Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Advice for adventurers - travel writers beware!

You’re the world-weary travel writer. Your fingers have traversed mountain ranges, strolled over sandy beaches, peered over the edge of sulphurous volcanoes and pressed the flesh with people from every corner of the planet.

It’s easy to slip into a mellow, offend nobody, say nothing with substance and ‘go with the flow’ mode but that’s not what you’re being paid for and sooner or later you’ll be travelling out of a virtual door on the end of a virtual boot.

So, if you’re going to be a successful travel writer, you need to give people hard facts and none come harder than when you're dealing with …

… backpackers.

They’re not all hippy, hitch-hiking yogis looking to check in at their next mountain-top ashram. Most are out to see the world on a budget, following beaten tracks as well as the unbeaten ones. Some travel with partners or college friends; others go solo.

Whoever they are, they need to plan their trip, live out their dream (or nightmare) and return home safe, but never sorry.

As a travel guru, your job is to provide comprehensive advice on just that. Here are some pointers to help you out.

The initial stages of a backpacker’s expedition involve a great deal of planning, so much so that even booking the flight out can seem a mere triviality. Decisions must be made on itineraries, main sites of interest, food, shelter and transport costs, and whether to go it alone or not. You’ll need to guide your readers in the most effective ways to make these decisions, encouraging them to think hard about the kinds of activities they intend to take part in and the time-frames in which they should consider doing them. An introductory ‘food for thought’ or FAQ section would be a helpful tool for anyone pondering these issues. You may also want to draw up a table of best dates for in and out-of-season travel to cover a wide range of global destinations and help reduce the climate shock factor for the location’s first-timers.

Travel pursuits determined, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty.... Packing!

An all-inclusive list of essentials is imperative but you may want to add an ‘optional extras’ inventory as well to include things like books, games and musical instruments. Basic first aid should never be left out and counsel should be given on what and how much to carry for different kinds of trip (e.g. camping, volunteering in a school, etc.).

Next up? Getting there.

This section should cover recommendations on how to deal with a range of aspects from the emotional to the practical and on to the health and safety-related. The latter will differ for men, women and seniors so a note on each would be beneficial. It’s also here that you might choose to offer country-specific advice on transport systems, where to get information, how to travel cheaply and safely, and financial info such as regular costs and conversion rates.

Testimonials and photographs can spice up your pages and remind readers of adventures to come so be sure to squeeze them in! Coming full circle, you could write about coping strategies for post-travel depression and the less expected shock of returning home with a fresh perspective on the things you took for granted before you left. You could enter a guide on how to recount your experiences to family and friends or how to stay in contact with fellow travellers after the journey, wherever they may be in the world.

Lastly, in case your readers are interested in further researching their preferred destination, why not assemble a list of additional sources of information to encompass areas like hotels, transport links, maps, events, insightful reading material... maybe even ashrams.

Do your job as a travel writer and you’ll never be told to ‘get lost’.

About the author

Struggling with your formatting, cover design, ghost-writing, marketing or distribution? Contact Any Subject Books and we'll be only too pleased to help you. We're a family firm with old-fashioned standards of accuracy, attention to detail and decency in its trading. Because we endeavour to 'get it right first time', our overheads are lower and our prices highly competitive. Check it out now by clicking this link - Any Subject Books.

Monday, October 28, 2013

5 Steps to Writing a Killer Book Description

I love to repost blog pieces that resonate with me. They're worth another look! With National Novel Writing Month about to descend on the writing community, I thought this piece might be useful for those already thinking about how to describe their WIP. Enjoy this great post from Clive West!---Mary Ann

When I put our first few books up for publication, I admit that I was totally befuddled by all the boxes and fields that I had to complete. I'll also freely admit that I was glad when I finally got to the last one and was in the enviable position of being able to click the sirenius 'Submit' button. I was so relieved when I saw the books become available - that's it, I told myself.

But, of course, it's not so.
Your book may seem like the best thing since sliced bread ...
There are thousands of new books being uploaded every day and each will sink or swim depending upon a number of factors, only one of which being the relative merit of the material. Putting it plainly, if you don't do the absolute best that you can for each of your offerings, your books will plumb the oceanic depths, providing reading material for only those condemned to an eternity in Davy Jones' Locker.

