Jan-Feb Issue of Self-Publisher’s Monthly

SPM_coverIt’s that time again! Don’t forget to go to your favorite ebook outlet and pick up this month’s copy of Self-Publisher’s Monthly. This month is full of all sorts of great information writers can use, all for the low, low price of 99 cents! It’s a bargain you can’t afford to be without!

This month’s issue includes:

Using Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” Feature as an Editing Tool by yours truly

What is “Do-It-Yourself Publishing” by Danny O. Snow

Connect with “Influencers” and Sell More Books by Rachel Thompson

Six Steps to Generating a Powerful Marketing Message for your Book by Scott Flora

Seven Common Mistakes to Avoid When Preparing Your Manuscript for POD Publication by Joel Friedlander

Institutional Buyers and How They Can Benefit Your Book by Shel Horowitz

Book Awards Increase Sales by Dan Poynter

Live Links to Freebies and Useful Resources

Don’t miss this and all the other issues of this terrific publication!

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No More Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am

ID-10090866_imagerymajestic_freedigitalphotos.netPhoto courtesy of imagerymajestic on freedigitalphotos.net

Okay, it’s been awhile since my last post, and I apologize. I’ve been insanely busy editing, and for that I’m grateful. In fact, I should be editing right now, but this post idea won’t leave me alone.

Sex scenes. Please, people. If you’re going to write them, and I know you’re going to write them, make them good. What is sex? At its most basic, it’s two people (or any two creatures, but how many of you write about sex between anything except people? Okay, there may be a few of you…) slapping genitalia together in the hopes of procreating. But that’s not why you write about it, is it? At its best, it’s about the emotional connection, not the physical one. Even if your readers are in it to get turned on, it’s the emotional connection that really seduces them. So, keeping that in mind, let’s talk about what will keep the reader on the page and not skipping this part to get back to the story. Yes, it’s true… this does happen. So before you write filler just to hop from one sex scene to the next, think about that for a moment.

Sex scenes should be about more than the mechanical motions your characters are going through. Let’s face it… there are only so many ways to do it. Who’s on top? Who initiates the act? Is someone submissive? Yada, yada, yada. Yawn.

Do we really care if it’s the most amazing love fest they’ve ever had? Do we care if she’s never gone down on a guy before but suddenly she’s an expert? Do we care if he’s rough and ready the moment she bats her eyes and sighs? Do we care that all he has to do is flex his muscles and her panties are wet? Do we care about her bounteous breasts and his six-pack abs? Meh.

Let’s delve into the emotional aspects. That’s what we’re really invested in with our characters, isn’t it? What is going through our main characters’ minds during that scene? Is she really into it and filled with mental fireworks or is she going through the motions and thinking about that deadline at work or the fact she’s worried that he’s cheating on her with her best friend? This is what really makes a sex scene interesting. Maybe she starts off being distracted, but he manages to pull her focus back to the moment, and they create some magic. That stroke along her cheek that sets her nerves singing and engages an old memory of their last anniversary that was so special (which started in a similar fashion), which makes her try a little harder, makes her more attentive to [fill in whatever he's doing to her] and makes her respond by [fill in whatever she's doing to him]. Now how does that make them feel? Add the other senses. Are there scents that trigger a response? Lighting? Sounds? Maybe he’s able to convince her through his actions and whispers in her ear that she’s the only woman for him, now and forever. Or if he did have a dalliance, that he’s sorry and it will never happen again; it was the worst mistake he’s ever made. Or it could be reversed. Maybe she’s the one who made the mistake and she feels guilty because he’s devoted to her completely, and with every touch, every reaction she feels, guilt colors it. Make it real. Make us feel what she feels. We want to feel her relief or her guilt. We want to feel his devotion or his pain when he finds out. That’s why we read.

If we’re taken along for the seduction, then find that we’ve been betrayed, we feel the pain. But if all we get is the mechanics of sex, we don’t feel the seduction or the love and/or pain. We might as well be reading the Penthouse forum.

