Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Thinking Through Writing Options

      When I was about twelve, I had a lot of ideas for stories, but no idea how to share them. This was the 1960s, so books were in the library or you could buy them at school under the Scholastic Book Program. It didn't seem that kids wrote them.
Back yard games. No wonder I didn't finish anything.
     Still, I'd take a notebook and go into the backyard -- wearing my charm bracelet -- and think about the stories in my head. But I was afraid they were dumb, and I tore up what I wrote. Not to say they were good, but it would be fun to look at them now.
     Regret that I didn't have the courage to put my ideas into stories may be why I write books with titles such as Words to Write By: Putting Your Thoughts on Paper. I honestly believe that any of us can write -- maybe not always sell, but write. And maybe get good enough to sell.
     Writing is not a lifestyle, it's hard work. That hard work can lead to a flexible schedule, but any busy person (especially parents) will tell you that working at home does not mean you can drink coffee all morning.
     Perhaps you have a specific idea for a novel or want to share the method you used to pay off student loan debt in only five years. Maybe you worked in retail during college and have ideas that would help managers motivate younger employees more effectively.
     Why should we assume anyone cares about our stories, experiences, or how-to guidance?
     A lot of people won’t. But if you’re writing books to sell, you need to reach a relatively small audience to earn a hundred dollars each month. If these readers tell their friends, you have a larger audience.

     New subjects mean learning a lot and meeting new people. I find it boring to write what I know, but it can be a good starting place.Familiar topics mean less research and faster completion.
     If what you have is the idea of writing but aren't sure what to write, think about the following points.
  • Games you play
  • Kinds of books you read
  • Music you listen to
  • Movies you’ve liked
  • TV documentaries you watch
  • Sports you play
  • Hobbies you enjoy
  • Things you collect
  • Places you have visited
  • Places you want to visit
  • Comic strips that make you laugh
  • Teachers who inspired you
  • Things you have been complimented on
  • People you taught to drive
     People you taught to drive? That’s in case you want to write about how you handle frustration so others can model (or avoid) your experiences.
     The bottom line is, no matter what your life experiences, they can inform your writing. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction.

     Some print magazines pay for articles, or your local paper may pay small fees for freelance articles. Web content is always needed and many writers are freelancers. A search for online writing opportunities turns up dozens of sites. (A couple references are at the end of this post.) Finding opportunities is the easy part. Studying their guidelines and writing to them take time. Handling rejection takes guts.

      Because of sites such as Amazon, itunes, Kobo, Barnes and Noble (Nook Press) and other retailers, literally anyone can write a book and publish it themselves. That doesn’t mean you should, but at least you have options. You can also seek an agent to help you get a publisher.
     Some might say writing is the height of arrogance. Why should we assume anyone cares about our stories, experiences, or how-to guidance?
     A lot of people won’t. But if you’re writing books to sell, you only need to reach a relatively small audience to earn a hundred dollars each month. If these readers tell their friends, you have a larger audience -- and income.


     HOWEVER, unless you are passionate about an idea for a novel, I would start with something shorter. Writing 60-80,000 words of high-quality content takes time - much of it in the rewriting phase, which could frustrate a novice.
      Revisions are essential. You only get one chance to make a first impression with an agent, publisher, or readers. Do you really want to spend several thousand hours on your first project?
     If the answer is yes, find a critique group and go for it. Buy stock in a coffee company. Avoid snacking when you aren't sure of the next plot point. Smile.
     If you aren't sure you want to invest that time for an uncertain outcome (a.k.a. rejection letters), visit the library to browse the magazine racks. Google "blogs that deal with [insert favorite topic]" to see what's on the web. Don't be discouraged if your ideas are already out there. Your take may be different, and each publication has its own audience.


     If you are considering a writing career because you're fed up with your day job, that's fine. But  don't quit. Consider how long it took you to learn what you needed to know for your current job. You don't need years of post-high school education to write an article or book, but you will want to read how-to articles or perhaps attend a local writers' conference.
     Finally (really) nothing makes it into print or to the web until you put your tailbone in a chair and begin to write. Set up a schedule (even an hour per week) and don't stop.


How to Make Money Writing for the Web, Brian Klems, Writer’s Digest Blog, July 19, 2013. Good overview of places to find opportunities and how to approach them.

