Thursday, July 29, 2010

Links from Kaye

I'd like to share some links I've run across in the past week or so. Either I'm paying more attention to links people send, or they're just more interesting lately. I was drawn in by all of these!

At this site, NPR wants you to vote for your top 10 favorite thrillers
I wish they'd limited it to ones published in the past year. The list too choose from is long! Some of these aren't really thrillers and they've left off a bunch!

This one is just plain fun.
And here's an article on the above link telling about the guy who created it, and his future plans.

What does your book smell like? New Yorker article on marketing book/perfume tie-ins. Who thought of this?

This Mysteries and Margaritas blog entry could be helpful for editing your first draft

Ever want to know how to use the mouse less and the keyboard more?

Part of a speech by marketing expert Seth Godin. He explains infinite shelf space and what's happening in the publishing industry.

Kristin Lamb gives a humorous view of being a writer at this blog.

Thinking about self-publishing? Here's a whole bunch of info on that.

101 ways to market by Joanna Campbell Slan, which is another name for the Energizer Bunny. I got the link from Victor Banis. He recommends using only the promotional tools you feel comfortable with, or those you enjoy.

Sandy Parshall says she picked up all the links below (except the last one) from a DorothyL post by a librarian. Interesting stuff. They're about to articles/blogs/e-books.

Why e-reader adoption will be slower than people think

Piracy of e-books

What if Amazon dominates the field

NPR on how reading and writing will be changed by e-books

A blog on issues re e-books for librarians and publishers, written by
Sue Polanka, head of Reference at Wright State University

AAA&S panel from Symposium on the Impact of Technology on Society,
entitled "Information Technology and the Future of Books, Publishing,
and Libraries"

Here's how to contact Sandy, author of the fabulous mystery BROKEN PLACES:
Her web site
Blogging at

And lastly, this is a treat for mystery fans. Sir Arthur himself speaking about Sherlock! This comes via Janet Rudolph.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Three Act Play In Your Novel

Most of my writing training doesn’t come from taking English classes in college or creative writing courses on the side. Granted, I wish that I had taken more writing classes back in my days at SWT (I’ll never call it Texas State University, people), but I was too involved in my Theatre courses. While I loved acting, directing really became my passion (I knew there would be a use for my bossy nature!), and it was through studying the works of some gifted playwrights and their use of the three act play, that I began to learn about the process of creating conflict, drama, and characters people care about.

Three things beginning directors learn to identify when reading a play are the inciting incident, the crisis, and the climax. Usually the inciting incident happens in the beginning of Act 1 or thereabouts. The crisis can occur in Act 2 and, that’s right, you guessed it, the climax occurs in Act 3. In case you don’t know, the inciting incident refers to whatever event happens to get the party started—someone dies, a discovery is made, a wicked spell is cast that affects the chances of beauty pageant participants. The crisis is the action a character takes that will ultimately effect the outcome of the play—the hero decides to murder the bad guy, someone decides to stand up to the abusive husband. The climax, sometimes called the resolution, is how the problem is solved.

If you start to think about your novel in this way, it can really help keep your writing tight and on track. I like to write might first draft rough and loose so I can go back and identify those three things. Once I do, I separate my novel into chapter sections that represent Acts 1, 2, and 3. This makes for easier rewrites, and I can hone in on sections at a time, making sure they are how I want them to be.

A good rule of thumb would be to have your inciting incident happen within the first 50 pages. Exposition is important in a story, but it doesn’t always forward the action. Keep us in the moment and only provide back story when it’s necessary. Remember, those first chapters are what the agent will be reading and if the action isn’t moving, they won’t keep reading. Act 1 typically ends with a small crisis.

Take a look at your novel. What is the climax of your story? Where is the big event from which there is no turning back? Hone it, refine it and make sure it raises the stakes—this is your Act 2 section.

How does it get resolved? This is Act 3 and it wraps up the story. I usually find Act 3 the most exciting to write—it’s fast paced and the pieces of the puzzle are coming together.

