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?

Your Dead Ancestors Can Help You Write That book

Featured on the Writers in the Storm blog

By Ella Joy Olsen

Who are my long-lost relatives? And what role did they play in determining who I am today? Where does their identity place me in the patchwork of humanity? These are some of the questions people hope to answer when conducting ancestral research, a trend that is growing worldwide. But genealogy has long been big business for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or the Mormons).

Read the rest of this post HERE.

A Challenge to Authors With Blogs: Where Do You Write?

I thought I would pose a fun challenge for the authors out there. It’s a chance to help us learn a bit about you and how your process works. The environment that you’ve set up to write in is likely important to you in that it makes you most comfortable to embark on your creative journey.

My home office is a bit nerdy with a mix of many different things. My wife just looks in the door and shakes her head at the things with which I’ve decorated it.

I thought I would start this challenge with sharing (or oversharing) what my writing environment looks like.

I then challenge you to do the same.

Dedicate a post on your blog showing pictures and describing where the magic happens. I will then collect the links of every post that each author puts up and publish a master post so that everyone’s followers can see what the various writing environments look like.

Let’s make it fun.

So, here goes. I’ll start with some photos of the overall office:

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This is the view from the door. My office is a converted bedroom. You can see my taste runs the gamut from spoofs of famous art work to nerdy collectibles and kid art projects. It’s all of my favorite stuff.

Special note: The white door literally leads to a closet (or cupboard) under the stairs.

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The flight deck view of my office shows two 26 inch monitors. (I used to have 3). The right screen has a work in progress and the left screen is showing The Nerdist television show. I usually have something streaming on one of my screens. I actually need the audio and visual distraction while I write.

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These are my collectible shelves. About a year ago, I joined a subscription service called Nerd Block. Each month, I get a box filled with nerdy goodies sent to me and I’ve tried to use these shelves to display my favorites.

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This is my shelf with stuff from The Simpsons. I’ve watched every episode of this show since it started 28 years ago. My family always hoped I’d outgrow it. No such luck.

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I have a small Game of Thrones collection. It’s not my favorite show of all time, but I do enjoy it. I have left the Jon Snow action figure in the box. I feel like it might be worth something if they every kill him off for good.

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this is my random TV show shelf. My Pop Vinyl Raymond “Red” Reddington figure from The Blacklist is front and center and my newest purchase.

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My Harry Potter collection is far too small. One prized piece, however, which is hard to see because of the glare, is an actual film cell from a Harry Potter film.

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My superhero shelf has a lot of cool stuff. It is the most crowded of my collectible categories.

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I have a growing collection from the Ghostbusters movies. The new film caused a resurgence in the popularity of this merchandise.

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These are my items from the Lord of the Rings movies. It’s small, but growing.

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My Star Wars collection includes a Darth Vader ice cube mold.

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Here is another shelf of random movie memorabilia including Alien, Back to The Future, Beetlejuice and even Sixteen Candles.

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I love New Orleans and this print is one that I bought while I was on a trip there. It actually was the inspiration for one of my short stories, Play it Again, Des, about a piano player that sold his soul to the devil for fame and fortune.

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This is my wall of book cover posters. I like to look at them from my chair every time I think I can’t finish a writing project. The newspaper on the bottom right is an article that featured my book, Blood Orange, in my hometown paper.

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My bulletin board just has a few things on it. Artwork from my daughter, Pictures of my two daughters, More prints from New Orleans, a mind map for my latest book, a picture of my dad and a collection of all of the badges I’ve collected during my consulting career.

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I’m from Syracuse, New York, and still root for the hometown college team. Their mascot is Otto the Orange. I’m not sure why he looks like he needs a shave. A spoiled orange might have fuzz on it like that.

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When my youngest played soccer, I took this picture of her and had it made into a two foot tall vinyl sticker for the wall. She is next to the license plate from my car that displays the colors of my MBA alma mater. My older daughter totaled the car it used to be attached to.

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From one of my favorite shows, I love this poster.

