The funny thing was that just about everyone laughed and admitted to hearing that a time or two themselves.
There isn’t much difference between Mormons and everybody else. Just like there are lots of really wonderful Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, etc. out there, there are lots of good Mormons too.  Mormons are just regular humans. Promise.  No tails or horns included.

Why did you write this book?
My friends were always asking me questions about Mormonism. They started joking with me about writing a book called “Mormonism for Dummies.¨ For years they would say, here’s another chapter for your book! Eventually I started writing down the questions people would ask me. I kept this “journal¨ for ten years before deciding to put it into a manuscript and sending it off to a publishing company.

Tell us about your experience writing. Challenges? Good times?
Writing is fun! I just tell stories. I like to talk a lot, and so writing is, for me, a conversation. As I’m writing I imagine I’m chatting with my husband or friends and the stories flow out of me.

What was the publishing experience like?
Publishing is nothing like you think it’s going to be. It’s complicated and time consuming and exciting. Getting published definitely felt/feels like a great accomplishment.

How many editors did you work with (before, during, etc) and how did that go?
I had the chance to edit a book before having my manuscript picked up for publishing. I like to think that gave me a unique perspective. I had one editor, Sarah, who was just wonderful. She guided me through the process and helped me refine my book and my writing. Sarah was the first “objective¨ person I’d shown my book to. Her feedback and edits were critical to the final product. Most importantly, remembering my experience editing an author¡¦s book, helped me to not take the edits and changes “personal.¨

For other first-time authors, give your tips on marketing.
As an author you will be given lots of advice on how to best market your book. It can be overwhelming! My advice is to find what works for you and your personality. I’m not a born sales-person. But, I love to talk with people. For me, emailing and calling people and chatting about my book is the best way I’ve found to generate interest and garner sales and reviews. My brother, Josh, gave me great advice once when I was frustrated. He said, “view book marketing as a marathon, not a sprint.¨ Rather than trying to do 10 marketing strategies at once, employ one or two at a time and as those gain momentum, add new tools and methods. Realizing that marketing your book is something you will be doing for many years rather than all at once can make it feel less daunting.

Do you have plans for other books in the future?
I have two other non-fiction books in process and I have 10 completed children’s books that I am currently submitting to publishing companies. I would love to have more time to write, but right now it’s mostly in the middle of the night!

What do you like to do for fun?
I really enjoy being with my family. We play sports, go for bike rides, hikes, and just plain hang out together. I also love to read lots of books and blogs. Every year my family puts on a community lu’au. Planning and prepping for it is a lot of work but sitting down to watch the show is one of my favorite moments of every year.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Don't Date Yourself (in your book!)

I have three children, all 5 and under. Let me tell you, it gets a little crazy sometimes.

Two of my little monsters angels are boys, and I'm just going to say it right now--boys are different. They come with their own set of challenges. I grew up with three brothers, so I thought having boys would be "easy." Most of the time they are wonderful, but there are still things I do not understand.

"Why do you have to roll around in the dirt?"
"Why do you need 12 toy cars?"
"Why did you pee in the yard?"

Someone recommended I read So You Want to Raise a Boy? and while ordering it off I realized it was very, very old. Only used copies were available. Mine even has a ripped jacket (see?) and a lovely inscription from a grandma to her son and wife, who I assume also have a rambunctious boy or two of their own.

I cracked open the book recently and have already read up to age 4. It contains some good insight into the different stages a boy goes through as he ages, but one thing really stuck out to me. This book really dates itself.

What I mean is, the book uses specific words and explanations that are so different from the modern norm. Comments sprinkled here and there that seem to shout, "This was written in the 1950s!" In its defense, some things can't be helped, like explaining that the father waits anxiously in the waiting room while the baby is delivered, for that was a social norm of the time. And words like "orgy" and "fondle" didn't used to have negative connotations like they do today. But I still find myself giggling. Then I gasped at the explanation of spanking, which of course is less-than-politically-correct these days.

What can we learn from this? If you want to make your book timeless, watch what you write. Consider leaving out popular modern words or phrases that are just a fad, and if you can, keep out references like fleeting technology gadgets and the like. Because readers should be focusing on the story or the information in the text, not the time period in which it was written.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

You Must Do This

I just finished editing a really great fantasy novel for a friend, and the author asked my advice on getting it published. As it turns out, this author had already been trying to get it published for the past few years.

Years, people.

Being an author is not easy, but that is ridiculous. Here he has a completed, well-written manuscript. He even has a whole series that follows it.... which I am excited to read. And yet, it remains unpublished. He has sent it to countless publishers and agents, only to get rejection letter after rejection letter, or in some cases, no response at all. 

He said it was obvious most had not even read his work. So disappointing! For a book that has been swirling around in his head since he was young, and for pages that took hours and hours to write, it saddens me that it just sits.

Naturally, being in the publishing business, he asked my advice. "What do I do now?" I told him that publishing companies are in business to make money. Especially these days, they need a "for sure" book to make money. They need assurance that the book will be liked. That means you need followers.

"If it was non-fiction, it would be a no-brainer. You should build up a following via a website/blog/Facebook page by making it an information center focused on the subject of your book." Once you have a lot of followers, it would show publishers that you have people ready and waiting to buy a book. Then it becomes less of a risk. Dollar signs are there.

But his book is fiction. How the heck do you gain followers when your book is fiction? How do you prove that your fiction book will sell? Let me share with you what I shared with him.

Besides writing your book and getting it published, if you don't do anything else..... you must do this.

Get an awesome endorsement.

We're talking Oprah, a reporter at the New York Times or the Today show, or anyone equally famous. Movie stars, well-known experts, or basically anyone who most people in America would have heard of. Get them to read your book and write up an endorsement, and people will notice you. People will take the famous person's word for it and probably buy your book.

Don't know any famous people? Ask around. Mention your book to everyone, see if someone "knows someone" or knows someone who knows someone. Or knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who.... you get the idea. Don't rest until you've tried everything. Ask yourself, how badly do you want this? And then press on.

Turning up empty? Look for lesser known "famous" people too. Like already famous authors within your fiction genre. In the case of my friend, he really needs to get a good endorsement from someone in the fantasy world. Ideally, he needs an endorsement from a best-selling fantasy author. So he needs to find someone who knows one. As it turns out, I know someone who might know someone, so we're going to explore that channel.

Knowing people is really key. It is what it takes in so many aspects of our lives... why would this be any different?

So get started now. Does it take a long time? Yes. But just imagine how much good it could do. A foreword by X or a short blurb endorsing your book written by Y could give your book the boost it needs to get published and eventually make some money.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Writing Challenge -- 500 words per day

I am writing a Young Adult novel, and it's been in the works for about a year. Why so long? Well.... I write sporadically. If you are writing a book, you are probably writing sporadically, too. Here and there, when you can. Which isn't much.

