Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sudden Realizations and Other Misnomers

by Matt Sinclair

I recently attended a wake for a high school classmate who passed suddenly and way too young. As often happens, the wake became a bit of a reunion with other old friends and dredged up memories good, bad, and potentially litigious.

Later, I thought I could probably write up a short story inspired by the experience. So many scenes could be played: conversations with old classmates in the receiving line; meeting the widower and his sons; waiting for old friends outside the funeral home; drinks and storytelling afterward. Presumably, almost any adult could relate to the situation.

Of course, the universality of the situation has its appeal, but it also is a trap. It's too easy to retell the same story that everyone knows, to scrape the dirt off the same old bones, so to speak. Then again, perhaps you use the death of a friend as part of a novel in which the protagonist is propelled further to some epiphany. It might even be believable if written well.

But doesn't it all seem a bit too convenient? Not the death of my friend, of course. That's a family in the midst of real pain and sorrow. I imagine being the child whose parent died during the summer and starting high school without that rock you took for granted to keep you stable. What if the child's parents had been living apart and now the school year starts in a place with no established friends. What was the relationship between the parent and the child during the separation, and how has it changed?

As writers, we wade through story ideas most every day. Sometimes we pick a shiny one up right away, but more often they wash over us without our ever realizing it. Only later, usually when we're writing, do we net a few of their larvae in the shoals of our subconscious mind and help them germinate into a flash of inspiration. And we often never know who to thank for those ideas, those "sudden" glimpses of what is possible.

What inspires you? Do you memorialize your past, present, and future "yous" and those who've walked with you along the way?

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Battery Brothers, a YA novel by Steven Carman about a pair of brothers playing high school baseball and about overcoming crippling adversity. In December, EBP will publish Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand by R.S. Mellette. Matt also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.


Monday, September 1, 2014

5 Tips to Trim your Writing

by Jemi Fraser

Many beginning writers end up with enormous word counts. (If you want to check out my story, it's over on my blog today).

Trimming Tip #1 -- Adjectives & Adverbs

Cut. Cut. Cut. Sure you need a few adjectives, and sometimes they enhance your prose, but be careful! I'm not an especially visual person or writer, but I was floored when I first learned this tip and realized how many adjectives I had in my draft. Nearly every sentence was sprinkled with writerly words that screamed AMATEUR!

Ditto the above advice for adverbs. It's a little easier to edit for these though. Use that handy-dandy Find tool (CTRL F) and search for 'ly'. We all know not all adverbs end in ly, but many do, and this tool makes it easy to spot them. It also takes you out of the flow of reading the story, which is very important when editing. Often replacing your verb/adverb combination with a stronger/more explicit verb makes your sentence stronger.

Trimming Tip #2 -- Cutting Scenes

Whole scenes. As you're editing, ask yourself about the purpose of the scene. If it's not moving the story along, not increasing the tension or the conflict or the stakes, bring out the sword and slash away. Painful, yes, but maybe you can keep some of them as bonus content for visitors to your website. (Make sure the quality is high, after all, there's a reason you're cutting in the first place!)

Trimming Tip #3 -- Filler Words

We all have them. Some of them are more obvious than others. Once I feel pretty good about a draft, I dump my story into Wordle and eliminate all the proper nouns (right click then delete). The bigger the word, the more times it appears. Then use that CTRL F tool to help you find and eliminate as many as you can.

Some words that often appear as fillers:

just, suddenly, again, eyes, look/looked/looks, seemed/seems, feels/felt, smiles/smiled, really, very, maybe, quite, started to...

Trimming Tip #4 -- Qualifiers

Eliminating words and phrases like 'a bit', 'a little', 'sort of', 'seemed to' 'felt like', can all make your writing stronger and, as an added bonus, make your characters less wishy-washy at the same time. If someone's mad, let him/her be all the way mad!

Trimming Tip #5 -- Echoes

This is my Achilles' heel. As the self-proclaimed Queen of Redundancies, I've literally cut thousands of words by eliminating phrases and sentences where I'm repeating information already provided. Trust your readers not to be idiots, they'll get it the first time. (<-- Which is a great example of a sentence including an echo!)

Trimming the fat out of that draft will do nothing but enhance your story. Don't be afraid of that delete key. If it helps, imagine Legolas or Aragorn at your side, sword in hand, as you slash your way to a stronger story!

