What Writers Can Learn from Animal Communication

Zoosemiotics is the study of animal communication, and it’s played an important role in the development of ethology, sociobiology, and the study of animal cognition. Writers can also learn from zoosemiotics. Think characterization and scene enhancement.

In the animal kingdom, the sender and receiver of communication may be part of the same species or from different species. Crows, for example, warn the chippies, squirrels, and numerous small birds when dangerous predators are in the area. They do this with a vocal alarm, and every animal pays attention. When crows are around good people and animals they’re comfortable with, they blink several times per minute and have a relaxed, roaming gaze. If a predator prowls or coasts into their domain, their unblinking, hard stare at the threat warns other wildlife in the area.

Warning Coloration

In species such as wasps that are capable of harming potential predators, they’re often brightly colored, and this modifies the behavior of the predator who either instinctively knows to be wary or has learned to use caution through past experiences. Some forms of mimicry fall in the same category. For example, hoverflies have similar coloring to wasps. Although they’re unable to sting, wasps avoid them.

Coloration changes in characters include reddening or flushed neck and/or face (anger or embarrassment) or the lack of color i.e., pale (fear, anxiety, or nervousness).

Behavioral Changes

Canines such as wolves and coyotes may adopt an aggressive posture, such as growling, head leveling, or baring teeth to warn a potential predator to stay back, that if they approach, the canine is ready and able to fight. Rattlesnakes use their telltale rattle—it means, if you come near me, I will strike. Certain amphibians with a bright colored belly and a back that blends into the environment, flash their belly when confronted by a potential threat, indicating they are poisonous in some way.

Behavioral changes in characters include a snarled lip, clenched fists, pitching forward, or lunging at the threat (anger), mouth dryness, licking lips, avoiding eye contact, clenched hands/arms, jerky steps, fidgeting, defensive posture (fear, anxiety, or nervousness), slumped shoulders, tears, flat speech (sadness), raised eyebrows, eyes widening, slacked jaw (surprise), open body language, smiling (happiness) etc.…

Stotting

An example of prey to predator communication is stotting, a highly noticeable form of running shown by some antelopes such as a Thomson’s gazelle. Stotting indicates the animal is healthy and fit, thus not worth pursuing.

Stotting behavior in characters: Think about the difference between jogging and running for your life. The feet may be sloppy or the character zigzags, trips, or falls (fear).

Predator to Prey

Some predators communicate to prey in ways that change their behavior. The deception makes them easier to catch. Take, for example, the angler fish. Fleshy growth protruding from its forehead dangles in front of its jaws. Smaller fish try to take the lure, thereby positioning themselves directly in front of the angler fish’s mouth.

Describing deceptiveness in characters would take an entire post, but you get the picture. 😉

Human & Animal Communication

We are all part of the Natural World. Various ways in which humans interpret the behavior of domestic animals and/or wildlife fit the definition of interspecific communication. Although dogs can use vocal communication, they mainly display nonverbal communication through the use of body language, such as tail carriage and motion, ear and eye position, body position and movement, and facial expressions. Recognizing the correct nonverbal cue will help decipher what the dog is telling us.

More character nonverbal cues include sweating, trembling, damp eyes, muscles tensing, crossed arms or the drawing in of limbs, the body recoiling (fear, anxiety, nervousness), sudden backward movement (surprise), relaxation of muscles (happiness), etc….

While observing a dog’s body language it’s crucial to observe the entire dog, as well as the situation or context. For example, a dog’s wagging tail does not always mean Fido’s happy. A tail in motion is often noticed first, but the rest of the dog is board-stiff, and the ears are back and the dog’s in a couched position, the full picture tells you Fido’s not happy with the situation.

5 Common Groups of Canine Signals

Keep in mind, a dog could use more than one response at a time. Hence why it’s important to analyze the entire dog, not just one body cue (the same applies to characters).

Fido may start with a display of excitement, then decide the stimuli is a threat and switch to aggressive posturing, or send fear signals, or both.

As we review each group, notice the similarities to us (characters).

Fearful Communication

When a dog is frightened, he’s likely to react with his whole body. He may lick his lips, yawn, keep his mouth tightly closed, cower or lower his body, lower or tuck his tail, or flatten his ears. He may also tremble or shake, avoid eye contact, or lean back to avoid the frightening stimulus.

The body language may be a combination of several signals and/or may appear as a progression through these signals as the dog’s response intensifies. Sometimes, the complete absence of active signals can speak volumes. A dog that won’t eat food or treats, is avoiding people when they approach, or freezes when someone reaches for him—a “shut down” appearance—is demonstrating fear. Sadly, we often see this behavior in shelters if the dog doesn’t get adopted. Shelter dogs also may display high arousal or excitement.

Arousal Communication

The arousal in shelter dogs could be due to many factors, including age, confinement, lack of physical and/or mental outlets, and personality. An arousal/excitement response could indicate joy directed at a certain person, another dog, or toy. If the context is a favorable one, the dog should have soft, relaxed body and eyes and mouth, along with a wagging tail that jumps for attention. He may also play-bow—rear end in the air, front end lowered—to demonstrate excitement. Other cues are jumping, mounting, and mouthing. Mouthing should be soft (no teeth).

Arousal behaviors can also be directed at unfavorable stimuli, such as an unwanted human, animal, or situation. Arousal signals in this context may be coupled with fear signals, such as trembling or a low/tucked tail. Or the arousal signals are paired with aggression—barking, lunging, anxious pacing or spinning, or biting of leash, clothing, or the unfavorable stimuli. The dog’s fur can pilo-erect (hackle), his ears bent forward or at attention, his stance upward and erect. The tail is often up and wagging stiffly, and the eyes are wide-open and focused on the target. He could also bark, growl, and/or lunge.

Anxious Communication

If a dog becomes stressed, he may exhibit excessive panting, pacing, and lack of focus. Similar body language to a fearful dog, when in reality, he’s filled with anxiety. Which is why context is key. A dog that jumps at the kennel door as a person approaches is displaying arousal/excitement. Whereas a dog bounding off the side walls of the kennel displays anxious communication signals.

Aggressive Communication

Aggression is a normal and natural behavior in animals, triggered by a perceived threat. Aggressive vocalizations and body posturing are warning signals.

In dogs, we understand aggression through body language that includes stiffening or freezing, eyes wide with the whites visible (called whale eye), tense mouth or curled lips, wrinkled nose, bared teeth, barking, growling, and air snapping.

Relaxed Communication

We all love dogs in a relaxed position, like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Mouth relaxed, lips slightly parted. A smiling appearance. Head and ears relaxed in a neutral position, body loose, eyes soft. His tail may be swishing back and forth, or even wagging in a circular motion. My favorite is when a dog’s lying in the frog-leg position. Those froggy legs are hard to resist!

