Author, Editor, Publisher, Coach

Category: Editor’s Desk (Page 3 of 6)

While wearing my EDITOR’S CAP, I offer tips and examples for improving your writing.

What Does a Writing Coach Do?

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Every writing coach is the same, and each one is different. Wait… huh? Yep, all writing coaches seek to dig deep into a writer’s needs, to help them reach the point where they’re producing professional-grade material that’s worthy of a broad reading audience. However, each coach may have a unique mix of specialties and focus.

And so, as an author (or one who aspires to be an author), you should always analyze what your coach/editor has to offer, engage in a candid discussion BEFORE committing money, and perhaps get a sample analysis/edit of your writing. If a coach/editor balks at providing one, run. Run fast.

I’ve seen writing coaches advertise that they focus on content: plot, characterization, setting, etc, but that they don’t spend too much time on the “technical” aspects of writing, such as grammnar, strength of prose, structure, and so on. To me, that’s like saying to the new marine recruits at boot camp, “Okay, this is a gun. You use it to kill the enemy. Let’s move on.” …and then not showing them how the gun functions, how to break it down and clean it to keep it in good working order, and how to reassemble it.

My opinion: There are a million decent storytellers out there, but there are precious few “writers.”

Thus, my approach to coaching is to say that it makes no sense to try to separate the trees from the forest. Of course content is important, but if you can’t write professionally, yours will be just another amateur book. (I know… I’m such a hardass!)

Seriously, though, my approach has always been that if I can’t help you become the best writer/author you can be, then there’s really no sense in us working together. It’s not all about the money. If I can’t stand up and shout to the world, when you’re done and your book is available, “Hey, everyone, go buy this book, because it’s awesome!” …then we (meaning you and I together) haven’t done our job.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

However, unlike as in the image above, you’re not a kid. You’re a professional (or soon will be), and you deserve the appropriate respect and consideration.

Want a touchy-feely-please-tell-me-how-wonderful-I-am support system? Yeah… I’m not your guy. Want someone who will tell it like it is, and work tirelessly to address every issue that affects your career? Then maybe I’m your guy. Don’t get me wrong: I try to keep it as upbeat and positive as I can, because I think that’s important, but not if it ever interferes with the end goal. Hey, I know we creative types can be a bit… er… touchy. *smiling* But sometimes, a little tough love is the best kind.

So what is my focus as a writing coach?

CONTENT: Yes, of course I address the essential elements of plot, characterization, setting, a proper climax, etc. However – and this often surprises people – it may not be the first thing we address. Let’s face it: if readers can’t find the forest through the trees, because the trees themselves (your prose) are impossible to navigate, then the forest (your story) becomes irrelevant. Thus, we may need to address at least some of that before we get too far into content.

GRAMMAR: Look, professionals know the rules, so if you’re going to be a pro, we need to address even this mundane stuff. Don’t break into a cold sweat about this. The truth is that if you have a good teacher, one who’s focused on your specific needs, you’ll learn it more easily than you think.

ESSENTIAL STRUCTURE: It’s not just which words you use to tell your story, but how you choose to place those words that will determine how well readers respond. Use structure to ramp-up the tension. It’s often critical to choose just that right place to break a sentence, or a paragraph, or a chapter. I’ve been told by readers that this is a particular strength of mine, and I’d like it to be a strength of yours by the time we’re done.

STYLE: This will be uniquely yours, as it is with every writer, and a Writing Coach’s job is to teach you how to enhance your writing while remaining true to who you are. We all grow, and learn, and progress… but we remain who we are. That’s important, yet you must be ready to grow as a writer, willing to say on occasion, “Well, that’s not the me I want to be. I want to be this me.”

PRIMARY COMMANDMENTS OF EFFECTIVE WRITING: The first two of these you’ve no doubt heard countless times before; the third, maybe not (since it is, I believe, a Lane Diamond construct): 1) Show, Don’t Tell; 2) Make Every Word Count; 3) Keep It Strong and Direct. What do each of those things really mean? Well, we’ll certainly talk about that if we work together.