Having spent many years being in charge of marketing and recruitment for an employment agency and also having written a book on taking charge of your job interviews, I decided to put my knowledge and experience into producing a simple five-step process for writing a killer 'product description' involving a similar system to that which I've successfully used to land jobs for both myself and others.

This is an all-purpose solution which you can apply to just about any book you care to mention.
Tagline

This is one line which stands alone and it needs to capture both the essence of the book and the imagination of the reader. Movie companies have been wise to this for years with such memorable quotes as:

  • Alien: "In space no-one can hear you scream"
  • ET: "He is afraid. He is totally alone. He is 3 million light years from home."
  • Titanic: "Collide with destiny"
  • The Addams Family: "Weird is relative"
  • A Fish Called Wanda: "A tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge, and seafood."
That's a fairly eclectic bunch - hopefully it should give you some good ideas.

What's the book about?
Remember those long-forgotten days when buying something new to read meant letting your eyes meander along the crammed shelves of a bookstore? If you didn't have a specific title or author in mind, what was your buying process? I’m guessing that it was to spot the cover and then read the blurb, wasn't it? Only after that had appealed to you did you look at page one. Therefore, the 'Look Within' feature is not going to be engaged by your readers if your blurb doesn't strike home. This means that you need to write a brief and enticing summary of what the book's about without resorting to:

  • Hyperbole
  • Bragging
  • Lying
  • Giving the plot away
Something specific about the book

You've probably covered the majority of it in the previous element but here you need to come up with something which your book has that others might not have such as its setting, protagonists, time period, adherence to fact etc. It's important that you create a uniqueness about your writing but without making it sound too far removed from the mainstream.
Why would someone want it?

Put yourself in the shoes of the potential buyer - why would they want your particular book? Here's where you get to use words such as 'powerful', 'gripping', 'captivating', 'charming', 'romantic' etc. Don't over-egg the pudding - keep it brief and limit it to just one sentence if you can. Less is more as they say.
A call to action

The final part of your winning description is to include some instruction to the reader to make the purchase. This needs to be subtle but no too subtle. For example, things like 'Buy it now' are best reserved for auctions. Far better is something such as:
  • On offer this month for a reduced price
  • Buy a copy and get a free sneak preview of ...
  • For a short time only, free e-autograph and dedication
  • Register your copy and get entered into a prize draw
Etc
The psychology for dealing with readers when writing a description is this.

  1. Pique their interest.
  2. Reassure them that they're on the right track with your book.
  3. Focus them on your book
  4. Make them see why they want THIS book
  5. Get them to go and buy it!
... which is why the order you put the elements in is significant.

Happy selling.

Clive West has written 4 books as well as being a director of publishing company, Any Subject Books. Before that he ran an employment agency for professional workers and, based on his many years of experience, he has written a book about taking charge of your job interviews called Job Interview Success - How To Get Hired.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Language Books for Beginners

Work, social life, personal pleasure, higher education, moving abroad, going on holiday, a passion for the discovery of new worlds... the grounds for learning a new language are endless!

The following 8 tips are for those looking to write quality language books that inspire pupils and keep them craving ever more tuition.

Your introduction should enthuse and motivate.

A nice touch might be to include a short history of the language with a concluding emphasis on its beauty, usefulness or impact in today’s world. Novices need that extra kick-start to persevere with tricky grammar, nonsensical exceptions and homework exercises.

Don’t write a dictionary.

Lists of foreign words followed by their translations might teach pigeons to speak but not humans. There’s nothing more mind-numbing than a lengthy word manual lacking phonetic guidance and cultural insight. If the bulk of the book is a copy and paste translation job, your students aren’t learning anything they couldn’t type into Google and those that are serious about pursuing their newfound interest aren’t going to give your publication much more than a second’s flick-through in Waterstones.

Back to primary school ...

