Monday, October 23, 2017

Mary Buckham: Pantsers, Hooks, and Websites

Today, #IWSG is very excited to welcome Mary Buckham, USA Today bestselling author. Here's what this successful writer has to say on some key issues for all of us who want to make our books the best and create a fan base of readers.
Visit her website.

Welcome, Mary!

You did a great webinar on plotting. There are a lot of pantsers out here, what tips do you have for them?

I always recommend that writers play to their strengths rather than fight against them. However, since many of us start writing as pantsters that we don’t know if writing by the seat of our pants is a strength or a liability. Since the term ‘plot’ makes a lot of writers break out in hives, it can be easier to change to thinking in terms of story structure and forget the term ‘plot.’ Once we do that, whether we pin down every thread of that structure before we start writing, or use our understanding in the revision process as a tool to help us determine where to tighten, to cut, or to shore up a story’s structure, we can move forward. Some writers want all the details pinned down, while others need to pin things down because they are juggling a new-to-them genre, or a multi-level story structure. Others are writing the same type of story they’ve always written and feel comfortable jumping in and flying into the mist because they know their type of story so well, they trust their process. Both approaches work. Knowing the primary structure of a story can only strengthen it. When you use that structure, before or after a first draft, plotting becomes an important tool, not a straightjacket.

What do you advise writers who want to remain creative in their story development, but crave efficiency?

I think the real issue here is separating efficiency from capability. To be truly creative and able to channel that creativity into a finished manuscript you must be the master of certain tools. It is not enough to simply be able to understand and write competent sentences. The deeper your understanding of the elements of a story, the more able you are to bend those elements to your creative intent. Writing does require discipline and I don’t mean that applied only to writing a certain amount every day or in a set process. I mean you can use the discipline of knowing your craft to further your creative intent. It only becomes a trap or impediment when you have not truly mastered it.

Here is an example from the field of visual art. Picasso could not have created his masterpieces without having first understood the discipline of drawing. But once he had mastered that key element he put it to work furthering a unique and individual creative vision.

You have a book called Writing Active Hooks. First, what makes an active hook, and second, where do we need them? 

The term hooks is used to mean a variety of things for writers and that can confuse us. We’re told to constantly hook a reader, but not how or where, which is why I wrote the series on Writing Active Hooks. An active hook raises questions in a reader’s mind. It does a specific job for the author by intentionally engaging the reader. A hook is passive when it does not raise an immediate question for the reader and thus does not compel them to continue reading.
Hooks can be used on every page, but there are several places in your manuscript where you’ll want to pay particular attention. Why? Because these key locations are logical places where a reader can set your book down. At a minimum, hooks should be applied several times on the first page and at the beginnings and ends of chapters.

Should hooks be used at the beginning of our stories? Our queries? Our blurbs? Our ads? Do each of these have to be different or should they be somewhat the same? 

Yes to all of the above. In each of those situations, you as the author want your reader, whether they are an agent, editor or customer in a bookstore to be motivated to keep reading or to click through to learn more. You have the power to motivate any reader, and hooks are your best tool. Knowing the ten most universal hooks gives you the tools to layer your hooks. Readers do see patterns, so using the same hook repeatedly is a sure way to lose them. 

I’m still hooked on the topic of hooks, so can you tell us what authors do wrong most frequently when writing them? Is it starting in the wrong spot or too much backstory or something else?

The biggest problem that I see is writers not actually using hooks period, followed by using hooks that are ineffective and improperly placed. It can be a challenge to think about including hooks in your first draft, until you are experienced at employing them. Then, they become second nature.

I usually recommend that writers new to hooks simply write a first draft and get their story down. Then in the rewrites find the opportunities to add in the hooks that will compel readers to keep reading. This why in the hooks writing craft books that I’ve written I use many examples of key locations without hooks and then with the hooks added, showing this process in a number of different genres.

