For the Love of Poetry

The school year is back in session and with it comes the usual stresses and changes – especially with the introduction of a new Colorado standards and (yet again) a new math curriculum. One thing I’ve noticed on the language arts front over the last few years (and, mind you, my children are just finishing elementary school) is the absence of poetry.

Now I have to admit I don’t remember being forced to learn much in the way of poetry until high school, although I do remember having to learn poems to recite in front of class, and having various poetry anthologies on school supply lists at least since elementary school (yes, I still have them!) so clearly poetry was well integrated into the curriculum program.

Today (sadly) my own boys know little about poetry – the only verses they’ve been exposed to so far are inane ones  about smelly gym lockers or disgusting vegetables. A tragic moment came last year when, after being forced to re-write one of these ‘poems’, my son Jasper declared that poetry was, in his opinion, ‘the most boring and useless thing ever!’. Anyone who knows me well knows that those were ‘fighting words’ and (horror upon horror!) I proceeded to lecture him the soulfulness and beauty of what I call ‘real’ poetry.

This got me thinking though – how much do children (or adults) for that matter get exposed to poetry? Surely even elementary students can appreciate the beauty of Wordsworth, Blake or Keats, or TS Eliot’s ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’…so why is it the poetry seems to have been relegated to some archaic shelf?

Although I admit to wallowing (as many teenage girls did) in the angst ridden poetry of Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson, I feel my exposure at school to a range of poets as a both a child and as a young adult was vital to inspiring in me a love of poetry. Indeed, when I’m writing, I still feel the urge to flick through a beloved book of poems  – allowing the beauty of the imagery and language to inspire, in turn, my own prose. I feel sorry that, so far, my own boys haven’t been introduced to the same breadth or beauty in poetry – at least at school (they don’t get off that easy – I plan to inflict as much poetry as I can  at home!).

So what about you TKZers – did you get much exposure to poetry at school? Did you grow to love or hate it as a result? Do you think poetry has become somehow ‘outdated’ in this age of electronic communication or do, you like me, hope that it will make a resurgence, and lead some young people at least to love it and appreciate it as much as I do.


When Your Brainstorming Hits a Drought

gobi-692640_1280A writing friend recently shared with a bunch of fellow scribes that she was seriously stuck on the brainstorming aspect of a new project. She gave me permission to blog about it. This author needs to solidify her idea and start writing because she has a thing called a deadline. But, she says, “the story and the characters are seriously playing hard to get.”

She asked, “Would love any brainstorming tips and tricks if you have them! How do you start building your story and characters? And how do you feel productive and intentional when brainstorming is such a creative (often stubborn…at least for me) process?”

It’s a great question. Here is what I wrote to her:

I wonder if part of the deal is what so many of us have expressed over the years with each new book, that it seems to get “harder.” And the reason for that, I believe, is that with each book you’re better and your standards go up. You know what goes into writing a whole book, all the constituent parts, and think, “Man, I’ve got to do all that again! And better!” So every idea in the brainstorming phase gets tested, when it should be a time for getting as many ideas as you can without judgment.

FWIW, I do the following at the beginning of any project.

– A free-form journal, interacting with myself, asking myself questions, going deeper into why I think I want to write this, and also putting down plot and character ideas as they come. I take several days (at least) for this, writing without stopping, but re-reading the journal each day, doing some editing on what I wrote the day before, highlighting the best ideas, and so on.

– At some point I take a stack of 3 x 5 cards to Starbucks and just write down scene ideas. Random. Whatever vivid scene comes to mind. I might prompt myself by playing the dictionary game (opening a dictionary to a random page, picking a noun, and riffing off that). When I have 30-40 scenes I shuffle the deck and pick two cards at random and see what the connection suggests.

– Finally, I want my concept in a three-sentence elevator pitch that I know is absolutely solid and marketable. Sentence 1 is character + vocation + current situation. Sentence 2 starts with “When” and is what I call the Doorway of No Return––the thing that pushes the Lead into the main plot. Sentence 3 begins with “Now” and the death (physical, professional, or psychological/spiritual) stakes. Here’s an example based on The Insider by Reece Hirsch:

Will Connelly is an associate at a prestigious San Francisco law firm, handling high level merger negotiations between computer companies. 