Invest your characters in the scene. You can only say an orgasm was more amazing than ever before once, then it isn’t believable. And besides, how was it more amazing? If you can’t describe it, there’s a problem. You’re a writer… describing is your job! Saying things are wonderful or amazing may be okay for dialogue (occasionally), because let’s face it, most of us are pretty trite when we talk. But if you’re doing a first person narrative and your sex scenes are full of these adjectives, you need to delve deeper. Explore what you’re trying to convey. If that’s all you can say about the scene, do you really need it? Get back to the story. If your story must have sex scenes, make them count. Make them an integral part of the story that is woven into the story so well that if you cut them, the story would be missing bits it can’t do without. If your story is fine without the sex, then they’re just added in as set dressing, kind of like it happens in HBO series. You’re doing it because you can, not because it’s needed. If you’re writing erotica, this is also important. Just because you’re in a genre meant to be about sex doesn’t mean the sex shouldn’t be integral to the story. Make every scene count.

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Nov-Dec Issue Self-Publisher’s Monthly!

SPM_coverThe new issue of Self-Publisher’s Monthly is out! Why am I excited? Well, not only am I a contributing editor to this fine publication, but every month, you are treated to a plethora (yes, I said plethora!) of fine articles on the art of publishing your own work.

This month’s issue offers some great advice on promotion, tightening your writing, publishers, learning to sell, how print-on-demand printing and distribution works, how to maximize Amazon’s new Matchbox and Countdown programs, how much indie authors can realistically make from their books, and more! :)

You’re getting off the cuff advice from people in the self-publishing trenches like Rachel Thompson, Scott Flora, Danny Snow, Joel Friedlander, Dan Poynter, and Florrie Kichler, and me.

Aaaaaaand… the publishers of SPM are offering a contest to win an ebook publishing package from Self-Publishers Monthly! All you have to do to enter is email an order confirmation of any issue in 2013 from Amazon, Apple, Nook, Smashwords, or any other bookseller to newsdesk@u-publish.com with the phrase “e-Book Publishing Drawing” in the subject line. How awesome is that?

I’d say you get a lot for a measly 99 cents. If you haven’t checked it out before, you really should.

You can get your latest copy here: http://www.selfpublishersmonthly.com

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Here is our NaNoWriMo package for FREE to help with the fantastic craft of writing…

Nanowrimo crest

Writers get your pen, pencil, and fingers ready for a month of writing. NaNoWriMo is coming soon… November 1st!

I talk the craft of writing with the Masters themselves… the Writers! Over 50+ Videos and and many talented writers have honored me with interviews and tutorials. WATCH & LISTEN to their wonderful thoughts and insights into the craft of writing, editing, cover art, publishing and marketing.

 

 

And if you hop over to BlogTalkRadio, I have over 80+ audio interviews with these masters of the craft of writing. 
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/johnrakestraw
Here’s a small list of the writers I’ve have interviewed:

             and the list goes on and on…

All total, I have over 100+ hours of writing tutorials, interviews, and insights into the beautiful craft of writing!

Let’s make this the start of our writing careers…

           

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Gearing Up for NaNoWriMo

Yes, it’s that time again! Writers everywhere are plotting and planning as they get ready to dive into the trenches of NaNoWriMo.

What’s NaNoWriMo, you may ask? NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it takes place in November. Started in 1999 by Chris Baty in San Francisco, it soon evolved into a worldwide event organized by The Office of Letters and Light. You can join here.

The only real criteria is that you write 50,000 words in 30 days. There are forums to help you if you get stuck, if you have questions on a plot point, if you need a title, if you need inspiration, or if you want local support.

Our novel, Titanic Deception, started out as a NaNoWriMo rough draft. It’s a lot of fun, and if you’ve never written a novel before, it’s a great way to get started. If you’re an established writer, it can be a a fun way to get that rough draft written quickly. Writers of all calibers participate from all over the world, and for people who don’t care for the solitary aspect of writing, it offers a social aspect we don’t get the rest of the year.

