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Anne R. Allen's Blog

...WITH RUTH HARRIS

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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."


Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, December 28, 2014

What Did You Care About Most in 2014? Our Top Writing Stories.


by Ruth Harris


As Anne and I looked back at the blog for the past year, a portrait emerged highlighting the themes and subjects that interested you most. We were intrigued by these clues about what was on our readers’ minds in 2014 and thought you’d be interested, too. So here are the topics that rang your bells.

Feedback


As writers we care about how our readers respond so getting feedback is high on our lists. A series of three posts addressed this important issue from three different points of view:

  • Anne delved into the function of crit groups and offered guidelines about what advice to heed and what to ignore.
  • Editing is life. The blue tie? Or the yellow one? Peter or Paul? Or Mary? Ruth, a former editor, shared the secret of every successful writer, editors and editing
  • Jami Gold made valuable suggestions about how and where to find beta readers and how to hone your own skills as a beta reader.

Beginnings and endings


  • Great first chapters, made even more important because of the “Look Inside” feature, seal the deal and impel the reader hit the buy button. Ergo: first chapters matter. A lot. Anne talked about how not to begin your book (and turn off your prospective reader). 
  • Now that you’ve written a grabby, impossible-to-resist first chapter, what next? Chapter endings keep the pages turning. Jessica Bell gave must-heed advice about the key to a great chapter ending

Do’s and Don’ts


  • Twitter Is big, confusing, fun, and scary and you have only 160 characters to make your point. Here’s Molly Greene’s stellar advice about how to behave (and how not to) on twitter.
  • Aiming too high? Aiming too low? Stuck with a lousy deal? Anne wrote about the dumb things she did and what you can do so you don’t make the same mistakes. Pay attention!
  • Tipping off that you’re a clueless newbie? Turning off readers and agents? You don’t want to do that either, do you? Here’s Anne’s guide to beginner’s mistakes—the mistakes you don’t want to make. 

The no-outline outline, the killer blurb and writing for the 21st Century


  • There are plotters and there are pantsers but what about those of us somewhere in the middle? Nathan Bransford boils it down to 3 great tips that will get you from that first vague idea to an actual, usable plan that will get your book (and you) off to the right start.
  • Blurbs are so important that today even the Bible has one. They are a little bit art, a little bit craft, a little bit commercial poetry, so how the $^%# do you write one? Ruth, a blurb writer in a former life, shares some tips.
  • Styles change in art, music, fashion. And in books, too. Sketch, don’t paint. Unbury your dialogue. The magic of white space. Anne offers valuable insight into writing for the 21st Century reader.

Genre, categories and keywords


  • Romance with a side of horror? Happens in real life—oy!—but not such a hot idea in fiction. Cozy mystery with a side of blood and gore? Only if you want readers coming after you with shoulder-fired missiles. Genres come with rules that create guidelines for writers—and set up expectations in readers. Here’s Ruth’s round-up of genres with links to expert advice about how to write them. 
  • Readers know what they like and what they want. Categories and keywords help them find what they’re looking for and smart writers know how to use them effectively. Ruth delved into the mysteries of BISAC and BIC, of categories and keywords with lots of advice from the category and keywords gurus.

Coming attractions...from Anne


We've had such enthusiastic responses to our guest bloggers this year, we've invited some more great guests for 2015: 

January: Agent Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary Agency on "Why You Don't Need a Literary Agent" (but why you might WANT one.)

This is an absolute MUST READ for anybody who is querying right now. Even though Laurie is closed to queries, SHE WILL ACCEPT QUERIES FROM READERS OF THIS BLOG.

Also in January: an interview with Walter Reuben, the winner of the L.A. Film Critics' Award for Best Indie Film for 2014. His film, The David Whiting Story, addresses the same mysterious Hollywood death as my novel The Gatsby Game. But what's most important is that a Boomer who followed his dream--and not the rules--achieved amazing success with a first film. Walter is an amazing inspiration to all new writers out there, no matter what their age. 

February: Melodie Campbell, Canada's Queen of Comedy and president of Crime Writers of Canada will be back for another of her hilarious how-tos.

March: Super-editor Jodie Renner on How to Write Award-Winning Short Fiction.

April: Robin Houghton, author of the great book Blogging for Writers with some Insider's Blogging Tips.

We also hope to have a visit from radio talk show host Dave Congalton with tips for authors on how to be a good radio guest. 

We're also hoping to have some of our great guests from last year back again.

Coming up from Ruth: She's been researching the newest approaches to creativity and productivity and she's planning a post I know will help and inspire us all.

Coming up from Anne: 

  • How Kindle Unlimited has changed indie publishing and why we need to think outside the Amazon box.
  • Has the Indie Bubble Burst?
  • How new changes to social media affect authors. 
  • Authors as marketers: why a lot of marketing advice doesn't apply to selling books.
  • Should you follow the trend and return to newsletters and drop social media?
  • Why quality, not quantity, is what still matters.  
  • Why blogging is more important for authors than ever. In spite of what you may hear.
  • Why customer reviews are becoming less relevant. 
  • How to save money and time by ignoring people who are exploiting authors. 
  • Tips for entering (and winning) contests.
  • How to decide if your book will do better with trad. or indie publishing in today's market.

Both of us wish all of you great reviews and happy readers, sentences that flow and books to be proud of. We look forward to seeing you in 2015 and, until then, wish you the very best of New Years!

BOOK OF THE WEEK


CHANEL and GATSBY: A Comic two-fer. Only 99c!
Hollywood and Manhattan: it's Bi-Coastal Comedy!

