Connection is Essential

digital media

We all seek a connection with others. Without it we stagnate and go through life performing the same actions without meaning. Connection is what makes everything we do worth doing. The digital age is here and it has changed the way people connect to one another.

In some ways, this has been positive, and in some ways, this change has been negative. We start relationships, friendships and intimate relationships, through the internet more often than we do by face-to-face contact. My 13-year-old son has more on line friends than he does friends at school.

The negative side of this, is that he lacks some of the basic skills of interacting with people in person. You can tell he is uncomfortable in a group of people. He has a hard time talking on the telephone because he is use to bite size pieces of information through texting. Despite my efforts to get him to interact with others more frequently, the problem persists because he is resistant to stepping outside of his comfort zone.

The positive side of this digital communication is that we can reach just about anyone around the world. Anyone can find and build connections with their tribe of people because they are just a click away. If you live in a small town and no one there quiet understands you, you can still find others who do. Digital communication makes it easier for people to be authentic because the fear of rejection is buffered by your computer screen.

Nothing can replace real face-to-face interaction and connection with others. The more you can be out there connecting with people on an individual level the easier it is to market and sell your books. But you also have to be able to engage with others on a more personal level using digital media as well because that is where your audience is.

If you create an individual connection with your readers, promotion and marketing become easier. You don’t have to be as aggressive. Your readers want to know more about you because of the connection. They care about what you have to say because you care about them.

 

do you want your readers to change?

stages of change 2

As writers, we want our books to influence others or at least resonate on a deep level. Over this last week, I’ve ran into the above question twice. Both times, it has really caused me to pause and think about it. Initially, I thought I don’t want my readers to change, but within a second I knew that was not true. I do what readers to change. I want them to change their perspective on the world. The perspective and the particular aspect of the world depend upon the book’s theme.

People change their behavior and thoughts when their core beliefs shift. Influencing someone’s core beliefs is hard work. In order for a story to change a person, they must become emotionally connected to the characters in the book. They must feel the pain, fear, and joy along with your characters. They must go through the cycle of change vicariously.

Changing our beliefs is painful and no one really wants to do it, our characters are the same. The first stage of change is precontemplation. At this point, the character/person doesn’t realize there is a problem or isn’t interested in changing it. Contemplation is the stage where the character sees there is a problem and is thinking about changing it. Finally, the character will take action to change, third stage(midpoint of your novel), and seek out solutions to the problem. This often leads to a relapse (usually at the third plot point) where the character falls back into old ways of thinking or acting before getting back on the horse and facing the problem full on in your climax.

Asking yourself how do I want my reader to change while you are writing can help you map your character’s arc, focus on the goal of each scene, and decide which conflict will ramp up the tension in the most effective and influential way.

 

Failure is an event not a personality trait

failure1

We have to be willing to risk failure to truly live and give back to the world. If there was no risk of failure involved, then there was no challenge to begin with.

Everything I do, I do with all the fervor and passion I can muster. I give it all that I have, yes sometimes that means it comes out all wrong especially when I am first learning to do something. In fact, the worse it comes out, the better because then I’m able to see how much I improve along the way. Of course, I don’t think this at the time. Usually I tell myself how I will never learn it, there is too much to know, I don’t have time to learn it all. Eventually, I stop freaking out and apply myself.

“If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly” G.K. Chesterton.

What does this mean? Why would we want to do something badly? we don’t really want to do things badly that’s not what Chesterton was trying to convey. It’s more like what I was saying above. If we do something badly, but we have put in our best effort, we are going to learn and improve. Failure is an excellent teacher.

When we fail at something, we beat ourselves up for hours and sometimes days. We make it into some huge self-defining moment and not in a good way.

Failure should never be used in reference to a person or a piece of art in any of its many forms. A failure is an event in a specific moment in time. What may be seen as a failure now could be a huge success in two weeks.

If we write a novel and it never sells to anyone but our parents, we just have to keep writing. We have to work hard to get better and produce better stories. Stories that touch the heart of readers. Not everyone is going to like what we produce, and that’s fine because we don’t write for everyone. We write for those who share our passion.

If you write trying to please everyone, you will fail because you are not going to say anything worth saying. You will shy away from anything that may offend the left side of society or the right. Writing isn’t about walking down the middle. It’s about jumping over the edge to reach the rest of the outcasts, your tribe.

cliff jumping

 

 

Book Cover Design

Why do people pick up the books they do? Have you been into a bookstore recently and looked at the shelves and shelves of new books? Or searched on Amazon for your next rainy day adventure?