Even if you don’t ‘win’ this year, it’s a wonderful writing exercise. Meeting a daily writing goal can be challenging, but it’s a good discipline to practice. If you don’t do that now, NaNoWriMo can be the perfect excuse to start.

Got your pencils ready?

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Preparing Your Manuscript

42-15529728You’ve finally done it… written your novel. It’s complete. All those words down in one place. And you’re no fool. You’ve got an editor all lined up.  But wait.

Is it really ready for the editor yet?

When you say it’s done, is this the best it can be or did you just finish your rough draft? If you just finished typing ‘The End,’ you’ve still got a lot of work to do before you’re ready for the editor. You’ve still got some revisions of your own to do after your rough draft. Maybe this scene isn’t the best it can be. Maybe Sally should have made a different decision after that first plot point, because if she did, the whole second act would have been so much more interesting. Maybe the climax of the story still needs some work because it’s good, but it’s still oh, I don’t know, it’s missing something.

Once you’ve wrestled with all of this and straightened it out, then it’s time for your trusted beta readers, or your mom, or whoever you feel will give you the best feedback. Once you get a copy back all covered in oil stains from your mechanic (because he has true literary insight, even though he messes up your manuscripts) and you hear his critique, you can go back, fix what you truly feel needs to be fixed, and then take one more look at it.

Then, when you think you can’t make it any better than it is, run it through spell check. I know it won’t catch everything (like words that are spelled correctly but used incorrectly), but it will save a few of the hairs left on your editor’s head. Look at it again. Have you dotted all your i’s? Crossed all your t’s? Do your sentences have punctuation and capital letters? If not, you may need to review some basics. If you know they belong there and just didn’t put them in, put them in. Do you really want to pay your editor extra to put them in for you?

Okay, now you can send your manuscript to your editor. Your editor will appreciate all of your hard work.

You know all those horror stories about editors? About how mean they are? How they’ll tear your manuscript to pieces? A lot of that stems from receiving manuscripts that were really rough drafts. That didn’t have sentences starting with capital letters. That didn’t have punctuation at the end of sentences. That had paragraphs that lasted for pages. Dialogue without meaning that went on and on. Missing plot points, garbled structure, cardboard characters, flip flopping between tenses and points of view, repetitive anything… After awhile, editors develop twitches. And headaches. And then they begin to morph into editing monsters that lash out uncontrollably at anything that passes by that even remotely resembles a manuscript. They can’t help themselves. They hoard red pens compulsively and growl at anyone who dares reach for one. (That’s MY red pen, damn it!)  Please, for the love of God, save an editor today! Prep your manuscript properly or we can’t be responsible for what may happen next! :::eye twitches:::

:::clears throat::: Okay. Sorry about that. But it had to be said. Writers, learn your craft. Hold your head high. Be proud of what you do. Step out and say, “Damn it, I’m a writer.” Own it. Be responsible for what you put on a page. Don’t get sloppy. It’s your name on the cover, not the editor’s.

It’s amazing what a difference it makes to get a manuscript that looks well prepared. Yes, there may be shallow characters, missing plot points, repetition, and flip flopping tenses, but presentation at least shows us that the author cares enough to make it look nice. Presentation can soothe a lot of ruffled editing feathers. Nice editor. There, there.

Once your book is edited, it’s up to you what you want to do with it. You can self-publish. You can submit your story to agents. If an agent accepts it, they will probably suggest their own edits and you’ll comply. Then when they sell your story to a publisher, they’ll also send you through another editing process.

Even so, it all comes back to you. You’re the one writing and preparing your manuscript. Do it with pride.

