ProWritingAid Premium How-To

Terry’s last post spurred spawned this one. With many editing softwares available, it’s difficult to decide on the one that will work for you. I use ProWritingAid Premium, though like Terry, I take the advice that resonates and ignore what doesn’t. The worst thing a writer can do is to depend on automated software to do all the heavy lifting, or it’ll strip out your voice and style choices. The nice part of ProWritingAid is its ability to learn. The more you use it, the less it flags nit-picky things. You can also tell it not to check for certain things.

For example, I include quotes with some chapter headings as a subtle POV signal to the reader. Only one character has quotes in his chapter headings. Every single time, ProWritingAid flags the quotation marks for not being closed at the end of each line, even if it’s mid-quote. I don’t want to tell the software to ignore the quote rule or it won’t catch places in the narrative where I may have forgotten the end quote. See what I’m sayin’? Be careful of which rules you set to ignore. You may need that second pair of eyes later.

Whether you use the free or paid version, the first step is to download the software (available for Mac or PC). Once the software downloads directly into MS Word, it’ll add a new button to the top ribbon. Also available for Google Docs, Scrivener (desktop), or as an extension for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Edge.

Here’s what it looks like in Word.

(click to enlarge)

When you want to use the software, click the button. Easy peasy. If you don’t want to download the software, you can use the app instead, which opens in a new tab/window. In the app, you’ll have to upload a doc. When downloaded to Word, the software will read whatever document you’re in.

Once you open the software, click the dropdown menu. Since I write thrillers, I keep it set to Thriller, but you can choose any genre of fiction, formal or business writing, other nonfiction, or even email.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After PWA processes the document, it’ll show you suggestions for improvement.

Click to enlarge

 

 

Because I’m using the software as I write this post, it’s showing suggestions for all of it. LOL

If I click the first suggestion, it looks like this…

click to enlarge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The program didn’t like the spaces between ProWritingAid, so I accepted the revision by clicking the highlighted suggestion. Boom — it corrected the spelling for me. The next suggestion was “nice” in the opening paragraph of this post. I clicked “ignore,” but check out the alternatives…

 

 

 

(click to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

Let’s move on to fiction… For this post, I pasted a few paragraphs from the WIP. Keep in mind, I’m in the drafting stage. 😉

A gunshot coiled through the dark forest, and he ducked, the bullet sailing over him. Not that I could pinpoint something that small, but it sure didn’t hit him. Before the scumbag had time to fire a second shot, Mr. Mayhem dove on top of him, tackling him, wrestling in the dirt, arms, legs, and fists flailing.

My breath stalled somewhere in my chest. Where’s the third guy?

Through the binoculars, I scanned left.

The software suggested I add “the” before “left,” but it reads fine without it. If my editor suggests the same, then maybe I’ll change it.

No beam of light. I swung the binoculars to the right. No light-beams. Where the hell did he go? Once I lowered the binoculars, my blood turned to slush. Camouflage boots clomped through thick underbrush—twenty feet from the oak tree!—a sawed-off shotgun rested on linebacker shoulders. Behind him, Poe emerged, divebombing the intruder, crow feet stomping on his head.

 

PWA caught the missing hyphen in dive-bombing. I accepted the change by clicking the green highlighted area. (click to enlarge)

 

 

The mobbing technique allowed me enough time to climb down, Shicheii’s quiver slung on my back, his bow held tight in my hand.

Shicheii means maternal grandfather in Diné, so I added his name to dictionary like this..

 

 

(click to enlarge)

 

 

 

At fifteen feet away, I stopped, reached behind me, and slid out an arrow. Aimed low to avoid Poe. Fired. The razor-tipped arrow sailed through the air, striking the scumbag in the thigh.

Shoot. Missed my mark.

I reloaded. Aimed a scooch higher. And fired. This time, the arrow zipped right past him, missing his hip by an inch, maybe two.

Since scooch is a word, and it’s spelled correctly, I added it to dictionary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Screw this.” I dropped the bow, squirmed my arms out of the quiver straps, and charged straight at him, bellowing a deep, raspy roar, my voice coiling through the trees, boomeranging right back as I lunged at him.

Arms spread like wings, I flew through the air without considering the consequences. If he raised that shotgun, he could kill me. Didn’t matter. Everything within me screamed for me to protect my family, and sheer animalistic instinct took over. I landed on his chest, and we both tumbled backward. 

I ignored the suggestion to remove “through the air” after “flew” because it doesn’t sound right to my ear.

Here’s where you need to be careful. Don’t accept that the software knows better than you. Since this is an early draft, I’ll probably end up rewriting the sentence to use swan-dive instead of flew (paints a better picture), but that’s irrelevant. The point is, question every change to remain true to your voice, your style.

While straddling his hips, I threw a mean right hook, sucker-punched him—almost broke my friggin’ knuckles on his blocky nose—and I swear he laughed. Over and over, I hammered his face in rapid succession, first the right, then left, alternating between the two to keep him off-balance.

“Who’s laughing now, asshole?”

Probably shouldn’t’ve gotten cocky, because he muscled me onto my back. Drilled me in the right temple with his fist, and tiny specks of bright, white light danced before my eyes. That only pissed me off more, and I chomped down on his forearm, my teeth sinking into his flesh.

 

Valid suggestion, PWA. The comma is unnecessary after “bright.”

 

<– At the bottom of that pane, it says Open Full Editor.

When I click that button, it opens in a new window.

 

 

(click to enlarge)

 

 

 

Notice the side column. I’ll scroll through for you…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything looks good, except dialogue tags. But I don’t have any dialogue tags in the excerpt. Hmm, let’s see what it says by clicking the dialogue box in the top-right corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, it’s just explaining why “said” and “asked” are best to use. Not sure why it says 100% in the negative. There are no dialogue tags. Perhaps that’s why. See what I mean about not blindly trusting editing software? You—the writer—need to weigh each suggestion. If it works, accept the change. If it doesn’t, ignore and move on. Your human editor should flag it again if there’s a problem.

Now, if you’re just beginning your writing journey, click each dialogue box for a full explanation of why to remove things like weak adverbs from your writing.

Here’s what it says under “Weak Adverbs”:

 

 

 

(click to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

Check out the top ribbon of the full editor. You can tell the software to search for anything. Overused Words, anyone? We’re all guilty of littering the first draft with crutch words.

 

 

(click to enlarge)

 

 

Check out the Thesaurus. Not only does it tell you how many nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs the document has, but look at all the suggestions it offers for the word “different”.

 

 

 

(click to enlarge)

 

 

 

This software checks for everything, from sticky sentences, homonyms, echoes, and alliterations, to structure, pacing, and a visual representation of sentence length. Seriously, you could spend hours dissecting your prose. I don’t, but if you’re just learning the craft of writing, spending time learning the basics is time well-spent. I love ProWritingAid Premium because it catches typos, commas, grammatical errors, awkward sentences and/or phrases, or clunky words written when your soul’s on fire and your fingers are sailing across the keyboard. You know what I’m talkin’ about, that sheer passionate writing that made so much sense in the moment, but in the cold light of day, needs tweaking.

Let’s talk about money for a minute. I pay yearly, but they also have monthly plans. I buy yearly plans at Christmastime, because it’s, like, $60 compared to $120 ($10/mo). Or try the free version first. There are some limitations to the free plan. You can only upload five or six chapters at a time, rather than uploading an entire 90K word novel, and you won’t have access to everything in the Full Editor ribbon. But at least it’ll give you the feel of how it works. I’ve used Grammarly, too, and ProWritingAid offers a lot more bang for your buck, IMO.

So, that’s a sampling of ProWritingAid Premium. Hope you found it useful! Do you use editing software? If so, which one?

 

Write What You’re Passionate About

It isn’t easy to expose your heart, but the rewards far outweigh the risks. Let me say up-front, there’s nothing wrong with writing to entertain, to allow readers to escape their lives for a while. That’s not what I’m saying at all.

