Monday, October 24, 2016

Five Key Questions for Hybrid Author, Catherine Ryan Howard

Your first three books were self-published - what advice would you give someone considering that option?

I think the most important thing is to ask yourself sincerely what your goals are, and can self-publishing help meet them? For instance, if you dream of winning an award that doesn't allow self-published books to be submitted, then it's only going to fall short of the mark for you. I love self-publishing and I think it's a great option for writers at all stages of their careers, but you have to be realistic about what it can achieve. I also think authors shouldn't rush into it just because they read a headline about someone who pressed "Publish" on the first of the month and was paying off their mortgage with their royalties by the last. Success in self-publishing is just as difficult to achieve as it is in traditional publishing. You don't have to wait for anyone else's "Yes" to get your book out there, no, but there's still no guarantees that anyone will buy it when it's there. And when you self-publish - the clue is in the term - you have to do all the hard work yourself. It's certainly not the "easy" option.

How did you get started with your self-publishing workshops? What are some of the items you cover?

I got invited to a self-publishing conference back in 2010 - Ireland's first - and in exchange for a free ticket, I was asked to live tweet the event. At the last minute, one of the key note speakers had to drop out and the organiser, knowing I had self-published, ask me to fill the gap. That lead to another speaking invite, and that led to another, and so on and so on. Whenever I do a workshop on self-publishing, I always say the same thing at the beginning: that I'm aiming to send the attendees home with all the information I wish I had when I started to self-publish. I think a lot of self-publishers hone in on one area, like e-book formatting or pricing or Facebook ads, and they lose hours online researching the topic in extreme detail. But what you really need is to know the nuts and bolts AND have an overview, a business plan, if you like, and you can really only make one of those by sitting down and thinking about the entire process from start to finish.

What social media advice do you hear all the time that is totally bunk?

I think any advice that stinks of overthinking it. Social media should be a natural, genuine thing writers do because they want to, because they enjoy it. There's no point otherwise, because no one will be interested. Just be yourself. Be someone you'd like to follow. There's not much more to it than that.

Your debut fiction title, Distress Signals, is already available in Europe and will be released in the US by Blackstone this February. What are some of the experiences with Distress Signals that differed from your other three books?

The whole thing couldn't be more different. I have two teams of people working for me and my book on either side of the Atlantic, and an agent who is like a cheerleader along the way. I get to benefit from people who have years of professional experience in areas like editing, cover design, book marketing, etc. and I get to have lovely surprises like broadsheet reviews and when a box arrived at my house with my American ARCs - and they were in hardcover, which I wasn't expecting at all! I get to see my books in the bookshops I practically lived in growing up, and I get to see pictures of it on shelves in countries on the other side of the world. There was a great sense of achievement when I self-published, but this comes with so much more than that. My dream was always to get published and so this has been a truly exciting time for me.

You are now a hybrid author! What are some of the advantages?

Publishing runs on contracts, and like any job it has its ups and downs. I think it's important to keep your options open and doing a little bit of both traditional and self-publishing is definitely the best way to do this.

In 2010, she self-published a light-hearted memoir, Mousetrapped, about the year and a bit she spent working in Walt Disney World, Florida, and in 2012 followed it up with Backpacked, an account of the detour to Central America she (reluctantly) took on the way back home.
Known for dispensing particularly pragmatic self-publishing advice, Catherine began to speak on the subject for the likes of Faber Academy, the Irish Writers’ Centre, Guardian Masterclasses and others, and in 2014 published the third edition of her ‘how to’ guide, Self-Printed.
Her debut thriller, Distress Signals, is out now in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. It will be published in the U.S. on February 2, 2017.
She is currently studying for a BA in English at Trinity College Dublin and working on her second thriller which will be published in the summer of 2017.
Find out more about Catherine here: Website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Monday, October 17, 2016

Why Authors Should Write Book Reviews

When it comes to book reviews, there are many rules and regulations telling authors what they should and shouldn’t do. Reviews by published authors, whether positive or negative, are regarded by some in the writing/publishing industry, as a conflict of interest. Over the years, this has been a highly controversial topic. Yet this peer support system seems to be acceptable at the Academy Awards, where peer recognition is an honor as actors nominate fellow actors in certain categories. 