When Will celebrates by picking up a Russian woman at a club, he finds himself at the mercy of a ring of small-time Russian mobsters with designs on the top-secret NSA computer chip Will’s client is developing.  

Now, with the Russian mob, the SEC and the Department of Justice all after him, Will has to find a way to save his professional life and his own skin before the wrong people get the technology for mass destruction.  

Here’s another example:

Dorothy Gale is a farm girl who dreams of getting out of Kansas to a land far, far away, where she and her dog will be safe from the likes of town busybody Miss Gulch.

When a twister hits the farm, Dorothy is transported to a land of strange creatures and at least one wicked witch who wants to kill her.

Now, with the help of three unlikely friends, Dorothy must find a way to destroy the wicked witch so the great wizard will send her back home.

A good pitch guarantees a solid foundation. Now what?

Well, the next phase depends on how you like to approach things: plotter or pantser or something in between?

My own practice is to go immediately to the mirror moment, for it influences everything else. This is a concept I explain in detail in my book Write Your Novel From the Middle.

Now, I know there are some dedicated pantsers out there for whom any kind of pre-planning brings out a case of hives. They just want to start writing, and that’s okay … so long as you realize that you’re basically brainstorming the long way round. Some contend that this is the best way to find original story material. I would say it is only one way. There is still going to be a lot of editing and a ton of rewriting. The process I’ve described here is a faster and, to my mind, a more efficient way of getting to an original story line that you will be excited to write.

And so ended my advice, which I hope bursts the clouds for a fellow writer.

When things go dry in your writer’s mind, what are some of the things you do?



A Little Birdy Told Me


Inspiration, as has been often discussed on this spot, comes from strange places. Anyone who has put cursor to screen for more than a few sentences also knows that inspiration is but the very important start of any story, long or short. One needs interesting characters doing interesting things, or characters who have interesting things happen to them. Sometimes, when dealing with the latter situation, authors find themselves with a character who is not only painted into a corner but also glued to the wall. There are times when that happens where one must give up, go back a couple of pages, and do a re-write. Another alternative, however, is to step back, look at what is around you, and see if the world around you provides a solution. That alternative was given to me on Wednesday by happenstance.

My wife loves wild birds. We have feeders in the back, front, and side yards, and birdhouses in the front yard tree. We have so many feeders that the Franciscan monks send money to US pay for seed (just kidding). We do get a lot of birds around the house, though,which means we don’t leave doors open. Birds don’t like to fly into buildings, but they sure wind up in a lot of them. Go into any big box store, particularly one of those giant supermarket operations, and look up. You’ll probably see a bird or two flying by. When I was a wee lad attending Catholic grade school nothing would crack the eighth grade girls’ choir up faster than a starling dive bombing the loft. Yeah, birds are like cats in that way: they try really hard to get in somewhere, and then decide they would rather be somewhere else, like outside. This is of course selectively true across the biological kingdom — and no more so than among the males of any species — but today we’re just talking about birds, and the noise in my house.

I was working on a tale a couple of days ago, a story which begins with a guy waking up in the middle of a desert and having no recollection of how he got there. He realizes after a few moments that he is surrounded by something really unpleasant and potentially dangerous. He gets out of that problem and jumps from one problem to the next. My unfortunate fictitious friend possesses neither firearms nor adaptive skillsets so he can’t fight his way out of predicaments, and they’re not really the type of situations that he can think his way out of, either. That doesn’t leave many alternatives, but his creator (that would be me) did a little of this here and a little of that there and before you know it my character was leap-frogging pans and straddling fires like no one’s business. I then reached a point where I painted him into that corner I mentioned earlier, and couldn’t figure out a way to get him out of it that would be consistent and, more importantly, believable when one considered what had happened before. I really liked the pages leading up to the dilemma, too, and was loathe to rewrite them. Benign neglect of a few minutes’ duration seemed to be in order. Then I heard THE noise. It was coming from right above my basement office, which is beneath our attached garage. I went upstairs, opened the door leading from the garage to the house, and got dive-bombed by a cardinal. I’m not referring to the kind that lives in a cathedral but takes a vow of poverty; I’m talking about the feathered type. It had gotten trapped in the garage and couldn’t find a way out. I managed to get the door to the house closed behind me before it flew deeper into the residence (that would have been really interesting). It seemed that a little common sense was in order so I opened the garage door. I was worried the bird was going to damage the garage and I would have to call someone like to come out and repair it! I’ve had a few issues with my garage door before and I was hoping I wouldn’t have to pay out for a repair again. Repairs can be really expensive! Luckily the bird didn’t damage anything so it saved me some money, but I know a few great garage door companies who I would’ve called if I needed to.

