Author of Dark Fiction
Category Archives: Writer’s Craft
This blog post will be the first in a series of marketing tips for writers. In promoting my book, Cevin’s Deadly Sin, I wanted to hone in on what works in our digital age for reaching the widest audience. Out with the book signings where you might reach a couple of people. In with trying to get reviewed by an online journal that has the potential to reach thousands of people.
First of all, we’re no longer “marketing,” we’re finding our target audience and providing content that interests those people. It’s the idea of providing value and building a community, rather than hard-selling your book.
Marketing Tip #1: Deconstruct the Marketing Approach of a Similar Novel:
Choose a book that is similar to yours and do a search to see how the publisher marketed the book. First of all, choose a successful, well-known book, then take a look at the following:
- Who reviewed this book? Send review requests to those reviewers. “Since you enjoyed X book, I thought you might like to read and review mine.” Don’t ignore the power of the book bloggers. They have helped to boost the careers of many indie authors.
- Where do interviews for the book’s author appear? Send interview requests to those sites.
- Did the author write any blog posts? Generate a list of possible topics and send a relevant one to that blog. Blogs and journals are always looking for content.
- Do a search for articles about books that share your target audience. Write to the article’s author and ask her if she’d be interested in reading your book. This has worked very well for me and actually generated some recommendations for other reviews.
- Make note of web pages that appeal to your target audience and interact with them by offering to write articles, join chat groups, etc.
- Keep a simple spreadsheet of your contacts. That’s the only way of keeping it all straight.
These steps seem simple, yet they accomplish a wonderful goal—finding your target audience. I’ve found that by performing these steps, I’m connecting with people who want to read what I’ve written. And I’m building a base of readers for my future books.
Do you have any marketing tips you’d like to share?
Platform-Get Noticed in a Noisy World, by Michael Hyatt is a really excellent book about developing your platform, and though it’s not specifically geared toward writers, I found that there were a lot of ideas I could use for my writing.
For example, he has an interesting take on writing blog posts. Use a blog post template, with the following elements: Lead paragraph, Relevant image, Personal experience, Main body, and end with a Discussion question in order to encourage responses.
He recommends making video interviews of other authors and post them to your blog. Send the interview ahead of time, and record the interview through Skype.
Post your own videos in which you speak about various aspects of writing or of your books.
Create a public speaking tab on your website:
- Have a “check my availability” button. This is less presumptuous than a “book me” button.
- Post a one-minute welcome video.
- Did you know that there is iPad teleprompter software? It is HDi Pro2.
- Include a photo of yourself speaking
Hyatt tells us to Kiss Marketing Goodbye. Marketing is dead. Tribe-building is the new marketing. It’s about participating in a dialogue with fellow travelers and building relationships.
- Discover your passion.
- Volunteer to lead.
- Be generous. When you lead by serving and giving, people follow.
- Provide a way to communicate.
Write informative guest posts on other people’s blogs.
Offer to give away a free e-book in exchange for people signing your mailing list.
He emphasizes the importance of using Twitter to build your brand. Some useful tips are:
- Customize your Twitter page with your photo, info about you and a link to your blog or web page.
- Comment on and re-tweet other people’s posts.
- Keep your posts short enough to re-tweet.
- Post often, but don’t over-promote. Offer interesting content to your readers
Become an Amazon Associate and use an affiliate code in links to your own books. This generates extra income every time someone buys one of your books through your link.
Hyatt offered some ideas for novelists, such as:
- Post excerpts from your novels.
- Backstory your novel: why you wrote it, how did you settle on the story, did you do any research.
- Behind the scenes look at what the life of a novelist is like.
- Write “directors notes” for your book: why you chose to start with a particular scene, did you have to delete or add scenes to improve the story
- Interview your editor: Ask your editor what her day-to-day job is like, what’s it like to work with writers, get stories about best and worst experiences, what prompted her to get into the business
Hyatt has many more ideas and recommendations that are applicable to writers. This book is a great read for anyone interested in developing and building a platform, and I’d highly recommend it.
I’m just realizing that I’ve never written a post about the “Cellar Door Anthology” in which one of my stories is published. Edited by Shawna L. Bernard, the book is a compilation of tales of beauty and terror about what may lie beyond the cellar door.
