Friday, October 30, 2009

Craig Lancaster Guests - Part 3

Be sure to leave a comment to qualify for the third book drawing. We'll announce winners and contact information on Sunday!
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THE BOOK GOES TO RIVERBEND
By Craig Lancaster

I originally contacted Riverbend Publishing, a regional house in Helena, Montana, in the earliest days of the self-published version of 600 Hours of Edward in the hopes that I might be able to strike a distribution deal. Chris Cauble, the president, gave me the skinny on how such an arrangement might work and asked me to send along a review copy.

As the weeks dragged on and my book started to gain some traction in my market, I followed up with a note to Chris in which I expressed chagrin at my crude early version of the book and told him of the updates and the response to the book. I suggested that I remained interested in a distribution deal but that an even better arrangement might be Riverbend's picking up the book. Cheeky, no?

Weeks later came his initial note of interest, in which he said he would have some more people take a look. Then, on August 3, he wrote to me and asked if I wanted to continue to be the publisher or if I was interested in a contract with Riverbend. I told him that I welcomed being put out of the business of securing ISBNs and contracting with printers and such. A few days after that, we had a deal. My book would get a new cover and a new book block under a new publisher. Basically, a new life.

The book was fast-tracked for the fall list. I had about a week to do one last pass with the manuscript, and I scurried around securing a new round of blurbs. I submitted a marketing plan, and I went through the laborious process of taking the self-published version down -- off Amazon and CreateSpace, off IndieReader.com and Jexbo and Smashwords, off my Web site and out of the bookstores here in Billings.

I sometimes wonder if I was too hasty in self-publishing my book, if it would have had a less chaotic trip to a traditional publisher if I had just been patient and ridden out the queries. In the end, though, I don't have many regrets, save for some of the foibles in getting the book to look as professional as I wanted it to. While the low barrier to a printed book these days causes some consternation among pockets of the literati, the flip side is that there’s one more avenue for writers to find their way to readers. Some prefer the independent route and have no desire to be picked up by a bigger house. Others, like me, see it as a means to an end. It's not as if the fundamental facts of being an author have changed for me. My book is still going to rise or fall on its merits and on the basis of how hard I work on its behalf. What I'm getting is a new opportunity to venture out into the world with a book that's become an old friend.

And that is pretty cool.
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To enter into a drawing for a copy of the book, go to Craig's website and sign-up for his mailing list.

Or simply buy 600 Hours of Edward on Amazon.com


You can also visit his blog by clicking here.


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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Craig Lancaster Guests - Part 2


MISADVENTURES IN SELF-PUBLISHING
By Craig Lancaster

When I originally published my novel through CreateSpace, I did it in the crudest way possible. I used CreateSpace's pre-made templates to build a cover that, in retrospect, screamed “sloppy self-pub job.” I formatted the inside pages haphazardly in Word, with vast spaces between the lines. (True story: Later, when I reconfigured the interior, the book went from 342 pages to 256 just because I tightened up the leading.) I did a less-than-careful edit, resulting in my missing dropped words and backward quote marks and other such signs of an amateur at work. And I unleashed this book on the public! Oh, the retroactive shame.

Slowly, though, I found my footing. A professor at Montana State Billings, Sue Hart, let me talk with her creative-writing class and helped me make some contacts. Local writers were generous with their advice and direction. Eventually, as encouragement and response to my book built, I started trying to place it with an agent and then, I hoped, a publisher.

While querying agents -- a process that remains unfulfilled; I am, as yet, without representation -- I also set about recasting my book. It got two new covers. I edited the book block three or four times. In a few short months, the book became something indistinguishable from the offerings of major houses, at least in appearance. Meanwhile, I was reading everything I could about marketing and the business end of publishing. I began actively seeking out reviews. I resolved to speak to any civic group or arts festival that would have me. Slowly, more people started reading my little book and suggesting it to others.

The entire time, queries kept going out and rejections kept coming back. Some of them were really lovely -- handwritten notes praising the story but wondering where it fit -- and that soothed the sting as much as being told "no" can be soothed.

Just about the time I figured that the book now known as 600 Hours of Edward would remain forever self-published, and as I was nearing the finish line on my second novel and preparing it for its own round of queries, I got a note from Riverbend Publishing in Helena, Montana, expressing interest in my book. The president, Chris Cauble, said he wanted some other people to read it first.
“This will take some time,” he wrote to me.
I wrote back: “Take all the time you need.”

At this point, I really didn't think anything would come of it, and I had moved my hopes for being published to the new manuscript I was working on. I was wrong. More on that in the final installment.
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To enter into a drawing for a copy of the book, go to Craig's website and sign-up for his mailing list.

Or simply buy 600 Hours of Edward on Amazon.com


You can also visit his blog by clicking here.


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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Craig Lancaster Guests - Part 1

Now that I'm neck-deep in the world of books -- a fairly successful (but stumble-filled) self-publishing experience behind me and the launch of my novel, 600 Hours of Edward, with a mainstream publisher just days away -- I'm a bit awed to think back to where I was on the brink of November 2008.

My friend Jim Thomsen had pitched the idea of trying National Novel Writing Month together, to see if either or both of us could finally break through and write the novels we had always talked about writing. I spent a couple of days before the event conceiving a story and writing a very loose outline of where I wanted it to go. In hindsight, I trace my success in finishing to that outline, crude as it was. I've been a journalist for more than 20 years, and thus most of my writing had never ventured far beyond 1,500 words. The idea of setting down 80,000 or so seemed preposterous. The outline, which I'd never attempted before, served as my trail of breadcrumbs through the woods.

I knew I would be writing quickly, and so I came up with a character (Edward Stanton) stricken with Asperger syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder, whose heavily regimented life revolved around a few key touchstones (his love of the old color episodes of the ’60s cop show Dragnet and his compulsion to record weather data and daily waking times and to write nightly letters of complaint that never get sent). Those habits, which would show up chapter after chapter, gave me a framework, and I built a story arc in the spaces in between.

On Nov. 1, 2008, I started writing. On Nov. 24 -- 79,000 words later -- I finished. I can revisit my stats page at the NaNoWriMo site now and see just how maniacal I was. On Day One, I set down nearly 6,000 words. I then took a couple of days off. I doubled my total on Day 4 and then rested again. After that, I settled into a rhythm of 3,000-plus words a day. On Day 22, I wrote more than 9,000, shooting from 63,000 to 72,000 and bringing the end within view.

When I returned to the manuscript a couple of weeks after finishing, I didn't hate it. So I spent December and into January editing and recasting. Because Edward, my protagonist, is such an exacting fellow and so beholden to patterns, I took a hammer to every florid phrase and recast it in his flat, matter-of-fact voice. I winced at the loss of some nice turns of phrase, but in sum, the story improved.