We take numbers and letters for granted in our mother-tongue after Year 2 but the basics are essential for anyone starting anew so draw up those number and alphabet tables and don’t skimp on help with the pronunciation. The Italian alphabet, for example, has 5 letters less than the English one. This could cause confusion in less pattern-perceptive learners of the language when attempting to write words they have heard but not read. Moreover, grasping the other language’s alphabet provides the first step to familiarising oneself with pronunciation. This can be seen most notably with Latin languages like Spanish as well as African ones like Swahili, both of which contain particularly high levels of phoneticism.

How do I say ..?

If you don’t have an accompanying audio track to your book, it is important that you either provide phonetic spelling alongside all foreign words or relate particular sounds in the new language to those in the mother-tongue. For example, in the Bengali word ma, the a is pronounced as in the English word star.

But don’t get too technical!

Hammering home the significance of acute accents and cedillas is fine if they’re being used to demonstrate the difference in sound or meaning between a word with the accent(s) and its accent-less counterpart but worrying those starting out about subtleties of dialect or even characters (as for Asian languages) presents them with a dauntingly unnecessary bundle of complications.

Split it into bite size chunks.

Dividing your lessons into organised, theme and situation-oriented sections makes them easier to digest, not to mention easier on the eye. Featuring typical conversation dialogues are a simple way to drop your reader’s imagination into real-life situations and, with the vocab and grammar taken from the previous lesson, it can be a motivational boost for the novice to understand their first written dialogue.

Culture.

A straightforward method of incorporating some depth into your students’ discovery of the new language is to add a culture section. You could write about anything from quirky cultural habits or turns of phrase to cataloguing some of the national literature and saying what it means to its people.

Last words.

Glossaries and a short, simple dictionary should be included at the end for mere reference. Again, this could be organised into useful words or phrases for particular circumstances (e.g. business, the tourist office, telling the time, etc.) or it could be done alphabetically. Remember to stick to common, everyday words for now and save the linguistic intricacies for the sequel!


About the author

Struggling with your formatting, cover design, ghost-writing, marketing or distribution? Contact Any Subject Books and we'll be only too pleased to help you. We're a family firm with old-fashioned standards of accuracy, attention to detail and decency in its trading. Because we endeavour to 'get it right first time', our overheads are lower and our prices highly competitive. Check it out now by clicking this link - Any Subject Books.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Voodoo of the Bayou Myth Series

It's almost Halloween! With that in mind, I thought I'd write about a topic that's been getting a lot of play lately on TV shows: Voodoo. I use it a great deal in my Bayou Myth series!--Mary Ann



I have always been fascinated by other religions--especially the more "out there" ones.

 

I was brought up Episcopalian which is basically just Diet Catholic--all of the sin, but no need for the confession! While my parents were pretty open minded, we didn't talk a lot about religion around the dinner table. It wasn't until I was in high school, about the same age as my heroine Joan from my young adult series, Bayou Myth and Bayou Scar, that I even began to really think about religions outside my own.

 

I guess that's natural since the teenage years are when you start to question everything!

 

About that time I saw the movie, The Serpent and the Rainbow. It's basically about this scientist who travels to Haiti to learn about a man who died and then came back as a zombie. While he's there, he learns a lot about Haitian voodoo and goes a little crazy. Okay. I admit that it wasn't the greatest horror movie I'd ever seen, but it did get me interested in voodoo. Everything I'd ever seen or read about voodoo had made me think it was just a crazy cult thing, but the movie indicated that the story of The Serpent and the Rainbow was based on true events.

 

Curious, I did some research and discovered that voodoo was much more than some spooky blood smeared rituals meant to frighten people. It's actually a blend of Haitian and Catholic beliefs. Yes, there are some elements that are supernaturally charged, (the creation of zombies is one example) but the intentions of voodoo--to love and be true to oneself--is essentially the same as other faiths.

 

Now, New Orleans voodoo does have a slightly different feel to it. That's because in Louisiana voodoo really is like a spicy pot of gumbo--it’s a blend of a little bit of everything! There, you have voodoo priestess who can make you love potions, create spells meant to get rid of an enemy, or make a gris gris bag to bring you good luck. This is the voodoo that Hollywood likes to show the world and  that's probably why it has such a confusing reputation.