For an example of providing good content and monetizing your blog, look to: http://www.makealivingwriting.com/start-here/ The blog posts are useful, but they also lead you to the blogger’s books and courses. If you see yourself making money as a blogger, keep in mind that blogs like this are full-time jobs!

Every Writer’s Resource lists the 50 best places to publish literary fiction.

The Write Life publishes a list of 20+ magazines that pay for short stories.

Mark Coker founded Smashwords, a site that permits self-published authors to load a book once and have it appear on multiple online retail sites. His books on ebook self-publishing and formatting are free at Amazon or his site, www.smashwords.com. Don't read these until you are close to finishing a book or article.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Continuing Connections Find Their Way into Fiction

I've never been one to model characters on real people. It's always seemed limiting. Each August I realize that even though I don't populate fiction with familiar faces, my books are imbued with the traditions of time spent with family and friends.

Why August? I attend an annual family reunion in Southwest Missouri, and usually get together with one or two groups of long-time friends. This year I missed the Iowa book club, but spent a few days in the Colorado Rockies with gracious friends. I recommend the steam engine ride through peaks near Georgetown, CO.

August is also state fair time. If you want ideas for characters (all shapes and sizes) I recommend sitting near the major food tents or any vendor that sells edibles on a stick. You can skip the Midway -- no different than an ordinary amusement park.

Discovery Garden - IA State Fair
The Iowa State also gives a flower-lover lots of images, especially if a major character in a series is a gardener. I didn't realize until I started reworking a novella this summer how much nature has featured in most of my books. You think you see what's in front of you, but the routine aspects of life can fade into the background.

My favorite example of ignoring the obvious came in the form of a wall of an A-frame living/dining area in a house I owned in Maryland years ago. After about six months, I had a dozen or so pictures on the largest segment of the wall. About six months later, I realized every one of the paintings and prints had water in them. No wonder one of my series is set at the Jersey shore.

Despite the visual effects of summer in several states, it's the people who leave the lasting images -- or help create new ones. In the Hobby Building at the Illinois State Fair, I watched one woman look at quilt after quilt. After passing her a few times, I finally asked if she had an item on display. "Oh, no. I don't think I could enter."

When I asked her why not, she said her work wasn't good enough to win. I pointed out that, while it's more fun to win, I've entered items and not won. (Nothing so creative as a quilt.) I love looking behind the exhibit glass at something I entered. I told her I'd look for her next year. Her face is etched in my brain, so she may end up as a character in a book I'm considering.

More than specific people being fodder for fiction is the lasting impact of friendships on the imaginary relationships we create. In one series, I have a few friends who occasionally finish each others' sentences. One pre-publication reviewer remarked that I did that several times in a 60,000+ word book. "You don't have friends like that?" I asked. No, she really didn't. She doesn't know what she's missing.

Life is so busy, especially with school-age children or aging parents to look after. I wish everyone could have time for an 'August Pause.' And the friends to visit during that time.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Tell Readers How to Get Your Free Audiobooks

Authors who work with the talented narrators at ACX (which produces books for Audible) receive twenty-five free coupons for new books. These provide a great way to introduce new readers to the joy of listening to books in their car or jogging around the neighborhood.

The folks at Audible have created a more passive way for readers to access books with a free trial membership. It's easy.

Go to www.audible.com and find a book you want. When you click on the book title, part of its address will be its asin (a unique Amazon ID number). Place that ASIN after the following address:
Make sure you leave in the = sign.

Here are a few links to my books, to use as samples for plugging in an ASIN.
Trouble on the Doorstep (5th Jolie Gentil cozy)
Behind the Walls (my favorite cover) (6th Jolie Gentil cozy)
Vague Images (7th Jolie Gentil cozy)
Demise of a Devious Neighbor (2nd River's Edge book)

Since this is for a free trial membership, it's obviously not for current Audible members. However, every ACX/Audible author who has a new book can ask ACX for twenty-five free coupons. That's right, coupons they can give to reviewers, bloggers, or enthusiastic readers.

Most authors have websites with contact information. If you see a new book, it's worth asking an author if they have free coupons. We love to hear from readers.

