What Advice Would You Give to Young Writers?

By Jordan Dane
@JordanDane



Today I am presenting a workshop to the Creative Writing students at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). This is a free offering of like-minded authors getting together to share their thoughts on the publishing industry and the craft of writing. I plan on sharing my thoughts on the latest trends in publishing with a focus on the Young Adult and New Adult markets. I will also spend more time talking about author craft and the epiphanies I have learned through the books I’ve written. Each book teaches you something different, right? Writing is the best way to learn those things, mostly through trial and error when you learn best from your mistakes.

I also want to spend time talking about the writer’s life and the discipline to accomplish daily goals. Usually life, the day job, and other obligations can force you to set aside your passion to write, but if it’s important to you, I say make time for it, even if that’s only a page a day.

The hardest thing I will broach is the crazy things happening in the publishing industry with regard to the changing contractual terms and what it means to self-publish or navigate the ebook services being offered by large publishers and agents, etc. But I find it hard to stop the long list of warnings that I would want them to be aware of so they don’t sign their copyrights away for the life of their book, simply to get published. It’s a scary world out there in this interim phase while the industry is sorting things out. But I don’t want to scare them off either. So I am limiting my warnings to only the most treacherous ones that dangle like gems stones and look all polished and pretty, but have complications. Things like royalty value for digital books, the ala carte subrights menu, rights reversions, and what agents and publishers are offering that could be troublesome. When the goal is to get them to incorporate writing into their daily life, or to nurture something that could become a passion later in life, I don’t want to discourage them from the start.

When I talk to young writers, I want to simply encourage them to write and recognize that if they have the drive and passion for writing, they should write whether they get published or not. I remember how important reading and writing was for me in school and how it stayed with me for my whole life. But first comes the desire and getting hooked on it. It’s a quality of life thing. I usually encourage them to keep a journal of their thoughts or characters they want to develop, or keep a file of ideas for future books. I will share James Scott Bell’s wonderful TKZ post on how to write a short story or share one of my favorite Joe Moore posts on editing your work in Writing is Rewriting. There are so many posts that I’ve found useful at TKZ that I’m still pinching myself that I am a member here.

But my question to all of you is – what advice would you give to a young writer? Someone who is in college or high school and has the writing bug? Everyone here at TKZ would have something to offer young writers. What would you tell them?

Put Your Stamp On Everything You Write

James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

We had some great comments on my post about Lee Marvin and writing your truth. I just finished watching Cat Ballou again, and I have to say Marvin’s Best Actor Oscar was well deserved. Remember, he wasn’t up against some powder puffs. His competition that year was Richard Burton, Laurence Olivier, Rod Steiger and Oskar Werner.
But Marvin deserved the gold statuette because, as the old actor Edmund Kean said on his deathbed: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
Marvin’s portrayal of the drunken gunfighter Kid Shelleen required just the right touch, and boy did he have it. Then I watched The Killers, a 1964 crime pic with Marvin playing a hit man (targeting one Ronald Reagan in his last movie role). In what could have been a standard-issue performance, Marvin put unique spin on the role and gave another great performance.
Whatever you write, you must put your particular stamp on it. Do that, and you can write great stories.
I mean it. Your category romance can be great for its genre. Or your police procedural. Or your vampire novel. Anything. But it requires more than giving us what we’ve seen before. 

Stamp is another word for voice. It’s that indefinable something that readers (unconsciously) and agents/editors (consciously) look for in a writer. 
How do you find it? Let me suggest the following (with apologies to Sue Grafton):
S is for Self – Look within before you start writing anything. Have an emotional connection to the material. Your own wiring creates the hum in your voice. Don’t ever write only to “sell.” Readers can sense that a mile away. 
T is for Training – It takes skill to put yourself on the page in a way that communicates. That’s why I call structure “translation software for your imagination.” Without it, you frustrate rather than capture readers.  Craft comes from practice and study. Produce the words! But also have a systematic program set up for yourself to keep learning how to make your words more effective.
A is for Audacity – Don’t be afraid of pushing yourself. Take risks in your writing. Go where the fear (or at least, the uncertainty) is. See what happens in the dark corners. Make life unbearably hard on your characters. You can always revise later, but playing it safe up front leaves potential gold in the ground. 
M is for Moments – Great fiction is about great moments. Clarice Starling’s first encounter with Hannibal Lecter. Katniss Everdeen singing a lullaby to the dying Rue. That carriage ride in Madame Bovary. Get to the big moments in your story and overwritethem. Don’t hold anything back emotionally. When you revise, that’s when you shape the moment by trimming or nuancing.
P is for Passion – Care about what your story is really about. You might not be able to sense it at first, but it’s there (we call this theme or premise). Look deep into your characters’ motives and yearnings. Including the bad guys. Justify everyone’s position as they fight it out. The emotional cross-currents you create will enchant your readers. 
Which brings me to my new release: FORCE OF HABIT 2: AND THEN THERE WERE NUNS.

