Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Difference Between "My Bad" and "I'm Sorry"

 Admittedly, I'm not the youngest author on the block. However, I only began hearing the phrase "my bad" in the last couple of years. Apparently, it's a way to acknowledge that you did something, but you make no commitment not to repeat the annoying or inappropriate behavior.

My Bad permits the user to acknowledge behavior without expressing regret.

Why do I think this?

For several years, I've been a long-term substitute teacher in a middle school in central Illinois. I love it. The teachers and administrators are helpful and appreciative. The kids are largely well-behaved. Much of what they do I find funny, though I can't let them know I think that. 

The thing that bugs me is kids who insist on talking during quiet study halls or work time during a class. Yes, it's middle school. The goal of many students is to socialize with their friends -- even as they do their work. But lots of kids ARE studying hard or doing math homework and deserve quiet. 

So, twenty-five times an hour I tell a few students to stop talking and get to work or read a book. (I've already written about how it sends me through the ceiling to hear kids say, "I don't read.")

When a talkative student says, "My bad," it's the same as saying, "Could you please turn your back so I can keep whispering to my friend?" I may be exaggerating about the 'please' part.

Occasionally a kid will say they're sorry. The second time they are admonished and use that phrase, I say, "If you were sorry, you wouldn't keep doing it." It doesn't generally affect their behavior, but it lets them know I don't accept superfluous apologies.

A few days ago, a boy and girl sitting next to each other at a table kept quietly giggling. I can spot a potential boy-girl crush. After a couple times reminding them to be quiet, I asked the girl if she would like to move to an adjoining table so they wouldn't distract each other. She almost bounded to the other table. That was cute, not that I would tell them that. They also apologized as they left the room. That was a pleasant surprise. 

I'm not a total ogre. I simply grew up in an age where you obeyed a teacher who told you to shush. If you kept it up and a teacher sent a note home (no email, of course), you'd be in big trouble. And you'd quiet down because a parent would tell the teacher they wanted to know if the chattiness kept up. 

Times change and it's good to change with them as long as you can still live your core values.

As the end of subbing for 12-weeks in a study hall approached, boys in different classes asked me if I'd "do the Griddy Dance" on the last day. Not being a total dummy, I asked my sister if she knew what that was. She looked it up and said it was a short dance a current NFL player did in the end zone.

So, I did the Griddy Dance in several classes. Thank goodness the students can't have smart phones in the classroom. 

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Finish (or Start) that New Book for the New Year

I usually pound away at books throughout the year. In 2022, I had a bigger mix of other responsibilities, and I finished one and started another. Not good if you count on book income.

However, the slower writing year has reminded me of what I tell aspiring authors.

 Except during times of dire emergency, you can find 15 minutes to write each day.

2) To make that 15 minutes productive, jot notes as you think of ideas. Otherwise, you'll forget them.

3) Think in terms of scenes rather than chapters.

4) Think of scenes as building blocks. You can add the transition glue later.

5) You don't initially need to write a story or book in order.

6) Keep paper and pencil in your glove compartment, backpack, or purse. Most people write faster on a keyboard, but you can write parts of scenes as you wait to pick up kids from soccer practice or in line at the driver's license bureau. (Why a pencil? Pens don't write in the cold.)

7) This is the hardest thing. Tell people you will be unavailable at certain times of the day or week. During that time, turn off your phone.

These suggestions may not be useful if you spend a lot of time worrying about what's going on in your life. If you can't get troubles out of your head, write them down. They're still problems, but it may help your mind move to other things (like writing) at least temporarily.

To follow my own advice, I'm using a special calendar in 2023. Each day, I must write one thing I've done to write a new book and one thing I've done to market my 30 books. Why a separate calendar? Because if I see the other things scheduled I won't concentrate on writing.

I'll let you know if it helps.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Give Yourself a Break with a Book

In many countries, the time between mid-December and New Year's is fraught with frenzied activity. It's traditional to buy gifts for Christmas and Hanukkah, though the retail madness of the United States is not common everywhere.

Even without a lot of shopping, there are holiday cards, home decorations, baking, office or neighborhood parties, and the continuing concern that you won't get it all done. Plus, if you have to travel, now you have to worry about airplane delays. If you drive, there could be the dreaded snow and ice to slow things down.