Do you enjoy the Slash 'n' Burn rounds of editing?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Writer’s Block: Is it all Just Crap?

by +Denise Drespling


I might be unique in the world of writers. I do not believe in the existence of writer’s block. Oh, I know the days when you don’t want to write, or feel like you can’t, or the idea just isn’t right, or you’re so frustrated with your novel that your finger itches toward the delete button. But there’s one solution to the myth of writer’s block: write.

Write anything. It can be bad. It can be horrible. It can be completely irrelevant to what you should be working on, but you know what? If you’re writing something--an.y.thing--you’re not blocked. Don’t give in to the myth. Don’t let your fear tangle you up. Take your blank page and stuff it (full of words).

On an ironic side note, the day after I wrote this post, guess what I found in my inbox? Two emails from two separate writing blogs, both about writer’s block. Okay, universe, what are you trying to tell me? At first, I actually considered changing my post. I thought, maybe I’ve just been lucky and haven’t suffered from writer’s block. Maybe I’m not being sensitive enough to the dilemmas of my wordly cohorts. Then I read the posts.

Nope. Not a believer.

The thing is, they talked about issues like not having ideas, not being inspired, not having the energy, even having too many ideas to focus (I might suffer from that occasionally). They talked about great solutions: get exercise, use writing prompts, unplug, free write. I’m sure they all work well.

But here’s the thing. That’s not the same as not being able to write. That’s not being able to write well. So, let’s call it what it is. Not writer’s block. It’s writer’s sludge. It’s when all that comes to your mind is crap and all that comes out is crap. Hot, stinky, crap. Like a pile in the corner that the kitten just left. Oh, wait. No, that’s my living room. (Anyone want a kitten?)

Writer’s block, as most people refer to it, is just an excuse. Trust me. I’ve used it. It sounds much more important and sympathy-inspiring than to just admit, I don’t feel like it. If you’re having issues writing, you’re not blocked, you’re sludgy, and you don’t have to be.

Being in an MFA program is a different type of deadline than a publisher or employer breathing down your neck to get it done. It’s the difference between being paid for your writing and knowing that you’re paying for it. I’ve been in the place where I had an assignment of 15 pages due and the last thing I wanted to do was to jump into that world with those characters. But, I had to write, so I wrote something I hated. It was awful. All 15 pages will likely be trashed. I could have claimed I was blocked, but in reality, I was being lazy and bored.

The point is. Those crappy pages led me somewhere. They led me where I knew I didn’t want to go, but they also pointed me in a better direction. Even if you have a deadline where you can’t turn in crap, you can still write the crap first, then make it shine later.

Nora Roberts said, “You can fix anything but a blank page.”

Yup.

Write something, then visit the land of what ifs (which is, btw, also the name of my blog because that's where I spend my time):

Suppose there’s a man crossing the street. What if he trips? What if he bumps into a woman who is/turns out to be the love of his life? Or his ex who broke his heart? What if he found something on the ground? What if he realized he was on the wrong street? What if he got hit by a car?

See. That took me two seconds, but gave me infinite directions to take a story in. Depending on how far you are in your story, you won’t have quite as many options, but there are always options. Go play with them. Before you know it, you’ll have something worth keeping. And if it’s not worth keeping, you’ll know that, too.

Your thoughts? Do you see this, or am I just full of crap? ;)

Denise Drespling is the author of short story, “Reflections,” in the Tales of Mystery, Suspense & Terror anthology (October 2014) and “10 Items or Less,” in 10: Carlow’s MFA Anniversary Anthology (April 2014).

Hang out with Denise at her blog, The Land of What Ifs, or on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Goodreads, or Instagram.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Writer's Guide to Getting Your Sexy Back

by +J. Lea Lopez 

Source
To clarify, the sexy you're getting is for your writing. Sorry, I can’t help you with the real thing. Or maybe I can. But that's not a discussion for this space. Ahem. Focus, please.

Whether you’re writing hardcore erotica, sizzling romance, or just a single scene requiring some Tab A into Slot B action, I’m here to help you put your sexiest foot forward. We're going to focus on the language of the scene.