There are so many options out there for readers, which is fantastic and exactly how it should be, but as an writer it is daunting. Because I don’t want you to pick up any old book, I want you to pick up and buy my book. The one I’ve poured my heart and soul into for at least a year.

I want your next favorite and most memorable character to be one of mine, but that won’t happen if you don’t buy my book, so how do I get you to pick up my book and decide it is the one for you.

When I walk the isles of a bookstore or peruse the new titles tables, I pay attention to what makes me pick up a book. Is it the title, the author’s name, the cover design, or the size? All of these influence whether or not that book ends up in my hand. The cover design catches my eye first, the title comes second, the size of the book is a small factor (An 800 page book is a major commitment for a single parent who works full time). I notice the author’s name, but I’m much to forward thinking to worry about gender of the writer regardless of genre. If I have to choose between two books, the author can be the deciding factor if I have read and loved one of them before.

So cover design, that’s the big one. It’s the one that stops the reader in their tracks. A good cover grips you, pulls you in, and doesn’t let go. Even if the reader sets the book down, the image has buried its hooks in their mind stalking them up and down every other isle.

The genre of the book influences the cover design more than any other outside force. You want the cover to stand out from the ones on the shelves, but not so far out that it calls the genre into question. I’m going to use fantasy covers as an example because that’s what I read mostly. Fantasy covers depict the protagonist in either an epic battle or a solitary pose exuding power and authority with a little (or a lot) of sexual appeal thrown in.

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin is a good example of this. His covers are simple with one object that fits within the fantasy genre.

game of thrones

Most fantasy books are more like the older covers of Terry Brooks’ Shannara series

sword of shannara 1

But Terry Brooks has caught on and remade his covers to be different from the run of the mill fantasy cover art.

sword of shnnara 2

The age group of your readers also has a huge impact on your cover design. You cannot have a scantily clad woman on the front of a middle grade novel. There is a reason there is a children’s section in the bookstore.

When designing your book cover with an artist or on your own keep your genre and readers in mind, but also be true to your story and characters.

 

Interior Book Design

book design

Have you ever really looked at a book? I don’t mean just the cover of it, but the interior of it too. As a reader, much of the design of a book goes unnoticed, which is what you want as a book designer. You want the reader to focus on the story and not on the format and design of the book.

As I’ve delved into the indie author world, I’ve discovered that interior book design is a HUGE deal for the reason I mentioned above. You don’t want your reader to notice it on a conscious level. So what goes into the interior design of a book?

Font choice is only the beginning. Most people go with Times Roman, which is not a bad choice it is easy to read. Whatever you choose you have to stare at it for a long time, is it easy on the eyes for hours? Because I’d like readers to sit with my book for as long as possible and set it down for reasons other than the font giving them a head ache.

Other things you have to consider is where do blank pages go in a book? Which side of the book has the even page numbers? Is it okay to start a chapter on the left side or does it always have to be on the right? Should I use a header or footer with the book title or author name? how big should the margins be? How far down the page should the chapter begin? Are all of these things the same across genres?

The best way to learn about these things is to spend time in a bookstore and man handle some books. Look at different genres and multiple examples within each genre. There is also a lot of information online about book design and many companies are popping up to help indie authors with formatting.

http://www.bookdesignetemplates.com is one such site. You can purchase different templates to use depending on your personal preferences, genre, and licensing needs. Learning about all of this and how to do it myself has been an eye opening experience and a lot of fun, but it can be very overwhelming as well. If you find yourself getting too overwhelmed with all of it, it may be worth hiring someone to help you with it all.

The last piece you have consider when designing the interior of your book is how do these things change for an ebook verses a print book? Of course you can choose to only publish in one or the other, but as a reader there are books I’m all right with having on my kindle and there are others that I want in hard copy. As an indieauthor limiting yourself to one box is the worst thing you can do for any facet of the whole writing gig.

Thebookdesigner.com is an excellent resource for all things involved in designing books.

Count down to Halloween

demonica

The costumes began appearing in stores a few weeks ago. The Spirit store and Halloween Store have opened their doors. The haunted houses have begun operation for the greatest of holidays, Halloween. I love Halloween. I get so excited the closer it gets. I’m not sure what I should be this year, last year I was the wicked witch of the west. I’ve also been a dark fairy and vampires many times. I have to be something evil, never something nice. I was always so bummed when my boys would choose to be something like a ninja rather than a devil, death, or a zombie.

