Merry Christmas from Colorado!

Here's a glimpse of what I see outside my window right now. Family has flown in, the kids are all home, and it's time to tackle the Christmas baking!

In other words, I won't be blogging for the Christmas holidays.

I hope you and your families will create wonderful memories during the holidays. We'll be sledding, eating, playing games, and hanging out together.

See you in January!

How Will Publication Change You?

The throngs of pre-published writers ache for the day they'll find their book sharing space on shelves in bookstores and libraries. To walk in and find a volume with your name on it, side by side with big-name authors is an experience to look forward to.

But have you ever thought about how publication might change your perceptions about yourself and others? Taherah Mafi has.

Mafi's debut novel, Shatter Me, recently came out, and the formerly active blogger has been unusually silent. Why? She feels different now. 

Uncomfortable with the recognition and adulation that comes from publication. 

Unsure what to say when people exclaim over her accomplishment. 

And uneasy that some writers might feel she's on another level from them just because she garnered a book contract.

I really hope you read Mafi's post about how conflicted she feels. I imagine most first-time authors feel the same way, but they aren't as transparent (or humorous) as Mafi. I love how she pinpoints the tendency to under-appreciate artists and writers until they have the "stamp of approval" of a sale.

Do you think experiencing publication could make you uncomfortable?

What Defines a Bestseller?

While researching literary agents, I've come across something similar on many of their websites. When describing what they're looking for, quite a few mention they would like to find books "at the intersection of literary and commercial"

What does that mean? It sounds like a vague description of a book that reads like literary fiction, but enjoys commercial success. But how does an agent identify which manuscripts will sell well? I guess they guess.

Recently, agent Rachelle Gardner asked readers for questions she could answer on her blog. So I asked, "What are some examples of books that fall into the mysterious literary/commercial intersection?"

Today she answered.

Head over to Gardner's blog to see how she responded. The comments are interesting, with a lively discussion of what some consider to be good examples of this hard-to-define kind of book.

What do you think? Have you read books that seem like good examples of literary and commercial success? And do you think your manuscript would qualify?

Keep Updated on Books in Your Genre With This Site

One of the tasks of a pre-published writer is to read in the genre they're writing in. With all the books being published, it can be overwhelming trying to keep track of what's new.

Cheryl Rainfield, author and fellow member of the wonderful Yahoo group Teen Lit Authors, recommended the site, Any New Books. Definitely check out her website and new book. And she's got some beautiful bookplates free to download.

When you sign up with Any New Books, you just type in your email, and choose from over forty categories of books. You can even choose to be alerted to new Kindle releases. For each category you choose, you'll receive an email once a week with titles and descriptions of new releases. 

You can also check out the staff picks, browse through the archives by genre, or read about what's new on the Any New Book blog. The site is a great way to add to your to-be-read list.
Here's the list of genres you'll choose from.
I signed up for children's, teens, and Kindle books. What would you sign up for?

Free Resources from Novel Writing Help

It's funny how becoming a writer is synonymous with becoming a learner. When the goal of writing is finally settled in your mind, you begin to realize how much there is to learn about the craft. And because the journey to publication usually takes several years or more, a writer dedicated to soaking up instruction usually becomes quite knowledgeable.

Think about it. Right now, before the adventure of publication begins, you have more time to give back to those who are just starting their writing journey. Without deadlines or marketing tasks, we're in a unique position to help others.

Harvey Chapman is just such a writer. He lives in the UK, and has taken the time to write and compile a website full of articles to teach what he's learned over the years. Novel Writing Help is packed with dozens of articles on every facet of novel writing.

Writers will find posts like How to Write a Novel in 9 Steps and a summary of online publishing. Articles are grouped by subject under headings like first steps, planning a novel, writing a novel, getting published, and writing resources.

A couple of things I like are Chapman's Novel Writing Software Guide, and Myths and Secrets of novel writing. He also offers a free ezine called Creative Writing Tips.

I can't list all the content of Chapman's site because there's so much. Check it out to see what you can learn, and be inspired to share what you've absorbed about the craft of writing with someone else.

How do you give back to the writing community?

Book Review: The Writer's Workout: 366 Tips, Tasks, & Techniques From Your Writing Career Coach

Quick question: how many items on your personal Christmas list are not books? If you're like me, very few. Well, here's another book to add to your wish list.

Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama, Get Known Before the Book Deal, and Author Mama, has done it again. Check out The Writer's Workout: 366 Tips, Tasks, & Techniques From Your Writing Career Coach.

The nice thing about The Writer's Workout is that you don't have to read it all at once. You pick it up anytime and turn to an entry for the season you're currently in. Katz wants writers to grow their careers in a "natural, more authentic way". By spreading different areas throughout the year, writers don't feel pushed to do everything at once. I can see picking up the book and starting my day with one of the short workouts. 

