Monday, May 30, 2016

Why Do I Buy a Book?

A popular post from July 2011 (we miss you Lu Ann)

by Lu Ann Staheli

Several weeks ago a question came up about how can we get new readers to actually buy our books. Of course it’s a wonderful thing when the local library has a copy that regularly gets checked out, and it’s even great when our best friends buy a copy and let potential new readers borrow our books, but as any working writer knows, it’s an increase number of actual sales that puts money in our pockets.

We read all sorts of responses regarding better ways to market, how to reach a potential audience, and the necessity to blog/tweet/or friend on Facebook. But I decided to attack the question from the other side, and it gave me all sorts of insight into my own buying patterns as a reader. I hope my thoughts here will spark your thinking into how your own audience’s book-buying works, and maybe we will all see an increase in book sales if we truly understand what makes them purchase a book.

To start my query, I looked back at my buying history for the past six months. I buy a huge amount of print books online at Amazon, along with several books from both Kindle and Nook applications. I occasionally visit the local Seagull Books, rarely go to Deseret Books, and sometimes I will buy a book from Confetti Antiques & Books, or pick up a used book through Amazon online sellers. I used to buy books from eBay, but the cost of postage and the auction process have made my browsing time there no longer worth my time. Today, I’m just looking at the books I bought exclusively in print from Amazon. (I know, this list alone will blow you away at the number of books I actually do buy, and in only a six month period. It’s almost scary!)

So, what books did I recently buy and why?

1.Critique Group: In an effort to always support members of my critique group (my mastermind group of friends!), I have six copies on pre-order of Variant by Robison Wells, and I bought copies of Ammon by H. B. Moore, Captive Heart by Michele Paige Holmes, and The Kiss of a Stranger by Sarah M. Eden. I bought books by J. Scott Savage and Annette Lyon last year at their release time, and I already have The Death Cure on order from our former critique member, James Dashner.

2. Utah Authors: I buy books by other Utah authors and friends, or authors with Utah connections. I either have already received or have my pre-order filed for the following books: Crossed by Ally Condie, The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel by Brandon Sanderson; Illusions by Aprilynne Pike, Possession by Elena Johnson. Monster Hunter International and Hard Magic by Larry Coreia, Beyond Foo: Geth and the Return of the Lithens from Obert Skye, Sean Grisworld’s Head by Lindsey Leavitt, The Forgotten Locket by Lisa Mangum, I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells, Miles from Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams, The Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull, Miles to Go and Michael Vey: Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans, and The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card.

3. Student Recommendations: I buy books because my students will constantly ask me if I’ve read THIS yet. So, like it or not, I’ve ordered Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, The Son of Neptune and Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan, and Steampunk by Ann VanderMeer.

4. Writing Projects: I buy books that will help me with a writing project or that was recommended to me by an agent or editor to fine tune my marketing. I Am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas by Adam Roberts, The Last Christmas of Ebenezer Scrooge: The Sequel to The Christmas Carol by Marvin Kaye, and Ebenezer: The Final Years of Scrooge by Donna Lee Howell will all likely point you toward the topic of the YA novel I’m currently writing, and Love Is Eternal A Novel of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln by Irving Stone is for my current non-fiction project. The Case of the Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Mystery by Nancy Springer, The Mysterious Benedict Society Collection by Trenton Lee Stewart, Ithaka by Adele Geras, Magic Below Stairs by Caroline Stevermer, Something Rotten by Alan M. Gratz, and I, Coriander by Sally Gardner all were suggested by a Dial editor who had read sample pages from me.

5. Personal Interest: I buy books to fulfill my own crazy interests and passions. Does the Noise in My Head Bother You: A Rock’n’ Roll Memoir by Steven Tyler, Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry by Todd Farley, The Original Argument: The Case for the Federalist Papers by Glenn Beck and Joshua Charles, Damn! Why Didn’t I Write That by Marc McCutcheon, The Roots of Obama’s Rage by Dinesh D'Souza, Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe, If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t) by Betty White, My Lucky Life by Dick Van Dyke, One Simple Idea: Turn Your Dreams into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work by Stephen Key, Spirit Driven Success by Secret Millionaire Dani Johnson, The Millionaire Messenger: Make a Difference and a Fortune Sharing Your Advice by Brendon Burchard, Surrender the Pink and The Best Awful by Carrie Fisher.

6. Series: I buy books from series I’ve been reading and enjoyed. Desires of the Dead by Kimberly Derting, Theodore Boone: The Abduction by John Grisham , Something Rotten (Thursday Next Novels) by Jasper Fforde

7. Book Club: I occasionally buy books for my book club. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is on my Nook, but I won’t recommend it unless you’re not offended by explicit sex. Let’s just say, the ladies in our group where quite surprised.