Neither one of my boys are going trick or treating this year, but that won’t stop me from dressing up and having an excellent time. It just opens doors to new possibilities of celebrating, since I don’t have to wander the neighborhood street until 10:30 collecting candy from all of my neighbors.

My boxes of Halloween decorations outnumber the boxes for every other holiday. My boys have banned some decorations from the house requiring me to take them to my office. Like the one in the picture, that is Demonica. As Christmas approaches, I put an elf hat on her and a card asking for sub-for santa donations on her behalf.

Wandering the isles of the Halloween and Spirit stores is almost as fun as bookstores. Each year I add one new decoration to my collection, I put a lot of thought into which one I add because it has to fit within the theme of the rest of the decorations. Vampires, witches, and demons are my favorite creatures of the night.

Halloween is the day you can become anything you want, whether it is real or not as a writer I am able to do this every day. I’m free to chase any dream or idea until its end.

My personality definitely leans toward the darker side of things. You can find it in all of my writing, there are few happy endings and when there is, it has come at a high cost. I’ve honestly tried to write happy stories, but it’s just not in me. They all take a horribly dark turn as I giggle and type away at the key board. Thankfully, there are readers in the world who are just as dark as I am.

There is an audience out there no matter what type of writing you do, never be afraid of who you are and where your writing takes you, as long as you are authentic someone will enjoy your books. Even if you had to sell your soul and sacrifice a goat to make sure they find your book.

 

The Catcher in the Rye and Coffee

pile of books

As I drove to Barnes and Noble, I knew I had to have a plan and I went in with determination and a plan. I was getting a copy of Catcher in the Rye, a coffee, and leaving. No browsing, no other books.

I needed a classic book written in first person for ideas on sentence structure for the memoir I am working on along with the two others I have in progress.

The scent of books and coffee assailed me as I passed through the doors. I could easily spend hours here, drinking in coffee and words. But I have my plan Catcher in the Rye and coffee. Focus.

I stopped at the biographies, looking at covers, font choices, and title length. Before I knew it, I was flipping books over to read the back and perusing snippets from chapters. I totted a couple books around to the next shelf and noticed a book, I knew was at home yet to be read. Hmmmm.

Focus, damn it, Catcher in the Rye and coffee!

I hung my head in shame and placed the two books back on the shelf, caressing the cover and whispering next time and a long sigh escaped my lips.

I took the long way around the store to the fiction and literature section. Dangerous I know. I ran my fingers over some covers, stopped at the new release table, and flipped to the back cover to read a bit. Nothing really sang to my soul, so I gently placed them back with their brothers and sisters. I breathed in the aroma of the coffee and glanced at all the free souls sitting at tables sipping and turning pages.

I found Catcher in the Rye and was heading toward the coffee counter, but to get there I had to go through the fantasy and sci-fi section. Like a drug addict, I had to walk the isles. I smiled at the new book covers on Terry Brooks, Sword of Shannara. I loved those books. I looked over the new books in the Dragonlance Sagas.

Books appeared in my hand and I was obligated to read their covers and flip through sampling their words. Reluctantly, I returned them to the shelf and committed their titles to memory for further exploration later. The cover art on fantasy novels usual depicts the protagonist in an epic battle against some beast or the antagonist. Some of them are taking a more cartoonish or animated look, which I don’t especially like. George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series does not do this. The cover is very simple the hilt of a sword, a crown, or a goblet. It is not flashy but catches your eye because it is different among the color of the other covers.

I look down, more books are in my hand. How did that happen? Hmmm. The pile of books to be read in my bedroom is rather higher than I would like, if you add in the ones on my kindle, it really is a sad state of affairs, which I must address before purchasing more.

I get in line for coffee and continue my mantra Catcher in the Rye and Coffee. As I left the bookstore, there was an emptiness inside. Maybe I should find a book anonymous support group…

Hook your Readers

hook

Five to ten pages, that’s it. If you don’t hook them into your story within that time, most readers will put the book down. In order to hook a reader, you have to grip them emotionally with action and a specific character.

Throw them into the middle of some action. It doesn’t have to be something intense, but intriguing. It needs to get them to ask a question, such as what is going to happen next? It is better if it is more specific, which is why you use a character in action. Opening with a character gives them someone to connect to, someone’s eyes to see through.