Who has time to read?

Yet, having a few minutes with a book before bed or at lunch in the office might save your sanity. Do make it a book. If you open a magazine there will be reminders (usually in the forms of ads) of what's on your to-do list.

From the Univ of Dayton Library

When my mind races, I sometimes pick up something I've read previously. I don't keep a lot of books, so last weekend I went to the sales room Friends of the Library maintains at Chatham Library and found a copy of Robert Harris' Pompei. I love that book -- a great story, a threatened romance, and lots about water. Plus, the volcano. Even though you know Vesuvius is about to blow, the suspense is intense.

I just finished Daniel Silva's Portrait of an Unknown Woman, which is very different than other Gabriel Allon novels. The spymaster has retired, so focus is again on the art world of Europe. And so much humor in the dialogue! 

I deliberately picked up paperbacks the last couple times I visited the library. Audiobooks in the car are my daily reward, but I have to slow down to read a physical book. 

Did you forget about your list for a few minutes? Good. Now pick out a book and promise yourself you'll read for at least fifteen minutes.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Is it Book Marketing or Relating?

It's been a while since I've written a post about marketing books. I let readers know about what I've written, but because I have a consistent audience (after twelve years), I pay less attention to it. That needs to change.

The most important thing I've learned is that an author isn't selling her books, she's selling herself and developing relationships with readers and other writers. That takes more time and (dare I say it) sometimes it's inconvenient.

In the "old days," people interested in your work would write you a letter. (That's the piece of paper you have to send with a stamp.) You could answer them every week or two -- I'm not saying I've had tons since 2010, but I always admired how my author friend, Leigh Michaels, stayed in touch with the many fans who wrote to her. She even did a short book in which she answered the questions fans asked.

That takes a lot of time, you say. True, but you could schedule it somewhat. Now, if someone sends an email or message on social media, they expect a response fairly soon. I don't check my LinkedIn account too often, and that has irritated a few people. My bad.

I recently read Krystal Craiker's blog post on marketing tips. Three paragraphs are worth quoting directly.

[Book marketing expert Jean Hanson-Depaula] says, “I think the biggest difference is that book marketing has to show readers that their book is worth their time. Readers have no shortage of options when it comes to books—and other entertainment for that matter.”

Books are a time commitment for readers. For most people, it takes a lot longer to read a book than to stream a movie on Netflix. With so much quick entertainment at our fingertips, authors must show people that their book has value.

Book marketing coach Monique Mensah agrees: “My number one tip for book marketing is to stop selling the book and start marketing the value.” For fiction authors, what experience are you providing your readers? What problem are you trying to solve if you write nonfiction?

These concepts are not fully implemented by sending tweets or buying ads -- not that either is bad. I tweet every day because it's something I can do in five minutes. While I mostly tweet about books I have for sale on varied sites, I also regularly post links to my blog and books of other authors.

The most important thing is to write a really good book. That doesn't happen if you rush through your drafts -- emphasis on drafts, not one-and-done. 

It's exciting to finish a book, especially the first one. But it needs to sit quietly for at least a week or two so you can read it with a less enthusiastic eye and make improvements. And then have others read it (not just friends!) and possibly work with an editor. There are lots of freelance editors and proofreaders today.

Mark Dawson of the Self Publishing Formula says, "“Make sure everything—from the manuscript, the cover, the blurb to the ad copy—all dovetails. In other words, every part of your book needs to fit together and be high quality to convert your readers." (Convert? That's a marketing term that means making it easy for someone to get from thinking about a book they see on a shelf or retail website to actually reading it. And then your next book.)

The best thing I've done in terms of marketing was to have all of the covers redone so the twelve books and shorter novellas in the Jolie Gentil mystery series have the same look. When I started the series, I envisioned three books. Ha! Readers now recognize the series before they read the title of a new book.

The best advice I could give is to do at least some marketing every week. It's easy to focus on writing (and the rest of your life) and not consciously look for new readers. You'll find good suggestions in Craiker's article or look for marketing in the index to this blog.

Krystal Craiker, "Book Marketing: Fourteen Strategies." You can find this excellent article at 
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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

What do Dragons and Mice have to do with Writing?

