Monday, March 30, 2015

Story Length: The Long and Short of It

I was asked to read and review a novelette. A what? It sounds like a shorter version of a story, but just what are we talking about here? It turned out that I fulfilled the request in a couple hours.  
Short stories (less than 7500 words) must focus on one character and a single event or it becomes too intricate for the length.
Novelettes (generally 7500-17000 words) still have a narrow focus. Like short stories, these are often written in first or third person narrative style.
Novellas (about 17000-40000 words) can include more characters, sub-plots, and twists.
Novels (generally 50000-90000 words, sometimes more) are full-length books that obviously include more complicated plots and elements.
Chapter books and Middle Grade (typically under 55,000 words) books have their own set of word counts and content.

Have you noticed the come-back of shorter stories? There are many reader and author benefits, including: a better time and money fit for busy reading/writing/editing schedules, a quick chance to "try out" a new author or keep fans interested between longer projects, a great place to gain exposure and grow readership, and a greater return over novel lengths for e-book rental programs that pay authors per book.

Collections (typically the same author or type of story) and Anthologies (feature various authors on a theme) are often grouped to form a novel-length book. These may be a single volume or continue on with more. Sometimes authors can get in on these by submitting to a contest or publisher; others are by invitation only. This is where networking may be valuable, or start your own group project. Seek the right market and follow submission guidelines. Authors of differing publishing companies that wish to collaborate can often work out an agreement via their publisher's project representative. Get permission and questions answered before you get too involved. Self-publishers, this is a great way to start out, write something outside your genre, or mix with other authors. In either case, understand your rights.

Lots of choices for readers and writers. Enjoy the book world.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Presenting: Authors Got Talent Author Idols: a light-hearted look at authors seeking stardom. We'll meet our contestants in a minute. First, let's meet the judges. That is YOU, the readers of America! You get to decide who moves on in the competition by voting for your favorite authors. Buy the full series or anthology and your vote will count as a super vote!

Let's meet the contestants sitting in the read, er uh red chairs. Just to be clear, when the chair lights turn green, that contestant is safe and will go on to the next round. The first person to be safe tonight is...Miss Historical Romance. She will sing a ballad for us tonight. Next to get the green light is Mr. Speculative Fiction, who knows it's all about the performance. The next safe contestant is Mr. Steampunk, who barely made it through because we really don't know who he is as an artist. Come on down, Mrs. Harlequin Romance. She didn't know if she would get voted through or not, but she will always remind the audience that she had a really good time. Finally, Mr. Non-Fiction will read for the save tonight. We'll be right back after the break.

Hasn't this been a wonderful show tonight, folks? (Applause) We have one last category for your enjoyment. That's right, the costume category--for authors who write in their jammies! They don't have to worry about the wrong outfit choice because no one will judge them. Before closing tonight, we wish to thank our mentors: Thank you, thank you to all the critique groups, beta readers, and conference teachers wherever you are!

Keep reading, America! See you next week!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Seeking the Next Best Idea

As the main meal preparer in my household, I repeatedly need ideas about what's for dinner. Once a cook has mastered a few dishes, they branch out, craving variety. For me, I started with a list of favorites that I could refer to and rotate. When those recipes felt stale, I began watching cooking shows or looking in recipe books. Sometimes I experiment. Writers and cooks both need fresh ideas and fresh ingredients.

Let your ideas take a different track.
After we've used the ideas in our back pocket, we seek fresh ones. We might read new authors or genres or watch movies to get inspired. We might brainstorm and keep a notebook of ideas. Sometimes we outright ask for ideas from others. I've used a few ideas from critique group members or gotten my spouses input. If you write for children or teens, ask them what they might do in a situation. Books and people are great resources.

What sparked this post--and I struggle half the time to come up with these ideas--was doing an ordinary task and letting my mind wander. I was bagging leaves in the back yard and set an armful into the bag. A few of them floated away, attempting escape. I hurriedly caught the ones I could. The leaves suddenly became 'people' that I was saving from certain doom if they touched the earth. The next handful became the opposite--people who were sentenced to death by my putting them in 'the volcano'. Those that escaped were the lucky ones. It was silly, but I recognized that we can come up with anything by taking the ordinary a step or two further from reality, by making observations, by seeing with new eyes.