Thus, my Writing Challenge! Write 500 words a day. That's it! Just sit down and type--no editing allowed. You'll be surprised what you can accomplish. Do it starting today until Friday. That's only five days, but times that by 500 words and you'll have 2500 words.

Do it!!

Update: I did three out of the five days. But on one of the days, I did 1,000 words! When you sit down to type, it seems like more just comes out than you expect. Which is why it's good to sit down often.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I Am Not a Writer - Part 2

In the I Am Not a Writer Part I, I talked about how many people have ideas for a book they want to publish, but they don't write it because they are "not a writer."

Honestly, do you know how many non-writers have written books? Probably a book you are reading right now.

Very few people can call writing their profession (journalists, etc), and few people who aren't professional writers consider themselves to be "writers" per say... and yet there are millions of books out there. How did they all do it?

First, they came up with a concept. Then they ellaborated. If you have a good concept, that is half the battle right there. What is a concept?

A concept is the meat of the book. Explain the book in a few words, and that encompasses your concept. If it really captures people's attention, you might have something.

Now, if you have an awesome concept, the only thing that lies between getting it published is writing the darn thing. And if you are not a "writer" there are ways of getting your concept to print.

Dictate Your Ideas. Maybe typing or the physical act of writing doesn't work with your brain. If speaking is better, get a recording device of some kind and start talking.

Hire a Ghost Writer. Basically someone else writes it for you, but you retain the credit.

Hire a Writing Coach. If you simply don't know where to begin, this is your option. A writing coach is someone, perhaps an editor or another writer, who can help you write it yourself step by step. Picture them sitting there with you, asking questions and helping you form ideas, but you are the one actually writing. I like this idea best, because during the process of working with a coach, through the discussion and exchange of ideas, the creative process flows and amazing things can happen.

Write What You Can, Then Hire an Editor. This is what a lot of people do, and it really works. An editor has some sort of natural ability to see what a manuscript needs and make it better. But how do you find a good editor? Hmmm I think I'll write up a post about that...

Forget About Your Concept. This makes me sad. A great concept is not being written! You owe it to yourself and to the world to publish a book on your awesome concept. Don't let the fact that you aren't a "writer" hold you back.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How Do I Format My Manuscript?

You had a great idea for a book, and then you started typing.... 1,000.... no, 5,000.... no, 10,000.... wait... 50,000 words later it occurs to you to check your formatting. You panic for a second, then think am I doing this right?

Writers, don't worry too much about this. The words themselves are the most important thing. Formatting a document is relatively easy, and it is secondary to your masterpiece of ideas. That said, there are a few things you can do to make things easier when it comes time to submit/publish.

Use Microsoft Word. It's pretty universal.
Use a basic font in 12 point.
Don't do anything crazy with the margins.
Don't add a line space after every paragraph (just go to the next line).
Don't type in page numbers.
Use only one space between sentences. A simple "find and replace" can help if you've already used two spaces.
Put all of the book parts in one document. One exception is photos/images--best to keep those separate for now.

Now, when you are done with your manuscript and find an agent or publisher to work with, you'll need to check out their specifications on submissions. Each company should have its own, so pay attention to what they are looking for (single vs double spacing, file type, etc.). But hopefully, after following some simple ideas above, prepping your manuscript will be a breeze.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Snippets from The Chicago Manual of Style - Copyright Permission

From page 143:

"In the course of writing a book or article, the author will do well to keep a record of all copyright owners whose permission may be necessary before the work is published."

If you are an aspiring author, you may not know that in many cases, you may need to ask permission from others in order to quote them, including information you quote from other books, or poetry, photos not owned by you, etc.

As the CMS further explains, for a book that contains a lot of outside information, obtaining permission could take weeks or even months. In some cases, copyright holders will require a fee be paid (usually by the author), or they may not grant permission at all. Keep that in mind as you write, so you can plan ahead in case you have to take some quoted material out.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Exciting World of Juxtaposition

I think juxtaposition is not just a luxury, it is essential.

I love juxtaposition. I love a million things going on at once. Perhaps that is why I have three children and a crazy husband, a house and a job and.... is it any wonder I collapse at the end of every day? I love it.

I'm reading a book right now, The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, that is full of juxtaposition. Every chapter so far is a different time period, place, person's point of view... it's wonderful. The plot is moving along, slow like, but at the same time it feels fast, because I'm getting snippets of it from so many different places.

I love juxtaposition because it's not straight forward. It's not "he went from point A to point B." It's, "as he was going to point A, something else was happening over here which will most likely affect how he gets to point B, but you aren't sure how quite yet."

It really throws a wrench into things. But then, isn't that how life is? It's not straight forward. It's not one sided. It's not point A to point B. There are so many factors, people, choices, events... everything affects our lives and makes it all the more worthwhile.

There are several methods of juxtaposition: themes, characters, situations, etc.

I think the most used juxtaposition technique is character driven, as it is fairly simple to do and seems to capture readers the best. Think of the most popular shows and books... anything about several people who are all different, and how their lives are going. We compare and contrast as the story goes along. But somehow they are all intertwining with each other. The plot comes together as all of the characters come together, and magically things are worked out.

A situation juxtaposition would be more like a war, where separate battles are taking place. So many things are going on at once, and if this works, and that works, and so on, then the good guys will have a chance at winning. It seems that everything is hanging in the balance, until finally all of the situations work out, usually at the same time. I'm actually editing a manuscript right now that has just had two groups of men separate in order to surround a castle for battle. As I read, I get to see the switch between each group, and it is getting more exciting as each gets closer to battle. I wonder, how will the two groups turn out? How are they different? How are they the same? How do they depend on each other? It creates a whole new dynamic.

As essential as I believe juxtaposition to be, it can be difficult for some to incorporate. It is like telling several stories at once.

I think probably the most classic example of juxtaposition can be found in The Lord of the Rings. It uses all of it... we follow several characters, some of which get separated and so we switch around finding out what happens to them, but there are also battles going on, and everything hinges on everything else. On top of that, the theme of good vs. evil is obvious, but there is also the theme of life as a journey. In addition, there are personal struggles that I think become excellent themes, and they play out all at once. But that's ok, because the juxtaposition of several things at once can be an exciting adventure.

Sam: This is it. 
Frodo: This is what? 
Sam: If I take one more step, it'll be the farthest away from home I've ever been. 
Frodo: Come on, Sam. Remember what Bilbo used to say: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

Monday, May 9, 2011

How to Pick a Publishing Company, Part 1

I am an editor for a book publishing company, and one of the most frequently asked questions I get from people is, "How do I pick a publishing company?" The answer is very involved, so I'm breaking it down into a series.

In this installment, I'd like to cover what you need to know as you begin your search. You must know this:

There are lots and lots and LOTS of publishing companies out there.
Each publishing company is different.
Some are big and some are small.
Some require you to submit your manuscript via an agent, some do not.
Some take longer to respond than others.
Most publishing companies are taking a financial risk if they sign on a new author, as you don't have a publishing history and they don't know your commitment level or if your book will resonate with readers.
They want to publish the next biggest hit! But they don't know what that is yet.
Some are upfront and honest, and some are not.
And on and on....