Available at NOOKKoboAmazon USAmazon UKAmazon CA



The Chanel Caper

JAMES BOND MEETS NORA EPHRON. OR IS IT THE OTHER WAY AROUND?

Blake Weston is a smart, savvy, no BS, 56-year-old Nora Ephron-like New Yorker. Her DH, Ralph Marino, is a très James Bond ex-cop & head of security for a large international corporation. At a tense time in their relationship, Blake & Ralph are forced to work together to solve a murder in Shanghai & break up an international piracy ring.

A totally fabulous, LMAO adventure with some of the best one-liners I've ever read!!! Ruth's wit is just a hoot, and her characters have the best sassy mouths in the biz!!!...bestselling author D.D. Scott

The Gatsby Game

A POSSIBLE SOLUTION TO A 40-YEAR OLD UNSOLVED HOLLYWOOD MYSTERY

When Nicky Conway meets Fitzgerald-quoting Alistair at a Princeton mixer, she falls for his retro, Jazz-Age charm. But she discovers he’s a con man obsessed with his own “Daisy”—British actress Delia Kent. After Alistair manipulates Nicky into nannying for Delia’s daughter on the set of a Hollywood film, Delia finds Alistair dead in her motel room. Local police can’t decide if it’s accident, suicide—or murder, in which case, Nicky is the prime suspect.

"For anyone who likes their books to be witty, with great characters, an atmosphere which it is a delight to experience, and a fast moving plot, this book is one you definitely shouldn't miss." ...Gerry McCullough of Gerry's Books

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


VIGNETTE WRITERShere's a contest for you! The Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Contest. The prize is for a collection of vignettes and poetry up to 20,000 words. Fee $25.  Prize is $500, publication by Vine Leaves Press (paperback and eBook), 20 copies of the paperback, worldwide distribution, and promotion through the Vine Leaves and staff websites. It will be judged by an editor from Simon and Schuster. Deadline February 28, 2015.

THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words.  Deadline February 1, 2015.

The M.M. Bennetts Prize for Historical fiction. $10 Entry fee. $500 prize for the best historical novel published in 2014. To be announced at the Historical Novel Society Conference in June in Deadline January 31st, 2015

Writer's Digest Short Short Story CompetitionFirst prize $3000. Top 25 will be published. Entry Fee $25. 1500 words or less. Deadline January 16th, 2015.

THE GOVER PRIZE FOR SHORT-SHORT STORIES from Best New Writing. $5 Entry Fee. The prize is $250 and publication in Best New Writing to the best short fiction and creative nonfiction. Entries are limited to 500 words or less. Gover Prize winner and finalists will be published in the upcoming BNW edition. Deadline January 10th, 2015

WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

25 Must-Read Tips on Plotting from Top Authors and Editors


We have a special post for the holidays, compiled by freelance editor M. J. Bush.  

I first met M. J. when she included Ruth and me in one of her great quote compilations: "99 Essential Quotes on Character Creation". I appreciated all the work that went into her post and asked if she'd like to do a quote post for us. 

I'm especially grateful that she was able to get it done early and move it up to this month. I'm just now clawing my way back to health after a month-long Virus from Hell. It's a huge help that she's going to be at the helm while I'm madly wrapping gifts, addressing cards, and packing for a Christmas visit to my family.  

I'm so glad she decided to tackle the subject of plotting. Mastering the art of the plot is probably the toughest part of learning to write novels. We can have too much going on, or too little. Or have it going on in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Even seasoned professionals usually need an editor's help to make sure the plot doesn't rush or sag anywhere. 

Without a compelling plot, the most beautifully drawn characters, brilliant insights, and lyrical prose are lost on most readers. 

Plot is the engine that drives your novel. M. J. brings us some tips to help you keep that engine fine-tuned. And if you follow all the links she provides, you will have a superb mini-course in how to plot your novel. Many thanks to her for compiling this excellent list! 

Ruth and I wish you all a very happy holiday season...Anne


25 Penetrating Quotes on Plot 

Compiled by M.J. Bush



Plot is story; story is plot. Without something happening, your characters aren’t pushed to grow and you can’t show their carefully crafted complexities.

With a well-formed plot, you pull in the reader with flawless tension handling, robust arcs, and vibrant themes.





Brush up with 25 quotes from plot-savvy writers:


1. Structure is required in all of art. Dancing, painting, singing, you name it–all art forms require structure. Writing is no different. To bring a story to its full potential, authors must understand the form’s limitations, as well as put its many parts into proper order to achieve maximum effect.

K.M. Weiland, Structuring Your Novel


2. The best way to travel the length of your story is to grab hold of the throughline—the driving force of the book—and refuse to let go.



3. Unless your story is very basic and simple, the throughline is something you will consciously have to look for and adjust.



4. When you are mind mapping, you don’t need to think linearly yet. You just want to throw ideas onto the paper to let your story start gelling. Try to come up with ten strong scenes that will be the pivotal moments in your story.

C.S. Lakin, Ways Novelists Can Brainstorm Plot and Scenes


5. The fix for most script problems is to give serious attention to the movement from one narrative moment to the next. The easiest way to understand what a narrative moment is, is to ask two questions: What does this action or this line of dialogue force the audience to question? How does that information relate to previous questions raised by the story?

Clive Davies-Frayne, Why I Don’t Read “How To” Screenwriting Articles Anymore


6. You can’t rush certain sections to get them to a plot point or you might race ahead of the reader.


Roz Morris, Story structure: why plot milestones might not be equally spaced – and why that’s good


7. Plotting with mini arcs can be a handy tool to break your novel into smaller, more manageable pieces that keep the story moving and the ideas coming. 