This is the second novelette in my series. What is my stamp on this? Why am I writing about a nun who kicks butt?
For me, it started with the concept, which delighted my writing Self. Delight is a good thing to have when you write. Especially when your aim is entertainment. 

Training: A novelette is short form (about 15k words) and I’ve been studying that form as the e-book revolution has taken off. All writers now should be producing short form work in addition to full length novels. 

It was Audacious. Risk was involved. I did not know enough about nuns when I started. But I found a couple of experts (i.e., nuns who were willing to talk to me) for research. I wanted to be respectful and not devolve into a cartoon. And writing from the POV of a thirty-year-old former child star who went into the devoted life was a cool challenge.

The Moments I wanted to write were, first, the fight scenes. Also, there’s a wonderful moment in FORCE 2 that came out of the blue for me, so I just wrote it to see what would happen. Then beta readers told me they loved it. Thus, the wonderful alchemy of “the boys in the basement” worked again. (Hint: a celebrity is involved).  

And Passion. I’ve always been interested in things philosophical and theological—the big questions of life. And in these stories I stumbled upon an issue: the use of violence to stop evil. Talk about something that is on a lot of minds these days! In the Catholic tradition there is a long-standing debate over the “just war.” Well, I brought that down to the personal: what if a nun could stop someone from doing evil by laying them out cold? And found out she was good at it? Indeed, what if part of her enjoyed it, while the other part wondered if she was entirely normal?
So that’s my stamp. When I write anything, from the fun of FORCE OF HABIT to the suspense of DON’T LEAVE ME, I try to make this connection to the material.
So what about you? What does your writing stamp look like? Do you think about it before you write? Or do you find it as you go along? 

And: are you taking enough risks?
***
FORCE OF HABIT and FORCE OF HABIT 2 are both priced at 99¢. Enjoy!

FORCE OF HABIT Kindle

FORCE OF HABIT Nook
FORCE OF HABIT 2: AND THEN THERE WERE NUNS Kindle
FORCE OF HABIT 2: AND THEN THERE WERE NUNS Nook

How to Work on More Than One Book at a Time

The most critical thing a writer does is produce. — Robert B. Parker
When I started writing seriously, after ten years of believing the Big Lie that you can’t learn to write fiction, I decided I had no time to waste. I wanted to be prolific. So I set out to work. Looking back at 20 years of getting paid for what I write, I see three practices that have helped me more than anything.
First, a quota. I’ve always written to a quota and that, IMO, is the most important thing a writer can put into practice.
Second, I systematically and consistently studied the craft. I read novels with intention, examining author technique. I subscribed to Writer’s Digest, went to conferences, devoured books on writing and practiced what I learned.
Third, I always worked on more than one project at a time. That’s what I want to talk about today.
No publishing house or agent is looking for one good book. They are looking for authors who can keep on writing them. Which is why it pains me when I see the same faces at writer’s conferences who are still working on the same projects, year after year.
I am always telling writers who show me their first finished manuscript, “That’s great! Congratulations. You learn a tremendous amount finishing a novel. Now get to work on the next one. And the one after that.”
This is especially important in the new era of self-publishing. The winning indie formula is quality production over time. You want a trend line that looks like this:

Upward direction is a function of producing new work, the best you can do, in various forms (short stories, novellas, novels, non-fiction). So work on more than one project at a time.
My method is to think of myself as a mini-studio. I always have a main project (my work-in-progress, or WIP). I have several projects “in development.” That means I’ve started making notes on character and plot, and perhaps a preliminary story board (I use Scrivener’s index card view for this). Projects in development go into a file I call “Front Burner.”
Then I have a file of hundreds of ideas I’ve collected over the years. Usually one or two lines. Sometimes just a title. I scan these ideas from time to time, looking for the ones that catch my fancy and, if they do, I make a few more notes. If I start to like something, I move it to the Front Burner.
As far as the writing itself goes, my first priority each day is to my WIP. I want to meet my word quota on that project. Part of my day will usually be spent editing a finished work. To do this, I print out a hard copy. I still like to be able to cross out and write notes on paper.
Another portion of my day will be spent on a Front Burner project. I prioritize these. I want to concentrate on the ones that meet this formula:
Desire to Write + Commercial Potential
Somewhere in the intersection of those two things is the project I “green light” for writing in full. I lean heavily on the desire line, because I believe you write best what you’re passionate about. For example, I love writing my Jimmy Gallagher boxing stories. They only make me Starbucks money, but I write them because I want to. Eventually there will be enough for a collection. I write the Sister J vigilante nun series because the concept was too good to pass up. (Note: I’ll have Force of Habit 2: And Then There Were Nuns out later this month. And a new Jimmy Gallagher next month). 
Now, I realize time is an issue for many writers. There’s the day job, the family, the remodel, the PTA. But that doesn’t mean a writer cannot put into practice a personal plan for prolificity (like all those p words? That was fun to write, but there’s no money in it). Here is what I suggest:
1. Figure out how many words you can comfortably write per week. Up that by 10%. Make that your writing quota.
2. Keep a notebook (or electronic equivalent) with you, and train yourself to think “What if?” all the time. Write down lots and lots of ideas in this notebook. The key to creativity is to take in a ton of ideas without judgment, and only later choose the best ones.
3. Spend a few hours each month looking at your idea file and expanding the ones you really like into a few paragraphs.
4. Try this: write like mad on your WIP. Take a break. Then write like mad on another project. Go back and forth.
5. Finish your novel. If you’d like some help with it, I will soon be offering you a way to do that. Check here for more information.
6. Revise your novel. At the same time:
7. Get to work on your next novel (or novella or story).
8. Never stop.
A plan like this, consistently followed, will please and amaze you. And you will be a real writer, one who produces words. That’s the main ticket in this game. Everything else is secondary.