In the spring, entries zero in on "get going". Summer centers on "find your stride". Fall's focus is "become recognizable". And as winter settles in, you'll "coach yourself". Check out a partial list of the table of contents for more details.

Could you use a personal pep talk every day of the next year?

Free Resources from Author Jill Williamson

Once you get hooked on writing, it's funny how the world shrinks. The publishing arena is relatively small, and you're likely to bump into the same people on a regular basis.

Several years ago I despaired of finding an "in-person" critique group (now I'm a member of four!). I discovered a group of young adult writers online, and joined the group for a year. That's when I met Jill Williamson. She's an amazing critiquer, and I learned so much from her and the rest of the group. I was a total newbie, yet each of them were kind and helpful. And then she co-wrote a study guide with a friend from my small town. Small world indeed.

Back then, Jill was running two books through the group. I joined in on the very tail end of critiquing her book By Darkness Hid, which went on to receive a Christy Award, and is followed by two more books in the series. The other book is just now being released, and is titled Replication. It's waiting on my Kindle (it's a hardship to share my Kindle with my husband--he always grabs it first!).

I love Williamson's website. When I develop a 'real' one, I'll be using a few things I've learned from her site. But today, I'm highlighting a three-part series Williamson wrote on brainstorming new stories. Here are the posts:

Part One-Brainstorming a story before you write: coming up with a great premise.

Part Two-From premise to characters: developing your characters and their motivation.

Part Three-It's time to plot: the what and where of plot points.

Yesterday, we were discussing how to connect with readers in a personal way. Reading Williamson's blog, it's evident that she does this well by corresponding, using social media, and school visits. Want to add a few ideas of your own?

Guest Post: Marketing--How to Hang on to True Fans by Randy Ingermanson

Once a month I post an article from Randy Ingermanson's amazing newsletter. He writes three articles for each issue, and they're all really helpful. To subscribe, scroll to the bottom. This month's post is really thought-provoking for pre-published writers.
Marketing: 1000 True Fans, by Randy Ingermanson

A couple of years ago, WIRED Magazine co-founder Kevin Kelly suggested the outrageous-sounding idea that an artist can make a decent living if he or she has a mere 1000 "true fans."

By "artist," Kelly meant anyone trying to make a living in one of the arts, whether fine arts, music, writing, or whatever. What's a "true fan?" Kelly defined it as someone who likes your work so much that they're willing to spend $100 per year on you. The calculation is simple. If 1000 people are each willing to spend $100 on you, then you can earn $100,000 from them. Most of us would consider that a decent living. You can read Kelly's original article here.

It's an interesting idea and I think it has merit. I won't repeat Kelly's article here. Instead, I'll expand on his idea. I have three main points to make.

My first point is that there are different levels of fans, from rabidly loyal fans who would give you their left kidney, all the way down to very modestly loyal fans who would be happy to read your next book if they could get it for a dollar.

You tend to have many more modestly loyal fans than rabidly loyal ones.

Mathematicians learned long ago that this common sense idea can be reduced nicely to numbers using a "Pareto distribution". (Google it if you're a geek and want to know how it works.)

Here are some example numbers to show roughly how it plays out in practice.

If you have 200 true fans willing to spend at least $100 per year on you, then you probably have another 200 fairly true fans willing to spend at least $50 on you. And you probably have another 400 modestly true fans willing to spend at least $25 per year. And maybe another 1000 slightly true fans who would spend $10 a year. If you've got all those, then you would likely have close to 20,000 very tepid fans willing to spend a mere $1 per year on you.

Add up those various levels of fans, and you've got a potential $70,000 per year, which isn't bad.

What this means is that you can get by on fewer true fans than you might have imagined. In principle.

My second point is that a lot of authors focus most of their efforts on building their number of Facebook friends (or fans) or on building their Twitter followers.

There's nothing wrong with that, but there's a very low entry level to becoming a Facebook friend/fan or a Twitter follower. Anyone can do it in a few seconds. Low investment, low commitment.

These kind of fans are nice to have, but bear in mind that they are mostly the $1 per year crowd. If they hardly know you, then they hardly spend money on you. These are what we might call microfans.

Fans who follow your blog or subscribe to your e-mail newsletter will be fewer in number, but they'll also be far more likely to be in the $10 per year group.

You don't have to find your superfans. They'll find you and tell you how much they love you. You can't sanely keep in touch with very many superfans, but that's okay because you probably don't have many anyway unless you're a superstar. Bear in mind that your superfans are the $100 per year people. These are the ones who'll drive 200 miles through a rainstorm to come to your booksigning. And buy a case of books for their friends.

The important thing to remember is that you probably need different tools for keeping in touch with your microfans, your regular fans, and your superfans. Don't treat them all the same, because they're not.

My third point is that you won't earn $100 per year from your superfans unless you have more products available than just books. To earn $100, you need to actually have $100 worth of products available.

It's fairly rare for authors to have that much product available for sale. Generally, the only products authors display on their sites are their own books, and their publishers get most of the revenue from those.