Janice Hardy, Plot Your Novel With Mini Arcs


8. As you are working out the plot for your book (or, for you pantsers, as you are trying to figure out what happens next,) make a list of all the things that could happen next.

Kara Lennox, The Plot Fixer #8 – Is Your Plot Too Predictible?  



Tweetable: "Don’t go with the obvious next move in your story. Brainstorm and see what else you could do."








9. Make coincidences add complications, not take them away.

Jami Gold, The Green Lantern Movie: How *Not* to Plot a Story


10. Every scene should have conflict and a great way to test this is to do a Conflict Lock.

Kristen Lamb, Structure Part 8–Balancing the Scenes that Make Up Your Novel


11. Is there any point where a reader might feel like putting the book down?


James Scott Bell, 6 Common Plot Fixes


12. Subplots matter far more than their name implies. If a screenplay dies in Act 2 or Act 3, it’s just as likely the problem lies in the subplots as in the main narrative.

Allen Palmer, The secret to subplots


13. If a story goes too long without new information being revealed, the reader can get bored and feel that nothing is happening.

Janice Hardy, A Trick for Keeping Your Plot (and Story) on Target


14. What stirs our hearts isn’t the grand sweep of a plot but the piercing effect of moments along the way.

Donald Maass, Plot vs. Heart


15. It’s important to remember that your hook isn’t just the first line of a story, but a concert of parts acting together – the first line that pulls you in soundlessly or with a bang, the follow-up that adds depth and meaning to that first line making it as real as the Velveteen Rabbit, and the moment of clarity that connects the starting point to the rest of the novel.

Natalie C. Parker, The Anatomy of a Good Hook





16. The inciting incident is, by no means, an optional plot point. Without a life-altering event to catapult our characters in one direction or another, there isn’t a story.

Ava Jae, Plot Essentials: Inciting Incident

17. The pre-middle consists of the time period between receiving the invitation and the start of the “meaty” action. This is a great time for your hero to take a short trip, where he can naturally observe new things without “information-dumping” on the reader.

Christine H., What Every Writer Should Know About Their Novel’s Pre-Middle

18. Antagonists rule the middle and are there to teach the protagonist what she needs to know in order to prevail at the climax at the end.

Martha Alderson, How to Turn a Lackluster Middle into Page-turning Excitement

19. Before the Mid-Point both the hero and the reader experience the story with limited awareness of the real truth behind what’s going on. Because it reveals significant new information, everything after the Mid-Point carries new weight and dramatic tension.

Larry Brooks, Story Structure Series: #6 — Wrapping Your Head Around the Mid-Point Milestone

20. The midpoint moment is the moment that tells us what the novel or movie is all about.

James Scott Bell, Write from the Middle


Tweetable: The midpoint shift and the mirror moment are scene and sequel. Revelation and realization. External and internal.


21. At the Second Plot Point you can smell the ending just around the corner, whereas in the scene before you couldn’t. And yet, you’re not sure what it will be.

Larry Brooks, Story Structure Series: #8 – The Second Plot Point

22. The All Is Lost moment is powerful because it is primal. It reaches down into the core of our beings and takes what we fear in our lives and makes those things real.

Cory Milles, When All Is Lost, Your Story Succeeds

23. Your black moment isn’t black enough until the reader, and possibly even you as the writer, can’t see a way out.

Kara Lennox, Plot Fixer: Weak Black Moment and The End Does Not Satisfy

24. In many stories, the characters change a little bit at a time, but they won’t really change—deep down where it counts (and where it will stick)—until they realize how their beliefs are false. This revelation often happens all at once, right as they’re facing the biggest obstacle during the Climax.

Jami Gold, Building a Character Arc: Start at the End

25. The strategic purpose of a denouement is to reorient the characters towards the next phase of their lives.

Jason Black, Does your denouement murder your characters?


There are many names for the different points. To avoid confusion, I suggest picking one paradigm and sticking to it (with the addition of James Scott Bell’s mirror moment). But no matter which you choose, all the advice here should be easy enough to apply to the appropriate points in the your story.

Let’s recap. In a well-formed plot…


  • The midpoint shift and mirror moment embody your main theme. 
  • Tension is escalated with the use of well-timed conflict, obstacles, and complicating coincidences.
  • Your characters arc naturally because of the revelations, realizations, and crises they go through. In the process, they show more of themselves.

Creating a plot takes the courage to trust your choices, the stomach to nuke what isn’t working, and the perseverance to keep plugging away.

I won’t claim it’s easy. Sometimes I have to set a plot aside for a few days to see where it isn’t working. The problem might be in the themes or the plot points or the reactions. It might be that I’m unconsciously protecting my characters from the worst. There are a lot of areas to consider.

...The point is: a healthy plot is worth the effort.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have any questions for M.J. ? Additional insights to add to the list? Chime in! What's the toughest part of plotting for you? 

If you'd like to join M.J.'s mailing list, she'll provide this post as a PDF here: 25 Penetrating Quotes on Plot PDF.

M. J. Bush blogs at WritinGeekery . She is a full-time writing coach, editor, and fantasy writer. She wants to "help writers climb through the jungle of conflicting advice and overwhelming information to find their personal perspective, true voice, and unique writing process."


BOOK OF THE WEEK


BOOMER WOMEN: Three Comedies about a Generation that Changed the World. ONLY 99c for a limited time. 
That's 33c a book!