I wanted to write something involving weird architecture for this anthology. My result was my short story, “What Grows In Between.”
My inspiration for this story came from doing research on the Dupli House, which is located in Marbach, Germany. It was in disrepair and had to be torn down. Here’s a photo of the original house.
The architectural firm of J. Mayer Arquitectos took on the task of building a new modern house in the footprint of the old house. Actually, they came up with a new footprint by duplication and rotation of the out line of the old house:
The result is breathtaking:
I thought, what if the spirit of the old house wanted to come through the framework of the new. That idea gave birth to my story, “What Grows In Between.”
Here’s the synopsis: Emily and Daniel have ditched high-powered jobs for a more low-key life. Though Daniel actually prefers more traditional architecture, Emily falls in love with an ultra-modern house that is situated out in the woods in Massachusetts. They’ve been waiting all their lives for this. He’s going to start painting and she’s going to do freelance architecture from home. That was the plan, but when the house grows an old-style cellar door, they start to realize that it has motives of its own.
The following is an excerpt from a review written by Dr. Robert Curran, psychologist and author of several works on folklore and the paranormal:
“There are some places in my mind where I seldom go. They are rooms of imagination, impression and memory that are often better left undisturbed because they are full of old fears and terrors which still have the power to grip me. They are better off left to moulder behind locked doors. This anthology tells me that I’m not alone in this respect.
“There are too many stories and poems within this anthology to review comprehensively–and I’m not going to try–but each one reflects the horror of some dark world, lying around the foot of the descending cellar steps or up in that shuttered attic. And they are brilliantly illustrated in paintings and drawings which are evocative of each tale.
“This is definitely a book for the winter, when the nights are dark and the wind makes strange houses through the house. It is a book to be savoured and shuddered at. It will take you to places in your mind where you really shouldn’t go.”
What makes a best selling novel? James W. Hall, a creative-writing professor and crime novelist, did a study of “megabestsellers,” and found that they all share 12 common elements — to such a degree, in fact, that they are all “permutations of one book, written again and again for each new generation of readers.” You’ll find some of the elements surprising.
1. An Offer You Can’t Refuse:
- Plot is high concept and can be stated in a log line (which can also be called the dramatic question.)
- Protagonists have emotional intensity that results in gutsy and surprising deeds. They act decisively.
- Pity and fear are the great emotional engines for tragedy.
- The character has an intense commitment to his or her cause.
- Backstory is minimal. References to the past are pared-down to essential information.
- There is a serious threat of danger or failure. Some form of peril, physical or psychological, appears within the early pages of the novel. Red flags are planted.
- There is a ticking clock.
2. Hot buttons:
- Find hot topics that are perennials. It must express some larger, deep-seated, and unresolved conflict in the national consciousness
- Examples are: women making it in a man’s world, small-town morality, sexploitation, exploration of the illicit side of family life, religion vs. secular humanism, evildoers, military secrets, and greed.
3. The Big picture (Scope):
- The main characters should be the embodiment of people of their era.
- Address the ways in which men and women work out their destinies within large groups and communities rather than alone.
- A small story told against a sweeping backdrop.
- Characters are not self-absorbed or contemplative.
- Stories on a large scale that feature a wide assortment of social classes.
- Social mobility; racial, gender, and class fairness; the struggles and triumphs of the poor set alongside similar conflicts of the powerful.
4. The Golden Country:
- America-as-paradise shapes mega best sellers.
- Sense that childhood innocence can’t last.
- The Golden Country is a blend of place and time.
- A nostalgic, wistful zone, a faraway Shangri-la pulses at the core of best sellers,
- A vague awareness that something crucial slipped away when we weren’t looking, our childhood, our purity, our dreams, our sexual innocence, our national idealism.
- Nearly every character will go through a shift of awareness, whatever illusions they once held are eventually stripped away.
- We are all skating on slippery ice.
5. Nothing But the Facts Ma’am:
- Large doses of information make the novel seem real. Seduces the reader into suspending disbelief.
- Audiences are hungry for information.