It’s well-known that famous writers compose blurbs for other writers’ books. Isn’t that a kind of review? Some readers/authors don’t give much credibility to this activity and refer to it as the "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" nature of blurbs. But that’s a discussion for another day. The thing is, writers are also readers, so shouldn’t their opinions count? I read somewhere that when it comes to reviews, it seems okay for non-writers to leave a negative review but not authors. The thing is, how often do non-writers post reviews? I think that non-writers don’t post reviews as often as writers, because they don’t know how important it is. But I could be wrong.

But let me get back to the topic at hand which is, why authors should write book reviews. Some of the benefits are:

1. It’s a way of building your online presence. As you grow, potential fans of your work want to know what books you like and why. It gives them a chance to learn about “the person behind the pen”. If writers don’t write reviews, there’s a possibility they could be missing out on a chance to find more readers.

2. It helps you to think/operate like a reader after you’ve spent a chunk of time with your butt in the chair thinking/operating like a writer. Stepping back and getting into the “reader mindset” is an important technique to help enhance your writing. There are writers who can juggle the author and reader hat quite effectively. But it’s not easy.

3. It’s a way of giving back to the writing community. The best thing you can do for your peers is leave a review on Amazon/Goodreads. The first twenty/thirty reviews are crucial to help boost sales and set a book going in the right direction. It also helps to build your author-support network.

4. It’s practise in writing short fiction. When you review a book, the aim is to attract the attention of a potential reader without giving away too much. Your review needs to be succinct, strong and include relevant points that will hold the attention and make it a pleasure to read.

5. It’s practise in analysing book titles. As a writer, I struggle with story/book titles. When reviewing books, these are some of the questions to consider: What did you expect to learn when you looked at the title? Did the story title fit the actual story? To what extent – and how effectively – were your expectations met? You can then apply what you’ve learned when making decisions about your own story titles.

6. It enhances your thinking skills. Reflect on what you as an individual liked/disliked about the story. When you dissect writing that you admire try to pinpoint things you liked about the writing, for example, the phrasing of certain sentences or maybe a paragraph that captured your imagination. Ask yourself: why did I like these aspects of the story? Different reviewers bring different qualities, abilities, degrees of expertise, and experience levels when assessing the same books. Compare your responses to other reviewers to help sharpen your thinking skills.

Can you think of other benefits/advantages of authors writing book reviews?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Five Key Questions with Award Winning Author, K.M. Weiland

1. What are the key elements of good story structure?

There are fourteen:

1. The Hook: the opening moment that grabs reader curiosity.

2. The Inciting Event: which officially kicks off the plot and usually begins halfway through the First Act at the 12% mark.

3. The Key Event: which officially engages the protagonist in the events of the plot and which usually occurs at the First Plot Point.

4. The First Plot Point: which marks the end of the First Act and the end of the story’s setup in the character’s “Normal World.” It occurs around the 25% mark.

5. The First Half of the Second Act: which spans from the 25% mark to the 50% mark. This notes a period of reaction for the protagonist, in which he tries to cope with the events of the First Plot Point.

6. The First Pinch Point: which occurs at the 37% mark and is a reminder of the antagonistic force’s power and a setup for the Midpoint.

7. The Midpoint: which occurs at the 50% mark and is a moment of revelation for the protagonist as he comes into a clearer understanding of the true nature of the conflict.

8. The Second Half of the Second Act: which spans from the 50% to the 75% mark. This is a period of action for the protagonist. Armed with his new understanding, found at the Midpoint, he can now take the action right to the antagonistic force.

9. The Second Pinch Point: which occurs at 62% mark, halfway through the Second Half of the Second Act. Like the First Pinch Point, it is an emphasis or reminder of the antagonistic force and a set up for the Third Plot Point.

10. The Third Plot Point: which is a moment of seeming defeat for the protagonist and takes place around the 75% mark.

11. The Third Act: which is the final quarter of the book, spanning from the 75% mark to the end, and in which the conflict is finally resolved, one way or another.