What about you? Do you have some sort of system you follow for consistent productivity? How do you choose what projects to write? 
* * *

My new thriller DON’T LEAVE ME is available here:

How To Get Emotional About Your Novel

James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

I don’t think you can write a great novel, even with a high concept and cool characters, unless you, the author, are emotional about it. If the story doesn’t grip your own heart and soul, how will it grab the readers? Without some emotional connection, the writing will too easily become paint-by-the-numbers.
Emotion in the author is literary electricity. It’s the X Factor, the game changer, the “second level of sell.” Readers sense it.
So how do you find the emotions?  One method I suggest comes from my days as an actor. We used to do “sense memory” exercises in class. This involves going back to your past, finding an emotional moment, and reliving it by recalling all the senses of the scene. You re-experience the moment. You feel it happening all over again. You then transfer that into your role.
There’s a similar method for fiction. I used it to launch into writing my newly released thriller, DON’T LEAVE ME

Here’s how it happened. I wanted to write a thriller about a good man who gets caught up in extraordinary and dangerous circumstances (a Hitchcock staple). I wanted a plot that makes readers go What? then Oh no! then Look out! and I didn’t see that coming!
I fleshed out a possible lead character and opening. A former Navy chaplain, Chuck Samson, is back from Afghanistan with a rare form of PTSD, and needs time to heal. He has an innocuous rear end accident one morning. But the guy he hits pulls a knife and threatens to kill him. A good Samaritan stops to help. The knife guy rolls away. And thirty seconds later Chuck gets a phone call warning him not say anything about what just happened or he’ll die. Just like his wife . . .
I liked it. But I knew I needed to feelthe material before I started investing more time. So I started to think about something I teach in my workshops: the “care package.” Who could Chuck be caring about before the story begins? I went through several possibilities, and then one day I went into my local Ralphs market and was met at the door by a friendly, developmentally challenged man whose job it was to greet customers and hand them an ad sheet with the daily specials. And immediately I thought, What if this was Chuck’s brother?
And so the character of Stan Samson was born. An adult with autism, friendly and funny. What if the bad guys after Chuck go after his brother, too?
The emotional pull started to hit me, because I went back to my own childhood, and the time my big brother saved me from a couple of bullies.
I was playing on a hill near our house when two “big kids” caught me and sat me down in front of some kind of big, block battery. They said if I tried to get away, they’d electrocute me to death. I was maybe six or seven, and I was scared out of my mind. They started talking about the things they were going to do to me. Making me squirm. When the terror got to be too great I made a break for it. I jumped up and ran faster than I ever had in my life. I did not look back. I ran the half mile back to my house, burst through the door, and almost knocked over my big brother, Bob.
He knew something was wrong. Between sobs and catching my breath, I told him what happened. He got this look in his eyes. He said, “You wait here.” And he went out the front door.
I never saw those kids in our neighborhood again.
And I remember the security I felt whenever Bob and my other big brother, Tim, were around.
I transferred that feeling to Stan. How it made him feel when Chuck was around to protect him. Which is why, when the bullies came for him as a kid, Stan told Chuck, “Don’t leave me!” And why, when the bad guys come in this story, he says the same thing.
Thus came the title, and the emotion for my novel. And a tag line:
When they came for him it was time to run. When they came for his brother it was time to fight.
I hope you’ll give DON’T LEAVE ME a read. It’s available here:
So what about you? Do you connect to your stories emotionally? How do you do it?

Happy Holidays!