Over to you, TKZers! You may be using animal communication and not realize it, because many behaviors are similar to our own body language. If you’d like to give an example from your WIP, go for it. Otherwise, please include different animals and how they communicate.

 

 

Are You Anxious or Eager?

Photo credit Pisit Heng, Unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

We wordsmiths know that language changes over time. Words often veer far away from their original definition and usage.

Take, for instance, the adjective ANXIOUS. Anxious is an old word, originally coined in about 1548 that (according to Google’s dictionary) means:

1. experiencing worry, unease, or nervousness, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.“she was extremely anxious about her exams”

2. wanting something very much, typically with a feeling of unease.”the company was anxious to avoid any trouble”

However, consider the following examples heard in current everyday speech:

“She’s anxious to reunite with her childhood sweetheart.”

“He’s anxious for his first book to be released.”

“She’s anxious to wear her new jeans.”

The implication is the subjects can’t wait for these occurrences to happen because they are generally considered happy, exciting events.

That made me wonder if EAGER is a more accurate word to describe the above feelings.

So I checked with Merriam-Webster. That source adds a third definition that reflects the increasingly common usage in today’s speech:

  1. ardently or earnestly wishing.

Merriam-Webster goes into a deeper discussion:

Choose the Right Synonym for anxious

EAGERAVIDKEENANXIOUSATHIRST mean moved by a strong and urgent desire or interest. EAGER implies ardor and enthusiasm and sometimes impatience at delay or restraint.  eager to get started  AVID adds to EAGER the implication of insatiability or greed.  avid for new thrills  KEEN suggests intensity of interest and quick responsiveness in action.  keen on the latest fashions  ANXIOUS emphasizes fear of frustration or failure or disappointment.  anxious not to make a social blunder  ATHIRST stresses yearning but not necessarily readiness for action.  athirst for adventure

Can anxious Be Used as a Synonym for eager?

The fact that individual words can have multiple senses that are closely related in meaning is something which many people find objectionable about the English language. Anxious is an example of such a word, as people will use it to mean “worried,” “eager (but with an undertone of worry),” and simply “eager.”

Here are a few more examples of words whose meaning has changed over time:

AWESOME – originally, it meant inspiring awe. Now the word is overused as a superlative compliment for any and everything great: “That sushi is just awesome, dude.”

Which leads to…

Public Domain

DUDE – Merriam-Webster’s definition:

1 : a man extremely fastidious in dress and manner : dandy. 2 : a city dweller unfamiliar with life on the range (see range entry 1 sense 3b) especially : an Easterner in the West.

Yet in the past several decades, how often have you heard dude used in that context? Probably not too frequently since surfer and “bro” culture co-opted the term. Now it’s mostly a casual greeting: “Whassup, dude?” Or dude is a noun that refers to a guy.

Which leads to…

GUY – This word has an interesting, violent history. Guy originally referred to Guy Fawkes, a British terrorist. In 1605, Guy and several co-conspirators tried to blow up Parliament with gunpowder. He was sentenced to be hanged and drawn and quartered but, on the way to the noose, he either fell or jumped, breaking his neck. November 5 is still celebrated as a holiday with fireworks and bonfires. Guy is an eponym, meaning a word that is believed to be named for a person or event.

Originally it referred to males, e.g. “He’s a nice guy.”

Nowadays, it’s used collectively—“You guys are an awesome audience!”—inclusive of men and women, adults and kids.

Which leads to…

Photo credit: Pinoydiscus CC BY-SA 3.0

KID – My third-grade teacher Miss Parker didn’t approve when we referred to ourselves as kids. She always corrected us, saying, “A kid is a baby goat.” Ultimately, she lost that battle because Merriam-Webster now lists the first definition as: “a young person, especially a child;” followed by the second definition of “a young goat.”

Which leads to…

Muhammad Ali CC BY-SA 3.0

 

OLD GOAT – an insulting way to refer to an old man, goat has evolved into an acronym especially popular in sports: G.O.A.T.Greatest Of All Time.

 

 

 

TKZ word geeks, let’s open the discussion.

As a writer, do you feel anxious or eager when words evolve and change meaning over time?