CONVERT YOUR BAD HABITS INTO GOOD HABITS: All writers bring some mix of bad habits to their work. Those can vary greatly from one writer to the next, yet certain bad habits are more universal than others. Here are just some of those: 1) SOBs (State-of-being Verbs); 2) Passive Voice; 3) Infinite Verb Phrases (An Act without an Actor); 4) Wordiness; 5) Excessive Proper Nouns; 6) Awkward Dialogue Tags; 7) I-Bombs. There’s more, of course, and we’ll tackle each issue as we encounter it.

So what is your next step?

If you think you’ll benefit from working with a coach, and you think, based on what you just read, that I may be able to help you, send me an email at Lane@LaneDiamond.com. Please put “Writing Coach Needed” in the Subject line.

I’ll arrange to to have a one-on-one talk with you (no charge), and I’ll look at your work to give you an idea of where our focus would need to be (no charge), and we’ll talk about the ultimate cost, of course, should we decide to move forward. I’ll be selective, and I typically only work with one student at a time, but even if I can’t help you right this minute, I may be able to get you on the calendar in the near term.

Here’s to your writing dreams becoming a reality!

Even Minor Characters Are Critical

As an author, you shouldn’t pass up too many opportunities to heighten the reading experience for your loyal fans – to tug at their emotions. If you really want to keep them glued to the page, give them something to sink their hearts and souls into as often as possible.

One of the places where many writers fail to achieve this is in their portrayal of minor characters. Indeed, I would almost argue that the word “minor” is inappropriate, as every single character should be critical to the advancement of the story, or they should not be at all.

When I wrote my psychological thriller, Forgive Me, Alex, I needed to incorporate some murder victims. After all, one cannot have a serial killer without some serial killees. (Hey, I think I just made up a word!) In truth, these characters’ sole raison d’etre was to advance the character of the serial killer, and the ultimate conflict between protagonist and antagonist. Yet why would readers even care about these “minor” characters, or invest themselves in the gruesome acts of a serial killer, if I gave them no reason to do so?

They wouldn’t, of course.

So I needed to provide enough details about even these “minor” characters to elicit some empathy on the part of readers. It was important to keep it short and sweet, yet to provide some reason for readers even to care about the character.

The more readers care, the greater their emotional experience while glued to your book. And so, when I needed to set up a character for no other reason than to kill her off, to make her a victim of my nasty antagonist, here’s how I did it:

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The gentle breeze and mild temperature made a walk in the park the perfect distraction for Lindsey Merkham, but she chose the cemetery in lieu of the park. She did so because the cemetery sat conveniently at the corner of North Main Street and Cary Road, across the street from her apartment.

It contained several crisscrossing paths perfect for continuous power walking, her preferred method of exercise and, judging by her slender build, an effective one. She normally exercised right after work and before dinner, when she wasn’t too weighed-down or too lazy for her walks.

On this night, she was out late.

Lindsey stood five-feet-six-inches tall, with short, bright red-orange hair, and a figure that more resembled a young boy than an adult woman. The unfortunate birthmark on her right cheek, and the ski jump at the end of her nose, further heightened her insecurities.

Men rarely lined up at her doorstep.