If you have already tried Googling publishing companies, you may already know that the number of companies is overwhelming. How do you wade through all of them? Here are a few ideas.

What is your genre?
Some companies specialize in certain genres. If you look at a publishing company's website, it'll probably list which genres they prefer, though some will take all.

What books in your genre do you already own/read?
Check out the copyright page and see who published them. That can give you some ideas.

Do you want a traditional or vanity publishing company?
This is a much bigger question than can be answered in this post. I urge you to read this article: How Can You Tell the Difference Between a Traditional and Vanity Publisher? It explains some great pros and cons to each. Basically, for most traditional publishers you will need to submit via an agent, so consider if you are able and willing to do so. If are thinking about vanity, it's important to know that they typically don't edit your material and there can be a bad stigma with being publishing via vanity. Spend time figuring out which type is right for you and your book.

Does the company have a high BBB rating?
It's true, there are some publishing companies out there trying to scam would-be authors. But there are also good companies out there that have been tainted by false information online. It's quite a mess. The best way to tell if a publishing company is what it says it is? Go to the Better Business Bureau and look up its rating. Pay attention to the particulars. How long has the company been in business? How many complaints has it had? Does the company address those complaints? Remember that every complaint is two sided, and that every company has its fair share of wacky customers. But also be careful and protect yourself.

What does its published authors think?
Some companies put its author feedback right on their website. If it includes the full name, book title, etc along with the comment, and you can look up and see the book is in fact real, then it is a credible comment.

What else do you want to know about how to pick a publishing company?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Revisitng Affect vs. Effect

This one is for you, Deanna. 

In March I wrote up a post about Affect vs. Effect. In order to clarify, I wanted to try again, this time with visuals.

Ice cream is yummy.

It has this crazy affect (affect = influence) on me. It makes me want to eat it.

But if I eat too much, the effect (effect = result) is... I get chunky.

Mmmm chunky ice cream.

Does that help?

Show Me Your Book Clutter

This is really embarrassing. I have this problem, and it's called Book Clutter.

I am actually quite malicious with avoiding clutter in my house, and with three little children that is no small accomplishment. But when it comes to books, I tend to let things slide... almost literally. My husband shakes his head at me, and I just say, "What??"

The problem is I have so many books I want to read. Or, that I need to read. The books in this photo are just the books I own that are on that list. It's funny how varied the genres are--from reference to family history to novels to religious to just about everything.

Aside from my cluttered side table, I have digital and paper clutter where I have recorded books I want to read. From my "wants" list on to titles scribbled on scraps of paper, I am overwhelmed with the amount of books I will get to someday.

Even with feeling almost buried by it all, I have no desire to change. I love books. I want to see books everywhere. My dear mother has stacks and bookcases and piles of books all over her house. I've seen even more than one copy of a book in different rooms! I suppose that is as sign that she should start her own cataloging system. Even then, I would never think that she had a problem. No, Book Clutter is not bad. Book Clutter is awesome.

I admit that I have been cheating a little bit. We have a small house, and only a few bookcases, so I promised my husband that I wouldn't own more books than can fill those bookcases. Those bookcases are full... no room for anything else. But there are technically more books in the house than that (see photo above).  And the pile seems to keep waxing rather than waning. Don't wag your finger at me! I'll give them away when I'm done reading them. Maybe.

Do you have Book Clutter? Take a photo and share it via the comments below. I promise to leave a funny comment.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Snippets from The Chicago Manual of Style

I love this book. If you are an editing nerd, you probably love The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), too. Do you have a friend/spouse who edits? Get them this book for their birthday, and they will be happy. If you are an editor or aspiring editor, you need this book. If you are an author or aspiring author, there are some good things in here for you as well.

I recently got a used 14th edition, and I've been reading it like a novel. I am sure my husband thinks I'm crazy.

Every so often, I'll share some snippets here.

From page 32: "Many potential readers scan the tables of contents to determine whether a book is worth their time (and money)."

So, as it is saying, you may not have thought about it, but your table of contents could potentially be a selling point (or not) for your book.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cross Promotion and Partnership

I fixed up some tacos for me and my kids for lunch today. Lunch--the elusive time of day when toddlers whine for food, and my mind goes blank. I plan for dinner, but why not lunch? But that is a post for another time...

Back to tacos. I pulled out the Ortega taco box and saw something interesting.

Do you see it?

Right there in the corner. Yep, fish. But not just any fish--a specific brand of fish that Ortega has partnered with. The little blurb even includes a website for this company right on the Ortega box, directing the consumer towards recipes on fish tacos.

How do I feel about fish tacos? The thought of them disturbs me. But I suppose I should actually try them before making a final judgment.

How do I feel about cross promotion and partnerships? Seems like a sweet deal to me.

This can translate well into the book publishing industry. If you have a book in mind, whether you are in the writing stage or it is already published--consider cross promotion and partnerships. Businesses do it all the time, and so should authors.

In the case of fish tacos--there are already people buying tacos, and maybe they hadn't thought of using fish. Now the fish people have a way to get into that market fairly easily by partnering with them.

Think about your book. What is is about? Is there anything in it that could lend itself to cross promotion or partnerships? Let's say your book is inspiring stories about women; you could partner with a number of women's groups. If your book was about parenting, ideally a partnership with Fisher Price or Disney would help your book, but more realistically you could find a company or group that already reaches out to parents, which would be your ideal audience.

What about a fiction novel? That can be harder, but don't give up. What are the main character's hobbies, job, beliefs, etc? Dig deep and see what you can find.

The benefits could be endless. If you can find a group that already caters to a large portion of your target audience, it is a great way to reach them. But even if you are only able to partner with a portion of your target audience (for the fish people, I imagine anyone who eats is their target, but people who buy tacos are only a portion), it can still be beneficial, for you and the partnering group.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Book Review: Guerrilla Marketing for Writers

There are a few books you should have in your marketing library to refer to again and again, and this is one of them.

Guerrilla Marketing for Writers by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman and Michael Larsen is a great resource for writers.

It really drives home the message that many authors are missing today--market like an animal and plan on doing most of it yourself. Whether you self-publish or are accepted by a traditional publisher, no one else will market your book for you. This book will help to motivate you into being guerrilla intensive.

In it are useful lists of what you need to know, but what I like is there are also real-life stories that illustrate what the authors are trying to say.

Another aspect I like is that the book focuses on marketing tactics that are not only effective, but FREE. And that is something I think most authors will appreciate.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What is SEO and Why Do I Care?

I am a writer by profession, and even though I enjoy my work as an editing manager and freelance journalist, it is never enough. If you are a writer, too, you know what I mean. You are always hunting, always searching, always sniffing out other job opportunities. The thrill of finding a new writing project is almost just as fun as doing the writing itself. is my constant late-night friend.

