Authors Are Not Your Competition – From the Writers in the Storm Blog

by Angela Ackerman

Most industries are competitive. Athletes go head-to-head for the medal or trophy. Car companies vie for market share as do grocery stores, restaurants, and delivery services. Reality TV show contestants duke it out for prize money, prestige, and in some cases (ugh) roses. And our favorite retail Godzilla, Amazon? They compete with everybody.

Know who isn’t your competition? Authors.

Sure, on the surface, it appears a competition is taking place. After all, look at the sea of books on the market, the sky-high submission piles. Think about how we need to list comparable titles when we pitch our work to agents and how past book sales and current platform numbers carry weight acquisitions decides which author will receive a contract offer.

Is it true that agents only take on certain clients and publishers only publish certain books? Yes. But the “I’m competing against other authors” idea is a sacred cow leftover from a time when keeping authors divided suited a publishing monopoly (that has thankfully been broken).

Other authors aren’t competition, they’re ASSETS.  Here’s why.

Read the rest of this post HERE.

People Watching During a Pandemic – From the Writers in the Storm Blog

by Eldred “Bob” Bird

There’s no doubt 2020 has changed some of our writing habits. In the years BC (Before Covid), one of my favorite writing exercises was people watching. I’d tote my laptop to parks libraries, pubs, and a whole host of other public places. This is where I found inspiration when building characters or looking for new and interesting ways to represent human interactions in my writing.

I paid close attention to things like body language, facial expressions, and all the little nuances that set someone apart and made them stand out from the crowd. I listened in on conversations and tried to guess where the person talking was from based on their accent and use of slang. I made up stories about the couple whispering at a table in the dark corner of the bar. This was my creative playground.

Read the rest of this post HERE.

Using a Character Bible – Is it worth it?

As I embark on my next writing venture after a 2020 hiatus, I realized something. The equation of my age plus the stress of 2020 and the length of time since I’ve written a Frank Rozzani book has added up to me forgetting the details of many of my familiar characters. I remember reading a while back about having a character bible, a book of character profiles. The article I read talked about how this is especially important if you write a multiple-book series with the same characters.

At the time, I said to myself, “I’ll never forget these characters. They’re part of me.” Well, as I get older, I’m pretty sure there are actual parts of me that I’ve forgotten.

As I try to write for my tried and true characters, I find myself searching my previous books for things like dates, names, hair and eye color and other things that would be great to have at my fingertips. As a result, I’m revisiting the idea of the character bible. I thought that one useful resource would be to go to the blogging community of authors, editors and readers and ask for your opinions and experience.

I thought I would begin, however, by telling you what I’ve learned about this tool for those of you that haven’t heard of it or have been using elements of it without realizing it had a name.

What is a Character Bible?

There is no single definition or series of components that make up a character bible. From the research I’ve done, it’s basically a collection of character profiles each of which tell you about the character’s:

  • Name – This might seem obvious, but a character’s name is important. Think of Alex Cross and the numerous James Patterson books bearing his surname in the title. To a much, much lesser degree, of course, there are my Frank Rozzani detective novels that all have ‘Frank’ in some form in the title Frankly Speaking, Let Me Be Frank, Frank Incensed (my personal favorite), Frankly My Dear and Frank Immersed.
  • Physical Appearance/Mannerisms – The characters height, body type, hair color, eye color, physical anomalies and disabilities and other information about how the character looks.
  • History – Information about the character’s backstory, cultural, educational and socio-economic situation and any other relevant information that is material to the plot.
  • Personality – What psychological quirks, conditions or flaws does the character have? What motivates him/her? What are his/her desires? What’s missing from his/her life?

Now, the worst thing you can do is dump all of this information about the character into your story in one fell swoop. You can dribble out the information as needed in small doses. The other thing to avoid, however, is your character developing some ability or piece of knowledge from his background out of convenience to get you past a snag in the story without foreshadowing it first.

What characters should be in the Character Bible?