12. The Climax: which starts halfway through the Third Act, around the 88% mark and is heralded by a final turning point that pits the protagonist against the antagonistic force in the final battle.

13. The Climactic Moment: which occurs at the end of the Climax and is the true ending of the story, the moment when the conflict is finally resolved.

14. The Resolution: which ends the story with a final scene or two to tie up the loose ends.

2. What pitfalls do most authors fall into concerning story structure?

The biggest one is definitely the idea that story structure is limiting or that it will end up creating cookie-cutter plots. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Structure is just the box that holds the gift. That gift can be anything! What structure does is provide important landmarks within the story to guide us in shaping our tale.

3. How do you research for your historical books, such as your latest about a 1920’s biplane pilot, Storming? How does that research fit into the structure?

My research methods are usually similar for both my historical and speculative stories. I start out with a historical setting in mind, gather as many books as I can find on the subject, and start reading. Most of the time, I’ll dedicate about three months to research, before beginning the first draft.

I don’t so much choose topics as I am chosen by them. Most of my ideas start out with an image in my mind—I see a character and I see a setting, and I try to figure out where they’re at. Sometimes I may decide the story requires me to take too much liberty with actual events, and so I’ll start working on alternative fantasy worlds. With other ideas, I find I need the grounded feel of realism found in real-life historical settings.

4. What is the most important concept in How to Write Amazing Character Arcs that you’ll want writers to grasp?

If I have to choose just one, it would be that character arcs are really just one player in the three-part harmony of character, plot, and theme. They aren’t separate integers. They’re all part of the same whole. When you bring one stage, you’re necessarily bringing all three on stage. It’s important to realize that, because if you attempt to create any one of the three in isolation, the results will be choppy at best, totally incoherent at worst. Character arc is plot and theme.

5. You’ve won awards and had great success with both your traditionally published and your self-published books. What are the best things about being a hybrid author?

With the exception of my one traditionally published book (Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic), I have published all my books on my own. I love independent publishing because you have complete control over your book (which can also be a downfall!), but this allows you more flexibility in controlling price, appearance, and marketing venues. It also allows you a far greater share of the royalties—as much as 75% compared to as little as 7% for traditionally published books. Particularly if you’re successful, that can add up fast.

That said, your book’s success is entirely dependent on you. If you’re unfamiliar with the basics of cover design, book formatting, etc.—or unable to hire a qualified expert to do these tasks for you—then you may unwittingly produce an unprofessional product that will fail to attract readers. You will also, in most instances, have less access to marketing opportunities and budgets.

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY, NIEA, and Lyra Award-winning and internationally published author of Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Make Your List

Welcome to October's IWSG and thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for letting me co-host. Co-hosts this month are myself at Susan Says, Beverly Stowe McClure, Megan Morgan, Viola Fury, Madeline Mora-Summonte, and Angela Wooldridge.

You still have time to get those submissions in for the next IWSG anthology. Get those fantasy stories ready.  There is an adjustment in the details. Submissions can be between 3,000 and 6,000 words. There's still time to write that short story. Publication in a story anthology with the promotional power of IWSG behind you is a great career opportunity.
 Here are the details.

The question this month for IWSGers to use or not is:

When do you know if your story is ready?

As you visit all those blogs today, you'll gain insight into each writer's process and their methods. Everyone has a checklist, either one they've found or one they've created. If you take notes today, you can probably improve your checklist. But you'll also see things that don't work for your process. Read and learn, but do your own thing.

If you're looking for words from the pros, check out The CliffsNotes Checklist for Improving Your First Draft. It's pretty detailed and has a lot more items on it than what I look for in my first draft but everything is something that eventually needs to be done.

Writer's Digest has this Checklist for Your Final Draft. This list actually fits into what I shared on my own blog for the most part. I do these things much sooner than the final draft.

This list is called The Ultimate 15 Point Writing Checklist and is somewhere in the middle of the other two.

But the truth is, you must design your own checklist and do what works for you to make your story ready. Taking advice from professionals is a good place to start if you don't know when your story is ready. And be prepared to adjust if needed.

Are you making a list and checking it twice? Do you come up with it on your own or find it elsewhere?