6. Secret Societies:
- Expose the inner workings of a secret society.
- A secret society is any group that has isolated itself from the rest of the world by creating a collection of rules, rites, sacraments or covert behaviors that reinforces its separation from the larger population.
- This can be a secret society of two, such as a love story.
- Conspiracy or secrets. A series of Chinese boxes. Open one and you have another.
- We have a natural suspicion of institutions.
7. Bumpkin Versus Slickers:
- A central character sets off on a journey that takes her from rustic America into turbulent urban landscapes or vice versa.
- The hero’s journey. A character is called to adventure.
- “Fish out of water” story.
8. God is Great, or is He?
- Best sellers often critique orthodox religious practice and the dangers of zealotry.
- Hypocrisy is often outed.
- Main character often doubts his faith or loses faith.
9. American Dream/American Nightmare:
- Person achieves the American dream, but finds it hollow.
- The dark side of the American dream
- Immigrant narrative.
- Character raises herself by her bootstraps.
10. A Dozen Mavericks:
- The heroes are rebels, loners, misfits or mavericks. They reject the pressures and deadening effects of conformity and strike out for new territory.
- Sometimes they want a normal life but are forced otherwise by circumstances.
- Books, reading, writing, and literary references are an important story element.
11. Fractured families:
- In each of the twelve novels, a member of a broken family finds an ingenious way to transcend his or her crazy stress.
- We mostly all come from dysfunctional families, so we can relate to them.
12. The Juicy Parts:
- One key sexual encounter plays a decisive role in the outcome of the plot and the transformation of the protagonist.
- The sexual moment stirs a watershed event, but tends to be more life altering for the female than for the male.
It isn’t really that we’re going to try to fit all of these elements into the novels we’re writing, but it is interesting to think about, and I did get some inspiration for my work in progress by reading James W. Hall’s book, Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers.
I feel like I had a successful binge. My Day One total was 15,000 words, but I had written the beginning chapters and some of the middle.
My Day Two was the least productive with 5,600 words, but I had some distractions and ended up writing mostly at Starbucks.
Day Three, my day at Tampa Airport, turned out to be very productive. I wrote 7,000 words, but more than that, I had some interesting turns of events in my novel. Some relationships emerged that I didn’t know were there, and one of the characters turned out to be somebody quite different than I thought he was in the beginning.
Though I did follow my outline, I found myself filling in with scenes I hadn’t planned before. I subconsciously knew I had to get in some backstory or add plants for things that will come later on in the book. As these weren’t written down anywhere, they came from my subconscious.
This is the advantage of binge writing. The writing is organic and all one piece. The story doesn’t have time to get cold. It’s all right there in your head.
During my first 3 day writing binge I naively believed that I could complete a novel in 3 days. It’s obvious to me now that that isn’t going to happen, but at close to 30,000 words I now have a damned good start.
I don’t think I drove myself quite as hard this time. I took more care in forming my sentences and paragraphs, and sometimes I’d go back and correct things. Now I know that finishing my novel in that time frame isn’t the point. The point is getting into that white-hot creative state that will propel me to the end of the book.
If any of you are thinking of doing a writing binge, and have the time to do it, I would highly recommend it.
This is the poem, The Thin People. It’s hard to read, but if you click on it, it’s more legible.
This is day one of my three-day writing binge for my new novel, The Thin People. This novel is my homage to Sylvia Plath. (The Thin People is a famous poem of hers.) That, combined with my love of alternate dimensions, doppelgangers and houses that have different dimensions on the outside than on the inside will make this an entertaining write for me. This is also exciting for me because it’s my official return to horror! Yay!
Here’s my blurb: A failed anorexic who’s obsessed with Sylvia Plath finds herself living out the details of Plath’s poem, “The Thin People,” when she discovers shadow people from another dimension coming through a vortex in her backyard.
I’ve completed my mental preparation, which is to get psyched and think generally positive thoughts.
I’ve completed my writing preparation, which is:
- Come up with ideas for a story.
- Research, but don’t get bogged down
- Create a log line
- Keep a story bible with character sketches, locations and important facts.
- Write the back story.
- Write biographies for the main characters.