But there's no reason for you to earn money only from your books. As an author, your main job is to be an entertainer. Any way you can entertain people is a possible way to earn money.

As one example, if you're an entertaining speaker (many authors are), you might pick up some extra cash by speaking. Your publisher will love you, because good speakers can move a lot of copies.

A friend of mine, Robin Gunn, has a store that sells all sorts of goodies related to her books. She's got a large fan base, and naturally some of those fans are eager to spend money in her store.

Scott Adams, creator of the massively popular Dilbert comic strip, has a terrific web site with an online store containing cool stuff that any Dilbert fan would love.

Of course the great majority of Scott's fans spend hardly anything on his site. The point is that those few who WANT to spend a lot on Dilbert goodies CAN spend a lot -- because Scott provides a ton of them.

If you're not published yet, you may think that none of this applies to you. Maybe it doesn't apply now, but it might apply extremely well someday. Whether you get published one year from now, or five, or ten, you'll want to earn enough money to keep writing.

Now is as good a time as any to start thinking about how you'll want to keep track of ALL your fans – the tepid ones, the moderate ones, and the rabid ones. What could you do for each of these classes of fans that would make them happy -- and earn you enough money to do what you love doing?

You don't have to answer that question now. But think about it.

The future keeps coming at us faster and faster. When it gets here, you want to be ready for it.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 29,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

What do you think about Randy's advice on reaching your different kinds of fans? Do you think you'd consider selling merchandise like Gunn or Adams?

12 Days of Christmas: Writing exercises from now to Christmas Eve

After long posts for the last two days, here's a nice short one. With the countdown to Christmas, it's easy to let busyness overtake writing time. It would help to have a small, but specific goal each day. That way you'll feel good that you accomplished something, but hopefully won't feel overwhelmed.

There are about two weeks left till the big day. Brian Klems over at Writer's Digest has put together a list of writing exercises for the next twelve days. I love number 2 and number 6, but my absolute favorite is number 8, because it encompasses my current manuscript.

Check out all twelve exercises on the 12-Day Plan page. Which ones look like the most fun for you? Do you have a way to keep yourself writing despite the holidays?

Interview with Author Jack Remick, Part Two: Timed Writing

Welcome to part two of my interview with author and writing teacher Jack Remick. Remick, along with author Robert J. Ray, run a fantastic writing blog that I've highlighted before (here). Don't miss Bob and Jack's Writing Blog. They offer seven free writing courses.

Jack has a brand new novel releasing this month, called The Deification. Readers interested in California's Central Valley during the 60's will discover the origin of the term 'beatniks', and much more with Remick's literary style. Check the bottom of the post for the book's blurb.
Yesterday Remick mentioned a technique called "timed writing". Today he shares what it is, how to do it, and why it might just make a huge difference in your writing.

Debbie: You use a process called "timed writing".  Can you give us an idea what that is, and how it helps you?
Jack: Timed writing is a gift from the gods. The process is simple—set a timer (I use a standard kitchen timer), put pen to paper and write until the timer dings. Timed writing in my world comes straight out of Natalie Goldberg’s brain. She calls it “writing practice.” I wrote in Taos with her a couple of times. My writing partner, Robert J. Ray introduced me to the process after he had written with Natalie three times. He was already an important mystery writer having created the Matt Murdock series, but he said he needed something else to get him to the next level. Wow. Already working in the stratosphere and he wants to go to the next level. Natalie told him, “Bob, make your writing a practice.” Through Bob’s writing practice I adapted the technique to poetry, novel, short story, memoir, screen play. Using writing practice, Bob and I together wrote The Weekend Novelist Writes A Mystery.
 I can’t say enough about timed writing as a discipline. The way I see it, writers have three problems—getting started, keeping going, finishing. Using timed writing, you train yourself to finish what you start—set your timer for five minutes, finish it. Set it for half an hour, finish it. Natalie Goldberg writes about the “marathon” by which she means write for five minutes, then ten, then fifteen, on up to an hour. When Bob and I first began working together, we developed the idea of a “90 Minute Short Story”. Using timed writing, we worked from opening to climax in 90 minutes. At one point we wanted to sell that process to Bantam Doubleday, but the editors there said no one was interested in a book about short stories, why didn’t we write one on mysteries. So our 90 Minute Story system turned into the process you can find in The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery.
Debbie: I love the marathon idea! How do you structure your timed writing to produce finished work?
Jack: Getting Started: Timed writing gets you going. Set the timer, write. Then we do another extraordinary thing—we read what we’ve just written aloud. If we’re working in a group, we go around the table, each person reads the piece. There’s a reason for this—get it out. Put it on the table. Speak it. Let someone else hear it and the fear of exposure disappears. Sure you’re nervous the first time but you get over it.
Keeping the juice flowing: One big addition that Bob Ray and I made to Natalie’s Writing Practice was the idea of structure. We saw that the writing marathon carried in it an inherent notion of structure. For example—what if you wanted to write a dramatic scene and you decided to devote a five minute writing to the stage set up, another five minute writing to character and description, a five minute writing for action and dialogue, a five minute writing developing  complication, five minutes to bring on the intruder and to resolve the problem and the last part, a three minute writing hooking the scene you just wrote to the next one. You’d have a structure that looks like this:
                  Character description
                  Action and Dialogue
                  Complication and problem,
                  Climax and Resolution
In twenty-eight minutes you have a complete dramatic scene. You’d know the time and place (setting); you’d have a couple of characters onstage working;  you’d know the action—what the characters do, and you’d have dialogue—what they talk about. Bring on a third character –the Intruder—to complicate the situation—the two on-stage characters have to determine the fate of the intruder; you’re one beat away from the climax and resolution.