One thing has changed in the writing ads lately, and that is SEO. Everyone is looking specifically for an "SEO Writer" or they want a writer who is experienced in SEO. It's everywhere. It's hip. It's becoming essential.

  • What is SEO? Search Engine Optimiztion.
  • Why is is important? It helps boost the search rankings of that website/blog/other so it comes out higher on Google.
  • Why should you care? Even if you aren't a writer by profession, if someday you want to write and market a book, you will need to know this stuff. 

Here is a great article about being an SEO writer. Read it for a little more background before you continue.

Now, where does SEO come in with you and your book? It comes mostly with marketing, which can begin even before you are done writing...

Let's say the book you want to write is about jewelry making. You have a blog with jewelry making tutorials, and then you start a website connected to your blog to sell some of the jewelry you have made. Later you write a book about jewelry making, and you want more people to find your site via online search to buy your book. How do you do it? Think SEO.

How can SEO help you? It will increase your rankings in Google. What features are there to SEO? Things like links to the best places to buy supplies, content specific to jewelry making like tip lists or how-to articles, perhaps even a free downloadable ebook about jewelry making. There are lots of components to SEO (make sure to research it or talk to someone who does it by profession). Basically, make your website a place for people to go who are interested in jewelry making.

So many authors think in terms of a website about them or their book. They need to think backwards. In terms of SEO, they need to make their website a portal for the information surrounding their book. That is how SEO works.

As you develop an author website, blog, social media campaign, etc., you'll want to keep SEO a priority so people can find you and buy your book. As you find out more about SEO, you will come to realize that the way you develop your online presence as an author, specifically through your website, will greatly impact how people will find you and thus book sales.
I've recently helped a few friends develop small business websites, and one things I have advised is for them to not only include the regular information you see on most websites (like a photo, contact information, about us, etc), but add lots of relevant content (typed text). For example, one friend is going to be selling real estate in Arizona. I offered to write up several real estate-related articles for her website. Why? So her site will have more relevant text. Text that is searchable via search engines. Think about it--when you type in "Phoenix houses for sale" into, what do you get? And if my friend wanted to be on the top of that list, she would need the text and other items on her site to help her get there. There are many many real estate agents in her area, so she needs to think in terms of SEO to set herself apart.

Here is another example: There are several financial gurus out there. Probably the most popular is Dave Ramsey. His website is chalk full of financial information, including advice, stories, videos, links, tools... the list is endless. It can be someone's one-stop-shop for financial information. Just one small component of Ramsey's empire are his books, which also happen to be bestsellers. So people are drawn to his site because of his knowledge and vast content, and many leave by ordering a book.

Is all of this making sense?

As you develop your own book marketing plan, make time to research SEO and figure out ways to make it work for you. Think about your site in terms of an information station and you'll be well on your way.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Than vs Then

English is such a funny language.

We borrow words from other languages, we combine two words to make one, and in a pinch we even make up words.

You'd think we could avoid words that sound so similar, they are often mistaken for the other. {Sigh}

Today we are going to cover Than vs Then. Not as commonly misused as Its vs It's, but still high on the list.

THAN is used for comparing. So just remember THAN with an A is used to COMPARE.

Example: Bob is smarter than Bill.

THEN has many more uses. Like if you do this, then this will happen; as a point in time, like then we will go to the movies; and also or adding to, like you take on tire, then another, then another.

Examples: If you eat too much, then you will feel sick.
Let's go to the store, then we can head home.
I want to pack those red socks, then those blue ones.

Does that make sense?

QUIZ TIME! Which usages are correct?

1. Please pass the peas, than hand me the rolls.
2. Please pass the peas, then hand me the rolls.

3. I like my hair now better than before.
4. I like my hair now better then before.

5. First we will go to bed, than we will get up.
6. First we will go to bed, then we will get up.

7. If you get too close to the edge than you will fall!
8. If you get too close to the edge then you will fall!

Leave your answers in the comments.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Your Favorite Bookstore

I was in Portland, Oregon, the other day; a day in Portland isn't complete without a trip to Powell's Books.

I love Powell's because it has a certain feel to it... it's extremely large but it feels intimate. There are new and used books, so I can usually find something I want at a good price. Staff is placed throughout the store to help you find things--I needed to find a specific book and they took me to it in less than a minute. And best of all, there was an awesome children's section with tables and lots of books to read, making it a great resting area for me and my kids. Sometimes in bookstores I am afraid to let my kids touch the books, but here it is encouraged!

What is your favorite bookstore? Why?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Am a Book Snob

I started Twilight and got about 50 pages in... then I stopped.

I read the first of the Harry Potter series, and even read a portion of the second.... then I stopped.

I've tried and tried other books.... some of them have clicked, and others have not. It seems I either really like a book or really hate it. There is no in between.

Am I a book snob?  


If a book doesn't cater to my needs, I don't have the motivation to finish it. Like it's not good enough for me or something (I know, I know, rude, right?).

What do I need as a reader? I need an awesome main character (someone I can identify with, like a strong female), a suspenseful, engaging, fast-moving plot (I can also do slower ones if the characters are endearing enough), and creative writing.  I need it to be unique. But it also needs to be wholesome, with somewhere around a PG rating. Is that really too much to ask? Probably.

I used to think I just didn't like bestsellers--like I didn't want to follow the crowd. But I liked The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. I also loved Ender's Game and The Hiding Place and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. But I also adore lesser known A Vision of Light and other Judity Merkle Riley books. So I don't know. I guess I am with books as I am with life--demanding.

What do you "need" from a book?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Developmental Editing vs. Copyediting

Editors come in all shapes and sizes. These days, you don't even have to meet them in person! I've edited several manuscripts for authors I have never met by utilizing Word, the Tracking Changes & Comments features, and email.

Before you hire an editor, or before you start researching what different publishing companies offer (in terms of editing services) make sure you know what type of editor you want/need.

A copyeditor usually just checks for grammar and spelling and prepares the manuscript so it is free of technical errors.

A developmental editor will read for content. They will help analyze the plot and characters (fiction) or make sure you proved your point (nonfiction).

Which type of editor do you need? Probably both.

A high quality editor may be able to provide all in one. The editor should be able to tell you what they can help you with, but it's best to ask a few questions and research their past work to get an idea of what they can do.

1. How many books have you edited?
2. What genres have you edited? Which are your strengths?
3. How many of those were published?
4. What sort of training/eduction have you received?
5. Do you do developmental editing and/or copyediting?
6. Do you know how to cite sources correctly (nonfiction)?
7. Do you think you are better at plot development or character development (fiction)?

It's also important to find an editor who is professional and will treat you with respect. You want an editor who will point out the flaws in your manuscript as well as point out what you did right. Be upfront and tell them what you want. This is your manuscript, so maintain control.

