Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Your Allies in the Writing Life



By Kristy Cambron


Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good."
– William Faulkner
In the modern world we live in, Mr. Faulkner’s words make sense. Focused writing time can become something of a rare commodity for writers. We often have to be as creative about the when of writing as we do the what.
As a traveling facilitator and instructional designer with a full-time career in corporate America, I spent years writing Christian fiction in the margins of life. When I became a mother of three, those middle of the night margins became almost non-existent. And when those "in front of the typewriter" moments started to vanish, I had to reset my expectations around Faulkner’s more “get it down” type of creative process.  I wasn’t willing to give up on my author dreams, so the method of writing was just going to have to mold to my corporate-soccer-mom lifestyle. It’s because of this that my iPhone became a trusted friend. It turns out that the elevator rides in downtown buildings, grocery store lines, and airport layovers that accompanied my schedule became unexpected allies in my writing career. I’d pick up my phone wherever I was and would use every spare minute to write.
The tools for on-the-go writers are as numerous as the apps are for just about anything. If you find yourself struggling with a case of writer’s block, the Brainstormer app claims to provide tactical inspiration for plot generation on the spot. The WordBook and Grammar Girl apps are robust enough to support even the most creative of writing ninjas. If the lure of social media distraction is your nemesis, Google Chrome has that figured out for you in their StayFocused extension, which can systematically block access to chosen sites when you’re up against a deadline.  Some might swear by Scrivener and Evernote– project management tools that can make the research-to-writing process virtually seamless by organizing notes, images and links for later use. (Basically, the Plotter's dream.) And for the self-professed Pantsers out there– we writers who prefer the more unscripted method of story creation– sometimes a cocktail napkin and a pen are all that’s needed to usher in some lyrical genius.
Faulkner’s is a no nonsense perspective on writing. Period. It’s not about the when or how. It’s all about the “just write” factor. Use the tools and the time you have in the right now, but don’t let a packed schedule intimidate you out of your goals.  
Ironing baskets will probably still be full and dishes may be in the sink tomorrow. You might have a business trip or project that squeezes in your schedule. But if writing is a dream, finding tools to get you there shouldn’t be daunting. Use the elevators and the grocery store lines to your advantage. Airport layovers should never disappoint again. Why? Because they’re your allies in this writing life.
Befriending them will take you far.
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Kristy Cambron is a mother of three by day and an iPhone novel writer by night. Her debut historical novel, The Butterfly and the Violin (Thomas Nelson, 2014), was named to Library Journal Reviews' Best Books of 2014, Family Fiction's Top Ten Novels of 2014, and received a nomination for the RT Reviewers' Choice Awards Best Inspirational Novel of 2014 and a nomination for the 2015 INSPY Awards for Best Debut Novel. Her second novel, A Sparrow in Terezin (Thomas Nelson, April 2015), was named Library Journal Reviews' Pick of the Month (Christian Fiction) for February 2015 and a Top Pick from RT Book Reviews for April 2015. Kristy is an Art/Design Manager at TheGROVEstory.com and holds a degree in Art History from Indiana University. She lives in Indiana with her husband and football-loving sons, where she can probably be bribed with a coconut mocha latte and a good Christian fiction read. You can connect with Kristy at: Facebook: Kristy Cambron | Twitter: @KCambronAuthor  | Instagram: kristycambron  Pinterest: KCambronAuthor | Web:  KristyCambron.com | TheGROVEstory.com  





Tuesday, May 26, 2015

No One is Reading Your Blog-But Wait, What If you…


By Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief, Southern Writers Magazine


Yes, I know, I just used the problem-solution headline; often touted as a grabber headline. This is one of the things taught in writing headlines 101.  If you will notice, in my headline though, I veered just a tad…I didn’t exactly give a solution, I implied if you read further you would probably get the information.  Right?

For the most part we all write our blog post, giving little thought to the  title, unfortunately that’s the first thing a reader sees…the title. Therefore, if you don’t grab the reader with your title, or it doesn’t have a word in there that pertains to their need, odds are they won’t read it. All that wonderful information down the drain and the time spent writing it wasted.

Does this sound familiar? It should. The same goes for the title of a book. You have to spend time on the title of a book to get the reader’s attention.

So what are you to do, spend days on end dreaming up earth shattering titles? Well, you don’t have to go that far, but you do have to spend more time on the title.

So how do you come up with a title that will draw the reader’s attention? Spend time reading your content. What is it about? What do you want the reader to get from reading this blog? What problem would your information in this blog solve for your reader? List the answers to these questions and look them over. What is the list saying the problem is? There is part of your title there. Now the list you’ve written is telling you how your content would solve the problem. So what is the hook? On my title to this post, I said, “No one is reading your blog”…that is the problem.  The hook I used was a little unconventional, but what hook could I have used to get a reader to read the post? I could have given a solution, a how-to.