Of course, you can always head to your library for books on CDs. Ask your librarian about borrowing digital copies of audiobooks. So many books, so many ways to listen, and so little time!
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Writing Fun for Fourth Graders

Springfield, Illinois is fortunate to have a nonprofit organization called Compass, which hosts after- school homework help and activities at several local elementary schools. In the summer, Camp Compass brings together children from around the city -- part fun, part maintaining skills during the long break.

Compass Director Molly Berendt asked me to teach a couple of sessions on writing to kids roughly ages eight to ten. Hmmm. I lecture a fair bit to adults, but elementary school children?

It took a couple of weeks of thinking, because 'writing' is not always a favorite activity for children. Plus the difference between the skills of eight and ten-year olds is great. I finally decided to read a story, and then offer an exercise disguised as fun.

You probably read O. Henry's The Ransom of Red Chief in school. Bottom line, some industrious kidnappers are more than willing to return their red-headed victim. I had wanted something with humor and a surprise ending, and I abbreviated the story to accommodate the timeframe. You could have heard a pin drop as they listened.

Now, the writing part....

The adage of a picture being better than a thousand words is apt. What if we had a picture and the kids had to come up with the words, a.k.a., tell a story?

As an amateur photographer of sorts, I have thousands of photos  on my laptop.  First, I chose the construction scene at right. Actually, it's a destruction. These are the remains of the old DC Convention Center, taken from a (usually locked) porch on the 11th floor of a nearby building. Anything with heavy equipment would garner interest. Right? Sorry to say, several of the ideas dealt with burying bodies at the site.

Next, something peaceful. My River's Edge mystery series is set in a fictional town along the Des Moines River in Iowa, so I could load several albums with those photos. This bench faces the river in Keosauqua, Iowa. These stories were sometimes more cheerful -- two involved rescuing children who fell in the river.

The third photo was the first to come to mind. Years ago, a young niece and nephew visited me for a week in Iowa. Aside from the unusual aspects (for them) of visiting a farm and sitting at a  train station watching the Amtrak go by, we visited a playground. My then four-year-old nephew found shoes and socks encumbered his actions. When I noticed he wasn't wearing them, here's where they were. I promise, this is not a staged photo.Don't ask how he got over the fence. I must have had my back turned.

Stories about the playground tended to involve a child being kidnapped, but unable to take his shoes and socks. Vivid imaginations, these kids.

I had 5 by 7 inch copies of each photo, and sheets of paper for them to write or draw on. Plus pencils and crayons, of course. Each sheet had one of the pictures on top, so they'd remember the photo. No one had to talk about their work, but about half of the twenty or so kids in each group did.

Since I don't usually teach children, I found this invigorating and exhausting. I liked the idea of starting an exercise with a photo. Maybe I'll use it with adults...
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Whirlwind Month of Audiobooks

Though most of my audiobook listening is of others' books (I'm devouring Daniel Silva's and Louise Penny's at the moment), the past six weeks I've been reviewing three of my own as they moved through the production process.

Like many authors, I work through ACX to find narrators, listen to their draft chapters, approve the books, and let readers know how to find my audiobooks. ACX is an Amazon company, and books appear on Audible, Amazon, and itunes. ACX also creates a supportive system for authors who are way more used to keyboards than microphones.

If an author is tempted to record his or her own book, studying the ACX help pages will help her rethink. Not that a writer might not have the expensive equipment and audio editing capabilities. You simply have to ask yourself why you'd want to spend soooo much time recording when you could be writing.

I'm always grateful to narrators. A book that ends up as a nine-hour production may take them 30-40 hours of work. Why? They first read to understand the books as a whole, then learn the personas of the various characters. Even if the books are read more than acted (which is my preference), the narrators vary voices somewhat. I can't imagine how hard it is to remember how they did a voice for secondary characters who may not appear in every chapter.

The first book to come out in the last two weeks was Tip a Hat to Murder (narrator Kevin Iggans). Set in small-town Illinois, Tip a Hat to Murder also has some rowdier (and funnier) characters and more focus on the investigation itself than life in the town than some of my other books. Still, no graphic violence. The protagonist is the local police chief. Usually my sleuths are amateurs, so this was a departure.

