Author, Editor, Publisher, Coach

Category: Client Discussions (Page 2 of 4)

General notes to and from my editing clients.

The Problem with First-Person Narratives – Beware the I-Bombs!

As both a reader and an editor, I see more and more first-person narratives these days. It likely has something to do with the old guard – the “gatekeepers” – not influencing as many books, as the indie publishing revolution continues.

Once upon a time, while shopping my manuscript for Forgive Me, Alex around to agents, I encountered a number of agent websites on which they stated flat-out, “No first-person narratives accepted.” Such blanket “rules” frustrated the dickens out of me – right up there with “No prologues” and “No present tense narratives.” Still, in order to satisfy the gods of literature, I set about making my novel a third-person, past tense narrative, as instructed by the literati.

Then, about 100 pages into my manuscript, it occurred to me that much of it was flat, without emotional depth—lacking the impact, the punch in the gut I’d hoped to create. The answer? Simple: Change it to a first-person narrative, and just don’t submit to those agents who posted their dismissive warnings.

However, that decision spawned quite the learning experience, and it has particularly jumped out at me as I’ve been editing more first-person narratives. Indeed, the literary agents’ frustration over such pieces, the thing that clearly caused them to throw their hands up and surrender, and to apply those blanket rules, grew clear as air to me.

Let us call them “I-Bombs.”

Almost every first-person narrative to cross my desk has languished beneath a series of I-bombs: I did this. I went there. I thought this. I felt that. I heard another thing, and I did that other thing. I, I, I, I, I, I, I….

Yikes. Medic!

“I wanted to tell you this story in which I was the star, but…. Enough about me. What do you think about me?”

Yeah, that’s how those stories read: narcissism on parade. When I encounter 45 “I” on the first page, it goes right to the REJECT pile – whether I’m wearing my editor’s hat or my reader’s hat.

You may be asking at this point, “How do I write a first-person narrative and not use ‘I’?” The answer is simple enough: you don’t. The issue is the frequency with which you use “I.” Just as third-person narratives contain a bunch of “he” and “she,” first-person narratives necessarily contain a bunch of “I.” Precisely because of this, you must be vigilant to justify every single “I,” and to seek viable alternatives whenever possible.

Perhaps because we’re more likely to become the character-narrator in a first-person narrative, our minds get stuck in “I”-mode, and we revert to telling how everything affects “I,” rather than showing the story, allowing it to unfold in a series of scenes focused not on “I,” but on the people, places and events surrounding “I.” When you write, “I remember when John said he wanted to kill me,” you’re telling the reader of the character’s experience, rather than allowing the reader to experience it right along with the character-narrator. That shared experience between character and reader is the essence of a great read.

Most first-person narratives, laden with I-bomb after I-bomb, devolve into a telling, boring, look-at-me-world bit of torture that causes many readers to scramble.

My advice? Make your default approach a third-person narrative, and change it only if you decide it just doesn’t work, that it must be a first-person narrative.

Then, remember the primary commandment of effective writing: Show, Don’t Tell. And please, beware the I-bombs.

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Added May 2014: The Problem with First-Person Narratives – Beware the I-Bombs! (Part 2 – Practical Examples).

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2 Books I Edited Are Up for Awards – LEXIE WORLD, and WANTED: DEAD OR UNDEAD

I recently announced that my novel, Forgive Me, Alex, is a semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Books of 2012, in the Mystery/Thriller category.

Well, one of the nicest aspects of editing the work of fellow authors is being able to bask in the glow of their success, too. They did the heaviest lifting, of course, as authors always do, but as editor, I got to play my own small part.

One of the books for which I had the pleasure of doing the final edit/polish is also a semi-finalist, in the YA category: Wanted: Dead or Undead by Angela Scott.

“Wanted: Dead or Undead” – Semi-Finalist in the YA category, Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Books of 2012

And if that’s not enough, another of the books I edited, Lexie World by Kimberly Kinrade, is a finalist in the 2012 Global Ebook Awards, in the Children Literature Fiction category.

2012 Global Ebook Awards – Finalist in Children Literature Fiction category – “Lexie World” by Kimberly Kinrade

I have to say: All in all, I’m having a pretty good week.

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The Power of Monologue in Fiction, or “Hey, I Like Talking to My Self”

In a fiction narrative, monologue (often referred to as silent dialogue) can be a great way to get inside a character’s head, and without sharing his thoughts with the other characters in the scene. That’s the key difference between monologue and dialogue: the former is a secret for the readers only, kept from the other characters, whereas the latter is a regular part of the obvious character interactions.