Thus, she chose to take a late walk through the cemetery, a perfectly reasonable way to kill another uneventful Friday night. She’d snuggle later with her loyal kitty, Puffer, and read a good book.

~~~~~

Did I draw on some clichés there? Sure. With little time in which to build reader empathy, I needed to use proven, time-tested methods. While I typically recommend against dropping clichés into a manuscript, this is one of those rare instances where it might actually be useful.

The key is to give readers a reason to care in as short a segment as possible (after all, this is a “minor” character).

As the scene progresses, and the serial killer attacks, I insert a line here, a thought there, from Lindsey, further building on what I established in those six short paragraphs. The intensity builds, right along with our empathy/sympathy for Lindsey, right up until that penultimate moment when she must, alas, meet her demise. I give readers a little something to sink their teeth into – a reason to care for, to feel sorry for, even to shed a tear for, this “minor” character.

Thus, readers engage in a scene that might otherwise just seem gratuitously graphic. Real life situations require real life characters. If you fail to bring even a “minor” victim into the light of reality, you give readers no reason to care, no reason to invest themselves emotionally in a scene that’s important to the overall story.

RECOMMENDATION

Create a character list that includes every single character in your book. I use Microsoft Excel because it’s easily sorted (I do so alphabetically by character name). You want some key details listed for each character.

Column A: Character Name – Be sure not to create any two names that are close in alliteration. Every name should sound unique, so as to prevent reader confusion. This is particularly critical with “minor” characters. So don’t have a Harry, Larry, and Barry, for example. The potential for readers to get lost is too great. Name them Harry, Ben, and Steve, and readers will have an easier time keeping them separate.

Column B: Character Role – List the character’s primary role in the story. Using my own book as an example, I used Protagonist, Antagonist, Protagonist’s Girlfriend in 1978, FBI Agent in charge of investigation, Algonquin Chief of Police, etc.

Column C: Character Relationships – If your characters interact in a key way throughout your story, list those relationships here. As an example, for my protagonist Tony Hooper, I listed: Alex Hooper’s big brother; Diana Gregario’s boyfriend; Frank Willow’s surrogate grandson; and a few more.

Column D: Character Speech Mannerisms – If your characters have a unique voice – and I hope they do – list here some of the things that make their voices unique. Whenever possible, draw clear distinctions between characters to help readers subconsciously, and automatically, identify a character/narrator. As an example, I listed that Tony Hooper, the protagonist, always said “perhaps,” and never “maybe.” I listed that Mitchell Norton, the antagonist, always said “maybe,” and never “perhaps.” It’s subtle, but with about ten other key differences in voice, I was able to provide readers a series of instantaneous “triggers” to identify these characters. I also gave them certain favorite phrases. For example, Mitchell Norton likes to throw around, “Fuck a rubber duck!” Obviously, I did not allow any other character to use that phrase; it was all Mitchell’s.

Column E: Misc. Character Identifiers – Place here whatever strikes your fancy. It can be anything from their physical descriptions to their socio-political views, from the clothes they wear to the foods they eat, from their favorite TV show to the music they prefer to listen to, etc. The keys are to keep them: A) Unique; B) Relevant; C) Something you can use to heighten readers’ emotional involvement with that character, when appropriate.

AND OF COURSE….

Be sure to provide your beta reader(s) and editor(s) this list, when it’s their turn to review your work.

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Book Awards Are Just Plain Fun

As authors, we all hope to win the occasional award. I haven’t really submitted Forgive Me, Alex to many – just a couple – but I’ve managed to get a little recognition, and the kind reviews my book has received have been pretty good stand-ins.

Well, I have the added pleasure of sharing in the glow of awards won by books I’ve edited. Over at the Evolved Publishing blog recently (linked at bottom), under the heading of “Quality Matters,” they listed as evidence of that commitment a number of books and the awards they’ve won.

Well, of the 16 books listed there, which have combined for over 35 awards, I wrote 1 and edited or co-edited (meaning I did the final polishing pass) 14 of those.

I often gnash my teeth about the all the editing I must do, and how that keeps me from working on my own writing, but I have to say, all these awards do bring a smile to my face. I still wish I had more time for writing, but whenever I get down and moody about that, I’ll just refer to that blog post at Evolved Publishing.