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Different Approaches to Outlining

MP900382896Outlining. For a lot of writers, that’s a bad word. It makes them cringe or run screaming for the door. Well, I’m here to tell you that outlining can be your friend. It wants you to scritch it behind the ears and to croon sweetly in baby talk. In fact, you could think of it as a way to get to know your infant story. Awwww. Isn’t it cute? Just look at that sweet little plot point. :)

Outlining will also show you when it’s time to change that sucker and flush that scene because it stinks to high heavens. Oh yes it will.

You don’t believe in outlining, huh? Because Mrs. Davis in fifth grade made you do so many outlines that your head hurt for a solid week trying to get all those levels right with the proper sentences to describe each part of your report and it hurt you so badly on such a deep level that it has scarred you for life. For life! No, you don’t have to show me. But I’m here to tell you that outlining not only doesn’t have to hurt, but it can be fun. Why? Because you don’t have to do that kind of outline.

Here are some more intuitive variations that can help you plot out your story.

Mind maps

Mind maps are intuitive and fun. You start with your central theme or event in the center and surround it with clusters of related subjects or scenes. It allows you to work spatially rather than linearly. Once you start playing with mind mapping, it can actually be a lot of fun. You’ll find that your ideas will start to flow, and then the ideas related to your central theme will sprout ideas of their own, and like the old shampoo commercial, it will continue, and so on, and so on, and so on. Mind mapping is great for overcoming writer’s block because it utilizes both the visual and subconscious. You can create your own mind maps with paper and pencil or you can use free software you can get here.

Pictures

What do they have a lot of on the internet? Pictures! Use them to outline your story. Gather images for your characters, settings, and important props and keep them in folders so you can refer to them when you get stuck. Sometimes looking at a photo will fill in gaps you were struggling with and get those writerly juices flowing again. Believe it or not, they may also help you find issues in your story so you can fix them before they bog you down in a later draft.

Maps

Draw a map of your story’s world. Maybe it’s a fictional town in the mountains or a fantasy world. Maybe you need a real map of New York City so you can plot your character’s route to work every day. Whatever you need, a map can help you put it together more realistically, even if your map is very cartoony. It’s okay. As long as it helps you with your story, it works. Some authors even end up putting a finished version of the map in the book, so don’t knock it.

Use one of these ideas, use them all. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is you start putting your ideas in some sort of order. Do you have to organize them formally on paper? No. Not unless you want to. But if it helps to keep character sheets so you remember that Jane has blue eyes and sandy brown hair instead of green eyes and dark brown hair, please do so to create a record you can refer to if you’re tempted to redraw her halfway through the book. No detail is too much for you to know. It may not make it into the book, but it’s important that you know it. That book is your world.

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Using a Plan

I just got a new book yesterday: Outlining Your Novel by K. M. Weiland. I’m really excited about this book and I’ll tell you why. John and I are starting our next book, and as much as I’d like to jump right in, I can’t. I have to plan it out. If I don’t, I know I’ll be barreling along and suddenly I won’t know what comes next. When that happens, I could be stymied there for months. I don’t want that to happen. I’m really excited about this story and I want it to be told. Heck, I’ve had a map of 1888 London staring down at me from above my desk for well over a year now, goading me.

Could I have planned our book without this new book to help me? Sure. But I’m always looking for new ways to streamline the process. I’d already taken Patti Larsen’s outlining course, and she got my brain juices flowing in many ways. I used her system to get the main story arc planned. But I stumbled across this little gem when I was adding K. M.’s Structuring Your Novel to my wish list. I had read about it on my friend Roz Morris’ blog, and anything Roz uses is good enough for me (Hi, Roz!). Besides, as an editor, I’m always adding resources to my reference shelf. If I can find books that help me explain issues to my clients, I recommend them.

Anyway, I’m all revved up now. Got my notebook for my outlining (not the standard outlines we did in grade school). Got my book to inspire me. Got my husband (he’s the idea guy that keeps the stories going). Got my research to keep the historical aspects accurate. Now I just need to have the time. I’ll pull it out of somewhere. I have been gloriously busy with clients, which is how I like it. Lots of clients means the bills are paid, which means I’m happy. Heck, the kids may even get winter shoes. I may even get winter shoes. :) But I digress.