Monologue, like its first cousin dialogue, provides an intimacy for readers that straight narrative simply can’t achieve. I think many writers fail to take full advantage of this tool. I also believe some writers use this tool as if they’re attempting to remove a tangled wire from a kitten’s paw with a sledgehammer.

Like all tools in the Writer’s Toolbox, we must use monologue sparingly, and only where it perfectly suits the task at hand.

As a simple example, a character is in a crowded room, full of old ladies and wee children, where polite discourse is not just expected, but demanded. Then he… oh… drops that sledgehammer (don’t ask; I’m trying to make a point here) on his toe. He wants to curse up a storm at that point, but he grunts and swallows his words, because he has a responsibility to those old ladies and toddlers. Shit! Yep, that simple one-word bit of monologue works quite well, thank you.

Some scenes lend themselves to monologue better than others. In my novel, Forgive Me, Alex, as an example, I have three or four scenes that beg for monologue, those oh-crap-what-do-I-do-now moments where the character must remain silent. I use monologue several times within those scenes. During the rest of the book, monologue appears only occasionally, and only in small clusters, often a single word or sentence.

Allow me to provide an example from my novel of where a single short line of monologue works perfectly:

Oh, that grin. For seventeen years it has taunted me, punished me for my indecision, my incompetence. I missed my chance to kill him in 1978, to remove his damned head—simple, as if cutting a sheet of paper. It would have been a fitting end for a monster.

Why did I let him live?

Like whispers in a storm, those memories only tease at me now, here at this obscene and maddening event. I’m trying not to relive every moment of 1978. Every time I do, I feel as if swimming in quicksand, anchored by my constant companions—sorrow and guilt. I’m too damned tired; can’t shake the confusion, the dread. I fear surrendering to fear.

If you examine that line of monologue above, and how I proceeded into the next paragraph, you’ll see that had I made it simple narrative (a couple different ways to do so), I’d have lost some of the power of that moment.

So take advantage of this great writer’s tool… but take it easy. If you overdo it, you’ll sap the mechanism of its power.

Three things to remember about monologue in your manuscript:

1) Italicize the text, including related punctuation, and don’t use quotation marks to signify monologue.

2) Set up the mechanism early in the book (just once or twice), alerting the reader to the fact that italicized segments represent monologue, and then let it do its own heavy lifting. E.g. Holy crap, I thought, she can’t be serious. I realize this is redundant structure, but again, it’s only to set up the mechanism the first time; at least, that’s my preference.

3) Monologue, like dialogue, occurs in the moment. People talk to their selves in Present Tense, so don’t fall into the trap of writing monologue as if it were straight narrative. Use Past Tense only if the character would do so when talking to his self.

Gosh, I sure hope writers find this article helpful.

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Every Author Struggles to Find His Voice in the Beginning, and To Keep It Fresh Throughout His Career

John Anthony Allen, an Editor at Evolved Publishing, has offered an interesting article on the development of “voice.”

As authors, we tackle this difficult discovery early in our careers, and we work to keep it fresh and dynamic as our careers progress. In fact, a good editor will help your voice grow as an author. Just be careful to keep it YOUR voice, comfortable and natural to you.

As readers, we seek out authors whose voices we find appealing, and our tastes might well change over time. Mine sure did. What I enjoyed reading 30 years ago doesn’t always appeal to me now, and much of what I read now, and LOVE, I would have scoffed at 30 years ago.

Stop over and check it out: God Bless You, Mr. Prokofiev — and join the conversation there. How has your voice changed over the years?

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Lane Diamond is once again hanging his “Freelance Editor” shingle.

Yep, because I love working 24 hours per day, I’m once again making room for a select few clients for my freelance editing service. Now that our initial blast of releases is complete for Evolved Publishing, my shingle, which has been down for several months, will hang once again.

My primary interest is in authors still needing some developmental assistance to bring their books to a level at which they are marketable. Frankly, I find this the most rewarding process – good for my heart and soul. There’s just no better feeling than helping writers get to that point where they can legitimately pursue their dreams of becoming published authors.

For more, just click on my EDITING SERVICE page.

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New and Improved Website for Evolved Publishing

Well, D.T. Conklin and I (mostly Dan) have been working on a new website for Evolved Publishing, this one menu-driven and more dynamic. We like it, and we think you will too. Check it out.

We haven’t got all the bells and whistles 100% yet, particularly for blog subscriptions and the like. We’ll have that all addressed before the new year, at which point we’ll actually start blogging there as a group.