 


When I set out to create a young adult tale that featured voodoo, I wanted to be respectful. So I did my best to include information about voodoo that is both authentic and a bit on the spooky side, too. But you can't write about New Orleans voodoo and not include one of the most famous voodoo priestess of all time either--Marie Laveau. Marie was the woman who really brought voodoo to the forefront of the New Orleans world. She is still revered--and a little bit feared--to this day!

 

So, of course I had to put her in the Bayou Myth series, too. In fact, she is the great, great, grandmother of my heroine, Joan Renault. She tends to guide Joan in the realm of voodoo, teaching her the customs and rites that will one day make Joan a powerful voodoo priestess. But like lots of teenagers, Joan isn't exactly willing to be bossed around by a lady who's been dead for almost two hundred years!

 

The really fun part of writing this series was combining my research on voodoo with the Greek myths that so many of us are familiar with. You may recognize some Greek tales that now have just a little voodoo twist to them!

 

Hopefully, I've got you curious about my series. Here's a teaser from Bayou Myth to wet your appetite a little more….

 

As a sixteen year old voodoo queen in the making, Joan Renault just wants to be like all the other girls in the small town of Monte Parish, Louisiana—obsessed with boys and swamped with social lives. If the other kids would quit calling her “hoodoo hag,” she might have a small shot at normality. It would also help if Joan’s weekend outings with her secret crush, Dave, weren’t always being interrupted by her dead Grandmere, the legendary Marie Laveau. After all, it’s hard to make out with your best friend when your grandmother is watching! But when you come from a long line of voodoo priestesses with dried gator heads decorating the wall of their huts, normal doesn’t come easily.

When Joan witnesses the brutal sacrifice of a child to a tree Druid, she learns her Grandmere’s scandalous past has come back to haunt those living in the present. Hera, a vengeful voodoo priestess, is determined to use the residual energy of Pandora’s Box to revive a sleeping voodoo god and declare war on the descendants of Marie Laveau, especially Joan. Suddenly, Greek myths are being re-enacted all over town, and Joan has her hands full trying to sort it all out. With the approach of Samedi’s Day—the voodoo day of resurrection—Joan must learn to accept her destiny in order to stop the approaching threat to her family and friends.

 

 

Mary Ann Loesch is an award winning fiction writer from Texas. Her urban fantasy, Nephilim, was published in July 2011 by Lyrical Press Inc.  An avid blogger for All Things Writing (http://www.allthingswriting.blogspot.com), Mary Ann has also contributed stories in the horror anthology, All Things Dark and Dastardly. Her latest book, Bayou Scar, was released in June 2012. While she loves dirty martinis and cuddling with her dachshund, she loves fan mail even more! Contact her through her website at www.maryannloesch.com.

 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Unhappy Endings

Blink quick and you'll miss it. The End.
I'm not sure whether it's a reduction in attention span or a general trend towards sloppy writing but, based on the numerous books I’ve read recently and what I've observed on the idiot's lantern (TV in case you wondered) that adorns our wall, abrupt endings are definitely in vogue. More’s the pity.

But why do we accept them?

It's not a race!
A typical book will take at least 10 hours to read - probably more; a film, 90 minutes to 2 hours to watch. The storyline is usually:
  • Part 1 - grab the attention with something dramatic
  • Part 2 - introduce the characters and the situation
  • Part 3 - stuff happens
  • Part 4 - more stuff happens that changes or resolves Part 3
  • Part 5 - the end
In many cases, it almost seems like the author has invested so much time and effort in their work that there's no energy left to inject into the ending. Your current account at The Bank of Inspiration has gone into the red.

The French, bless their little cotton socks, even have a word for the resolution of a story - the dénouement. The official definition of dénouement is the final revelation of the intricacies of the plot - note the words 'intricacies'. This is no 'and they all lived happily ever after' ending, a book must flow like a river from its furthermost spring to its marine estuary and, while there may be the odd waterfall near the source, they just don't belong in the river's lower reaches.