My point is, I get to plan. I want to plan out every scene. I want to know if I’m missing a crucial point before I begin writing. Are all my plot points in the right place? Are my subplots making sense? Do they weave in seamlessly? This story will have psychological elements, so it’s crucial that everything works perfectly. I’d rather do the work now than try to dig through the finished draft looking for my mistakes.

Of course, I know not everyone agrees with me. Some writers prefer to discover their story as they write. I feel I’m discovering the story, but it’s during the planning stage. Of course, I still get the thrill of discovery as I write, too. The plan doesn’t flesh everything out, it just provides me with a road map. The characters may still take a side trip now and then, but I feel like I have a guide to get them back on track. If you don’t want to plan ahead of time, more power to you. Every writer has their process. I just thought I’d explain mine today.

Another writer I admire, Chuck Wendig, shared his tips for editing and revising, which utilizes outlining later in the process, so it can be a good skill to master no matter when you use it. Check out his post and apply as needed.

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Get the Most for Your Editing Buck

No, this isn’t a sale. We covered this topic in a Google Hangout on Air. Believe it or not, there are ways to make sure you get the most out of your editing dollar. If you go back through the archives, you’ll see I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating. Of course, you don’t need to read… you can listen instead. :)

Of course, who am I to judge? If you prefer to pay your editor to check your spelling, remove your overused words, and spend her time on a rough draft, it’s your dime. But you can take this to the bank: your editor will love you forever if you improve your writing skills from one book to the next. I know it means a lot to me.

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The Art of Character by David Corbett Giveaway

Today we’re doing something special. Not only do we have a fabulous interview with author David Corbett about characterization (everyone should read this interview… you’ll learn a LOT!), but if you post a comment, you’ll be entered for a chance to win a copy of his book, The Art of Character. That’s right!

Spread the word, and don’t forget to post. I highly recommend this book to any writer. You could be the one!

The drawing will be held on Monday, September 9, so stay tuned. If the winner lives in the US or Canada, they will have their choice of a print or digital copy; if they live anywhere else in the world, a digital copy will be given. Okay, let’s get started!

I am so excited to have David here. He is a former private investigator and a New York Times Notable author.In The Art of Character, David offers a unique and indispensable toolkit for creating characters that vividly come to life on the page and linger in memory.

I’ve read his book and it now holds a place of honor on my desk with my other treasured writing references. Yes, it’s that good.

Toni: Welcome, David! Let’s get right to it, shall we? How did you learn your characterization techniques?

David: I studied acting in my 20s, and learned a lot from my teachers as well as the texts on acting by Constantin Stanislavsky: Creating a Role, Building a Character, and An Actor Prepares. Theater made me appreciate the profound, clear-cut advantages of dramatization over description in depicting and developing character.

When I began writing fiction, I first relied on the advice of Lajos Egri in his wonderful text, The Art of Dramatic Writing, and I wrote extensive character biographies analyzing the physical, psychological, and sociological aspects of my characters’ natures. But I soon realized I’d fallen into a trap, turning my back on what I’d learned before. I was writing static, descriptive passages about my characters that failed to bring them to life the way scenes could. And so I began to develop the methodology I outline in the book, which is to build a biography not from information but from scenes of emotional risk and helplessness that have defined the characters’ lives. This has proved to be far more useful and valuable to me in my own writing, and I’ve seen excellent results in the work of my students who employ this approach.

Toni: What advice would you give a writer having trouble finding the core desire for their main character?