The Lady of the Lakewood Diner, Food of Love and The Gatsby Game, now available in one boxed set. At Amazon US Amazon UK, Amazon CAInktera, Nook, Kobo, iTunes, Scribd And here's the link to the International Amazon page.



"Canny cultural observation that brings to mind two of my favorite British authors, Barbara Pym and Penelope Fitzgerald. Yes, the humor is there and sometimes spew-your-cocktail funny, but the character depth and plot fulfillment go so far beyond the humor. I felt I knew these people. I felt I was there." …Debra Eve

" I always enjoy a return to the not-so-past past, and Anne Allen does it so well. There is a mystery and nefarious things, but the best are her great characters and how they respond to events happening. A good read and a keeper." …JoAnne Lucas

"...if you’re looking for a quickened heartbeat, this is a story for you. It never sags. If anything, it roller-coasts." …Russell Bitner

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS



The M.M. Bennetts Prize for Historical fiction. $10 Entry fee. $500 prize for the best historical novel published in 2014. To be announced at the Historical Novel Society Conference in June in Deadline January 31st, 2015

Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition. First prize $3000. Top 25 will be published. Entry Fee $25. 1500 words or less. Deadline January 16th, 2015.

THE GOVER PRIZE FOR SHORT-SHORT STORIES from Best New Writing. $5 Entry Fee
Prize is $250 and publication in Best New Writing to the best short fiction and creative nonfiction. Entries are limited to 500 words or less. Gover Prize winner and finalists will be published in the upcoming BNW edition. Deadline January 10th, 2015

VIGNETTE WRITERShere's a contest for you! The Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Contest. The prize is for a collection of vignettes and poetry up to 20,000 words. Entry Fee $25.  Prize is $500, publication by Vine Leaves Press (paperback and eBook), 20 copies of the paperback, worldwide distribution, and promotion through the Vine Leaves and staff websites. It will be judged by an editor from Simon and Schuster. Deadline February 28, 2015.

THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words.  Deadline February 1, 2015. 

WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Confessions of NYT Bestselling Author Gone Indie

by Eileen Goudge


We have a visit from a literary superstar this week. New York Times bestselling author Eileen Goudge has written 32 novels, sold over a million copies, and been translated into 22 languages. 

I first heard about Ms. Goudge in the 1980s, when my friends and I all ran out to buy her phenomenal novel Garden of Lies when it first made the New York Times bestseller list. I was living in the San Diego area at the time, and she was making all the local papers as the "hometown-girl-makes-good."

But like so many successful traditionally published authors at the height of their creative powers, Eileen found herself pushed out by her publisher (and agent--in a particularly unpleasant way, as you'll read below) as the marketing department went off chasing the next shiny thing. 

We live in a winner-takes-all economy these days, and publishing companies often don't want to promote skilled, regular producers of good quality product when they can throw all their money behind a brand new Snooki book or ghost-written celebrity tell-all. 

By cutting the advertising budgets of long-term successful authors, publishers create self-fulfilling prophecies that these authors "aren't selling anymore" and the authors find they're no longer making a living at the profession they've practiced successfully for 20+ years. 

Luckily we now have self-publishing. Some of the most successful self-publishers are the former stars who were told they "weren't selling anymore" and went on to hit the bestseller lists as indies and live there permanently, like Catherine Ryan Hyde (who has a similar story of being told she "no longer had an audience" before hitting the #1 spot on Amazon with each of her self-published novels.) 

However, Eileen didn't just have to deal with shifting publisher loyalties, difficult agent relationships and the usual disrespect. She also had a tech/social media catastrophe that would win any bad luck contest. 

She has a message for all of us about how to take care of ourselves so this doesn't happen--so DO read the part at the end about social media. (Especially where she calls me a rock star. LOL) 

But she's back on her feet, has a fabulous new series, and has lived to tell the tale...Anne

HOW I WENT FROM 'ON THE LIST' TO 'OUT ON A LIMB': CONFESSIONS OF A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR GONE INDIE

By Eileen Goudge



Let me begin by saying I’ve never met an author who was an overnight success. It just sounds sexier when you put it that way and makes for good press.

So if you should happen to Google my name and come across an old article about my “meteoric” rise from welfare mom to millionaire, take it with a grain of salt. Yes, I was on welfare, years ago, at an especially low point in my life. And yes, I wrote my way out. But it didn’t happen overnight.

Behind every successful writer is a stack of journals or boxful of unpublished manuscripts moldering in the basement. I’m no exception.

The year was 1983. I had just moved to New York City from California with my two young children, a typewriter and no child support. I’d been eking out a living as a freelance journalist, but needed to find steady work – pronto – or we’d all starve. 

At a party I chatted with an attractive young woman who confided that she earned more money moonlighting as a call girl than from her day job as a flight attendant. She offered to set me up with her escort service. I declined.

I wasn’t that desperate.

I signed with a book packager instead. 

For the next couple years I paid the rent and stayed afloat churning out genre romances for teens. I was among the stable of ghost writers behind the wildly successful Sweet Valley High teen series created by Francine Pascal. I didn’t get rich from it—I was making only enough to squeak by—but I’m proud of the role I played in launching the series. 

The "Overnight Success"


In 1986 I had the joy of seeing my first adult novel published in hardcover. I was ecstatic when Garden of Lies went on to become a New York Times bestseller. I’d been warned that green-colored book covers don’t sell but had ignored the warning, figuring if mine was the only green cover it would stand out. I was right, as it turned out.

Unfortunately it was the only thing I was right about.

Back then I naively believed I’d continue to build on my early success if I reliably produced a book a year. I failed to factor in the variables. The shifting sands of the publishing industry for one and flux and flow of the economy for another. 