Still, I wasn't quite sure if it was any good. I decided, then, to simply publish it myself through CreateSpace (the low cost of entry and the access to Amazon were big selling points). I figured that I had written a novel, that if nothing else my circle of friends might enjoy it, and that I would dip a toe into publishing.

That decision -- so naive, so dumb and so simple-minded -- changed the way I came to view my prospects as an author and as an independent publisher. More on that in the next installment.
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To enter into a drawing for a copy of the book, go to Craig's website and sign-up for his mailing list.

Or simply buy 600 Hours of Edward on Amazon.com


You can also visit his blog by clicking here.


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Monday, October 26, 2009

Can You Define Good Writing?

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There’s been quite a discussion lately on a readers listserv about good and bad writing — sparked by a discussion about Dan Brown, the mega-selling author who no one has ever called a good writer and some have said a lot worse about.

Everyone seems to agree that bad writing is easy to define:
  • awkward phrasing
  • repetitiveness
  • wordiness
  • blandness
  • vagueness and confusion
  • clichés
  • flat, one-dimensional characters
  • self-indulgent description and/or philosophizing
  • hard-to-swallow events
The debate is about what exactly constitutes good writing and the subset discussion: Can you actually define good writing or is it entirely a subjective judgment? Some say good writing has a list of known qualities, yet when pressed, they failed to offer a list of those qualities. Others say good writing is simply the absence of all the attributes that define bad writing. Still others insist it is more than that, yet they can’t agree on the qualities. (This reminds me of the Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who said about pornography, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”)

Some readers think the ability to write an effective description is a trait of good writing. Yet other readers dislike and/or skip descriptions. Some say good writing is poetic, but many readers don’t like poetry and would prefer to read Louis L’Amour or Elmore Leonard. And what exactly is a “nice turn of phrase”? Could you get a handful of people to agree that a certain group of words was a nice turn of phrase?

After giving this much thought, I’ve come up with this vague, but functional description of good writing: Writing that does not draw attention to itself as writing, but pulls you along smoothly, eager to read more.

I know some of you can do better than that? What is good writing? Does it have a universal set of qualities? Can you name some?
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L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist, editor, novelist, and occasional standup comic based in Eugene, Oregon. She is the author of the highly praised mystery/suspense novel, The Sex Club, and her new Detective Jackson story, Secrets to Die For, has just been released. Her third Jackson story, Thrilled to Death, will be published next summer. When not plotting murders, Sellers enjoys cycling, hanging out with her family, and editing fiction manuscripts. Contact her at: Write First, Clean Later.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Creating Fictional Villians

Great villains often make great novels. Your protagonist will be measured by the strength and cunning of her antagonist. Indeed, since the villain is often the prime mover of the plot, his motivations become crucial.

In The Silence of the Lambs, Agent Clarice Starling must figure out the motivations and thought processes of two different serial killers, Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill. Sherlock Holmes requires a Moriarty; Superman, his Lex Luthor; Batman, his Joker; Bond, his Blofeld; and Luke Skywalker, his Darth Vader. Without the villains, there would be nothing for the hero to do.

Some authors, realizing that their most creative efforts are going into devising a fascinating, complex villain, simply make their villain the protagonist, alá Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, the heyday of the anti-hero and the villain-hero. The Man with No Name from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, the Submariner, and Dr. Doom, Michael Moorcock’s wonderful characters, Jerry Cornelius and Elric of Melniboné, are all characters who violate traditional heroic templates or are actual villains. Alex, the evil protagonist of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, comes across as more authentic and stylish, than the hypocritical and tawdry culture that surrounds him, a lithe tiger in a culture of pigs. (Actually this contrast is emphasized more in Kubrick’s film.) Alex is heroic in a Byronic, rather than moral sense.

The “rules” for writing a great villain are much the same as writing any other complex character. Their inner motivations must be complex and a believable product of a convincing back-story. They will usually display character traits that would be admirable if their motives were pure. They might display superb self-control over their emotions, or a remarkable stamina, brilliance, focus, or determination. They often spend hard years honing their talents in the service of their ultimate goal of world domination, or overcome hurdles with heroic effort and ingenuity.

From their own perspectives, villains will often see themselves as the true hero of their own story. Ra’s al Ghul (from Batman comics, not the recent movie) sees himself as trying to save the world from ecological disaster, even if it means drastically and violently reducing the world’s human population. Ra’s al Ghul sees Batman as a misguided opponent of limited vision who thwarts R’as’ benevolent plans. William B. Davis, the actor who played the sinister Cigarette Smoking Man on the X-Files, recounts how he came to fully grasp his character only when he realized that, from his own perspective, the CSM was the hero of the series, and Agent Mulder was the one endangering humanity with his foolish quest to expose the “Truth.”

You might invite your audience to see the villain’s downfall as a tragedy. The audience will come to see the villain's fall as due to some fatal flaw in an otherwise heroic character, and pity him. Othello’s insecurity and jealousy are the only flaws in an otherwise admirable man, but unfortunately flaws which Iago can use to destroy Othello, a man in all other respects far better than himself.

In the X-Men movies, Magneto, emotionally scarred by the deaths of his parents in the Nazi concentration camps, sees his mission as a defense of Homosuperior from the hate and murderous prejudice of non-mutants. His fatal flaws consist of intolerance, arrogance, ruthless cruelty, and an unfamiliarity with the concepts of innocence and non-combatants. His ideological conflict with Charles Xavier is reflected in non-fictional history by the conflict between Menachem Begin and David Ben-Gurion during the fight for the creation of Israel. Was Menachem Begin a terrorist or a freedom fighter or both? A good writer exploits moral complexity. Realism and depth are accomplished when it’s not always clear who the real villain is and who the real hero is. The Watchmen is a near perfect exercise in such complexity as painfully flawed “heroes” successfully prevent the “villain” from saving the world.

Nothing spoils an otherwise competent piece of fiction as a weak or blasé villain. Spend the time creating a villain that readers will love to hate. Learn to see the world through your villain’s eyes. Find his flawed nobility. Explore the tortured inner conflict that drove him to his megalomaniacal quest. Can you write your story so that when the villain asks the hero to join him (perhaps a clichéd, but nonetheless powerful opportunity to explore the ideological basis of their conflict), your audience wavers as the hero does—not because the hero is weak, but because the villain is so convincing, so genuine, so admirable, so committed, so sincere.