Please share examples you’ve noticed lately. Do they annoy you? Or do you appreciate the fresh variation?

~~~

 When the law prevents justice…When DNA isn’t proof…When a lie is the truth.

Please check out Debbie Burke’s new release, Until Proven Guilty. Available on Kindle, Nook, Apple Books, and online booksellers at this link.

MS Word Keyboard Shortcuts

Whether you’re working today, grillin’, or hanging poolside, Happy Memorial Day! For those outside the U.S. a belated but heartfelt Happy Remembrance Day!

I hope the following shortcuts will help save you productivity time when you return to the keyboard. I’ve broken the keystrokes into two sections — Windows and Mac — to act as a quick and easy reference guide.

Please note: Today is all about MS Word. For other shortcuts, such as inserting advanced symbols/characters, WordPress, or YouTube, see Writing Hacks: Keyboard Shortcuts. Please ignore my wonky columns. 😉

COMPOSING & EDITING                          WINDOWS                MAC

 

Create a new document                              Ctrl-N                          ⌘-N

Open document                                          Ctrl-O                         ⌘-O

Save document                                           Ctrl-S                         ⌘-S

Open “Save As”                                           F12                            ⌘-Shift-S

Close document                                          Ctrl-W                        ⌘-W

Print document                                            Ctrl-P                         ⌘-P

Select All                                                     Ctrl-A                         ⌘-A

Copy to clipboard                                        Ctrl-C                         ⌘-C or F3

Paste from clipboard                                    Ctrl-V                          ⌘-V or F4

Delete selection & copy to clipboard             Ctrl-X                          ⌘-X or F2

Undo last action                                           Ctrl-Z                         ⌘-Z or F1

Redo last action                                           Ctrl-Y                         ⌘-Y

Add comment                                             Ctrl-Alt-M                    ⌘-Option-A

Turn revision tracking on/off                          Ctrl-Shift-E                  ⌘-Shift-E

Run spelling/grammar check                        F7                              ⌘-Option-L or F7

 

TEXT FORMATTING

 

Bold                                                         Ctrl-B                         ⌘-B

Italics                                                        Ctrl-I                           ⌘-I

Underline                                                  Ctrl-U                         ⌘-U

Double underline                                       Ctrl-Shift-D                 ⌘-Shift-D

Underline words, not spaces                     Ctrl-Shift-W                ⌘-Shift-W

Strikethrough text                                       Alt-H, 4                     ⌘-Shift-X

All caps                                                     Ctrl-Shift-A                ⌘-Shift-A

Superscript text                                         Ctrl-Shift-+                 ⌘-Shift-+

Subscript text                                             Ctrl-=                        ⌘-=

Increase font size                                        Ctrl-Shift->                ⌘-Shift->

Decrease font size                                      Ctrl-Shift-<                ⌘-Shift-<

Insert hyperlink                                           Ctrl-K                        ⌘-K

Open font dialog box                                  Ctrl-D                        ⌘-D

or Ctrl-Shift-F

PARAGRAPH FORMATTING

Left-align text                                              Ctrl-L                          ⌘-L

Right-align text                                            Ctrl-R                         ⌘-R

Center-align text                                         Ctrl-E                          ⌘-E

Justify text                                                  Ctrl-J                          ⌘-J

Indent paragraph                                        Ctrl-M                         Ctrl-Shift-M

Remove indentation                                   Ctrl-Shift-M                 ⌘-Shift-M

Change to single spaced                           Ctrl-1                          ⌘-1

Change to double spaced                          Ctrl-2                          ⌘-2

Change to 1.5 spaced                               Ctrl-5                          ⌘-5

Remove paragraph formatting                     Ctrl-Q

Open Apply Styles task pane                     Ctrl-Shift-S

Open Styles pane                                     Ctrl-Alt-Shift-S              ⌘-Option-Shift-S

DOCUMENT NAVIGATION & VIEWS

Move up one paragraph                           Ctrl-Up arrow            ⌘-Up arrow

Move down one paragraph                       Ctrl-Down arrow       ⌘-Down arrow

Move right one word                                 Ctrl-Right arrow        ⌘-Right arrow

Move left one word                                   Ctrl-Left arrow          ⌘-Left arrow

Move to top of document                          Ctrl-Home                ⌘-Home or ⌘-Fn-Left arrow

Move to bottom of document                    Ctrl-End                    ⌘-End or ⌘-Fn-Right arrow

Go to dialog box                                       Ctrl-G or F5              ⌘-Option-G or F5

Switch among last four places in doc        Ctrl-Alt-Z

Switch to Print Layout                               Ctrl-Alt-P

Switch to Outline View                              Ctrl-Alt-O

Switch to Draft View                                  Ctrl-Alt-N

Switch to Read Mode View                        Alt-W,F

Split document window/remove split          Ctrl-Alt-S

Display Help                                                 F1

FIND AND REPLACE

Find                                                           Ctrl-F                          ⌘-F

Find and Replace                                       Ctrl-H or Alt-H-R          ⌘-H-R

Find tab (inside Find and Replace)              Alt-D

 

SPECIAL CHARACTERS RECOGNIZED BY FIND AND REPLACE

Type these special characters into the Find box to search document:

  • Em dash
  • En dash
  • Em space
  • En space
  • Copyright symbol
  • Registered symbol
  • Trademark
  • Section symbol
  • Paragraph symbol
  • Ellipsis
  • Double opening quote
  • Double closing quote

SPECIAL CHARACTERS IN DROP-DOWN MENU

Within the Find and Replace dialog box, choose one of the following special characters:

  • Em dash
  • En dash
  • Nonbreaking hyphen
  • Optional hyphen
  • Nonbreaking space
  • Section symbol
  • Paragraph symbol

I find it easier to create my own shortcuts for special characters and symbols I use on a regular basis. For example, if you want to create a shortcut for the em dash, go to Insert > Advanced Symbol > Special Characters. At the bottom of the dialog box click Keyboard Shortcut and a new dialog pops up. In the Press New Keyboard Shortcut box, type Ctrl-E or whatever is easy to remember. Click OK and you’re done. Easy peasy. The same applies to symbols, only you’ll choose Symbols instead of Special Characters.

FORMATTING IN FIND AND REPLACE

Click Replace, then More to expand dialog box

Click Format and a list of different formatting types appear. Search by font, paragraph, tab, language, frame, style, or highlight.

Select the type of formatting you want replaced. A dialog box opens, showing all the formatting options available to search for in that category.

For example, the Find Font dialog box is a copy of the Font Formatting dialog box, with all the same formatting options.

Specify formatting type. Then click OK

Repeat these steps to find additional types of formatting. You can even search for text with both specific font formatting and paragraph formatting at the same time.

Click Replace With

Click Format

Select formatting type (font, paragraph, tabs, language, frame, style, highlight)

This is especially helpful if you need to highlight italicized words for the publisher. In my career, I’ve worked with five different publishers and every house required it be done during final edits.

Click OK

Select replacement option: Replace, Replace All, Replace Next

Click OK

Click Close

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

I’m curious if highlighting italics is an industry standard.

Where are my Indie authors who do their own formatting? Do you highlight italics? What program do you use for formatting? Is highlighting italics a requirement for that program?

Traditional authors, does your publisher ask you to highlight italics during final edits?

 

A BUT Means Complications and Obstacles

As an animal lover, wildlife documentaries are my jam. My husband and I often joke about one particular aspect that is true in the natural world—there’s always a “but.”