Again, there is no universal agreement on this, but characters you can consider are those that are pivotal to the story and more than just one-dimensional “fillers” like:

  • Protagonist – The main character or hero of your story.
  • Antagonist The villain or anti-hero of your story.
  • Love Interest – The person that makes your protagonist’s heart flutter.
  • Sidekick – The Robin to your character’s Batman.
  • Supporting Characters – Those colorful folks in the background that give humor, expertise and other key elements to your story.
  • Sub-Plot Characters – The stars of those little vignettes that advance your story through the actions of secondary characters.

It’s up to you, the author, how many character profiles you put in your Character Bible. If you’re a John Grisham or James Patterson type, you probably have less than a half-dozen characters to keep straight. If you’re a Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or J.R.R. Tolkien type writer, buy a few notebooks to fill.

Tools for Creating A Character Bible

There are several templates out there for you to create the character profiles that will become part of your character bible. I’ve selected some here to give you an idea of what’s out there:

Reedsy Character Profile

For those of you that belong to Reedsy, or even if you don’t, the site offer’s a character profile template separated into various sections. An image of the first page is shown below:

Courtesy of http://www.reedsy.com

As you can see, it’s pretty straightforward and guides you through the information that makes up the profile. I see pros and cons in the level of detail. I tend to only think about what I need to know about my characters, but I suppose the additional information, much of which you’ll never use in the story, might help you get a more accurate picture of what motivates him or her.

Filestage Character Bio Template

Filestage is another online site offering a character bio template in a spreadsheet format. It does have some nuances that the Reedsy template doesn’t cover, but the spirit is the same. I suppose you can create multiple tabs to add additional characters. Here is a snapshot of what it looks like:

Internet Writing Journal

Another character profile format appears on the Internet Writing Journal site. Again, it has much of the same information and you can pick and choose how much of it you’d like to use.

Conclusion

It’s entirely up to you if you want to create a character bible. I’m headed in that direction with my latest Frank Rozzani book so I can make the current book and any additional sequels more manageable.

I’d love to hear from you on your experience with this technique. Have you used it? Have you thought about it? How do you keep your characters straight?

Your comments, as always, are welcome.

The Value of Writing Young Adult Literature – From the Writers in the Storm Blog

by Ellen Buikema

One of the most valuable qualities of writing YA Literature is how it addresses the needs of its readers. Young adulthood is a tumultuous time of evolving, searching for self and identity, growing and changing, transforming from the world of childhood to that of adulthood. This rite of passage is a distinct part of life, marked by specific needs—emotional, intellectual, and societal.

Many adult readers enjoy YA novels in part because it allows them to travel back in time to revisit events of their youth, cheering for the protagonists and agonizing with them. There can be a sense of catharsis, following the protagonists on their journeys.

Modern civilization has left a gap. In many societies elders no longer lead their youth through a rite of passage or coming-of-age. YA stories can assist in fill that gap, helping young adults to experience these transitions through the written word.

Read the rest of this post HERE.

A Different Approach for Writing Success This Year – From the Writers in the Storm Blog

By Janice Hardy
@Janice_Hardy

A new year often starts by declaring your goals and dreams, but a frightful number of writers don’t achieve those goals—or those dreams.

And I was one of them for a very long time.

I’d start every January with high hopes and ambitious plans about what I was going to accomplish that year. Sure, I didn’t get everything done the previous year, but I’d learned from those mistakes, and this year would be different.

Sound familiar?

Read the rest of this great post HERE.

Travel That Inspires Your Writing

As I read through blog posts on a daily basis, I see many that are inspired by travel. Some of you live in exotic places. Others record memories from wonderful trips that you’ve taken.  The photographs and descriptive narrative are fascinating.

As you may or may not know, my job requires me to travel an average of 45 weeks per year. That sounds glamorous, perhaps, but the reality is I spend most of my time in office buildings and hotels in some great cities with little time to venture out.