Maybe that will lift my spirits. 🙂

Here’s that blog post listing all the awards:

At Evolved Publishing, Quality Matters!

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Are You A Writer Looking for Helpful Writing Tips?

If so, I may have a few articles that you’ll find helpful. Just scroll down a bit and look to the middle column of this page, where it says “CATEGORIES” and has a dropdown box.

In the dropdown, select “Editor’s Desk.” Then just scroll down the list to find articles of interest to you.

As an alternative, you can simply drop a little farther down the center column, where it says “2) WRITE BETTER (ALSO SEARCH “EDITOR’S DESK” CATEGORY).” The titles of the articles there will speak for themselves.

I hope you find plenty of helpful material here. Write on!

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A High Commandment of Effective Writing: Show; Don’t Tell

From the Editor’s Desk:

I’ve been posting articles about how to write better for some time now. Many of them go back to my old freelance editing days, and many of them, I’m afraid, have been lost in the shuffle.

Well, I think it’s time to blow the dust off a few of them, and to make it simple for you to visit (or perhaps re-visit) what I hope you’ll find to be helpful articles.

Let us start with one of the primary commandments of effective writing: Show; Don’t Tell. I’ll link here 3 posts from long ago that might help you grab readers, to provide a more satisfying visual experience.

Remember: Stronger writing makes for stronger reading.

Under the Heading of SHOW, DON’T TELL: Readers Can’t See What Something Is “Not,” They Can Only See What Something “Is”

Under the Heading of SHOW, DON’T TELL: Make Your Characters Blind, Deaf and Dumb

Under the Heading of SHOW, DON’T TELL: With Words as Paint and the Page as Canvas, Paint Us a Picture

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Characters Must Live and Breathe on the Page

From the Editor’s Desk:

I’ve said on many occasions that what brings me to an author time and again is his ability to create characters I just can’t wait to see again. Indeed, I’ll revisit a great book every few years precisely for that reason — because I miss my peeps.

So what is it that makes a certain character, or cast of characters, special? Well, that’s a tough one, and a huge part of the reason we call writing an art and not a science.

The shortest answer, I suppose, is that the character must be “real.” I know… impossible for a fictional character. So let me rephrase: the character must be so well drawn as to appear to be real. We readers have to be able to easily imagine the character jumping off the page and joining us here on planet reality.

Yet that is not such a simple thing. What makes us “real?” Is it our eye color? Our hair color? Our height? Nah. I must say that, as a reader, I rarely care about those kinds of details. Indeed, I often (almost always) prefer to paint my own visual image of what a great character looks like. There are exceptions, of course. For example, imagine A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, without an explanation of Owen’s physical characteristics. Impossible. Would we appreciate The Hobbit if J.R.R. Tolkien hadn’t bothered to describe them in exquisite detail? Of course not.

Yet those are the exceptions. In most modern-day stories, whether it be YA or Mystery or Horror or Thrillers or Literary, the characters’ physical descriptions will not carry that much weight. What’s even worse is when authors think that by providing those details, they’re meeting their obligation to provide full, rich, real characters. Not so.

Characters come alive on the page when we get to know them intimately, when we can see inside their hearts, their minds. When we know their souls.

Furthermore, the way they interact with one another always tells us a lot about characters, just as such activities tell us a lot about people in real life. We hear often of actors, when a particular film or show works well, that they have that certain something we call “chemistry.” As an author, you want your key interactive characters to have chemistry.

The final key is that you gradually build out your characters, giving us glimpes inside them, via their actions and words as the story unfolds. Don’t just slip in a little narrative telling us a character is intelligent, for example. Blah. Show us through that character’s actions; lead us to the obvious conclusion about her intelligence.

Is another character shy? Show him cowering in a corner at a party, examining a painting on the wall, determined not to face the crowded room. Is another character witty? Don’t just tell us that. Dull. Put some of her wit on display, cracking wise at a social gathering, evoking laughter from those around her.

If your characters live, we will relate to them as readers. We will love them, or hate them, or fear for them, or be happy for them. If your characters are flat and uninspiring, you’re in big trouble.