Try writing a post, read it, and write down what the post says is the problem. Then if you don’t see in the post the solution, then make a list of 4 or 5 things you could do to solve that problem. You then can choose from those the second part of your title.

The how to is always good to put in the title. Readers are always looking for ways to solve problems. All you need do is present them the solution. Tell them that in your title.

Happy Writing!




Monday, May 25, 2015

I Hated This Book! Or, Coping With Negative Reviews




To be honest, I thought this one would be easier. I have thousands of reviews on Amazon alone, and a pretty good average. I should be able to dismiss the negative ones as outliers, or shrug and say, “can’t please everyone,” right? Alas, it’s not so easy. It’s like somebody telling you your baby is ugly. It still hurts. Here’s what I’ve found:

People love it or hate it for the same reasons. For example, JUST FOR NOW is a tender, funny story about family, without a lot of external drama. It is many readers’ favorite of my books. But other readers haven’t been crazy about it, for the exact same reason. Too much family, too much about the kids, not enough excitement. It’s personal taste.

 Is it helpful? It’s one thing to examine your negative reviews, or negative comments within positive reviews, for anything that is truly HELPFUL. Was the ending rushed? Do you have grammatical errors that need to be fixed? That’s helpful. That your book didn’t appeal to someone’s personal taste—not helpful.

Your mileage may vary. I’ve written 14 books, and just in my little critique circle, everyone has a different favorite! My readers share the same diversity of opinion, because everybody brings their own tastes and life experiences to a book. When I think about my own favorite authors, I don’t love all their books equally. Some of them I don’t even care for very much. I’ve never been a huge fan of “Mansfield Park,” because Fanny Price is kind of a drip, isn’t she? And she and Edmund seem set to have a mighty virtuous and boring life. And yet I’ve read it at least three times, because Jane Austen writes so well. 

It goes double for sex and violence. Think people’s opinions differ about your heroine? Get reviewers going about the sex or violence in your book! I’ve had people say, about the same book (that feel-good one above—the one with recipes in the back):

“Nothing but sweet gentle loving with not much described.” (and they weren’t happy about that!)

“A kinky sex-fest.”

Bottom line (so to speak), there is a huge variation in steam levels in romance, and violence in thrillers and mystery (and literary fiction, for that matter).  When your books are just getting known, people are finding out if they like the way you write. You’re finding your audience. And that ain’t everybody.

The acid test. I realized, after wrestling with the “ping-pong ball” effect, where I’d think: “It’s good!” “No, wait, it’s bad!” “No, it’s good!” after every review, that the REAL question was, “Did I write the book I wanted to write?” And in all 14 cases, I answered, “Yes, I did.” That is all I can do. And it’s all that matters. On to Book 15.
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Rosalind James, a publishing industry veteran and former marketing executive, is a contemporary romance and romantic suspense novelist published both independently and through Montlake Romance. Her first book, JUST THIS ONCE (Escape to New Zealand) is a 2015 Audie finalist for Best Romance Audiobook, and her latest, JUST IN TIME, has just debuted as part of Brenda Novak’s SWEET TALK collection for diabetes research. Rosalind started writing down one of the stories in her head on a whim three years ago while living in Auckland, New Zealand. Within six weeks, she had finished the book, thrown a lifetime of caution to the winds, and quit her day job. She attributes her surprising early success to the fact that "lots of people would like to escape to New Zealand! I know I did!" Website: http://www.rosalindjames.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rosalindjamesbooks Twitter: @rosalindjames5



Friday, May 22, 2015

Steve Berry Writes What He Loves


By Steve Berry


How many times have you heard this piece of advice:  write what you know. On its surface, the old adage makes sense. Writing is difficult enough, why compound it by attacking a subject matter with which you are not familiar. Writing what you know also brings an ability to insert personal insights that those ‘who-don’t-know-what-you-know’ might find interesting. 

But it’s the worst advice you could ever receive.

Never, ever write what you know.

Instead, write what you love.    

If what you love and what you know is the same thing, then you’re truly blessed. But if not (which is normally the case) always write what you love. 

I was a trial lawyer for 30 years. I handled thousands of divorces, criminal defense, and civil litigations. So many cases and clients. A zillion fascinating stories. Here’s an example:  I once represented a man charged with murder. He stabbed his victim multiple times, and then cut the head and hands off to hamper identification (this was back before DNA testing). So how did they make an identification? Apparently while cutting off the hands and head, the accused forgot to notice the victim’s T-shirt. On it was written in bold letters jones family reunion. Talk about stupid. How long do you think it took to make an ID?  The whole thing was an open and shut case and the DA wanted the death penalty. But all my client cared about was whether his name had been spelled right in the paper. That’s it. For him it was all about the spotlight. Talk about a character for a novel. But the last thing in the world I wanted to do was write about him.