Evolved Publishing moves onward and upward, and the happy days continue.

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A Question for Readers: How much does quality, professional writing matter; or is the story ALL that matters?

I’ve jumped into a discussion at The Passive Voice blog, and I’d like to expand on it here. I’m really gearing this question towards readers, but I welcome comments from writers too, provided you first put on your reader’s cap.

We all love great stories. That’s a given. However, is that all that matters to you? What if it’s poorly written, laden with grammatical errors and poor structure? Does that matter to you? How much? Where do you draw the line and forgive an author for poor writing?

Does moving, eloquent prose move you as a reader? If so, how much will you forgive a less-than-thrilling story?

Okay, so that’s more than one question… sort of two sides (or ten) of the same coin.

Please, I’d love to know your opinion on this.

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Trying to Cash In on the Social Media Madness

How shall readers connect with those who write, and with their material? And how shall authors build a following?

It hardly matters what you do for a living, or which hobbies interest you, or which sports teams or movie stars or musical acts or authors you like—a social media presence is pretty much a given in modern life. Unless you live in under a rock, or you’re a seasoned citizen who never quite got the hang of them dang computer contraptions (in which case you’re not reading this anyway), you have at the very least a Facebook or Twitter account.

We communicate through the internet. That’s just the world we live in. Even if you only use it to “keep in touch” with that long lost brother who last phoned you in 1992, and who, on those rare occasions when he sees you, has to snap his fingers and scratch his head and say, “What was your name again?”

Yet it’s moved well beyond that. The internet is increasingly where we do business. We look for work on the internet, or seek potential new hires for our company. We study on the internet, or catch up with the news. And yep, we buy and sell on the internet.

Never has that been more evident than in the world of books. EBooks are revolutionizing the way we read and write. If you’re a booklover, you’re already finding old-fashioned bookstores harder to find—a trend that will continue. EBooks and eReaders are here to stay, and to that, brothers and sisters, I say, “Amen!”

For an author like me, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I must now spend a lot of my time not writing, but reaching out to readers. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the opportunity to communicate with those who like my work. I do. I mean, seriously, what author doesn’t want to hear from readers how his work has affected their lives?

Nonetheless, it’s more work—another ball we must juggle… or ten.

It means I must not only embrace the new technologies, I must also educate myself on their proper use. Opinions vary so widely on how best to do this, it seems largely a matter of trial and error for most. However, some folks have already established some expertise in this arena, and they can help you. One of those is Dan Zarrella, whose blog I heartily recommend.

For readers, the new market also considerably changes the dynamics. If you want to keep up with what authors are offering, to remain apace of all that’s happening in the world of books you love, you’ll have to stay tuned-in to various online activities. One of the communities that’s most geared towards readers’ needs is Goodreads. Here, not only can you discover what’s new in the world of books, you can also find out what other readers—potentially millions of them—think about specific books, and engage with them in an interactive community. If you’re a true booklover, you need to be on Goodreads. And I say that not as an author, but as a fellow reader.

You can also peruse reviews at the big eBook retailers such as Amazon (for their Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (for their Nook).

Naturally, where readers go, writers must go. It’s not that we’re stalking readers, it’s just that… well… okay, we’re stalking readers. Really, we just want readers to know about our work. How else can they make an informed decision about whether or not to buy it?

I’ve set up my own Goodreads Author’s Page, as well as a Publisher’s Page for Evolved Publishing, our indie publishing business. I have an Amazon Author’s Page too. Yes, I have a presence at social media sites everywhere (well, seems like everywhere). As an author, I can’t escape it.

Then, of course, there’s this blog, which provides a more detailed and more personal forum to connect with folks. All part of doing business in the 21st century.

Yet what is enough? What is too much? Should I drive, drive, drive people to buy my books, constantly hammering them over the head? Pfft! Like that won’t send readers running to the hills! As a reader myself, I hate that kind of constant barrage.

No, I think a softer approach is required, a gentle touch—followed by huge portions of patience and perseverance. I’ll be talking about the “Soft Sell” in an upcoming blog post, so please stay tuned.

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How Much Should I Study the Art and Craft of Writing?

Folks have asked me that question (the title of this post) more often than I can recount—mostly editing clients past and present, and members of writing groups I’ve participated in over the years. My answer is always this simple: As professionals, we never stop learning.

Learning comes in many forms, of course, but one of the important methods is the basic act of self-education, taking advantage of the ever-expanding library of books on the subject. I’ve read somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-80 of those over the past 30 years, many of them twice. I refer to a few of them repeatedly as reference guides.