Cardinals, it seems, will never be employed at Oak Ridge doing atomic research. This bird, like my protagonist, couldn’t find its way out, despite the wide open garage door that was present just a couple of feet behind it as a careened posterior over elbow all over the garage. It was too frightened to see the way out. It struck me, after watching my new bird friend for a few minutes, that my story needed a similar exit strategy, one that would have been obvious to an observer who was not panicked but that my hapless protagonist was overlooking in his fright and haste. I started thinking creatively along those lines while I watched the bird and as it finally realized that 1) the door was open and 2) it was open to OUTSIDE — worms, seed, sunlight, and all it could want — it flew out. I put the garage door back down and spied it a few moments later as it sat on the bird feed outside the front window, pecking contentedly at seed. I was content, too, as I had solved my creative dilemma.

I doubt that the cardinal learned anything, but the lesson for me was that you can learn a lot, and even occasionally solve a problem, by watching what is going on around you, even when at first it doesn’t seem to be relevant. Does anyone have similar stories? What do you do when you’re writing and get stuck on a problem? Do you back up and take another path, or do you bulldoze your way through it?

First Page Critique: SMACKDOWN!


Today we’re critiquing a first page submission, UNTITLED. My comments follow.


Locked up. That’s how it felt, with Liam’s one arm wrapped around my body and the other around my neck. I flexed my arms. His grip tightened. His sweat was dripping onto me, creating a puddle between my shoulder blades. He was way bigger – no way I could use brute force against him.

“How’s that for revenge, huh?” He snickered into my ear.

I chuckled lightly. He grounded his teeth in annoyance. The class was staring at us, so was our coach, Mr. Randall. Cedric grinned at me from the back. I grinned. “Not good enough.” I wrapped a leg around his, pulling upwards at the same time. His arms flailed as he attempted to regain his balance, failed, and crashed to the floor, dragging me down with him.

I got to my feet immediately and took the Jod Muay stance again. Head bent, arms up, protecting my face, left foot forward. I motioned with my finger, taunting him.

Liam scrambled to his feet. There was an ugly looking bruise on the side of his head. “You little shit-“

“We all know who that is.”

Liam swore and lunged towards me with a punch. I sidestepped and grabbed hold of his wrist. I watched as his eyes widened with surprise. I grinned. Then delivered two punches straight to his kidneys. Liam crumpled to the floor, gasping for breath.

“Ryan! Get off him!”

I turned to face my coach. “Mr. Randall-!”

“That’s enough Muay Thai for today! Your class is over!”

I swore. “Come on, sir! Just a few more minutes!” Hell, I was having fun. And we had barely started.

Before he could reply, Liam’s elbow slashed across the side of my head. Blinding white pain – then anger.

I tackled Liam to the floor, pummeling every inch of his body I could find. Once, twice, a third time. Liam was already half unconcious, barely fighting back.

I felt someone grab my arms and I was dragged away. I kicked backwards.

“That bloody-“

Cedric stepped in front of me, still holding down my arms. “Take it easy, buddy.”

I was still shaking. My face felt hot. “That – That bloody – hurt – “

Cedric put a hand on my shoulder. “Look, fight in the dorm, you know Mr. Randall doesn’t like you-“

“Yeah.” I cut him off, trying to focus on breathing calmly. Half the school teachers hated me. And it wasn’t my fault.

My comments:

This page does a nice job of conveying the tension of physical combat between the two characters in the scene. I sense an interesting main character and story here, but there are a few craft-related issues getting in the way. Some points to consider for revision:

Why do we care?