Wolves are fierce hunters, but they need to take their prey on the run i.e., predate.

 

Bears can kill with one strategically placed swat of the paw, but they have terrible eyesight.

Unrelated fun fact: If an ant is decapitated during a battle, the disembodied head can continue to fight for hours.

Penguins live in huge colonies—there’s safety in numbers—but they have to swim past their greatest enemy (sea lions) to reach the open ocean to feed.

 

A giraffe’s long neck helps them reach leaves at the top of trees, but that same neck that aids them in gathering food also causes the highest blood pressure of any animal.

 

 

A rhino’s horn is their greatest asset in a fight, but that same horn makes them targets for poachers.

 

Mongooses are carnivores, but their favorite prey is venomous snakes, including cobras, adders, and vipers, and one good strike could kill them.

Boreal Owls are usually monogamous, but when prey numbers peak, males cheat with up to three females and female boreal owls often have at least one beau on the side. So much for monogamy, right?

Using sharp claws on their fore-flippers, seals punch out 10-15 breathing holes in the ice and maintain the openings all winter but using these holes can mean sudden death if a hungry polar bear is nearby.

Fun fact: Sea ice is as important to the Arctic as soil is to the forest. It supports the entire Arctic food chain. When ocean water freezes, it expels salts, causing channels to form inside the ice. As sunlight filters through the ice, algae grow within these channels, creating an underwater garden that forms the foundation of the food chain.

Mudskippers are fish who live in the ocean, but they need to walk on land and dig mud burrows to mate.

Skunks use an overpowering odor for defense and can spray six times in succession, but once their foul-smelling liquid runs out it takes up to 10-14 days to refill the glands.

Roadrunners can sprint at 40 mph, plenty fast to outrun prey, but food is scarce in their dry, desert environment, so they hunt venomous snakes—like rattlers who feed on roadrunners—and risk death.

Fun fact: A rattlesnake can shake its rattle twice as fast as hummingbird wings flutter.

Wildebeests need to migrate to find food once resources dry up, but to make it to the promise land they need to cross croc-infested water.

Corvids are some of the world’s most intelligent animals, but that same intelligence is what attracts ignorant people to hunt them for sport. (Yes, I’m bias. #BlackFeatheredLivesMatter)

Cuttlefish can change shape, color, and texture—20 million pigment cells create a magnificent light show—but they can only mate once in a lifetime.

Gray whales can submerge for 15 minutes at a time, but a mother’s calf can only hold its breath for 5 minutes, so when under attack by orcas the mother will flip onto her back to create a platform for her baby to lay on, but Momma can’t breathe upside down.

See where I’m going with this? All these complications and obstacles make the natural world even more interesting.

The same is true for writing.

So, while crafting your storyline—plotted or pantsed—keep “but” in mind. Because without complications and obstacles, you risk boring the reader.

Over to you, TKZers. In your WIP or recent book you’ve read, give us an example of a “but.” Or share a “but” found in nature.

 

Author Avanti Centrae Leaks Top-Secret Marketing Plans

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

When was the last time you saw a social media post that compelled you to buy a book?

My answer: almost never.

Then I ran across thriller author Avanti Centrae. Her fresh, unique strategy intrigued me. Here’s how we met:

Recently Avanti followed me on Twitter, I followed her back. Next, a direct message arrived from her.

Normally, DMs are off-putting if you don’t already know a person. Sue Coletta covered this in her excellent post Top 10 Social Media Mistakes for Writers. 

Avanti’s DM wasn’t like the usual creepy offers I receive. I never anticipated there would be so many widowed, high-ranking military doctors dying to make my acquaintance.

In contrast, Avanti’s message thanked me for following her and included a photo of her book cover for VanOps: The Lost Power with an invitation to read sample chapters on her website. Her logline is DaVinci Code meets Tomb Raider.”

Next I checked out her website. It was professional and showed she knew a thing or two about marketing.

A bonus freebie (e.g. sample chapters, a short story) is an effective method to build a mailing list. Even though I already subscribe to more newsletters than I can keep up with, I took the bait.

Here’s where the fun began with her sign-up form:

Instead of a bland form asking for name and email, this was an attention-grabber for an espionage thriller series.

She followed up with this confirmation email:

 

Your security access to the VanOps team has been confirmed.
Your mission may now begin.
Please contact VanOps HQS if you have trouble accessing encrypted mission instructions.
Welcome to the team. Good luck staying alive!
Avanti Centrae, on behalf of Director Bowman

 

Even her unsubscribe option reinforced the theme:

If you’ve been captured by the enemy, you can:
stop mission updates here

 

Her classified marketing secrets needed to be ferreted out.   

Avanti Centrae

 

 

I disguised myself as a serious journalist and invited Avanti for a TKZ interview. She agreed under the condition that all readers sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

 

 

 

 

Take it away, Avanti!

Debbie Burke: How did you conceive of this clever approach?

Avanti Centrae: When I was brought onto the VanOps team to narrate the team’s extraordinary missions, I was put through a series of extensive background checks. The fingerprinting alone had me smearing ink on surfaces for hours. Stuff wouldn’t wash off! And the lie detector tests…every time my mind wandered, I thought they were going to fry me like a death row inmate. So when I was ready to share the team’s exploits, I thought it fitting that readers get a semblance of the same tribulations I endured.

DB: Are you on other social media platforms besides Twitter?

AC: Yes, this is the only Black Ops organization I know of that encourages publicity. I’m on Facebook and Instagram, too. In my latest novel, THE DOOMSDAY MEDALLION, the teenaged character who gets kidnapped uses TikTok, but it’s not for me.

DB: Which is the most effective platform for you? Why do you think that particular one works well?

AC: All three are effective in their own way. Now that there are three books in the multi-award-winning VanOps series, I’ve been advertising on Facebook, and it’s proving cost effective. Instagram has a nice level of engagement with fans. Twitter works best for this campaign of sending new followers Direct Messages.

DB: Can you rate how effective your campaign has been in terms of email list signups?

AC: I consider it to be well-worth my time. Occasionally someone finds the DM inappropriate, but the vast majority of people appreciate it. Some inquire about audiobook availability, or what retailers have copies. It’s a fun way to chat with fans, too, as many reach back later and tell me how much they enjoyed the ride.

DB: Does marketing come naturally to you?

AC: My background is in IT. Although I don’t have a marketing background, it hasn’t been hard to pick up. Perhaps because I’m motivated. I enjoy writing books, but I also want them to be read. Marketing and Public Relations are two of the best levers authors have to sell books, as a reader can’t read a thriller they don’t know exists.

I treat marketing as a game. Money in, book sales out…try this…try that…keep mixing it up until a combination proves profitable. Making it fun keeps it interesting.

DB: Do you have marketing recommendations for other authors?

AC: The biggest recommendation I have is to avoid spending money on advertising until you have a backlist. Social media doesn’t cost much, and is a great way to connect with fans. Canva is a wonderful tool to spin up posts, or even videos. There’s a really cool trailer at my VanOps.net website that readers can check out. Other advice: take an experimental approach and try different things. You might love producing videos, or find one platform that works better for you and your readers. I’ve heard TikTok is great for YA.

DB: Any final thoughts or insights you’d like to share? If so, will you have to kill us?  

AC: Since all your readers have signed the Non-Disclosure Agreement, they’re safe for now. I do have a cadre of assassins at my disposal though…

A few final thoughts then: Keep on writing. This industry is built on the careers of prolific authors. With just one or two novels, it’s easy to get discouraged. Sometimes the best marketing is the next novel. For me, it’s a good thing the VanOps team gets into so much trouble. I have a lot to write about!

Thanks for spilling the beans, Avanti!