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My Homer Simpson/Scream parody. Sorry for the reflection of the computer monitor.

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My white board with some reminders (now obsolete) and some cool magnets to play with.

Here are some ‘D-List’ movie star autographs from the twins from The Shining and the mean sensei from the evil dojo from The Karate Kid

That was probably much more than you wanted to know about where I do my writing when I’m at home. I thought it would be fun. Again, if you want to share what your writing environment looks like, I’ll be glad to reblog it.

 

Back Story – When do you use it? How much should you use? Is it necessary?

Here is an oldie but goodie that I thought I would re-post with some updates:


My blog this week expands on a concept that appeared as a tip in an earlier blog. That tip focused on removing writing that was unnecessary. When I completed my first book, I tried to make sure that all of my characters were fully developed. I created biographies for each of them using templates that I found on the Internet. These templates included sections for physical attributes, motivations, character traits, family background and other biographical details.

In my Frank Rozzani Detective Series, the main character has events in his back story that motivate who he is in the present time. These events pushed him into his career as a private detective and forced him to relocate. My first draft of the book had two full chapters devoted to Frank’s back story. I thought that readers would want all of this rich detail about his former life in Syracuse, NY along with his family history and the tragic events that brought him to the present day in the story. I incorporated this as a flashback. I was excited about it and sent it off to my editor.

When I received my editor’s comments, she slashed nearly all of the flashback chapters from the book. She said that it was all unnecessary and that I should be more stingy with the back story and spread it out throughout this book and the ones that would follow. It was a blow to my ego at first, but in hindsight, she was absolutely right.

After this eureka moment, I started looking at the way other writers used back story in their work. Some of them, like John D. MacDonald and Elmore Leonard use back story very sparingly and only reveal details when they are relevant to the current story. Others like Dean Koontz and, in some instances, Stephen King, use back story to develop their characters into living and breathing people full of complexity. I wanted to land somewhere in the middle and I think, with my first book, and to a greater degree, my second book, I have succeeded somewhat.

Have I mastered the use of back story? Absolutely not. I don’t think, as writers, we ever truly perfect any aspect of our writing. I thought, however, that I would post some tips that I use and that might help you as you look for balance in sharing character background information in your work.

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1) Use the flash back technique sparingly: Unless you are writing a book about time travel, you can really confuse your reader by jumping back and forth in your book. If your reader starts to wonder where and when the story is taking place, you might lose them. If you must use flash back, consider doing it in short doses, such as in a character’s dream. If you have to devote a chapter to it, be certain that the details are relevant to the story.

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2) Consider giving past information as part of a conversation: This technique might involve a character telling their story to another character as part of a conversation. You want to avoid long monologues by your main character. You should try to make the reveal of the back story more of an interactive scene between the characters.

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3) Incorporate portions of background details as a summary: Many authors use this technique to indicate what has happened in the past. They will reveal details in the character’s background with single sentences.  Here is an example:

“As an attorney, John vigorously went after cigarette manufacturers. He wanted nothing more than to be victorious in cases against them while securing high punitive damages for his clients. This passion was fueled by the deaths of both of his parents from lung cancer.”

believe4) Make the back story believable and realistic: As an author, you should think out the main points of your main characters’  back story. Don’t invent events just to suit your story. The back story should be grounded in some type of reality. You can’t have your character defeat their enemy with a complex form of martial arts if studying the techniques do not make sense in the characters background. Maybe he or she was in special forces or spent time in Asia.

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5) Create a situation where the information needs to be known: In my first book, Frankly Speaking, the main character is single and is being pursued by a beautiful, successful woman. Despite her obvious hints, he resists her. When things finally come to a head, he reveals the details of his wife’s murder to her and explains his reluctance to get into a new relationship. This is a case where the reader was aware of some of the details, but other characters were not.

I hope that these tips about back story were helpful to you. I learn more about the different methods to reveal character background details as I read more and apply the techniques that I’ve learned to my own writing. Those things that motivate your characters might be the things that keep your readers interested, especially if you have multiple works that feature the same cast of characters.