Occasionally, however, a cancelled flight or a project deadline will cause me to spend a weekend in a place. It it those opportunities that allow me to venture out and soak in the culture.

One such setting that I’ve used in my writing is Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Albuquerque is a picturesque city. It’s in a high desert area surrounded by the Sandia Mountains.

I was stuck there for a weekend and took the opportunity to drive around and even went up to Santa Fe which is only an hour away to soak in some of the artistic culture and architecture.

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I made New Mexico the backdrop for my story, No Pain, No Gain, that has been published in parts each week on Saturdays. The surroundings are not an essential part of the story, but they do provide an accurate setting.

I’ve also done this with other locations like Philadelphia and, of course, Florida. My hometown of Syracuse, New York has also appeared in a few of my books.

Life Changing Trip

When I was a junior in high school, I had the opportunity to travel to Italy. Even though this trip was nearly 40 years ago, it is one that I’ll never forget.

Here are some faded pictures of that trip:

Although the trip was memorable, I haven’t set a book in Italy…yet. The great news is, this coming June my wife, daughter and I will be traveling to Italy. We wanted to give our daughter a memorable trip and the opportunity to spend 10 days in the country of my family’s origin came along. We couldn’t pass it up.

Look for a future book set in Italy. I can’t wait to start taking notes.

So, how about you? Does your travel inspire you to write about a new location?

A (Typical?) Day in the Life of an Indie Author

As many of you know, Indie Authors often have day jobs that they use to sustain their writing habits. In the past four years, I have written 9 books (published 8 with 2 on the way) all with working in a job where I travel 45 weeks per year and work an average of 10-12 hours per day.

Because of my job, there isn’t a typical day, but there is often a typical type of day, so I thought I would map that out for you.

Flying Woes 1, Linda Braucht (20th Century/American), Computer Graphics

Monday (Travel Day)

On Mondays, I’m typically up at about 4-4:30 AM for the 42 mile trip from my house to the airport. It’s a long boring ride, but luckily I have a great driver. My wife and I only own one car, so I ride in a vintage Lincoln Continental that is in mint condition. My driver’s name is James and he and I have spirited conversations, even that early in the morning. He has been driving me for about five years and has even been featured in a couple of my books.

Once I arrive at the airport and make my way to the gate, the people watching begins. I have a notebook that’s easily accessible in my backpack. I’m constantly jotting down ideas as I watch the people and the news feed on the airport screens.

When it’s time for the flight, I do something very important. My first flight is generally from Jacksonville to Atlanta. I have trained myself to go right to sleep when I get on the plane. I’m always in a window seat so I can sit down and nod off immediately. This gets me 60-90 minutes of extra sleep in the morning.

Once I’m in Atlanta, I’m usually connecting to the real destination for my work. This destination can be as close as Baltimore or as far as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Minneapolis or anywhere else that I’m staffed on a project. The length of the flight and the amount of ‘real’ work I have to do dictates how much writing will take place.

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If I have a writing project that I’m anxious to get to, I’ll have my laptop out while we’re at the gate and then I’ll put it away as the aircraft door closes and sit anxiously waiting for the tone to ‘ding’ at 10,000 feet so I can pull it out again. Depending on the length of the flight, I have written multiple chapters or entire short stories on a crowded plan with my elbows pinned tightly against me. Not comfortable, but it works for me.

Monday Night:

trav3Ah, the glamorous life of traveling for work. I’ve seen the inside of more Marriott and Sheraton hotels than you can name. Sometimes I have a great view from my room and other times, I have a view of the garbage dumpsters. I travel so much that I sometimes wake up disoriented wondering where I am.

Monday nights are often tough, especially if I’m west of Eastern time. Remember, I have been up since 4 AM. If I’m on the west coast, I’ll arrive around noon (Pacific) and still have 5-6 hours of work ahead of me. This means that, by the time I check into the hotel at 7 PM, I’ve been up for 18 hours. I’m an old guy and this usually means an early bed time. Not much writing gets done on Mondays.