~~~

TKZers: Use the comment section to grill Avanti with your specific questions. Please respect her Fifth Amendment rights. If she refuses to answer, no water-boarding.  

 

The Rule of Three

“There are three rules to writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

This quote is usually attributed to W. Somerset Maugham, and it’s been kicked around a lot over the years. There may, or may not, be some truth to it depending on your view, your experience, and your sense of humor. But there is something to the rule of three.

The rule of three is a staple in the writing world. It’s known by many names—the triple, the triad, the trebling, and the trilogy. The three-act structure of beginning, middle, and end is a prime example of the rule of three.

The rule of three suggests that a trio of events, characters, or phrases is more effective, satisfying, or humorous than other numbers. Think of the “walks into a bar” jokes. An Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman or a brunette, a redhead, and a blonde.

The rule of three can apply to words, sentences, and paragraphs. It can be used to frame chapters, whole books, and a series of books. The three-rule also applies to poetry, oral storytelling, and films.

What got me going on the rule of three this morning was stumbling on a writing resource titled The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. It’s written by Christopher Booker and first published in 2004. Apparently, Booker worked on this book for thirty-four years.

I’m going to quote from Mr. Booker’s book where he deals with the rule of three:

“The third event in a series of events becomes ‘the final trigger for something important to happen.’ This pattern often appears in childhood series like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood. It also appears in adult works like Fiddler on the Roof, A Christmas Carol, and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

In stories, the Rule of Three conveys the gradual resolution of a process that leads to transformation. This transformation can be downwards as well as upwards. The Rule of Three is expressed in four ways:

1. The simple or cumulative three. For example, Cinderella’s three visits to the ball.

2. The ascending three where each event is more significant than the preceding. For example, the hero must first win bronze, then silver, then gold.

3. The contrasting three where only the third has positive value. For example, The Three Little Pigs—two of whose houses were blown down by the Big Bad Wolf.

4. The final or dialectical form of three. For example, Goldilocks and her bowls of porridge. The first is wrong in one way, the second is wrong in an opposite way, and the third is just right.”

I also stumbled upon a formula for the rule of three. This is often used in joke telling and comedy writing. It’s called the SAP test.

S = Setup (preparation)
A = Anticipation (triple)
P = Punchline (story payoff)

Let’s look at a joke by comedian Jon Stewart:

“I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”

The rule of three appears so many times in so many ways that it’s barely noticed as a delivery technique. In the rule’s simplest form, outlined in Aristotle’s Poetics, it’s the classic beginning, middle, and end which is a time-proven structure. But think of all the times you’ve encountered the rule of three:

The truth, the whole, truth, and nothing but the truth.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.
Ready, aim, fire.
On your mark. Get set. Go.
Veni. Vidi. Vici.
Solid, liquid, and gas.
Three wishes.
Stop, look, and listen.
Snap. Crackle. Pop.
Blood, sweat, and tears.
Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.
Faster. Higher. Stronger.
See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil.

What about you Kill Zoners? How often have you used the rule of three in your works? And can you add to the examples?

How to Earn Short-Term Rewards During the Long Haul

Author Debbie Burke and Buffy

No, this picture is not Photoshopped clickbait. It’s me and a real bear. Details below. 

 

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

In your real-world job, would you be willing to work for two or more years before receiving a paycheck? Probably not.

Yet, as authors writing books, that’s exactly what we do.

Writing a novel is often likened to a marathon. It takes months, if not years, to complete a book. Traditional publishing tacks on another one or two years before you see your book for sale. Indie-pubbing speeds up the process but it still doesn’t happen overnight.

Thirty-plus years ago, I was stuck in the endless loop of writing novels, submitting them, and being rejected. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Because fiction was my passion, I didn’t really consider writing nonfiction until a couple of journalist friends offered their help and encouragement. I dipped my toe into article writing and made the happy discovery that nonfiction was much easier to publish than fiction (not to mention it paid better).

At last, I had the satisfaction of seeing my words in print.

One magazine gig led to another. As my file of published clips expanded, editors began to call me. Article assignments took a little sting out of the rejections that my novels continued to collect.

Many more years would pass before I reached the ultimate reward of a published novel but, along the way, articles were small consolation prizes. They encouraged me to keep moving toward my goal.

My journalist friends taught me another neat trick—take the same article but re-slant it for different markets. Do research once and get paid several times.

For instance, a story about how to run a successful garage sale could be pitched to community newsletters, antique/collectible magazines, and senior-interest markets as tips for retirees to earn extra money.

An article about gold mines might fit in a travel magazine, a state historic journal, and a niche publication for hobbyist prospectors.

Often, during research, I ran across interesting people and wrote personality profiles about them.

One in particular led to a number of offshoot articles plus a memorable experience with the stunning bear in the above photo.

At the Flathead River Writers Conference in the 1990s, I met Ben Mikaelsen, a kid-lit author who had his own bear. Buffy had been a research cub that couldn’t survive in the wild. To save him from being euthanized, Ben adopted him. Life with Buffy inspired Ben’s award-winning novel Rescue Josh McGuire and several other books.

Side note: Ben does not advocate keeping wild animals as pets. He went to great effort and expense to build a suitable home for Buffy that was approved by state and federal authorities.

The unique friendship between an author and a bear was a story idea that begged to be written. Ben graciously invited me to his home near Bozeman, Montana, for an interview and to meet Buffy

Yes, that really is me feeding Wheat Thins to the 700-pound black bear. Fun fact: He didn’t use his teeth or tongue to take the treat but rather his prehensile lower lip, similar to an elephant’s trunk. I watched in awe as his bottom lip gently folded around the cracker in my hand.

The amazing encounter resulted in multiple articles that were published in Writer’s Digest (including a reprint in their annual children’s writing guide), several Montana general interest magazines, and international nature and wildlife magazines.

This experience was definitely not a consolation prize but rather a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for which I’ll always be grateful.

Back to the marathon. While I wondered if I’d EVER have a novel accepted, articles were like short sprints where the rewards of publication and payment were only months away rather than years. Those helped sustain me through decades of discouragement.

In addition, writing nonfiction helped hone my craft.

Here are a few things I learned:

Write concisely and clearly. If an editor said 500 words, that’s what has to be turned in.

Choose what’s necessary and what should be cut. No matter how fascinating the research might be, it can’t all be crammed into the allotted space.

Always meet deadlines.  

Most important, I learned about storytelling and pacing to keep the reader engaged.

The 21st century changed the market for short nonfiction from print to online. As the internet expanded, magazines went out of business.

Nowadays my articles are mostly digital content. Fewer trees give their lives. I no longer have to buy sample print copies to study magazines’ style and focus. Finding outlets to write for is as easy as asking Mr. Google.

The downside is online markets often pay little to nothing because there is so much free content on the net. To make significant money, one needs to find particular niches that pay for specialized content.

However, there’s a different kind of reward: Publication is fast. As soon as authors hit submit, their writing is available to an audience of millions. 

On top of that comes the gratification of immediate feedback. I really enjoy reader comments on my posts for TKZ.

Steve Hooley recently asked me if research for an article had even sparked an idea for a novel. Not yet. But the research I do for articles often finds its way into my plots.

The second book in my series, Stalking Midas, concerns elder fraud. I attended seminars presented by local and state watchdogs to learn about that growing, insidious crime. Unfortunately, research turned personal when my adopted mother was victimized by a caregiver. Her experience became a True Crime Thursday post.

Several newspapers published my elder fraud article. It also formed the basis for a talk that I give to senior groups. Additionally, I revamped parts of Stalking Midas to incorporate what I’d learned.

I started writing articles to counteract discouragement during the long marathon of trying to get novels published. Articles became short sprints refreshed by water breaks of publication. They helped keep me going toward the ultimate finish line.

In 2017, my thriller Instrument of the Devil was published.

Seven novels later, I’m writing more articles than ever because…

A funny thing happened during that decades-long marathon. I discovered I like writing nonfiction as much as fiction.

Especially when I get to meet a bear.

~~~

TKZers: Do you write fiction, nonfiction, or both? How important is getting published to you? What sustains you during the long haul of writing a book?