For me, I wanted more. I write to touch lives. I write to make a difference. The latter of which compelled me to write Unnatural Mayhem, my new psychological thriller. The underlying message—the pulse, if you will—strikes at the core of who I am, what I care about, and who I aim to protect. Writing this story required me to peel back even more layers of my heart and soul. I thought, if that’s what I had to do, then so be it. I set out to write a book that matters, a book that could help protect the voiceless, the most innocent among us.

Here’s a snippet:

Imagine a world without animals? No pattering of paws, no wingbeats, no singing in the treetops, no howls at the moon, no buzzing in flower blossoms, no slithering through garden beds, no sympathetic eyes begging for a treat, no unconditional love or companionship, and the oceans, ponds, and lakes devoid of life. The Natural World as we know it would forever be silenced. For eternity.

That passage still kills me, because I can’t even fathom living in a world without animals. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a world I want any part of. Yet here we are, with numerous species on the brink of extinction.

Writing about subject matters you’re passionate about doesn’t mean slamming your reader over the head with your message. Your passion may influence the story, but we must let readers come to their own conclusions in their own time, even if those conclusions differ from ours. Hence why the story needs a compelling plot, or all the passion and heart you infuse into the story won’t make a dang bit of difference.

In Unnatural Mayhem, I focused on the trophy hunting of crows as a starting point for where I’m taking the series. I don’t need to remind you of my undying love for crows, right? Needless to say, the quest shredded my soul, but it also drove my characters through a complicated maze to stop this senseless killing—by any means necessary—before one black feather hit the earth, my passion and their passion intermingled on such a deep, personal level.

Writing about subjects you’re passionate about is also spiritually fulfilling. When I finished Unnatural Mayhem, a wave of accomplishment washed over me, like I’d written the right story at the right time to effect change, and destiny tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Well done.” Like I was always meant to write this story. Like I was always meant to take my Mayhem Series in this direction. Fate.

Have you ever felt this?

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when writing about subjects you’re passionate about:

#1: Find a subject you’re passionate about. Construct the plot around it. Create a cast of characters that would be most affected by it. In my case, I already had the perfect characters to tell this story.

#2: For hot button issues, like trophy hunting and poaching, you need to decide what to show the reader and what to leave out. No one likes dead animals in books. Most of all, me! The trick is to find ways to tiptoe around obvious triggers while still remaining true to the story.

#3: Balance and forethought are key. For every emotional, spiritual, or suspenseful scene, I balanced with some of the most hilarious scenes I’ve ever written. That balance gives the reader time to breathe and makes the book more enjoyable. ARC readers tell me they experienced all the feels, from heartbreak to joy and every emotion in between.

#4: The ending always matters, but it becomes even more important when writing about subjects you’re passionate about. We can’t leave the reader heartbroken. What fun is that? If we leave them uplifted, they’ll look forward to the next book in the series.

#5: When your emotions are tangled up in your characters, let the words just flow. Don’t worry about editing, word choice, or sentence structure. You’re in the zone, emotions spilling on the pages, fingers trying to keep up with your brain. Write first, edit later.

This is my last post of 2022. From my family to yours, Happy Holidays!

 

With the fate of the Natural World at stake, can a cat burglar, warrior, and Medicine Man stop trophy hunters before it’s too late?

Explosive news of a crow hunt rings out in the White Mountain Region of New Hampshire, and one hundred crows gather to put an end to it. With so many lives at stake — including Poe’s — Shawnee and Mayhem must work together to stop the trophy hunters before they obliterate the local murder.

Taking on twenty-five experienced hunters armed with shotguns is no small feat. If they fail, Poe may lead his brethren to their death.

No matter what it takes, this group must be stopped. But what if Shawnee and Mayhem aren’t seeing the full picture? What if these men have secrets worth killing over?

Unnatural Mayhem is on preorder for $1.49. Releases tomorrow (Dec. 13, 2022).

Editor Interview – Val Mathews

By Debbie Burke
@burke_writer

After lunch on the second day of a writing conference, typically attendees’ brains are already brimming. Fatigue sets in. With full tummies, the temptation to nod off is strong.

Editor Val Mathews

However, no one dozed during Val Mathews’s presentation at the Flathead River Writers Conference in Montana this past October.

Val is a former acquisitions editor at The Wild Rose Press and teaches at several universities. She’s a certified flight instructor and used to fly Lear jets. Additionally, she’s a gifted speaker who knows how to grab and keep an audience’s attention.

At the beginning of her talk, Val got about 100 attendees up on our feet and walking between long rows of tables and down the aisles of the auditorium. Initially, she asked us to imagine we were taking a leisurely hike in Glacier Park. What did we see, smell, and hear?

Then she switched the scenario to a crowded city street. We were late to an important meeting, had forgotten our notes, and needed to return to the office to retrieve them. The energy in the room increased. The sea of people hurried around, now moving in opposite directions, passing each other and trying to avoid collisions.

Next, Val reduced the pace and had us walk with different postures—chests out, heads lowered, hunched over, hips forward, speeding up, slowing down—while paying attention to how each variation made our bodies feel.

Then she told us to become our main character and emulate their posture, movements, stride, and attitude. She asked, “How does your character feel? What are the physical sensations? What are they thinking about? How does that affect their movement?”

After ten minutes, Val had succeeded in chasing away all drowsiness and captured our full attention.

The exercise impressed me, so I invited Val to visit The Kill Zone. Welcome, Val!

Debbie Burke: Please share a little of your background and how you ended up in the publishing business.

Val Mathews: Thanks for having me, Debbie. I’m so glad you enjoyed my workshops! They are always so much fun to do, and everyone comes away renewed with ideas and inspired to write!

By the way, that opening exercise was borrowed from acting classes I took recently. Acting is all about stepping into your character’s body and soul and deeply connecting to your character’s inner world. Writers must do the same thing! And we can get to this deeper level of connection with our characters through our senses. Good writers have a knack for stepping into their characters, and it shows on the page. The characters come alive, feel real! And real-feeling characters hook readers.

So, to answer your question, I recently left The Wild Rose Press. Currently, I’m an editorial consultant for CRAFT Literary, a well-established online literary magazine, and I teach other editors at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Editorial Freelancers Association in New York City. Also I work one-on-one with writers to take their manuscripts to the next level—or the next few levels. All done remotely from my home in Athens, Georgia.

The funny thing is that I feel like I ended up in publishing by accident, even though my mom encouraged me to pursue that direction all my life. I got into publishing later in my life. In my 40s, after I already had a couple of careers and raised a family, I was accepted into graduate school and earned my Master of Arts in Professional Writing.

While in graduate school, I taught First-Year Composition, tutored writers, and volunteered as a poetry editor for a little literary magazine. On the side, I was coding and designing websites. Then I volunteered for SurfCoaches, a surfing company in Costa Rica, and created a digital magazine and website for them.

Those experiences gave me the confidence to approach the Georgia Writers Association and propose a digital literary magazine. They were thrilled since they only had a little newsletter at the time. I got a team together—mostly volunteer editors and readers—and we poured through submissions. We published poetry, short stories, and articles on the craft of writing. We did a couple of flash fiction contests too. A lot of fun!

Initially, I was just going to handle the poetry side, but surprisingly to me, I ended up being really good at fixing red-hot messes and fine-tuning short stories.

One of the accepted short-story authors asked me to edit her full manuscript. Then another asked and another. They referred me to their writer friends, and before I knew it, I was working with a writer every month while still in grad school. It spread by word of mouth. Soon writers asked me to come and talk at their writer groups, and I got even more clients. Then I started presenting at writer conferences, and my career took off from the exposure and experience. I’m booked two months or more in advance now.