The first paragraphs in this scene convey the physical aspects of a boxing match, but little more. We get a hint of emotional tension at the end (the illegal punch, the reference to being disliked), but we could use some of that tension earlier. A boxing match without any context isn’t particularly compelling.

Keep the reader’s attention focused

The first paragraph combines a series of rapid-fire actions that shift the reader’s focus from the narrator to his opponent, then back again. That’s okay, but when dialogue is suddenly interjected, (“How’s that for revenge, huh?”), it’s unclear at first which character is speaking, and what he’s referring to. One way to fix that would be to start the second paragraph with an action establishing Liam, followed by his dialogue. For example, you could move the line about Liam tightening his grip around the narrator’s neck, and use it  as the intro to the second paragraph dialogue.

Avoid repeating similar elements

The word “snickered” is followed immediately by a similar synonym, “chuckled.” “Grinned” is also used three times on the same page. Overall, there’s too much grinning and chuckling going on–try to pare that back some.

Watch the word choice

It should be “He ground” his teeth in annoyance, not grounded.

Avoid action whiplash

The focus of the action shifts so rapidly in some places that the reader can become disoriented. For example, one paragraph contains all of the following: (“I chuckled…He ground(ed)…The class was staring…Cedric grinned…I wrapped…”). Too many shifts in focus happen too quickly here. In general, try to limit each paragraph to a single focus of action. It’s possible for a  paragraph to contain actions by multiple characters, but it’s hard to pull off.

Your thoughts?

TKZ’ers, can you add your thoughts and suggestions for our brave Writer today?

Bookus Interruptus

Nancy J. Cohen

You’ve all heard of another type of interruption in the middle of a certain act which I’d rather not mention here, yes? Consider this one similar, except we’re talking about interrupting your writing process when you’re in the frenzy of storytelling. How disconcerting when you’re working on book number 14 in your series, and you get an email announcing that edits for number 13 have arrived. You have to disrupt your train of thought and put aside the current WIP to go back to the previous book. Two weeks are gone to the winds while you answer your editor’s notes, polish each scene, and perfect each sentence for the umpteenth time. This book takes over, and you think of nothing else until the job is done. With a sense of relief, you send this version back across cyberspace, aware that you still have rereads of the copy edits and page proofs further down the line.


Nudging at the edges of your mind is the reminder that you have blogs to write and interviews to do for your upcoming new release of book number 12. Have you ordered swag yet to promote this title? Designed your contests, newsletter, Facebook launch party, and other activities as the release date nears?

Book number 14 calls to you. It’s sitting front and center on your desk, and you yearn to get back to the story. But your mind tells you to get these other tasks done, and only then will you be free to resume the joy of storytelling. When you’re finally able to return to writing, you face the blank page with a blank look on your face. You’ve lost your train of thought and your place in the story. So how do you get your head back in the game?

Hopefully, you’ve made detailed notes on where you left off in your WIP and what comes next. Review these plot points when it’s time to resume the story. Line edit what you’ve already written. This will save you time later and reacquaint you with what’s come before in the story. Then set a date when you must begin your writing schedule again.

It’s hard when you have interruptions, whether for edits of other works or for conferences and events that you have to attend. Prepare for your departure as best you can by noting the next scene and any surprises you have planned along the way. It helps to have a synopsis. Then you can see where you left off and continue from that point onward. What technique do you use to get your mind back in the story?

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Ripping Stories from the Headlines



Jordan’s excellent post last week, about basing characters on friends or family, reminded me of another writer’s hack–ripping plots from newspaper headlines. The following headline inspired a subplot for one of my books:

 “Nurse Killed Patient Over Grudge”

According to the news story, a nurse in a plastic surgery office had murdered a patient during a plastic surgery procedure. And the motivation?  It turned out that the victim had “stolen” the nurse’s boyfriend 30 years earlier, when both women were in high school. So this murder 30 years later was the nurse’s way of getting some long-overdue payback.

Talk about revenge being a dish that’s best served cold!

That headline spawned an idea that stayed with me, and eventually emerged as a subplot in one of my mysteries.


I was particularly struck by this particular news story, because it underscored how powerful the emotions of rage and jealousy can be. Who would have thought that a jilted girlfriend would actually murder the “other woman” who happened to turn up in her medical care, thirty years later? In addition to fueling a subplot for my story, the article also made me start reflecting on what was to become one of the themes in my books: jealousy and revenge.