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Mark Phillips is the author of The Resqueth Revolution and co-author of the Eva Baum Detective Series. Learn more about Mark and his stories at:

MarkandCharlottePhillips.com

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Friday, October 23, 2009

To Thine Own Characters Be True

Character development seems simple enough. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a to-die-for figure or tall, dark, handsome, but a scoundrel. Good guys, bad guys. If only it were that easy.

Come on, we’re talking fiction, make-believe, right? Yes . . . and no. Our “storybook” characters may be much more real than we imagine—in fact, they may not be products of our imaginations at all. If we analyze their personalities, physical appearance, good and not-so-good traits, we may find them to be much like someone we know or knew in the past, or even more likely a composite of two or more friends, acquaintances, or family members.

How well acquainted are we with our characters? We’d better know them as well as (perhaps even better than) we know ourselves. For example, we should know their

Height, weight, dress/suit size, shoe size,
Likes and dislikes,
Pet peeves,
Hobbies,
Favorite music,
The list goes on and on.

Do our readers need to know all these things? Not necessarily, but we do. Why? Knowing even the most obscure details about our characters helps us to make them believable, unique, never clones of other characters.

For our stories to ring true with our readers, our characters must be as realistic and identifiable as our situations. They must be the people next door or down the street, the clerk in the supermarket, the lady at the dry cleaners, the UPS man. They must have shape, size, dimension, personality, and every other quality—good and bad—that defines the human condition.

And once they’ve been defined, they must remain true to that definition. In other words, a protagonist who hates all kinds of vegetables isn’t going to take a date to Salads-R-Us and crunch on a huge platter of rabbit food. That would be out of character. So pay attention to character development. It may make or break your story.

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Linda Lane—writer, editor, publisher—teaches others how to write effectively. A proponent of reading and a serious student of language structure in English and Spanish, she stresses excellence in writing and advocates the drafting of guidelines that will encourage writers to meet or exceed industry standards in all their works.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dreaming Frankenstein

Many people say they read fiction for pleasure and escapism, as well as the thrill of facing their fears from the safety of a comfortable armchair. The horror, thriller, and suspense genres have always been immensely popular with readers.

But what about the authors who delve into the world of their nightmares in order to bring their readers tales that will prickle the hairs on the backs of their necks? What type of person confronts their personal darkness and then invents a story around it?

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley had dealt with death intensely, and often, during her young life. Her own mother died when she was only a few days old, her half-sister and her lover's wife both committed suicide, and she’d already lost three babies by the time she came to write Frankenstein. It seems death was a theme that Mary mulled over, even though she may have been a normal, and happy, young woman in many other ways.

During a holiday, Mary, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their friend Lord Byron, were reading aloud from a book of horror stories. They decided to write their own horror stories for fun, but Mary was unable to come up with anything that satisfied her and put it off.

After the coaxing and teasing of her friends, and much discussion of scientific theories of the period, Mary had a daydream one day that turned all her thoughts on the meaning of life, death, birth, and creation into a story about a man who creates a monstrous living being out of a corpse. Frankenstein was published in 1818.

Mary Shelley lived in a time when women were not encouraged to study, let alone write books of their own. So to be the author of what would become one of the most well known horror novels of all time is a remarkable and unusual achievement. To do so at the age of nineteen is truly amazing.

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Elsa Neal Elsa Neal is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow more of her writing insights at her Fictional Life BlogVisit her website to download a list of the Top Ten Mistakes Writers Make. Stay a while and browse through her resources for writers.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ghostwriting -- the Ultimate Edit

Ghostwriting, as the name suggests, implies that the actual writer is unknown or not acknowledged. In other words, a ghostwriter pens a book for someone else, and that “someone else” gets credit for it.

What do ghostwriting and editing have in common?

Ghostwriting turns a writer’s raw manuscript (notes, research, etc.) into a polished book. Working from whatever material the “author” provides, the ghostwriter develops the topic (or story) and creates a smooth, cohesive, interesting—perhaps even compelling—book that could become a bestseller, for which the “author” (a.k.a. employer) takes credit.

Substantive editing addresses a number of the same areas: flow, continuity, holes, gluts of unnecessary information and information dumps, reordering (or even removing) text, rewriting, and so forth. This work parallels much of what the ghostwriter does when sorting through, researching, ordering, and presenting the “writer’s” information.

Despite the absense of real-writer credit, ghostwriting is not without its rewards. Many celebrities and other well-known persons want to write a book, but circumstances (lack of time or writing ability for example) dictate that they hire a ghostwriter. This type of writing pays very well—minimally more that $10,000 and perhaps even over $100,000 per project. That’s tempting money for writers who are struggling with sales their own works to make ends meet.

For authors who want or need to consider a ghostwriter—or for any who may be interested in becoming a ghostwriter—one or more of the following Web sites may be helpful. This list does not constitute a recommendation, but rather offers source material that needs to be evaluated by the writer.

http://www.ghostwords.com
http://www.seo-writer.com/freelance/ghost-writer.html
http://www.pegr.com/ghostwriter.html
http://www.arborbooks.com/index.php?id=ghostwriting.html

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Linda Lane is a writer/editor/publisher who promotes excellence in independently published and self-published books. Editor and designer of the Colorado Independent Publishers Association newsletter, she urges all writers to work with a competent editor before taking their books to press.


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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Crafting the Bones, Part II

Dr. Rudolph Flesch, a staunch advocate of writing with purpose, advised in his best-selling How to Write Better that “the main thing to consider is your purpose in writing: Why are you sitting down to write?” To which E.B. White tartly answered, “Because, sir, it is more comfortable than standing up.”
~Mitchell Ivers, The Random House Guide to Good Writing

Yesterday I suggested you move forward through your paragraph, scene, and story structure in a purposeful way. Yet we all know that writing is also an act of discovery. What if you’ve completed your first draft and you still aren’t sure what you’re trying to say?

I believe in the power of first draft writing, so here’s a technique to let it speak to you. (You’ll want to apply this to a short work or the opening to a longer one.) This may seem laborious, but with your word processor’s cut and paste feature, it doesn’t take as long as you might think.
  1. First, remove your sentences from their paragraphs and list them—out of context, you’ll see them with new eyes.
  2. Pull some keywords from your prose that suggest points you’d like to make and group the sentences beneath them into like subjects. You might be surprised at what you see: how much reiteration you used to force yourself back on track, or disparate subjects that were the result of flailing around for your true material. Say you meant to write a memoir essay about autumn, but when deconstructing the piece you find you ended up making 12 major points tied to pumpkins and only one about the chill in the air and the colorful leaves. Maybe your piece isn’t about autumn after all, but about pumpkins. Your subconscious may have brought forth pumpkins for a reason, so take some time to explore any imagery on which you can capitalize.
  3. Organize the keywords in a way that makes sense—and a story should start to emerge.
Now that you know what you want to say, you need to decide the best way to say it. What must the reader know first, before moving on? What makes sense to tell him next? What do you want your reader to conclude?