A few years ago, I sent letters of introduction to a few university presses and small traditional publishers. I was hired on with The Wild Rose Press and got on the developmental editor list with the University of Georgia. During the first few years, I asked myself, “Is this real? Can I do it again next month?” And I always did. My mom would say, “I told you so.”

I’m still amazed at how I get to do what I love and I can do it from home, the coffee shop, the mountains—maybe the moon in five years. (Just kidding about the moon; I’ll settle for an island as long as I have a good internet connection.)

In college, I wanted to major in Biology. My mother bucked. She said, “But you can’t; you’re a girl!” Hard to imagine nowadays! She convinced me to major in English at Loyola University in New Orleans. Eventually, I rebelled, and I secretly enrolled in college for aeronautical science to become a commercial pilot like my father. I didn’t tell my mom until after my first solo! I flew turboprops and Lear Jets for a little while, and then life took unexpected twists and turns that led me to my current publishing career.

I’m still a FAA Certified Flight Instructor and have been for almost three decades now. Being a jet pilot is a bonus in the editing world. Aspiring authors often mention that my flying past was one of the deciding factors that made them pick up the phone and ask about my editorial services. And they always sign on.

Needless to say my mom was right. She knew I had a knack for writing and editing. Don’t you hate it when your mother is always right?

DB: What attracted you to editing?

VM: Although I edit at all levels—from developmental to proofreading—I’m most attracted to developmental editing. Developmental editors are all about the big picture. We assess how scenes hang together as a whole, how a story moves and unfurls, how characters drive the story forward. We’re kind of like detectives. We look for clues—or story seeds, as I call them.

These story seeds are often hidden or not fully fleshed out by the writer. But developmental editors look deep into the heart of a story and pull them out. Often writers don’t even know these seeds are there! Their creative subconscious scattered those seeds, but their consciousness was barely aware of them. When I point them out, their faces light up. It’s incredible to watch authors in this moment of inspired realization.

What I love the most about developmental editing is these light-bulb moments.

It’s deeply fulfilling to help writers fulfill their dreams. If a manuscript lacks focus, I’ll help the writer find it. If an author lacks confidence, I’ll work to inspire, challenge, and cheer them on. A developing editor’s job is not just about the manuscript—a large chunk of what we do involves inspiring the author’s voice and developing their full potential. In fact, the best developmental editors become the author’s collaborating partners—we hone the writer’s unique voice and make the author’s vision our vision.

When copyeditors move to developmental editing, it’s a significant perspective shift for sure. And how to make that move is a big part of my focus when teaching other editors to do what I do.

DB: When reading manuscripts, what qualities catch your attention?

VM: Well, on that first page, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping to be hooked. I love a story that starts with a strong voice—either a strong narrator voice or a strong character voice. Voice is a bit of an allusive term. What a good voice is for one editor may not be for another. It’s often very subjective.

In Voice: The Secret Power of Great Writing, James Scott Bell says that a “great voice is symbiotic,” meaning interdependent, and he encourages authors to identify with their characters so intimately that the authors begin to feel and think how the characters feel and think. Again, this is what actors do when preparing for a new part, and what I try to do in my workshops.

Furthermore, I love a story that captures my senses. At The Wild Rose Press, we have a good rule of thumb: include three sensory details per page and one of those should be something other than visual. Sensory details make the characters and their world come alive and really pop off the page.

DB: What qualities turn you off?

VM: Simply boring writing. Boring is also an elusive term too. What boring is for one editor may not be boring to another editor. Again, it’s often very subjective. But there are a few things that all editors will agree on.

For instance, dialogue that doesn’t add anything to the mood or increase the tension or drive the conflict. Boring dialogue and “talking heads” turn me off the most. Talking heads is when characters are talking but disconnected from the story world—there are no action beats, no sensory details, no glimpse into the point-of-view character’s inner world and motivations. The characters don’t feel real!

But the good news is it’s an easy fix. Writers can just look for long stretches of dialogue, and weave in actions and details to ground the reader in the story’s physical world. Then show the character’s conflicting desires, values, and emotions so the character becomes real.

Another turn-off is when the characters’ roles are generic, stereotyped, or old-fashioned because they don’t represent real people in all their colors, patterns, and quirks. Again boring.

DB: Could you describe your acquisition process at The Wild Rose Press?

VM: Every editor at The Wild Rose Press may have a different process. Typically, a senior editor or our editor-in-chief will send us a potential new author’s submission package consisting of the query letter and the first five pages. Each editor makes their own decision to request more pages or send a friendly (but often helpful) rejection letter. That’s why an author’s opening pages have to pop. Writers have a small window to hook a publisher and make the acquiring editor want to read on.

However, my submission process normally starts at a writers’ conference. Most of the submissions I read were sent to me from authors I met at a conference or workshop. I also get contacted by literary agents who pitch their client’s novels.

When I receive a submission, the first thing I do is read the first five pages. Often, I can tell on page one if it’s going to be a rejection—cold hard truth. If the opening doesn’t pop off the page, most readers aren’t going to wait until page three hundred to see if anything happens. One time, a writer told me, “But it gets good on page one hundred.” True story! Readers read for the joy and thrill of it. We want that joy and thrill on page one, page two, page three, and every page after that.

To get your foot in the door with an acquisition editor, rock the house down on the first page. It doesn’t have to be exploding bombs, car chases, shooting matches, and murder mayhem on page one, but it does need to hook us immediately and keep hooking us on every page.

The hook can be a promise of future conflict or subtle micro-tension or a strong character voice. One of those three things (preferably all three) will prompt me to immediately email the author and ask for a partial or full manuscript.

After reading the first five pages, I look at the pitch part of the author’s query. I’ll also read the synopsis and then request more pages or send a rejection. Some editors always read the query first and only ask for more pages based on the pitch. However, more than once, I’ve been thrilled by a fantastic pitch and strong synopsis, only to be disappointed when reading the manuscript. I think sometimes authors hire a professional query and synopsis writer.

I suggest writing it yourself. You have to know your story cold. When writers struggle to put the gist of their stories into a strong pitch paragraph or break the story down into a tight synopsis, then I bet there is a good chance their manuscripts have plot holes or too many storylines or too many characters—just my two feathers. I’m sure there are exceptions.

If I’m on the fence about a story or just want another opinion, I sometimes run it by our reading panel for their input. Depending on their positive reviews, I will continue with the acquisition process. Sometimes the readers give me insights I haven’t thought about or clue me into some aspects of the novel that might rub readers the wrong way.

Once I find a manuscript that I love and want to make an offer to the author, I send a Request for a Contract to my senior editor. If she approves, she sends it through, and an offer is made. Then the fun begins!

DB: What do you believe are the most significant changes in the publishing industry in the past five years?

VM: Well, the pandemic certainly changed things and pushed readers more strongly toward audio and digital books. Both have been steadily rising, but they really jumped up in readership during the pandemic. Audiobooks are a hot marketplace ticket! We are talking about a billion-dollar market here!

Authors may want to consider keeping their derivative rights. Derivative rights are the starting point for audiobooks. Before signing a publishing contract, ask, “Do I control my derivative rights, specifically my audio rights?” Read that contract and consider renegotiating to hang on to those rights. Because as I said, audio rights are hot right now and are expected to get hotter.

Spotify is buying Findaway and is really moving into the audiobook market. They expect audiobook sales to grow from $3.3 billion to $15 billion by 2027. That’s huge!

If you control that right, you get 100% of the profit. However, more publishers are keeping those rights. But it’s still economically not attractive for many publishers to produce audiobooks, so they may decide not to do it. In either case, you may want to ask for those rights to be reverted back to you so that you reap all the profit.

DB: What trends have you noticed lately?

VM: TikTok is the fastest-growing social media platform and is probably today’s essential tool for branding and marketing your novels. I used to rave about Twitter, but TikTok is stealing the show these days.

Although audiobooks and digital books are hot, print books are in demand, and apparently there is a shortage. Despite the surge in new technologies, all generations still prefer reading physical books. So, the good news is that print publishing is not dying as many had predicted.