If you are ready to submit your manuscript to a publishing company, do some research. Do they have an editing department? What will the editing entail? What are the qualifications for hiring their editors? Do they provide developmental editing, copyediting, or both?

If you are accepted, see if you can talk to the editing manager (the one who hires editors and assigns them to projects) and request an editor with certain expertise or experience, if available. While editing is time consuming, finding the right editor for you will help your manuscript shine.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book Review: 1001 Ways to Market Your Books

If you are an author or aspiring author, then you need to know John Kremer.

His website, e-newsletter, and book 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, are all great tools available to help authors market their books.

The format of the book is probably my favorite feature. He separates each marketing idea into sections, and so you can flip through the book and read a few tips at a time. It really makes it easy to digest the book little by little and implement the ideas effectively.

Marketing is overwhelming, and so making each marketing idea separate and digestible is really key.Each topic is covered well; he goes in-depth so authors will understand and be able to do the task themselves.

The book itself is quite thick, and it is so chalk-full of information, I would definitely recommend buying a copy to refer to again and again.

Here are a few tips he lists:

Write a letter to the editor.
Make a free offer.
Sell to corporations.
Tips for Obtaining Interviews
Ways to Use Your Website to Market Itself

Friday, March 18, 2011

How Plumbing is Like Writing (and How Plumbers are Like Editors)

The other day, our kitchen drain clogged. Like, no drainage whatsoever.

It was ugly.

Really ugly.

Dishes sat for days, my husband and I threw up our hands, and a Rooter guy said a leak was lurking. We were stressed.

The next day (today) whilst the plumber was making my pain go away, I had time to think. Do you tend to get philosophical under stress, or is it just me?

I was thinking about how plumbing is like writing. Stay with me here.

1. Sometimes you'll be going along just fine, writing a wonderful story or whatever, and your inspiration will slow. And then stop. Sort of like my sink.
2. No matter what you do, you can't get it started again. Your plunger breaks. Your computer crashes (or you hit it). You pull out your hair.
3. Your friend tells you a little trick she learned on TV, and it works... sort of. You go online and look up websites, videos, etc. Eh. Really, you need something more. You need... a professional. You are hesitant, because professionals cost money. And not all professionals are "good" and "honest" and well, you just haven't called in a professional before.
4. But you need them. So you call an editor (plumber) and have them look at your work. You choose one you KNOW will be critical and tell you what they really think. Because while you like praise (oooh those old 1930s pipes are so... vintage!), what you like better is progress (that pipe is ugly and has rust spots).
5. The editor/plumber gives you an estimate. "You should do this, because it will help build suspense...."
6. They come back the next day and help you figure it out. Iron out the details. Not because you didn't have it in you (you could have figured it out, but it would have taken too long and been completely frustrating), but that this professional had the tools and skills to get er done.
7. You pay them some of your tax return money, but you are so happy.

The truth is, there is no one way to write something (the same could be said of plumbing). I think that is what gets some writers frustrated. It's not clear cut, and there is no magic formula to get you from A to B. You pretty much get to decide. Having so much freedom is scary. "Will this tangent get me the results I want? What results do I even want?"

It's sort of like home ownership. Every home is different, and it's your house. You can do what you want with it. So where do you start? What do you do half-way through? How will it end? Where is the plumber???

Don't feel like you are giving up by hiring an editor. Especially a good one who knows what they are doing.

I got lucky and was recommended a great plumber who not only knew what he was doing, but he was a fast worker. In just three hours he had put in a new line from the kitchen to the basement, capped off the old leaking pipe, plumbed for a basement bathroom sink, and plumbed and installed a wash bin next to my washing machine.

I am so happy. So happy. Yes, I even used my new wash bin today to wash my little boys' dirty trucks (pictured above).

There are good editors out there. Even the best writers have editors. An editor can be one of the best investments you make for your manuscript. Not only because of their skills, but because they honestly want to see your work be better.

I have edited several manuscripts, and even helped a few people who were stuck (clogged, you could say) and needed a little coaching. While it is "work" most of the time it is fun. I am not sure if my questions/comments are what helped, or perhaps it is the magic that comes of collaboration and shared enthusiasm for writing, but it's so fun to see the author get back into their grove! Things start flowing again, and the new ideas (or pipes) give way to a beautiful end.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Affect vs Effect

This post is in response to a request by Deanna. Thanks for reading!

Class, today we will be studying grammar. Stay in your seats, I know you're excited. 

Affect and Effect are especially difficult for many people because they are homonyms. They sound the same, so when we speak most people don't naturally think of how each is spelled (unless you are a grammar freak like me, you mentally... oh nevermind).

To figure out how to use each correctly, one must know the definitions.

Affect -> to influence, to act on, to attack.

Effect -> the result, to produce an impression, advantage.

So, the environment had an affect on him, but the effect of the experiment was futile.

And, the weather adversely affects my asthma, but the effect of the prescription is good.

Does that make sense?

Quiz time!
Fill in the blank with the correct use: either affect or effect.

1. I had little _______ in the matter.
2. Because of the _______ of the car accident, I have a lot of back pain.
3. No doubt about it, chocolate ________ me so much, the ______ is that I gain weight.

Pencils down!!

Answers: 1. affect, 2. effect, 3. affects, effect

Still unsure of the difference? Leave a comment or shoot me an email. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How Long Should a Chapter Be?

If you are Dan Brown... a few pages.

If you are the author of all the textbooks I used in high school and college... a hundred million (this is a rough estimate).

In essence, there isn't really an all-inclusive answer. The short answer is "it depends!"

* * *

It depends on your story.
Is it fiction or nonfiction?

For fiction: It depends on your plot.
Is your plot complex or simple? Does it include a lot of characters and locations, etc.?

For nonfiction:  It depends on your arguments.
What points are you discussing? How much space do you need to discuss them well?

It depends on your audience.
Is it for a young adult or scholarly audience? What can that audience handle?

It depends on how long your book is in its entirety. 
What is your word count?

* * *

So, for example, if you are writing a young adult fictional story that has a fairly simple plot and is 20-50,000 words, it's fair to guess that the chapters will be short, or just a few pages.

But if you are writing a nonfiction scholarly textbook with somewhere around 100,000 words, the chapters will need to be long.

If you are still unsure, find several other books in the same genre as your book-in-progress and compare. How long are the chapters in each of those books?

If you are STILL unsure, then don't make any chapters. Worry about it later. Perhaps it will come to you, or you can always ask the advice of an editor.

What do you think? How long should a chapter be?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Review: The Author's Guide to Building an Online Platform

Stephanie Chandler wanted to be an author, but she wasn't sure where to begin. So in 2003, she quit her job and opened a bookstore. Not the conventional way to start a book, but Chandler wanted to know the business from the inside out.

Today she has a book The Author's Guide to Building an Online Platform, a website, and years of experience in the industry.