Turns out dragons and mice are very relevant. Lancelot Schaubert's piece (November 29, 2022 on Writer Unboxed) is well worth a read. He begins by relaying stories of dragons and mice who -- when ignored -- only become bigger problems. Wonderful metaphors as to how ignoring or avoiding issues with writing or submitting can become major hindrances.

Here are some good points and quotes from his writing. Make sure to read the comments and his responses, too.

"In every medieval occidental story about dragons — actually, even in some of the medieval luck dragon stories — a dragon unattended grows. When it’s an occidental dragon, your own and the dragon’s greed and anxiety and unattended consequences worsen...How do you think Smaug got so powerful? No homely lakelander wanted to deal with a dragon. No dwarf would harm his hoard."

You really need to read the piece about the mice infestation. (Ugh, but a few wry laughs.) After waterproofing the basement of a Brooklyn apartment, the super found that small rodents had nowhere to go but up -- to closets and even stovetops in the units above. If you'll pardon the pun, the best laid plans of mice and men can go dreadfully awry. 

What followed were, " Traps. Seals. Cleaning. Disinfecting. Throwing away a British stone weight in flour and another in rice and crackers...But we faced the closet and started, simply, by throwing away a small bag of sugar. One half-empty bag. And the dragon got smaller."

And now, to writing. We've all avoided notes, manuscripts that need work, the submission process. And my favorite -- outlines.

As Schaubert says, "You’re avoiding [an outline] because it’s easier to figure out the first draft as you go along and because outlines are freaking hard, annoying, generally unrewarding work. And yet having one will make our first drafts all the cleaner and requiring of so much less revision." Don't you hate it when people know what's going on in your head?

That manuscript dragon? "Turn and face the foe — do the hardest thing in the direction of the highest good, highest beauty, highest calling...Which way? they [the seekers of the ring] once asked Frodo, who said: Towards danger, but neither too rashly nor too straight."

Easy to write, much harder to do. A child's play is also work. It's how they learn -- not just to do, but to interact with their own mind and with others.

Schaubert asks, "How can you make and fail and make and fail and make and fail and make?"

I would say start with a very short list. If it's too long, it'll be too overwhelming. That which overwhelms gets ignored.

I've been trying to talk myself into submitting to agents or small publishers rather than "only" self-publishing. Self-publishing and marketing (especially for 30 books) are hard. But submitting to others is the big unknown, with its own frustrations. And fears.

I used to edit others' work more than I do now. When nonfiction writers would say they didn't know how to start putting together what they had researched, I would say something I learned from another editor. "You can edit crap, but you can't edit a blank page."

So, I won't get rejection letters (much less acceptance) until I submit. As I tell fiction writers who say they have no time, one page a day is a 365-page book each year. I just have to do it.

Reference: Face the Dragon. Face the Mice. A Sonnet in WU Form
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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Monday, November 28, 2022

Avoiding Narration in a First-Person Story

Few things take me out of a story -- any tale, but especially those told in first person -- more than a full stop so some hidden narrator can relay details about a setting or person.

To my way of thinking, readers need to get descriptions through the eyes of the character whose head is telling the story.

I've been told I don't explain enough about a room or the clothes a character wears. In a critique group, another member once complimented me on how I described a room the sleuth entered and asked why I didn't have that kind of detail all the time.

Because the sleuth was taking in the room herself. She had a reason to notice colors and kinds of furniture. If she walked into her own living room, she might notice the dog had left hair on the new beige sofa or an open window had caused a vase of daffodils to crash to the floor. But she wouldn't tell herself details about a room in her house. 

On the other hand, I write two series in third person. That allows more ways to relay information. Still, I don't like paragraphs of background or explanation. Why not let the sleuth think about or discover the particulars?

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Best Advice Top Authors Received

And some they offer to others. At the Prime Crime at the Columbia Club conference the last weekend in October, a stellar group of mystery and thriller authors shared advice on a range of topics. There was a lot of agreement, and occasional individual ideas that made others nod.

The authors were: S.J. Rozan (panel chair), C.J. Box, Ruth Dudley Edwards, John Gilstrap, and Reavis Wortham -- shown in order in the photo.

What Are You Waiting For?