AWREATH3It’s Winter break here at the Kill Zone. During our 2-week hiatus, we’ll be spending time with our families and friends, and celebrating all the traditions that make this time of year so wonderful. We sincerely thank you for visiting our blog and commenting on our rants and raves. We wish you a truly blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous 2013. From Clare, Boyd, Kathryn, Kris, Joe M., Nancy, Michelle, Jordan, Joe H., Mark, and James to all our friends and visitors, Seasons Greeting from the Kill Zone. See you back here on Monday, January 7.

How to Write a Novel in a Month

Next month is the annual writing frenzy known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. It’s not without its critics, and my blogmates and I have covered this action before.  
I extol the virtues of NaNoWriMo. The novel I wrote in November of 2010 was one I had under contract. It became, after editing of course, THE YEAR OF EATING DANGEROUSLY.
There are similar stories. Hugh Howey wrote his novella WOOL during that same NaNo year. The dang thing has sold in the hundreds of thousands as an ebook, and got optioned by Ridley Scott.
That’s a lightning strikes once or twice kind of thing, and most writers are not going to have that kind of out-of-the-gate success, but that’s almost beside the NaNo point. The point is to get you to get your story down, fast and furious (I wish that term hadn’t been purloined by political culture), and unleash the writer within. It’s to give you a sense of the value of finishing an entire novel (even though it will need massive editing).
As the great Robert B. Parker said, “A writer’s job is to produce.” NaNo is one month of pure production.
Here are ten tips to help you get the most out of it this year:
1. Take a week to plan
Use one week for creative brainstorming and organizing. I don’t mean you have to have a complete outline. In fact, it’s probably better that you don’t. NaNo works best when you let the book breathe and dance on its own.
But you also shouldn’t start out with a blank slate. A few, simple steps will get you to a much stronger story. Use my LOCK System (explained more fully in Plot & Structure).
LEAD. Spend a day brainstorming about your Lead character, backstory, goals and dreams. What is it about your Lead that will make readers want to keep reading?
OBJECTIVE.Be sure that the story objective involves some form of death: physical, professional or psychological. That is, your second act (the bulk of your novel) has to have the highest stakes possible. Take a day to brainstorm reasons your Lead will have to be involved. Think about moral or professional duty as a possible motivation.
CONFRONTATION. Now spend just as much care with your opposition character as you do with your Lead. Remember, the opponent does not have to be evil, just have an oppsoing agenda (think Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive).However, if you do want to use a villain, be fair to him. Justify his actions (at least in his own mind). Don’t create a stereotype.
KNOCK-OUT ENDING. This will no doubt be subject to change, but it’s good to have a destination in mind. How do you want the reader to feel at the end? Will your Lead be victorious? Sacrificial? Spend a day messing around with actual scene possibilities for the climax. Choose one as your “go to” scene, knowing you can toss it out as the novel progresses.
Then spend a day planning your TIME. Look at your schedule and block out every free chunk you can. Determine to cut as many distractions as possible during November. DVR favorite shows. Put an auto-responder on your email. Explain to friends that you’re taking time off. Go on a “social media” diet. 
2. Choose mood music
Get your iTunes list together, with soundtracks and songs that create the right mood for your story. Make a playlist for different moods. I have an “Energy to Write” list that is full of upbeat rock and movie music. I blast that sometimes to get my blood racing to write.
3. Watch a “movie in your mind” the night before NaNoWriMo begins
On October 31, plan to get a good night’s sleep. Before you do, get to a quiet spot, a comfortable chair. Put your mood music on softly and close your eyes. Now let a “movie” happen in your mind. Watch your story unfold. Don’t force anything. Let scenes happen, nudge your characters but never push them.
When you go to bed, tell “the boys in the basement” to work hard while you snooze.
4. Kill that first day
Make the very first day the most productive day of your writing life. NaNo works out to an average of just over 1600 words a day. Try to blast past it on Day 1. It will give your confidence a boost.
5. Make it your goal to begin each day with a “furious 500.”
Try getting 500 words down the very first thing in the morning (or second, after you start the coffee brewing). If you have to get up half an hour earlier, so be it.
6. Jot down notes just before you go to sleep
Take five minutes (that’s about all you’ll need) before you go to sleep to put down a few notes about what you might write the next day. Think one or two scenes ahead. If you’re feeling stuck, ask this key question: “How can I make things harder on my characters?”
7. Stick to the knitting
By that I mean the main plot. Make this your focus of attention. At 50,000 words, a NaNo novel is short, and cannot support multiple plotlines.
If you find yourself coming up with a subplot idea, jot a few notes and set it aside for a day or two while you’re on your main plot. If another idea occurs to you, jot that one down, too. After a few days, assess the subplots and choose one, only one. The best one. The one with the most possibilities for conflict. Integrate a scene or two. Then press on.
If you use Scrivener, you can color code the subplot scenes to keep track of them. One subplot only!
8. Write a 200 word nightcap
That is, find some time in the evening to write at least 200 more words. That’s not many. This is in addition to the words you write during the day. If you do a furious 500 first thing in the morning, and a 200 word nightcap, you’ve done almost half the words you need for your daily quota.
9. Break off in the middle of sentence
That’s an old Hemingway trick. And he won the Nobel Prize. Stop your writing stint right in the middle of a sentence. When you sit down to it the next day, you’ll be in flow.
10. If you get stuck
You will probably come to a few points where you don’t know what to write next. Fear will grip you like the cold hands of clumsy proctologist. You don’t want to waste too much time fretting over this, so: open a dictionary at random. Find the first noun you see on the left hand page. Start writing something, anything, based on what the noun brings to your mind.
If you’re still stuck, re-watch Misery and imagine that your number one fan insists that you finish by the end of the month.
And through it all, enjoy the vibe. NaNoWriMo is about community as much as it is about seclusion. It’s about ritual as much as product. It’s a month-long vibe and celebration of being a fiction writer. So enjoy it like you’re in some Hindu festival of colors, or at an Oakland Raiders football game. You don’t have to paint your body (though I’m not saying it’s illegal), but it’s fine to put up a NaNo poster or get a tee-shirt, and to interact online with your fellow NaNos. Check out the community website here.
And now, get ready to rock. November is almost upon us. 

