Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Today I am going to talk about the "B" word.
B is for branding. In this industry, if you want to have a successful career as an author, it is very important you discover how to do it.
What is branding? Let's start with a few examples.
1. Myrtle Ball, the "Scribe of Bren"
You're going through a convention and you spot a table. On this table are all sorts of medieval books and statues of wizards, and the author of the books, Myrtle Ball, sits behind a glossy map of her world (cleverly mounted to the table). On the left are short stories about small significant events that occur in her world, on the right are novellas that explore larger events like quests, and the author tells you she's in the process of writing a novel about the Kingdom of Bren's first civil war. She tells you about her plans to write more, and how every story she writes opens up the doors to others (and adds more to her gigantic world map, which will soon be broken up into a detailed book of maps next year). Myrtle calls herself the "Scribe of Bren" and refers to each of her books as an act of unearthing more about this previously undiscovered realm.
I don't know about you, but I'd stop at this table and feel I have entered the unique world of the books. The products I see build one thing and offer you more to come. It's exciting. It comes to life. I think I'd buy one of Myrtle's Books.
This is branding.
2. Mary and Marvin McKay, science fiction near and far
You wander a little further down and find another table with two science fiction authors, Mary and Marvin McKay (husband and wife) whose series of space-war sagas line up along their table. The husband deals with the Colonizer series, set 1000 years after the Foundation series (which the wife writes). The wife's books, on her side of the table, are arranged in trios based on the various trilogies they belong to, while the husband is writing an open-ended series that relates to events that occurred before the Foundation series. Every time Mary (the wife) adds more to her series, she tells her husband and he gets ideas for his thousand-years-later line. They sound passionate and excited as they talk about how the saga has unfolded, and where they're going with it. "This is the future of our technology as we see it," Marvin says, while Mary adds, "We like to write about how our world changes over time, especially the people who are at the heart of it."
I don't know about you, but I'd stop and be quite intrigued. Suddenly, this isn't just about books they've written. It's about what those books are. Even though this husband-wife team write two separate series', they have branded themselves and made these books into a collective whole. The collections promise more and, most importantly, promise me, the reader, that if I start reading, I'm in for an adventure.
This is branding.
3. James Jenkins, a man of many mysteries
I reach the far end of the aisles and here is yet another author. James Jenkins writes stand-alone mystery novellas. None of them are the same and each of them borrow from different sub-genres. The Blood in the Alley is a thriller-suspense mystery, The Source of A Scream is a horror mystery, while Who Killed Mrs. Molly is a romantic-comedy mystery. It goes on and on—classic mystery, fantasy mystery, even erotic romance mystery—everywhere I look I have something different. I might think James is all over the place, except James has given me one important clue: all of his works involve mystery and a puzzle to be solved (he's made sure this is clear by picking a tablecloth with question marks in the fabric). James' opening line, as he smiles and watches me scan the shelves, is, "What kind of mystery is your favorite?"
James, too, has branded himself.
What do these three examples have in common? All three authors have embraced not just a book to promote themselves with. They have instead embraced a brand and are at their tables promoting that brand.
So how do you brand yourself? More importantly, how do you brand what you write?
STEP 1. Discover what you want to write, and stick to it
The first way to discover your brand is to discover what it is you really want to write. Maybe you write detective stories and horror stories. Maybe you hate both but really want to write romantic comedy. After all, your friends said you should be a comedian before you decided to become a writer. So, what are you waiting for?
Perhaps you write women's fiction and horror. You do well at both, but deep down you've always enjoyed giving people a scare. Maybe your mind races with ideas for terrifying stories and you have a box full of ideas waiting to be turned into stories, but you're working your way through it slowly because you're busy turning our those women's fiction manuscripts as well. Maybe you're selling those women's fiction manuscripts like hot cakes, but you hate the detour (in fact, you're even thinking of turning them into horror stories).
This is the point where you have to ask yourself how long you can keep it up. Or, a deeper question: money aside, are you satisfied as a writer?
Passion is a key ingredient to branding yourself. Why? Because you're going to put the core of your energy into this one product and you're going to bring it to life. If it's not something you feel passionate about, you're going to burn yourself out, and, worse, your readers are going to see behind the facade. Your brand might not be your current bestseller, but take a risk and put all your energy into doing what you love, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.