What about you? Have you ever based a story on a real-life event, or something you read about in the news?

On Letting It Rip

saved palm image

Two quick stories today. Followed by an arrow to the heart of writing awareness.

Fifteen years ago I gave a presentation that I hadn’t prepared for, and will never repeat. It was at my mother’s funeral, and because our family tree is more like a shrub, it was to a room full of folks who for the most part hadn’t seen or spoken to her in years.

When the time came to invite anyone in the room who wanted to “share a story about Dorothy,” the room fell deathly silent. I mean, the woman wasn’t exactly Lucille Ball, if you get my drift. You could hear the pastor’s watch ticking.

I decided to break the silence, for her sake if nothing else.

Here’s the story I told.

My mother’s golf swing looked like a slow motion Youtube video. So slow you could read the word “Wilson” stamped on the top of the wood driver mid-swing (this was long before composite clubs, when woods were the size of a stale biscuit). She defended this as something a golf pro had told her during her one and only lesson: swing slow and easy, let the club do the work. I bet she could help with my golf swing but it is always interesting to do some reading online about it, I bet she also loved having something similar to Ace Golf Netting – Golf Course Netting because of her great golf swing but I digress. If my mother were a pro golfer, I would pick her as one of my top fantasy golf picks.

My mother had steadfastly applied that advice, which she perhaps misunderstood. The longest drive she’d ever managed was about 80 yards, the first four of which were airborne and the rest explained by a fortunate downhill slope on that particular fairway.

“Mom,” I said, “do me a favor, please. Just hit the freaking ball. Slam the living sh*t out of it, okay? Just once. Your golf pro won’t care, he died twenty years ago.”

She looked at me as if I’d suggested that Dwight Eisenhower was a liberal chain smoking hippy.

“I’m serious,” I continued. “Live a little. See what happens.”

Prompted by her blank stare I added, “Just let it rip.”

She shook her head, awkwardly addressed the ball, then took what was, for her, the most physically intense undertaking I had ever seen her attempt, short of running to the bathroom after too much Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The swing wasn’t pretty, but the ball took flight.

It flew high and straight for nearly one hundred yards, coming down about thirty yards short of the green, bouncing and then running until it stopped three feet short of the manicured criss-crossed perfection of the green.

Following a frozen moment of disbelief, she dropped her club and ran to me for a hug, nearly picking me off the ground in the process.

She let it rip. One time. For me.

Then three-putted for a double bogey. She was ecstatic.

It was the last round of golf she ever played.

Then there was my son.

Ten years old, his first year of Little League. His coach was one of those guys who wore his Polo collar straight up, whose last game as a player was the day before he was cut from his freshman baseball team. This perhaps explained his enthusiastic use of instructional videos from the likes of a nearby community college coach. There were enough complex hitting principles to make NASA blush, rules more apropos to college and professional players, rules that Coach nonetheless insisted these 10-year olds memorize and practice religiously.

Before the first game my son and I went to the field to religiously practice all those rules. After a dozen whiffs of my underhand soft toss pitches, swings taken from a stance that looked more like a freeze-frame from a figure skating video than baseball, I could see an alarming frustration in my son’s eyes.

I went to him and got down on one knee. He was on the verge of baseball tears, eight years after Tom Hanks assured us that there is no crying in baseball.

“Listen,” I said. “You remember how you pounded the ball two weeks ago? Before all those videos?”

He nodded, struggling for eye contact.

“Do you remember what that felt like?”

He nodded again, eyes wider now. “Yeah, but that was before Coach told us to stand in there like Derek Jeter and swing like Larry Walker!”

Quietly I wanted to suggest to Coach that he consider parking those videos where the ballpark lights do not shine.

“You want to hear a real hitting secret?” I offered. “Something only the pros know about?”

He nodded, wiping his eyes.

“Those videos?” I began. “They’re not wrong. But you don’t need any of that right now. Just get in there and swing the bat. Your way. Trust what you’ve been taught before, the stuff you already know in your gut. Swing like you used to. Hard and smooth. Rip the cover off the ball. The only thing you need to remember are the basics I taught you, beginning with keeping your eye on the ball. Besides that, swing like you mean it. Swing like you, Okay?”