Hey, there’s a lot to soak up.

The inevitable follow-up question has been this: “Hey, Diamond, if you had to pick just a few, which books would you recommend I start with?”

Everyone has their favorites, and many could, and surely would, offer alternatives to these, but here are my recommendations: Scroll down the page on the left, until you come to a section of book covers under the heading, “On WRITING: I Recommend these Books (Amazon).”

Each of those 8 books informed heavily my approach to both writing and editing. How strong has their influence been over the other 62-72 books? Or the thousands of articles I’ve read? I think the fact that I return to them regularly is all the answer I need give.

You would do well to absorb all eight of those books. Even if you can only start with one… start! Those covers are simple links to Amazon, if that helps. Or get them on eBay, or Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore… but get them.

‘Til next time, and as always, remember: To write well, you must work hard. To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy (or discouraged).

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eBook Pricing – The Market Is Still Sorting Itself Out

Kristen J. Tsetsi has posted an article at her blog, The Cost of Kindle Books – Pay up or Shut Up, which has drawn quite a lot of discussion. If you’re an author or a reader, I recommend you check it out. I’ll first post my response below, and then I’ll expand just a touch at the end.

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This clearly displays the frustration on the part of authors who are not making a heck of a lot of money. The problem is exacerbated, of course, BY AUTHORS. Every time an author gives away her work, another author feels pressured to do the same in order to compete. Authors have been giving away their work forever. Anyone tried to place a story in a literary magazine lately?

I think authors should never — and I mean NEVER — work for free. Do plumbers work for free? Do teachers work for free? A loss-leader promotion to drive traffic to other products is one thing, but simply giving it away is nuts.

However, eBooks should cost significantly less than a paperback; the economics of production are a guiding factor in the pricing of any product. As an author, I can make more on my $4.99 eBook than I could make on my $27.99 hardcover through a traditional publisher. And I can “produce” it with far less up-front investment, in far less time.

Ultimately, the market will decide (and yes, that means the buyers) what a product is worth. Authors can help themselves by not giving away their work and establishing those expectations, but they must respond to market conditions. As for me, I’ll be selling my eBook for $4.99, because I think that’s a fair price all around. That means J. won’t be buying my book, but I can live with that.

In fact, that $4.99 price point is the amount above which I’ll likely balk at buying an eBook. I might pay more, but man, it would have to be something special. We all have our limits.

And to the publishers who price their eBooks at the level of their paperbacks, thereby asking eBook buyers to SUBSIDIZE their paperback business, I say, “No thank you very much.”

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It’s important, particularly for indie authors who are wading into “business” for the first time, to understand the dynamics of market response. The customer is king. Always.

At some point, if authors are unhappy with the customers’ decisions about what they’re willing to pay, they’ll have a difficult decision to make: A) Price it lower to meet customer demands, and to sell more books, or; B) Keep the price up, and settle on the fact that they’ll sell fewer books.

Either is a legitimate approach, driven by the author’s true goals. I think that, ultimately, holding the price up, but having a large selection to offer your readers, will be the key. Yes, you may sell fewer copies per book, but the sheer number of books you offer will ramp up your income.

I am loath to give away my book, after spending 5 years toiling over it, and I’ll likely choose Option B above. I plan to price my eBook at $4.99, which I think is eminently fair—an absolute bargain.

Indeed, as co-owners of Evolved Publishing, D.T. Conklin and I have concluded that $4.99 should be the regular, non-promoted price for all our books. Some of our authors may feel differently at times, and we’ll allow them some flexibility, but I think anything higher is inappropriate in most cases, and anything less begs the question, from a business perspective: Why bother? Every business asks that question at the beginning, and again each step along the way.

For readers too, that last question must be part of the decision-making process about what to buy, and how much to pay. If you want great books from great authors, you’ll have to pay enough to make it worth their while. Yes, you can get a lot of eBooks today for $0.99-$2.99. Have you sampled some of those? I have, and I’ve not been terribly impressed. Ultimately, in this business as in any other, you get what you pay for. In my experience, the best books are those selling for $4.99-$7.99. And guess what? Many of those authors are succeeding nicely.

The issue isn’t price alone; it’s about value. It’s a subject I’ve addressed in two previous posts: Quality Matters and Quality Counts when Publishing eBooks.

I think we’ll be sorting out this eBook pricing thing for a couple years. The entire market remains in a state of flux. Ask 20 people what they think, and you’ll get several different answers.

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