Everyone is busy. And sometimes there are other priorities you need to address before writing. As John Gilstrap says, there are 1,000 reasons not to pursue a dream. If writing is to become more than a dream: sleep less, be online less, and simply risk doing it. Bottom line, “Never let voices of others deter your ability to make time.”

Ruth Dudley Edwards had the simplest advice – “Just do it. Don’t get advice, get it written.”

In true Texas style, Reavis Wortham said, “Put your butt in a chair, finish it, and put it in a drawer.” He isn’t saying forget about it. Time away from a manuscript lets you better evaluate it.

It’s Fiction. How Much Does Research Matter?

Another conference panel discussed research in depth, but Reavis Wortham had some specific advice. Readers notice what you get wrong, and it matters to them. If you don’t know a lot about guns, make sure what you say is accurate. Know the difference between a sheriff and the police force. 

I would add that if you don’t know what you don’t know, make sure you have some good cold readers who know a lot about a topic. Even if it’s not key to the story, why describe architecture inaccurately or say someone drove a Mustang in 1942?

Is it Plot or Characters and Setting?

No one will argue a plot has to be well thought-out and (for mysteries especially) offer twists and surprises. S.J. Rozan noted that while Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple may pursue criminals in a similar fashion in all the books, we read them in good part because of the setting and characters. 

C.J. Box added that a great sense of place is more remembered than a good plot. Readers like to revisit places they remember well.

Ruth Dudley Edwards was direct. “Plot is a nightmare. If you use the same characters, put them in new environments.”

How Helpful are Writers’ Groups?

John Gilstrap said critique groups can be good, but members have to give one another more than observations. Say why something doesn’t work well. Edwards emphasized having friends who will tell you when you’re wrong about something.

S.J. Rozan believes there are three kinds of groups. One type will say what you do is all brilliant. That’s no help. Another kind will say what’s good and what isn’t working. That's the kind of group authors need.

The third she deemed toxic. Comments either aren't helpful or (worse) some members put others down or try to tell them what to do. Don’t be afraid to leave a toxic group.

The All-Important Point of View Decisions

In some of my early writing, I used lots of points of view. I recognize now that I thought of points of view as the eye of a camera. A movie shows many people doing things. Eventually, I learned they didn’t all have to tell the story.  Thankfully, these were learning pieces I didn’t show anyone.

C.J. Box thinks establishing the point of view character is essential. If you bounce it around, it takes you (and readers) out of the story. It especially may not work to change point of view within a scene.

Gilstrap says he determines whose point of view is the most dramatic to make a scene work. Write it that way. If it doesn’t work, change the POV character.

You Say You Don’t Have Time to Read

You say you don’t have time to read? Here are some important reasons to read as much as you can, and suggestions to make time.

Reading gives you ideas. Don’t put it off. (C.J. Box)

Read what you love. If you think you don’t have time, decide to read at least a certain number of pages each day. (Wortham)

Read away from the computer. Think of it as part of your job if it’s the only way to be sure you do it.  (Rozan)

While you’re at it, meet other authors. You’ll get advice from peers if you need it. (Wortham and Rozan)

Market of the Moment

Gilstrap says fall in love with your characters rather than writing to the market. Besides, if divorced sleuths or PIs who are recovering alcoholics are in vogue now, they won’t be when your books is done. That’s not to say current books aren’t well done – just write your own.

Wortham stresses to find what you are comfortable writing. That doesn’t mean don’t try something different, but you’ll like the writing process more if you are comfortable with a topic or type of character. 

Ruth Dudley Edwards had some advice that rang especially true with me. “Don’t write something revolting. Do you have to write about cannibals in detail?” Maybe you do, she adds, but don’t do it because it’s the fashion of the moment.

A Few Other Great Quotes

C.J. Box had an interesting point about writing a series. Sometimes people will talk about what they plan to do in multiple books, or how characters will evolve. While it’s okay to look ahead, put all you have in book one. Then think about book two.

Reavis Wortham mentioned a familiar topic – rejection letters. “Never give up!” You’ll get past a low point. He wished he hadn’t thrown out a pile of rejection letters. They’d be reminders (not just to him) to keep at it. His first book was not published until after he retired from a previous career.

S.J. Rozan is always pragmatic. “If there's anything else you want to do as much as write, do that.”

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