If you are looking for more information on what should be included in your “acts”, check out Jessica Page Morrell’s book Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us. She goes in depth on the importance of the three act play style of writing.

Happy writing!

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Well Read Writer

It's no secret that most readers are writers. What is frightening is how many writers aren't readers. Its a startling trend that has several in the industry asking questions.
  • How can you know what's selling in your genre if your not reading it? 
  • How can you grow as a writer if you're not exposing yourself to new styles of writing? 
  • How can you expect to be feed by a system if you're not buying in to it?
Reading is a MAJOR part of learning how to write. Not just passively reading or only reading books on writing either (though you can do both). You must actively read a novels, primarily in your genre but also others, and ask yourself the following questions:
  • Is this working for me? Why or why not?
  • What makes it fit into its genre?
  • What sets it apart from others in the genre?
  • What techniques are they employing (e.g. sentence structure, word choice, point of view, etc.)?
Understanding what those writers did to get published will help you improve your own writing. Read works from several different writers. One of my favorite things to do is to walk through my genre section in the book store and see what happens to catch my eye from writers I haven't heard of. If I like the cover copy and opening paragraph I buy it. I haven't been disappointed yet (though I did have to stop reading one because it was too disturbing--which is saying something coming from me). If you're not that adventurous, you can always as for recommendations from friends and fellow writers. I also follow two blogs/tweets that do book reviews and book recommendations:

The Book Smugglers: They review many of the latest and greatest in speculative fiction and paranormal romance. They are very thorough with their reviews and even participate in and share information from many industry events like Book Expo.

Flashlight Worthy Books: Flashlight Worthy covers all genres and gives great book recommendations for all age groups and interests. They compile handy lists based on themes and age groups, which have also been good for helping me find new books for family.  

Of course we are always making recommendations on this blog for great books on writing, because books on the craft are still important. However, it is the books in our genre of choice that we need to support most and that can teach us what we need to know to break into the industry.

Happy Writing!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I Write Like

Here is a little weekend fun for you:

My boss pointed me to this website called I Write Like. You enter in a few paragraphs of your writing and the software compares your writing to forty well known writers to see which one you write like. The algorithm that runs the software makes the analysis based on sentence structure, word choice, and other factors. Once completed, you get a badge that you can place on your website, facebook, or blog so everyone will know who you write like.

By the way, I write like Stephen King.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Second Annual Austin Publishing University

For those of you who may not know, I started working for Greenleaf Book Group about two months ago. I have since taken over organizing and promoting Austin Publishing University, which is an annual event that takes place at Book People. The event occurs every Sunday in August from 1-2:30 in the 3rd floor class room of Book People located at 603 N. Lamar. There are five sessions total. The fees is $15 for one or $50 for all five (so  a nice discount if you want to attend them all). Tickets can only be bought in person at Book People. Space is limited to 60 people, so you want to hurry!

Here are the topics for each session:
Session 1: Industry Overview—How the industry works and publishing options available to authors.
Session 2: Content Is King—What editors look for in a great book.
Session 3: Killer Covers—What makes a book stand out and the basic elements of a cover.
Session 4: Storming the Market—Marketing and promotion before, during, and after a book release.
Session 5: Take Control of the Internet—How to build an online platform.

Each session features one of Greenleaf's experts. Session 4 and 5 will also have a publicist and Bookstore associate on hand to answer questions on placement and marketing. I will be presenting at the 5th session, but I will be on hand for all five to answer any questions and to also serve as a liaison for the Writer's League. We are creating downloadable one sheets on topics like how to query, getting an agent, putting together a book proposal, and marketing. Resources and links  will be available on the website in the next week or two and more will be added  throughout the year.