Second to appear was Demise of a Devious Neighbor, narrated by Brad C. Wilcox. Authors like all their books, but for some reason I especially loved the way this second book in the River's Edge series evolved.

It could be because I have the most vivid mental pictures in mind -- the book is set in Iowa, where I happily lived for years. I also had a lot of fun with plot twists in this one.

Last but not least is Vague Images, narrated by Paula Faye Leinweber. Paula also did the first two books in the Jolie Gentil series. She really 'nails'  Jolie's personality and irreverent thinking. For the eleven books in the series (ten and a prequel), only three are left to be recorded. In fact, the ebook and paperback of The Unexpected Resolution will only be out next week.Whew! Vague images also brings into focus a romance element in the mystery series.

The full Jolie set should be finished by the end of the summer (only two left). You can check out all my audiobooks at  my web site. I have them organized by the sites that sell the books, to make it easier to find the ones that will play on your device. Amazon   itunes  You can also search for me by name (as Elaine Orr and Elaine L. Orr) on Audible.

I'm proud of and grateful to these narrators. Links to their web pages are also on my site.

Finally, while audiobooks can be expensive, I did a blog post on finding affordable audiobooks. There's something about bring the characters to your ears as well as your eyes that makes them more real. You don't want to miss the chance to 'see' them through your ears.

Friday, June 30, 2017

How to Get the Most from Twitter

Nearly all of us keep in touch with one another through social media. It's fun, and the geographic distances melt away when we look at pictures of an adult child's birthday celebration or college roommate's report on a new job.

While some people use these communication tools for insults, most are respectful. A lot of people do as writers do and find ways to connect with kindred spirits in meaningful ways. Why writers? Because we not only work alone, we don't have a group of nearby colleagues. Or most of us don't.

I signed up for Twitter in 2012, but didn't use it much for a couple of years. What could be said in 140 characters? Why just 'put stuff out there' where you could talk to people or have more meaningful social interactions on other media?

It turns out you can reach people all over the world via Twitter. Some you eventually meet in the real world. My books had no international readers (that I know of) until I began tweeting regularly.

If you are an author who wants to meet readers and other authors, here are some Twitter strategies.

1) Set up an account with a brief statement that says something about books or your writing interests. If you want to talk about your favorite foods or grandkids, consider a separate Twitter account.

2) Pick a professional Twitter name, called a handle. It can be your name -- mine is @ElaineOrr55. A professional name doesn't have to be serious, but you want it to convey something about your work. A friend's mysteries are set in campgrounds, so her handle is @RVMysteryAuthor.

3) Promise yourself that you will post about more than "here is what I write" or "please buy my book." If you have nothing to say, you don't want to be absent for days, so post links to interesting articles or quotes from noted authors -- or others you admire. Stay away from controversial topics. That doesn't mean deny your values, it's simply a matter of staying focused.

4) Start a blog. Huh? We're talking about Twitter, aren't we? If you have a blog you can regularly send out tweets that link to articles on your blog. You'll be providing useful information, and a number of the posts can relate to your books, articles, or subjects you write about. My blog is called Irish Roots Author, and largely deals with writing and publishing. An index lets people search the now hundreds of posts. It's a lot of work to write a blog. I want the pieces to be relevant over time, so I tweet about them.

5) Keep those tweets organized. I have a ridiculously long Word document that has hundreds of prior tweets, organized by the book or blog post they refer to. A single book may have been the subject of hundreds of tweets through the years, because I focus on various aspects of the book or use different hashtags. (More on those in a minute.) I certainly don't scroll through past tweets -- I search for the book title, a holiday I referred to, or whatever piques my Twitter vision for the day. The Word document lets me reuse tweets instead of having to constantly compose new ones.