Serial fiction is super-hot! As the old sales adage goes: It’s easier to keep an old client than to get a new one. The same goes for readers. This is particularly important for self-published authors. Sites like Kindle Vella, Wattpad, Inkitt, Tapas, Radish, and other online reading apps will continue to do well.

During the pandemic, book sales increased, especially among Gen Zers. Not surprising with more free time and people working from home or off work and going to school from home. And contrary to popular belief, Millennials are voracious readers.

The book industry is still alive and well. Older readers tend to gravitate to thrillers, mystery, and suspense, whereas younger readers tend to favor fantasy, science fiction, and general literature. Young adult novels had the most significant jump in sales in 2021. Also, 66% of poetry book buyers are under thirty-four. These young people are huge readers!

One interesting statistic I found is the rise in romance readership among young people, specifically young adult men. However, with that being said, most fiction readers are still women. About 80%!

Writers may want to think about creating a tough, wicked-smart female protagonist who solves her own problems and doesn’t wait for the knight in shining armor. I think the days of the damsel in distress are gone—again, just my two feathers.

It’s good to understand the differences between the generations and how they hear about novels. Gen Z looks to social media and friends for book recommendations, whereas most of the older generations depend on bookseller lists. So, if you’re not on social media, such as BookTok, I encourage you to get hopping. It’s never too late or too soon to start.

DB: Is there anything you’d like to add that I haven’t asked about?

VM: Yes! On behalf of all editors everywhere, I want to thank you and all the writers out there. Thank you for letting us into your creative worlds. I know how hard it is to let your “baby” go and entrust it to the care of an editor. I want to acknowledge the guts it takes to be a writer and put yourself out there. I’m so happy that you are in the world! Keep learning. Keep pushing your boundaries. Keep moving forward one page at a time.

You can find me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/editorvmathews and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/val_mathews/.

~~~

Val, thanks for the deep dive into the mind of an editor. We appreciate you sharing your insights with TKZ! 

~~~

This is my last post before TKZ goes on our annual holiday break. See you in 2023. Aargh! How did 2022 whiz by so fast?

As always, thank you for your interest and participation in TKZ’s community! 

May your holiday season be filled with cheer, love, and peace!

Writer Worry; Tone; Breathing

“Writer worry” is something many of us deal with. I have in the past, and switching genres from science fiction and fantasy recently created new writer worries.  I dove into the KZB archives and again found gold. Today’s first Words of Wisdom excerpt is from a 2009 post. James Scott Bell lays out his approach to dealing with writer worry.

Getting the tone of a novel right is an issue I have spent a lot time thinking about, since I went from writing the thriller-esque urban fantasy Empowered series to the lighter Meg Booker mysteries. Especially since I am aiming to hit the right notes in a specific sub-genre. An excerpt from a P.J. Parrish 2014 post tackles this challenge.

The last selection is from December 2019. Sue Coletta discusses the calming power of breath to help with body and mind. “Belly breathing” is something I learned while practicing yoga. Sue dives into how it works and how it can benefit us.

As always, full posts are linked from the date provided at the bottom of each excerpt. It is worth reading the full posts. Please let us know what you think about any or all of these topics

Call this my own, personal modus operandi for dealing with writer worry. It will work for you if you follow these steps:

  1. Take a moment to note the benefits of your worry. You are engaged. You are alive. You have blood coursing through your veins. You are not a chair.
  2. Remind yourself of the truth handed down by a wise Jewish carpenter, who once said, “Who by worrying can add one cubit to his span of life?” IOW, worry does absolutely no good regarding future outcomes and you know that.Tell yourself over and over until it sinks in.
  3. Now, figure out what’s the worst thing that can happen if you don’t get your desired result. Let’s say you’re waiting to hear about a submission to Penguin. What’s the worst? You get rejected by Penguin. That’s it. (Do not let your imagination run away with you. The very worstthing that can happen is that the acquisitions editor is so angry at your abuse of literature she hires a hit man to take you out. I mean, be reasonable).
  4. Next, write down all the ways you can come back strong if the worst thing happens. You got rejected by Penguin. How do you come back from that? You can a) submit elsewhere; b) prepare another project; c) rework the current project according to feedback; d) schedule a talk with your agent; e) study some aspect of the craft you’re weak on. And so forth.
  5. After going through steps 3 and 4, tell yourself that you can live with the worst thing.If it happens, it’s not going to debilitate you. It’s not going to stop you. Determine to accept the worst if it happens.

James Scott Bell–December 6, 2009

 

Tone is so important. And it’s not really the same as mood. Tone is the narrator’s attitude toward the subject — be it playful, ironic, dark, hardboiled, romantic — whereas the mood is what the reader feels by virtue of the setting, theme and voice. And I think tone is something often overlooked by some beginning writers. You, the writer, have to know in your heart what kind of book you are setting out to write. And then you should bend all the powers of your craft to that end. Poe called it Unity of Effect and wrote about it in his essay “The Philosophy of Composition.” He believed that a work of fiction should be written only after the author has decided which emotional response, or “effect,” he wishes to create. And once that was decided, everything else — theme, setting, characters, conflict, and plot — should serve the effect.

We do this via the countless choices we make as writers. What words we use, what imagery is in play, what the sentence structure is, what details we put in (as well as those we leave out). Here’s a visual.:

Both are photos of the Everglades. I’m choosing them because I also went on a “swamp walk” hike in the Corkscrew Swamp this week. The first photograph is by Susan Schermer. The second is by Clyde Butcher. Schermer’s is lush and color-saturated, with emphasis on the birds and setting sun. Butcher’s is desolate, empty of all apparent life and in stark black and white. The first is somewhat sentimental; the second almost existential. Both artists made choices about what details they wanted to include — or leave out — in their work, how they lit their landscapes, the types of trees, the quality of the water.

Same subject, different tones. Each is successful in its own way. But you can’t mistake one for the other.

So what’s my point? I’m not asking anyone to buttonhole their work. It isn’t necessary to try to psyche out editors and the folks who shelve the books at Barnes and Noble. (Is this neo-noir? Is it chick lit? Is it teen dystopia? Do we even care anymore?) I’m not even talking about all the sub-genres we tend to impose upon crime fiction. Some of the best stuff being written in crime fiction right now crosses so-called divides and genres.

What I am asking for, I think, is consistency. And honesty. Be honest with your readers. I don’t mean be predictable. Being honest means finding a tone for your work and sticking with it so that the reality you create on your pages is believable and satisfying. If you want to write romance or romance suspense, go for it and do it well.

P.J. Parrish—March 25, 2014

When chaos starts shaking the to-do list in my face, I close my eyes, lean back, and breathe… It’s amazing what a few deep breaths can do. There’s a running joke in my family that I’m so chill, I’m practically a corpse. It’s true! My blood pressure rarely, if ever, rises above 110/60, even under stressful conditions. And you know why? Because I take advantage of the most powerful and the most basic gift we have — the ability to breathe.

It may not sound like much of a superpower, but controlled breathing improves overall health. Controlled breaths can calm the brain, regulate blood pressure, improve memory, feed the emotional region of the brain, boost the immune system, and increase energy and metabolism levels.

The Brain’s Breathing Pacemaker

A 2016 study accidently discovered a neural circuit in the brainstem that plays a pivotal role in the breathing-brain control connection. This circuit is called “the brain’s breathing pacemaker,” because it can be adjusted by alternating breathing rhythm, which influences our emotional state. Slow, controlled breathing decreases activity in the circuit while fast, erratic breathing increases activity. Why this occurs is still largely unknown, but knowing this circuit exists is a huge step closer to figuring it out.

Breathing Decreases Pain 

Specifically, diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Ever watch an infant sleep? Their little tummy expands on the inhale and depletes on the exhale. They’re breathing through their diaphragm. We’re born breathing this way. It’s only as we grow older that we start depending on our lungs to do all the work.