There was also the fact that I was married to my agent whom I later divorced.

I had a nice ride for a time. The novels that followed Garden of Lies sold well. 

The Four-Step Fall from Grace


Then came a spectacularly horrible two-year period worthy of one of my novels in which I was slammed by the quadruple whammy of: 

1) a corporate merger, 

2) falling out with my editor, 

3) the loss of my in-house “rabbi” to another house, 

4) the aforementioned divorce from my agent husband. 

I was left reeling. My sales took a hit. That in turn led to booksellers cutting back on orders. Long story short, I eventually reached a point where I was no longer making a living wage. 

Come the Revolution  


I ought to be depressed, right? Out on a ledge with some Good Samaritan trying to talk me down. 

But I’m not depressed. Instead I’m hopeful. Why? 

 Because while I was on my ass a revolution was taking place.

With digital sales growing in leaps and bounds, traditional publishing is no longer the only avenue open to writers. Name authors displaced by the seismic shifts in the industry are migrating to indie publishing. Some have enjoyed great success. Others are making a living. The majority continue to struggle.

But one thing is clear: Indie publishing is a boon to writers. It provides hope where there was little and give us some control over our own destinies.

The inspiration for my first indie-published title, Bones and Roses, Book One of my Cypress Bay mystery series, came while I was strolling on the beach in my hometown of Santa Cruz, California.

I’m fan of the genre and always wanted to write a mystery, since I created the teen series Who Killed Peggy Sue? in the 1980’s. When I sat down to write the first draft, it poured out of me.

But writing was the easy part. 

The Steep Learning Curve


Becoming my own publisher required a whole other skill set. 

I took a self-taught crash course in indie publishing by reading everything I could find on the subject and picking the brains of my indie author friends. My friends have been amazing. They’re always on hand to answer questions, share resources and provide reassurance.

But I couldn’t shake the pit in my stomach and the little devil on my shoulder whispering in my ear that I was a fraud, I’d never be able to pull this off. In addition to the mechanics of launching of a business, there were social media platforms and computer programs to master (Goodreads alone was a labyrinth that had me lost!) and the biggest challenge of all: finding the time to do everything. 

(Note from Anne: I can't figure out Goodreads either, and they've even made me a librarian!) 

The Tech Catastrophe


I acquired so many passwords I didn’t know what to do with them all, so I stored them temporarily on my iPhone. 

Bad move. 

In a single, sleep-deprived moment, with a misbegotten swipe, I accidentally cut-and-pasted the entire list onto the text of an Instagram post. 

I instantly deleted it, relieved to have dodged the bullet until my sister-in-law in California phoned me in alarm to let me know it was still on my Facebook page. 

I panicked and spent the next two hours changing the passwords on all my accounts. I went from sleep-deprived to not being able to sleep, I was so wired, visions of Ukrainian hackers dancing in my head.

(Naked photos leaked on the Internet, as in the case of Jennifer Lawrence, wouldn’t be as bad a having your bank account hacked into!)

Don’t make the same mistake. I don’t mean just this business of securing your passwords. I mean don’t put yourself in a position where you’re so addled your left brain doesn’t know what your right brain is doing. 

I saw my screw-up as a wakeup call. I was worn down from trying to do much. 

Don't Try to Do Everything!  


I know, I know. There are indie authors advising you to go all out and do everything the sun. 

I learned the hard way I’m not one of those authors. 

If you’re like me and value your sanity and wish to have some semblance of a personal life, you’ll ease up on the throttle. Here are three simple ways to achieve that while increasing your chances of success (because I’m convinced nothing good or lasting comes of pain or deprivation).

*Delegate wherever possible.


I signed with a distributor, INscribe Digital, once I realized I couldn’t do it all. Founded by former Borders executives, it’s a young and dynamic company with the expertise and preexisting relationships with e-tailers I knew I could benefit from.

It’s also where bestselling author Sylvia Day got her start. They work on a commission basis (15%) so I wasn’t out of pocket, which is important when you’re on a tight budget.

*Get marketing help


I also hired a freelance marketing expert to help develop a targeted plan of action. If you don’t have money in your budget to allocate on marketing, join an online writers’ group. I belong to several, and I’ve found my fellow members to be unstintingly generous, not only in sharing their wisdom and expertise but in helping promoting one another’s works. You can benefit from your peers. They’re always on hand to give advice, help out, or act as a sounding board. And it’s a global village, so there’s always someone awake in some part of the world.

*Put your money where it will do the most good.


Whether you’re working on a shoestring budget or have bottomless resources, play it smart.

1) Start with a professional-looking book cover. For the covers of Books 1 and 2 of my Cypress Bay mystery series, I hired a designer who’d done the covers of several of my backlist titles.

Mumtaz Mustafa is a senior art director at Harper Collins with a freelance business on the side. It was a joy to work with her. She’s super-talented and a seasoned professional. I ended up with two covers such as you might see on a front table at a Barnes and Noble. 

There are other book designers like her; you just have weed through all the dross to get to them. Keep in mind you get what you pay for, so go with the best you can afford. In the meantime, read this insightful article from Psychology Today, Judging a Book By Its Cover, if you want to know more about what is it about certain covers that attracts buyers.

2) Don't stint on editing! The good news is there are lots of freelance editors to choose from. I went with people I knew, the editing team of Perfect Pen Communications. Samantha Stroh Bailey and Francine LaSala are both authors in their own right, so they have a unique perspective. They did an excellent job and delivered on time. I highly recommend them.

*Do what you can and don’t stress about the rest.