Tuesday and Wednesday:

The days that I spend away from home and family are tough. The days are very long and active. Very often, I’m in the client office by 7:30 and leave at 6 or 6:30. Luckily, I am an early riser. The first thing I do when I wake up at about 5 AM is log onto WordPress.

These are generally very busy days (day job-wise). They are full days at the office. I try to protect my evenings for writing. These are the nights when my co-workers are going out and soaking in the local culture and I’m soaking in the hotel room.

This is when I catch up on blog posts and writing projects (usually there are multiple). I spend a solid three hours per night with these activities.

Thursday:

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It’s time to travel again, only in reverse. Usually, this means an abbreviated day in the office and a flight that leaves sometime after 4 PM (depending on where I’m starting from). It also means a late night arrival at home. Usually, because of my introverted nature, I’m very withdrawn on Thursday evenings. I’ve been known to wear earbuds with nothing playing in them just to use them as a defense mechanism against anyone feels like talking to me.

This is a great time to write. I want to escape the world of crowded airports and airplanes. A nice long flight with a first-class upgrade is just the ticket to get some writing done. Sometimes I’m still wired after I arrive at home and will sneak off to my home office to do some writing.

Friday:

trav5Friday is a catch-up day for my day-job tasks. It’s when expenses and time sheets are submitted and meetings outside of client work are held. It’s also a day when my commute is about 30 steps from my bedroom to my home office. The day is spent in shorts and a t-shirt and I thank goodness that my meetings aren’t video calls.

I sneak in writing and blogging on Fridays. My office is set up with a docking station for my work computer and a desktop with two 26 inch monitors. I can spin my chair and access both computers very easily while I work, write and catch up on streaming shows (another aspect of my writing – the need for distraction – which I may discuss in another post).

The Weekend:

My Saturday and Sunday mornings and late nights are for writing. I also have a nine year old daughter and a 1 year old granddaughter that, along with my wife, deserve a bunch of my time on the weekend. I try not to interrupt that time with work or writing, but I do squeeze in 2-4 hours of writing activity each day.

Rinse and Repeat:

By Monday, it’s time to do it all over again. Sometimes, if I think about my schedule, I get depressed, but, if I just experience it, it cycles fairly quickly and, before you know it, I have completed books and stories.

So what about you? How many of you write full time? Who else has a dreaded day job that supports your writing?

“EXPERIENTIAL EXCLUSION” POLITICS WILL MURDER AMERICAN FICTION IF WE LET IT – From T.S. Junior’s blog

T.S. Junior Experiential Exclusion Politics Will Murder American Fiction If We Let It, Identity Politics and writers

tenant of identity politics is that one group has no right to weigh in on another group’s central issues because they haven’t had the same life experiences. Black Lives Matter, for example, says white people can’t discuss black people’s problems because they aren’t black. They have no right to cite statistics or opinions on the matter. Yet, they must listen and be open to having “the conversation.”

In fiction, this means that a writer cannot write characters outside of their own identity, lest they “appropriate culture.”

On college campuses, “experiential exclusion” politics is rabidly divisive. Students have shown innovation in their efforts to find new ways to classify people by race, sexual orientation, and gender. Coverage of the Evergreen State College Incident is a microcosm of what’s taking place at our institutions of higher learning these days.

Read the rest of this post HERE.

The Pros and Cons of Considering Ghostwriting

As I look both in the past and in the future of my writing career, hopes and dreams and reality are mixing together like oil and water. Eight books into my writing life, I had hoped to be generating more income and actually make more than I spend on promoting my work. There are good stretches and bad, but the constant is, I still love writing as much as I always have.

So what’s the problem, you might ask. Isn’t the love of writing enough to keep me going? Most days it is, but I currently have a full-time job that allows me to keep up my writing habit while I’m still allowed to afford things like a home, food and clothing.

As I look down the road at the viability of writing as a career, I am also looking at peripheral writing activities that lack the glamour of publishing the next great novel. One of those activities is ghost writing.