STEP 2. Find a common ingredient
Branding is difficult if your "one thing" isn't easy to categorize. Often, a writer's first instinct with branding is to take everything he or she writes and try to lump it all together (see STEP 1 above - sometimes branding means closing some doors so others can open).
Branding yourself takes thought and time, and is more of a process than an instant change. As a personal example, I write epic fantasy. I am also a digital artist and web designer and a musician. (I'll leave out the math student-editor-computer programmer bit.) My website used to be a grab-bag portfolio of everything I'm good at doing. However, in the process of branding myself and realizing that my true passion lies in the art of storytelling and its application to the epic tales I bring to life every day at the keyboard, I've started making radical refinements. The digital mandala art I make will soon become a representative art form from the early ages of my world. My background in web design has allowed me to conceptualize a website that will be a central hub of free material for fans—to essentially create an environment where the world of the epic lives and grows while I take my time to craft each successive tale. The music, the math, and the computer programming are part of my personal life, and thus do not belong on my website at all. Granted, I'm still no Myrtle Ball, but at least readers who come to my site see a brand in development, not a labyrinth that promises to confuse.
Whatever it is you do when you brand yourself, you want it to have the effect of feeling like, "ONE". One thing, one entity, and you, the author, represent that entity. It's not a log-line, nor a catch phrase that you recite, nor a way of organizing your books. Rather, it's a way of putting them all together based on what they have in common, and your job, when you brand yourself, is to discover that and make it real.
STEP 3. It's a work in progress
Branding is a work in progress. It's not easy. You won't necessarily get it right immediately.
Take the first example above of our "Scribe of Bren". Maybe she wrote a short story and didn't know what to do with it. Maybe she tried a horror and it flopped. Readers wanted another story, so she wrote another one. That was when she drew the map. Things took off from there. (And, of course, she's been at it for seven years now.)
Or take the husband-and-wife team. Maybe they originally wrote unrelated science fiction works but wanted to promote one another. Maybe story number three for hubby related to something in his wife's world, then she started setting up her trilogies to relate to his. One night after a brief argument (he was wrong, by the way), they decided to name their series' and stick to the rule that the two were related.
Finally, look at our mystery man James Jenkins. In the beginning, he wrote in all sorts of genres. His rule of thumb was to never write the same thing. He wanted to change, "Like a snake shedding its skin," as he put it in one of his early interviews. One day his editor rejected his horror-comedy because they had no idea if it would sell. His editor talked to him about branding and after about a month, our author presented a horror-comedy mystery novel, invented the pseudonym James Jenkins, and presented a business plan to write more of these genre-benders, all with mystery as their common thread.
The need for branding
In this market, where millions of books are turned out per year, readers are easily distracted. As an author, you need to present them a magnet stronger than the other ones around you. A book by an unknown author is not going to do it, no matter how catchy the cover is. Nor will several books turned out every few months grab their attention.
You need something stronger. You need a brand.
Whatever that brand is, make it your goal to discover it, the same way you discover the stories that bring it to life.
Graeme Brown is a junior editor with Champagne Books. To find out more about Graeme visit his website: http://www.graemebrownart.com
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
“Fine, thanks. You?”
“Fine. Got any plans for after work?”
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Today, let's discuss author etiquette, both at conferences and in the online world. Here are just a few behaviors authors should avoid seriously avoid.
1. I'm sure you've heard the horror stories of authors pushing their manuscripts under the toilet stall to an editor or agent. Don't be that pushy person! Respect their space. Trust me - they-ll remember who you are and your chances of making a good impression at your pitch appointment will be ZERO, no matter how good your story is. Editors and agents share their horror stories with each other.
Instead, have your elevator pitch perfected and ready to go. You may meet an editor or agent in the hallway at a conference, in the dining room, or in the parking lot. Open a casual conversation first. Let them give you the opening to share your pitch.
2. Recently, intentionally negative commentary on a large, well-read website forced an author to back off her book's release date. She was devastated. Don't be that negative person! Other authors will know who you are and de-friend you faster than you can blink.
Instead, remember the adage, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Think Thumper from the old Disney movie Bambi.
3. At your pitch appointments, stick to your time limits. If you're in a group pitch with three minutes per person, don't go on and on about every minor character and trivial detail of your book. This leaves everyone else with no time to share and a serious desire to pummel you senseless. Don't be that inconsiderate person! This behavior will not earn you a request.