David: Well, the first thing I’d do is ask the writer: What makes your character happy? What would happen if the source of that happiness was taken away forever? Is there something else, something deeper that the character considers gratifying? I’d continue this process of elimination until I found the thing the character simply can’t live without, the thing that makes life meaningful and worth the struggle of existence. The character will be facing considerable conflict in the story (if it’s written well), and he will have to come to some kind of reckoning: Why continue this struggle? Why not simply relent, give up, go home? The answer lies in what the character truly, deeply needs and wants from life. That’s what he’s fighting for, even if he doesn’t realize it at first, or tries to deny it.

If this process fails to get the writer in touch with his character’s core desire, then I’d have him ask these questions of himself: What makes you happy? What would happen if the source of that happiness was taken away, and so on. What gives your life meaning? What would render your life meaningless? Young writers especially tend to avoid answering such questions, but avoidance is a form of denial, even cowardice. If you can’t answer these questions for yourself, how can you hope to answer them about anyone else, especially your characters?

Toni: You often hear about flawed characters. Why is it so important that characters be flawed and vulnerable in some way?

David: Being flawed isn’t the same as being vulnerable, though the two are related.

Vulnerability is key because we instinctively empathize with someone who’s vulnerable – unless we shrink from the basic concern for others that defines decency. Few things draw us closer to a character than the knowledge that he’s wounded or hurting in some way.

A flaw, however – or a weakness, a wound – takes us back to the core desire. To identify the character’s flaw or weakness or wound, you need to know not just what his core desire is, but why he doesn’t have it in his life. The answer to that question leads you to the aspect of his nature that is holding him back, that creates the lack at the core of his existence, and that lack feeds the desire that, consciously or unconsciously, motivates his action within the story. Normally the character is in some way blind to how his flaw or weakness or wound is holding him back, but the conflict he endures through the course of the story strips away his pretenses, awakens his self-awareness, and that insight guides him to a deeper understanding of his life, and the stakes of not accomplishing the goal at the heart of the story. He at last understands what he has to lose, and what he’s been trying to avoid admitting until that critical epiphany, that moment of insight.

Great stories normally concern a character who, through the insight prompted by great conflict, correct the flaw or overcome the weakness or heal the wound that has been crippling their capacity for fulfillment and happiness, and guided by that insight they find a way to change themselves and the way they live.

Toni: How does point of view help with characterization?

David: Point of view establishes the distance you’ve decided to take between you, the writer, and your character. It will define the extent to which you can avail yourself of the more subjective tools such as inner life and even stream-of-consciousness, or whether you decide to reveal the character more through more objective methods: description, action, dialog.

Point of view also can determine how intimately the reader bonds with the character. First person generally inspires a profound and specific sense of intimacy, but it also risks spending too much time in the character’s head as he tells us the story instead of living it. Third person allows more convincing dramatization without narrative intrusion, but unless the point of view is close, this dramatization can risk creating a certain distance that feels cool and remote.

There is no “best answer,” though editors are swooning over first person these days, to the point they automatically ask: How could this story be told in first person? This kind of artificial preference makes me itch, but such is the way of things.

Toni: Thank you for your interview, David. I appreciate your time and your book.

David: Thanks for your interest and support, Toni!

 

David Corbett is the author of four novels: The Devil’s Redhead, Done for a Dime (a New York Times Notable Book), Blood of Paradise (nominated for numerous awards, including the Edgar), and Do They Know I’m Running? The Art of Character is his latest book. David’s short fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Mission and Tenth, The Smoking Poet, San Francisco Noir and Best American Mystery Stories (2009 and 2011). He has taught both online and in classroom settings through the UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program, Book Passage, LitReactor, 826 Valencia, The Grotto in San Francisco, and at numerous writing conferences across the US. He lives in Vallejo, CA.

 

Find David Corbett at the following places online:

Website: www.davidcorbett.com 

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/DavidCorbett

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Art-Character-Creating-Memorable-Characters/dp/014312157X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377280776&sr=1-1&keywords=david+corbett

Twitter: @DavidCorbett_CA

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/David-Corbett/157804457579661

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