Singers and athletes take advantage of diaphragmatic breathing techniques. Why not writers? If you find yourself hunched over the keyboard for too long, take a few moments to lay flat and concentrate on inflating your belly as you inhale through your nostrils. Then exhale while pulling your belly button toward your core. It takes a little practice to master the technique. Once you do, you can diaphragmatically breathe in any position. The best part is, it works!

Count Breaths for Emotional Well-Being

In 2018, another scientific study found that the mere act of counting breaths influenced “neuronal oscillations throughout the brain” in regions related to emotion. When participants counted correctly, brain activity showed a more organized pattern in the regions related to emotion, memory, and awareness, verse participants who breathed normally (without counting).

Sue Coletta—December 16, 2019

***

There you have it: steps to deal with writer worry, tips on getting your book’s tone right, and diaphragmic breathing to help with your body and mind.

  1. Do you have any writer worries? How do you deal with them?
  2. Have you ever struggled with a novel’s tone while writing? Have you ever stopped reading a book that was “tone-deaf?”
  3. Have you tried breathing to help with focus while writing, managing stress, discomfort, etc.?

Killer Deadlines

By Elaine Viets

Throughout my writing career, I’ve lived by deadlines. I started as a newspaper reporter and then became a columnist, where I often had four deadlines a week – with no time off. When the holidays rolled around, I had to write my columns ahead of time. That meant six or even eight deadlines a week.
As a mystery writer, I still have deadlines, but the pace seemed easier. Newspapers moved swiftly, like a cold through a kindergarten. Publishing seemed slower than a Manhattan traffic jam.
At first, I wrote two novels a year. Now I’ve cut back to one a year.


No problem with deadlines, right?
Wrong. No matter how much time I have to write a novel, the last week is always jammed up.
This August 31, I turned in my new Angela Richman, death investigator mystery to my London publisher, Severn House. This time, I spent that final stretch writing twelve-hour days, trying to finish. As I read through the book, a straggling subplot had to be cut. Its crabgrass-like tendrils were deep in the book. I dug them out.
Errors popped up – difficult characters deliberately changed their hair color and didn’t tell me. One nasty customer gave himself two different names. Typos appeared out of nowhere.
As I struggled to finish on deadline, I wrestled with my recalcitrant manuscript. I could feel it squirming. It refused to settle neatly in place.
I read and reread it until my eyes were blurry. Finally, I pressed the button and emailed it off to London, hoping all was well. I couldn’t read the book one more time.
Exhausted, I slept for two days.
Then I waited and worried, my head buzzing with questions:
Would my editor like the new book? Would she want a rewrite? What if she rejected it?
Finally, I got a brief note two weeks later – that’s lightning speed for publishing. My editor was reading the manuscript and “enjoying it hugely.”
Whew. I felt so much better. What was I going to do while I waited?
I could write a short story. Clean off my desk. Answer my emails. Plot my next book.
I could do that, but I didn’t. I couldn’t get up the energy.
My editor didn’t like the working title, so I came up with a new one – “The Dead of Night.”
I didn’t do much else. I just need to lie fallow, I told myself. I was so fallow I was turning into a puddle of goo. I moped around my home. I’ll get my energy back soon, I thought.
Soon.
I got it back this Tuesday. My editor emailed me the copyedited manuscript. It needs some tweaking and a small rewrite. And I have one week to finish. It’s due next Tuesday.
Suddenly I was awake. Galvanized. Ready to work. I quit moping. I had a purpose.
Better yet, I had a deadline.

What about you, writers? Do you need deadlines?

PS: I’m also working under another deadline. Hurricane Nicole is heading this way, and I’m going to drag in the plants on the balcony. Wish us luck.

8888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888
I’m celebrating! My short story, “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About,” in the anthology, “The Great Filling Station Holdup: crime fiction inspired by the songs of Jimmy Buffet,” edited by Josh Pachter, won Silver at the Royal Palm Literary Award.
Buy the anthology here: https://tinyurl.com/4nr7a9pm

Dream Hacking

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

The paranoid hairs on the back of my neck stood up when I read several articles by scientists from MIT, Harvard, and University of Montreal about emerging techniques for manipulating dreams.

Search engines are already scary-smart at reading our minds and predicting our behavior. Type a few letters into the search bar and instantly the rest of the word or phrase appears. Google is like a long-time spouse who finishes sentences for you.

Soon, similar mind reading may be extended into your dreams as you sleep.

Disturbing? Yup.

According to an article by Rob Pegoraro in Forbes.com, as a 2021 Superbowl promotion, Coors Beer offered people free beer in exchange for their participation in a study of “targeted dream incubation,” billed as “The World’s Largest Dream Study.” Subjects were shown Coors’s videos of snowy mountain views and crystal streams several times then fell asleep to the soundtrack of those ads.

Upon waking, the subjects reported dreams of waterfalls and being in snow. The most telling—and chilling—reaction of all came from one woman: “I think it was… something to do with… Coors.”

Subliminal advertising in commercials first became a hot topic way back in 1957. Marketer James Vicary claimed sales of popcorn and Coca Cola increased because of messages inserted into ads. The messages supposedly flashed so quickly the eye could not see them. He later admitted his study was a gimmick not supported by evidence.

According to Chron.com, consumer concerns prompted the FCC to issue a statement:

The FCC stated that all broadcasting licensees should not use subliminal advertising techniques because the techniques are deceptive, which runs counter to the purpose of the FCC. The statement is still on the FCC’s website as its stance on subliminal marketing.

Nevertheless, the concept caught on. This article from Business Insider cites examples.

Aboriginal cave painting-Jabiru dreaming
Photo credit: Wikimedia.com CCA SA-4.0

Dream manipulation is nothing new. Ancient peoples as far back as 5000 years and perhaps longer recognized the enormous power of dreams.

Cultures around the world, from Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and even remote isolated islands, developed practices to guide dreams toward a specific goal. Some goals included:

  1. Connection with a deity;
  2. Seeking solutions to problems;
  3. Overcoming traumatic events;
  4. Predicting the future.

To attain these goals, different rituals included:

  1. Rubbing ashes or paint-like substances on a person’s face;
  2. Eating raw flesh of a particular animal before sleeping;
  3. Inflicting pain, e.g. Native American Vision Quests;
  4. Going to sacred locations to sleep.

Today, many conditions, including anxiety, PTSD, poor school or work performance, eating disorders, etc., are commonly treated by using suggestions during sleep.

Here at TKZ, we frequently talk about how authors can solve story problems by using prompts before they go to sleep. Writers often dream their way through roadblocks.

Watch tracker
Photo credit: Wikimedia.com CC A-2.0

Technology already tracks our physical activity, heart rate, exercise, location, proximity to stores, and far more. Some years ago, while shopping for a new smartphone, I was shocked to find an app that monitored vaginal secretions. Whoa, guys, that is way too intrusive.

When such monitoring goes beyond the physical body and digs into the deepest recesses of the mind, the slope gets downright slippery.

What if a person’s dreams can be manipulated so businesses can profit from them?

With marketers now seeking high-tech ways to manipulate consumers in their sleep, concerned scientists are sounding ethical alarm bells.

In open letter signed by more than 40 scientists in June, 2021, Robert StickgoldAntonio Zadra, and AJH Haar wrote:

TDI [targeted dream incubation]-advertising is not some fun gimmick, but a slippery slope with real consequences. Planting dreams in people’s minds for the purpose of selling products, not to mention addictive substances, raises important ethical questions. The moral line dividing companies selling relaxing rain soundtracks to help people sleep from those embedding targeted dreams to influence consumer behavior is admittedly unclear at the moment.

Futurism.com says:

…it’s only a matter of time before tech companies that make watches, wearables, apps and other technology that monitor our sleep start to sell that data for profit, or use those tools to hack our dreams while we slumber.