Instead, have your presentation ready, whether it's memorized or on paper. If you have three minutes, yours should last two. Leave time for the editor or agent to ask you questions and - most important - request your business card or sample chapters. This applies to one-on-one pitches as well. Be brief, be bright, and leave a good impression. Listen to what the agent or editor tells you. Ask them how they're doing! Thank them for their time.
4. When you're on Facebook, Twitter, or other social websites, stay social. I see too many authors who only use these social networking tools to push their latest book, flooding you with invitations to their website or a book release party. Don't be that obnoxious person!
Instead, be social! Share funny anecdotes, especially if it includes kittens or bacon. Be interested in other people's posts. Encourage people who seem to be having a rough time. Congratulate people on their successes. They'll remember that you're genuine and be more apt to like you. Then, when you share your accomplishments as an author, people will be more than happy to share and congratulate you.
These are just a few examples, of course. Remember to be considerate and respectful of everyone around you, in every situation you encounter. Agents and editors will remember these traits. It shows them what kind of author you'll be to work with. Your behavior will help you sell your story.
Don't be the person everyone avoids. Be the person everyone respects.
Monica Britt, editor
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Haven by Celia Breslin is today’s Taste of Champagne. Haven, Breslin’s debut novel, sits at the top of Champagne Books’ Bestseller List. A few pages in and it’s easy to see why. Check out the short excerpt that showcases Breslin’s storytelling/writing skill as Carina looks back on the morning and afternoon of her birthday.
“So, on my twenty-fifth birthday, a day meant for celebration, I found myself with family secrets to unravel, mysterious strangers to meet, and unknown dangers to avoid. Unease slithered up my spine and my head throbbed yet again. I was a pawn in a game I hadn’t even known I played. I didn’t like it one bit.”
Carina Tranquilli is a wealthy nightclub owner in San Francisco who endures a 25th birthday from hell. Her life is a twenty-something’s dream with parties at her own nightclub, friends and family who love her, and a to-die-for wardrobe. Until the morning of her 25th birthday when the witch attacked her, only the death of her parents and a twelve-year-long memory gap troubled her otherwise perfect life.
When vampires arrive claiming to be kin, she’s forced to delve deep into painful memories that she’d rather leave undisturbed. If your relatives are vampires, what does that make you—especially if you’re acquiring a taste for blood? She discovers that these same vampires have been hosting a private night at her nightclub where the only humans invited are those on the menu—willing feasts for vampires she didn’t even know existed.
When she meets Alexander, a gorgeous vampire as drawn to her as she is to him, the action moves from steamy to sizzling—even if it is forbidden by her newfound relatives. The same relatives demand the right to control her life to protect her from unidentified threats until she can protect herself with her vast powers. Those powers, whatever they are, fail to protect her and her friends when the really bad guys, also with fangs, show up.
Haven, the first installment in The Tranquili Bloodline series, is one of the best new stories I’ve read in a long time. The rich plot and compelling characters provide the set up for a long series run. I’m looking forward to the next one.
Click HERE to buy/read excerpt of Haven.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
It's Wordy Wednesday, and that means...
...time for some reflections from the editor's desk!
This week I’m continuing the theme Graeme started last week – what to look for when perfecting your manuscript. I’m going to add to his list by declaring war on needless adjectives and adverbs. Too many of these words weaken your story and look amateurish. In the nineteenth century, I’ve heard, authors were paid by the word, hence the flowery prose of that era. In the twenty-first century, authors are usually paid a percentage of sales, and do not need to embellish quite so much. We also talk much more informally, and the excessive verbiage of two centuries ago becomes stilted and unnatural.
Does this mean to never use adjectives or adverbs? No, of course not. Sometimes they are absolutely necessary. But use them sparingly.
Consider the following paragraph:
Annette tossed back her curly reddish blonde hair and slammed her hand down on the dark oak desktop. She rose up on her red stiletto heels and glowered at Arthur, her dark-haired bearded protesting subordinate.
What if you wrote the following instead:
Annette tossed back her hair and slammed her hand on the desk. She stood up and glowered at Arthur, her protesting subordinate.
In which of these paragraphs does Annette come across as the powerful manager that she is? Sure, at some point you might want to insert a description of what Annette and Arthur look like, but not here, where the key point is the action. And let me also note that a manager would probably not wear red stiletto heels unless she worked in the fashion industry, or possibly publishing.