Allow me to put on my grumpy editor’s snarl: If all you can tell us about a character is that she has red hair and green eyes, then please dig a little deeper into yourself, and then deeper into your character. If all your character’s dialogue is an endless string of cliches we’ve heard a bazillion times, then please pick up a book about how to write great dialogue. If, every mind-numbing time your characters interact, they begin with, “Hey, how you doing?”, then please focus all your energy on your day job. You’re going to need it.

I know. This writing thing is hard. Damn it!

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The Future of Publishing: How to Survive and Prosper as an Author outside the Big 6

Another guy with an opinion about this crazy industry. Yeesh!

[Revised/Reposted from original May 2, 2012 post at www.EvolvedPub.com]

As Publisher and Executive Editor at Evolved Publishing (linked above), I’m regularly asked by folks to weigh in on the state of our industry, so here goes. (Fair warning: you might want take that BRB and freshen up that cup of coffee before you continue.)

I spend a lot of time gazing into my crystal ball, opaque though it may be, to figure out what the future holds for us small fries trying to find our way in the mighty, mighty world of publishing. I’ve been doing that since long before my partner D.T. Conklin and I decided to open up shop as Evolved Publishing. Now, I must keep my finger on the pulse not just for myself, but for the fine and talented authors, editors, and artists who’ve joined our team – 15 authors, 7 editors, 7 artists, and more coming soon in every category. It’s early in our collective effort, but the train is gathering steam.

We offer an alternative to both traditional publishing, often referred to as The Big 6, and the self-publishing option – we offer a hybrid small press model. Since getting picked up by The Big 6 (assuming you would even want to given the current market dynamics) is akin to winning the lottery, I’m going to skip right past them and talk about the “indie” options: self-publishing, or a small press like us.

Self-publishing enjoyed a boost in credibility after the eBook revolution made it easier, even financially attractive, to self-publish rather than pursue traditional methods. Some reputable authors chose the self-pub route with fair success, and soon everyone followed suit. No… really… I mean everyone. Based on the 8.2 trillion blogs to which I subscribe, the comments left there, the social media buzz, and the latest gossip from my neighbor’s poodle, there are now approximately 4.3 billion self-published authors. Okay, maybe it only seems that way.

This David versus Goliath picture does not, as you might expect, represent us (upstart small press publisher) versus them (The Big 6). In fact, I intended it to represent them (self-pubbers) versus them (self-pubbers). Yep, individually, a self-pubber is the underdog, David. Collectively, they are the brute, Goliath.

As thousands upon thousands of self-pubbers flood the book markets with a tsunami of new material, authors and readers alike are shaking their heads and wondering, “What the devil is going on here?”

I’ll confess to something of a love/hate relationship with self-pubbers. I love their entrepreneurial spirit (for those who actually treat it like a business, which it is), their willingness to say, “Go spit!” to the train wreck that is traditional publishing (Hey, this is just me editorializing.), their daring attempt to walk the tightrope from which 99% plummet to their deaths. Yet I hate that such a high percentage of self-pubbers give short shrift to their profession, and publish substandard work.

I particularly love the self-pubbers who do it right: professional editing, professional covers, professional websites, professional self-promotion and marketing. Are you noticing a theme here? Unfortunately, even the professionals, given their self-publishing label, must suffer under the reputation driven mainly by the non-professionals. The early pioneers, and the traditional mid-listers who made the jump, have been able to defeat that reputation to some extent. The John Q. Nobodys lost in the sea of fellow John Q. Nobodys, however, have had less than stellar luck at combating the label.

Indeed, one of the reasons we formed Evolved Publishing in the first place, with an unwavering insistence that Job One = Quality, was that we didn’t want to be lumped in with people taking shortcuts. And let’s face it: a significant percentage of self-pubbers take shortcuts, and the people they probably hurt the most – aside from their selves, of course – are the self-pubbers doing it the right way… professionally.

Well, technically savvy book consumers are starting to figure all this out. They’re getting burned too often by $2.99 offerings, $0.99 offerings, even FREE offerings, and they’re getting frustrated. Yet what is an indie author to do?

The Fads

Well, we’ve learned a bunch in the past year, not the least of which is that last quarter’s brilliant idea is this quarter’s old news – and next quarter’s Dodo Bird.

It has always struck me as ironic that in an industry driven by highly creative individuals, the business aspect of the industry is one giant exercise in, “Hey, let’s do what that guy did.” Someone finds something that works, and then thousands – nay, tens of thousands – of people rush in to do the exact same thing.