You’ve used the timer and the timed writing to push out a complex but complete dramatic scene built on a number of parts. This is the idea of structure relating to time, and it is the key to the second problem—how to keep going.

Finishing what you start: At this point, you can see that you don’t have a problem finishing if you use the timed writing/structural technique on the front end.

Debbie: I can see that being really helpful for me. Okay, you have a way to get a scene written, but how do you use timed writing to put it all together into a book? Novel? Screen play?

Jack: We’ve developed a number of techniques for stringing scenes together into an organic piece. We use a technique called “writing about the writing” to develop a “through line” for the story. You can see some of this on Bob andJack’s Writing Blog where we work out points in the linear structure of a couple of novels. Then, we adopted a technique from screen writing that we call the “Cut-to” technique. This is a dynamic way to use writing practice to push your way through a story. Set your timer for half an hour. Go. Write “my story opens in a scene called Backlash. The objects in the scene are…” Cut to…well, here’s an example of the Cut to technique that I used when I was working out my new novel  Blood which is available on or directly from the publisher Coffeetown Press:

1. The story starts in a Laundromat on Third Avenue in a City that might be San Francisco, but it’s not important, where Mitch gets arrested when he steals a tubful of white women’s underwear.
2. Cut to: Mitch’s apartment. The objects are the underwear as varied as a Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogue, but all white. The action is the tossing of Mitch’s apartment by the police. The hook is to the courtroom scene.
3. Cut to: The courtroom where the Judge sentences Mitch to five years because, he says, every woman has a right to the privacy of her undies. Mitch doesn’t fight the sentence. The object is the handcuffs (opens the manacle plot track) on Mitch’s wrists as the guard hauls him away. The hook is to the prison cell.
4. Cut to: Mitch’s prison cell where he sees René Grosjean for the first time. The objects are René’s hair, his arms, and the metal objects in the cell—bunk, sink, head. The hook is to the measuring scene.
5. Cut to: Mitch recounting how he’s measured the cell. It is 15 by 9. The objects are the bunk, the head, the nail scratches and smears on the walls. The hook is to René’s possessing Mitch.
6. Cut to: The cell at night. René seduces Mitch who lets him because René is the first man who ever made Mitch feel little. The hook is to Mitch’s discovery of the Camus novel. Hook is to killing René.
As you can see this technique forces you to push through the reticence you have as a writer to commit to the unknown. Once you get over that, you can write a pretty thorough story line. Once you have the Cut-to sequence down, you have something resembling a “scene list.” Once the scene list is in place, you work it—always and always using the clock to guide your hand. Here is the first Cut-to of Blood developed into scene material:
It’s hot in the laundromat. Hot and moist as the inside of a woman’s mouth. Sitting on the hard-backed metal chair beside the door, I wait for the red-headed woman to return. The magazine, an old issue of Car and Driver lays open on my lap to an article on the Audi R8, a street version of the racing machine that re-wrote the history of auto racing at Le Mans making it the perfect vehicle of the upward bound young man with two hundred thousand dollars to burn on new wheels. But I’m not interested in the R8 or the Audi record book or anything to do with wheels. I am interested in the contents of the red-headed woman’s dryer. The huge dryer spins to a stop.
              I check the wall clock: 11:30 PM. Maybe she fell asleep at the TV. Maybe her lover called. Maybe they are having phone sex, their words burning up the cell towers. Maybe he paid her a surprise visit and their moans are scorching the walls of her apartment.

Notice that I’ve followed my own structure for a scene:
Setting-time, place, characters on stage, objects, character with a problem. As the scene develops there are intruders, an arrest, conflict, resolution…It’s all there, all growing out of timed writing working the parts to produce the novel. On our blog, Bob and Jack’s Writing Blog, we lay out all of this for writers to take as they will.