As for adverbs, many of the extraneous words Graeme posted can be used as adverbs. Words like just, some, somewhat, really, very, actually, quite, or still, are frequently unnecessary and often weaken what you’re saying. Note the difference between these two simple sentences:
She felt somewhat lonely that evening.
Her loneliness dragged at her.
The second sentence is a stronger statement.
Adverbs are frequently used when the verb is not precise enough. Whenever you see an adverb, double-check your verb. Often you’ll discover that a more powerful verb eliminates the need for the adverb.
Tom forcefully moved the papers across his desk.
Tom shoved the papers across his desk.
Be ruthless in weeding out unneeded adverbs and adjectives. Your prose will be the better for it.
Champagne Book Group
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
It's Wordy Wednesday...
...but today I'll talk about more words you want to get rid of before submitting (a follow up to my post 2 weeks ago, which you can view here). Today's focus: unnecessary words.
Here's the checklist, followed by examples:
In a way
Enter these words (and their variations) in your "find" box for your word processor. If you don't find each one dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of times, then congratulations, you have a tight manuscript. If not, here's some examples to get your started:
1) It's all like just somehow really very wordy
Now, you probably don't have sentences that wordy, but they might look something like this:
Somehow, he knew this would happen.
He knew this would happen
It all made sense. If only he could just make sense of that last clue...
It all made sense. Now, if he could decipher the last clue...
She really hated him, and it spread to all her friends like it was some kind of pandemic.
Her hatred for him was pandemic. After a week of gossip, everyone in the office wanted him out.
(Notice that cutting unnecessary words doesn't always make your sentence shorter.)
2) It seems quite hard to read, or rather, its actually somewhat tedious
Now that's a tedious sentence. Yours might look a little more like these:
She seemed to notice him.
She noticed him.
It was rather hard not to think of him that way.
She couldn't think of him that way.
The dog looked somewhat angry.
The dog growled.
3) In a way, this thing is still a little long
Ugh! Here are some examples:
In a way, her answer reflected wisdom beyond her years.
Her answer showed wisdom beyond her years.
The box was lined with black things, long little tubes that poked up in all directions.
Finger-length, black tubes lined the box, poking up like porcupine quills.
It was taking them a long time to get where they needed to go. Bryan looked at his watch.
Bryan checked his watch. 5:00. "We should have been finished by 4:30!"
4) It's not just about cutting words
Notice these examples are not mindless word-cutting exercises. Sometimes there is a place to use "just" and "that". Your goal isn't just to cut words, but to replace them with ones that show the reader your story.
Now take the challenge further. Read your manuscript and look for words you use a lot. Put them in your "find" box and see how you've used them. Can you cut them out and make your writing sharper?
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
It's Wordy Wednesday...
...but today I'll talk about the opposite of being wordy. In particular: words to weed out before you submit your manuscript.
Start, begin, turn, look, could, and feel are the biggest culprits. As an editor reading submissions, the first thing I do is search for how these words are used. If the counter comes up in the hundreds for more than one, I return the manuscript, even if the story is good.
Here's a basic check-list to help you clear your manuscript of these pests:
1) Do your characters start do to things? Do they began to walk? Begin to speak?
Use the "find" feature in your word processor and go through your manuscript, looking for all forms of "start" and "begin" ("began", "begun").
(Note: Don't use "find & replace", because you will have to think about how to tighten most sentences where the rogue words occur.)
Here are some examples to help you:
Joe started to walk down the street.
Joe walked down the street.
Jane began to ponder her predicament.
Jane pondered her predicament.
2) Are people turning and looking and seeing? Do you have them turning to the door? Are they looking at each other when they talk? Does Bob see the path ahead of him?
Again, use the "find" feature for all three words - "turn", "look", "see" (and "saw"). Here's more examples:
He turned to the door, seeing it was partly ajar.
The door was ajar.
Hansel turned to Rachel and looked at her shimmering red dress.
Rachel's red dress shimmered.
She saw the path before her, then turned to look at Chris as she spoke. "Are you going to get over it? I told you I'm sorry."
"I need time. Weren't you listening?" Chris said.
The path stretched ahead. Chris kept pace with her, brooding. "Are you going to get over it? I told you I'm sorry."
"I need time. Weren't you listening?"
Notice in the last example how cutting those words makes the story do its own telling? Good storytelling hides a lot between the lines, so you can say more with less.
3) Check if you have a case of the "coulds". Do you find that Chuck could feel his panic rising? Or that Haley could smell the fresh rain?