We saw it with social media: Want to be a successful author? No worries. Just build a strong social platform and you’ll sell thousands of books.

We saw it with $0.99 pricing: Want to establish yourself as a mover and shaker in this marketplace? No worries. Just price your books at $0.99 and watch your career soar.

We saw it with Amazon’s KDP Select Free Days: Want to develop momentum for your book, and then sell thousands of copies afterward? No worries. Just put your book up for free for a day or two or five, and then watch your paid sales go through the roof. This is the newest fad, of course, and it started fading just four months in.

All of those tools remain viable components in our toolbox, but they no longer provide the “instant sure thing” they once did for some. Indeed, we’re now seeing that today’s big idea fizzles within a few months, overwhelmed by the rush of thousands of people chasing the same pot of gold, only to find that when they finally pursue the end of that rainbow, the sun has set.

Today’s ingenious marketing idea becomes little more than a fad. And fast.

Back to the Basics

Some things become increasingly clear every day:

  1. Quality Catalog: that simple concept drives the train. Without it, indie authors are sunk.
  2. Fads come and go, offering only short-term opportunities, but business fundamentals are forever.
  3. No one strikes it big with one book. Few do it with two books. It’s a long road. This business we call writing is a slow grind – always has been – and it requires hard work, determination, and more than a little perseverance.
  4. Quality Matters: this should be first, second and third on everyone’s list. Staying power requires an absolute commitment to quality.

We all got caught-up in the excitement of the eBook Revolution. We saw numbers by the early pioneers and thought, “Man, I want a piece of that!” Now, that excitement is winding down, people are coming back to reality, and the marketplace is reasserting itself.

Are there sufficient consumers to support 50,000 new authors? No. At least, not if we mean by “support” that authors earn a comfortable living as authors, or even a reasonable part-time income sufficient to the work that goes into it. Already, self-pubbers are seeing their sales numbers dwindle, and are increasingly complaining that they’re losing money, falling back into the old “Vanity Publishing” mode. Even some of the “stars” are experiencing declines of 40-50% during the most recent few months. Yes, summer is a bad season for books sales, but it’s more than that.

Indeed, even long-established pros have suffered the effects, dragged down by the entire market dynamic. The difference for them, of course, is their reputation, ready-made audience, and a staying power self-pubbers don’t have. As more consumers run away from self-pubbers, those old pros will be the first to benefit.

What does it all mean, and how do we counter it?

Frankly, we counter it by doing what we do, and by grinding it out for the long haul. We counter it by becoming those old pros.

Surviving the Mad Rush

The eBook Revolution encouraged a mad rush into the marketplace by newcomers. Hey, now it was easy and cheap – really cheap for those willing to compromise on quality, meaning the majority. The result? Writers first dumped hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of substandard books into the marketplace, competing for a far-too-finite number of customers, selling for $2.99, then $0.99, and ultimately free, all in a desperate attempt to be that which they always dreamed of becoming: an author.

Yet those who succeed as authors have always been few – the true professionals producing high quality work – and despite the initial excitement of the eBook revolution, this will be true again.

If we are to be successful authors, we must continue to separate ourselves by providing books that aspire to and reach high professional standards. We must continue to write, each producing at least one book per year (two should be your goal, if you plan to do this for a living). We must continue to hone our craft, to learn, to keep our finger on the pulse of the industry we hope will support us. We must be professionals.

Reasonable Expectations

Part of that mad rush, of course, was the expectation that we were all immediately going to start selling thousands of books, making a mint, living the good life as authors. Well, now that we’ve all been dealt a dose of reality, we have an opportunity to take a deep breath, re-examine what we’re doing, and plan for the next positive steps.

Authors who make (net) even $5,000 their first year as authors are rarer than you might like to believe; nonetheless, it’s true even in the traditional publishing industry.

Most authors kick into second gear starting in year two, and then build speed through year three and beyond. This assumes, of course, that said author continues to produce good work. This is nothing new; it’s always been that way. The problem, if we may call it a problem, is that so many thought the eBook Revolution would change that, and bring us our riches more quickly.