- Figure out your opening and closing images.
- Outline the story in detail. This means that all of my scenes are outlined.
- Write the first chapter.
I’ve done some of the physical prep such as stocking up on food, but I didn’t go as crazy on the cleaning and organizing part, finding it not that necessary.
Doing a writing binge when I’m just beginning a novel gives me a jump-start, and lets me feel as though I’ve accomplished something quickly.
But now I need to stop blogging and start writing!
In preparation for teaching a workshop on binge writing at the Seton Hill University “In Your Write Mind” writing conference June 21-24, 2012, I decided to interview several authors who have had binge writing experience.
Today’s interview is with Leslie Davis Guccione, author of The Chick Palace. She was also my mentor while I was going through Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction MFA program. She was an inspiring mentor and believe me, I will never use “floating body parts” or use “like” instead of “as” again.
What do you write?
Women’s fiction but this question applies to my years writing series romances for harlequin/silhouette and mid-grade and YA mostly for Scholastic.
Why does having an intensive writing period work for you? How did you become a binge writer?
Juggling fiction with reality (3 kids and 2 house restorations). One foot always on the starting line.
Fine tuned my imagination and tried to have much of whatever scene I was going to tackle already in my head. <–took practice but getting the opening in my head first keeps me on track.
Do you outline?
In the days of selling romances via three chapters and synopsis, I’d expand the synopsis to a rough outline, but that often meant I’d outline the immediate chapters ahead of me/go back and flesh it out. Outline the next chapters, etc. (I can’t believe I’m admitting this.) And I used nothing more sophisticated than paper and pencil so I’d have that to look simultaneously.
For my current work I do some of the same but the notebook/pencil is to give my hands a break. I also keep a three ring binder. Since I freelance edit and mentor as many as 7/10 students I need the physical break from the constant pounding on the keyboard and staring at the screen. No carpal tunnel but tendonitis flares up. (and I’m faithful about finger and hand stretching)
All this is done in good old Microsoft Word, btw, but I’ve JUST won a Scrivener package so we’ll see how that goes.
What other things do you do to prepare? Stock up on food, unplug from Internet, get into a special mind-set, etc.
Sad to admit it was more like the opening to Romancing the Stone: no food, no kleenex, no toilet paper. Wrote like a maniac the minute the school bus left.
Do you go away or do you write at home?
Home but in every house, I’ve always had a dedicated office. (for taxes and had to have a space with a door that shut.)
How do these sessions make you feel? Exhilarated? Tired? Satisfied? Frustrated?
<– Every one and often irritated when words finally worked but the clock ran out.
Do you complete a draft of an entire novel during this period?
Yes, plowing forward to get anything at all down. Revision is so much easier when there’s something to work against.
What’s your process for editing your draft?
Post-it notes and using colored fonts within the manuscript to identify places I want to get back to.
Anything else you’d like to say about binge writing?
If you wait for your muse you’ll never get a thing finished. Plus this career is based on deadlines and contracts from selling three chapters and an outline. I’ve never had the luxury of writing a full novel then placing it, rather, I placed the partial and then had to write it.
Would you like to give us a short bio, URL, novels available?
I’ve written 31 novels since 1986. Romance, romantic suspense; Hear No Evil series for Scholastic as Kate Chester. Tell Me How the Wind Sounds, and Come Morning – multiple awards for Kidlit.
I took a ten year break to teach and Dec 26th my agent placed The Chick Palace with B&N “nook first” it hit #1 and stayed in the top 10 for 2 weeks and stayed a bestseller for 4 weeks including “staff choice”. Now it’s also on Amazon.
You can learn more about Leslie at http://lesliedavisguccione.blogspot.com/
I’ve lately become fascinated with the idea of binge writing. Hole up for three days, write like a maniac and come up with the draft of a novel. Why not? I’m going to be giving a workshop in binge writing at the Seton Hill University “In Your Write Mind” writing conference June 21-24, 2012. While I was doing research for my class, my friend, Lynne Hansen, suggested that I contact Emily Asad who has been making a practice of binge writing for several years. I sent her some interview questions, and she gave me answers that were better than anything I’d hoped for. Here is Emily’s interview:
What do you write?