In her book, she offers interesting insight that authors should read; times have changed and so has book selling. Gone are the days of bookstore signings, as she says in her book: "this is probably one of the least effective ways to market a book" as the average number of books sold at a book signing is only eight books.

Instead she points authors to where they should be focusing their marketing efforts, most especially the Internet. She offers practical advice on how to set up a website and how to become an "expert" in your field. In this case, the book will probably be more useful to nonfiction writers than to fiction writers. The end of her book also includes several interviews with authors and how they got published.

Check out a great info sheet on the book and the author here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

What is Passive Voice?

You've heard the term, "be a defensive driver." Obviously, it means to always be on the lookout and avoid accidents before they happen.

In the writing world, we don't want to be defensive. Being defensive is weak! Instead, we want to be proactive. And so we use the following phrase: "avoid passive voice." But exactly what is passive voice?

There is a great handout on passive voice by The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I see passive voice all the time, and it really gets on my nerves. Here are some examples:

The cheese was eaten.
Fun was had by all.

Why was the road crossed by the chicken? (Example from handout)

Do you see something wrong with these sentences? They are grammatically "correct" but just lack some umph.

If you thought, "who ate the cheese?" or "who had fun?" or "why is the word 'chicken' where it is?" then you are onto something! Basically, the subject and action are a little sloppy. The sentence is telling us what happened, but no proactively. Kind of like when your kid does something wrong, and they try to downplay it.

"The vase was broken." vs "I broke the vase."

If you have a manuscript started, go through it and try to pick out any passive sentences. Once you have identified them, figure out how to make them stand out.

The door opened slowly. vs. Charlie slowly pushed the door open.

See how that small change makes a big difference? The sentence is more commanding and offers more imagry to the reader. They don't just see the door, they see a person acting on the door.

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's vs Its

Don't run away!
I know you don't like grammar.
Oddly enough, neither do I.
But what I hate worse is seeing simple things like it's vs its wrong all over the Internet.
Even in published books!
Come on people.
This one is easy.

Oh, I know you have excuses.

"My English teacher was crazy."
"My dog ate my grammar book."
"I had a doctor's appointment during every grammar lesson."

Fiddle-dee-dee. You can still learn grammar, even if you were done with school before The Beatles were popular. Let's do it. Let's change the Internet.

Today we're talking about it's vs its because it is one of the MOST COMMON grammar mistakes I personally see online. If you aren't sure which is which, you may think that it takes extra brain cells, years at MIT, or a membership into a secret Grammar Society to know the difference.

It's not as hard as you think. Trust me.

It's = It is
Its = Any other usage

See? That was easy.

Hold on. Possessive you say? What about possessive?

Its = possessive.

Waiiit a second. Don't you usually need an apostrophe for possessive? Like David's bike or Larry's laptop? Yes, that is true. But think of what "it" means. "It" is not a person-- "it" is an object or an animal or something else. So it is different. Plus it would be confusing. It's is the contraction for it is, and that is how it is. Any other way you use "its" doesn't need an apostrophe-- even possessive.

Quiz time.
Underline the correct version of each sentence.

1a. He saw its bright light.
1b. He saw it's bright light.

2a. Its not true.
2b. It's not true.

3a. I liked its color.
3b. I liked it's color.

4a. She said it's a good movie.
4b. She said its a good movie.

Correct: 1a, 2b, 3a, 4a.

If you still need help with this, please email me or leave a comment. I'm glad to help.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Should I Write My Book in First Person or Third Person?

My Sister's Keeper
First Person: I, me, my
Third Person: They, she, he

Maybe you are ready to start writing your novel, or you already have a completed fiction manuscript in hand. 

Either way, you'll have to decide which perspective is most engaging for your story -- first person or third person?

If it's coming from your head, but it's not about you, then you're probably writing in third person. Third person is very common. It's natural.

But like every writer, you must question every nook and cranny of what you are writing. {Writers are such fussy people.}

Writer Kris Cramer writes about First Person vs Third Person (and everything in between) in a great post {in a very non fussy way to boot}.

Here are just a few things that came to my mind when comparing the two:

First Person Pro:
readers really get to know the inside of the main character's head

First Person Con:
the story misses out on some possibly key play by play because the main character has to be present to witness it or figure out that it happened

Third Person Pro:
readers get a broad scope of all the characters from a subjective point of view

Third Person Con:
it can be harder for writers to develop so many characters or they may focus too much on descriptions rather than getting into characters' heads

So really, it comes down to your story. Which point of view will best bring across what you are trying to say? Which point of view is better for your reader?

*Is the story mostly about one character? Is getting into his mind important? Stick with First Person.

*What if you have a big plot with lots of players? Third Person might be a better choice.

Homework Assignment: Write a chapter in First Person. Then take the same chapter and write it in Third Person. Which one has bigger impact?

If you STILL can't decide, there are even other options. Jodi Picoult wrote My Sister's Keeper with each chapter in a different point of view -- each character takes turns telling "their side" of the story in First Person. It was a unique experience. For that particular book, I thought it worked wonders. Each chapter was a fresh new look into the story. Be careful if this interests you, though. Writing this way is definitely not for amateurs; it must be done right if done at all.

Discussion: What pros and cons of First Person and Third Person do you see?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How Do You Write?

Do you sit down and just... write?
Do the ideas come to you magically?
Or is there a method to how you get things on paper?

I recently read On Writing by Stephen King and I found it very interesting. In it, King described his own writing methods, which included setting aside specific time to write everyday. He also talked about how some of his ideas initially came about, and then how he brought them to life.

It's funny how we think the writing process is mysterious... how the story unfolded miraculously, sort of like being channeled from above, until it was all typed out and sent to the publisher.

But it's not quite so grand as we all think, at least in most cases. For King, he talks about using an idea for a situation (eventually a plot in other words) and then using characters .... he follows them and sees where they go. He figures out who these characters really are and lets them drive him through the story. Interesting eh?

Obviously there is some inborn talent there-- I think so many writers are talented in different ways. You can usually tell if a writer has a gift. But as King professes, every writer should go beyond that and write purposefully, regularly, and master writing techniques.

In essence, I think he's telling us to use our talents but to also work really hard. Good advice.

How do you write? When you sit down at the computer, notepad, or whatever, where do you start? Chapter 1? Or do you write the ending first? Perhaps you have an outline figured out before you even write any dialogue or look up any sources.

Inquiring minds want to know.

Friday, January 28, 2011

I Am Not a Writer - Part 1

One of the most common comments I hear regarding writing a book is this: "I have this idea for a book.... but I Am Not a Writer."

I am amazed at the number of people with book ideas running around their brains. Eight out of 10 Americans want to write a book, according to the Jenkins Group. That's a lot of people! Likely only a small majority would actually consider themselves writers. Even fewer boast writing as their actual profession.
To see if you are a writer or not, take my lovely quiz (this quiz is not endorsed by the quiz-making people of the universe).

Answer True or False:

Writing doesn't come naturally to me.