Let’s face it, you’re only human. If you try to do it all, unless you have a background in marketing like my savvy indie author friend, Josie Brown, you risk being a jack of all trades and master of none. Sort of like the old saying, He who represents himself in court has a fool for a lawyer. Best concentrate your time and energy on what you do best.

Which for me is

  • Writing
  • Blogging
  • Engaging through social media.

Writing, you already know how to do. So let’s talk about blogging. 

Specifically guest blogging. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately because:


  • I enjoy it. 
  • I always have something to say. 
  • I engage with more people that way than I would on my own.

How do you get invited to hop on as a guest blogger? By first engaging with other bloggers.

Like Anne is always urging.

Actively seek out blog sites in the community of whatever genre you write in. Sign up for their newsletters and comment on their blog posts. That’s precisely how I came to be invited to do a guest post for this blog.

Anne commented on another blog post I’d done and one thing led to another. (At the risk of gushing, may I just say I was totally over the moon to be asked. She’s a rock star and role model.)

None of this happens overnight. Be prepared to do some spade-work. But don’t think of it as work. Find the joy in it. Make it fun! 

(And always, always, always read a blog before you ask to guest post!! Otherwise it's like asking for a favor with your middle finger raised. You will not have happy results...Anne)  

Keep in mind, unless you have a cast of thousands at your beck and call, you will only scratch the surface of all that’s available to indie publishers online. For every social media platform or app you master, there are a dozen new ones popping up. Every day. Every minute of every day. 

If you try to keep up with it all, you’ll go crazy or drive your loved ones crazy. Information overload is a bigger threat than that of any sales you might lose due to not utilizing every bell and whistle. Take a deep breath, then let it out. 

Now repeat after me: 

"I understand I can’t do it all and I’m okay with that." 

Say it a few more times until you mean it.

In short, do what fulfills you, what brings you pleasure, rather than strive for perfection. You’ll be happier. And probably more successful. 

Me? I didn’t sell my body and I’m not going to sell my soul.

What will come of all this? I don’t have the answer yet. This is long-tail publishing so I may not know for another year or two. In the meantime, I’m happy to have some control over my destiny.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go bake a cake. 

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have any horror tales of tech nightmares you've caused by being on overload? What do you feel is the best use of an author's time on social media? Do you have any questions for Eileen? 


New York Times’ bestselling novelist Eileen Goudge is the author of 15 women’s fiction titles, which include Garden of Lies, published in 22 languages around the world. Bones and Roses is the first book in her Cypress Bay Mysteries series. She lives in New York City with her husband, television film critic and entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon.

BOOK OF THE WEEK




Available at Amazon NOOK, Apple, Kobo 

Welcome to the northern California seaside town of Cypress Bay, where the surf’s up, the sixties live on and long-buried secrets are about to surface.

From home invasions to cheating spouses, Rest Easy Property Management owner Leticia “Tish” Ballard thought she’d seen it all. Almost four years sober after flambéing her real estate career in an alcohol-fueled blowout, she’s finally in a good place in her life when the discovery of skeletal human remains rocks her world and plunges her headlong into solving a decades-old crime. 

Now she must delve into the darkness of her own past, including the one-night stand gone horribly wrong with Spence Breedlove, who happens to be the lead detective on the case. When the truth comes out at long last, Tish finds herself pitted against an enemy who will stop at nothing in a fight for her own life.

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS



VIGNETTE WRITERShere's a contest for you! The Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Contest. The prize is for a collection of vignettes and poetry up to 20,000 words. Fee $25.  Prize is $500, publication by Vine Leaves Press (paperback and eBook), 20 copies of the paperback, worldwide distribution, and promotion through the Vine Leaves and staff websites. It will be judged by an editor from Simon and Schuster. Deadline February 28, 2015.

THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words.  Deadline February 1, 2015. 

WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

The California Book Awards NO ENTRY FEE Three prizes are given annually to writers residing in California for books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction (including creative nonfiction). Prizes are also given for a first book of fiction and a book of fiction or nonfiction that relates to California. Authors or publishers may submit six copies of books published in 2014 by December 22. Visit the website for the required entry form and complete guidelines. Deadline December 22, 2014

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Blogging for Authors: How to Create a Blog that Can Grow With Your Career


 by Anne R. Allen

Maybe you've just finished that NaNo novel and you know you want to publish, so you'd like to get a head start while you slog through the editing process.

Or you've been writing for a couple of years, you've published some short pieces, and you've got maybe two novels in the hopper and you're ready to get this career on the road.

Or you've finally landed that agent, but you don't have anywhere near the platform she wants. 

Any of these could be a good point to start a blog.

Yes, a blog is still a great way to build platform and establish an Internet presence. So says agent Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary, who will be visiting us here in January.

But a writer starting a blog right now faces two problems:

1)  There are already, like, a trillion writers out there lecturing the blogosphere about how to write vivid characters, prop up saggy middles and avoid adverbs. A lot of them probably know more than you.

2) If you’re a writer with books to sell, you want to reach a general audience, not just other writers selling books.

So how can you be different? How do you create a blog that somebody will read—somebody besides your stalker ex-boyfriend and your mom?

The most important thing to remember with any kind of blog is you need to offer something. It should be fresh, informative, and/or entertaining.

How you approach your blog is going to depend a whole lot on your stage in the publishing process and your immediate goals. (For info on what not to blog about, see How Not to Blog )

Stage #1: You’re a developing writer.


You’re working on your first or second novel, and maybe have a few stories in literary journals or a couple of contest wins. You want to be a published author sometime soon, but you’re not quite ready to focus on writing as a career.