You can also follow what's happening by using the twitter hashtag #austinpubu or by becoming a fan of APU on Facebook. This is a great and affordable opportunity to learn about the industry and what publishers look for. You can also learn more by viewing our white papers on what publishers want and other related topics.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Spreadsheets for writers, part two--plotting

As promised, here's my second main use for spreadsheets. I know I've discussed this somewhere before, but can't find where. (If I could I'd copy it.)

I use a spreadsheet to keep track of my characters and my plot and don't know what I'd do without it. Probably make a lot of mistakes, like having a person's eyes change from brown to blue, having clues talking about before they're discovered, having them discovered twice--that kind of thing.

After using several methods, I've settled on this one. I label the first worksheet "names & desc". I could call it "characters & settings" because that's what it is, but that's long for that little tab.

I dislike reading books whose character names confuse me, whose characters I can't tell apart. One reason for this is sometimes that too many begin with the same letter. This is SO easy to avoid. See those columns labeled A to Z? (And beyond, but we don't need them for this.) I type "character names" on the first line, skip a space and type "first names", skip several spaces and type "last names". Then I slap the first and last names into their columns. If left to my own devices without this tool, many of my names end up starting with M for some reason.

I'm constantly collecting names, of course, as all writers are. Off signs, TV, radio, and I even look at the fictitious people who send me spam, trying to sell me watches and drugs and, well, that other product that, as a female, I don't really need. I collect these in a spreadsheet so I can alphabetize them and, when I see that I have names beginning with A, B, C, but no Rs or Ts, I can see if there's one on that list I can use.

Below those rows I have columns headed: complete name, description, age, role, vehicle, and other columns for more description if I need it. It's surprising how soon I can forget what vehicle I had a character driving, even though I carefully picked it to make a statement about the character, of course.

At the bottom I list the main settings and describe the main features in case I forget what I put where.

The second worksheet is the plotting timeline. But I do the third one first, plot beats. I use three acts and have three plot beats per act, sort ofin general. Act I has plot beat 1, plot beat 1, and plot point for the end of the act. Act IIa has plot beat 3, plot beat 4, and middle point. Act IIb has plot beats 5 & 6, and plot point. And Act III contains plot beats 7 & 8 and the end. These are just a phrase to tell me what important thing happens at that point. There are 12 items and, if I can get 5500 words for each one, I'll have a decent length novel.

I don't always have all of them filled out when I begin, but as the story unfolds, they all get filled in.

Then I put these on the second worksheet in RED. These are the writing points I'm aiming for. They can change, of course, but if I don't have something to aim for, I have a hard time getting started. The red events go down the first column under the heading "Events". The next column is "time" and the next one, for my current WIP, is "clue or suspect", that is what does this event relate to. Sometimes I color code by theme, by clue, or by suspect so I can see if too much of one thing is bunching up.

The rest of the columns have the names of the main characters, beginning with the protagonist. I fill in more detailed events leading up to the plot points, and put details about what separate characters are doing at that point in their columns. It's easy to glance across the sheet and see if I've been neglecting a theme, a clue, or a suspect for too long. It's also easy to see if I have a character doing two things in two different far-apart places in too short a time.

I like to bold the first column and unbold the event as I write it. It's very easy this way to make sure things happen in the right progression. Especially if you decide to make a big plot change and need to shift things around.

I used to have the characters on a different sheet, but decided that I'd like them all together. Just have to do control-page-up and control-page-down to shift between my worksheets. And I use other worksheets to keep track of things specific to that project.

That's how I do it! I'd love to hear other methods or ways this one could be improved.

[Image used under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation]

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An Insider's Takeaway From the 2010 Writer's League of Texas Conference

June 25-27, Austin played host to the annual Writer's League of Texas Agents Conference. I attended the event last year as a newbie writer. This year, I attended the event as a publisher and moderator. My position at the publishing firm gave me the opportunity to partake in insider conversations and glean information most writers weren't privy to. Much of this information didn't fit in my recaps I did for the Big Bad Book Blog or Reflection's Edge Magazine, leaving me with a ton of tips to share with you lovely folks.