How Will Your Book Get Discovered in The Roiling Sea of Digital Publishing?


Ah yes, this is the question of 2012 for authors (and traditional publishers, for that matter). Last year the question was, Should I self-publish? That question has been answered with, Only if you want an additional stream of income and a growing platform.

Of course, we now have self-pubbing authors jumping on board in numbers approaching the population of China. So everyone wants to know how the heck you get anyone to know you’re out there in this massive, churning, ever-expanding bedlam.

Well, that’s why Digital Book World, an arm of F + W Media, put on a big “Discoverability” conference in New York last week. I did not attend but followed it in real time via Twitter hashtag #DBWDM and the amazing, flying fingers of the indefatigable Porter Anderson. Porter’s nice summary of the conference can be found here.

I came away with some strong impressions and later discussed them with a publishing executive who attended the conference. One option that was expressed was starting an effective SEO campaign, which is one of the many WHITE HAT SERVICES that are offered.He confirmed some of my opinions, and they are as follows:

1. There is No Consensus on What Works

Rick Joyce, Chief Marketing Officer with Perseus Books, said there is a sea of conversation out there, and “there’s too much of it.” While people are trying different things, to truly be effective, “we’ll have to build some stuff that doesn’t exist.”

And when that stuff does exist, is there any guarantee it will be any more effective and certain? I’m not sure we will ever be able to say that.

Publishing has changed forever. As Joyce said, it “is no longer a mature industry.”

So it has to try things and keep on trying. “Standing still is not an option,” says Joyce.

Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute counseled, “Get uncomfortable. If you don’t feel like you’re running off the road, you are not driving fast enough.”

2. Best Advice Re: Social Media

Willo O’Brien, a creativity consultant, said that having a small, dedicated “army” you are engaged with is more important than your number of followers. So don’t just talk atpeople. “Empower people to speak back to you.”


3. Worst Advice Re: Social Media

“Be everywhere, all the time. Find your customer and give them what they want.” (Shall remain nameless, but works for a Big 6 outfit).

Now, to be fair, maybe the speaker was talking mostly about non-fiction writers who are an “information-based brand” and can spend countless hours hawking books consistent with the brand. I hear if you try a top-ranked Los Angeles SEO company they can provide some critical information on the topic that could support your book launch with content campaigns and optimising your website for search engines.

But for fiction writers (entertainment based), this is horrible advice. It will dilute the strength of your writing and the production of new work. And will not make any discernable difference in sales. The ROI (Return on Investment) is terrible. It’s much better to specialize in one or two social media forms, and concentrate on your writing.

4. Business-speak on Parade

Someone from a Big 6 told the audience, “We are working to build and deploy verticals to construct thematically framed communities.”

Ack! I think that translates to: We are trying new things we hope will attract lots of buying customers to our online site, but that hasn’t happened yet.

I do recognize the challenge traditional publishers face. It is a harsh reality. They are competing against go-to sites like Amazon and Goodreads (10 million plus). This is where people are shopping and browsing. With bookstore placement shrinking, and more and more buying being done online (see chart, below) publishers have to carve out online territory. But can they, when they are essentially late to the game? Some may establish what will amount to a fairly popular blog. But then they have to compete against tens of thousands of blogs, too.