Not so. It remains a “process.”

That’s one of the toughest things for writers to settle on: to stop worrying about what book one is doing, and get about the business of writing book two. Then, stop worrying about what book two is doing, and get about the business of writing book three. And so on.

In this age of instant gratification, and where most of us are accustomed to punching a clock or working on a regular salary, knowing precisely what’s coming in the next paycheck, it’s a hard thing to say, “Never mind that. Just get back to work.”

Yet history tells us that until you get book three to market, with each of the three a quality product, you’re probably not going to make a living as a writer. Even then, if you must fight to establish your reputation because of who’s publishing (or not publishing) your books, the odds are against you. It also tells us that when you hit that stride, achieving your “overnight” success, the whole of your catalog will rise at once. In other words, if book three or four is your magic bullet, books one and two will also sell better from that point on. The rising tide carries all boats.

So don’t obsess over the fact that you’re only selling a copy or two a day (or less) of your first book. Obsess over completing your second book, and then your third book, and so on. And those numbers will rise. It’s not magic. It’s just the business.

Investing in Your Field

I tread into this section with a warning: it may sound a bit preachy. Please bear with me.

As authors, we are all businesspeople. There’s no escaping that fact, so we must embrace it. That doesn’t mean you need to invest many thousands of dollars to get your career rolling. Indeed, I have my doubts about the potential payback of huge investments, if they don’t get you to your ultimate goal: quality catalog. No business survives for long that invests $2 in order to gross $1.

However, there are things we can all do that will make a difference in the end, and we should do some of those things sooner rather than later – a quality website, for example, with a blog that offers interesting, funny, poignant, or informative content (all of the above is a dream come true). Do you need a bunch of bells and whistles? Well, that would be nice, but so long as it’s functional, clean and professional, it’ll do. If you can do more, you should.

Learn your craft. This is a profession, like so many others, that requires a continuing education. The moment you stop growing as an author, you start dying as an author. I’ve been studying this crazy craft for 35 years, and every time I learn something new, I realize I have much more to learn. Read about writing; not only for the instruction, but for the motivation. I’ve read some 90 books on the subject, and untold thousands of articles, and any time I feel I’m slipping into a rut, I search for another piece to help pull me out of it. I love these books for the way they re-energize me and kick me in the keester.

My only advice here is that you choose your sources carefully. Just because someone has published a book (let’s face it; anyone can do that nowadays), doesn’t mean they’re an expert. Follow recommendations and trusted sources. Of the thousands of blogs out there, for example, many are valuable, many are confused, and many are just plain wrong. You would do well to start at a place like Writer’s Digest Books. I could also make any number of recommendations, as I do right here at this website (lower right margin of Home page).

Read your genre, of course, but reach beyond that. Stretch your wings and fly through some other genres. Don’t skip the classics. You’ll learn a lot.

There! That wasn’t too preachy, was it? I just wanted to emphasize here that part of being a professional businessperson is keeping your finger on the pulse of your industry, and being an expert in your field. Doctors do it. Lawyers do it. Accountants do it. Well… you’re an Author, so just do it.

The Long Road

The market is undergoing some rather severe adjustments. Frankly, many self-published authors are feeling the terrible squeeze. How do I know? Well, lots of them are blogging and commenting about it, of course, but more than that, several of them have recently inquired about joining Evolved Publishing.

Indeed, we’ve temporarily closed to submissions because we’re growing so fast that we need time to catch up, organizationally. (NOTE: We’ll likely start accepting submissions again in mid-October.) Will all those authors be great fits for us? No, but a few will, and new authors are inquiring with far greater frequency nowadays – most of them the aforementioned previously self-published. Indeed, three of our four most recent author additions fit into that category, and it’s likely that a high percentage of our next several additions will, too.

It’s not surprising, really; after all, we formed Evolved Publishing precisely because we dreaded going down that self-publishing road, fearing where it would lead.