If you reflect on the literary classics, you'll find that endings were not rushed - look at Bronte and Hardy; they didn't just stop on a sixpence. Perhaps it was because books were relatively expensive in those days or perhaps the advent of the computer game and the need for a quick resolution has taken over. Whatever the reason, the abrupt and premature ending of a book gives rise to a poor reader experience and that diminishes the probability that you'll get repeat business for your next title.

Before you type those final two words 'The End' or put your 3 asterisks in the center of the page, just stop and ask yourself if the ending has:
  • Received as much care and attention as the rest of the book
  • Arisen plausibly and with total continuity of style
  • Included all the dialogue (often truncated, I've found) and actions necessary to achieve whatever resolution you've decided upon
  • Followed all of the characters to their natural termination points
  • Maintained integrity with the rest of the book
I can't give you an all-situations solution but I would urge you to carefully analyse the proportion of your book which you've set aside for your tale’s conclusion. Everyone has their own writing style but I'd suggest that hurried endings and 'linear writing' (that's where the ending is the final thing that you write) have a high level of incidence. With that in mind, write the last section of your book, put it aside for a month or so and then re-read it from cover to cover. Does it seem like the last chapter or so was bolted on a bit like Frankenstein's head? If that’s what it’s like you need to consider very carefully how all of your characters have progressed from the main storyline to the closing paragraph and then undertake some very delicate literary surgery to join the sections together.

Anything less just can't be called a happy ending.

About the author

Struggling with your formatting, cover design, ghost-writing, marketing or distribution? Contact Any Subject Books and we'll be only too pleased to help you. We're a family firm with old-fashioned standards of accuracy, attention to detail and decency in its trading. Because we endeavour to 'get it right first time', our overheads are lower and our prices highly competitive. Check it out now by clicking this link - Any Subject Books.

Monday, October 14, 2013

5 Tools to Help the Challenged Writer with Social Media

SOCIAL MEDIA. I can't think of that phrase without it being in all caps, shouting off the page like it's some over sized gorilla determined to climb the Empire State Building of Writing. If you've been following our friendly little blog here at All Things Writing, you are aware that we've done several blog posts about various forms of social media. It's one of those things that writers are supposed to get savvy about if they expect to build a platform, get an agent, find a publisher, and sell a book. And if you're thinking to yourself, "Ah, I'm self publishing. She's not talking to me..." Ha! I'm especially talking to you. My hairy finger (yes, it's kind of Hobbit-like)  is pointing directly in your direction, and I'm shaking my golden locks, (they're actually kind of dish watery) dismayed by your naivety.

Yep. Social media is a band wagon you need to jump on, my friend. I know, I know. There's so much to choose from. How will you find the time? Or keep up with it all? We've heard about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and all the other. So here's 5 new tips to think about.

1. Social Oomph--This handy, dandy website will help you out if you feel like you don't have time to Tweet on Twitter. It allows you to schedule your tweets in advance, thus giving the illusion you are on-line. This can be a great tool for scheduling little announcements at various points through out the day. Just hop on in the morning, schedule your bright, witty comments about things that haven't happened yet, and go on about your business. Some people say this defeats the point of Twitter. Tough. Some of us have lives. To view Social Oomph, click here: http://dld.bz/ahZaR

2. Blog Topics--Blogging is a pretty big thing for writers since it helps create your platform and introduces your voice to readers. Don't know what to write about for your adoring fans this week? No problem. Look at your previous posts. Create a little graphic organizer and brainstorm ideas that relate to what you've written about in the past. Pretty soon, you'll have a nice list of new ideas. Keep them by your computer so when you're stuck on what to write about, the list is right there to refer to.

3.  Stat Counter--Want to know if your blogs are being read or which topics score the most hits? Many blog sites have built in stat counters, but you can also install a stat counter on your website to help you keep track, too. For details, click here. http://statcounter.com/

video
4. Animoto--Some of us are visual learners. If you want to create a movie to help promote your book, get more attention to your blog, or just because you've got a need to be the next Robert Rodriguez, then go to Animoto. This site is so easy to use and allows you to create some fun videos in under thirty seconds. Even my ninety year old grandma could do it! I've used this to drive traffic to my blog or promote things for functions at work. Above is an example video that I made using Animoto.

