Another 5 Minute Tip -Importance of a great cover.

Here is an five minute tip from Colorado Independent Publishers Association Marketing Chair, Cassy. If you believe you have written a great story, had it edited, and now you want to hurry to get a cover on it so you can publish it next week, I suggest you take a breath and not hurry this decision. Some authors believe that the cover is the least important ingredient to publishing a great book. Yes, it is easy to scroll across the internet and find an image or two that might fit your book and it will only cost you between nothing and up to $100. And then you can slap it on your lovely text and call it good. Well, maybe not.

I have actually seen the exact same cover on two different books – in different genres! It was so generic that the only reason I remembered it was that it was in different genres (one in the Science Fiction shelves and the other on the Romance shelf – I’m not kidding)  I actually grabbed a copy from the sci/fi and compared it to the romance. That’s when I knew it was a cut and paste. I should have written down the authors so I would be sure to NOT read them. If they cared so little about their books presentation I wondered if they had cared about all the rest. I did read the back cover blurb and was not impressed with either one so I was doubly doubtful and will not waste my money or time – just like they wasted theirs.

If you respect yourself and what you write enough to get an editor to help you bring it up to the best possible story, you should do the same with its visual presentation. Of course, you can beat the odds and land a great cover from Fiver and you can also spend thousands and end up with a crappy cover. I’m asking you to respect yourself and your talents enough to do your books the best way possible. Your book’s appearance gets less than ten seconds to grab the attention of a possible reader – make the best of it. Give them an image from the interior text that will have them opening it up and diving in.

Here’s the link:  https://www.facebook.com/CIPABooks.Denver/videos/325582118069067/?mc_cid=57a5ce1461&mc_eid=772287c368

Take five minutes and consider the wide range of options you have available – particularly if you are self publishing. Respect your characters and their story enough to intrigue possible readers with an iconic cover. The same goes for any interior illustrations you might want.

 

 

Is an Outline Required to Write Fiction?

I want to share with you a five minute tip from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association. As a member of that organization I have discovered a wealth of information within the network of service providers and fellow writers. This past year Cassy joined the Board and started presenting 5 Minute Tips for writers and others in the publishing industry.

Here is 5 minute tip on the scientific reasons why an outline is not necessarily needed to write fiction.

 

Many of these tips hold little gems. Take five minutes and check them out. And now I don’t feel so bad about not outlining an entire book before writing it.

How do you start writing your fiction? Do you use an outline of any kind or do you just start writing or typing?

 

Visualizing P.O.V.: are you head hopping?

I am a multiple award winning author of science fiction, fantasy, and children’s books, stories, and articles. I adore reading science fiction and fantasy. One thing I’ve noticed, particularly in books and stories published in the past fifteen to twenty years is that there is a lot, A LOT, of head hopping in the majority of books within the genre.

Not that this is totally bad because I’ve read a lot and I still understand and enjoy the stories. BUT, does a reader really need to know how a minor character is feeling or what they’re thinking every time they speak? Shouldn’t their words and actions be enough that the reader does not need to get inside their heads?  A thought to consider: how many characters can a reader keep track of? Does the reader have to know or see the point of view of every character in every scene?

This was the situation I was faced with on my first book. I did not know I was head hopping between more than thirteen characters until my editor gently pointed it out after reading the manuscript for the first time. She gave it back to me saying “Your first task is to rewrite every scene from a single point of view and I want you to choose a maximum of five P.O.V. characters to write from.” I was surprised and a bit devastated. The manuscript was over 110,000 words long! It was a daunting exercise. We discussed which characters were of greatest importance and I whittled it down to five. It turned into an interesting exercise and one I ended up enjoying. I also reduced the word count to around 86,000 words, which turned out to be more manageable, too. I could see that the story was tighter, cleaner, and, to my surprise, better. And I also ended up getting to know my main characters better, which made for that better story.

After The Blood was published in 2014, I had to laugh at one of the reviews. A reader stated that they really enjoyed reading it, but they considered the per chapter or scene single point of view as unusual. It was unexpected and very cool. He did not understand “how” I could tell such a good story with only five points of view and there was only one P.O.V. at a time! Evidently they were fans of head hopping and my book was a totally different experience. Now, in 2019, I see that as a huge compliment and I will work hard to maintain this style of writing.

So when I started working on the second book, The Balance, I actually wrote it with only four points of view. The third book, The Blades, coming out later this year (2019), has those same four points of view and the fourth book, The Seventh Stone, still has four points of view with the fourth P.O.V. being a different character (she was introduced in The Balance and became a bit more important in The Blades – so she finally becomes important enough to be a point of view character in #4).