Let’s face it: it’s very easy to write a bad sex scene. You run the risk of clinically sterile language, or the opposite – coarsely pornographic language. There’s also the potential for unintended comedy. I don’t want that to happen to any of you, so I’ve compiled a few guidelines. Note that I didn’t say rules. It’s up to you to decide if/when to use each of these tips. And fergawdsakes, don’t overdo it with any of them!


More descriptors more sexy


Breasts are not made any more appealing when described as amazingly perky, round, brown sugar-colored globes of desire. Really? Would you say that to your partner, or want it said to you in a moment of passion? ‘Course not. You/they would likely burst into a fit of laughter. It's also important to find the right descriptions. For instance, wet is always preferable to moist. Stick to one, maybe two good descriptors, or let the image stand on its own. This also ties into my next point:

Euphemisms are your enemy


If everyone calls it a cock, there’s probably a good reason. Don’t go trudging through the thesaurus looking for other names for human anatomy. Abandon the aforementioned globes and just call them breasts. Or maybe your character would say tits. Titties and boobies are giggle-worthy and should be avoided at all times, in my opinion.

When in doubt, revert to the standard slang, or DON’T NAME BODY PARTS at all. Yeah, you heard me. She let go a breathy moan as he pushed into her. No need to say what pushed where – we already know.
Here are some tried-and-true anatomical words to use (try not to blush):
  • cock
  • tits
  • ass
  • breasts
  • dick
  • pussy
  • clit
  • nipples (not nips – please don't say nips)
  • cunt
Cunt has become much more mainstream of late, but it's not my personal favorite and I don't think I've ever used it. I rarely even write it because it doesn't hold positive connotations for me. Pussy is weird for me too, but I'll take that over cunt. It takes a very skilled writer to use that word in an erotic context and not make me flinch. That doesn't mean you shouldn't use it, though, if you like it. It's just not for me. I think it even sounds awful. Go ahead, say it out loud (preferably when you’re alone – not on the bus or at work). It’s guttural – all hard consonant sounds. Doesn’t scream sexy to me. Which brings me to my last point for today:

Pay attention to sound


No, not those sounds. Yuck. I’ll leave that for another post. I mean, pay attention to how the words you choose for your scene sound to the ear. I don’t know about you, but even when reading silently to myself, I still hear the words in my head, and, to a lesser extent, feel them in my mouth (oh boy, you’re gonna have a field day with that phrase, I’m sure.)

Never underestimate the sexiness of well-placed alliteration. His thumb slid over the sliver of skin peeking out above the waistband of her jeans. That s sound is just sensual, both to hear and to say, isn’t it?
To me, open, round vowel sounds as well as softer consonant sounds like f, h, and l (to name a few) can be the sexiest. The heat of his breath sends a slow shiver from the nape of her neck to her toes. Mmm, sounds yummy, right?

To contrast, clipped vowels and hard consonant sounds often are less sexy. You’d do well to notice that most of your standard curse words have this characteristic – fuck, shit, bitch, etc. I’m not saying there’ll never be a place for an urgently whispered Fuck me! in your manuscript – there is certainly occasion for something like that. Short, hard-sounding words can convey urgency. But an entire scene, or even just a few sentences, full of those types of words can really kill the mood.

Especially use this guideline any time you’re thinking of some anatomical euphemism. As I mentioned, cunt sounds harsh to me. Words like rod and pole don’t sound particularly sexy either, and even invoke painful images at times. Unless you’re writing some sort of BDSM scene, these are not the images you want to paint in your reader’s mind.

Keep these tips in mind the next time you write a sex scene, and I promise you’ll have something that gets the heat level rising.

Do you have any favorite words that you find super sexy, or words that make you cringe?

J. Lea López is an author who strives to make you laugh at, fall in love with, cry over, and lust after the characters she writes. She welcomes online stalkers as long as they're witty and/or adulatory. Kidding. Maybe. Check for yourself: Twitter, Facebook, Blog. Get help with your sexy scene writing here.
 

Friday, August 22, 2014

What's the Difference Between Independent and Self-Publishing?

by RS Mellette

I've been noticing around the industry lately that people are starting to use the terms "Independent" and "Self" synonymously when it comes to publishing.  I find this quite disturbing, as there is a tremendous difference.  Sure, among the Big Six publishers or the average bookstore owner the variances might be too small to see, but to the writers in the trenches – or the online shoppers – they are worth noting.