As Kelly Gallagher of Bowker put it, “Perhaps most daunting is that e-reader owners, tablet owners, online book shoppers, customers of different retailers, people of all demographics, readers of all genres are all discovering books in different ways.”
For a writer, one thing you can do is make sure you have an Amazon author page and keep it fresh and updated. That was stated several times at the conference.


5. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

That was a major topic, and beyond the scope of this blog post. But here are some interesting stats from Define Media Group:

With 100 million searches per month, 16% of queries typed into Google daily have never been used before.

• You get 65 characters or less in a search result to make your point. Get a main keyword at the top. Branding at the end.

• Your web pages’ headlines should be optimized not just for the content, but for the keywords people are searching for.

• Search engines are very literal…They don’t understand nuance, sarcasm…they (simply) want to see a headline.

It is a good investment of a writer’s time to learn about SEO and incorporate some of that knowledge into your website and landing pages. Failing that employ a specialist: if you’re a drug rehab company then you want someone that specialises in SEO for your field – like Rocket Pilots. The same logic applies if you’re an author. Don’t find a generic ‘we’ll optimise your marketing’ company, find a specialist.

6. Marketing Psychology

Rob Eagar, a marketing consultant, said, “Successful discoverability starts with psychology rather than technology.” IOW, you want to create a feeling in the potential customer that answers the question, “What’s in it for me?”

I certainly think that’s true. But the method may be quite different for fiction than non-fiction.

If someone asks you what your novel is about, Eagar said, and you answer with the plot, you have hindered the sale.

I don’t agree. It is plot copy itself that creates a “feeling” in a fiction reader. If they are looking for a thriller, for example, it’s not persuasive to tell them, “You’ll be thrilled!” Or “You’ll be on the edge of your seat!” The days of that kind of ham-fisted advertising are over.

Instead, give them a foretaste of the thrills with powerful copy that creates the excitement. I tweeted this to the stream: “If we try to tell a reader that ‘thrills are in it for you’ they won’t believe it. The concept must create mini-thrill.”

This is a big one for self-publishers: master the art of cover copy! You can get the straight scoop on that in my query letter and proposal section in The Art of War for Writers.

The Bottom Line

As I said, 2012 is a key year in the digital publishing revolution. Look at how e-commerce has grown when it comes to book buying (it’s the red slice):



Next year it will be even greater, and will continue to grow, and there is going to be some major fallout in some very big companies. But not all. There will be survivors, and a new sort of equilibrium will begin to take shape. Self-publishing will produce more and more writers who are making a living going it alone. Those writers will be the ones who have developed a business mindset and implemented a strategy like the one found in Self-Publishing Attack!

But traditional print publishing is not going away. It will, however, face challenges it will have to meet with paradigm-cracking (and leaner and meaner) innovation. New contract terms will have to be worked out in order to retain and develop writers. Knowing this, writers and their agents are in a better position than ever to negotiate.

The new successes will be centered around thinking win-win, creative partnerships and shared risk/reward.

But whether we writers choose indie or traditional or a combination of both, we still have to figure out how to get our fiction noticed.

The good news is there is one tried and true method that is consistent throughout all marketing platforms: good old word of mouth.

Which comes from quality + consistency x time. The best books and stories you can write, and then more, and more, never stopping, ever.

So resolve to spend less time fretting about marketing and social media and all those things you could be doing to get “discovered” (the list of which never stops expanding), and more time producing words worthy of being discovered.