Go through your manuscript, searching "could" and "feel" (don't forget "felt" and could's cousins, "should", and "might").
Alex could hear the alarm from across the room.
The alarm blared.
He might have felt fear, but he steeled himself anyway.
He steeled himself, ignoring fear.
He felt the snake slither across his leg.
The snake slithered across his leg.
Sanford could have sworn he was supposed to be at the office by eight, but he must have been wrong.
Sanford arrived at the office by eight. It was empty. He checked his calendar.
4) If you've ticked off this checklist, then you're on track. But the list goes on: said, asked, just, very, and realize, to name a few.
There are many great books on writing craft. I would personally recommend Strunk and White's, The Elements of Style and Rayne Hall's, The Word Loss Diet, as short, easy-to-follow drills that will help you make your submission shine.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
It's Wordy Wednesday, and that means...
Today we welcome a guest, Rayne Hall, author of more than forty books and editor of the Ten Tales series.
In thirty years as an editor, I've found the same words blight and bloat the style of many authors. One of them is "sigh".
In real life, people who constantly sigh soon get on our nerves. Few folks enjoy the company of sighers. The same applies to fiction: readers don't like characters that sigh a lot.
Yet, sighs creep into fiction and multiply like vermin. If you're not on your guard, your novel soon reads like this:
He sighed.... She sighed deeply.... He heaved a deep sigh... A sigh escaped from her lips.... With a sigh, she did this... Sighing, she rose.... He looked at her and sighed...
Moreover, a character that sighs at the slightest trigger comes across as a wuss.
One sigh is enough for the reader's subconscious to file that character as a wimp. Two sighs make the character a wimpy wimp. By the time your heroine has heaved her third sigh, the reader has lost respect for her.
It's raining - sigh.
Aunt Agatha is coming - sigh.
Little Laura misbehaves - sigh.
The kitten scratches - sigh.
Work needs doing - sigh.
Another Monday - sigh.
Life goes on - sigh.
Use your word processor's Find & Replace tool to count how many times you've used "sigh", and then cut most of them.
By cutting the sighs, you'll make your writing tighter and your characters spunkier.
I recommend keeping just one or two sighs in the whole book: one for a wimpy minor character, and one in the second half of the book where your protagonist has real reason to sigh.
Rayne Hall is an author and editor. After writing and editing, her great love is teaching, and she teaches online classes for writers. To find out more, visit: https://sites.google.com/site/writingworkshopswithraynehall/
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
It's Wordy Wednesday, and that means...
English is a funny language. We want our stories to compel our reader’s attention, from the first sentence, all the way through to the end of the book. Just do a Wikipedia search of passive voice. It will make your head spin. However, the rules of passive voice affects us all, especially in fiction. We want our prose to carry power and punch. Passive voice generally creates sentences that lack those ideals.
Here is an example of a sentence in passive voice.
The man was bumped by the elephant.
In passive voice, the recipient of the action becomes the subject, making the subject the man. But he is not active. He’s just the receiver of the elephant’s action.
Contrast that with the sentence below in active voice.
The elephant bumped the man.
In an active sentence, the subject commits the action. So the elephant, the subject, is doing the action. He bumps the man. The man is the object of the sentence.
Grammar lesson over. I know this is a confusing subject.
I found a great example on Grammar Girl, using a Marvin Gaye song title.
“I Heard It through the Grapevine.”
"I" is the subject, the one who is doing the action. "I" is hearing "it," the object of the sentence.
If you wanted to make the title of the Marvin Gaye song passive, you would say, “It was heard by me through the grapevine.” -- not such a catchy title anymore.
You can see how the active voice carries so much more punch, and makes a more compelling read.
How do we fix this in our own work? Sometimes, just flipping a sentence can help. Like this example:
Her books were piled in the center of the table as she peered at him from over the top.
She peered at him over the top of her books piled on the center of the table.
It’s a simple fix, and it changes the cadence and the strength of the sentence.
When you do your next spelling and grammar check and a passive sentence pops up, these tools can help you make your sentences and your manuscript stronger.
However, you might find sentences where the method of flipping won’t work:
Daniel grinned to himself as the velvet curtains were pulled shut.
This sentence doesn’t lend itself to a complete flip with "were pulled shut quickly." But one good fix is:
Daniel grinned to himself as the velvet curtains twitched shut.
Monica Britt is an editor at Champagne Books.