I love action, history, secrets, conspiracies, and international settings. That used to be called a spy novel, now it’s an international suspense thriller.  I read anything and everything I can in this genre.  The first manuscript I ever wrote, though, was a legal thriller—that was me foolishly practicing the rule of ‘writing what you know.’ But I learned never to do it again.  I realized that I read spy novels (as they were called then) to escape the torturous world in which I lived each day. Hearing people’s problems, then trying to solve them is a lawyer’s job.  But it gets depressing. You need a way out, if only temporary. Stories with action, history, secrets, conspiracies, and international settings provided that respite for me.  

So I switched genres and kept writing. 

Eventually, after 8 manuscripts, 12 years, and 85 rejections Random House bought The Amber Room.  Yes, there are lawyers in that book, but not a one of them is doing a lawyerly thing.  Instead, they’re all off on an international treasure hunt, in a fictional world I love.

There have been 13 novels since The Amber Room.  The latest is The Patriot Threat.  The books are now published in 51 countries and 40 languages, with nearly 20,000,000 copies.  Everyday I marvel at how that came about, grateful for every single reader who takes the time to enjoy them. 

And if years ago I’d kept writing what I know?

No question.

None of it would have ever happened.
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Steve Berry is the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of The Patriot ThreatThe Lincoln MythThe King’s Deception, The Columbus Affair, The Jefferson KeyThe Emperor’s TombThe Paris VendettaThe Charlemagne PursuitThe Venetian BetrayalThe Alexandria LinkThe Templar LegacyThe Third SecretThe Romanov Prophecy, and The Amber Room. His books have been translated into 40 languages with 19,000,000 copies in 51 countries.  They consistently appear in the top echelon of The New York TimesUSA Today, and Indie bestseller lists. Find Steve at http://steveberry.org/  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Waco, TX and Writing


By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine


The recent Biker Gang War in Waco, TX brings to mind the history surrounding the area both good and bad. My fondness for the area is due to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum and Baylor University. I have also enjoyed the Brazos River and Lake Waco. Any of these things would make any city proud. So why does Waco seem to be a magnet to the awful human tragedies it has experienced the last two hundred years?

The very establishment of the town was due to a treaty made with the “Waco” Wichita Native American tribe that had withstood attempts to destroy their village.

In 1896 the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad got the idea to crash two locomotives together north of Waco. This family fun event turned deadly when the boilers of both locomotives exploded simultaneously killing two and injuring six seriously.

In 1916 an African American teenager named Jesse Washington and tortured and burned to death on the town square by a mob. The mob had taken him from the courthouse where he had been convicted of murdering a white woman. Lynching continued in the area until 1968.

The Waco siege occurred in 1993 when 6 Branch Davidians and 4 ATF agents died during a shootout. After a 50 day standoff it all ended when a fire destroyed the Branch Davidians compound. Seventy-four people died in the blaze including the leader David Koresh.

On May 17th, 2015 the deadliest shootout in the city’s history took place when three rival motorcycle gangs shot it out with each other and Waco police. The shootout left 9 dead, 18 injured and 192 detained.

These tragic occurrences seemed to have been bestowed on Waco from either outsiders or those townspeople taking the law into their own hands. Actually these are events that can and have happened in many of our nations towns. Shocking as they are they are indeed fodder for some great stories. Historical fiction springs from such tragic tales. The accounts of such historical events are close to the truth but aren’t necessarily a true reflection.  

Any of these tales would make an interesting story line. Some, like the Waco Siege, have already been made into a movie. I would assume there will soon be a made for TV movie or a screenplay depicting the Biker Gang War in Waco. I’m anxious to see what character is used to tell the tale. I am also curious who will write it. 

It could be you.  
           

    

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Promoting via Facebook Paid Ad Campaigns


By Clarissa Johal


Promotion is always a hot topic amongst authors. My take on the subject is that no one, publisher or author, knows the magic formula of what makes a book successful. I’ve seen awful books sell millions of copies, and wonderful books sink into obscurity. So…what works? I’ve been writing for fifteen years and promoting “seriously” for the past five and I’m still trying to find the magic formula. This past weekend, I decided to go out on a limb and give Facebook’s Paid Ad Campaign a try.

Facebook is my favorite social media hang out.  I like to interact with people and find this platform allows the most freedom. However, I hate that Facebook filters your posts to whomever they decide. I have a modest 325 Friends whom, sadly enough, don’t see 90% of my posts. And it works both ways. This not only makes me feel like a bad Facebook friend, but isn’t conducive to getting the word out when I have a new release.  On a good day, my posts reach about 30 people. Shame on you, Facebook. You suck.