Your goal: LEARNING THE PUBLISHING BUSINESS AND NETWORKING.

You want to make friends in the writing community for career help and mutual support. You want to learn the best writing techniques, network with publishing professionals, and educate yourself about the business.

If you’re in stage #1, I think it’s OK to blog about writing. I know most blog gurus tell you not to do this, but I think that caveat is aimed more at people at stage #2 and #3.)

I’m not talking about lecturing on craft as if you’re a pro when you’re not. But an equal-to-equal post about something interesting trick you’ve discovered about writing the dreaded synopsis, or what agents are looking for this month is just fine when you’re reaching out to other writers.

Why do you want to reach other writers? Because networking with other writers is essential in today's market. Joint promotions and anthologies and boxed sets will be some of your most most powerful marketing strategies once you're published. The friends you make now will be a huge asset to you later on in your career.

Plus I know a number of authors who got their agents through a referral from a fellow blogger.

I found both my publishers through blogging.

Also, I’m not sure I would have made it through the darkest rejection phases if it hadn’t been for the support of writer blogfriends.

How do you get blogfriends? You visit other blogs. Social media is social. Don't sit all alone like a spider waiting for flies. Go out and meet people. Comment on blogs and engage in dialogue with other commenters.

When you have a writing blog, you get to participate in blog hops, flash fiction swaps, contests and all kinds of networking events that help you meet people who can be important in your future career. There are some great blogging groups like the Insecure Writers Support Group where you can meet lots of interesting, supportive writers.

But do make sure your writing blog has something fresh going for it—something that’s helpful. There are all sorts of ways you can help:

  • Author interviews
  • Profiles of small publishers or agents who are interested in your genre (take them from websites—you don’t have to bother the agents and editors)
  • Info on contests, giveaways and blog hops
  • Links to great articles and posts in your genre or field of interest.
  • Book reviews. If you write thoughtful, useful reviews, you’ll immediately become everybody’s best friend. (But don't take on too many! Book review bloggers get burned out very quickly and unfortunately get a lot of disrespect from authors and publicists. For more on how to establish boundaries as a book review blogger, read this great post from book blogger Ed Cyzewski )
  • Commentary on the book business or trends in your genre.
  • Flash fiction and vignettes that you do not intend to market to magazines or publishers. Putting something on your blog is publishing, so it will be considered "published".  I used to advise newbies not to put any fiction on a blog, but I know a number of successful bloggers who have built an audience with this kind of writing, so I've reversed on this. What you don't want to do is write the rough draft of a novel in public on your blog. It can be embarrassing, and no agent will take it on once it's been published on a blog.     

 Stage #2: You’re ready for the marketplace.


You’re querying agents or getting ready to self-publish. You’ve got a couple of books polished and ready to go. You have a business plan.

You’ve been to writing conferences, taken classes, and hired a freelance editor if you're going indie. Your writing is at a professional level.

Your goal: BUILDING PLATFORM

You want to get your name out there to the general public. When you query an agent or ask for a blurb or review, you want a Google search to bring you up on the first page, not page four, with that rant from five years ago about the ending of Lost.

If you’re a stage #2 writer, you should heed the blog gurus' advice not to blog about writing. You’ve got a trillion competitors and that would severely limit your audience.  (Yes, I blog about writing, but I started a long time ago, and I already had an audience from my writing column at Freelance Writing International.)  

So try something that’s related to your writing but has a unique slant. But don't restrict yourself too much. Leave room to grow and change. You may not even know yet what kind of people will be interested in your work. 

Here are a few suggestions of topics to try when you're starting:

  • Focus on your genre or subgenre (unless you’re still experimenting with different genres.) You can discuss movies, videogames, TV shows, even jewelry and costumes—as long as they relate to your niche
  • Blog about your hometown or state, especially if they’re the setting of your novels. Travel sites that link to local landmarks and Chamber of Commerce will help you make friends locally that can be a big help later on.
  • Offer links to important information. If you’re writing a memoir or fiction about certain health issues, promote organizations that help with those issues. Link to support groups and they might even link back.
  • Provide people with the benefit of your research. If you’re writing historical fiction about a certain time period—post the research on your blog. (This is doubly useful because it will help keep you from cramming it all into the novel at the expense of story.) Have to research guns for a thriller? Poisons for a cozy? Are you basing the story on a real case? There are people who would love to read about this stuff.
  • Appeal to another Internet community. If that historical novel is based on a real person or your own family history, you could target readers from the genealogy blogosphere and links to historical research sites. If your heroine loves to fish, sew, or collect stuff, connect with blogs for fly fisherpersons, quilters, or collectors of floaty pens.
  • Provide a forum for people in your target demographic. If you write for a particular group—single urban women, Boomers, stay-at-home moms, or the just-out-of-college dazed and confused—focus on aspects of life of special interest to them.
  • Offer recipes or how-tos. Have a character who’s an expert at something? Give readers the benefit of his expertise in the woodshop, garden or kitchen. Have some great recipes that relate to your character, time period, or region? Write about the food in your books, or food in fiction generally. 

Stage #3: You’re a published author


Your agent/marketing dept. says, “Get thee to the blogosphere!”

Or you realize the brilliantly blurbed oeuvre you’ve self-published is sitting there on Amazon with only two sales in three months (both to your spouse) because nobody has heard of it—or you.

Your goal: FINDING AND CONNECTING WITH READERS
  
If you’ve reached Stage #3, you can be more eclectic. People will be coming to your blog because they want to get to know you and find out more about your books—so focusing on one subject isn’t as important. 