8. Gifts: I buy books that either my husband or one of my boys will enjoy. My husband has been reading the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima so The Gray Wolf Throne is coming in August. Trump University Wealth Building 101 by Donald Trump, Star Wars Character Encyclopedia from DK Publishing, and The Warlock by Michael Scott were also ordered this year.

9. Market Buzz: I buy books that are getting tons of book market buzz, either at conferences, online, from TV programs I watch, or by hitting the charts of everyone’s must-reads. On this list I have A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. The 7 Tipping Points that Saved the World by Chris and Ted Stewart, White Cat by Holly Black, Robopocalypse by Daniel; H. Wilson, Johnny Appleseed: The Man, The Myth, The American Story by Howard Means, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Everybody’s talking about the HBO series, The Game of Thrones from George R.R. Martin. Divergent by Veronica Roth, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, 20 Years Younger: Look Younger, Feel Younger, Be Younger! by Bob Greene, Starcrossed by
Josephine Angelini, Failing Mr. Fisher by James Wintermote, 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America by Albert Brooks, Romancing Miss Bronte by Juliet Gael, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and Stoneheart by Charlie Fletcher, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, 1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance and 1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, and The 7: Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life by Glenn Beck, Keith Ablow are also books I’ve bought because of buzz.

10. Author Marketing: Occasionally I run across an online blog/tweet/video/or FB advert that sounds interesting. I video forwarded by Heather Moore to our critique group led me to The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst. I read a forlorn-sounding blog from author Kirsten Hubbard about how her novel Like Mandarin had been lost in the mid-list, and I felt sorry for her, so I bought it. Beatle Meets Destiny by Gabrielle Williams had a title that caught my eye, and John Scalzi’s tweets made me order Old Man’s War and Fuzzy Nation. I ran across author Laura Ruby there also and ordered I Am Not Julia Roberts. Shannon Hale mentioned Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame Robin Robertson on a day she blogged about her own mortification tale.

So what does all this mean? I buy books that are recommended by friends, students, and family. I buy books that fulfill my own career and interest needs. I buy books as gifts for friends and family. I buy books that everyone says are MUST READS or by an author who has somehow touched me.

Now the challenge for all of us is to figure out how the books we write can fit into one of those categories. How can we build better relationships with potential readers so they buy copies of our books, recommend our books to others, and help put our books onto the list of books that everybody must read?

Speaking of which, with as many books that are still on this list that I haven’t yet found the time to read, I’d guess I’d better get going. I wonder how many of these I can finish before my next box of books arrives?

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Journey

A popular post from July 2011

By Josi S. Kilpack

Attend a writer's conference or talk to another writer and, inevitably, you'll get to hear about that writer's journey. How they started. What their initial goals were. The failures and the successes.

For a long time, I would hear another writer talk about their successful signing and I would envy that--mine never felt like they were that great. I'd hear them talk about their two dozen rejections and I would find myself envying that too--I hadn't put myself out there enough to get rejected. I would covet this writer's schedule, this writer's life long goals, and wish I had a great story to tell too. For many years I directed attention away from how I got started or how I moved forward because it just felt ... lame compared to the other stories I'd heard.

Of course I did have a story all my own, but I had pretty much ignored it because everyone else's story sounded so much better. I hadn't dreamed of being a writer since I was young. I didn't get a college degree. I didn't get rejected by half a dozen houses before I was accepted, therefore fully appreciating the thrill of victory. Instead, I hated to read as a child. I finished a year of college and was glad to leave it behind me when I got married and became a mom/aunt to my husband's niece. My first book was written almost on a whim and it was eventually published. What a lousy to story to tell. Where were the inspiring moments? Where were the turning points?

I wish I could better remember the moment that my perspective changed (it would be a wonderful chapter in my story if I could) but I don't remember exactly how it happened. I do remember realizing during a presentation to one of my kid's classes that being a reluctant reader as a child could be inspiring to someone else who also struggled with the same thing. I realized that not having a college degree could be an example of both how I could have better prepared, but also that just because I didn't have that degree, I could still write. I then looked back and realized my mom's love of reading and my 7th grade English teacher's stupid book report worksheets made a significant impact on my writing, even though none of us realized it at the time. And as I started identifying these landmarks in my past, I started to see the journey I didn't know I had had been on unfolding behind me.

I had a 3rd grade teacher who gave us unlimited extra credit if we'd write a one page story about a picture from her box--that made an impact. My dad isn't a die hard reader, but is a passionate artist and influenced my perspective of how to pursue one's talents--impact. A college professor told me I was really good with words--impact again. That I expected nothing great from myself and yet I did something that amazed myself--impact on steroids!

All these details have come into sharper focus as I've kept moving forward and I can now look back on the journey I've taken and marvel at the view. I can take pride in MY story and MY journey, while better appreciating everyone else's. I find that I envy less the successes and sympathize better with the hardships of other writers. I find that I want to be someone who helps other people on their journey, rather than being the defeatist who discourages their goals. I find myself excited as I watch other people's journey's unfold and ache to convince them that the set backs they are facing are a necessary part of their development. Push through it, keep going, the vistas are worth it, I swear.

