Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tips to Balance Writing Time and Marketing Time



One of the things I often hear from fellow writers is that marketing takes a substantial amount of time, which means less time for writing. Many feel there is no easy way to balance writing time and marketing time.

Here are a few tips that might help:

Add Marketing Time to Your To-Do List

Without a list, you can lack focus and organization, which means time slips away and you’re not even sure where it went. Daily and weekly to-do lists keep you on track, and they motivate you to keep going.

See where you can add fifteen minutes to half an hour of marketing time to your daily schedule. I find that after I drop the kids off in the morning is my best time because my phone isn't ringing with real estate calls and there's no one in the house except me and the furry beasts.

Create an Online Media Kit

Every published writer needs a media kit. A media kit should include: a long and short bio, author photographs, novel covers, book trailers, excerpts, audio clips, links to previous interviews, and a schedule of events. If you write articles, it should include a list of those articles, where and when they appeared, and direct links to any articles that appear online.

By having this information available on your website and in PDF format, you’ll save time when you contact people for interview and book review requests. Even if you’re still waiting for that first sale, it’s a good idea to have a biography and quality photo available for those who request them.

Use Social Media Effectively

I have numerous social networks that I post to multiple times a day. Can you imagine how long it would take if I had to post to each site separately? By using Buffer, Hootsuite or TweetDeck, I can create one post that is submitted to all my social networks at once.

Support Local Schools and Events

Who says marketing can’t be fun and fulfilling? With tightening budgets, schools are often looking for guests to come and interact with students. When my girls were younger, I held writing workshops at their schools. I would speak to the teacher about their current course of study and then tie my workshops into that.

One year, I visited during National Poetry Month, which is held in April. The kids had also been studying Colonial America and the America Revolution. My two-day workshop was on using your senses in writing and on how to develop your powers of observation. We started off by reading excerpts from classic children’s books and seeing if the kids could point out the senses the authors used. Then the students pulled items out of a bag and had to use their senses to describe it. On the second day, they observed me reciting “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and we discussed their observations. Finally, they put all they learned into practice by using their senses and power of observation to write a short story based on a field trip they had taken earlier in the year to an early American settlement. The kids enjoyed it and they shared it with their parents, many of whom asked about my work. It was great exposure to teachers as well.

When my first book came out, I held a book signing at my church during their annual Christmas Bazaar and Tag Sale. I got a chance to sell my book, and a portion of the proceeds went to the church--a win for both of us.

Marketing is part of the business of writing. Using these tips will help you strike a better balance between the business and creative sides of your career.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Understanding How Book Reviews Make You A Better Writer

Back in 2010, I wrote an article titled The Elements of a Good Book Review. Working in online book promotion at the time, my hope was this would encourage more bloggers to review our clients' books.

A review is one person's opinion of a book they have read. It is not a play-by-play description and it shouldn't contain spoilers. The information contained in a review can also give the author a glimpse into her strengths and the areas that might need some attention.


Here are two of the blurbs from reviews of A Christmas Kindness, released by 4RV Publishing in 2012:

I appreciated the simplicity of the story that had such a powerful message wrapped up inside it.

It is not often that a simple children's book can nearly bring me to tears, but this one succeeded.

These reviewers appreciated the simplicity of the story, but were touched by its message. What did the author (me) learn? Keeping it simple for first time readers is important, while the adults are able to understand the message behind it and use it as a teaching point.

Here's a review blurb from my first book:

...this is the type of book that I would read to little children versus letting them read the book themselves. Only because there was a lot of words and children do not have a huge attention span to read all those words. 

Compare the two: one is said to be a simple story and the other was found to use too many words, therefore, making it harder for young children to read by themselves. Did I consider that reviewer's feedback when I wrote future books? Of course, because my market is children and those who buy for them.


 Here is part of a review I wrote about The Brain Sucker by Glenn Wood:

There is so much to enjoy in this novel: the well-developed characters, the neat inventions, the antics of Lester’s bumbling thugs, the craziness caused by Jinx's “little problem,” and so much more... It didn't take me long to finish this one because I never wanted to put it down. I also really felt the selected font was perfect for the story, so kudos to the book designer.

Wood got to know the age group he was writing for and it showed in every page of this story. This book was so fun to read. Then the designer used a font that matched the vibe of the story perfectly. Should the author consider what the designer is doing? I think so. He might not have the final say, but a book is a package deal from outside to inside.


Here's a blurb from my review of The Undercover Kids' Holland Adventure - The Trunk in the Attic by Gloria Smith Zawaski:

The one thing I found confusing is that the book starts in present tense, then changes to past tense and occasionally switches through the story. This interrupted the flow of the prose at times.

This is a middle grade adventure story, so complexities are expected. You just don't want to lose your reader over them. Sometimes when you're working on a manuscript, you've read it so many times you don't see some of its challenges. It happens to all of us. That's why critique groups and editors are so important.

Reviews, while subjective, can be helpful to the writer who uses them to build upon her strengths and fine tune areas that come up as challenges for readers time and again.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Book Marketing and the Query Letter



If you are contemplating writing a book or you’ve already written one, and intend on going the traditional publishing path, you’ll need a query letter and a cover letter.