~~~

 

 

DNA is supposed to prove guilt or innocence. Instead, it reveals deception and betrayal in my new thriller, UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY. Please check it out at these online booksellers.

Reminder or Repetition?

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: wwnorm on visual hunt

 

 

When you read a novel, do you like occasional reminders?

 

 

 

 

 

Or…do you find reminders tedious and repetitious?

 

 

 

 

Recently, I discussed these questions with author/editor Karen Albright Lin. Karen is currently reading my WIP, Until Proven Guilty, book #7 in my Tawny Lindholm Thriller series.

Speaking as an older reader with termites eating holes in my memory, I need reminders. Most of the time, I read a novel in bed and fall asleep after a few pages. Days may pass before I pick up the book again.

In stories with many characters, POVs, and plot lines, I get lost and need to scroll backward to review. Who are these people? How are they connected? When and where is the story taking place? What just happened?

My readers are generally older and probably have similar memory lapses. Because of that, as a writer, I make a conscious effort to include small reminders to ground the reader at the beginning of each new scene and chapter.

Authors often leave a character hanging on the edge of a cliff, particularly in thrillers. In the next scene, they jump-cut to a different character in a different place and time. Three or four scenes later, they return to the poor hanging character. At that point, I appreciate a brief reminder of how and why the character wound up in that situation.

Reminders are also helpful for secondary characters who are offstage much of the time. When they reappear, in addition to their names, I usually mention their role or function.

A minor character, Mavis Dockerty, appears only three times in Until Proven Guilty—in chapters 1, 18, and 32.

She’s first introduced during a preliminary hearing on page 2, questioning a rape victim in what should be a slam-dunk prosecution:

County Attorney Mavis Dockerty said, “Take your time.” She picked up a box of tissues from the prosecution table and handed it to Amelia.

A few pages later, Mavis’s airtight case against the rapist is destroyed by defense attorney Tillman Rosenbaum, the male lead.

Mavis doesn’t appear again for 150+ pages and could be forgotten by some readers. So, I reintroduce her on page 166:

Flathead County Attorney Mavis Dockerty was sitting by herself in the last row of Courtroom #2 when Tillman tracked her down.

She appears for a final time on page 287:

County Attorney Mavis Dockerty was doggedly determined not to lose twice against the rapist Claude Ledbetter. Her evidence at his second preliminary hearing was flawless and overwhelming, every possible loophole sewed up tight.

Quick reminders like that are easy.

But when do reminders turn into repetition?

Back to my discussion with Karen. In my manuscript, she made many notes where she thought I was being repetitive. She advised: “Trust the reader to get it the first time.” 

My initial reaction was Really? Nah, I don’t repeat myself.

Writers can’t see their own flaws. That’s why we depend on critique groups, beta readers, and editors to point out problematic trees amid the dense forest of our novels. I trust Karen’s sharp eye and savvy skills as an editor so I took a closer look.

What I found was shocking. Here are a few examples:

One hint the writer is being repetitive is when the reminder appears three times in two paragraphs.

In the following passage, protagonist Tawny is experiencing empty-nest syndrome. She loves her husband’s three children from his previous marriage but they’re away at school or traveling. Her own son Neal is in his mid-thirties, in the military, and is home for a rare visit.

She’d already had one disappointment, when Neal declined to stay in the beautiful, sprawling, ranch-style house that Tillman had bought when they married because it had enough bedrooms for all their kids. Instead, Neal opted to sleep at Tawny’s creaky old bungalow in the historic district—the home where he’d grown up and still felt comfortable.

The hollow bedrooms of the new house sometimes made Tawny melancholy. Occasionally Tillman’s two daughters and his son came for weekend visits but otherwise the rooms stayed empty. But that was the way with grown children.

Did you get the picture of the vacant bedrooms?

Again and again and again.

Based on Karen’s suggestions, the first paragraph stayed the same but the second now reads:

The hollow bedrooms of the new house sometimes made Tawny melancholy, wishing Tillman’s two daughters and his son visited more often. But that was the way with grown children.

In another example, Karen noted that the location of a coffee kiosk had been repeated. In that instance, since there were only a couple of mentions, with many pages in between, I did not take her suggestion because it seemed like a reasonable reminder that wouldn’t bug readers.

The bigger problem is how to express themes without being repetitive. That’s where Karen busted me big time.

Until Proven Guilty weaves together three plots, each showcasing a different perspective in the tug of war between the law and justice. The first involves a clearly guilty character who walks free; the second addresses an innocent character who’s wrongly imprisoned; the third shows the perils of presuming guilt without proof.

The two protagonists, Tawny and Tillman, are married, work together, and clash over their different beliefs. Tawny is an idealist who wants justice for crime victims. Tillman is sometimes a righteous crusader but he’s also a cynical, pragmatic attorney whose job is to vigorously defend his clients whether they’re guilty or not.

At the start of the story, Tillman destroys County Attorney Mavis Dockerty’s case against an accused rapist because of faulty evidence. Tawny didn’t know Tillman’s plan before the hearing and is shocked and dismayed that the accused rapist is set free.

As they walk from the courthouse back to the law office, she confronts Tillman:

Tawny looked up at him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

His deep, rumbling baritone rose above traffic noise. “So you could distract me with a lecture about right and wrong, good and evil?”

“You know he’s guilty,” she said. “The judge practically said so.”

His dark gaze, half sexy, half scary, pinned her. “The cops botched the evidence collection. The crime lab mishandled the DNA samples. It’s not my responsibility to help the county attorney prove her case. It’s full of holes bigger than the Berkeley mine pit.”

“But he’s guilty,” Tawny repeated. “He assaulted that poor woman. That doesn’t bother you?” She dearly loved her new husband but sometimes she didn’t like him very much.

Tillman stopped in the shade of a maple tree overhanging the alley behind the office. “I did my job, Tawny. That’s how the system is set up. Presumed innocent until proven guilty. Mavis didn’t prove Ledbetter guilty. And the fee Ledbetter paid me allows me to take on more pro bono cases.”

He didn’t say “like yours” but the unspoken words hung heavy in the late summer air.

A scene follows at the law office where Tawny expresses her indignation to a coworker:

A new headache settled behind Tawny’s eyes, the pressure making them feel like they were bulging. “When the judge threw the case out, that poor woman was crushed. Her husband looked ready to peel off Ledbetter’s skin and dunk him in alcohol. I wouldn’t blame him if he had.”

Then she thinks even more about it:

Tawny knew the system. Yet, in cases like Ledbetter’s, her conscience chafed. What about the victim’s right to justice?  

A few pages later, on their way home:

Tillman said, “If you wanted a lawyer who represents only innocent people, you should have married Perry Mason. This is how the system works. What can be proved versus what can’t be, what evidence is admissible versus what isn’t. I use the law as it’s written to defend my clients.”