Debbie: Jack, thank you for being so generous with advice on the craft of writing. Definitely check out Bob and Jack's Writing Blog. Find out more about Jack Remick with these links:
The Deification
About the book:
To be a writer in America, you have to bleed. Eddie Iturbi, a young car-thief obsessed with the dark magic of Beat culture in a mythic San Francisco, sets off on a spaced-out crusade to connect with the Beat gods. En route Eddie links up with living legend Leo Franchetti, the last of the Beat poets. Leo sends Eddie to the Buzzard Cult where a mysterious mentor reveals the writers' ritual of blood and words. Changed and invigorated and back in the City, Eddie falls in love with a snake dancer at the Feathered Serpent. She can't save him from Scarred Wanda, jealous bad-girl of literature, whose goal is to destroy Eddie before Jack Kerouac relays all the magical secrets of the literary universe. Immortality is just a book away. Will Eddie live long enough to write it?
Do you think timed writing might work for you? I'm definitely going to give it a try.
Check out Part One of the interview.

Interview with Author Jack Remick, Part One

Today and tomorrow I'm interviewing author and writing teacher Jack Remick. Remick, along with author Robert J. Ray, run a fantastic writing blog that I've highlighted before (here). Don't miss Bob and Jack's Writing Blog. They offer seven free writing courses.

Jack has a brand new novel releasing this month, called The Deification. Readers interested in California's Central Valley during the 60's will discover the origin of the term 'beatniks', and much more with Remick's literary style. Check the bottom of the post for the book's blurb.

Today's questions focus on Remick's path to publication. One technique he uses is called 'timed writing'. Tomorrow I'll let him explain what timed writing is, and how it helps the writing process.

Debbie: How did you get started on your writing  journey, and how long did it take until you were published?

Jack: We all stand on the shoulders of giants. As a writer, I have to acknowledge that some pretty good guys ran a lot of ink onto paper before I came along. Poetry was my entry into the writing world. Without knowing anything about how hard it was I decided early on—about 17 or so—to be a poet. I tried all kinds of poetry—romantic gushing, Greek dactyls in heroic form, free verse, all imitative until I met Thom Gunn who was teaching poetry at UC Berkeley. Mr Gunn, himself a terrific poet and friend of Ted Hughes, told me, after reading some of my derivative gunk that if I inhabited another man’s universe it would always be smaller than the one I could create for myself. 
That little push launched me into a new world and a few months after that lecture I wrote a piece called To Kepler . That poem was my first published piece.  I thought—okay, that was easy. But it took about fifteen years before I had another poem in print.  Jack Moodey, a huge influence on my writing told me to take my time, don’t rush into print. Learn the basics before you try to play with the big boys. That was and still is good advice.  Too many beginning writers feel the need for validation long before their technique is high quality. This need produces monumental problems. 
A few years later I got interested in fiction. Again, success came fast—a story called Frogs come out in The Carolina Quarterly and again I thought well if it’s that easy, no sweat. But the Muses had other ideas and it took eight years for any of my work to find a home. After the initial learning ordeal, I’ve had some successes—novels, short story collections, screen plays and a couple of anthologies, one, The Seattle Five Plus One  that I’m very proud of because in that poetry collection I worked with some inspired and inspiring poets who taught me a lot about craft, form, technique, drive, image, metaphor—all the good stuff you need to know to be not just a poet but a writer in this hard hard world.

Debbie: Do you have an agent? (you can explain why or why not, or how you found your agent)

Jack: I am fortunate to have a very good and capable agent by the name of M. Anne Sweet. She’s a poet, graphic artist, magazine editor and, now, agent who helps me shape my writing. She asks the oblique questions that make me ask other questions  that in the end answer problems of narrative, dialog, object and, what I call “plot tracks.” 
Debbie: Do you write every day? Have a weekly word count?

Jack: I work every day. I do timed writing two days a week with a group of other writers down at Louisa’s Bakery Café on Eastlake in Seattle. If you’re in Seattle, give me call and we can write together. It’s an open group so everyone is welcome. We usually write for thirty minutes. In addition to the active timed writing on Tuesdays and Fridays, I work scenes or pages three days a week with another group of writers so I get a lot done. If I’m not engaged with the clock and the fountain pen and a pad of paper, I’m working text, rewriting. We have developed an entire book of techniques for the rewrite, most of which Bob has gotten into his wonderful book The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Manuscript.

Debbie: I'd love to get to Seattle and write with your group! What methods help you combat or avoid writer's block?

Jack: As you can see from everything up to this point, writer’s block isn’t a problem. Using these techniques to develop stories, I’ve managed to produce The California Quartet, four novels that Coffeetown Press will publish in 2012. The first volume, The Deification is already in print and available either from the publisher or from In addition to the Quartet, Coffeetown will bring out Gabriela and the Widow in 2012. I wrote Gabriela in less than a year using these techniques. Gabriela is the story of a 20 year old Mexican girl who comes to the Valley of Bones to take care of a 92 year old Widow. It’s pretty mythic.

Debbie: What's next for you, writing-wise?