A good independent publisher is also a traditional publisher.  What makes them independent is that they are not a part of the Big Six (is it still six?) major houses.  Fine, then what is traditional publishing in the online world?

There are several hallmarks that make a publisher "traditional."  First and foremost, they take no money from the author.  More on that later.  They employ professional editors, which might sometimes be the publisher himself or herself.  They will also employ a copy editor who is not the actual editor.  No one can do a copy or line edit of their own work.  A traditional publisher will also employ a professional artist to design their covers.  And finally, a traditional publisher will generate financial reports for the author according to a pre-agreed upon time table listing income, costs and payments to the author (if any), etc.

Regarding the money, a few decades ago this was an easier puzzle to solve.  If the author was expected to put in any money at all, then the publishing company was disreputable.  If there was no advance, then the publishing company was disreputable.  The author's risk was in the time taken away from his or her life during the writing of the book; the publisher's was in the investing of money into production, distribution and marketing.

For whatever reason, the majors started cutting back on marketing authors, so some writers started putting in their own money to promote both their books and themselves.  Often, the money came from the ever-shrinking advances.  As that has become the norm in major publishing, one cannot fault independently published authors from taking the same route.  But that doesn't change the rule of thumb regarding which way the money should flow in legitimate publishing.  No money should go from the author to the publisher, period.  If a publisher says, "If you hire our publicist, you'll save money," then the author is not dealing with an independent publisher, but a con artist.  The author is not being published independently, but is self-publishing.

On the other hand, if the publisher says, "If you want to go out and hire your own publicist, that's up to you," then that's the same as than the major houses.

What difference does independent or self-publishing make to authors and readers?

No matter how many hired guns a self-publisher brings into polish their work, the bottom line is, the only person willing put in their time and money on the project is the author.  That's generally not a good recommendation.  More on that below.  The best editor in the world can't fix a bad manuscript, and even the best authors can get too close to their work to know if it's any good or not.  But there is no, "We're going to pass on this one" in self-publishing.  Every word, worthy or not, gets printed – or transmitted – and the consumer has no way of knowing what's good and what's not.

Traditional publishing, independent and otherwise, starts with the premise that a book is so good that the house is willing to bet their own money on it.  For independent publishers, it's often literally their own money.  How good does a book have to be for a person to say, "I'm going to dig into my own savings to invest in this stranger's story"? 

Personally, I'm more impressed with that than I am Harper Collins saying, "This is one of the hundreds of books we're going to put our stockholders' money into, and whether it wins or loses we've mitigated our risk by the volume of our library."

The independent publishing approach is also more intriguing than, "I've written a book, and since no one else will publish it, I'm going to put my own money into it." 

I should close this essay by pointing out that I do not mean to speak about the quality of writing on any individual project in any of the three forms of publishing, nor the levels of success, but rather potential quality.  Some absolutely horrible books are published by majors, independents and self-publishing houses every year.  On the other hand, some of the contributors to this blog have made a good living self-publishing extremely high-quality work. 

All I'm saying is that there is a difference between independent and self-publishing and that we who are in the business of words should not causally make them synonymous when they clearly aren't.

Look for R.S. Mellette's new book, Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand in December from the independent publisher, Elephant's Bookshelf Press.  

R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the Spring Fevers, The Fall: Tales of the Apocalypse, and Summer's Edge anthologies.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Facebook for Authors: Page or Profile?

by +J. Lea Lopez

Let's talk about using Facebook as an author. I've gotten a lot of questions from fellow writers who aren't sure how to use Facebook as a tool, what they're supposed to do with it, how exactly they're supposed to do it, and so on. Eventually I plan to do a few posts on some specific how-tos, but in this post I'm going to talk about the differences between interacting with fans/readers through a page versus a profile.

I prefer to use a page, while others prefer to use a profile, and I'm not going to argue which is better or right, because I don't think there's a definitive answer. For a quick look at the differences, you can scroll down for a handy infographic that you're encouraged to share. Keep reading for some more detail and explanation.

Author Profile


If you have a personal profile on Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and family already, then you know how all of that works. Many authors will create additional profiles for their pen names, or even if they don't use a pen name, they'll create a profile for "Author J. Lea López" for the purposes of connecting with fans and having an online presence as their writing selves. It's easy, there's no learning curve because they already know how to use FB in this manner, and they can keep personal details out of their professional timeline and vice versa.