This entire process of learning how to manage multiple points of view without being in everyone’s head, led me to try a visual way to see how balanced my presentation was. This is what I came up with:

POV outline 2 for The Balance 1-16-2015

I set up a white board on an easel and then got pads of  3″ x 3″ “sticky” notes in five different colors. I then assigned a specific color to each character – writing the character’s name near the top of each note. Then the time consuming part, I read the draft and for each scene, after verifying that the scene was truly from a single point of view, I added the chapter number and the scene number (some chapters had multiple scenes in the same point of view and I needed to know how many scenes were in each chapter) at the top then wrote a brief summary of the scene with a desired maximum of four sentences. The first note was placed in the upper left hand corner of the white board. The second note/scene was place below that. I worked top to bottom then left to right. Sometimes I was not cryptic enough and I needed more than one note to summarize the scene. These longer notes were tucked beneath the first.

I discovered several things during this process. First, I could SEE if any one point of view was lacking in or was overpowering the story. Second, I could use the summarized scenes as an outline for a story summary if an agent might request one. I knew that if I typed the notes up I could further edit to pick out only the highlights. Third, the colored notes could help me describe a particular character arc. But the best part of it was the visual representation of the points of view.

Throughout the process I did find occasional scenes where I had bounced between two character’s P.O.V. and I was able to efficiently correct those as I went along. Sometimes I decided to change the P.O.V. to get across the action and information differently. I did wait until the draft was complete and I had started my first round of editing. I went through a total of three rounds of self editing before sending it to my editor. She stated that it was markedly better than the first draft she received of the first book with its thirteen points of view. It was easier and faster for her to do her job. She could already focus on the bigger picture of the story instead of worrying about any head hopping on my part. All this meant we ended up with fewer back and forth rounds of editing which led to less money out of my pocket in less time for a better end product.

It turned out to be such a great exercise that I used it with the third book. Again I waited until the first full draft was complete before I set up the white board again. With the third book I was astounded to SEE that I had neglected the antagonist’s point of view which I had opened the book with until nearly the end – the last five chapters his P.O.V. showed up four times. The same week I had finished the P.O.V. and scene layout, my beta reader called me to tell me I was missing some scenes in the middle. She pointed out that she kept wondering what the antagonist was up to and she suggested I add two to four scenes or chapters from his P.O.V.. I did so and the color pattern looked much better and the story was more compelling.

So, my question to you is: Are you head hopping? Are you getting inside every character and seeing the action through their eyes in every chapter? Are you bouncing around so much the reader doesn’t know who the main character/s is/are? I’m not saying this is wrong, many well known authors do it particularly in science fiction and fantasy, but you might want to consider trying a different technique. Here’s how: First, choose a maximum of five points of view. Second, keep each chapter or chapter break in a single P.O.V.. Then step back and study the picture of your book. Why not give color-coded P.O.V. and scene breakouts a try. Some other ways to use this technique include: If you have a single P.O.V. you could do a simpler layout by chapter and scenes within a chapter. And you might try color coding rising and falling action or even the amount of narrative, exposition, and dialogue. Any way you use it, you’ll SEE your book in a whole new way.

 

 

Sometimes ideas need to percolate

Editing once again is the topic. There are times when you know your editor is correct about the need to remove a non P.O.V. character from a scene but you originally had them in the scene for a specific reason, which has been debunked by said editor. While you charge directly into the scene and start deleting you discover that it is not so easy to just delete the character. You are now so frustrated that you’ve spent the last two days trying to figure out how to rewrite the scene and you’ve gotten nothing accomplished. You need to get past this road block that has gotten larger by the hour.  The pressure is on and it is burying you.

Sometimes you have to let go and let the ideas percolate a bit. You need to set the manuscript aside and go read something entirely different – I’m reading a slutty, historical romance with all its “silliness” and over-written-heart-pounding, intimate descriptions. It’s been fun. I’ve smiled. I’ve laughed. I’ve escaped. Most importantly, I’ve let my subconscious work on my problem.

I went to bed last night asking the characters to help me. This morning in the shower (dreams and water often combine to get my imagination rolling in the correct direction), I discovered the solution.