I hate grammar.
When I sit down to write, my brain turns off.
The thought of writing gives me a headache.
I'd rather speak my thoughts than write them.
Hiring a Ghost Writer might be a good idea.
My paper is due tomorrow, and I can't even write one word.

If you answered True to most of these, you are probably not a writer. And that's ok, because there are writers and editors out there who can help you. It's their job. YOUR job is to come up with the concept.

More on that later.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dialogue/Quotes - If It's Not Interesting, Leave It Out

I've read and edited my fair share of manuscripts to be published, and I've read my share of books (and edited some in my mind while reading them). One thing I come across in all of them is that either the dialogue works or it doesn't.

It's so awesome when it's done right!
And it's so painful when it's not.

My family is a quick-witted bunch. They are beyond smart and hilariously funny. The come backs fly at every family reunion. My dad calls it "verbal jousting." An art-form sports event of sorts. I love dialogue that darts back and forth and has rich meat like that! And I expect nothing less of the characters I read.

In other words, I'm picky and have high expectations. Isn't that the definition of an editor? (Note: if you are an editor, please don't hate me for that comment or any grammatical errors I may have committed.)

You can tell a lot about a writer by the dialogue he chooses to include in his stories. How much is there? How thorough is it? Does it reflect feeling? Is it.... interesting?

Stephen King tells us in On Writing to stay away from adverbs when telling readers how a character said something... as in, she said sheepishly. King says that the dialogue and situation should be evidence enough of how something was said. Give the reader some credit! They like to read -- so let them imagine it a little. Stick with she said and you'll be fine (works in journalism, too).

The biggest thing that always jumps out at me when I read a story -- is the dialogue interesting? Do I care about what they are saying? Could it be better said in a paraphrase?

Paraphrase! Ok, you got me. I have a background in print journalism. But I believe the techniques behind good dialogue in fiction novels work the same as in quoting real people for a news story. Let me show you what I mean both ways.

News and Quotes
Quoting people is a reporter's life, but in order to grab the public's attention, a reporter can't simply run the interview verbatim (even Barbara Walters uses b-roll and cuts out the mundane stuff). You gotta hype it up! You weed out stuff. You gotta make it interesting.

When I have a news story assignment, and I am finished collecting all the interviews, the first thing I do is sit down with my notes and highlight the most interesting quotes. It doesn't mean those will lead the story; it means those will be used somewhere in the story. The rest of it-- the important but less interesting stuff like dates and facts and locations and so on -- I can find better ways to say it. I can paraphrase it.

That's what they teach you in journalism school. If you can say it better yourself, then paraphrase it. Case in point below. Which story would you rather read?


Robber Still At Large After Morning Break In

Version 1: Police are still looking for a six-foot-tall man wearing a white bandanna who robbed the corner store sometime after 4 this morning.

"The man took a variety of items not consistent with most robberies we see," said Sgt. Officer. "It doesn't add up."


Version 2: Police are still looking for a man who robbed the corner store sometime after 4 this morning.

"He was wearing a white bandanna. He was about six-feet tall," said Sgt. Officer. He also said that the man stole odd items.


See the difference? How boring is reading about a description in a quote? A description IS important, and that's why it's in the lead paragraph. But it's not particularly interesting. In short, the only words I put in between quote marks have to earn their place.

Book Authors and Dialogue
The same should go for authors of fiction novels. Dialogue should serve a purpose. Perhaps it establishes a character, sets the scene, reveals the plot.... never should it be dull or lifeless. Never should it be used if paraphrasing could better share the information.

To move a story along, there will be a little of the "business" to take care of like traveling to different locations or talking on the phone or putting the kids to bed. This business stuff is important and helps the story work. BUT if these are just minor details to move the story along to the important stuff that comes later.... don't slow the story down or make the reader pay attention to the wrong things by adding too much extra dialogue.


Highway 1 Mystery

Version 1: Peter and Sarah jumped in the car, barely escaping the grasp of the man who remained a mystery to everyone in the town of Hilly Valley.

"We'd better call police," Sarah said, fiddling with the phone in her pocket.

"Wait, I have a better idea," Peter said. He swerved off the road and slowed down just enough so the impact of the tree wouldn't cause injury.

"What did you do that for?!" Sarah yelled.


Version 2: Peter and Sarah jumped in the car.

"Oh my gosh, we barely got away!" Peter said, panting. "That guy is crazy! Who is he?"

"We'd better call police," Sarah said. "I need to find my phone!"

"Wait, I have a better idea," Peter said. He swerved off the road and slowed down just enough so the impact of the tree wouldn't cause injury.

"What did you do that for?!" Sarah yelled.


The difference is slight, but see what an impact it makes? The crucial parts of the story are left intact, but only the most interesting dialogue is included. Sarah finding her phone is trivial and shouldn't be over-emphasized by dialogue. And things like "he's crazy" aren't really that interesting. It would be better to describe him via paraphrase as a "man who remained a mystery to everyone in the town of Hilly Valley."

Remember-- if it's not interesting, leave it out.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Holding Back Information for Suspense

I wrote out my love story. It's a true story. And I'm in it.

I decided to write it down because there are details I'm forgetting. Through writing it, I've been able to relive it, which is one of the best parts! (Who doesn't love falling in love all over again?) The story takes place over time, so early on I realized I would need to write a series.

I didn't know how long it would be, what I would include, or when it would end (First kiss? Engagement? Wedding day? Ever?). I just knew I had to keep writing.

Through it all, I've become addicted to suspense. With each portion I always try to end with something that will keep the reader coming back for more. That wasn't my intention, to gain readers or what-not. But the suspense has kept my family and friends on the edge of their seats and ME at the edge of the keyboard, hardly able to contain the next installment within my fingers.

What is it about suspense that we love so much?

The waiting, the wanting, the longing... we are impatient! We are busy! We want to know now. Suspense forces us to wait. It's a love-hate thing. We are so consumed with the story, that when it suddenly stops we throw up our hands and say "No! Not yet!"

Like on a recent episode of Castle when Ric realizes the killer isn't actually dead-- he runs to Kate's apartment and BOOM! It explodes before our eyes. Is she ok? Oh no! Then.... come the credits.


I was so mad, being forced to wait another week to find out what happened. But at the same time, I loved it. Scenarios ran through my mind, and for the most part I knew Kate was ok. But there is that 1-2% of you that isn't sure. Maybe she's severely injured, or maybe Kate is about to die but Castle goes up and rescues her. There are a million possibilities. How it really happens, that is what we are waiting for.

Growing up, when we would watch movies as a family my dad could ALWAYS predict the end. It was so maddening! Don't tell us, dag nabbit! He was always right. At first I couldn't understand how he did it.

But lately I find myself doing the same thing. Really, most plots are fairly obvious. There are many ways it could go, but we all know which route will lead to maximum impact. Sure, some stories take twists and turns we don't expect. But for the most part, when I watch a movie or read a book, I know how it will end.