Wherever you are in your journey, and despite whatever road block seems to be in your way, think of it as a great part of the story you'll eventually tell. A sunset is made all the more breathtaking by the clouds lit up with color. A desert landscape is made beautiful by the patterns the wind draws in its sand. The perspective that hardship creates necessary texture will not save you the frustration and discouragement, but, when kept in your pocket and rubbed for good luck now and again, it can give you the reminder that by being a writer, you've taken on a world that you do not have whole control over. Writing gives you opportunities that are subjective to the moods and grooves of other people. It will not be easy. It is not easy for anyone, but that lack of ease is why it's rewarding when you accomplish what you set out to do. Double knot your shoes and pack that rain parka everyone thinks is a waste of space--the path is not paved that you embark on and the umbrellas are not free--but one day you'll look behind you and marvel at the distance you've come. You'll point to that mountain and say "That one nearly killed me," and that river "I didn't know how I'd ever get across it," and take well earned pride in your accomplishments. In the process, those people still on the far side of that mountain will take your journey as inspiration for their own.

If you need help seeing how far you've come:

  • Identify two people who have no idea they had an impact on your writing.
  • Recall a time when you couldn't imagine ever moving forward in your writing, why did you?
  • Look for a specific goal you set in the past and acknowledge your achievement of it.
  • Write these things down so you never forget the journey you've taken.

*The image I used on this post is actually linked to a poem called "The Journey" by Mary Oliver. It was very fitting for this post so if you'd like to take a look, follow this link

*Also, don't forget out live critiquing event on August 13th in American Fork. There are only a few spots left.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Future of Publishing

A popular post from July 2011

by Annette Lyon

The internet's filled with people rabidly taking sides on the debate about what the future holds for publishers and writers.

Will independent authors publishing e-books become the norm?

Will agents become obsolete?

Will publishers become obsolete?

Are agents and publishers quaking in their boots because people like J. A. Konrath, Amanda Hocking, and Victorine Lieske have made good (like, really good) money self-publishing e-books?

Some people take the side of the traditional publishing route, saying that while there are some random successes out there in the indie e-book world, that really the only good way to publish is still the mainstream way, and writers should shun the indie e-book path altogether.

Some on the opposite side of the spectrum insist that traditional publishing is somehow an evil plot and the gatekeepers (agents and editors) preventing great writers from breaking out are finally out of our way.

These last people are the ones who sort of wigged when Amanda Hocking signed a traditional publishing contract.

The others cheered when Barry Eisler turned down a contract to go indie.

From what I've seen online, it appears that neither writer is choosing one side or the other. They're pursuing both paths.

Which goes to show that there is no single right answer. It's a complicated issue.

Seth Godin (famous for Purple Cow, Tribes, and other books), insists that he'll no longer publish traditionally because he doesn't need anything the publishing houses offer. He can do it all on his own.

Well, sure he can. Now. His former publishers helped him get to the point he's at, with an eager audience just waiting to buy his next (self-pubbed) e-book. But he wouldn't be in that position without having had a traditional publisher first.

E-books are definitely going to be a big part of the future in publishing. I doubt anyone will argue that. How big a part and in what way is the question. More and more people own e-readers and devices that can read books (iPads, smart phones) than ever. Last Christmas reportedly had the biggest spike in e-book sales ever thanks to all the people who'd opened up Kindles that morning.

What's a writer to do? Should you embrace the indie e-book world? Shun that world and cling to traditional publishing?

How about shunning neither?

Educate yourself on what your goals are for your writing and what it takes to reach that goal. What does success look like to you?

Be realistic. Don't use Amanda Hocking as reason to self-publish e-books (that's just as silly as using JK Rowling as an excuse to go the traditional route).

I've done both: I've traditionally published seven novels and a cookbook. I've self-published a grammar guide (originally in hard copy, but now also in e-book form). After my first two novels went out of print and I got the rights back, I spit-polished them and made them available as e-books. Very soon I'll have a totally different e-book up too, one that's never been published (and one that's not in my usual genre: it's a YA fantasy).

I have every intention of publishing more e-books, because it's been as successful as I intended it to be.

But I also have every intention of pursuing traditional publishing as well, for different reasons.

When forecasting the future of publishing, the only thing we really know right now is that we don't know.

Bob Mayer is a hugely successful writer who straddles both worlds. (And he's got a great blog. Here and here are two posts to read if you're at all interested in this issue, but he's got lots more.)

By pretty much any definition, he's a success in both. First he published something like 40 books the regular route over the course of 20 years before dipping his toes in indie waters. He's been there for two, and now sells over 1500 books a day.