Your website is so fascinating because it’s lively and active. What elements would you suggest a writer include on his website to make it fun to visit? 

Make your website about meeting the needs of your visitor. Why did they come to your site? What are they looking for? Ask them. If you have an email list or group of key people find out what they see as something only you can provide. Pay attention when you go to other websites. What are you looking for? Be aware that your website is there 24 hours a day representing you, connecting with potential readers. It is an investment in your career and future so don’t neglect it or ignore it.

USA Today bestselling author Mary Buckham learned to get into and out of trouble at a very early age. Time has added to her opportunities—detained by Israeli intelligence; strip-searched by a Greek border patrol while traveling with a priest, sneaking into Laos. When not personally avoiding nuisances caused by her insatiable curiosity she creates lots of disorder in her two Urban Fantasy series—Alex Noziak and Kelly McAllister. In her spare time, Mary writes Writing Craft books including, A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting, Writing Active Hooks and Break Into Fiction® co-authored with Dianna Love. Coming in September 2017, Mary begins a monthly series of webinars for writers. Want to learn more about writing hooks, body language or branding? Find more info here:

Visit Mary at any or all of these online locations:
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Monday, October 16, 2017

Critique Group Etiquette - Mind Your Ps and Qs

One of the best things a writer can do to improve their craft is join a critique group. Yet as an insecure writer, it's scary. While it is a little easier to have critique partners online and hide behind the screen, meeting face to face can send some running for the hills. Looking someone in the eye as they evaluate your work is tough, but if you can push past that initial anxiety, you can learn a lot.

When I first joined my local critique group, I was petrified. I barely said anything the first three or four times. I drank a gallon of water and hoped I wasn't sweating as much. Yet just listening to them, I was amazed at how much I picked up about writing and how they valued my critiques. Every meeting, I grew a little more confident about speaking, and these days, I let my critiques flow freely as we discuss each story.

It's vital to remember these groups are built on trust and respect. People submitting their stories are trusting the group to be honest and helpful. As we evaluate them, we must respect that. This is why everyone should follow critique group etiquette.

Here are four tips to help critique group participants mind their manners:

1) When receiving a critique, sit back and make notes. Don't interrupt. The person has taken the time to read and evaluate your work. Listen attentively and save your questions or comments until later. You may not agree with everything they say, and that's okay, but hopefully it will help you see your story in a different way.

2) Don't be defensive. Writers can be fiercely protective of their work. I've personally seen it get ugly, but it helps no one when you react that way. Remember everyone joined the group to grow in their craft and to support others. You don't have to agree with a person's critique, but the important part is that you listened.

3) When giving a critique, point out the good and bad. Writers need to know what they're doing right as well as what is wrong. A constructive critique will encourage a person grow while a destructive one will break them down and ruin the trust in the group.

4) You are giving a critique on the writing not the writer. Don't comment on the person's skills. Focus on giving honest feedback of the story with specific explanations and suggestions. Mind your language as you do so. The difference between "your protagonist has no depth" and "more layers can be added to this character by doing this and this" is huge.

 Every critique group is structured differently, but all of them need to follow the basics of etiquette. With trust and respect, and a good dose of encouragement, we can nurture each other and our stories.

Do you belong to a critique group? Do you have any etiquette tips to add?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Should You Self-Publish or Try to Get an Agent? 4 Questions Can Help you Decide.

By Chuck Sambuchino

It's an exciting time to be a writer. 10 years ago, there was only one "correct" way to get published. You'd sell your book to a traditional publisher (usually through an agent) and sell physical copies of books at brick-and-mortar bookstores. Nowadays, you have two mainstream awesome options to get published. There is traditional publishing and self-publishing (also called indie publishing). Either route is acceptable for you, and it all depends on your goals for your book as well as what you can bring to the table in terms of time and marketing. Read on to understand the four major questions you should ask yourself before going down either road on any particular project.