Regardless, I read or watch it anyway. I hunger for the story, especially for the suspense. A chapter ends and leaves me hanging for a few pages, and I almost race forward to see how it is resolved!

If you are a writer, I implore you to use suspense more in your writing.

Hold back a little information. Reveal bits and pieces here and there, but don't tell the reader EVERYTHING. Keep them guessing. Give them enough to think, "What does that mean? Is the author telling me something?" Whet their appetite.

In the case of my love story, we all know how it will end (duh, it's about me and my husband. We got married!) So I have to build suspense for it to be interesting. Here are some examples:

* * *

We laughed. She was embarrassed. But laughed some more. I liked this girl, crazy as she was. Tori would become one of my best friends ever, helping me survive my time in a new town. And as it turned out, Tori would become instrumental in leading me and Jon to the marriage alter. (to be continued)

* * *

Much to my happiness, he finally came to a stop, and my body peeled itself off the contraption. I literally fell to the ground, maybe even kissing the snow, except the ground was probably still spinning. I vowed to never, ever ride on a snowmobile with him again. To this day I can say I have upheld that vow.

But within a few weeks, Jon would muster up the courage and I would actually agree to ride with him... in his car.... on a date. (to be continued)

* * *

At some point I thought for sure Jon would jump right out of his seat. He was beaming, and fidgity. Once I was done eating and they took my plate away, I rested my hands on the table. Somehow Jon thought it was ok to rest his hands on mine.

"We're not dating." I scolded him.

"Oh! Sorry!" He was grinning from ear to ear.

It was like he knew something I didn't.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Trick to Writing Young Adult Fiction, Part 1

I've been editing a book and the author recently asked me about writing for a Young Adult audience. I scratched my head and said, "I don't know" because while I've edited fiction and nonfiction of many different types, YA escapes me.

I also *gasp!* didn't even read the Harry Potter series. Please don't hate me.

When I was a young adult I did enjoy that genre. Many times I sneaked upstairs to the dusty bookshelves in my grandma's house. There I hid a old copies of Nancy Drew in my jacket until I finished and returned them a little less dusty than I had found them. Most of the books in the series followed the same premise -- young girl gets tangled in a mystery, young girl amazingly solves mystery. The end.

What I loved about Nancy Drew was I could identify with her at the time. She was on the nerdy side (am I giving away too much about my past?), but she was also confident and smart. In the end, though not "hip" by the cool kids' standards, she was pretty dang awesome. A super sleuth if you will. Sort of like a journalist maybe?

Today I probably still identify with her (I am a journalist and nerd, after all), but maybe I don't want to identify with stories that are for "little kids" or in the case of Harry Potter, I still prefer not to follow the crowd. You won't catch me waiting in line at midnight dressed up like Hermine. No sir.

It's funny that this author of the book I'm editing asked me about YA writing. Because only a few days later, I woke up from a nap with a light bulb over my head (probably the most exciting thing for a writer). Ding! An idea for a YA novel. In the past I've had ideas for religious nonfiction (which needs massive amounts of research first that I haven't even begun), fiction suspense (I've thought up and abandoned a few-- who hasn't?), and even a Broadway musical (stay tuned) but never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that YA would be on my menu.

But this impression was so strong, so vivid, and so cleaver, I had to start a file on my computer. In two days I already hashed out over 1,000 words. Now I not only need to find out the tricks for writing Young Adult fiction for this other author, I need to find them out for myself.

Tip Number One: Read the Harry Potter series.

Did I just say that?

Alright, maybe I can start with something else. Like the Diary of a Whimpy Kid. Or I could re-read my copy of Holes that I loved and placed on my sons' book self.

Here is a good blog post about YA writing over here on Women on Writing that offers some good ideas (while you're over there, check out the March/April 2010 issue which is all about YA).

Anyone else have any recommendations of good YA that doesn't involve wizards?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Welcoming Criticism For Your Writing

I haven't been a big TV watcher until recently.

Somehow, becoming a mother of small children forces you to find a way to unwind-- because really, going from 100 miles an hour (all day) to 0 miles an hour (sleep) isn't easy.

I suppose I could take a hot bath. Drink some milk. Read a good book. Get my husband to give me a back massage.

Actually I do those things quite often, but sometimes I just want to veg in front of a good TV show and finish off the carton of ice cream in the freezer. That's precious freezer space I'm saving!

We don't get great TV reception at our house and I'm too cheap for cable, but the most amazing invention of all time is available in my room on our computer--! Some friends told me about the new show Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution , and so far it's interesting and eye-opening.

The concept seemed logical enough -- go to a town with high obesity rates and try to change the school lunch menu and people's eating habits in general. I'm all for healthy eating (honestly, I don't eat ice cream that much, unless it's on sale). But something I didn't expect-- the amount of criticism that met Jamie as he started his "revolution" to help this town.

We're talking the radio host, the school cooks, etc. -- they all were skeptical and quite defensive of Jamie's methods and ideas. At first it really surprised me. Don't they want to be healthier? Don't they want fresh, awesome food going into their kids' mouths? And hello! Free help from an awesome chef? What's not to like?

Then I thought about it. How would I like someone telling me what I'm doing wrong and showing me how to change it without me asking? I'm doing just fine, thank you.

I can see both sides. It's hard. Change is hard. But I have been really impressed with Jamie's resilience. Some of the criticism he expects, some of it he doesn't-- and most of the time it's really hard for him to take. He even sheds tears during some interviews. But despite that, he is determined to try. He has a vision and no one is going to stand in his way. There is criticism, but he listens to it, he meets it head-on, and he tries to work through it. Because in the end, whether they see it or not, he's on their side. He wants to help this town and eventually the country not to be an obesity statistic. Above all, he's an experienced chef with the proper knowledge and tools that can help them change for the better.

After watching the show, I thought how much that idea relates to editing. An editor is sort of like a visitor to an author's town, telling him what he is doing wrong and trying to get him to do something better. At first it's unnerving. Even if the author knows and trust this person, it's still hard to take their criticisms/critiques/comments/edits -- whatever you want to call them.

The worst thing authors can do is to not welcome editors. Authors must give their editors a chance. Authors may think their manuscript is just fine-- but editors have insight. Editors have experience and the tools necessary to make a manuscript better. They can see things authors can't see. And in the end, they have their author's best interest at heart.

Editors can help trim the fat, keep ideas fresh, add in proper ingredients, and ultimately provide a product that readers will enjoy. So authors, don't resist change. Welcome it. Seek out criticism. Realize that there is always room for improvement. And editors, don't let authors who fear change stop you from helping them succeed. Don't give up or stop doing your job. Realize that theses authors are scared and aren't fully converted yet. Listen to their concerns and meet them head-on. Prove that you will be there for them and then make it happen.

What do you say? Let's learn from Jamie and not give up. Change can be a good thing. For his sake--and the sake of the TV series--I hope it is.

What do you think?