“But it’s wrong,” Tawny said.  

“It’s the law.”

Tillman was hard to argue with. That’s why he was so good.

Tawny couldn’t think of a rebuttal.

A heavy silence hung over the rest of the drive home.

Then, at home, they talk more about the case:

“You’re such a Pollyanna,” he murmured but without his usual sardonic tone.

“I know you have to do what you have to do. I just feel bad for that poor victim.”

“It’s not a justice system, Tawny. It’s a legal system. Right and wrong, good and evil. None of that comes into play.”

In the first 15 pages of the book, I repeat the theme five different times.

Didja get it? Sure you got it? Are you positive? Just in case, let me smack you over the head with a two-by-four.

The author’s personal beliefs are bleeding all over the story.

That refrain echoed through the rest of the manuscript as Karen observed over and over that I was beating the same drum. By page 188, her understandable frustration was showing: “This drum has been beat until there’s a hole in it.”

Therein lies my dilemma. Three different plots share the same theme but are seen through contrasting lenses by various POV characters. How does a writer show multiple perspectives yet avoid being repetitive? How do I keep my obvious bias in check?

Through the book, the running argument between Tawny and Tillman escalates. It ultimately leads to a crisis in their marriage.

Photo credit: matthijs smit – Unsplash

How the heck do I show that important plot arc without beating a hole in the drum?

Right now, I’m going through page by page with Karen’s cautions in mind. I have to decide when reminders become repetitious and cut those parts.

Sometimes I can combine several references into a single one that makes the point.

I’m trying to reserve dialogue about theme for the most important pivotal scenes.

Karen says, “Trust the reader to get it the first time.”

She’s right but, oh, it’s a struggle to restrain my drumstick.

~~~

TKZers: As a reader, how do you feel about reminders?

Do you sometimes want to tell the author enough is enough already?

As a writer, how do you incorporate reminders?

Do you catch yourself making a point until it becomes repetitious?

~~~

Receive a FREE BONUS Short Story when you sign up for my newsletter at debbieburkewriter.com.

You’ll also be among the first to hear when Until Proven Guilty is published.

Tips To Write a Character You Hate

Have you ever written from the perspective of a character you hated?

It’s a unique experience for me. Which is sayin’ something, considering I write psychological thrillers involving serial killers. With all my other serial killer characters, I could find at least one endearing quality, and I clung to that while I wrote from their perspective. I may not have agreed with their motivations, but at least I understood how they justifIed their actions.

Let me back up a minute.

I mentioned in one of my Reader Friday questions that I’ve been teaching a virtual course about serial killers as part of the Advanced Education Program for a school in Connecticut. I’m also racing toward the finish line in Book 5 of my Grafton County Series. I drew a firm line between the two projects until an Ah-ha! moment slapped me across the face. I was working on the lesson plan for Week 3 of my course when a deliciously evil idea popped into my head.

Don’t you love when that happens?

Even though the finish line was within reach, I couldn’t ignore the new idea. It’s a game-changer, and the perfect way to round out the series as a whole. It also required me to go back to page one, drop a few new clues, and include POV chapters from the killer.

Writing from a serial killer’s point of view isn’t anything new for me. In my Mayhem Series, readers expect a cat-and-mouse chase with alternating POVs between protagonist and antagonist. The Grafton County Series is different. I don’t normally include scenes/chapters from the killer’s POV.

To write a character in deep POV we need to know everything about them or slipping into their skin would be challenging to say the least. And here’s where my two projects—fiction and nonfiction—blurred together.

Out of all the serial killers we’ve discussed during class the most frightening of all was a nasty individual named Israel Keyes, whose MO happened to fit my plot. As part of my research for class, I sat through endless video confessions from Keyes, and learned a lot about who he was as a person and what motivated him to kill. Subconsciously, I must have had in mind all along and only now realized it. After all, if I fear him, so will my readers.

To write from his point of view, I had to view the world as he did. Think as he did. Feel—or more accurately, not feel—as he did. This was problematic for one huge reason—I despised everything about him. He’s evil to the core and didn’t possess even one redeeming quality.

Now, you could say, but Sue, this is fiction. You can add anything you want to his characterization. True, but then he wouldn’t be as frightening.

See what I’m sayin’?

The part of him that most frightened me was his complete lack of empathy toward anyone or anything, his arrogance, his inflated self-worth, and the violent blitz attack of his home invasions. If I softened his psychopathic personality, I’d lose the qualities that made me choose him in the first place. A softer villain wouldn’t pack the same punch. And let’s face it, after going head-to-head with numerous other serial killers in Books 1-4, my protagonist is no shrinking violent. She needs a frightening opponent.

Basing an antagonist on a real serial killer is hardly a new concept.

In the 1960s, Thomas Harris was visiting the Topo Chico Penitentiary in Nuevo Leon, Mexico while working on a story for Argosy, an American pulp fiction magazine that ran for 96 years, between 1882 and 1978. The 23-year-old Harris was interviewing prisoner Dykes Askew Simmons, who was committed to the prison’s psych. ward and sentenced to death for a triple murder. Simmons bribed a guard to help him escape. The guard took the money but had second thoughts during the prison break and shot Simmons.

As Simmons lay on the ground, bleeding out, another inmate, Dr. Alfredo Balli Trevino, treated the gunshot wound, saving his life.

This led Harris to develop an interest in Trevino. He interviewed the doctor and learned Trevino was convicted for the murder of his boyfriend, Jesus Castillo Rangel, in a “crime of passion” after an argument.

Apparently, Rangel had attacked Trevino with a screwdriver. The enraged doctor administered anesthetic to Rangel’s body and dragged him to a bathtub, where he slit his throat, draining all the blood out of his body. Trevino then chopped up Rangel’s body into small pieces and packed them into a box, drove to a relative’s farm, and asked if he could bury medical waste there. One of the farm workers called the police.

Thomas Harris said the doctor “had a certain elegance about him,” even as he discussed dismembering his boyfriend in a bathtub.

I found no such qualities in Israel Keyes.

How do we write from a hateful, despicable point of view?

Much like an actor who plays a villain, we must become one with the character. We have to identify with him. Win his arguments, even if those twisted views rub against our values. I despise this antagonist as much as I do Israel Keyes. Doesn’t matter. Our job is to breathe life into him, bring him to life on the page. The only time we can express our own personal feelings is through the protagonist if, and only if, the protagonist shares our views.

I find it easier to skip over a hateful character’s chapters while drafting the storyline. Then I take a day or two, get into character, and bang out his chapters. The next day when I reread those chapters I’m stunned by his actions and comments. That’s a good thing. If it shocks me (the writer), imagine readers’ reactions.

In my case, though the real killer can’t hurt anyone else—he committed suicide like a coward—it’s left me with one burning question: How many other Israel Keyes walk among us? I’d tell you, but I don’t want to shatter your reality. 🙂

Have you ever written a hateful, angry POV character? Did you handle it in a similar way?