Our dreams might turn into nightmares we can’t wake up from.

This technology opens a vast plot playground for authors of sci-fi, crime, and thriller writers to explore nefarious uses for dream hacking.

TKZers, please name books or films where dream manipulation is used.

How would you incorporate dream hacking into a plot?

Do you give yourself pre-sleep suggestions?

~~~

 

Debbie Burke’s books won’t hack your dreams but many reviewers say they keep them awake at night. Please check out Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion, for sale at this link

Social Media, Blogging, and SEO Redux

Since I am on deadline and preparing to fly to Atlanta to film three episodes of a true crime series, I’m sharing my very first post on the Kill Zone from 2017. Has it been five years already? Seems like yesterday. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. I’ll try to pop into the comment section at some point today. Please be patient! In the meantime, chat among yourselves.

Social Media, Blogging, and SEO Tips

Social Media, Blogging, and SEO tipsTo prepare for my first post as a TKZ member (yay!), I read all the social media posts on the Kill Zone (my little research addiction rearing its head :-)). Back as far as 2009, Joe Moore wrote Social Networking Showdown, which explored MySpace vs. Facebook, Shelfari vs. Goodreads, Crimespace, Gather, Bebo, LinkedIn, and the all-important email list. Even though some of these sites are nonexistent today, Joe’s advice still applies. And in 2011, he shared his perspective on using manners online. Which is critical these days.

The way we conduct ourselves on social media matters. Hence, why Jim made social media easy and why, I presume, Jodie Renner invited Anne Allen to give us 15 Do’s and Don’ts of social media as only Anne could, with her fantastic wit.

One year later, in 2016, Clare shared what’s acceptable for authors on social media and what isn’t. Jim showed us the dangers of social media, and how it can consume us if we’re not careful.

Through the years the Kill Zone authors have tried to keep us from falling into the honey trap of social media. Which brings me to the burning question Kathryn posed this past June: Writers on Social Media: Does it Even Make a Difference?

In my opinion, the correct answer is yes.

Working writers in the digital age need to have a social media presence. Fans expect to find a way to connect with their favorite author. How many of you have finished reading a thriller that blew you away, and immediately went online to find out more about the author? I know I have. It’s only natural to become curious about the authors whose books we love. Give your fans a way to find you — the first step in building an audience.

I’ve seen authors who don’t even have a website, never mind an updated blog. This is a huge mistake, IMO. It’s imperative to have a home base. Without one, we’re limiting our ability to grow.

BLOGGING

There are two types of blogging: those who blog about their daily routine and those who offer valuable content. Although both ways technically “engage” our audience, the latter is a more effective way to build and nurture a fan base.

When I first started blogging I had no idea what to do. I got in contact with a web design company (just like web design company Nashville) to help me get set up, and away I went! I’ve always loved to research, so I used my blog as a way to share the interesting tidbits I’d learned along the way. For me, it was a no-brainer. I’d already done the research. Writing about what I’d learned helped me to remember what I needed for my WIP while offering valuable content to writers who despise research (Gasp!). Over time my Murder Blog grew into a crime resource blog.

Running a resource blog has its advantages and disadvantages. Be sure to look into the pros and cons before choosing this route. When I first scored a publishing deal, I realized most of my audience was made up of other writers. The question then became, how could I attract non-writers without losing what I’d built?

My solution was to widen my scope to things readers would also enjoy, like flash fiction and true crime stories. Who doesn’t like a good mystery?

With a resource blog it’s also difficult to support the writing community. Book promos go over about as well as a two-ton elephant on a rubber raft. If you decide to run a resource blog, find another way to support your fellow writers. When one of us succeeds, the literary angels rejoice.

There’s one exception to the “no book promos” rule for resource blogs, and that is research. It’s always fun to read about other writers’ experiences. Subtly place their book covers somewhere in post (with buy link). That way it benefits both your audience and the author.

The one thing we can count on is that how-to blog changes with the times. A few months ago, my publisher shared a link to an article about blogging in 2018. Because she shared the article via our private group, I’m reluctant to share the link. The gist of article is, come 2018 bloggers who don’t offer some sort of video content will be left in the dust. Only time will tell if this advice holds true, but it makes sense. The younger generation loves YouTube. By adding a video series or a Facebook Live event we could expand our audience.

It’s time-consuming to create each video episode. Hence why I had several months in between the first two episodes of Serial Killer Corner. Our first priority must be writing that next book. However, consistency is key. Weekly, monthly, bi-monthly? Choose a plan that works for you and stick with it. There are many internet marketing experts who can help make your blog become successful.

SEO MATTERS

SEO — Search Engine Optimization — drives traffic to your website/blog. Without making this post 10K words long, I’m sharing a few SEO tips with added tips to expand our reach. In the future I could devote an entire post to how to maximize SEO. Would that interest you?

Tips

  • every post should have at least one inbound link and two outbound links; we highly recommend speaking to a digital marketing agency such as OutreachPete.com to get guidance on how to build these links.
  • send legacy blogs a pingback when linking to their site;
  • never link the same words as the post title or you’ll lessen the previous posts’ SEO (note how I linked to previous TKZ posts in the 1st paragraph);
  • use long-tail keywords rather than short-tail (less competition equals better traffic);
  • using Yoast SEO plug-in is one of the easiest ways to optimize a blog’s SEO;
  • self-hosted sites allow full control of SEO, free sites don’t;
  • remove stop words in the post slug (for example, see the permalink for this post); I’d also recommend removing the date, but that’s a personal preference;
  • drip marketing campaigns drive traffic to your site;
  • slow blogging drives more traffic than daily blogging (for a single author site);
  • consistency is key — if you post every Saturday, keep that schedule;
  • use spaces before and after an em dash in blog posts (not books);
  • use alt tags on every image (I use the post title, which should include the keyword); if someone pins an image, the post title travels with it;
  • link images to post and book covers to buy link;
  • white space is your friend; use subheadings, bullet points, and/or lists;
  • longer posts (800 – 1, 000 words min.) get better SEO than than shorter ones;
  • using two hashtags on Twitter garners more engagement than three or more;
  • protect your site with SSL encryption (as of this month, Google warns potential visitors if your site isn’t protected; imagine how much traffic you could lose?);
  • post a “SSL Protected” badge on your site; it aids in email sign-ups;
  • via scroll bar or pop-up, capitalize on that traffic by asking visitors to join your community, which helps build your email list;

THE 80/20 RULE

Most of us are familiar with the 80/20 rule. 80% non-book-related content; 20% books. My average leans more toward 90/10, but that may be a personal preference.

What should we share 80% of the time? The easiest thing to do is to share what we’re passionate about. When I say post about passion I don’t mean writing. Sure, we’re all passionate about writing, but I’m sure that’s not the only thing you’re passionate about. How about animals, nature, cooking, gardening, or sports?

One of the best examples of sharing one’s passion comes from a writer pal of mine, Diana Cosby, who loves photography. Every Saturday on Facebook, she holds the Mad Bird Competition. During the week she takes photos of birds who have a penetrating glare and/or fighting stance. On Saturdays, she posts two side-by-side photos and asks her audience to vote for their favorite “mad bird.” Much like boxing, the champion from that round goes up against a new bird the following week.

On Fridays, she posts formal rejection letters to birds who didn’t make the cut. With her permission, here’s an example:

Dear Mr. House Sparrow,

I regret to inform you that though your ‘fierce look’ holds merit, it far from meets the requirements for entry into the Mad Bird Competition. Please practice your mad looks and resubmit.

Sincerely,
M.R. Grackle
1st inductee into the Mad Bird Hall of Fame

 

It’s a blast! I look forward to these posts every week. As such, I’m curious about her books. See how that works?

My own social media tends to run a bit darker … murder & serial killers top the list, but I also share stories about Poe & Edgar, my pet crows who live free, as well as my love for nature and anything with fur or feathers. The key is to be real. Don’t try to fake being genuine. People see right through a false facade. Also, please don’t rant about book reviews, rejection letters, or anything else. Social media is not the place to share your frustrations.

As for soft marketing on social media, I like to make my own memes. It only takes a few minutes and it’s a great way to keep your fans updated on what you’re working on. In the following example I wrote: #amwriting Book 3, Grafton Series. I also linked to the series. Don’t forget to include a link to your website. The more the meme is shared, the more people see your name. Keep it small and unobtrusive. See mine in the lower-right corner?

Social Media, Blogging, and SEO Tips

In the next example, I asked, “What’s everyone doing this weekend? No words, only gifs.” Have fun on social media. The point is to engage your audience.

Folks love to be included. Plus, I genuinely want to get to know the people who follow/friend me. Don’t you? It doesn’t take much effort to make your fans feel special. Take a few moments to mingle with them. It’s five or ten minutes out of your busy schedule, yet it may be the only thing that brightens someone’s day. In a world with so much negatively and hatred, be better, be more than, be the best person you can be … in life and on social media.

Over to you TKZers. How do you approach social media?

Creative Marketing: Beyond the Bookstore

Today I’m delighted to introduce a guest post by mystery/suspense author Leslie Budewitz (also writing as Alicia Beckman). Leslie offers ideas about unconventional places to sell books.

Welcome, Leslie!