I write for young adults, mostly between the ages of 13-18. I’ve had to learn to become an intensive writer because of my husband, whose big line is “But I married you so I could spend time with you…” How do you fight that? Being an author is a lonely and solitary business, when it comes down to it, so I suppose it’s a bit of betrayal in a way. In order to minimize his pain, I’ve learned to knock out entire novels in about two to three weeks, at a word count somewhere between 45-60,000 words. I simmer throughout the year, and then I purge when I get a solid chunk of free time.
Why does having an intensive writing period work for you? How did you become a binge writer?
I’m a high school English teacher, so having summers off really works well for me. Stephen King says a good writer should a thousand words every day, but I doubt my hubby would let me have that time! Nor would my 18-month old daughter, or my 8-year-old daughter, who need my attention almost every minute of the day until they go to bed. However, I do have five minutes to myself throughout the day. While that is not enough to sustain a mood or put together an entire scene, it is enough to jot down my thoughts on some sticky notes. In fact, I’ve developed a pretty simple system over the years. Though it seems elaborate at first, it’s really logical.
What do you do, writing-wise-to prepare for your binge writing sessions? Do you have an already prepared outline?
My system involves about 30 4×6 notecards, several pads of small and medium sticky notes, and a large gem clip. I carry the sticky notes with me wherever I go (napkins get wet at restaurants and receipts get lost). For Phase One, I take notes. Whenever I think of something I want in my novel – dialogue, something to research, a personality trait – I write it on my sticky note. All the sticky notes go on one notecard; I’ll sort them out later when I get a chance. I don’t censor anything and I don’t change anything until I get to Phase Two. That’s when I take a look at all the sticky notes I’ve collected over the year (or sometimes it’s just a few months, since I might have Thanksgiving or Christmas or Spring Break). I set them out in neat little rows and columns on a flat surface (the kitchen table works well, though I usually only get a few hours before someone else needs to use it… the kids insist on being fed every few hours, you know…). After I’ve had a look at all the notes I’ve collected, I try to put them into some sort of order. I cluster them by theme or effect, and I put each cluster on notecards. If I don’t like where a scene ends up, I can remove it and put it on another notecard. This way, none of my ideas get lost, and I can move them around as needed.
What other things do you do to prepare? Stock up on food, unplug from Internet, get into a special mind-set, etc.?
Sometimes the organizing part takes a few hours, or sometimes it takes days. I don’t worry about the little details; as long as I have enough ideas to get my characters from one point to the next, I can come up with the fillers as I type. I can also move entire notecard-chapters around as needed. It’s such freedom from the old notebooks I used to use, where I’d have to tear out the pages or re-write my notes onto a new location. I adore my sticky note method!
Phase Three is the writing part. This is where I put on the Cranky Face and use the Vicious Voice; if I don’t, my family would never leave me alone. I mean, if the girls walk in on me while I’m in the bathroom, think about how they can ruin the mood when I’m deep in thought! So I make it very clear to them that I need some time to myself. I’ve often considered checking into a hotel or living at Starbucks, but I’ve never gone through with that plan. So I end up in my closet. We’re talking about the coat closet at the front of the house, the one that’s about four feet by six feet and smells like wet feet. I light a candle in there, or maybe put out some vanilla or coffee beans, and then I shove all the coats to one side so I can I haul my comfy office chair to the other. It’s claustrophobic, but it’s exactly what I need. I get to be alone with my thoughts. No distractions, not even a window. Just me, my laptop, and my notes. Then I’m ready to settle down to business.
Before I write each day, I eat a really good breakfast. In fact, I take better care of my body when I write than any other time of year. Writing is exhausting! Holding still is hard enough, and numb fingers are worse, but I get headaches from staring at the screen for too long or from thinking so hard. Breakfast usually includes whole wheat toast with honey or jelly, eggs, and 4 ounces of orange juice. I save the coffee for the afternoon when I start to falter. I hate mornings, so it’s good if I can start writing by 9:00. Any earlier, and I’m not really awake. Any later, though, and I waste my first and freshest energy. I treat myself to a 10 or 15-minute lunch of whatever I’m hungry for, do some stretching and walking around, and then go back to sit. I might even juggle some beanbags or clubs, just to get the blood pumping after all that sitting. Also, I read somewhere that creative brains require sugar. Whether it’s true or not, it’s a great excuse to snack on some Godiva Dark Chocolate pearls! On top of that, I keep string cheese, walnuts and apples nearby.