5. Goodreads--I know I just did a blog post about the fabulousness of Goodreads, but it has to be said again: they are a great social media tool. With all the chat sites on Goodreads, you are sure to find kindred readers. This is a good way to get feed back on your short stories, manuscripts, ideas, and encourage people to read your blog.

I hope these simple social media hints will help inspire you. Have some other quick suggestions or new ideas? Leave a comment!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Devil’s in the detail

Detail is an important part of writing. It allows your reader to really put themselves in the scene, to see the action unfolding vividly within their own heads. Decent description can make the difference between a good book or story and a bad one – but like everything in creative writing, it is a craft which will take a lot of time and hard work to perfect.

It's the little detail that's so easy to miss
Each different story and each different author will determine how much detail is actually needed. All writers have different styles. In my final year studying creative writing at university, I was part of a feedback group in which we would meet once a week and swap our latest work for constructive criticism. A girl in my group wrote in a very visual, colourful style, with a lot of concrete details, whereas I favoured dialogue and emotion in my own piece, and found those descriptions to take priority. Consequently, I thought she over-described the visual details, and she thought I under-described – but nobody else in the group picked up on either of these points! Different writers will spot and be aware of different things in one another’s writing, so you need to be aware of subjective opinions. Write in the style and genre – and however much concrete or visual description that might call for – that works for you. Don’t force it, or try to imitate someone else’s style.

There is, however, such thing as truly over or under-doing it. For example, if you were to write seven pages of description to set the scene, if nothing happens during that timeframe this is not going to be a very engaging experience for the reader, no matter how well written it may be. At the same time, you could have a whole dramatic scene take place, with natural, perfect dialogue, suspense aplenty and an ending that could potentially drop your reader’s jaw; but this won’t be nearly as effective if you don’t tell them where the scene is taking place, what is going on around them, what kind of facial expressions they are pulling, etc. Think about what people do when they are in a certain mood – what is their body language like? What is the tone of their voice? Their facial expressions? Don’t just tell your reader that your character is upset – show them, by using these small details. But remember, sometimes dialogue and events alone can speak for themselves; don’t pad out your writing with irrelevant or needless descriptions of someone’s actions or the colour of the carpet they’re standing on purely for the sake of having enough description in there. Your reader will notice what you’re doing and it will seem contrived. It’s always about striking the right balance.

Of course, the urge to use clichés at certain moments is something that plagues every writer. After all, a cliché is only a cliché because it’s used so often, and it’s only used so often because it’s usually so true! But cluttering up your descriptions with clichés – i.e., ‘her smile shone like the sun’ – makes for a bland, unexciting and mediocre read. But again, don’t go too far the other way. Don’t overwrite, or be pompous. Avoid those obscure synonyms in the thesaurus, no matter how beautiful they may look or sound; not only can they throw a reader, but it can be very obvious what you’ve done. Make sure your description is clear and concise.

Lastly – practise. Being able to write good description takes time, and often, a lot of re-writes. Don’t expect it to come naturally right away, if ever; and if you don’t get it right first time, you can go back and sculpt and mould until your description puts the image you want in your reader’s head. The first draft will never be perfect. The editing stage is where you get the chance to polish those descriptions until they shine.

About the author

Don't struggle with your formatting, cover design, ghost-writing, marketing or distribution? Contact Any Subject Books and we'll be only too pleased to help you. We're a family firm with old-fashioned standards of accuracy, attention to detail and decency in its trading. Because we endeavour to 'get it right first time', our overheads are lower and our prices highly competitive. Check it out now by clicking this link - Any Subject Books.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Goodreads Giveaway--Bayou Scar

Yes. It's shameless self promotion time. Again.

As you know, my new book was released this week and I have started a giveaway at Goodreads for the paperback version. It's only open through Oct. 10 so enter while the entering is good! Feel free to drop a little review of the book off over at Goodreads or Amazon. Good luck!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Bayou Scar by Mary Ann Loesch

Bayou Scar

by Mary Ann Loesch

Giveaway ends October 10, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win