My first round of tips relates to agents. I spent a great deal of time hanging out with agents, listening to them vent their agitation at certain behaviors that frankly came down to a lack of education and not (for the most part) a blatant disregard for decorum on behalf of the writer. Here are the main points the agent's hit on:
  1. Don't pitch to an agent who doesn't represent your work. Too many writers went around blanket pitching every agent listed in the guide. Agents represent works they are passionate about and that they know how to sell. Pitching something outside of their expertise is a waste of time for you and them. 
  2. Speak in brief talking points. You have less than sixty seconds to peak the agent's interest. Lead with a brief, one sentence hook. If they're interested, they will ask questions. For every question answer with a quick sound bite. Long narratives about your motivation for writing and character backstory makes them loose interest and hurts you cause. Clear and concise is best.
  3. When they say send it to me, stop talking! You've won, you sold them on your idea enough to warrant a review. droning on and on about the process and details in the book just wastes their time. Plus, there is usually a long line of hopefuls standing behind you hoping for a moment of their time. Accept your accomplishment and get out of the way.
The next series of takeaways revolves around publishing options. As writers we are trained to chase the big house dream. It has merit, and is often the best and sometimes only way for writers (like me) to get published. Still, publishing is not a one-size fits all venture. Writers do have options.
  1. There are options beyond the big house. The rise of self-publishing, independent publishers, and new technology have changed the playing field. Which option is best is different for each writer. I have developed a white paper that goes into greater detail about this, but essentially writers should research the industry and choose which direction best fits their goals.
  2. Quick doesn't mean better. Just because a writer can go an pay someone to publish their book, doesn't mean its a good book. Oftentimes, self-publishing and new technology publish every work that comes their way, regardless of quality. This can hinder a writer's chances of getting national distribution and media coverage. Again, do your homework. 
  3. Marketing falls to the writer regardless which option they choose. Its important that writers understand that their publishing success falls largely in their hands. Writers are responsible for marketing themselves, which leads me to the next section.
Marketing is key to a writer's success. To truly be effective, an author's marketing strategy must include both online and offline activities. Publishing is a business, and writers should treat it as one. The marketing panels also hit on some other key points:
  1. Start marketing now. Even if you don't have a a published book you need to be marketing yourself as a writer. Publishers are looking for authors who are actively building a community of potential readers. The further along your are in the game, the better your chances of selling through.
  2. Don't overextend yourself. Although your marketing efforts need to be divers, don't think you have to be involved with every social media tool and group out there. Your marketing message may not be conducive to every outlet. experiment, find whats best for you, and stick with.
  3. Quality and consistency over quantity. You don't need to be marketing 24/7. You do need to be sharing quality content on a consistent basis.
  4. Video rocks. Panelists agreed that video content is powerful. You don't have to buy an expensive camera to do the job right. There are many free options out there including muvee, animoto, and AuthorStream.
  5. Be authentic and sociable. Yes its marketing and the goal is to eventually sell books, but people turn off when they feel like there's a dollar sign hanging over their head. Be authentic and natural and engage people in conversations. Share information and tips. Be willing to support other people and they will return the favor.
I'll have even more items to share from the conference in the coming weeks,  plus other great insider tips as I learn more from inside the publishing house. If anyone has questions, I am more than happy to help any way I can, so leave them in the comments section and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

Happy Writing!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Spreadsheets for writers - first of two

A writer friend mentioned today that she had never used spreadsheets and was having fun discovering that tool. I thought to myself, How does one live without spreadsheets?

If you use them all the time and love (or not love) them, you can skip the rest of this. But if you don't use them and would like to explore, I'll try to give a Spreadsheet 101 class here, starting with the barest basics and moving to creating a timesheet.