At the end of THIS POST, he says:

No one really knows what is going on. All the industry experts can predict all they want, but the reality is they’ve underestimated digital and the effects ebooks would have on authors and readers—the people who drive this business. It really is an exciting time to be an author. The key is to educate yourself, know and understand your options and make the right decision for yourself.
So write the best book you possibly can. Learn your options. Learn what to expect. Know what you're getting into. Define "success" for yourself and know the likelihood of reaching that through either path.

And then review that path (and your definition of "success") as the industry changes and grows, because what's true about publishing and e-books today very well may not be true in a year or two.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Tips on the First Draft

A popular post from June 2010

I stumbled across this fantastic vlog made by Joanna Penn, writer, speaker, and aspiring novelist, as she chronicles her progress and lessons learned as she writes the first draft of her novel.

It's about 5 minutes long and definitely worth the time.

A few things to note as you watch:
  • You may not need a strict outline, but some kind of outline or idea of where you're headed helps.
  • You may get an "aha" moment that changes your outline. That's OKAY. (And probably fantastic.)
  • Set specific goals for yourself. Personal deadlines are awesome.
  • Be realistic. Even though she's thousands of words from crossing the first-draft finish line, Joanna is fully aware that it's a first draft and that after crossing one finish line, there are more ahead: revisions and editing. Lots of both.
  • Push yourself to write. Don't wait for the muse. The muse may well show up in the middle of a session you forced yourself into.
  • Research can not only make your story more accurate, but it can make it come alive and even spark plot and character ideas.

Friday, May 20, 2016

I am a Writer

A popular post from September 2010

By Julie Wright

I watched a movie the other day—Eat Pray Love with Julia Roberts. It wasn’t a great movie, but aside from the slow pacing and lack of real plot or character growth—there was a line in there that completely bugged me. To be fair, there were a lot of great lines, but this one has overshadowed all the others. It was a scene where Julia’s character was at a dinner table with a bunch of other people and she was asked to share something about herself. She said, “I’m a writer . . .”
And the guy interrupted her and said, “That’s what you do—not who you are.”

Are you kidding me?

What real writer could have written that little nugget of untruth? I cannot agree with that statement—at least not for myself. And I pity the writer for whom this statement is true. I am a writer. Yes, it is what I do, but it is also very much who I am. It defines me in a lot of ways.

And I’m not talking about publishing and book contracts—those things are awesome and life changing, but they are merely a natural result of me being who I am.

I’m talking about being a writer. That is who I am. My life entirely revolves around words. I write in my personal journal, in the secret journals I keep for my children, letters to people I love, rants when I’m angry, poems when I feel sappy, novels when I feel creative, songs when I feel sad. I’m a writer. It is something I can’t NOT do. My life is wrapped up in the little moments that make up stories and I can’t help but see it that way.

In a class I had in high school, one of my writing teachers plopped a boot up onto her desk and said, "There's a poem in there somewhere."

And there was. There is. Every time. There's a poem in everything, a story in a glance, words wound up tight in every step I take in life.

Being a writer, I have a secret fear. I am terrified I’m going to die and have nothing but lame and embarrassing rough drafts on my computer. I’m terrified that someone will actually go looking through this stuff, and read my absurd drivel, and then think that all that garbage they find on my hard drive defines the person I am. I’m afraid they’ll judge me on the actual content instead of realizing that the fact that everything is there--written down is what defines me. It defines me as a writer.

I would like to say that I avoid the problem of what they'll find on my computer by only writing brilliant things. My prose will reduce you to tears, my metaphors are profound, my adverbs are scarce. And if I said all that, I would be lying.

Everyone has train wreck writing on their hard drives. The point is not what's in it, but that it's there.

Do we always succeed as writers? Will we all get the contracts, the big book deals, the New York Times best seller badge? No.

But we do get the relief of expelling all the jumbled messes weighing heavy on our brains onto paper. We give ourselves permission to create something from nothing. We get the joy of expression.

We try for the other stuff--the badges, accolades, and awards, even when the little green jedi master tells us we don’t get the luxury of trying.

In my kitchen there hangs a plaque that I got from Josi Kilpack. It reads: I will not live the life of a normal person. I am a writer.

It's not just what I do. It's who I am.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dialog Exercise

A popular post from July 2010

by Annette Lyon

In the very first creative writing class I took, one assignment was to write a sitcom-length screenplay.

We learned about basic screenplay formatting and all that, but for me (an aspiring novelist), the most powerful thing I learned from that unit was how to write powerful dialog.

Screenplays by their nature are pretty much nothing but dialog. You're allowed to say where and when the scene is taking place (Interior, Day, Sherrie's kitchen) and maybe a few camera instructions (pan right).

But for the most part, the script relies on spoken words. Usually, the writer isn't allowed to even put in directions for the actor, because they like to decide how to act and deliver their own lines, thank-you-very-much.