Jack: Right now I’m doing some serious reworking of Valley Boy, the second volume of The California Quartet. Once Valley Boy  is in the can, I have a novel called Maxine in just aching for a rewrite. I have a single rule for my writing—leave no book unfinished. 

Find out more about Jack Remick with these links:
The Deification
About the book:
To be a writer in America, you have to bleed. Eddie Iturbi, a young car-thief obsessed with the dark magic of Beat culture in a mythic San Francisco, sets off on a spaced-out crusade to connect with the Beat gods. En route Eddie links up with living legend Leo Franchetti, the last of the Beat poets. Leo sends Eddie to the Buzzard Cult where a mysterious mentor reveals the writers' ritual of blood and words. Changed and invigorated and back in the City, Eddie falls in love with a snake dancer at the Feathered Serpent. She can't save him from Scarred Wanda, jealous bad-girl of literature, whose goal is to destroy Eddie before Jack Kerouac relays all the magical secrets of the literary universe. Immortality is just a book away. Will Eddie live long enough to write it?
Check back tomorrow for all kinds of details about timed writing, and how to use it to streamline your novel-writing process. If you have a question for Jack, leave it in the comments, and he'll try to answer if he can. 
Check out the interview, Part 2.

Free Plot Tools from Save the Cat

You may be so over plotting now that NaNoWriMo has come and gone, but there will always be another novel. It's long past time I shared the fantastic resources from Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! website.

Snyder's name is well-known for helping screenwriters wrap their brains around plot, and writers around the world swear by his methods in plotting their novels. Though Snyder passed away in 2009, he left many resources for writers. You can buy his Save the Cat! book (and there are other books, as well), and he even has Save the Cat software.

But I want to make sure you're aware of the free tools he offers on his website. If you can't attend a Save the Cat! Workshop, you might be interested in the free downloads on the tools page. There are breakdowns of movies so you can see how the pacing works. You'll find sheets to fill in with your own 'beats', and tips on writing comedy and horror.

Also helpful is the active Save the Cat! Forum, where writers can hash out their plots with the help of others.

Have you ever used screenwriting techniques in your writing?

Book Review: Writing Bestselling Children's Books

Writing children's books is an art form. A picture book takes a huge amount of time and effort, belied by the low word count. Writing Bestselling Children's Books, by Alexander Gordon Smith, can help children's writers of picture books and novels navigate the process. And right now, it's free for the Kindle.

In fifty-two concise chapters, novelist Smith details the journey of a children's book writer. He covers basics like finding a place to write and establishing the age range of readers. But he also delves into topics like how to use humor, whether to tackle a 'gross' topic, and how to introduce animal characters.

Though Smith spends a lot of time on ideas, and how to express them, he doesn't forget about marketing and promotion. He also covers the seven cardinal sins of children's writers. Each chapter ends with a list of ideas for writers to consider.

For more information, check out Alexander Gordon Smith's website. You may also be interested in his other craft book, Inspired Creative Writing: 52 brilliant ideas from the master wordsmiths.

Do you write for children or young adults? Have you ever considered it?

Ending #NaNoWriMo: I Wrote a Novel. Now What?

November 30th. The last day of NaNoWriMo. You may have a complete book in your hands, or a good start on one. What's next? Check out this post from last year.

So, you accomplished one of your major goals this year. You wrote a novel. 

What do you do next?

Do you send it off to an agent or editor and sit back to wait for a contract? Do you start the sequel? Set up  a fan page on Facebook?

Typing "the end" is really just the beginning. When I began writing several years ago, I mistakenly thought that finishing my novel gave me the right to look for an agent immediately. These days, agents want to see work that is polished, not a first draft. And seasoned writers will tell you that the real writing happens in revision. It's when words are finally out of your head and on the page, that you can actually do something with them.

There are many things you can do once you finish your novel. But I've boiled them down to two essentials.

Revise. Set your manuscript aside for a month before you begin. You need a little distance from it. Writing teacher and author James Scott Bell suggests printing it out and reading it like you would someone else's book. It's surprising how much I miss when I edit on the computer. For more tips on revisions, check this Nanowrimo page.

Books like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Manuscript Makeover, and Revision and Self-Editing can help you know what to look for in your manuscript. Once you've combed your manuscript several times, and have improved it to the best of your ability, it's time for the next step.

Other Eyes. This is where you step out (perhaps with fear and trembling) and let other people read your novel. Family and friends do not count. It's important to get honest feedback from people who already know how to write. Your friends will only be impressed that you actually wrote a novel, and most will think it's great, no matter how many problems there are with your plot.

No, what you need are people who are strangers. People who will give you the brutal truth about what works and what needs changing. People who aren't worried about hurting their relationship with you. You'll win in two ways: your manuscript will become stronger, and you'll develop the thick skin you need for the road ahead. If you're looking for a critique group, here are several to choose from.

Where are you at with your novel?