We must all be realistic about the hard work, dedication, and patience required to succeed in this business. Historically, 94% of “published” authors fail and drop out (or resume their day job), and 99.8% of “self-published” authors fail. Even in the face of that, and although it’s impossible to provide guarantees in this business, I remain guardedly optimistic. The marketplace is trying to sort itself out right now, suffering the shock of that tsunami of new authors and books. Over the next year or two, it will find its equilibrium, and authors who’ve developed a strong reputation for quality work, and built their catalog, will be poised to prosper where others fail.

More self-publishers will be dying off over the next couple years, as they fail to make any money, and decide that being a Vanity Publisher isn’t worth the time, energy, money, or heartbreak. I say that not with glee, for I wish sad tidings for no one. I say it merely to indicate what’s happening in the marketplace.

The technological bubble that is the eBook Revolution is about to burst, because, like all economic bubbles before it, it grew too fast, too big, too out of control, and with no regard for natural market forces. It’s already starting. That’s not to say there won’t continue to be excellent opportunities for those who survive. Indeed, I think there will be fantastic opportunities.

First, however, the market must shake off the rapid excesses that have formed. Then consumers will do what they’ve always done: they’ll find the true values, “value” being a variable ratio of quality-to-price (Value = Quality:Price).

Want to survive and prosper on this long road? Then give book buyers the value they demand for their hard-earned entertainment dollars.

We at Evolved Publishing happen to believe that a well-coordinated team is likely to give us a better chance at success than trying to go it on our own. However, even if you choose to be that bold, daring entrepreneur blazing your own trail, just keep your eye on the prize, and remember that you must be the one thing too many in this business fail to be: professional. Then… write! And write some more. And never, NEVER compromise on quality.

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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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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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The Proper Use of the Word “Like”

The word “like” is quite possibly the most misused and abused word in the English language. Who amongst us hasn’t heard a teenager toss out a gem like this when speaking?

“Like, have you guys like seen that like totally like amazing movie about like gladiators?”

So what, right? Teenagers have always done their own thing. Where’s the harm?

It’s the old slippery slope argument. When people have heard it used improperly 50 times, 130 times, 42,649 times, they lose track of what’s proper and what’s improper. In the stories that I read online, writers use the word “like” improperly in half or more of the instances. Indeed, I’ve been told by a couple of authors that the like the way “like” sounds better than the proper alternative. Oh boy.

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The following example is not an aberration; it has become the norm: “I stood over him like I was eight feet tall.”

The author uses the word “like” improperly here. The sentence should read: “I stood over him as if I were eight feet tall.”

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Another recent example: “It’s not like I had any choice in the matter.”

The proper version: “It’s not as though I had any choice in the matter.”

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The simple rule is this: “Like” governs nouns and pronouns. When modifying verbs, adverbs, adjectives, etc, replace “like” with “as,” “as if,” or “as though.” If you can’t replace the word “like” in your text with “such as” or “similar to,” you’ve probably used it improperly.

I’ve read more than one article in which the author (specifically an editor or agent) said that the improper use of “like” is one of the first tip-offs that she’s dealing with an amateur, and therefore less likely to be interested.

Two Exceptions:

A)     Narrative dialect or colloquialisms

  1. If you’re using a first-person narrative, for example, you may ascribe to the character-narrator certain colloquialisms and speech mannerisms.
  2. Caution: Be consistent. If the character uses “like” instead of “as if,” he must do so always.

B)     Dialogue

  1. Your character’s speech may not be terribly concise and proper. For example, a teenage character may well blurt out the kind of sentence I highlighted at the start of this blog entry. Once again, if you choose to ascribe such mannerisms to a character, be consistent throughout your piece.

So, like search your document for like every instance of that like nasty word, and like make sure you have it right before like submitting your piece for like publication, like it’s your job or something.

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