Keep these questions in mind as you apply an outline to the remaining material from the previous three steps, grouping and ordering your sentences beneath related keywords. You might find that one long sentence belongs in two or even three categories—in this step, shorten your sentences. This will make clear what is pertinent and what isn’t; good corrections can be made at this point. You might need to weed out what isn’t necessary, but you also might find you left out a whole section of relevant argument needed to balance or complete your piece. Once you’ve said what you want to say, now figure out ways to show it—through scenes in the case of fiction, or supporting facts and anecdotes in the case of nonfiction. This applied structure will infuse the skeleton of your piece with a healthy dose of calcium.

When employed purposefully, drifting off-track can be quite funny. But it will work as humor only if the piece has a spine strong enough to support its rambling appendages. Otherwise, the reader may simply be laughing at your convoluted attempt to enlighten—and you don’t want that, now, do you? You only want your reader to laugh if you’ve told him to—while you’ve got him in the palm of your hand, well supported by the bones of your writing.

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Kathryn Craft is a free-lance editor at Writing-Partner.com, a manuscript evaluation, line editing, and writer support service. She indulged her interest in muscles and bones at Miami University (OH), where she earned a B.S. in Biology Education with a dance minor, and then a master's in Health and Physical Education.


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Monday, October 19, 2009

Crafting the Bones, Part I

This is the magic of a well-written piece: for a few precious moments, you, as writer, hold the reader in the palm of your hand. Word choice, syntax, structure—all the elements of craft you spent so much time applying—fall away and your reader enters the world of story. Your story. Now come close, so I can whisper the secret behind the magic: the structure can only fall away if it existed in the first place. Yes, you need a great story idea and enough imagination to bring it to fruition—that’s its muscle. But to hold the reader in the palm of your hand, you also need some bones.

Bones give structure to a living thing the way lumber defines a house. Imagine the first draft writer allowing his inner seven-year-old to build his first tree fort with wood, hammer, and nails. Now that he’s done, step back and let your adult self take a look at it. You decide it is…inventive. It flows nicely. Boards angle every which way, mimicking the branches on the tree. You climb the tree, eager to explore, then whoa…you realize it isn’t that sturdy. In addition there’s no clear entrance, and it’s hard to navigate from room to room. Before you invite your friends to come see it, you’ll need to straighten the boards, strengthen their underpinnings, hammer some new nails home, and top it off with a roof that encompasses the entire creation.

Writing also requires structure. To write effectively, you need to identify and illuminate the statements of intent that will support your rewritten prose. In applying this structure, you are also applying clarity.

Stand back from your story, as you did from the tree house, and consider it as a whole. Then ask yourself, “What am I really trying to say?” Writers hate that question—haven’t I just spent all those words saying what I wanted to say?—but editors love it. Reality is we writers don’t always know what we’re trying to say until we’ve finished writing the piece, because writing is a process of discovery. We mollify our editor by re-reading, but the question of what we are trying to say fades to black as once again our words romance us. And they flow so nicely!

To that I say: snap out of it. Your piece could flow beautifully from A to Z without ever making a point—and if it had a firm structure, it would flow just as well. You need to assess how the words you put on the page really add up.

First check your title and opening: do they point the reader toward the main point of your piece? Because they raise reader expectation, these are the two most dangerous places to drift off track.

How do you find out if your piece is drifting?
The easiest way is when a test reader says, “I’m confused.” But the piece itself has many ways of telling us “this isn’t working.” As you re-read, look for the following indicators that your structure needs reinforcement. See if you might have:
  • included language that smacks of an authorial “note to self.” These can be rather entertaining, once you look for them. Possibilities include “Before I tell you more about that…”, “This may seem off-topic, but…”, “The point I’m trying to make is…”, and “All will soon become clear.”
  • reiterated aspects of the story because you were so off-track you felt compelled to remind the reader where you started.
  • stated the subject outright—yet never referenced it again.
  • put a line break in a short piece because after several misfires you needed to start again.
  • introduced too many notions for the length of the piece, thus exemplifying the very definition of “scatter-brained”—in shorter works, think depth, not breadth.
  • included sentences whose topics open up a whole different world—they may need their own story.
  • said you would “show” something when you’ve only shown the opposite—as in, “what not to do.”
  • used passive voice, which can obscure the cause and effect which creates structure.
Each sentence must tip the reader into the next, but from any one sentence, the possible directions are legion. It is up to you as author to pick one and guide the reader on the journey. If you find that the possibilities inherent in your prose are too numerous for one piece, great! Dump them into a file on your computer for development into other pieces at another time.

That’s what I’m doing here. More in the next post.

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Kathryn Craft is a free-lance editor at Writing-Partner.com, a manuscript evaluation, line editing, and writer support service. She indulged her interest in muscles and bones at Miami University (OH), where she earned a B.S. in Biology Education with a dance minor, and then a master's in Health and Physical Education.


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Thursday, October 15, 2009

How Do You Show Feelings?

“Feelings…Nothing more than…feelings…”

The words of that old song haunt me as I struggle to polish my manuscript. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned through study, reading, and feedback from critique groups is that emotions are critical in creating three-dimensional characters.

Have you heard the description, “The characters are flat?” That’s because the author is telling the reader what the character is doing and feeling, but the reader is not identifying with that character.

Reading a novel is like donning the skin of the main character, jumping into his head, and living the adventures vicariously right along with him. As a reader, I want to see, smell, hear, touch and taste exactly what the character is smelling, hearing, touching an tasting. For just a short time, I want to “be” that character.

Easier said than done.

Suppose Gertrude is mad at her boyfriend. “I hate you!” she cried angrily. Doesn’t this let us know her feelings?

Not necessarily. I don’t feel anything. I’m being told that Gertrude is angry. How do you fix it? Well, the words express the sentiment pretty clearly. But how about adding an action:

“I hate you.” Gertrude threw her grandmother’s bone china cup against the wall, where it shattered into a million pieces.

OK, that’s pretty graphic. I’m showing that she must be pretty angry to break that heirloom. Plus, the million pieces shattering is perhaps a metaphor for their relationship.

There are quite a few ways you can convey emotion in a scene like this. For example, the weather. Rain might be cascading down the window pane or beating against the glass. The wind could be shrieking or buffeting the trailer they’re in, etc. The temperature: it could be freezing in the room, or sweltering. Each brief scene description can add emotion when viewed through the character’s circumstances and feelings.