 

Writing Your First Book – Where Do You Start?

Every time I attend an author event, there is always the attempt to separate authors into the two camps of those who meticulously outline and those that write completely by the seat-of-the-pants, affectionately known as ‘pantsers’.

I sat and listened to the virtues of these two camps and decided that I am firmly planted in a third camp. I don’t outline every chapter, but I do like a road map. I consider my method more visual and less rigid than outlining, but, to continue the road map analogy, I don’t like to just get in the car and go in whatever direction the road takes me.

I do let my characters and their personalities drive within the conscripts of my loose road map, but I don’t confine them to one road. If they want to take the scenic route, I’m open to that.

So, how does this process work, I’ll try to lay it out for you the best that I can. I’m gearing this toward the writing of fiction. Non-fiction, in my opinion, works a bit differently.

Step 1 – Come Up With an Idea

Sounds easy, right. It’s not really. A good story has to have a great beginning. In this world of instant gratification and short attention spans, you’ve got to grab your reader from the beginning. I think we’d all agree that you need a good ending. Nothing is more of a letdown than investing your time in a book only to have an ending that disappoints. (Have you read The Firm).

The thing that writers struggle with the most is the middle (often called ‘the muddle’). If your book meanders off into dark corners and doesn’t recover well, you’ll lose your readers.

Make sure your idea is strong and has a strong second act.

Step 2 – The Mind Map

The mind map is a technique I’ve used in my consulting career to storyboard presentations, but it translates well to writing. It is a visual representation of your book that starts with the book title in a cloud in the middle of the picture and connected rectangles surrounding it. Each rectangle represents an idea which could be a chapter. I use one or two sentences in each rectangle to represent the main idea of the chapter. Here is a mind map that I used for my second book, Let Me Be Frank.

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When I created this mind map, I left the chapter numbers off so that I would have the latitude to re-order them if needed. This mind map allows me to move into the next phase of building the novel seamlessly.

Step 3 – Set Up Your Tool of Choice

My tool of choice for writing is Scrivener. It’s an industry-standard tool and has some built in utilities that are very useful. The thing I like about it is that it emulates the old corkboard and index card method of writing about as closely as an electronic word processing tool can.

When I open up a new project in Scivener, I go right to the corkboard view and lay out my chapters just as they are in my mind map. Here is what it looks like from the same book.

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You’ll notice that none of my chapters have numbers. Scrivener will automatically number them based on the order that I put them in on the cork board. In this view, you can drag and drop to your hear’s content.

I usually set up my entire book before I write. Then I can drill down into the next step.

Step 4 – Set Up Scenes Within Uour Chapters

Just like the chapter view, Scrivener gives me a scene view. As I write each chapter, I set up scenes within it. The scenes usually correspond with a change in the setting. They can be long or short. A chapter can contain a single scene or many. In my view, each chapter is a self contained story, or episode, within the book. A corkboard view for a single chapter is shown below.

cork2

I don’t want this post to be a commercial for Scrivener, but it’s the tool I use and if you’re wanting something that organizes your writing better than just a straight word processor, it’s worth checking out. Like the full book view, you can rearrange the cards on the corkboard to change the order of scenes.

Step 5 – Other Visualization Methods

As I complete each chapter in the book, I like to use other tools to see if I’m on track. One tool that I have talked about in the past that is a popular social media trending tool is generating a word cloud. Word clouds count how many times a word is used in a certain context and generates a graphic with the most used words in a larger size, more prominent color, or both. I did this with one of my detective books and was pleased with the result shown below:

Frank 2 - Chapter 2

In another example, I wrote a short story about a boy named Desmond that sells his soul to an evil character named Lou to become a great jazz pianist. The result is below:

Des Cloud

There are several free Internet tools that will do this.

As for the steps that are left, they include things like:

  • Finish writing your book
  • Enlist the help of an editor
  • Fix the things the editor finds
  • Design a cover
  • Market it
  • Sell it
  • Spend your riches

Of course, I will expand on many of these in future posts. Also, I have a book with many of these tips spelled out in more detail that is available on Amazon that you can get by clicking the cover below.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00054]

I look forward to hearing from fellow authors on the steps you use. Please comment as you see fit.