~~~

Marketing and promotion, it turns out, can require as much creativity as writing itself. One example: launching and selling books through non-traditional outlets, that is, businesses that aren’t primarily bookstores. These outlets are critical for those of us without easy access to bookstores.

When my first novel came out in 2013, the owners of an art gallery in Bigfork, Montana, where I live, approached me with an invitation I could never have imagined, even if I’d written it myself: What about an exhibit called “Bigfork in Paint and Print,” featuring area artists’ visions of the community and a book launch on opening night?

I still remember carrying a box of books into the gallery and finding people waiting for me. People I didn’t know. People who bought multiple copies, for gifts. I sold every book I’d brought and sent my husband home for more. We sold 60 books that night, and another 180 at the local art festival that weekend.

And the gallery? After telling me openings don’t sell paintings so don’t get my hopes up for books, the owners were astonished: They sold nine of eleven paintings that night and a tenth the next week.

Now it helped that I knew the owners, the local paper previewed the event, and the book, Death al Dente, first in my Food Lovers’ Village cozy mysteries, is set in a fictional version of our town. A special case. The exhibit continued for several years and openings were successful, but not at the same level—fewer friends-and-family purchases, more opportunities to buy the books in other places, and a little less excitement.

But this experience showed me the value of non-bookstore outlets.

Does your book have a specific angle that ties in to a local business?

I live in a small tourist town in the northern Rockies. One of the downtown anchor businesses is a kitchen shop. My two cozy mystery series are both set in food-related retail shops, one here and one in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. It’s been a natural combination, and the kitchen shop sells dozens of my books every year to both locals and visitors. To my surprise, it’s also sold more than 100 copies of my first suspense novel, Bitterroot Lake, a hardcover without a single cupcake on the cover. Why? My guess: The bitterroot is the state flower and the word is echoed in landmarks throughout the area, giving it a strong regional appeal.

You might find a similar connection with an outdoor gear and clothing shop for your books featuring a park ranger or a fishing guide who solves mysteries. Your amateur sleuth runs a coffee cart? I can see the books displayed in the local coffee shop. A café, a brewery, a business built on a local theme—natural connections.

In general, people are not likely to buy a thing in a place where they don’t expect to see it. You probably wouldn’t buy earrings in a convenience store. On the other hand, you might buy a cute pair by a local artist nicely displayed near the cash register. We all love surprises and souvenirs. That’s the whole purpose of gift shops in art centers and historical museums. I’m one of several local authors who sell books through the airport gift shop, an option for those of us who live in smaller cities where airport retail is locally owned and operated.

A few tips: Forge a relationship with the business owner or manager. Show why your book fits their mission and will appeal to their customers. Retailers want new products that will excite their customers.

Offer to accept payment after sales rather than requiring an investment up front. Both the kitchen shop and airport gift shop started by paying me on sales, and quickly moved to buying the books outright.

Personalize an advance copy for the staff to pass around.

Work with the shop on displays. Your book won’t do well where people don’t see it. In the kitchen shop, my books are among the first things visitors see. After my launch at the local art center, I take the small stand-up poster to the kitchen shop and add it to their display. I’ve created a list of books in order, identifying me as a local author and Agatha Award winner. I leave bookmarks. I check in often and fluff the display. I’ve gotten to know the salesclerks, so they talk up my books. And you know that getting other people to talk about your books is more important than anything you can say.

When you make a delivery, find a spot to sit or stand and sign the books you’re leaving. You’ll strike up conversations with customers and staff and sell books while you’re there. Odd as it sounds, sales will go up that day, even after you leave. Every shop and gallery owner I’ve worked with swears it’s true.

Working out the sales percentage may be tricky. Retailers are likely to accept 75/25 because they are used to working on small margins. Nonprofits may be less flexible. If you’re traditionally published and can’t accept 60/40, be prepared to explain why and justify a 75/25 split. Twice recently I’ve heard “We have to treat everyone fairly,” that is, apply the same percentage to all artists. Treating people fairly doesn’t always mean treating them the same, because people aren’t all in the same situation. The only solution I’ve found is to suggest increasing the retail price. I hesitated, thinking an $8 paperback wouldn’t sell at $10, but it has. Remember, gift shop sales are often spur-of-the-moment purchases. You’re not competing with Amazon or B&N; a tourist will see the book as a souvenir, and a local as a special find.

If a shop can do better buying directly, tell them. Some gift shops and used bookstores that carry a few new titles have accounts with Ingram. That’s a better deal for them and easier for you. Stop in regularly to sign books and leave bookmarks.

One-night stands: Even without a regular sales relationship, you can participate in special events at local businesses. Does your book fit with Pioneer Days or other local celebrations? Holiday open houses and “ladies night” events are big opportunities. And if other artists or authors are participating, even better. The “shop and buy” vibe rises exponentially.

Montana authors Mark Leichliter, Christine Cargo, Leslie Budewitz, and Debbie Burke

Finally, though it doesn’t quite fit my theme, I want to mention another option. Create your own event and make it A Thing. When Kill Zone blogger Debbie Burke and her friend Dorothy Donahoe, a retired librarian, took a “get out of Dodge” drive in the summer of 2020, they stopped for lunch at a Bigfork bakery with an outdoor stage and bar and a lovely view. Dorothy suggested Debbie recruit other local authors for a joint event. It’s become an annual event featuring four mystery authors from across the valley.

Find and nurture local connections. People love the idea of promoting local authors; make it easy for them and fun for you. Let your creativity flow beyond the page.

~~~

Thanks, Leslie, for visiting The Kill Zone and sharing these great out-of-the-box ideas. And congratulations on tomorrow’s launch of Blind Faith!

~~~

BLIND FAITH (written as Alicia Beckman), is out October 11 from Crooked Lane Books, in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

Long-buried secrets come back with a vengeance in a cold case gone red-hot in Agatha Award-winning author Alicia Beckman’s second novel, perfect for fans of Laura Lippman and Greer Hendricks.

A photograph. A memory. A murdered priest.

A passion for justice.

A vow never to return.

Two women whose paths crossed in Montana years ago discover they share keys to a deadly secret that exposes a killer—and changes everything they thought they knew about themselves.