Perhaps Gertrude could be speaking in just above a whisper, but the words she says and the temperature can show the vehemence she’s experiencing. Sometimes a whisper can be more chilling and make a bigger impact that a shout. (And you don’t even need to “tell” by using an exclamation point.)

This week, I’ve struggled with a Christmas scene in the 1930s, where my main character and her eight-year-old son are boarding in a hotel room, while her husband stays in the country in an uninsulated shack to take care of their horses. Here’s what I wrote originally:

With Jake there, the cold emptiness inside her filled within minutes. They ate, popped corn, trimmed the “tree,” and then Neil played “Silent Night” on his violin. In the glow of candlelight, the little room was transformed into the cozy, warm togetherness of a home.

My intrepid critiquers said, “Yes, but what is she feeling?”

Hadn’t I conveyed that with the cold emptiness filling, the room transformed in the cozy, warm togetherness of a home? Apparently not. I was “telling” the reader what the feelings were.

Here’s what I’ve done with it. Maybe it’s still not enough, but you can see (and I hope, feel,) the difference:

After passing his plate for seconds, Jake raised his glass of wine. “This ham dinner tastes as wonderful as any high-falutin’ dish served to a king.”

Nettie clinked her glass with his, meeting his gaze with a smile. Warmth and love flooded the cold, empty void that had lived inside her since she saw him last.

Dinner finished, they took turns shaking the popcorn kettle over the hotplate burner. The hot smoky smell of the oil and popping corn filled Nettie’s senses with memories of noisy, laughing Christmases spent with her large family. While Jake propped the sagebrush in a bucket, she grabbed a needle and thread. Eating as much popcorn as they strung, she and Neil trimmed the “tree.”

Jake pointed at the festooned sage. “You missed a spot. If you hadn’t eaten so much—” He ducked, laughing as Nettie threw a pillow at him.

“It’s beautiful, and you know it,” she teased.

Nettie lit tiny candles on the sagebrush, and they opened their few packages—tobacco and rolling papers for Jake, a music book for Neil, and a halter Jake had braided for Nettie.

Then, Neil coaxed the sweet notes of “Silent Night” from his violin, and Nettie snuggled contentedly beside Jake. The melody filled her heart with the wonder and miracle of that night so long ago, and the soft glow of the candlelight transformed the little hotel room into the cozy, warm togetherness of a home.


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A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. She has just had her first novel published, Cowgirl Dreams, based on her grandmother. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series, and blogs.


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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Got rhythm?

My dance training won’t be denied: I am keenly aware of the rhythms that accumulating words create. Whether using sentences on a page or dancers on a stage, an artist’s goal is to fill blank space with movement. Tension. Subtle clues that direct the viewer’s eye and thoughts to an intended destination.

So think for a moment like a dancer and consider the way your paragraphs are choreographed. Does this one feature a rat-tat-tap dance, a gentle waltz, or a ballet complete with high lifts, low dips, and bravura technical feats?

I’m not talking the Rockettes here. Unless your goal is military rigidity, you don't want identical sentences hiking knees and flicking feet at predictable intervals. You want to create a purposeful mix of shapes, sizes and textures that will grab the reader’s interest and underscore your message.

Certain sentences spin and swirl, impressive in their sweeping beauty. Others stand stilted. Some stride forth with confidence, then back off. One might gain momentum on an accelerating run across the page that gobbles up space as though it were an unlimited resource—then stop for breath. Repeated elements, patterned elements, or restated elements can drive home a point.

Rhythm can also work against you so you must seek to control it. In your own reading you have no doubt played victim to the lulling effects of unwittingly repeated sentence structures. Did you start to drift away while reading one paragraph? Go back and analyze. Find the lulling rhythm.

In early drafts, such patterns are understandable. Our brains tend to process and express information in a predictable way. This is handy: it keeps us from having to invent too much while giving birth to the story. As manifested in later drafts, however, repetitive patterns do suggest laziness (or, to be fair, perhaps a tight deadline). Think of rhythm as polishing, something applied at the end of your process. Like wax.

Here are some constructs that are particularly problematic. Recognize anything?
Insulted, John slammed his mug on the table before speaking again. Coffee slopped onto the hand-rubbed finish they had worked weeks to perfect. Angry that he would do such a thing, Mary said, “Clean that up.”
I call these introductory clauses “emotion markers.” Put them into a first draft to guide the emotional development of the scene. But note the disturbing echo. The fix is simple: when rewriting, remove emotion markers. Often, you will see that indeed John has acted duly insulted, and Mary has responded in anger. If not, tweak the remaining prose.
John marched across the room, muttering under his breath and kicking the cat out of the way.
It’s the first draft. Your mind is racing through the material and your fingers are flying and you don’t yet know how to manage the actions in the scene so you dump them all into one sentence. In subsequent drafts, think again. The structure of this sentence defeats what the writer is trying to accomplish. (And heaven help the nodding-off reader if the next sentence says Mary stormed out of the house, starting the car and backing it through the closed garage door.)

Think of the verb choice: marching. Left, right left. Chop, chop, chop. Short sentences increase tension. Avoid pleasantries. Establish order—after all, John didn’t do all of these things at once, did he? Mary certainly couldn’t.

Better:
John marched across the room. Muttered under his breath. Kicked the cat.
As a counterpoint, you could follow that with:
Mary stormed out of the house with so many unspoken invectives jamming her mind that after she started the car she backed it right through the closed garage door.
This complex, almost run-on sentence helps to illustrate her emotional state.

This is the work—and if you ask me, the fun— of writing. All writers have to apply conscious thought to sentence construction, even published authors. I won’t name names, but take a look at this exchange from the fifth installment of a series that has sold fairly well:
“Hagrid,” said Harry, unable to stop himself, “where are you getting all of these injuries?”
“Eh?” said Hagrid, looking startled. “Wha’ injuries?”
“All those!” said Harry, pointing at Hagrid’s face.
“Oh…tha’s jus’ normal bumps and bruises, Harry,” said Hagrid dismissively. “I got a rough job.”

I could go on, but you get the picture. Dialogue attribution and its associated “beats”—the stage business that accompanies dialogue—is another area where disturbing rhythms lurk.

The best way to analyze the rhythm of your writing is to read it aloud. I have read aloud the entire series referenced above to my sons, and while I loved the story, there were some passages where I couldn’t keep myself from laughing as adverb-filled dialogue attribution and repetitive beats set up a singsong rhythm that detracted from the story’s drama.