Attending FB events like launch parties and cover reveals and giveaways is easy to do. For event attendees, they get notifications whenever other attendees (who have RSVP'd) post in the event. This is great if you have some people who are waiting for Author You to show up and play games or run a giveaway. They don't have to babysit the event page and keep hitting refresh. Attendees do NOT get a notification when someone posts in the event using their page persona. It might seem like a small detail, but it can be important. Speaking as an attendee at one event, I was confused when I stopped getting notifications for a solid chunk of time, only to realize that the scheduled author was indeed posting in the event, but was doing so as her page persona. I was annoyed I'd missed out on some things.

A profile is a great option if you want to run a street team or a reader's group where you give away ARCs or a secret group to share sexy pictures of cowboys poll readers about what to name your heroine. ;-)

For me, the downsides of using a profile are many. As a reader, I don't personally want to send friend requests to all of the authors whose pages I would like in a heartbeat. There's a certain amount of distance with a page that I'm happy with maintaining. I don't want to share my life with them; I just want to see the fun things they share and learn more about their writing. As an author, I also don't want to share all of my life with my readers. And if you know me, you know I share quite a bit on social media. But I don't want to share everything, and the thought of creating a separate profile to share little more than I'm already doing on my page seems like too much work.

Author Page


When you create a page, you (personal profile you) are the admin for that page and you'll log in to FB with your regular profile when you want to share things from your page. There can be a learning curve and some confusion about how to share what where so it shows up correctly to your fans on your page instead of scaring your dear Aunt Ida with those sexy cowboy photos when you accidentally share them to your family and friends instead of your page. Getting the posting just right can be tricky at first, but at least you don't have to log in and out of different accounts or keep two separate Internet browsers dedicated to two (or more) separate profiles. If you have multiple pen names, you can have multiple pages all accessible from your regular FB profile. And as someone who does a huge amount of social media sharing via mobile devices, it's much easier to manage multiple pages in a single app than it is to manage multiple profiles.

You can send and receive messages from readers with a page the same as you would with a profile, and people can also post to your page publicly. There's still plenty of room for two-way communication with a page. There's no reader apprehension about "Does this author really want me to friend them? Is that too intrusive? Will they accept my request?" and no author apprehension about "What kind of person is this that I'm friending? Are they going to post things I hate? Will I have to hide them from my feed or unfriend them at some point?" Plus it's just super easy to click the Like button.

It's no secret that FB has narrowed the organic reach of pages, which is partially why I suspect a lot of people are using profiles instead, but there are some techniques you can use to broaden your reach whenever you post from your page. Hashtags, time of day, types of post, etc can help ensure that more of the people who've liked your page actually see the content. It's yet another learning curve. However, you do get some analytics with a FB page that you don't get with a profile that can help you target your audience better. The stats aren't perfect, but you'll get information about the overall reach and engagement of each of your posts, and you can look at that data in historic graphs to help you understand which of your posts perform better. You don't get any of that with a profile.

Of course, there's also the old-fashioned way of reaching more people: paying for it. You can pay to promote a public post on a profile, but that $6.99 goes toward pushing that post to the top of your friends' newsfeeds. It will ensure more of the people you're already friends with have seen the post, but that doesn't mean anyone else will. As a page, you can pay to boost a post with a budget as small as $5, and you can target by age, location, gender, and interests, meaning you have a better chance of making new connections and getting new fans.

A public profile is great for extensive networking, maintaining groups, planning and attending events, and connecting with readers in a format you're likely already familiar with. A page is great for sharing things with readers while maintaining some distance, analyzing the effectiveness of your posts, targeting paid FB promotion, and having access to all of your personas in one place. It's up to you to decide which you think is the best fit for you.

Here's that infographic I promised, which I made (for free!) using Piktochart. Feel free to share it around! (click to enlarge)


If you have one, do you prefer using a public Facebook profile or a page to connect with readers? If you don't, which do you think would work best for you?

J. Lea López is an author who strives to make you laugh at, fall in love with, cry over, and lust after the characters she writes. She welcomes online stalkers as long as they're witty and/or adulatory. Kidding. Maybe. Check for yourself: Twitter, Facebook, Blog.