Keep your prose tight and description light. You don’t want them to get lost in your big fancy words or trying to create a very detailed picture in their head. Readers are going to connect with a character more easily than multi layered description of the weather and setting. Don’t completely eliminate description, but don’t overdo it.

Many writers want to open with explanation of who a character is and what is going on in the story, but readers will wait for explanation. It is better to start by throwing them into the mix of the story and attaching them to a person/character.

Here are some articles to help with hooking readers with strong opening lines:

Avoid boring opening lines

The all important human element

Hook your readers

 

Here’s the opening to my memoir, Fighting for a Chance to Dream. What do you think?

This house is a cage. “I’ve got to get out of here,” I whisper to my reflection in the mirror. A thin eyeliner pencil glides around my hazel eyes in an Egyptian fashion. The walls push in around me. The pencil follows the smooth curve of my lips like smoldering coals surrounding a fire.

I push aside my lace dress, skull leggings, and long skirts. The hangers screech across the metal bar. Black velvet leggings slide off the hanger. Pulling them on, I decide on my burgundy velvet blazer. I untuck the ruffles of my antique white shirt and slide my feet into my combat boots, lace them up, tie them, and tuck the laces.

My fingers close around the strap of my velvet gothbox, which is like a purse. Flicking my bedroom light off, I step into the dark hallway and wait for a few seconds listening to my mother’s light snoring across the hall. The dog’s tags clink, as she raises her head. The moonlight catches in her golden eyes. We stare at each other across the empty expanse.

Thanks for your thoughts in advance!

 

When is your WIP ready for publishing?

I am Writing

Let’s admit it, you could change your work in progress (WIP) endlessly. Sentences can be rewritten in a bunch of different ways. You can spend days choosing the perfect word to describe one moment. Paragraphs and scenes can be reordered, added, deleted, and amped up on crack.

So how do you know when your book is ready to publish either traditionally or independently? You look at your WIP and you know it is the best you can make it. There is no little voice in your head saying, “You know you should look at your dialog and spruce it up a bit,” or saying “You should rethink X, Y, and Z.”

There are always changes that can be made, there are in the best works, but the little voice in your head, your inner editor, does go quiet with satisfaction eventually. If an editor has reviewed your book and your inner editor is quiet, it’s time to publish and stop fiddling and tweaking.

I have going over my memoir, Fighting for a Chance to Dream, again. I am focusing on POV and targeting sense words (smell, taste, hear, saw, touched). I am also watching sentences that begin with “I.” Fighting for a Chance to Dream is written in first person present tense, so I am careful to vary the sentences, so they don’t all start with I did this or I did that, which gets very annoying and boring.

When editing, it’s important to pick one or two things to focus on as you go through the manuscript. If you don’t, the task becomes overwhelming. After completing a first draft, the first round of editing focuses on major structure and story development. I read the manuscript start to finish (I print it out because it’s easier to keep notes) and make notes in the margins about those two things.

The second round of edits focuses on each scene making sure there is a goal, conflict, and disaster and in the sequels making sure there is a reaction, dilemma, and a decision.

The third round of edits focuses on Motivation Reaction Units making sure at all levels (scene, paragraph, and sentence) I have set the MRU up like a row of dominos.

The fourth round looks at character arc and development of the main and minor characters. Characters need to change and grow throughout the story not just at the climax. Changes and realizations need to be initiated by something with enough weight to actually make the change in a person. A change to a person’s beliefs and values is a process not an instant reaction.

The fifth round focuses on POV and senses making sure that I’m showing where I should be and summarizing/telling when I should be.

Once I’ve finished all of these, I send it out to beta readers asking if there are any holes in the story or major questions that go unanswered. I ask them to mark parts that are boring or confusing. I usually take the manuscript to an office supply story and have it spiral bound, so my reader can go through it like a book.

I make more changes based off what my beta readers suggest. I try to take an objective stance when I get feedback from others about my writing although it can be r hard to hear. Sometimes it is best to just listen, keep notes, and allow yourself a day or two to mull it over. I have found that their suggestions are worth listening to and much of the time taking even if it means killing parts of the manuscript that I love. I just save them in a separate file that way my darlings are never dead.

Relentless Call to Love

Hope nestles warm against frigid stone.

Joy and happiness found in the solitariness of a dark life.

Like a silver blade slipped between ribs, the soul seeks a twin harmony.

Its incessant song grates against reason and objectivity.

No amount of desolation or isolation can silence its call.