Don’t make your readers laugh—let alone sleep!— when you don’t want them to. Manipulate rhythm. Invite the reader to dance, and never let him go.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kathryn Craft is a free-lance editor at Writing-Partner.com, a manuscript evaluation, line editing, and writer support service. For 19 years she wrote dance criticism for The Morning Call in Allentown, PA. She is currently seeking representation for a novel, The Sparrow That Fell From the Sky, which is set in the Philadelphia dance world.







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Monday, October 12, 2009

Copyright Notice

All posts at the Blood-Red Pencil are copyright of the author listed at the end of the post. If you are interested in copying portions of the text, please leave a comment for the author to contact you. Be professional and respectful and do not simply scrape an entire good essay for your own blog. This is stealing and it's a copyright infringement, which is illegal. Some of our blogging team is retired and rich and just might turn it over to their attorneys. We've just discovered a blogger who has scraped post after post from our site. Not at all cool.

Here's a link to the Copyright Office if you need more information about what and how much you can quote.

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Book Pirates Afoot

We seem to talk about ebooks more than just about anything else. They just keep making news. It’s either a new e-reader, or low priced or free books being used as marketing enticements, or platforms not being compatible with different readers.

Now there’s something we knew was coming, but, especially here in the US, we’d been so oblivious that we didn’t realize it was already here. Not here in the States, but with the Internet, any place is “here.”

Ebooks are being napsterized big time (remember Napster and music sharing?). File-storage sites are popping up, sites like RapidShare, Megaupload, Hotfile and others. The New York Times asks:
With the new devices in hand, will book buyers avert their eyes from the free copies only a few clicks away that have been uploaded without the copyright holder’s permission?
Ed McCoyd, an executive director at The Association of American Publishers, says:
“We are seeing lots of online piracy activities across all kinds of books — pretty much every category is turning up. What happens when 20 to 30 percent of book readers use digital as the primary mode of reading books? Piracy’s a big concern.”
Of those sites I listed, RapidShare is the biggest at the moment. RapidShare is based in Switzerland.
[RapidShare] says its customers have uploaded onto its servers more than 10 petabytes of files — that’s more than 10 million gigabytes — and can handle up to three million users simultaneously. Anyone can upload, and anyone can download; for light users, the service is free.
And people do upload and download. However, if you, an author, see your book on the site, it won’t be taken down if you ask for all copies to be removed. You have to request each specific file, using the specific URL, for it to be removed, then the next day, it could be back up with a new URL.

Mr. McCoyd noted:
“As far as we can tell, RapidShare is the largest host site of pirated material. Some publishers are saying half of all infringements are linked to it.”
Katharina Scheid, a spokeswoman for RapidShare, had this advice if publishers and authors are unhappy about ebooks being shared without paying the copyright holders:
Learn from the band Nine Inch Nails. It marketed itself “by giving away most of their content for free.
Randall Stross, the author of the New York Times piece had the last word on Ms. Scheid’s advice:
I will forward the suggestion along, as soon as authors can pack arenas full and pirated e-books can serve as concert fliers.
How about you? What do you think?
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Friday, October 9, 2009

Can a Comma Change a Life? The World?

“That’s ridiculous!” you may say. “It’s just a little punctuation mark.”

Yes, but this little punctuation mark has big implications—and its placement can change the meaning of a sentence in surprising ways. It can also change (or save—or cost) a life. For a novelist whose protagonist finds himself in a life-threatening situation, its use couldn’t be more crucial.

Let’s create a hypothetical scene. We’re writing a Wild West story. Our main character, Jeb Holcomb, has just ridden into Cripple Creek, Colorado, at the end of a long day on the trail. He stops at a saloon for a drink. Sitting alone at a table in the back, he nods a couple of times, downs the last of his second beer, and pushes himself out of his chair. If he doesn’t head over to the hotel right now, he’s going to fall asleep here.

The saloon doors burst open. Two town bums charge into the room on the heels of the sheriff.

One of the derelicts points to Jeb. “Tha’s ’im!”

“Yeah, tha’s ’im!” the other agrees.

“You men sure ’bout this?”

“We seen ’im do it, Sheriff!” The first bum insists. “Shot them folks soon as they stepped foot outta the assayer’s office. Grabbed the bag o’ gol’ an’ ran like a skeered rabbit.”

His companion scratched his head. “Cain’t figure though why he stopped in ’ere fer a drink. If’n it’d been me, I’da hightailed it outta town.”

Jeb looked at the sheriff’s forty-five pointed straight at his heart. “Wh . . . what are ya talkin’ about?”

“You know dang well what we’re talkin’ about,” the sheriff said. “Let’s go.”

Less than an hour later, our hero stands in front of Circuit Judge Rupert Abernathy, whose reputation rivals that of Arkansas’s Hanging Judge Isaac Parker.

The judge drummed his fingers on the bench, listened to the testimony, and scowled at the defendant. “I was about to ride out of town when the sheriff told some idiot thinks the law doesn’t apply to him. Murdered two innocent people and stole their gold. We’re about to show him the law means something in Cripple Creek, at least when I’m here. Seeing as you don’t see fit to hand over those poor folk’s gold, this court finds you guilty of murder. Jeb Holcomb, I’m telling you tonight, you’ll hang for this one.”

Or we could have written it this way: “Jeb Holcomb, I’m telling you, tonight you’ll hang for this one.”

Or we might’ve left the comma out altogether for total ambiguity.

What a difference that comma makes! In its first placement, it offers a glimmer of hope that the protagonist can file an appeal, prove he wasn’t in town when the crime was committed, and get the sentence reversed. The second one, however, dooms our hero to a speedy death. The third option leaves the meaning open for speculation. Our use of that tiny punctuation mark may well have made the difference between life and death.

Could a comma also change the world? Consider the potential of its placement in a treaty that ends a war. Or in a strategic agreement between countries. Or even in the constitution or laws of a nation.

What do you think?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Linda Lane has been writing since childhood and is now an editor, publisher, and author. Two books she edited have won awards, and she is working on a "certification" system to raise the bar on the the quality of independently published and self-published books. Her latest novel, Treacherous Tango, will be available this summer. She owns Pen & Sword Publishers, Ltd., an independent editing and publishing house.


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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Creative. Period.

Please welcome our newest editor and blogger, Kathryn Craft.
***

It’s just a tiny dot, but it contains great power. Even as words add up to thoughts and thoughts layer with images that eventually result in complex notions capable of changing the world, one adding to the next and to the next within an extended sentence whose natural rhythms flow, then ebb, then surge in a manner seemingly dictated by the moon, it can dam. It can introduce staccato beats. Ramp up tension. Create edginess. Excite. It can introduce a contemplative space where ideas can be absorbed. It can cast a spotlight on the word just before it when the weapon of word order is carefully wielded.