He was ten. Derek Jeter’s batting stance could wait.

He swung at and missed my next pitch. But he swung hard. His old swing. Didn’t say a word, either. He just resumed his old familiar batting stance and waited.

The next swing launched a line drive that hit me squarely in the crotch. As I doubled over I managed to look up at my boy.

He was jumping up and down, turning in happy little circles that only 10-year olds understand.

He didn’t play much that season, because Coach Polo demanded memorization of all those “principles of hitting.” The team came in last place, for precisely the same reason.

Later that same year, around Christmas or so, my son came to me and asked if he could be a pitcher. “Like you were,” he said.

I smiled, it was one of those moments I would never forget. I told him, “Of course you can. There’s only three rules for pitching, for now. First, never wear your shirt collar turned up, you’ll look like a douchbag. Two, no curveballs. Not for four more years. When you’re in the running to turn pro, then let’s worry about all those things.”

He nodded excitedly. “What’s the third rule?”

“When you get out there,” I said, putting my hands on his little shoulders, “you gotta let it rip. I mean really bear down and throw the crap out of the ball. Doesn’t matter where it goes as long as it’s somewhere close to the plate.”

“Let it rip,” he repeated back to me. Then he smiled. “Like you did.”

Memories of the best years of my younger life, a time of hope wearing a Texas Rangers uniform, flooded over me as I held my little boy close, my own eyes resembling his that day on the field, right before he hit me in the crotch with a line drive.

At last, the point for us as writers.

When you’re ready to turn pro, then you need to worry about all the principles and rules. If anyone tells you there are no rules without adding but there are a whole bunch of principles… run.

Advice, in writing or anything else, isn’t always as simple as it seems. For example, in his bestselling writing book, “On Writing,” none other than Stephen King advises his hopeful acolytes to do this: just sit down and write whatever comes to you.

This, my fellow authors, is perhaps the worst possible advice to come from the lips of someone who should know what they’re talking about… ever. Because it is completely without context and setup, the meat of which is where value and meaning reside, leaving his unvetted comment to sit there, easily and too often misunderstood, costing many tens of thousands of less experienced writers years of their writing life trying to make that sketchy advice work for them, before realizing the hard way that King forgot the context.

Which is… when you know what I know, King forgot to mention, then you can “just write.”

“Just write”… only after you’ve been introduced to, have assimilated and digested and totally own, have witnessed in the stories you love and those that succeed, the fundamental principles of fiction and dramatic theory that reside at the core of everything literary, most of which is invisible or at least irrelevant to casual readers who simply want to be scared or seduced or entertained for a few lost hours of reading.

But never invisible or irrelevant to the writer they are reading.

Once all of that stuff is in your head, once it has gelled and become the paradigm and criteria for the stories you write… once you reach that place in your writing journey…

… once you know, to a reasonable degree, what Stephen King knows…

… then and only then is it wise, productive or even reasonably hopeful to just sit and write.

To let it rip, if you will.

Do this too soon, before you truly understand what makes fiction work, and it’s exactly like telling a medical student in her first semester to “just cut, just grab the scalpel and dig in, see what happens.”

This is an apt analogy because what we do in writing a reasonably effective novel is nearly as complex and perhaps even more nuanced than, say, taking out an appendix. This from a brain surgeon by day and aspiring novelist by night who sent me an email to this exact effect.

Because unless you are one of two things – extremely lucky, or a borne literary savant genius – then a story poured nilly-willy from your head without an awareness of what makes a story work, no matter how good your original idea may be, will get you absolutely nowhere other than rejected, provided you even finish such a manuscript all.

So go ahead, let it rip.

At least nobody will bleed to death as a result. Except, perhaps, your writing dream. That might just die as a result of operating without a clue.

Until you are truly informed and ready, keep one eye on the principles that will elevate your work, rather than the hasty, half-blind, hubris-driven advice that will tank it.

And when you are ready, the blissful freedom of writing from your gut and your heart and your passion will become precisely what may have been rightly set aside as you struggled to embrace the very principles that will empower you now.

Let it rip. May that be your process… someday, when the time is right.