Recently, Facebook moved to a “pay for more visibility” model. For a fee, you can “boost” your post to reach a wider audience. It seems unfair, but raging against it is pointless because Facebook will do what it does. My paranormal novel VOICES went up for Pre-Order on April 17th, so I decided to “boost” my post announcement and see what came of it.  I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of this method/scope of advertising, so keep that in mind.

My post (with cover art attached):
VOICES - Sometimes the ghosts from your past...are real.  Available for Pre-Order!
http://tinyurl.com/ppozard #‎paranormal
Cost and Duration: The minimum of $5.00 for two days—in this case, the weekend.
People Reached: 870--which is a considerable boost from 30. You can pull up a full detailed report of the campaign but once too many facts and figures are involved, my attention starts to wander. Here are the basic facts that I found helpful:

Demographics. Age and gender told me thatVOICES mostly interested women in the 35-44 age range.  

Users who actually “engaged” with the post: Out of the 870 people, 42 clicked on the link.

Books sold: Unfortunately, too early to tell. I will say that my author rank went up and VOICES hit #57 in Amazon’s Top 100 Ghost Suspense novels right next to Dean Koontz. It was fleeting but I’ll take it.  

Facebook has other options to promote your page and website and I may experiment with those in the future. The promotion quest continues…
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Clarissa Johal has worked as a veterinary assistant, zoo-keeper aide and vegetarian chef. Writing has always been her passion. When she’s not listening to the ghosts in her head, she’s dancing or taking photographs of gargoyles. She shares her life with her husband, two daughters and every stray animal that darkens the doorstep. One day, she expects that a wayward troll will wander into her yard, but that hasn’t happened yet. Clarissa Online: Author Website: http://clarissajohal.com/ Blog: http://clarissajohal.blogspot.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/clarissa.johal.9 Twitter: https://twitter.com/ClarissaJohal Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4502113.Clarissa_Johal Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Clarissa-Johal/e/B003KVTMPK/ Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/clarissajohal/




Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Is There a Story Here?


by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine


At a party this weekend I enjoyed having a conversation with a fellow who has been a postal carrier for thirty years.  At one point in my childhood I had wanted to be a mailman, so I had a fair share of questions that he likewise seemed to enjoy answering.  But the most interesting thing he had to say wasn't related to delivering Amazon packages or avoiding getting bit by dogs.

Years ago when his daughter was very young, he would bring her to the post office on Take Your Daughter to Work Day.  She helped him sort the mail for his route in the appropriate slots, and on one occasion she drew him a picture, which he proudly hung in his cubicle.  That drawing has remained in the same place for years.

His daughter is in her late twenties now, so that picture holds special memories for him.  As you can imagine, he wasn't happy when a supervisor told him recently that he had to take it down.  "No personal items in the workspace," they said.  He knew the fact that it had been already hanging there for decades would not be enough of an argument.  Instead he replied, "Then that coffee cup on your desk and those pictures of your family need to go too."  That ended the conversation and, as I understand it, the drawing remains undisturbed.

As he related this to me, I couldn't help but consider the fact that this little episode from his life told me a great deal about the stranger I'd just met.  In a short time I discovered that 1) he is a family man, 2) he is sentimental, and 3) he can stand up for himself.  If these were traits you wanted to convey in your novel's protagonist, a scenario such as this would be far more memorable than simply describing him as a sentimental family man who isn't afraid of his boss.  We bond with a character when we observe our own humanity in him/her.

By itself, incidents like this aren't stories as much as they are anecdotes.  But stories come in all forms and fashions, and what seems like a simple premise could easily be built upon and turned into a major storyline or at least a worthy plot point.  A man getting shorted on his change at the sub shop is barely an anecdote.  But if it's the last straw in his already unstable life, it could be the basis for a crime novel.

In broadcasting, a news "story" can be little more than a headline, as in: "Pitch Perfect 2 leaves Mad Max: Fury Road in the dust. The musical's opening weekend brought in over $70 million, compared to $44 million for the sci-fi sequel."  Just the facts has its place in the truest definition of story, and we know there's more to the story if we choose to go there.

A classic newspaper credo states that even the most boring story can become fascinating with the right sidenote or quote included.  A good reporter looks for that unique angle to give the story its punch.  Sometimes interviewing the quietest witness yields the biggest revelation.

Whether we hear them from someone else, or live them in our own lives, every day we are witness to countless moments that could be the starting point for the next story or scene we write.  If we learn to be keen observers as well as creative writers, we'll never run out of ideas.