Since you can't add actions (he folded his arms and stomped his foot), internal monologue (she wondered what he meant by that), or even adverbs or other descriptors (she said in a whining tone), you're forced to make emotions, characterization, conflict--pretty much everything--come through with nothing but the words your characters say aloud.

(The flip side of this lesson is that I had to later learn to put back in the internal monologue, the emotions, the actions, the setting and contextual details and how to show all that. But that's another post.)

So if you're struggling with making your dialog snappy, alive, full of conflict, and captivating, try writing it first as a script.

Test yourself: How can you change your characters' speech to reflect what they're feeling/thinking/doing?

If you can succeed in making those things clear with just the spoken word, without relying on crutches like adverbs and actions, your story will be much stronger. It's a challenge, for sure. You'll yearn to add just one stage direction or action or adverb. Resist. Tell the story with pure conversation.

If you succeed, the scene won't be done, but you'll have some fantastic dialog.

Then you have to go back and insert the other good stuff, all those things that make a novel, a novel. When you do that (and well, by showing instead of telling), your story will come that much more alive.

Of course, you can't rely entirely on dialog (and we don't want "talking heads"), but working a specific scene this way can help you find a specific character's voice, motivation, and more.

Have fun!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Creating Magic Systems

A popular post from June 2011

by Heather Moore
This week I’m attending the Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers conference. A lot of big named authors are there, including Carol Lynch Williams, Allyson Condie, Brandon Mull, Kathleen Duey, Holly Black, and Kristyn Crow, just to name a FEW.
So for someone like me, who has several historical novels published, but is looking to get my first YA science fiction series contracted, it’s a guessing game—which workshop to go to. I know the craft of writing, but every genre has its particulars (Picture Book writing is in its own class).
Since Holly Black wrote the Spiderwick Cronicles, I decided to listen to her presentation. Last week I’d “tweeted” and asked her which book I should read of hers as a new reader. (Some of my kids have read her Spiderwick books, and might have even seen the movie, but not me). She recommended that I read White Cat, first in her new Curse Makers series.
White Cat is an intricately plotted book based on a fascinating magic system. In this world, magic is considered bad and is run by the underground community, mainly mobsters. I don’t know if I’ll ever write a fantasy novel, but I did a ton of world-building for my WIP.
I found myself doing something that I rarely do in workshops these days—madly taking notes.
Holly Black described her world-building process as “6 crazy blue circles”. Each of her “circles” are the springboard for answering the important world-building questions.
According to Holly, coming up with a magic system that works, you must ask yourself these 6 questions:
1. Who has it?
2. What does it do?
3. How do you make it happen?
4. How is user affected?
5. How is world affected?
6. How are magic users grouped & perceived?
Holly then proceeded to answer these questions in reference to White Cat. (If you haven’t read it, this next part might not be as fulfilling. So go read it!)
1. Who has it? 1/1000 have it; it’s genetic
2. What does it do? It’s curse magic, and it can either bring luck, create dreams, change memories, affect emotions, bring physical death, cause transformation
3. How do you make it happen? Magic is transferred by bare hands touching someone’s skin (everyone wears gloves in this world)
4. How is user affected? Blow back (part of the magic blows back into the curse maker)
5. How is world affected? Magic is illegal and underground magic is controlled by the mobsters.
6. How are magic users grouped & perceived? Magic is not good and is perceived as a crime to use it.
Holly added some other great things to ask yourself during the world-building process, then concluded that it’s great to test your magic system on people who game or role play—since they are always trying to break the rules.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Format Standards: They're A-Changin'

A popular post from August 2011

by Annette Lyon

As an editor, I used to be able to use a broad brush with certain formatting and punctuation rules.

With the rise of e-books, some of those rules have undergone shifts. While the market there is still too new to have concrete standards, here are a few things to keep in mind if you plan to format your manuscript as an e-book.

Em Dashes
It used to be that an em dash never had spaces before or after. Ever.

E-reading devices, however, make that a problem. They interpret the words on either side of an em dash as one word. If that lump of words and a dash land at the end of a line, the whole things wraps to the next line. This leaves an unsightly gap in the text.

There are coding solutions for that, but the most common fix is simply to add a space before and after each em dash to avoid any odd breaks. The one exception would be if the em dash is at the end of a quote where someone is interrupted, such as:
"What are you—"
In that case, you don't want the word, the dash, or the closing quotes separated. They need to be together. (So no spaces.)

Chapter Breaks
The standard rules is to always start on a new page with a hard-page break. Hitting the ENTER key a bunch of times to get to the next page didn't count, because that messes up codes and whatnot. You needed a hard-page break, made with control+enter.

I personally still prefer e-books to begin new chapters on a new "page" (at the top of the screen). There is no strict standard here, but many e-book writers and readers don't bother doing that, and instead just add a number of returns before starting with the next chapter.