Larry Brooks’ new writing book, Story Fix: Transform Your Novel From Broken to Brilliant (Writers Digest Books) releases October 2015, and is available now for pre-order.

Photo by Jason Rogers

Creating Some Buzz For Your Book

bee-24638_1280If you go looking on Google for advice on creating “buzz,” you’ll find mountains of material to peruse (speaking of which, can we even say “mountains of material” anymore for digital content? It doesn’t pile up on your desk. It doesn’t overstuff your briefcase. What’s the alternative? A “bounty of bytes”? I digress).

Buzz, of course, is that low but continuous sound that a bunch of bees make. In business, that translates to excitement or anticipation for a product.

Buzz can happen spontaneously, or a company might do things to try to create it. In either case, the more people talk about something (assuming it’s not negative buzz), the better the sales forecast.

A recent example of buzz in the book world was the swirl of publicity surrounding the publication of Harper Lee’s novel Go Set A Watchman. There was a combination of buzz both positive (Harper Lee is finally releasing a new novel!) and negative (Harper Lee is being manipulated!). The whole mix inured to the benefit of HarperCollins, which sold over a million copies the first week.

For an author, then, it helps to be famous.

Absent that, what can a writer do before a launch to create some buzz? There are many options available, some of them for a price. I tend to avoid paying for PR, so today let me suggest a three-step plan that is simple to implement and costs nothing:

  1. Share content
  1. Invite email signups
  1. Use a light touch on social media

Share content

It’s one thing to say you’ve got a book coming. It’s another to give readers a taste of it. So make the first chapter of the book available for free. Amazon already does that for you with its “Look Inside” feature. If the book is not yet published, put the content on your website.

The best buzz is content related. That’s what a great movie trailer does (or book trailer, for that matter). So make sure your opening page is the best it can be, which you should be doing anyway, right?

Invite email signups

Associate that free content with an invitation for people to sign up for your email list. Tell them they will be the first to know when the book is available for purchase or pre-order. The proper care and feeding of an email list is a subject all its own. For buzz purposes, you want folks clamoring to find out what happens after your opening chapter.

Use a Light Touch on Social Media

Inform your social media platform of the free content, but don’t overstay your welcome. Keep to a 90/10 ratio of actual social interaction to marketing messages. Buzz is not created with a pounding hammer, but with drops of honey.

If you have a blog, create a buzz post.

As I am doing now.

Because I have a book coming out. The start of a new thriller series, in fact.

I have put first chapter on my website. (UPDATE: This page now has the sales copy. You can read the first chapter via the free LOOK INSIDE feature at Amazon.)

I invite you to read it and, if it intrigues you, sign up for my email list so you’ll be the first to know when it’s available.

I have not yet revealed the title, nor the cover.

Why not?

Because I’m trying to create some mystery, too, and thus more buzz! (I must be channeling my inner Flo Ziegfeld).

The first line of the book is: I was talking to a woman about flowers when John the Baptist blew up.

You can read the rest of the excerpt HERE (same link as above).

And now, having completed my post, I’m going to buzz off.

Please feel free to share any buzz ideas of your own.

Reader Friday: Happy 7th, TKZ!


Shutterstock photo purchased by TKZ

The month of August marks the seventh year since the launch of the Kill Zone blog, so we’re pausing to celebrate. We’d like to thank you, our readers, for helping us grow and thrive as a community over the years. Your comments and participation add tremendous value to the daily discussions here. We take pride in the fact that TKZ has been named by Writer’s Digest three years running to its list of “100 Best Websites for Writers.”  We’d also like to give a shoutout to our Emeritus bloggers, the folks who helped us find our identity and develop as a writer’s community over the years: John Ramsey Miller; John Gilstrap; Kathleen Pickering; Michelle Gagnon; Boyd Morrison; and Jodie Renner. Huge thanks, also, to our current crew of excellent writers: Joe Moore; PJ Parrish/Kris Montee; Elaine Viets; James Scott Bell; Clare Langley-Hawthorne; Larry Brooks; Nancy Cohen; Jordan Dane; Joe Hartlaub; and Mark Alpert.

Happy 7th Anniversary, TKZ!

— Kathryn Lilley