During those two days of frustration I had packed a lot into the scene’s rewrites, trying all sorts of manipulations but nothing seemed to fit. I was digging the hole deeper (yes, I know that’s a cliche, but it works). By climbing out of the hole and doing something different to escape the self applied pressure, I allowed the characters to come up with a solution in my subconscious. You should know that my characters often pester me in dreams. No, I don’t believe I’m crazy because they really do help. I just have to be patient until they are ready to show me what they think will happen. I stopped the digging so I could calm down and hear what they had to say.

I likened the experience to making coffee. You can’t make it without grinding up the beans (your ideas) and putting them into a strainer. Then you have to pour the hot water over the grounds and you have to give the water time to flow over and through each grain, lifting out the best of each to color and flavor the water – That’s the percolation part. The results are then released into the mug (your brain) for you to enjoy. Savor the results because you now have the correct idea on how to proceed.

aroma aromatic art artistic
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The next time you have a serious stumbling block (this is not writer’s block), you should put the draft away and go do something different – allow your subconscious to percolate the perfect mug of coffee for you.  I’m off to savor my mug of hot coffee and get back to work. Are you?

Don’t trust auto correct -it’s probably wrong.

I am eighty pages into resolving the edits suggested by my editor on the third book of my science fiction series. I am frustrated with Word telling me where and when to put commas that are in direct contradiction with my editor’s markings.  Generally I am hedging my bets on my editor and The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)  Therefore, every time Word underlines the comma I go back to my notes and the CMS do it that way and then try to laugh it off. It is important to not trust auto correct application. It has nothing on CMS  and is often incorrect. Keep CMS within reach and take the time to study up on your own foibles.

In addition to CMS, I have a dictionary at my right elbow so I don’t have to reach for it every time I want to check my spelling (auto correct can be devious so check it in the dictionary) or if two words should be one (check out everyone and every one for example — they are different and you need to know which to use) or hyphenated or not. It is making my writing interesting because I often find myself reading it, and I am discovering how fascinating our language is.

The only down side is the increased amount of time needed to resolve the edits. In the meantime, I hope I’m becoming a better writer and the next book will have fewer corrections needed. Every mistake I commit costs me in time and money. I continue to learn how to write the best story in the best way.

Marketing Step #1 – listen to self and DO IT!

To be honest, marketing terrifies me. I feel totally inadequate and uneducated. Most of the book marketing I see and read is focused on nonfiction. I write science fiction and fantasy. I’ve been told it is much easier to market nonfiction than any type of fiction. As I look over the past four years I realize I have allowed my fear of bucking that statement to keep me from doing just that. I have set up a website, http://www.timberdark.com (which needs a lot of work), a Facebook page, https:// facebook.com/timberdarkpublications (which I do pay attention to almost on a daily basis – my one good marketing exercise), and I also have this blog, https://timberdarkwriter.wordpress.com (I am not nearly as consistent in posting here but part of the plan is to improve on that). So I am not totally without a couple of marketing opportunities. They can all be better, more visitor friendly, and less confusing for me to update.

The odd thing is, two years ago I was asked to present a seminar on how to get started using social media to market the square dance activity.  I did quite a bit of research and pretty  much overwhelmed a group of dancers representing square dance clubs from across the state of Colorado, most of whom were over the age of 65. I presented info on five of the top social media platforms and instructions on how to set up accounts and suggestions on what to post on each. However, I encouraged attendees to just pick one or two to start with. I did not let them know how afraid I was (and still am) of the whole marketing process. I am not currently a whiz at any of this. My learning curve is pretty high and long – BUT I CAN LEARN (at least I keep telling myself).

As stated above I do have three platforms to work on. So, what’s my problem? FEAR. Fear of not being the best or at least better. Fear of knowing how amateurish my website is and knowing how technically challenged I am. Fear of how lame some visitors may view my postings on my blog or my Facebook page. Fear of success. Yes, fear of succeeding is a big one. But, I have to improve on what I have right now before that happens so I have time to accustom myself to success when it comes. Because I must face my fears I returned to my seminar notes and adjusted them to focus on my books and the three platforms that I have at least set up and can improve on. While taking positive steps forward toward improvement I need to keep the following points in mind (a portion of my marketing seminar follows as adjusted to marketing my science fiction books):

Author presentation at Lake County HS 2017-Nov-10 #1You want to find people to buy your product – your book. Every reader is an advertiser whether they want to be or not. What message are you sharing? If no one is talking about you and your books then no one is talking about you and your books.  So, start talking – don’t keep this a secret. There are thousands of people who are looking for a good book to read. Let them know where, when, how, who, and most importantly, WHY they should choose your books. Common responses heard when asked why a reader reads a fiction book are “I enjoy escaping to different worlds.” “It got me thinking.” “I couldn’t put it down.” “I stayed up all night to find out how it ended.” “I can’t wait for the next one.” “I didn’t want it to end.” Have you written a book that receives these types of comments?