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Books-A-Million
Bookshop.org
Indie Bound
And your local booksellers!

~~~

Leslie Budewitz is a three-time Agatha Award winner and the best-selling author of the Spice Shop mysteries, set in Seattle, and Food Lovers’ Village mysteries, inspired by Bigfork, Montana, where she lives. The newest: Peppermint Barked, the 6th Spice Shop mystery (July 2022). As Alicia Beckman, she writes moody suspense, beginning with Bitterroot Lake and continuing with Blind Faith (October 2022). Leslie is a board member of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime.

 

The Villain’s Journey

 

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

By Downloaded from [1], Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14258218

Lately, villains have been in TKZ’s zeitgeist with posts by Steve and Sue.

In one comment, TKZ regular Marilynn Byerly asked if there is a “Villain’s Journey” that is the flip side to the “Hero’s Journey.” Christopher Vogler outlined the Hero’s Journey in his classic bestseller, The Writer’s Journey.

What a great question!  

Down the Google rabbit hole. Surprisingly, I found only one book with that title and it focused on sci-fi/fantasy. But I did find a number of articles and blog posts that drew parallels between the villain’s journey and the hero’s journey.

Here are the 12 stages Vogler laid out that the hero goes through.

  1. The Ordinary World.We meet our hero.
  2. Call to Adventure. Will they meet the challenge?
  3. Refusal of the Call. They resist the adventure.
  4. Meeting the Mentor. A teacher arrives.
  5. Crossing the First Threshold. The hero leaves the comfort zone.
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies. Making friends and facing roadblocks.
  7. Approach to the Inmost Cave. Getting closer to our goal.
  8. The hero’s biggest test yet!
  9. Reward (Seizing the Sword).Light at the end of the tunnel
  10. The Road Back.We aren’t safe yet.
  11. The final hurdle is reached.
  12. Return with the Elixir.The hero heads home, triumphant.

In theory, the villain’s journey could also go through these same steps but with one major change.

The villain’s journey ends at Step #9.

The villain doesn’t attain the reward and is defeated at the hands of the hero. Game over.

In a 2008 blog post, bestselling mystery and romantic suspense author Allison Brennan says:

Everyone talks about the heroes and their backstory and conflict, but they often forget that the villain needs it all and morewe need to figure out how they became so evil.

The Hero’s Journey is a valuable tool for your writers tool chest. If you remember to apply those steps of the journey to your villain’s life, your bad guy will be richer–and scarier–for it. But it’s not just the “bad guy”–it’s any antagonist in your story. WHY characters do things, even minor characters, is important to know, so if you can identify where they are on their personal journey, it’ll help enrich your story. This isn’t to say every character needs a backstory on the page, but every character needs a backstory in your mind.

 

University of Richmond psychology professors Scott T. Allison and George Goethals host a blog called Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them. In a 2014 post, they posed the question: “Does the Villain’s Journey Mirror the Hero’s Journey?”

Do heroes and villains travel along a similar life path?  Or do villains experience a journey that is the inverse of that of the hero?

Both heroes and villains experience a significant trigger event that propels them on their journeys.  Heroes and villains encounter obstacles, receive help from sidekicks, and experience successes and setbacks during their quests.

We’ve observed that many stories portray villains as following the hero’s life stages in reverse.  Whereas heroes complete their journey having attained mastery of their worlds, the story often begins with villains possessing the mastery.  That is, hero stories often start with the villains firmly in power, or at least believing themselves to be superior to others and ready to direct their dark powers toward harming others.

By Mike Maguire – Witch, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55221516

 

They offer examples of the Wicked Witch in Wizard of Oz, Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Annie Wilkes in Misery.

The story begins with the villain securely in power, the master of his or her world.  The heroes of these stories, in contrast, are weak and naive at the outset.  Only after being thrust into the villains’ worlds do these heroes gather the assistance, resources, and wisdom necessary to defeat the villains.

The villain’s story is thus one of declining power while the hero’s story is one of rising power…In defeat, the villain’s mastery is handed over to the hero.  The villain’s deficiencies of character have been exposed; the hero’s deficiencies have been corrected.  The two journeys, one the inverse of the other, are completed.

In another article, Scott traces the stages that cause some people to become villains, both in real life and in fiction:

  • The pre-villain is an ordinary person living in an ordinary world that is safe and familiar.
  • Something happens that hurls this ordinary person into the “special world” that is dangerous and unfamiliar.
  • Often this new dangerous world is the world of abuse, with the ordinary person at the receiving end of emotional or physical abuse.
  • Typically, the abuser is a parent, but sometimes another authority figure, peers, or harsh social conditions damage this ordinary person.
  • The ordinary person suffers psychological harm that can assume the form of narcissism, psychopathy, depression, or schizoaffective disorders.
  • This mental illness distorts the ordinary person’s views of themselves and the world, often producing an extreme self-narcissism and/or collective narcissism of their community or nation.
  • The ordinary person remains unaware of their skewed perception of reality and is never able to acknowledge their damaged state nor their need for psychological and/or spiritual help.
  • As a result of their untreated trauma, the villain undergoes terrible suffering, often in private, but is unable to learn or grow from it. Their deep fears and sadness transform into anger.

Okay, that covers the villain’s backstory and motivations but…

What about mysteries where the villain is hidden until the end? How does a writer handle the origin story and motivations when the villain’s point of view is never shown?

We’ve all watched films with the tired old trope where the hero is captured and tied to a chair. Then, because the writer couldn’t think of a less clumsy device, the villain bares their soul to the hero, revealing they were driven to exterminate humanity because they’d been potty-trained at gunpoint.

To avoid that pitfall, Chris Winkle of Mythcreants.com offers these suggestions:

The most important method of showing your villain’s character arc – or any character arc – is demonstrating a change in behavior. If you keep their arc simple enough, that could be all you need. The basic unit of changing behavior would look like this:

    1. The villain shows a clear pattern of behavior.
    2. An event occurs that would reasonably impact the villain.
    3. The villain shows a different pattern of behavior. 

Chris outlines several options for the unseen villain’s character arc:

Gain/Loss:

“The villain gains and/or loses something they care deeply about, and that drives their character change. Usually what they gain or lose is a person they love, but it can be anything as long as you can show the audience why it’s so important.”

Obsession:

“This is a villain that changes their motives during the story because they acquire a new obsession or goal. Often that obsession is the main character, but it also might be a shiny new superpower.”

Revelation:

“This is a great arc for villains who think they’re doing the right thing and consider all the harm they cause justified. In this arc, they have a revelation that challenges this belief, forcing them to adapt.”

Chris’s summary:

If you want a sympathetic villain and you can afford to give them their own viewpoint, that’s great. Give them a deep arc your audience will remember.

But if that doesn’t fit your story, bring them to life in whatever space you have to work with. If you can’t manage a complex arc, create a simple one.

~~~ 

Many thanks to Allison Brennan, Scott Allison and George Goethals, and Chris Winkle for allowing me to quote their various interpretations of the Villain’s Journey.

And thanks, Marilynn, for asking a terrific question.

~~~

TKZers:

Do any of these techniques resonate with you?

How would you add, subtract, or change steps in the Villain’s Journey?

~~~

 

Please check out various Villain’s Journeys in the Tawny Lindholm Thriller series by Debbie Burke.

Buy link

On the Other Side of the Microphone

By Elaine Viets

I’ll admit it. Being interviewed terrifies me. I was a reporter for more than twenty-five years. When I have to sit on the other side of the notebook, or the microphone, my palms sweat, my throat is dryer than Death Valley and my knees go weak.
Recently, I had a TV interview in St. Louis that was painless. The reporter did her research, and she read my books – most interviewers don’t do that.
We talked about books, writing, research and more and it became a conversation. I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as I did.

Today, I’m traveling to the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Minneapolis. If you’re going to Bcon, please stop by my panel on 4:15 Saturday, September 10. It’s called “House of Cards: Power and Privilege: Power is everything . . . or is it? Like a house of cards, one false move causes everything to come crumbling down.”
You’ll see many of your favorite authors, including moderator Jason Allen, Joseph Finder, Vera Kurian, Rick Mofina, Hannah Morrissey. Oh, yeah, and me.