“I” is for Integrity: Sue Grafton and the Self-Publishing Blowback

One of those instant, internet explosions broke out this past week after the great Sue Grafton gave an interviewer some opinions on self-publishing. She said that self-publishing was a “lazy” way out. The interviewer pressed her on that, in light of indie successes like John Locke. Grafton responded:
Obviously, I’m not talking about the rare few writers who manage to break out. The indie success stories aren’t the rule. They’re the exception. The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish. I’ve got one sitting on my desk right now and I’ve received hundreds of them over the years. Sorry about that, but it’s the truth. The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. Learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue takes a long time. This is not an quick do-it-yourself home project. Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall. Don’t get me started. Oops..you already did.
Then the indie blowback began. A good example comes from Hugh Howey, author of the hugely successful Wool:
Sue Grafton thinks I’m lazy. Yeah. Hard to swallow when I look at how many hours I pour into my writing career each week (and weekend).
. . . .
Why in the world is this interviewer asking a buggy whip expert about picking out a new car? What does Sue Grafton know about publishing in today’s market and with today’s tools? Judging by this response, she knows absolutely nothing. Less than nothing, in fact. What she thinks she knows is harmful to aspiring writers.
Ms. Grafton saw the coverage, and asked the blog that originally ran her interview for a chance to respond:
The responses to that quote ranged from irate to savage to the downright nasty  Indie writers felt I was discounting their efforts and that I was tarring too many with the same brush. I wasn’t my intention to tar anyone, if the truth be known. Several writers took the time to educate me on the state of e-publishing and the nature of self-publishing as it now stands. I am uninitiated when it comes to this new format. I had no idea how wide-spread it was, nor did I see it as developing as a response to the current state of traditional publishing, which is sales driven and therefore limited in its scope. I understand that e-publishing has stepped into the gap, allowing a greater number of authors to enter the marketplace. This, I applaud.  I don’t mean to sound defensive here…though of course I do.
. . . .
My remark about self-publishing was meant as a caution, which I think some of you finally understood when we exchanged notes on the subject.
Ms. Grafton went on to say she takes “responsibility for my gaffe and I hope you will understand the spirit in which it was meant.” She added, “I am still learning and I hope to keep on learning for as long as I write.”
Good on her for this gracious response. Sue Grafton has always been on the writers’ side, and her initial comments grew out of this advocacy. Indeed, she stated at the very beginning that she wasn’t talking about the “exceptions” who break out.
Which makes her remarks largely valid. Many (not all!) who self-publish do so too soon. For many (not all!) it IS the “lazy” way, as compared to the hard work of learning the craft, getting better, being honest with yourself about your weaknesses and doing everything you can to correct them.
In that respect her view is not harmful. Indeed, it may be the very thing that saves a writer from embarrassing himself, or striking out expecting indie gold only to find canyons of wet dirt . . . and a reason to sit around Starbucks for the rest of his life grousing over his damned bad luck.
No matter how you publish, you have to earn success, and it ain’t easy. When it comes to encouraging self-published writers, I’m not going to offer pie-in-the-writing-sky. I’m going to offer clear and hard-headed advice that has proved itself over time. Advice that gives you a reasonable chance to make a buck, and maybe a living, by writing.
But a big part of that is not to short change yourself by publishing the first thing you finish. Amazon is not the place to throw up your NaNoWriMo project on December 1 every year.
And that is what Sue Grafton was getting at. She is old school, yes. But it was a school with some classic courses, and there is wisdom there to be heeded.
H/T to The Passive Voice for coverage of this controversy. 

How to Write a Novella

James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell 

One of our regular readers, Elizabeth Poole, left a comment on Clare’s Monday post about prequels and sequels. Specifically, Ms. Poole said, “As a writer, it’s been difficult to find information on writing novellas especially. Most articles I read say ‘it’s like a novel, only shorter.’
Hello, Captain Obvious.”

Well, if I may be so bold as to jump into a phone booth (wait, do they have those?) and emerge as Captain Craft––as well as the author of two currently selling novellas––let me take a stab at the subject.

Yes, a novella is obviously shorter than a novel. A rule of thumb puts the novella between 20k and 40k words.

Here are the general guidelines for writing a novella. I say general because, like all writing principles, they are subject to change. But ONLY if you have a good reason for the exception!

1. One plot

The length of the novella dictates that it have one plot. It’s a too short to support subplots. That doesn’t mean you don’t have plot complications.It’s just that you are doing your dance around one story problem.

2. One POV

It’s almost always best to stick with one point of view. Both of my novellas, Watch Your Back and One More Lie, are written in first person POV. That’s because you want, in the short space you have, to create as intimate a relationship between the Lead character and the reader as possible.

As indicated earlier, more than one POV is acceptable if you have a reason for including it. And that reason is NOT so you can fill more pages.

A modern master of the novella is, of course, Stephen King. A look at his collection, Different Seasons, reveals three novellas written in first person POV. The exception is Apt Pupil, which is about an ex-Nazi’s influence over a thirteen-year-old boy. The story thus has a reason for shifting between these two points of view. However, I note that Apt Pupil is the longest of these, and I actually suspect it’s over 40k words, making it a short novel.

3. One central question

There is one story question per novella, usually in the form: Will X get Y?

In Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, by Stephen King, the question is, will the wrongly convicted Andy Dufresne survive in God-awful Shawshank prison?

In The Old Man and the Sea: Will the old fisherman, Santiago, land the big fish?

A Christmas Carol: Will Ebenezer Scrooge get redemption?

4. One style and tone

There are novels that crack the style barrier in various ways, but a novella should stick to one tone, one style throughout.

In the old pulp days, novellas were common and usually written in the hard boiled style.

My two novellas are done in the confessional style of James M. Cain––the narrator looking back at his past sins, detailing the consequences of same, with a twist ending.

Romance would have a different tone. Ditto paranormal. Whatever the genre, keep it consistent.

The Benefits of the Novella

Digital publishing has brought novellas back into favor. There are some story ideas that don’t merit 90k words, but may be just right for 30k. The suspense story is particularly apt for this form. One of the great masters, Cornell Woolrich, practically made his career on novellas of suspense.