You don’t have to become an expert on the internet. All you really need is the desire to learn how social media works, a marketing plan that works for you and a way to measure your results. You can learn how to take advantage of online tools that are mostly free. Social media helps you find people who are looking for relationships. Use social media to develop relationships with people to get to know, like, trust you and only then will they buy what you are selling – books, editing, articles, techniques to write better, etc.

Social media allows us to let people know what’s happening with my writing and how to become a partner in that “happening.”  Current marketing trends are changing to a more social approach where the prospect decides when and where he gets the information. We no longer search for the news — the news finds us. We will no longer search for products and services they will find us via social media. Social media is not a fad; it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. But if I present something interesting that draws your interest, that draws you in, you are more likely to participate in the conversation and then in the activity.

Author presentation at Lake County HS 2017-Nov-10 #2You can’t pay them to like you or your books but you can encourage them to enjoy your company and the stories you offer as entertainment. And if they decide they don’t like it – okay – go find more people to invite. Be useful – would people thank you for your post? Put yourself in the shoes of potential readers. What do they want to hear, see, or participate in? Don’t talk to people – talk with them about your process, your ideas, your struggles, what books you enjoy or have recently read – Social Media is about sharing not selling.

Don’t want to throw your books at them–Draw them into your world. Post something small on a consistent basis – it builds authenticity. Be honest. Be warm. Be authentic. Be real. Be yourself. Have an opinion! It’s okay to make people angry but be responsible and respectful. There is nothing wrong with being disagreeable or to disagree with an opinion as long as you’re not rude about it. Treat them as if they are in front of you – as if they are in the same room. Never say anything on social media you wouldn’t want known as common knowledge. Never post when you are upset.

Be Positive in how you word your posts. Example: “Do Not Close” why not word it “Keep Open”. Which is more positive? This is especially important for non-English speakers – often the middle words get dropped as unimportant. Keep it simple.

What do you hope to gain from using social media? Conversation, sentiment analysis (are people over all happy with your product?), reputation management (what are people saying about you, your books, etc.). What are you marketing? For me it is entertainment first and then maybe some thoughts on identity and how it changes. These are things you can talk about within your posts, to open up conversations. What is the theme of your book/series? How do you learn new skills or techniques – have you read some one else’s post that has helped you write better? SHARE those postings with your followers, SHARE YOU. Don’t sell your book – Sell you.

So, if I listen to myself what are the next steps I need to take? I need to be consistent with postings and not just to Facebook. Make appointments to write blog posts and DO IT. I need to get out more by attending book signings for authors (who may or may not write in my genres), to find writing/reading communities in my genres and attend gatherings. I need to listen more, share more, read more. I need to visit other author websites, Facebook pages, Goodreads pages, etc. to hear what they are talking about. I need to join the conversations. I need to ask for help when I get stuck and then act on it. DO IT!

 

 

 

 

Writing is just a series of questions and decisions.

Deciding what to write, whether in a blog, a short story, novel, nonfiction article, children’s, YA, or adult is just a simple decision, right? A decision, yes. Simple? No.

Is it just picking up a pen or pencil or turning on a computer and start typing? Not really, though sometimes that’s a start. Sometimes we just need to start. But start where? At the beginning. With individual letters, then words, then phrases, then a sentence. Then what? Yes, you start asking questions. What if? or Why? are the most popular. Then you discover a character or an idea to research. The questions you now get to ask include things like what’s his name, what’s she look like, how is that made, what happened when, what’s oPOV outline 2 for The Balance 1-16-2015ne thing about him that he keeps secret, or she dreams of accomplishing? Should people know about this? What happens to this character? Why?  Okay, now you are getting to the point of writing a story or an article. Have you written these questions and their answers down?

Now you get to choose an audience for your story or article. More decisions. Who is interested in what you want to write about? How are you going to convey your information?

Next decision may be how are you going to get what you’re writing to them? That often leads to a much longer set of decisions such as do you want to learn how to market what you’ve written, or do you need help? Can you afford doing it yourself (less time to concentrate on writing) or paying someone else to do it for you?

Every step in the process demands you answer a new set of questions. All the way to the finish line – publication. Is that the end of the questions? Probably not, because, what are you going to write next?