The blog becomes a place to showcase who you are. Think if it as your own version of Oprah magazine: not a place to toot your own horn as much as share things of interest to you that will also be of value to your readers. 

So you can continue whatever you've been doing in Stage #1 and #2, plus add stuff about you and your books.

Yes, you can talk about your books. I think people are silly who say you shouldn’t use your blog for self-promotion. That’s why you’re in the blogosphere in the first place. It’s fine as long as you don’t use hard-sell tactics and make sure you provide something besides "buy my book!"

Each type of blog can evolve into another as your goals change. 

A few tips for the new blogger:

  • Make a list of topics you might like to explore before you begin, so you have a running start. If you visit other blogs regularly (and you should) you may find yourself making long comments on some subject that gets your hackles up/juices flowing. That’s the stuff you should be putting in your own blog.
  • I STRONGLY advise against having more than one blog. If you decide to change your blog tone and content, just change it. You can change everything but the url. But multiple blogs sap your energy and fragment your audience. (It also annoys the hell out of them: I hate hitting somebody’s profile and finding six blogs. Unless one is clearly marked “author” I don’t even try to wade through them: you’ve lost me.) Blogs have many pages. Use them.
  • Put your own name (or pen name) in the blog title! Your name is your brand. And also, you’ll find it easier to transition from Stage #1 to #2 and #3 if you brand yourself from day one. Subtitles are easy to change. Titles, not so much. “Susie Scrivener’s Blog” can go from “Susie's writing and ranting” to “Susie's Floaty-Pen Collecting” if Susie decides to change the blog’s focus. But “Floaty Pen Central” can’t be changed to “Susie Scrivener’s Amazing Books” without a lot of confusion. And you want to keep the same blog. The longer a blog exists, the higher it ranks with the Google spiders. 
  • Write an inviting “About Me” page with clear contact information. I’m amazed at bloggers who don’t even post their names or contact information. The whole purpose of blogging is to let people know who you are and how to find you! (And don’t just post your resume. Be informal and friendly.)
  • Don’t succumb to pressure to blog more than once a week. Posting once a week on a regularly scheduled day is better than posting often but erratically. Allow yourself time to write your books. Remember you’re in this for the long haul. Quality over quantity. Slow blogging works. 
  • Be friendly. The way to build an audience, no matter where you are in your writing career, is to be likable and helpful. You don’t have to be chirpy. Just don’t project a phony or selfish tone. 
  • Learn to write good headers. If you don't write Tweetable and shareable headers, nobody's going to find your deathless prose. That means avoiding titles that are generic, like "It's Wednesday" or poetic, like "Winter Clouds". And I guarantee nobody's going to retweet a post called "Random Thoughts" unless it's written by somebody famous, or maybe that nutjob who just married Charles Manson. The header must make a good tweet. Offer something other than your own angst. Questions, lists, or surprising facts will entice people to click

More blog advice in my blogpost How To Blog: A Beginner’s Guide for Authors.

And for a comprehensive guide to blogging, I highly recommend Robin Houghton's new book from Writer's Digest Books: Blogging for Writers. It's a beautifully designed paper book, full of useful illustrations and screenshots. I sure wish I'd had something like it when I started blogging. And I even learned some stuff.

Okay, I especially liked it because Robin named this blog as one of the Top 12 Writing Blogs to Follow. That really brightened a dismal day in a dismal month of fighting the endless, will-not-die, virus-from-hell.

But I'd love it even if she hadn't.

And it's only $13.99 at the Writer's Digest Bookstore right now. It's also available at Amazon US and Amazon UK. Got any writers or potential bloggers on your Christmas list?  I highly recommend this book. It's a goldmine. And did a mention it's really pretty?    

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have a blog? Does it suit your stage of writing? Are you going to be able to give up those six semi-neglected blogs and concentrate on one great one? What advice would you give a new blogger?

BOOK OF THE WEEK


The Camilla Randall Mysteries Boxed Set

9 Months on Amazon's Humor Bestseller list!

On Sale for $3.99: Three funny mysteries for 99c each!

Camilla Randall is a magnet for murder, mayhem, and Mr. Wrong, but she always solves the case in her loopy, but oh-so-polite way.

The Camilla Randall Mysteries Box set is available at Amazon US and Amazon UKAmazon CAKobo iTunesSmashwordsInktera, NOOK, and Scribd





"The Best Revenge, Ghost Writers in the Sky and Sherwood Limited are hysterical. Anne Allen will keep you laughing throughout, but in the meantime she dabbles her fingers in some topics worth some serious thought: sexism, weightism, lechery, murder, duplicity, homelessness & poverty to name a few. If you love to laugh, you'll like these three books. If you love to think, ponder AND laugh, be ready to fall in love"... C.S. Perryess aka the Wordmonger


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS



VIGNETTE WRITERShere's a contest for you! The Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Contest. The prize is for a collection of vignettes and poetry up to 20,000 words. Fee $25.  Prize is $500, publication by Vine Leaves Press (paperback and eBook), 20 copies of the paperback, worldwide distribution, and promotion through the Vine Leaves and staff websites. It will be judged by an editor from Simon and Schuster. Deadline February 28, 2015.

THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words.  Deadline February 1, 2015. 

WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

The California Book Awards NO ENTRY FEE Three prizes are given annually to writers residing in California for books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction (including creative nonfiction). Prizes are also given for a first book of fiction and a book of fiction or nonfiction that relates to California. Authors or publishers may submit six copies of books published in 2014 by December 22. Visit the website for the required entry form and complete guidelines. Deadline December 22, 2014

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