If you're going with gaps instead of new pages, be sure the gaps are all the same size, such as five carriage returns each. It's also a good idea to give the reader a visual break if you aren't giving them a solid page break, so add several asterisks before the new chapter.

It's wise to create a clear difference between a section break and a chapter break, so use a smaller number of returns (say, three) between section breaks and a smaller number of asterisks (such as three for sections instead of five, used for chapter breaks).

Front Matter & Back Matter
Keep in mind how e-books are generally read: e-devices begin with Chapter One (or maybe a prologue or preface). The cover, title page, acknowledgments, dedication, contents, and more, are skipped over unless the reader clicks the BACK button to manually read them.

If it's really important to you for the reader to see something (the acknowledgments, for example), put it at the end of the file.

Coding and Files
You can find several books online about how to format and code a file in e-book form. You can find businesses and individuals you offer conversion services as well. Whatever you do, try to make the text and the file as clean as possible.

That means sending a copy to your Kindle or other e-reading device and reading it there. Check for funky formatting problems. Read through it and catch typos you didn't in any other way. Click through the whole thing to make sure it looks and feels right.

The vast majority of e-books sold are still through Amazon on the Kindle, but more and more people are buying other e-readers, so it's wise to get your books onto Smashwords, which supports virtually any file type. If you follow all their instructions, Smashwords will also put your book up for sale through Barnes & Noble (for the Nook), onto the Sony readers, and even the Apple iStore. But note that formatting for Smashwords is far more complicated than for the Kindle.

Your E-book Editor
Whether it's a beta reader or a hired freelance editor, tell the person reading your manuscript that you plan to publish the piece in e-book form.

That way they won't add hard page breaks, delete the spaces next to the em dashes, or otherwise change the format to what used to be the rule.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Take Two Tylenol and Call Me In the Morning

A popular post from September 2010

By Julie Wright

I was reading in Scientific American last night and found an article that just might revolutionize the writing industry. Apparently, an inch behind your forehead lies the place in your brain that deals with physical pain.

And apparently, lumped into that same space is where we deal with mental or emotional pain as well. You hit your thumb with a hammer, fail a test you wanted to pass, or get rejected by your one true love, the hurt registers to your brain in the same place and in the same manner. So they did a test study where half the participants were given placebos, and the others were given two regular-strength Tylenol. Then they put them in situations where they could measure the stress and strain of rejection and failure.

Overwhelmingly, the people with the Tylenol felt better than the people with the placebo.

How does this revolutionize the writing industry?

Maybe those critiques we get from our critique groups and editors won't hurt as much if we take a couple of aspirin. Maybe, because it didn't hurt as much, we'll take the feedback objectively, rework manuscripts, become better writers, and find the courage to submit.

Once we submit, maybe those rejection letters won't hurt as much if we take a Tylenol and wait a half hour before we open them? If it doesn't hurt as much, maybe we'll submit more. If we submit more, we'll probably get a few more rejection letters, but we won't give up, because it won't hurt too much. Because we don't give up, we keep submitting, and ultimately sell books.


It's interesting to think about how many things we don't do--that we REALLY, REALLY want to to do, because it might hurt a little.

It's interesting to think how much more NOT doing those things will ultimately hurt, than the little rejections along the way. The little rejections are temporary--like slivers. Not going after what you really really want?
Now that hurts.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Show, Don't Tell: Micro vs Macro

A popular post from April 2011

by Annette Lyon

For years, I heard the "Show, Don't Tell" mantra and struggled to know exactly what it meant. I figured out pretty early that showing included using the five senses. I learned a few more techniques here and there (don't say she's sad; show her crying), but I still didn't fully grasp the concept until I heard A. E. Cannon speak at a writing workshop.

She talked about the revisions for her novel Charlotte's Rose and how her editor wanted her to show a particular character's personality better. Cannon insisted that she had shown it; we knew that Charlotte thought he was a mean, angry jerk (my words, but that's the gist), and we see Charlotte ruminating over his jerkiness as she's doing the laundry on the prairie.

Her editor suggested changing all that. Instead of telling us Charlotte's thoughts, have her interact with the man. We'd see her get hurt and angry, and then the reader, too, thinks he's a jerk because we just watched him be one.

That's how that section of the book was rewritten, by adding a showing scene. The man was shown to be a grouchy jerk, and the reader figured it out.

As I sat there listening to Cannon speak, a 1000-watt light bulb turned on in my head.

Prior to this, I'd thought of showing as something that belonged on the sentence or paragraph level. I could show by using a sound, a taste, a smell, a thought, an action. Sure, all of those things are important, and they are showing.


They're only half of the equation. They're what I now call micro showing. And showing goes much deeper than that.

What I learned at the workshop was that showing is something you can (and should) do on a much larger scale, using entire scenes or chapters. What I now call macro showing.

Since then, I've gone on to write and edit many, many more books, and I've applied that principle constantly.