Image result for ghostwriting definitionSo, like everything else I undertake, I decided to make a list of pros and cons and, in the spirit of transparency, I wanted to share it with my fellow authors that might be contemplating something similar.

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  • It’s writing – I enjoy writing so much that I can justify ghost writing by saying that it doesn’t matter if someone else takes the credit, I still get to write and that’s all that matters.
  • It can be lucrative – You can ensure that you get paid for your writing and it likely won’t be dependent on sales.
    • Writing a book proposal may be charged at an hourly rate ($40 to $200) or as a flat-fee per project ($5,000 to $15,000, depending on the division of labor)
    • Research for a book is charged at an hourly ($15 to $150) or daily rate ($450 to $600)
    • Rewriting charges are hourly ($25 to $200) or at a per-project rate
    • Writing a children’s book for hire may be charged at an hourly rate ($50 to $125) or a per word charge of $1 to $10 per word.
    • Ghostwriting fees for a book could be charged hourly ($30 to $200), per word ($1 to $3) or per project ($5,000 to $100,000). More experienced ghostwriters tend to charge per project, with additional hourly fees if the project scope expands. Books for which the ghostwriter receives no credit are usually charged at a higher rate.

Source: https://www.lisatener.com/ghostwriter-contracts-fees/

 

  • Freedom/Education  – It’s likely that the writing would be outside of my area of expertise and I could learn from it and open up future writing opportunities through new experiences.
  • Availability of Work – Everyone who’s anyone is writing books to supplement other careers as politicians, celebrities, business people, etc. You don’t need to be an expert in their field, you just need to be a good listener and be able to write in a tone they are happy with.

CONS

  • Not Getting Credit – I don’t mean lack of recognition here. What I mean is that many ghost writing opportunities come with non-disclosure agreements (NDA). This means that you can’t list specific books in your portfolio and use them to enhance your credibility as a ghost writer.
  • Researching Unfamiliar Topics – You might think I listed this as a pro above in the sense of learning new things, but learning takes time. Time is money when you’re writing as a profession. The time to research will eat into your time that you hoped to be writing and earning money.
  • Having Clients – When you write your own work, yes, you try to please the mythical ‘reader’, but the main person you seek to please is yourself. My career as a consultant has taught me how precarious is can be trying to please a client. You may write something that the subject of the book doesn’t like even though your being truthful. Also, people who are worthy of being the subject of a book are often a bit high-strung, so there’s that.
  • Time – You’ve heard me whine that I work 50-60 hours per week and I travel. Adding something like this, and being able to devote enough time to do it right, are down the road a bit, but I have to consider it if I’m going to make writing something that contributes to my income.

Anyway, now it’s your turn. Have you ever considered ghost writing as a way to supplement your writing income? Have any of you done it? I’d love to hear your pros and cons as well.

 

What is at the heart of your writing?

Many of us who are independent authors with blogs offer advice, talk about our books, interact with other authors and review their works. We do this without seeking monetary rewards and achieve a modicum of recognition.

Why do we do this? What motivates many of us with full-time day jobs to spend our free time working passionately at something with a minimal financial return?

Image result for readersWhat do readers want?

First, let’s talk about what we do want to achieve in writing. I know that one of my first considerations is attracting readers. In order to attract readers, a writer must determine what readers desire in the books they read.

To consider this, I first think of what I’m looking for in a book when I sit down to read it. We all have busy lives. For me, reading provides an escape. It allows my brain to change gears and go places far away from the daily grind.

To achieve this, however, a book needs to have a character that the reader can identify with. If your protagonist is a detective, you must put the reader inside the mind of this character and lead him or her through the steps that the detective goes through to solve a case. You have to avoid pitfalls like allowing your character to make significant leaps in a case that defy conventional logic. Readers are smart and they will abandon a book, and possibly an author, if the steps don’t make sense.

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What are you going to write? A novel, short stories, something else?