How a Blog Establishes a Fiction Writer's Platform

Let's face it. Non-fiction writers have it easy. They can slap up a blog on the topic they write about, they can solicit speaking gigs and radio interviews, and suddenly they're an expert. Publishers love this stuff. So many opportunities to sell books.

But what about the poor fiction writer? How can a novelist spin a blog into something readers will want to check out? Here are a few ideas:

1. Decide where you're different. Do you have a theme that runs through your novels? Maybe your main character is always a single parent. Or there's recurring story threads that have to do with human trafficking. Maybe all your novels take place on the coast of New England. If you can find something your novels have in common, you've found a great blog topic.

2. Generate genre ideas. If you write mysteries, pull together posts that would interest your readers. Like interviews with law enforcement, or medical personnel. An analysis of blood spatters or fingerprints. Whatever genre you write, both writers and readers want to know more. And you've probably already done most of the research. This is also a great way to do a group blog. Find a few writers in your genre and take turns posting what you've learned.

3. Rein in the resources. In your travels through the world wide web, you've come across websites that others probably won't bump into in their lifetime. Set your blog up to share those, and the nice byproduct is you'll have all your favorites collected in one place. This is one of my ulterior motives!

Try to title or subtitle your blog with the focus you've decided on. That way, when a reader is scanning Google results, they'll know what your blog is about.

If you're still having trouble coming up with a direction for your blog, check out these great posts:

Author Jody Hedlund on The Purpose of Blogging for Fiction Writers

Michael Hyatt on 13 Blog Post Ideas for Novelists

Does your blog have a focus? What inspires your posts?

Make Your Own Book Cover

With NaNoWriMo ending in just a few days, some of you might be starting to think about a book cover. Even if your manuscript is far from done, a book cover--even a temporary one--might give you the motivation you need to make it to the finish line.

I've scoured the NaNoWriMo forums for resources that can help. First off, you'll want to browse other covers to see what appeals to you. I wrote about a site called the Book Cover Archive where you can do just that, and I listed four tips for creating your cover.

During NaNoWriMo, different designers choose participants at random and create book covers. To see the results of their creations (and maybe find a designer you'd like to hire), check out 30 Covers in 30 Days. For those that didn't get picked for a free cover, the NaNo Artisans thread has posts by many designers offering their services.

One participant recommended the free Cover Creator software over at CreateSpace. You do have to sign up for a free account, but once that's done, they walk you through the process of making your own cover, using photos that you import. There are all kinds of templates to choose from to make your cover as professional as possible.

Another NaNo thread lists all kinds of tips and tricks to remember when creating a cover. The advice covers color, design, and fonts.

Have you given any thought to what your cover will look like? Are you the do-it-yourself type, or would you hire a designer?

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm up to my elbows in turkey and stuffing, and I couldn't think of anything better to say than what I wrote last Thanksgiving. Hope you and yours have a wonderful day!

In anticipation of this week of Thanksgiving, I've given some thought to why I'm thankful that I'm writing. Way back in 2006, a story started to percolate inside me, and life has never been the same since. Here are a few things that generate gratefulness.

I'm thankful to have a passion. I'm passionate about my faith and family, but my writing is something different. It's something I do for myself. It doesn't save money, or pay the bills, or do the laundry. I used to feel unsettled that every one of my interests were connected to providing for my family (cooking, scrapbooking, sewing, etc.), but writing is in a league of its own.

I'm thankful for the power of words. Writing has given me a greater appreciation for the ways in which authors combine words in powerful ways. I've realized how difficult that is to accomplish. And I'm thankful that I'm learning to wield a little of that power myself.

I'm thankful for the writing community. I'd be hard-pressed to find a more generous and welcoming group of people. Those who take the time to help along others who are just beginning their journey. Each one makes me more determined to give back myself.

I can't forget to mention how thankful I am for my family. My long-suffering husband, and my four teenagers patiently put up with my passion. They endure "leftover leftovers", a dusty house, and a distracted mama--all the while cheering me on. I love you guys.

My list could go on, but I'll stop here. Now it's your turn.

How has writing made you thankful?

Finish Your Novel With this Free Course

Only one week left of NaNoWriMo! If you're running low on motivation, here's a classic post that might help you rev your engines.

Thousands upon thousands of people begin novels. Only a tiny fraction of those actually finish, and from these, publishers choose the ones we see in bookstores. Why do so few complete their novels? Because it's hard work. Really, really hard work.

I know. I'm trying to finish my second novel, and it's just as difficult as the first. I'm over the excitement of a new idea. I've lived with my characters so long that I'm no longer infatuated with them. And frankly, reading the same story over and over gets old. As a writer, I begin to wonder if anyone out there would even like this story.

Fortunately for me (and you, too), I discovered author Timothy Hallinan's website. I couldn't wait to write this post. I even sent his link via Facebook to my writing friends so they wouldn't have to wait until this post came out.