Quick note: Keep in mind book to book can be different. Just because you self-published one novel doesn't mean a new novel in the future can't attract an agent for you.

1. Why do you want to see your book published?

Is it money or to be distributed widely? If you answered yes to either or both, then traditionally publishing should be your first goal. A publisher will typically distribute your book to all the bookstores they can, and perhaps even into specialty markets, be those airport bookstores or Target or anywhere else that agrees to carry the title. You also usually get money upfront (called an advance) that is yours to keep no matter how the book does. This is all good news.

Is it just to be read -- just to see it available and get it "out there"? If you don't have hard goals for your book or its sales, then self-publishing is an easy option. Some people just want to see their book out there and available. If so, just self-publish it. It may not sell big, but that's not the point. You just want it available for anyone down the road who wishes to enjoy it.

Is it to further your brand or business? If you're an entrepreneur, consider self-publishing a nonfiction book to build your brand. You can then introduce yourself as the author of that book.

Is it to have it as a free resource? Example: If you want to have your short stories available as a free download to newsletter subscribers, then just self-publish them to make them easily accessible.

2. How much proven ability do you have to market?

In the publishing industry, your ability to market yourself and your books is called platform. Last I checked, more than one million books and projects are self-published every year. In a sea with one million fish, what can you do to draw attention to your fish? Don't think it's as simple as "If I put it out there, readers will miraculously find it and buy it and share news of it." This almost never happens.

To market a book, you need either a platform or a marketing plan or both. Will you send out review copies? If so, to whom? What are you doing on social media to gain followers? Are you making contacts through any sort of media platforms, such as newsletter editors or blog owners or members of the media? Are you spending money to buy ads on different websites?

If you self-publish, you are the entire team for your book -- all marketing, all distribution, all promotion, all everything. People who enjoy writing but not the business end of things (i.e., marketing and promotion, in particular) may find self-publishing difficult if they want to sell big numbers of books.

3. Who is your audience and how do you plan to reach them?

An old adage in publishing is "A book for everyone is a book for no one."

If I ask you who will enjoy your self-published novel and you say "Everyone who enjoys a good book," then I know you're in trouble concerning marketing. How will you promote such a product? How can you succeed when aiming in all directions?

Meanwhile, if I ask you who will enjoy your self-published novel and you say "Well, it's a good book for women readers in their 30s, 40s, and 50s -- especially new divorcees, because the main character is a recent divorcee who's clueless in the modern dating scene," then we have something here to work with. We can identify good websites and message boards and newsletters and forums that such women are reading, and get involved in those places.

If you can't do a good job of identifying your specific target readers or composing a plan on how to get involved with their community, then it's tough to self-publish and market well. Maybe traditional publishing is a safer choice for you.

4. How much time and effort can you put in everything?

If you just want to self-publish your book and get it out in the world, with no specific sales goals, then go for it.

But if you do have specific sales/financial goals for your work (and future works), then I suggest investing a lot of time into the process. Educate yourself. Read dozens of blogs and articles by self-published writers and learn from their successes and mistakes. Spend money (advertise, etc.) to make money. You're starting your own small business; that means a steep learning curve and it may take years to generate the profits you seek. Be patient and take it extremely seriously.


These questions should help you along your journey. If you have more questions, reach out to me on Twitter at @chucksambuchino, or online at

Chuck Sambuchino (@chucksambuchino) is a freelancer editor, bestselling book author, and former longtime staffer for Writer’s Digest Books. For many years he edited the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog was one of the largest blogs in publishing, and he wrote the platform guidebook CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. Chuck’s books have been mentioned in Reader’s Digest, USA Today, the New York Times, The Huffington Post, Variety, New York Magazine, Buzzfeed, Mental Floss, New York magazine, and many more media outlets. He is a successful freelance editor of queries, synopses, and manuscripts—seeing dozens of clients get agents or book deals following his consultations/edits. He loves meeting new writers.