Novels have three distinct parts, a beginning, a middle and an end. So do short stories, for the most part. It takes a different set of skills, however, to write a full-length novel and/or short stories. It is true that both have a beginning, middle and end. Novels, however, are much longer and have room for a lot more complexity and character development. It is also harder to keep a reader engaged for a long period of time. One of the hardest things to do when you’re writing a novel is to keep up the interest through the middle, or as many authors refer to it, ‘the muddle’. We usually set out to write a novel with the cool ending in mind and maybe the beginning as well. Getting from A to B, however, is the part that takes great discipline and dedication so that you don’t lose your readers. Some of the great authors struggle with this. I’ve found myself reading military novels that take the reader through intricate maneuvers that, if I were to skip 20 pages, would not subtract from the story line.

Writing a short story compacts the process and elements into a much shorter format. A story might be about 1/10th of a novel’s length. You have a shorter period of time to hook your reader and get their buy-in. You may not be able to develop your characters to a very high level. You have to focus on the plot and make it solid in this shorter form of writing.

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Accuracy and Research

There are many ways, in this age of the Internet, to research your writing while sitting at your desk. This is especially relevant for indie authors as we may not have the time or funds to travel to exotic locations in search of settings for our stories. Research is important. When you are looking for reviews and feedback on your writing, there are many research trolls sitting under bridges waiting to discredit you because your writing might not be 100% accurate. You can avoid these trolls by using multiple independent sources for your research.

If you write in a particular genre, you should seek out experts in the field you are writing about to help you validate your work. For my detective novels, I have a group of ex-police officers that are always willing to offer advice and feedback. For my military thriller, Blood Orange, a retired Navy friend validated the military and technical details for me. Of course, the Internet is a big help, but, as I was researching dirty bombs and radiation contamination information, I expected black SUVs to show up in my driveway every time I did research.

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Writing for Money

Once you begin researching the publishing industry, you begin to discover that writing fiction and expecting to become rich through doing it is an unrealistic expectation. At this point in my writing career, I make enough each month to take my family out for a nice dinner or a day at a theme park. It’s not zero, but it’s not enough for me to retire. We all dream of waking up and checking our Amazon stats to see that we have sold tens of thousands of copies of a book overnight and have been discovered as the next big thing. It does happen to some. Ask Hugh Howie or Andy Weir about their success and they will tell you they were both struck by sales lightning when they least expected it. Other indies, like Mark Dawson, have worked hard at their success and, combined with luck, have done very well.

I don’t have delusions of becoming an overnight millionaire from my writing. I’m about 12-13 years away from retirement, however, and I would like to build my writing up to a business that sustains me well in my retirement in conjunction with my pension and social security. To do this, I believe the key is branching out in other areas of writing. I’m looking at the possibility of providing editing and formatting services and ghost writing as a way to be involved in the craft I love and bring in some income doing so. I don’t have the time to launch this supplemental activities yet, but they are on my radar.

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Talking About Being an Author

I work for a ginormous consulting company with over 200,000 employees. I’m on a new project every 3-6 months working with people I’ve never met. On the whole, I’m reluctant to talk about my writing because, by some, it’s viewed as a distraction from my work. I have learned, however, to manage my time very well and make use of my travel and hotel time. Convincing others of this, especially the young, hungry coworkers, is an uphill battle.

The funny thing is, I’m usually approached by them about my writing. They will say, wow, I see that you’ve published a bunch of books. Why are you still working? Well, see the previous section of this post for the reason. There are some that have read my books and give me positive feedback. For that I am grateful. One of the conscious decisions I’ve made is to use all of my social media to promote my writing. This include LinkedIn. My company is a big proponent of using LinkedIn to push our initiatives and talk about the company. I choose not to do this and use it instead to promote my writing. I know that a lot of my coworkers have looked at my profile and posts and are likely scratching their heads. I’ve thought about this, and I really don’t car. It’s my social media and I’ll use it as I choose.

So, what about you? Let’s have a conversation about this. How do you keep the fire burning? What are your goals?