By the “end of the day,” meaning whenever I can’t focus anymore or whenever my family insists on my presence (whichever comes first), I’ve usually written 2 chapters of about 3,000 words each. I don’t stop until I’ve finished the chapter, though, or else I lose momentum.
The next day, I re-read what I wrote and see if it made sense. Not only does this give me a chance to recapture my momentum, but I can do some quick edits before I start on the next chapters.
Now, we all know that nobody knows the characters until they’re written, which is true, but by the time I get around to writing them down on paper after thinking about them all year, there aren’t usually too many surprises. Even so, there’s always something I didn’t calculate. I wouldn’t say I get “writer’s block,” but sometimes I have trouble connecting my scenes. If that happens, I’ll go clean something (a sink, the floor, maybe even do some laundry) so my family doesn’t think I’ve completely checked out on them. But I try not to talk to anyone because I can’t deal with their problems when I’m creating my own world filled with problems. I live in silence and self-imposed solitude while I’m writing.
Do you complete a draft of an entire novel during this period? What’s your process for editing your draft?
After about two or three weeks, I’m done with a full-length novel. It’s a rough draft, of course, but I’ll edit it throughout the year, mostly on weekends when my hubby’s watching soccer or when my daughters are taking naps. I like finishing them so quickly because it’s easier for me to stay consistent. I’ve found that when I take my time and stretch out the writing over months, every show I watch or book I read or article I research tends to affect my style, characters or plot, and then the beginning doesn’t quite match the end. When I crunch, everything matches. Even though the characters or situations may evolve or change direction when I put them down on actual paper, my preliminary research stays steady.
I’m getting faster every year. My first novel, The Jester of Corona, took me about a year to complete. My quickest, The Dollhouse Romance, took 13 days. My best one, Code Name: Whatever, took five months to write and ten years to edit; it was just released on Amazon.com in e-book and print. Of the twelve novels I’ve completed, however, I’d say I average between two and three weeks. Even so, binge writing sometimes has its down side. I get prideful that I can finish a novel so quickly, so when something takes longer, I feel frustrated or stupid. There’s always the question of “Can I write something in 12 days? 11? 10?” and it’s unnecessary pressure that I can’t shake. There’s always a little voice pushing me to write faster and better. I try to ignore it and focus on telling the best story I can, no matter how long it takes. My latest novel, as yet unpublished and still in the editing process, took 27 days spread over 5 months; I was only able to snag a few hours of writing time during that period of life, so I had to be patient. Still, it’s an immense relief when I finish the writing part! I feel tired, drained, and happy. But never finished. I suppose my novels will never truly be finished; there’s always something to edit, add, change, or rearrange, but I’m learning how to move on to the next project without looking back.
All in all, binge writing works for me. I’m not disciplined to get up early in the morning before the kids are awake, and my evening time is sacred for my hubby and me. So summer vacation or Spring Break are a natural option. If anyone wants to try binge writing, I’d tell them to be organized and know what they want to say, even if they don’t quite know how to say it. And don’t pressure yourself to get it done; just use your time wisely and stay motivated.
Best of luck to my fellow dreamers!
Emily Asad is the author of: The Jester of Corona, The Juggler’s Journey, Destination Paraguay, Survival in Style, and Code Name: Whatever. Visit her web page at www.emilyasad.com. Find her books at www.smashwords.com or www.amazon.com.
“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Ray Bradbury
If you haven’t read Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, do so. It’s a rare treat and quite inspirational.
As a kid I was mesmerized by Bradbury’s magical writing. A master at drawing people into the fictive dream, he was my first inspiration for being a writer. That’s what I aspire to most in my writing–enveloping readers into my imaginary worlds. I think that’s what really attracts and holds an audience. Plus, he always uses beautiful language. I go to his books regularly when I want to call up the muse.