Spreadsheets have columns and rows, obviously. But they have much than that. When you open a new one, the rows are numbered down the left side starting with 1. The columns are lettered across the top starting with A. The numbers go on for a long, long time. I've never reached the maximum. The letters go to Z, then start over with AA, AB, etc. Next is BA, BB, if you need that many columns. I've gotten into the AA/AB part often, but have never needed the Bs.

I'll tell you another way I use spreadsheets for my writing next time, but, for today, the first way is as a timesheet. Since I'm a retired (OK, I couldn't find any more contract jobs, but I call it retired) programmer, I was used to working from home and keeping track of my time. Since I'm doing writing full time and taking tax deductions for my expenses, it only makes sense to keep track of my time, if only to prove to the IRS (should they get curious) that I'm serious about being a writer and AM working pretty much full time at this.

I use the first row of my timesheet for a label, so if I print it out, I'll know what the heck it is. The next row I use for column headers and I used: DATE, START, END, HOURS, TOTAL, TASK, MILES, DAY OF WK.

The date is obvious, right? What's great about an Excel spreadsheet is, you can put the first date in, say space A4 (a little window below your toolbars tells you what space you're in), then, where you want the next date, just type =A4+1.

I type the time of day I start a project and the time I end it in B4 and C4. Then, in the HOURS column, I type =c4-b4. Voila! It figures out for me how much time I spent on that task.

If I drove, say to pick up office supplies or do business related banking, I put my miles in that column so everything will be in one place.

I like to know what day of the week it is, especially when I'm going back trying to find a reference to something a month or two ago. So I put the day of the week in the next column. If the month starts on Thursday, I can put =5 there.

Need to backtrack a moment here and talk about formatting the numbers. You can have the dates displayed however you want them. If you're on the HOME tab of your toolbar, there's a place for Number about midway across the top. On the first column, it will know you've typed a date and the window will display *Date*. But you can click the little arrow on the bottom right corner and change the way the date looks. Same way with the times you've typed in. On the DAY OF WK column, choose Custom for Category and ddd or dddd to display the name of the day. This enables you to type =5 and have Thursday displayed. Magic! Then you can type =h4+1 for the next day and Friday will pop up.

You can insert rows using the Cells block on the toolbar. If you insert rows a lot, like I do, you can click that little thing that almost looks like a down arrow, to the right of the very top small toolbar, and you can click More Commands and, under Customize, you can add Insert Sheet Row, Insert Sheet Columns to this little toolbar so you can do this with one click.

You can also hover your mouse over the line between one of the letters at the top, left click and drag to make the column wider, or narrower. If you want a lot of text in one box, but not in all of them, you should click Wrap Text to enlarge just that box and display everything you've typed into it.

I use that TOTAL column to add my hours for the day. If I type =SUM(d4:d16), it will add the hours that have been calculated from the start and stop times I've typed in, over in the E column.

The fun part is, if you set up one day, you can copy it and paste below. Put your cursor on the first cell you want to copy, press shift and, keeping it pressed, arrow to the right and then down until the cells you want to duplicate are outlined. Then press Control-C, move your cursor where you want that first cell to be copied, and press Control-V. In fact, if you want to repeat a sample day over and over you can do Control-V again and again without going back and copying again. Here's where you can change 7/1/2010 to 7/2/2010 by adding one, then copy and paste the cell displaying 7/2/2010 to the next 7/1/2010 and it'll turn into 7/1/2010. You may have to tell it exactly which cell to add 1 to if it gets out of whack. Then you can do the DAY OF WKs that way, too.

When you get to the bottom, you'll want to count the hours you've worked that month, and the miles you've driven. Put your cursor where you want the total to appear, in the TOTAL column at the bottom, and press AutoSum at the top right. It might sum only one or part of the numbers, and you'll have to put your cursor in the white box where the =SUM formula appears and type in the rest. For example, if it just says =SUM(E45), you can change it to =SUM(e4:e45). It will change your lower case to caps, which it seems to prefer.

I have another nifty use for spreadsheets, plotting, but I'll save that for another day. This is long enough! Is this at all clear??