An indie-publishing writer can charge 99¢ – $2.99 for novellas. They can obviously be turned out more quickly than a full length novel.

Some Suggestions for Writing the Novella

1. Make sure your premise is rock solid

You don’t want to travel down the road of a flabby idea, only to find out after 15k words that it isn’t working. Come up with a premise that creates the greatest possible stress for the Lead character. For example, One More Lie is about a man accused of murdering his mistress. He’s innocent of the crime, but guilty of the adultery. A bit of stress, I’d say.

2. Write in the heat of passion

Novellas are great for the NaNoWriMos among us. Getting the story down quickly releases that inner creativity we long for. And there won’t be the need for as much revision as in a novel, which has subplot complications to deal with.

3. Use white space to designate scene changes

Instead of chapters, the novella usually employs white space between scenes. Some writers do break up a novella into sections designated by numbers. That’s a matter of style. Just don’t say “Chapter 1” etc. It’s not necessary and interrupts what should be the flow.

4. Keep asking, How can it get worse?

Whether your novella is about the inner life of a character (as in The Old Man and the Sea)or the outer life of the plot (as in Double Indemnity) turn up the heat on the character as much as you can.

Think of the novella as a coil that gets tighter and tighter, until you release it at the end.

Some Famous Novellas

The Pearl,John Steinbeck

The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

The Body, Stephen King

Double Indemnity, James M. Cain

A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean

Phantom Lady, William Irish (aka Cornell Woolrich)

So what do you readers thing of the novella form? Any favorites?

And you writers out there, have you tackled the novella? Or at least danced with it?

Reader Friday: Meet our Muses

Last Tuesday we put out a request for pictures of your muses–we asked to see the people, spirits, or things that inspire you to keep filling the blank page with words.

We received some great results! Here they are, in no particular order:

Dave Williams: Twin Muses

Dave writes, “Besides my dog Merry Christmas, I can’t forget Davyn and Claira, our new twin grandbabies. I don’t get much writing done when they are here, but watching them study the world around them, stare wide-eyed at new things, and grin from ear to ear every time I see them inspires the heck out of me. Everything is new, everything is an adventure, and everything is grist for their little mills.And they make me want to write books that I can read to them as they grow up, so I can pass on my love of books and storytelling to them.”
Wait…you have two precious little angels to inspire you, and a dog named Merry Christmas? Major cuteness, Dave!
BK Jackson: Sunrise in the Desert 
BK sent us a spectacular photo of his desert-spirit muse. 

“My muse, Arizona, has many wonderful facets,” he wrote. “Here’s just one example of her splendor.  No wonder she inspires me.”
Donna Galanti: Star
Donna snapped a photo of her muse, Star the cat. 
“He must write with me every day,” she wrote us. “Star whips his tail at me to write if I stop typing. He even has the nerve to chew on my reference books as I write reminding me to write better. Plus he steals the best window view to stop me from daydreaming. But he keeps me here with my butt in the chair, where I should be. And that is a good muse. (plus see what good company he keeps next to my go-to writing resource as I fast draft a new novel!) 
Basil Sands: All in the Family

“Everyone joined in for the fun,” he wrote. “My wife Mia and my two younger boys.  The two lovely virtual muses settled their differences for long enough to smile for a snapshot, it’s slightly blurry but they are after all imaginary friends who primarily reside in my mind.” (For the back story on Basil’s virtual muses, see Tuesday’s comments!)  

Terri Lynn Coop: Scruffy

Terri sent us a picture of her canine muse, Scruffy. 
“This is Scruffy after a hard day of being my amusement, inspiration, first reader (he’s a great listener), and getting me out from behind the computer for walks,” she wrote. 
Sounds like Scruffy earned his nap, Terri!  
Clare Langley-Hawthorne: Hamish
Clare’s muse is her elegant collie, Hamish.
Joe Moore:  Patio the cat
Joe’s muse is Patio, who is “determined to sleep his life away,” according to Joe.
James Scott Bell: John D. MacDonald
Jim has an illustrious muse: the writer John D. MacDonald, shown here typing away at his desk.
Nancy Cohen: Items of Inspiration
Nancy sent a photo of her collection of things that inspire her. 
“There are troll dolls for my current series based on Norse mythology, a porcelain head of a lady supposed to look like my hairdresser sleuth, a Bad Hair Day mug, and assorted computer oriented knickknacks,” she wrote. “I keep CDs up there but don’t play music when I write. I like silence.”
Jordan Dane: Sancho 

“This is ONE of my rescues – Sancho,” she writes. “We have two dogs and two cats, all from shelters. But this guy makes me laugh every day. He loves sprawling on his belly and ‘snakes’ off the sofa.  Epic cuteness.”

Thanks everyone for sending in your pictures, and feel free to add more about them in the comments. And let us know if we missed anyone’s photo.