Calling it the “stop sign of the punctuation world,” literary agent and author Noah Lukeman devotes his entire opening chapter—22 pages!--to the period in his book A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation. Lukeman underscores the period’s importance by listing the dangers of overuse (insufficient communication; choppiness) and underuse (overwhelming the reader in an attempt to sound erudite). A considered approach is at the very heart of confident, clear writing.

Consider the period a stylistic element, but never use it for style alone: like all punctuation, its use should serve meaning.

Look at the excitement Randall Brown generates in this ad copy for a talk he gave. His fanciful use of periods underscores his topic, flash fiction:

Flash is for the fearless. No wishy-washiness here. This talk discusses the essentials of writing flash fiction: ideas, narrative structures, voice, image patterns, twists, revision, and submission strategies. Hear that POP! That's the sizzle of your prose, your veins like wires. That's the world where every word matters, the world of infinite yearning, where everything and everyone—writers, texts, characters, readers—lose their quiet everyday world and enter a state of intense arousal and desire. Oh Baby. Micro. Sudden. Flash. Fiction. Awww!

In fiction, period use can effectively define character voice. Look at this early paragraph from Patricia Wood’s novel, Lottery. Its punctuation establishes the parameters that define protagonist Perry L. Crandall's worldview, reinforced throughout the novel with the creative use of the period:

I am thirty-two years old and I am not retarded. You have to have an IQ number less than 75 to be retarded. I read that in Reader's Digest. I am not. Mine is 76.

In this excerpt from The Land of Women, novelist Regina McBride opens a story that will span an ocean. Note the rich imagery and sentences that swell with meaning before spending themselves:

When she closes her eyes, Fiona recalls the pale smells of her mother's skin and hair; a smell like new muslin washed in salt water and left to dry in the wind. She tries to remember her mother's voice, and the pitch and treble of it passes through her, the rhythm of it so clear that for the shock of a moment they are returned to one another in the way they had been when she was small, connected by frail strings.

The period. May you never think of it as a simple sentence-ender again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Kathryn Craft is a free-lance editor at Writing-Partner.com, a manuscript evaluation, line editing, and writer support service. For 19 years she wrote dance criticism and arts features for The Morning Call in Allentown, PA, and for publications of the Lehigh Valley Arts Council. She now writes memoir essays and women's fiction.


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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Another Sample Press Release

As promised, here is the press release that several local newspapers used as is for a little story about my book launch last year. With the release, I included a head shot, picture of my book cover, and a one-page sheet with more details about the book, a few review snippets, and a longer bio.

At the top of the release I had the contact information as well as: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. That was flush left on the page under the letterhead. For this release I used the art center letterhead, but for other releases I use my own.

It is important to give your release a title that the newspaper can use as a headline:


BENEFIT FOR WINNSBORO ART CENTER


Winnsboro, TX – (July - 2008) On Saturday, July 26th at 2:00pm, the Trails Country Centre For the Arts (TCCA) in Winnsboro will host the official book launch of Maryann Miller’s latest book, and 20% of sales that day will be donated to the Centre. Miller, who lives just north of town, has been a long-time supporter of TCCA and is pleased that the event will be held there. “I saw the first production of one of my plays there, so it is especially significant to have the first signing of my latest book there, as well.”

Miller’s book, One Small Victory, was just released in hardcover from Five Star/Gale/Cengage. The story centers on a woman who infiltrates a drug ring and helps bring down the main distributor in her small Texas town.

“This is a fictionalized true story that I found captivating when I read the small news item a number of years ago,” Miller says. “The difficulties this woman faced came from the dangers of the work she was involved in, as well as the problems it caused because she couldn’t tell anyone what she was doing. I thought it was particularly courageous of her to channel her grief over losing her son into being so proactive about the drug problems in her town. So often we talk about the problems around us, but how many have the guts to step out and do something?”

Miller has been a volunteer at TCCA for six years, served on the Board for three years, and was President for a year and a half. The center has always been a place that supports all forms of artistic expression, and that is another reason Miller is thrilled to have the signing event there, as well as donate part of the proceeds.

“As far as I know there is not another arts organization in this area of East Texas that promotes visual, performance, and literary arts,” she says. “And I am happy to give part of my proceeds to help keep the doors of such an important community resource open.”

The author is available to speak at civic and community organizations’ meetings. She can be contacted via her Web site at www.maryannwrites.com, or by phone: 903-365-7585

About Maryann Miller

A diverse writer of columns, feature stories, short fiction, novels, screenplays and stage plays, Maryann Miller has won numerous awards including being a semi-finalist at the Sundance Institute for her screenplay, "A Question of Honor". Publishing credits include work for regional and national newspapers and magazines: She has published nine non-fiction books for teens, including the award-winning Coping With Weapons And Violence: In Your School and on Your Streets released by The Rosen Publishing Group in New York. She is currently the Managing Editor and writer for an online community magazine, WinnsboroToday.com, and does book reviews for ForeWord Magazine and BloggerNews.net

#

That is the end of the press release. It is important to include the "About" section, as reporters will often pull from that to do their lead for the story.

---------------


Visit Maryann's Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.



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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sample Press Release -- third in series

As promised yesterday, here is the sample press release from Sunny, along with a few more tips to help your event get noticed in your local newspaper.

TO: (insert editor's name)
COMMUNITY NEWS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:


Friends of the Library Host Local Author

Local author Victoria Pitts-Caine will speak on January 15 at the Kings County Library, 401 N. Douty, Hanford. The event begins at 6:30 pm until 8 pm.

Caine is the author of a Christian romance, Alvarado Gold. This is a free event. Refreshments will be provided by Friends of the Library. Books will be available for purchase and a book signing with the author will follow.

This event kicks off the 2009 Local Authors Program conducted by the Kings County Library. The public is invited to enjoy an evening with authors who reflect the rich literary tradition of the San Joaquin Valley.

For more information, contact Gail Lucas at 582-0261 ext. 104, or gail.lucas@kingscountylibrary.org

Keep in mind that this release is typical for getting events posted in a newspaper's Community Events section.

Offer (but don't insist) that you are available for an interview if they have room for a longer piece. Or, create your own piece like Maryann suggested. Write it in 3rd person and try not to be too self-serving. Let the editor know that he or she is free to use your piece if they have room to run it. Don't push a press packet on them or make them feel like they are there to do PR for you.

Ask about deadlines. I have papers that want info 3 weeks in advance, some only a week.