Macro showing involves dropping lots of bread crumbs throughout the story, trusting that the reader will follow those crumbs and figure out what they mean.

Don't simply say that this is how it is. Imply. Hint. Leave clues. Add shadows of meaning for plot, setting, and character. It all adds up to great showing.

Put your characters into situations that reveal their personalities. Don't tell us that Sheena eats when she's stressed. Have a scene where she gets totally stressed out (because of great conflict). Then write another scene where she's drowning her stress in cheese fries and a bacon burger.

Don't tell us that Patrick is an overbearing boss and that Cynthia has no backbone. Throw them into the same room when Cynthia's trying to get a few days off to be with her dying mother but Patrick insists she has to stay to meet a deadline. Let them reveal who they are and what they really want through dialog.

If Emily really likes Steve, don't tell us she gets tongue-tied whenever he's around. Put them in the same room and have Steve talk to her. Run a mental movie camera so we see Emily trying to respond to Steve, but unable to form a coherent sentence. We'll figure out what it means.

Macro showing is now one of the most powerful tools in my writing and editing arsenal. Chances are, if I write "show" on an edit, this is what I mean: pull out the macro-showing hammer and go to work. Your story will come alive.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Why Try?

A popular post from June 2011

by Annette Lyon

Recently I had lunch with a writer friend. She's completed several novels but hasn't yet snagged a contract.

At one point in our conversation, she mentioned a bestselling writer in her genre and said something along the lines of, "I'll never be as good as she is. Why should I keep trying?"

I pointed out that there's room in every market for new voices, and fans of a genre are always looking for additional writers to love. It's not competition so much as spreading the love.

Again: "But I'll never be as good as she is."

My response: "So what?"

That may sound harsh, like I don't understand, but oh, I do. I understand all too well. Many, many times over the years, I've read a book and had almost identical thoughts.

I'll never be that good.

Why bother trying when there are works as brilliant as this?

Who in the world would want to read my drivel?

Then reality kicks in:

I'll never write like anyone else because I'm me.

What I can bring to the world of literature is mine and mine alone.

I can strive to improve, always.

I should never stop trying to get better.

To think I should never, ever write because others are farther along the path than I am . . . well, that's nothing short of paralyzing. It would mean I'd never write, never seek publication.

Never be read.

It also means never improving, because I wouldn't be in the trenches, working, writing, doing, learning. And never finding out what I'm capable of.

So no, I'll never be Author X or Novelist Y. And that's OKAY.

What I do need to be is the best ME that I can. That's a lifetime pursuit, one that won't come by watching my life pass by as I wait for it to happen. It won't come unless I act, sit down, write, submit. Wash, rinse, repeat.

In other words, I have do the work.

Read it again with a red pen.

Then write.

And write some more.

And never stop.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

6 Ways to Get the Most out of a Conference

A popular post from April 2011, as Storymakers is this weekend!

by Annette Lyon

In just over a week, I'll be presenting three workshops and moderating a panel at the LDStorymakers Writers Conference in Salt Lake City. As I prepare for my presentations, I can't help but think back to the first conferences I ever attended and how far I've come since then.

I remember sitting in the crowd and making a goal to one day be the one speaking to the attendees. It's still a bit mind-blowing that I am on the other side now, and I've even co-chaired a conference with Precision Editing's Heather Moore.

I've learned something new at every conference I've attended, since my very first one, which I believe was around 1996. While the types of things and the amount I learn vary, conferences are always a valuable experience.

Here are a few ways to make the most out of yours:

1) Look over the schedule in advance.
This is especially important if the conference offers more than one workshop at a time. You'll want to know where you're going and what you want to learn. It's miserable being on the spot, having to decide NOW between two or three great choices.

A couple of other reasons for checking the schedule in advance:
-Some workshops have limited seating, and you may need to RSVP for them in advance. If you miss the window, you're out of luck.

-Seeing the schedule tells you who is teaching what, which gives you a chance to familiarize yourself with the presenters and their work. (And that can help you decide which class to attend.)

2) Leave Your Comfort Zone at Home.
By nature of what we do, writers are solitary and often introverted, qualities that don't serve you well at a conference. One of the most valuable parts of any conference is networking with industry insiders, rubbing shoulders with other writers, and making friends.

Many critique groups form after the writers in them met at a conference, and deals go down thanks to contacts made there.

This is hard. I know it is. But force yourself to sit next to someone you don't know. Introduce yourself. Chat with other writers, both published and unpublished. It's not so hard once you break the ice, because after all, you do have one big thing in common: a love for writing.

3) Be Open to Feedback.
This goes hand-in-hand with leaving your comfort zone at home. If you are part of a critique workshop, a pitch session, or are getting feedback in any form, put on that thick skin, open your arms, and let it all in.

Remember that no one is there to attack you personally. Any feedback you get is given to genuinely help you grow as a writer and to improve your work.

