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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Writing Resource Links

A good writer is always a student. We study how people walk and wonder how to describe the hitch in their stride or a particular luminous shade of green in the scene. We read and re-read our favorite authors trying to dissect exactly how did they manage to make me feel/see/hear/smell the action in a spice-filled marketplace or ice-glazed forest.

A host of books and posts support the writer in their quest for perfection.

A recent post by Kate Flora gave some terrific behind the scenes insights on how sharpening description sharpens our story. Four of Kate's go-to resources are:

If an author has over 200 books to his name with millions sold, I admit to pressing my nose against the glass to see if I can catch a glimpse of what goes in to their secret sauce. Jerry Jenkins posted eleven of his writing bibleswhile the Center for Fiction provides this list of essential booksPoets & Writers kept me busy with their list.

I surveyed a number of resources for this post and wasn't surprised that three of my go-to books were frequently cited.

Do you write mysteries? Then read Hallie Ephron's book, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel. This book is exactly what you need to help you through the maze of creating great characters, sharp settings, and twisty plots. This book is structured with Do It Yourself exercises to sharpen the lessons in each chapter.

Finding what works for you is important. You know your work's strengths and weaknesses. Not all advice will resonate regardless of how lofty the expert is who expounds it and you can run yourself ragged if you try to do everything each expert suggests. For me, I find taking a step back and rewriting a troublesome passage using Lamott's technique of looking through a one in picture frame helps me break down the action into clear and concise points.

But, hey. Don't take my word for it. Check out for more great books for writers.

Oh, and reading writing advice books is a legitimate way to stall from doing our real work. Writing a blog about it is even better. And reading such a blog means you're clicking around the Internet and not doing one damned productive thing.

Okay. Enough procrastingating. Get back to work!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Revenge and Editing Best When Served Cold

What is it about time that empowers us to slash and burn?

I took an unexpected break from writing my third book. I was in the weeds. The story was muddy, characters were misbehaving, and I spent many more hours staring at the screen than writing. Backstory encroached like a dreaded Kudzu vine and forward momentum ground to a halt.

Then life intervened. You know the drill. Graduations. Aging parents. A death. Spending time at my keyboard became reactive, not proactive and creative. Rather than beating myself up about my writing failures, I gave myself permission to unplug.

Then something wonderful happened.

In a span of time marked "unproductive," a heartless distance bloomed.

I reread my opening pages and I knew my launchpad was sound. A few more pages in and I began to delete. My "Dumped Passages" word count burgeoned while my "Working MS" word count whithered. 

Editing, like revenge, is easiest when done at an emotional distance. A search of the phrase, "revenge is best when served cold" found several orgins, one of which credited a Pashtun proverb of getting back at someone who has wronged you when you have a clear mind and not hot with anger. My favorite was in Urban Dictionary:

  • Old saying from the Mafiosi in Sicily. Tells that the best payback is the one that comes with planning, and that brings the most horrendous pain to your enemies when they are not expecting and are just enjoying the fruits of all the dishonor they brought upon you. One must wait so he can really inflict pain to those who wronged him. Careful planing is necessary so your enemies will suffer terribly, but you won't be harmed by the Law or by your enemies' allies.
This one resonated. The time away from active writing allowed me to mull over my narrative. What was the core story? The enemy was revealed in subplots and backstory. Stepping away allowed me to see them for what they were--instruments of dishonor. I was able to plan their demise with calculated precision. I became an assassin and killed off my little darlings.

I've hacked off limbs and buried the evidence. Now it's time to dust of my trousers and get back to work.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Turn Off Book Buyers With These Five Marketing Phrases

Catching a reader's eye and sparking them to learn more about a book is a crafty science. Between 600,000 to 1,000,000 books are published each year in the United States alone, Capturing attention, and ultimately dollars, requires unique skills. What are you going to say to get your book to stand out among the 1500 to 3000 new titles that were published today?

A recent post by Geoffrey James, contributing editor to Inc. Magazine, got me thinking. James listed nine tired phrases that turn customers off. Instead of igniting them to turn on to a product, phrases touting "the best service" or "industry leading," blunt customers' senses. The statements are seductive to the seller, but mean nothing to the reader.

Can you separate yourself from the pack by using ubiquitous and empty phrases?

Five overused and tired phrases for book marketing are:

1. "Gripping mystery!"
Really? Unless the phrase (or any other) is a quote from a well-known author or review source, it's best to steer clear. A mystery, by its very definition, should be compelling. 

2. "This book is a real page turner!" 
If the book is more than a single page, how else are you going to read it? "To read this book, you have to turn the page! Really!" This statement qualifies for the big, "DUH!" 

3. "A must read..."
According to whom? Someone who doesn't have a clue about me or my preferences is telling me I must read something? Nope. Not going to happen.

4. "Best-selling!" or "Number One!"
Unless the book is on a curated and verifiable list, like the New York Times' Best Seller list, forget about it. The same is true for touting a leading sales rank. Books can be top selling for a few hours on Amazon, then drift off to oblivion. Sure having a high rank for a few hours or days is exciting and validating for the author, but such phrases tell us nothing about the book.

5. "New!"
Phrases relating to time can expire. "Available now!" is temporarily true and a book can be out for years before readers learn about it, becoming “new” to them.

Use precious ad space or social media word count judiciously. Effective marketing triggers a response and buying books is all about the reader’s curiosity. Readers move from tag line, to front cover, to back cover, then inside perusal. Once inside, either the story is going to make them want more, or not.

Try a question with a link instead of a stale statement.

“What if your very existence threatened an empire?”*

Find out what works for your books and measure the results. Don't be afraid to try something no on else has done. After all, you're trying to prove you're one in a million. 

* Yeah, I know. Cheap trick, but it worked, right?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Best Sellers and Restaurants

"I only read books from the New York Times Best Seller List."


I was at one of the season's many graduation parties. Veggie platters, mortar boards, and conversational patter were abundant. I'm always interested to hear what people are reading and how they make their choices, but this one stopped me.

"Only? As in, never, ever reading anything else?"

"I know I'll find something I'll be happy with. It makes my choice easy."

I get it. Time is precious and when a reader is deciding to spend hours wrapped around a book, he or she wants to choose wisely. The NYT list makes it easy. Of the thousands of books available, it's great to have one go-to list that shows what the masses are buying. It's a best seller list, not a best book ever list. If copies are flying off the shelves, the book must have something pretty darned good going for it. I've defaulted to the list myself when I've hunted about for my next great read, but to never venture from it is, well, horrible.

For me, reading is an adventure and stumbling upon something I didn't know I was going to love is pure delight, like finding a new favorite restaurant. If I limited myself only to eateries that the masses love, I would miss the intimate experience that the local bistro offers. I love Bertucci's Lump Crab Stuffed Mushrooms and Classic Bruschetta, but Ipswich's Zabaglione's Ravioli all'Aragosta - lobster ravioli sauteed with baby shrimp, scallops, crabmeat, asparagus tops, roasted red peppers,and scallion tossed with herb butter and flamed with Sambuca - is to die for. 

I'm happy to report my friend has graduated from the NYT list. Shannon Kirk's thriller Method 15/33 is on her beach read list along with Ray Daniel's Boston-based mysteries and anything by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Prolific New England cozy author Edith Maxwell's series will be sampled alongside Holly Robinson's women's fiction. 

Like finding her new favorite cafe, my friend can savor the excitement of discovering these authors...and telling all her friends.