Just this week I noticed a book that took opposites and put them together. Vampires + fairies = vampire fairies. Who would have thought that could be successful? No matter what you're cooking up, the secret is to do it well. (Of course timing and other things come into play as well.) Another way to create an idea is to work backward. Where do you want a character to end up? Think of several paths he could have taken to get there, and pick the least likely one. It will feel like a plot twist.

How do you go about getting new ideas?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Finding Your Pace as a Writer

Are you racing against someone else's speed?
Writers talk about pacing within their stories, but what about pacing in their lives? Most of us struggle for that elusive perfect balance. One writer may only get snatches of writing time while another can't break away to eat lunch. Not all weeks are created equally, but where do you generally find yourself, and how can you strike a better balance? We need to make sure that we are neither putting off writing just so we can redo the closet we organized last week nor are we putting words before people.

Are you moving in the right direction?
I find myself in a blessed position. I'm an empty-nester whose husband supports me financially. This means I have the leisure to spend a good chunk of my day writing. That's a good thing because I'm a slow writer. I tend to use my left-brained editor side as often as my right-brained creative one.

There has to be something that pushes us to keep striving, to improve. After 20 crunches becomes easy, you go for 25, right? My critique group offers me the right amount of push each week. Give yourself some kind of reasonable goal/deadline to shoot for. Even if it takes you ten years to write your book, you'll have that accomplishment ten years from now.

Points to Ponder:
Motivation. What stirs you to action? Write down your realistic goals. Place them where you can find them.
Accountability. Report to someone--submit pages to a critique group, editor, share with a friend, check off goals in your diary...
Support. Who are your cheer leaders? Get with other writers online or face-to-face. Interact. Believe in yourself!
Improvement. Read new-to-you writers, take a class, find tips on blogs, attend a writer's conference...
Prioritize. Those to whom we serve/pay attention become better supporters than the neglected. Eliminate unnecessary activities.
Balance. Feed all aspects of your life in appropriate proportions. Be mindful of physical, spiritual, intellectual, personal, and inter-personal needs and relationships.

Make it the best week you can by doing your best. Happy writing!


Monday, March 2, 2015

Book-Signing 101

I've experienced a few book-signings, but not from behind the table. That first time will occur ten months from now. Plenty of time to figure it out, right? But since I'm curious (and excited), I've already started looking into the how-to part. Maybe you can help me with that. Here's a sampling of ideas from various sources. If you have something to add--from whichever side of the table, please make a comment for the benefit of all who peruse this post. 
My friend at a writer's conference book-signing.

The Place - Usually a book store. Could be a library or other public venue. Will this be in conjunction with giving a talk? Think of niche venues to go with your book's subject. Your home might be perfect, but only if you are inviting known friends and family; you don't want strangers examining your home or stalking you.
Setting it Up - Some publishers or marketing consultants will do this step. If not, go in person whenever possible. Be sure to verify with the manager, recheck just before, and send a thank you note after the event. Allow enough time ahead for notifying the public to maximize turnout. Join efforts with another event if more beneficial.
Timing - Consider when paychecks might arrive and times when most are off work. Would it be best around a holiday or to avoid that day? Two hours is a good length.
Invitations - Don't skip this step, whether by paper or email. The people who know you are your best bet. Signs, newspaper promotion, or flyers in the shopping bag at the location are all good ideas. Use as many ways of advertising as possible.
What to bring/do - Dress modestly. See if they will have a table for you. What size? Do you want a special tablecloth or banner? Will they order the books or do you need to bring them? Arrive early to setup. Pack an extra pen or two. Have a notepad for customers to print the spelling of their names. Include a signup list for your newsletter. Have something eye-catching or a treat dish. Chocolate may draw them near. Have freebies like a bookmark or postcard. Wear a watch/phone, but don't look at it often. Stand more than sit. People-watch and smile.
Reality Check - Two things: Come out of your shell during the book-signing and do the above homework for maximum success. You may be busy or not, even if you did your homework. Don't let a sparse attendance define the quality of your work. Believe in yourself!
Appear to enjoy yourself no matter what happens. Engage people in a conversation or handout your blurb cards, offer candy. Others gain courage when they see how friendly you are. If you gain one new fan, consider it a success. Evaluate what to do better next time, or how to better spend your time.

What makes you want to attend a book signing?