4) Bring Your Supplies.
In whatever form they may be. Absolutely bring a notebook and something to write with. You may get a syllabus for note-taking as well, and a laptop is great too, but you can't guarantee you'll have enough writing space on a syllabus, and a battery can die. (This is a great time to use your AlphaSmart Neo if you have one.) A water bottle is also a good idea.

5) Follow Conference Etiquette.
Read any information on the conference web site and that the conference sends to you. Some basic things to keep in mind:

Don't pitch to an agent or editor at any time except in a pre-paid pitch session. (They tell horror stories of being pitched to in the restroom, in the elevator, at lunch . . . don't do it.)

Don't hog Q&A time, and pay attention so you don't ask questions that have already been answered.

If you made a meal selection when you registered, be sure to claim the meal you picked then (you can't change your mind now, or someone else won't get the meal they paid for).

Turn your cell phone to vibrate. Don't text during workshops.

Arrive on time. Be respectful during classes; don't talk to a friend in the middle of a lecture.

If you have suggestions for a future conference, feel free to leave feedback, often on a feedback form or web site. But be kind; realize that hundreds of man hours and months of work have gone into preparing for the event. Yes, people make mistakes, but there may be a reason for something you aren't aware of.

6) Most of all, HAVE FUN.
As far as craft goes, I learn much less at a conference today than I did back in 1996, simply because I've been working at it for so long, but I still find nuggets at every conference.

But even if I learned nothing new, I'd still go, for one big reason: conferences charge my creative batteries in ways nothing else can. There is no other place I can hang out where everyone there, literally hundreds of people, really get the writer part of me.

No one looks at me funny when I talk about characters having conversations in my head, or the latest cool fact I learned in my research, or how a plot twist just showed up. These are my people, and conferences are, in some ways, my Disneyland.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Lessons Learned

A popular post from July 2011

by Julie Wright

When my first book was published, I thought I'd arrived. I would never have to submit with fear of rejection ever again, because I now had a PUBLISHER! Having a publisher surely meant that whatever I wrote from then on out would end up in print.

So when I finished my third book, turned it in, and received a rejection letter back from my publisher that was so scathingly cruel, I ended up in a year-long funk of depression, I was surprised. This wasn't the expected turn of events.

I wondered what that meant about me as a writer. Had I really been fooling myself for those first two books? But then I'd read over the rejected manuscript and be completely baffled. It was the best thing I'd written up until that moment.

And then I met someone. Her name was Valerie Holladay. I was at a luncheon for my online writer's group and someone brought her with them. She had once been the head editor of a larger publishing house, but at the time of the luncheon, had recently quit that job.

I was still in the throes of depression when someone introduced me to her. She asked me what I was working on. Well . . . she asked, so I spilled. I spilled all my frustration, all the belief I had in the rejected manuscript, and all the bafflement of a rejection a newer author could muster.

She did something rare, something spectacular, something that changed me forever and made me who I am right now. She offered to read it and give me some advice. With very little hope that she could really help, I boxed the manuscript up and sent it to her.

Bear in mind, I had no idea about second drafts and self editing. My first publisher was a bit relaxed on their editing methods, and I'd received no guidance in that area. So it was with astonishment and tears of gratitude that I received a letter back from Valerie Holladay. It was my very first editorial letter.

In that letter, she taught me how to make a gritty, caustic, bitter character loveable. That was the problem my publisher had with the book. My character wasn't loveable. No one wanted to root for her--they wanted her to die of a drug overdose (which was actually what they said in the rejection letter . . . classy, right?).

I made every change Valerie asked me to make. I treated that editorial letter like a blueprint for an unrelenting building inspector. And when I was done with the book, it was a million times improved. I had written a good book before, but this was something different. This was a whole new level of writing. I'd never known what a difference a SECOND draft could make. I'd never known what people meant when they used the phrase self-editing.

I finished the rewrite, and turned it in to a much larger publisher. They published it. I wrote an acknowledgment to Valerie, and though I thanked her profusely for saving me the way she had, we never really communicated any further.

I'm writing this post for several reasons. The first is that I found yesterday that Valerie Holladay had passed away on the third of July. And it struck me how much I owe her, how grateful I am for that chance meeting that changed a so-so writer into something more. The second is that I hope you all don't make my mistake. I hope you work to make the draft you turn in the very best you can. I hope you don't get cocky or too comfortable with your publisher, because getting a publisher and keeping a publisher are not the same things at all. The third is that I hope you all take editorial advice seriously. Yes, it's your work, and you should only make changes that you are comfortable with, but seriously consider the advice you've been given. If I hadn't taken Valerie's advice seriously, I would not only have wasted her time, I would have wasted my chance to find successful publication for that manuscript.

Good luck to all of you, and to you, Valerie Holladay--thank you for saving me from myself. I know I speak for more than just myself when I say you have impacted many lives for the better.