IWSG Show Your Writer Insecurity Contest Winners

Thanks to everyone who participated! Wow, there were so many awesome photos. You guys were really creative. But we only had three prize packages with dozens of books, audio books, IWSG features, and IWSG erasers…

Third place goes to: J Lenni Dorner

Second place goes to: Mary Aalgaard

And the grand prize winner who also finally told all his Facebook friends he’s a writer: Ken Rahmoeller

For more awesome images, visit the other participants:
Sarah, Karen, SE White, Carrie-Anne, Tyrean, Fundy, Sandra, Erika, Olga, Toi, IB Nosey, Morgan, Nancy, Deniz, Zan Marie, Allison Kathy, and Sharon.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Do You Substitute They For I?

At some point we all find ourselves comparing this to that or that to this. You can substitute anything in for that or this in your life. Sometimes it may even be favorable. It could give you the best bang for your buck in many cases. But when it comes to writing have you ever noticed how a lot of it hinders more than helps?

If you are anywhere on the internet, which authors tend to be in some form because you need a platform, then you have come across the inevitable they thought. At some point it could even become all about they and less about I. Life shouldn't be all I, I, I but sometimes I, I, I is just what you need to see your true progress and keep going.

So how do we go from they to I?

1. They write 5000 words a day. I wrote 50 words today. Whatever your word count, whether it be 50 or 5000, you pumped words out today. Focus on that. You may not have written as much as someone else, but I guarantee you that you wrote more words than millions of other people.

2. They have 50 books released. I have 2 books released. One book is an accomplishment. Someone else may have more or less but you did it. You published a book. That is a feat that so many others will never accomplish.

3. They have a publisher. I keep getting denied. They may have a publisher. They may have one better than yours. But how long do you think it took them to get that? Chances are that they got denied just as many times as you. You will learn and grow with each denial. All your hard work will be that much more worth it when you get that first yes. I have to keep trying will keep you on the track of I and off the track of they.

4. They have an agent. I don't have one. This is all a matter of preference. You could get the same result without one. You may not. Depends on if you think you have the connections and know how of many of the agents. But again, you have to keep trying if you want an agent like they have.

5. They have 50,000 followers. I have 50. Followers are all a matter of perseverance. They didn't instantly get 50,000 followers. Chances are it took them years to do that. Nothing will happen overnight. You have 50. That is a start. Those 50 will continue to grow if you work at it.

6. They have more time. I can barely find any time. They have more time because they make time. Yes, there may be many other tasks that you have that they don't. Yes, you may have more of a full plate. No, you don't barely have any time. You just choose to do other things with your time. Carve out a slot of time and then it soon goes from I have no time to I have time.

7. They have more funds. I'm on a fixed income. Only spend what you can afford. Some have more than others and always will. You may not get there as fast as one with a lot of disposable income, but while they are throwing money at everything to see what works, you will be searching out the best options for what disposable income you have.

8. They have more ideas. I only have a few. But you have ideas. The more you write, the more you will find ideas may show. One little scene can give you a whole new idea for a book. Pretty soon you will find that you have plenty of ideas.

9. They have more experience. I just started. Experience comes from starting. You have to take that first step no matter what you do in life. The more you do, the more you learn. Also it doesn't hurt to ask they for any advice or use resources like IWSG to your full advantage.

10. They have such luck. I have none. This one is all a state of mind. Kind of goes down into poor pitiful me territory. Luck = hard work. As far as I've always been concerned luck is a word made up by humans to try and make themselves feel better. Better about what? Better about someone else getting what they what. That someone, usually, worked for it. Ditch luck and do the work.

In the end you will find it is a state of mind. The less you care about they and the more you focus on I, the more you will see your own progress. And you never know, maybe you'll become the they to other writers who should be focusing on I.

What do you do to stop the comparing? Has the they over I ever crept in and left you discouraged in your writing endeavors?