Always act as if the media people are doing you a huge favor--because they are. At the very least, send them a thank you note. Some of them might even appreciate a copy of your book as a thank-you.

My info always makes it into the newspapers, TV, and radio. The news people know my name and my credentials. I keep my contacts current by checking every six months to see if there have been staff changes.

I write a nice thank-you note and praise for any article written about me (even if they spell my name wrong). By doing my end of things, and doing it well, they are more than willing to give me publicity for my next project.

Remember: the Information Highway is a two-way street.

Tomorrow, Maryann will be back to share a sample of her press release that garnered longer stories.

---------------
Sunny Frazier has been publishing both fiction and nonfiction since 1972. She is a Navy veteran, earned a BA in Journalism, and wrote for a newspaper before joining the Fresno County Sheriff's Department. Her first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association. Where Angels Fear came out in April, 2009. Frazier is a member of the Central Coast Chapter of Sisters in Crime, as well as the Public Safety Writers Association.



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Monday, October 5, 2009

Tips For Press Releases -- Part 2

HAVE THEM EATING OUT OF YOUR HANDOUTS

One of the complaints I often hear from authors is that they can't seem to get their signings and book info into the public eye through the local newspapers. I don't have that problem, and I have taught several organizations in my area a few ideas on how this is accomplished.

I once was a lowly paid newspaper reporter. I remember days of looking for feature pieces to fill up the pages and make my editor happy. I also remember getting excruciating “press releases” from the public. Sometimes it was more work to rewrite them than to use them.

Now I work with newspapers in 4 counties in my area, as well as TV and radio. I'm instrumental in putting together the local authors program for the local library, so PR is a must. I learned a lot of techniques while doing PR for the local Sisters in Crime group. Here are my methods:

First, make a list of all media outlets in a 40 mile radius of the area where you will be speaking or signing. Call local libraries to find the local papers, use the Internet.

Call each outlet and ask for the name of the Features Editor. Hopefully, they will put you on the line with that person. If not, ask if Community News has a FAX number or email where they would like to receive announcements. If you send a FAX, have letterhead stationary. The library letterhead I use always gets a positive response.

When you send a FAX, never let it fall into the hands of whoever goes by the FAX machine. It can wind up in the general file or the trash. Always put the name of someone on staff so they will receive the paperwork. It may get lost on their desk, but at least it will make it there. Make the effort to change the name on each FAX you send. No generic “Features Editor” in the routing.

Even a small paper will feel good that you even think they have a designated person as a feature editor. Small papers struggle and deserve respect. Never make demands or be pushy or overbearing. But, remember, they need to fill their paper and you can make their job easier by knowing how to write an effective Community News release.

Tomorrow I'll share a sample press release.


----------
Sunny Frazier has been publishing both fiction and nonfiction since 1972. She is a Navy veteran, earned a BA in Journalism, and wrote for a newspaper before joining the Fresno County Sheriff's Department. Her first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association. Where Angels Fear came out in April, 2009. Frazier is a member of the Central Coast Chapter of Sisters in Crime, as well as the Public Safety Writers Association.



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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tips for Press Releases--Part 1

A common question on author loops is how best to approach newspapers when you have an event coming up or news of a release or award. While a lot of promoting is now done on the Internet, there are still times that an author has a need to contact a print newspaper.

Tomorrow we will have a guest to pass on some valuable tips for getting attention in local newspapers. Sunny Frazier has considerable experience on both sides of this promotional coin, both receiving and sending press releases. She has worked for newspapers and handled PR for libraries and her local Sisters In Crime chapter.

The second post from Sunny will be a sample press release.

In addition to the tips that Sunny will offer tomorrow, I want to offer something that has worked well for me in regard to press releases. For the small town papers I send a press release that is basically the story. I also include a headshot, picture of my cover, and a one-page sheet of info about me and the book. When I had my book launch and donated some of the proceeds to local charities, that was the lead, and I got a lot of press in several small-town papers.

Tune in tomorrow for more tips from Sunny.

-----------------

Maryann Miller is the Managing Editor of WinnsboroToday.com, an online community magazine, and a reviewer for Bloggernews.net and ForeWord Magazine. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.




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Friday, October 2, 2009

Cousin to the Memoir - the Family History

Memoir Week has drawn to a close, but perhaps it’s not too late to explore one of its relatives—the family history. Broader in scope than a memoir, the history of a family provides roots for many who feel like they’re floundering in our transient society.

When I was a child, I enjoyed a lot of family togetherness. Several times a year we met at my paternal grandparents’ home for food, fun, and festivities. My mother and aunts gathered in the kitchen, first for meal preparation and then for dish washing and drying. (Grandma didn’t own an automatic dishwasher.) I remember so much cheerful conversation and laughter emanating from that room, accompanied by mouth-watering aromas that promised my favorite foods would soon be on the dining table.

Children take such experiences for granted and expect them to continue throughout their lives. But too often that doesn’t happen. As my generation grew up, it spread out. We went to the east coast, the west cost, south to Florida and north to Seattle. That togetherness of childhood gave way to separate paths that seldom, then never, converged.

In 1989, at my father’s suggestion, I began working on a family history. His aunt (my great-aunt) had joined the DAR many years before after tracing the family tree back to the 1600s and proving that some relative had lived in this country at the required time to qualify her for membership. Hence, I had a head start—a fairly complete genealogy. But they were just names and dates. For a family history I needed much more; I needed personalities.
Fortunately, I found elderly relatives on both my parents’ sides who remembered or had been told stories about my ancestors who lived in the 1800s and early 1900s. Old newspaper archives at a small city library in the county where my maternal grandparents had lived provided information that hadn’t been recalled by the people I interviewed. Photographs dating as far back as the Civil War era gave faces to names. Poetry written by my grandfather and watercolor paintings by my grandmother added personal touches to the historical accounts. And a fascinating conversation I’d had with my grandfather when I was young found its way into the story of his life. The book grew to more than 80 pages of pictures and narrative and can be added to as babies are born and life goes on.

What’s the point here? Such histories connect us to our roots. They create a sense of family that is often lacking today. So when considering a memoir, why not take it a step further and do a family history? Maybe even do both. The priceless stories I uncovered would have been forever lost to future generations had I not set out to do this book, for two of the three people I interviewed (including my father) are no longer living.

Today, family ties are crumbling. Many young people have no sense of who they are or where they come from. Making a family project out of discovering one’s history can create a cord of togetherness that strengthens those ties. Why not try it?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Linda Lane, author of Katherine’s Song and Treacherous Tango, has teamed with two other editors to offer streamline power-edits to writers who want their books to shine on a budget.

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