Advance Reader Copies – Are They Worth it?

In January I released my 6th book. As I look back over the activities that I’ve used to promote my books it is like going from the Stone Age to the Industrial Revolution. I’m not quite to the point where I can just write. Actually, I’m pretty far from that. As I’ve built up a modest reader base, however, I’ve been able to employ some more advanced promotional techniques.

Issuing advance read copies is one of those techniques that I employed with my last two books. For the book, Frank IncensedI only issued a few. It was partly to get reaction from readers and secondarily to get reviews on launch day. I tried to give the readers enough time so that they could read the book and review it on Amazon, Goodreads, and any other outlet on the day the book was released.

I definitely saw some bump in sales and ranking due to this. For my latest book, Blood Orange, I was much more aggressive in seeking out advance readers. I issued 30 copies to the members of my street team (more on that in a subsequent post) and approximately another 80 copies to people that I sought out through my mailing list. That’s about a 15% hit rate. That resulted in about 15 reviews on Amazon the day that the book was released. Could this have been better? Of course. I was hoping for about 25-30 reviews. This book, however, had extenuating circumstances, but more on that later.

First, what is an advance reader and how does this group differ from beta readers?

Advance readers get the book when it is finished and ready to be published. It is the final edited copy. No changes will be made based on their feedback unless some big, ugly, hairy error is found.

Using advance readers is a coordinated effort. It takes a bit of organization, but you can use technology to help you. Free technology. The first thing I did was compile a list of those that volunteered to be advance readers. The best took I have found to do this is MailChimp. You can import a spreadsheet with your contact list. You can also, for a minimal monthly cost, add automation to the mix. This allowed me to send a reminder to my advance readers a week before the book was released, the day before, and the day after reminding them to review the book. All of this happened while I was happily Internet and eMail free on a cruise ship. The whole MailChimp process is a series of blog posts on its own. Look for that in the future.

There downsides to using advance readers. Of course. That’s why I’ve compiled another handy dandy pros and cons list so you can decide for yourself.

Pros

  • Releasing your book with reviews in place on day one helps your ranking on Amazon
  • You build further rapport with your readers and they enjoy being part of the process
  • Your book appears mature upon release. A lack of reviews makes readers nervous about spending money on your work
  • You get honest feedback from your readers that help you improve quality

Cons

  • Like with beta readers, you are forfeit sales to those that are advanced readers (or do you). I’ve had a number of advance readers purchase the book anyway
  • As with beta readers, you are putting your work at risk. This is true, but it’s at risk even after it’s released as an eBook on Amazon. Most readers tend to be honest.
  • You risk receiving bad reviews. Ouch. If that happens, It probably would have happened anyway, but by giving your book away, you probably increase the odds. You can combat this, of course, by picking your potential audience carefully. The worst review I ever received was my one and only two star review on Amazon. It was one simple word, boring. I was devastated, but when I dug a bit further, I found that the only other reviews this reader had done was for gardening books. And they were just as enlightening. My point is, if you write erotic romance, don’t send your advance reader copies to people who like Christian oriented books.

Advance readers can be useful. Even though the results were not what I hoped for on Blood OrangeI will be using this technique for my next book. The reason it wasn’t as successful for Blood Orangewas the timing. The book was set to release on November 13, 2015. I timed it to be ready for huge Black Friday promotions and planned a marketing blitz throughout the holiday season. If you remember what happened that night, Paris was attacked by ruthless terrorists. Part of the attack was near a sporting venue. My book centers on just that kind of attack. I immediately pulled back on promoting the book and didn’t bother my advance readers, or anyone else for that matter. I didn’t start actively promoting it until after the first of the year. It was a tough decision, but I still feel good about it and I still think the advance reader process is a good one.

Please, those of you who have different experiences with this or questions for me, please reach out through the comments.