The Secret to Being a Successful Writer

Rachel Thompson, today’s guest, is my mover & shaker writing friend who hosts two sites, Bad Redhead Media and RachelInTheOC.com. We’ve cross-blogged over the years and hang around on Facebook and Twitter. Rachel shared her popular post titled The Secret to Being a Successful Writer on my website a while back, and it had great reception—it’s a real motivational kick-in-the-a. I thought it’s well worthwhile for Kill Zoners to read, so Rachel generously gave me permission to repost it here. Let’s welcome writer, book marketer, and social media expert Rachel Thompson to the Kill Zone.

———

Regardless of how you publish your books, articles, or blog posts, the secret to being a successful writer is not anything pie-in-the-sky or full of inspirational goo-gah. Besides, I’m not the kind of person to spray glittery sunshine up your you-know-what, so here’s the real deal. It’s the big secret. Ready? Grab your pen.

Don’t Be Lazy.

That’s it. Let me deconstruct this a bit. Pull up a chair.

Make It Happen

You. Yes, you. Stop looking around.

I’ve worked with writers in all kinds of ways since hmmm, gosh, 2009-ish. Ten years of observing that unique species of human we refer to as, writer. I’m a writer myself (six books released so far , been in a few anthologies, two new books on deck for this year), so I fully comprehend the challenges of balancing writing, marketing, the day job, real life, chronic pain, mental health, and single parenting.

Completely and totally get it.

There isn’t room in any of those roles to be lazy if we’re being #TruthBomb honest here. Yet, in my ten years of working directly with writers, I can count on one hand the writers who are get-out-of-my-way go-getters.

Not the kind who will eat you for lunch with some fava beans and a nice chianti. I mean those who actively set aside time for writing AND marketing AND promoting strategically — not creepy, spammy, ‘must take a shower after seeing this’ ways. Nope, I mean those who treat their publishing career as a business, not a hobby where they lollygag around on social media arguing politics or talking about writing their book, then hope and pray someone eventually buys it.

In fact, I so related to that panicky, ‘Where do I even start?” feeling I experienced with my first book back in 2012, that I created an entire month last year (year two is happening right now! and every May going forward if I decide to continue this exhaustive effort) where I’ve wrangled publishing experts this entire month of May to generously donate books, guides, and consultations, and yet shockingly (she says not shocked), few writers are taking advantage of it.

When I speak with them as to why not, several have told me they know about it but don’t want to participate because then they’ll HAVE to work on their writing and marketing.

This baffles me. And yet, nah, it doesn’t.

Lazy Writer Syndrome 

It’s a thing, right? We all get it. I get it, too. It’s not that I’m not writing. I’m here, aren’t I? I also write for my own author blog, RachelintheOC.com as well as on Medium, which are important parts of my author marketing and business marketing. I have those two manuscripts mentioned above on my desktop: one is in edits, and the other is in draft. I also keep a journal, a planner, and a book just for creative notes and ideas.

So, yea, I’m writing. Yet sometimes it feels like I’m not writing writing.

Am I accomplishing stuff? Am I climbing the mountain? Well, yea. Kinda.

It feels like this: it’s a big mountain, full of mud. It’s raining. Hard. I’m carrying this heavy weight. But I’ve got this! It’s just that some days it’s just…so exhausting. Or I have a migraine. Or I’m running my kids around (single mom). Or I’ve got client deadlines (solopreneur).

So, I set the weight down and make camp. For a little while. To rest and recuperate. And then get back out there when I’ve got my wind back.

That’s okay. I’m getting there. We’re all getting there (wherever the hell there is). (Maybe lazy doesn’t describe me. I am a Capricorn, after all.)

Are You a Lazy Writer?

These are the hard questions you have to ask yourself:

  • What am I doing to move my writing career forward?
  • What am I not doing?
  • What actions am I taking to build relationships with readers?
  • How can I learn more about how to market my work?
  • How am I standing in my own way?

Creating an author platform is not a choice in today’s market. It’s not an option. At least, not if you want to sell books and be taken seriously by not only readers but also other writers, book bloggers, and book reviewers (as well as agents and publishers, if you go that route, or plan to). Many writers refuse to treat their writing like a business — they think if they can just sign with a traditional publisher, and then that publisher will swoop in and do all that work for them.

If only.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I deal with many stumbling blocks: anxiety, depression, chronic pain. There are days where all I can do is the bare minimum for my business, kiss my kids, and that’s it. And that’s okay. Big fan of The Four Agreements: always do your best, and if your best is just getting out of bed that day, okay. I Scarlett O’Hara that bitch: tomorrow is another day.

In my business, many of my clients are traditionally published. Big 5 even. They hire me to do their social media and book marketing because no publisher does that for them. It’s on you, writer friends. Start early, share often. Learn author branding (we brand the author, not the book).

You don’t need to hire someone to do this marketing stuff for you. You learned how to write. You can learn how to market.

The other big secret I’ll share with you is this: Book marketing isn’t about spamming your book links with everybody (that’s desperation). It’s about building relationships with readers early on.

I do a free weekly chat on my @BadRedheadMedia business Twitter, #BookMarketingChat, every Wednesday, 6 pm pst, 9 pm est. Every week for the last 4 years, I share my time and/or recruit an expert in publishing and marketing to share their expertise with you, the writing community.

Invariably, someone says, “Yea, I should do that,” or “I’ll give that a try.”

Writing is great. Publishing is a business. Treat it like one.

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Rachel Thompson released the BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge in December 2016 to rave reviews. She is constantly updating the book, and released a newly updated version in 2020 in both ebook and print.

She is the author of the award-winning, best-selling Broken Places (one of IndieReader’s “Best of 2015” top books and 2015 Honorable Mention Winner in both the Los Angeles and the San Francisco Book Festivals), and the bestselling, multi-award-winning Broken Pieces (as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed).

Broken People was released in 2020.

Rachel’s work is also featured in Feminine Collective anthologies (see Books for details).

She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington PostFeminine CollectiveIndie Reader MediumOnMogulBlue Ink Reviewand several others.

Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs and the live weekly Twitter chats, #SexAbuseChat, co-hosted with Cee Streetlights and Judith Staff (Tuesdays, 6 pm PST/9 pm EST), and #BookMarketingChat, co-hosted with Melissa Flickinger and Dr. Alexandria Szeman (Wednesdays, 6 pm PST/9 pm EST).

She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. A single mom, she lives in California with her two kids and two cats, where she daydreams of Thor and vaguely remembers what sleep is.

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Thanks so much, Rachel, for joining us here at the Kill Zone. What about you KZers? Am I the only writer here who gets lazy from time to time and have someone else do their bi-weekly post for them? Does the L bite you too? Let’s hear the comments!