Why? Because Timothy Hallinan is another one of those authors who gives back. He has posted a free course called Finish Your Novel, which is not only entertaining and practical, but humorous, too.

Hallinan's belief is that finishing a book is what made him a writer, not just working on something. Once he figured out how to successfully finish novel after novel, he came up with 30 steps, separated into five categories. Each of the short sections takes only a few minutes to read. You might even want to bookmark his page so you'll remember to read once step each day of the month.

Most of us have at least one manuscript that we've begun and then set aside for one reason or another. Listen to Hallinan's take on this:

"The sad fact is that much of the time, the book they abandon is better than the one they set out to write. It's like a prospector who goes out looking for iron pyrites, finds gold, and throws it away."

Hallinan also blogs about writing at The Blog Cabin. On Wednesdays he has an interesting series where he interviews published authors about whether they write with an outline or not, in Plotting vs. Pantsing.

So, I've begun working through Hallinan's course. It's not hard. It's like getting a little pep talk every morning before I start typing. And who couldn't use one of those?

Where are you in your NaNoWriMo novel? Will it be 'finished' next Wednesday?
I'm planning to reread through this course during the month of December. How about you?

Who Are the Big Six Publishers?

Now that my contest entry is finished and sent, it's time to catch up on my NaNoWriMo word count. So today's post will be brief.

When you're trying to wrap your mind around publishing as a business, it's really hard to visualize all the imprints and the parent companies they're connected to. I searched online to see if anyone had done a kind of "family tree" of publishers and imprints, but I had no luck.

Fortunately, a couple of bloggers have compiled the information:

Steve Laube is a literary agent with an excellent blog. In Who Owns Whom in Publishing, he lists the Big Six along with their imprints. And being a Christian agent, he also includes a list of privately-owned Christian publishers.

And author Scott Marlowe has a similar list: Publishing's Big Six: Who are they? His list includes clickable links to each of the imprints. Marlowe's list was compiled in early 2010, so there are likely some changes.

With all the imprints out there, it's surprising that only six companies rule the publishing world. Of course there are many indie imprints. You can find out more about them at All Indie Publishing, and Indie Publishing on the Cheap.

Have you researched which imprints or indie publishers would be a good fit for your manuscript?

Top #NaNoWriMo Resources

The NaNoWriMo Forums are a wonderful place to hang out--if you're not writing your novel. If you are hard at work, you don't have time to browse and socialize with other novelists. So I decided to check out the resources being posted in the forums and give you one place to check them out.

Today I'm highlighting some resources for plotting your novel. Here are three you might want to bookmark for future novels:

 Peter Halasz has created a huge resource in a small space. The Writers Cheatsheet (.pdf download) is a two-page sheet crammed with all kinds of information writers need to know. The first sheet is covered with every type of plot resource you can imagine. The second sheet is devoted to characters, with lists of personality types and archetypes. If you print this back to back and slide it into a page protector, you've got a handy reference.

Adventures in YA and Childrens Publishing has a plotting Complications Worksheet that asks questions for every point in a book's plot. Working through this list will expose the holes in your plot. I pasted the questions into a document and answered each one. They really made me think!

And Carolyn at Iconoclastic Writers has several really helpful downloads. I've checked out all of them, and plan to use them. There's a novel storyboard worksheet, a traditonal plot storyboard worksheet, a screenwriting worksheet, and a chapter storyboard worksheet. You'll also find links and suggestions for character development.

I hope these resources are useful. I'm heading back into my NaNo novel. How about you?

For more in this series, check out Idea Generators, Part 1 and Idea Generators, Part 2.

Fortune Cookie Inspiration

When I cleaned up my desk the other day I came across three fortunes I saved from wonderful Chinese food dinners. Here on this mid-way point in National Novel Writing Month, I thought the messages might inspire you along with me.

Writing is thinking on paper. 
I was surprised to get a fortune cookie that actually mentioned writing. While it's not incredibly profound, it reminds me that to be a writer, I have to write. Even if my plot and characters aren't perfect yet, the process of getting my ideas down will help to refine them. The first draft will always be imperfect. Once it's on paper, it's easier to envision what could change to make it better.

Failure is feedback. And feedback is the breakfast of champions.

For me, this makes me think of critique groups. No, it's not fun to hear what's wrong with my writing, but without feedback, I'll never reach my goals. So I keep working on developing my rhino skin so the comments will feel constructive instead of critical. In order to be a champion writer, I have to accept the feedback that will strengthen my writing muscles.

It's kind of fun to do the impossible.

 For most people in the world, the idea of writing a book sounds impossible. Writing one in a month sounds fantastical. Even if you don't 'finish' this month, you're tackling a project that not many will endeavor to take on. So keep at it. Today I'm taking some time away from NaNoWriMo to enter a contest. It has challenged me to plot and plan out an entire new novel. The bonus is that when my current novel is finally finished, I'll have a new one ready to jump into.

What has encouraged you to keep going this month?


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