6)  Tweets have to be targeted to people with similar interests or they are just Internet blather. Hashtags (short phrases that start with #) draw people interested in those phrases. You see them everywhere now -- news stories, Facebook -- but they started on Twitter. The more specific the hashtag, the more likely you are to find people interested in your topic. Using the hashtag #mystery is probably too broad. Saying #JerseyShoreMystery could hit a more targeted audience, assuming you write, as I do, mysteries set at the shore. I keep lists of relevant hashtags, and wrote an (inexpensive) booklet of 500+ Hashtags for Writers. It can get your juices flowing

7) Be selective in who you follow. In a nutshell (you could write a book on this topic), there is no point in 'buying' followers, because they have no interest in your tweets. In fact, many of those 'followers for sale' ads provide large what are called bots (fake Twitter accounts).
Almost every day I look for people with similar interests and ask them to let me follow them. Sometimes their Twitter handles pop up on my screen as suggestions from Twitter, other times I search for a hashtag such as #cozymystery or #amwriting to see who comes up. People ask to follow you. I agree to most of these, but I'm careful not to associate with accounts that promote (for example) erotica or graphic violence via books. To each her own, but those aren't my interests.

8) A key point about followers: there is no point in following people who don't follow you back. When you click on a person's Twitter name, it shows the number of folks they follow and the number who follow them. They only see your Tweets if they follow you back. I don't bother following famous people -- other than a few authors I'm interested in.

9) Create lists of Twitter users whose topics interest you. I won't outline the steps to do this (Twitter has good help pages). Essentially, you group Twitter users by topics so you can refer to the lists of people who like the same kind of books, live in your part of the state, write blogs you like, etc. If I have a new book I may send some people on a given list a note about it. Twitter is not set up like email -- you can't send Tweets to specific groups of individuals. So while it can take a while to send these notes, it keeps all of us from getting spammed.

10) Consider joining a Tweet Team or two. Tweet teams are groups of people with a common interest who retweet one another's posts. You post a tweet, copy the address for the tweet, list that address on a team's Facebook page for that day. Then each person who does so on a given day retweets the other tweets. You need to join Tweet Teams that closely align with your interest -- too broad and you're wasting your time because you won't reach those who want to, for example, read your book. Tweet teams are valuable, but there is such a thing as too much exposure to the same Twitter users.

11) Tweets with images are read far, far more often. You can use book covers or learn basic software (Microsoft Publisher and an inexpensive photo program) to make graphics. Take pictures -- one of my series is set along a river, so I'll post pictures of the river. The protagonist is a gardener, so I post flowers. Here's a sample of a book graphic -- these take me less than ten minutes to make. It's all about having a system.

12) Have fun. You get a sense of people if you join a team or simply pay attention to tweets of those who write books like yours, have similar hobbies, or whatever. I've met several other writers at conferences -- good to put names and faces together.

13) Finally -- limit your time on Twitter. I try to do no more than 10 minutes per day, unless I have a new book or am plugging a couple of blog posts. Twitter is terrific, but far better is dropping by the library and talking to readers or grabbing a book.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Fun Reads with Real-Life Perspecvitves

One of my goals in writing the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series has been to add a touch of real life to the books.

Jolie is a Jersey shore real estate appraiser who has the occasional misfortune of stumbling over bodies. She also heads the local food pantry, has homeless veterans as friends, and (when she can't get out of it) gets dragged to a 12-step meeting by her friends Scoobie and George.

Authors can't put 'messages' in their books – fiction is for enjoyment. However, unless you live in Alice's rabbit hole, we all deal with diverse people, some of whom who need a helping hand.

In the first book of the series, Jolie has just left an ex-husband who cleaned out her bank account, so she is largely focused on herself. A couple reviews noted that. I thought, “Good, they’ll enjoy how she evolves.” I hope they came back for more.

By the second book, she's been encouraged (or conned) into running the food pantry. The work does provide the opportunity for crazy fundraisers. She also develops friends of all ages and careers, including a couple who always bring a laugh. Some of those friends, especially high school buddy Scoobie, make some marked changes in their lives as the series progresses.

Book nine, Holidays in Ocean Alley, was the first (and I think will be the only one) not written from Jolie’s point of view. Novella-length, it’s told from the perspective of Aunt Madge and longtime friend, Scoobie. I especially enjoyed the chance to let Scoobie's humor shine through.
By the tenth book (preorder The Unexpected Resolution now, available July 25), many of her closest friends would not be part of her life if she hadn't moved back to Ocean Alley and been roped into running that food pantry. And the books sets her life on yet another new course.

For an overview of the books (and links to them at all sites), check out my blog page devoted to the series. If you'd be interested in a review copy of one of the books, let me know.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.