This is true whether you’re an author, a writer, or a business owner who wants to build his authority with a book.

Wondering what a query letter has to do with book marketing?

The query is the second step in your book marketing journey. Think of it as the beginning of a hopefully rewarding relationship with a publisher or agent.

The first step is writing a great story. The second is getting a contract – this is where the query comes in.

If you’re not sure what a query letter is, Jane Friedman notes that it’s a stand-alone letter and has only one purpose. Its sole purpose is “to seduce the agent or editor into reading or requesting your work. The query is so much of a sales piece that you should be able to write it without having written a single word of the manuscript.” (1)

The query letter is your foot in the publishing door. So, you can see how much rides on this one or two page letter (preferably one page).

The query letter usually has 8 elements to be aware of:

1. Do your research. Have you gone to the publisher’s or agent’s website to make sure your manuscript topic is something s/he handles?

You can do an online search for publishers or agents that will be a fit for your story. Or, you can use an online service, like WritersMarket.com.

2. Know what you need to do. At the site, did you carefully go over the submission guidelines? I mean really, really, really, carefully!

3. Is your opening (in the query) grabbing? Will it get the reader’s attention?

4. Edit, edit, edit. Have you checked for grammar errors? Have you checked for redundancy? How about spelling? Don’t rely on a word processors speck check feature alone. Edit your letter manually.

5. Keep it short and sweet. Eliminate non-essential personal information.

6. Include credentials, and/or pertinent background information, if any.

7. Include your book marketing strategy for promoting your book. In this section, include your social media following, only if significant: 500 followers, 1000 followers, 5000, 10,000. Obviously, the more the better. And, it’s essential that you have an author website and include the link in your heading.

8. Have you studied the query letter format?

The format consists of several paragraphs:

a. Your introduction, mentioning that you’ve visited the website and why you’re querying.
b. A very brief gist of what the manuscript is about and the intended age group.
c. A very brief synopsis of the story.
e. Your background, if pertinent. Include your marketing intentions.
f. Thank the editor/agent for her time. Mention that you included XXX pages (the number the guidelines said to send), if applicable.

Taking the time to do it right and write an optimized query letter may make the difference between the slush pile and a contract.

The query letter is the portal to a contract. If the reader says NO at the letter, your manuscript may be great, but it won’t have a chance.

References:
1) http://janefriedman.com/2014/04/11/query-letters/
http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-write-the-perfect-query-letter

This post was originally published at:
Book Marketing and the Query Letter


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, successful children’s ghostwriter as well as an author online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. For must-know writing and marketing tips, get free access to The Writing World.

Also, be sure to check out Karen award-winning children's middle-grade fantasy, "Walking Through Walls."





Thursday, April 19, 2018

When the Creative Stream Stops Flowing




            So often people complain they have writer’s block. They stare at a page, whether paper or computer, and nothing comes. Their brain matches the page – blank. I never had that drastic a problem because my mind keeps working but perhaps can’t find just the right words, can’t get that just right description, or can’t decide how to create a word bridge between scenes. So, all authors need ways to turn those creative blocks back to a full stream again. First, we need to consider a few reasons for any block before we look at some ways to overcome the problem.

            Jeff Goins lists the main reasons he discovered for the creative stream stoppage:
  • Timing: It’s simply not the right time to write. Your ideas may need to stew a little longer before writing them down.
  • Fear: Many writers struggle with being afraid, with putting their ideas (and themselves) out there for everyone to see and critique. Fear is a major reason some writers never become writers.
  • Perfectionism: You want everything to be just right before you ever put pen to paper or touch a keyboard. You try to get it perfect in your head and never do, so you never begin. 
Although, Goins wrote about blogging, writing is writing. Most ideas cross between all types of writing to a certain extent.

Goins also gives suggestions of what not to do to try to overcome writer’s block:
·        You do not overcome writer’s block by refusing to write until you feel “inspired.”
·        You do not overcome writer’s block by wallowing in self-pity.
·        You do not overcome writer’s block by procrastinating or making excuses.
·        You do not overcome writer’s block by watching TV.
·        You do not overcome writer’s block by reading articles on how to overcome writer’s block.

The strange thing is one way to restart the muse working is to distract oneself from the problem and watching TV distracts. Interesting.

            Now, let’s discuss some ways to restart the creative stream. Both Goins and Pete Croatto suggestion moving away from the situation. Croatto says to change location to find inspiration. Goins says to go for a walk. By removing ourselves from the “blank” page, our minds can be sidetracked from the problem and have an opportunity to find stimulation or inspiration. 

            Another way to unblock the block would be to eliminate distractions. Here is where a writer should avoid watching TV: When one tries to write, distractions can provide a mental block to creating. Therefore, when we try to write, we should avoid visiting someone, watching TV, texting, and other activities that take our mind off writing. Sometimes, though, when we can’t write, watching a TV show could actually help us mentally relax and discover the writing begins again.

            Ironically, another way to unblock the logjam in the creative stream is to do other things, to be distracted. Croatto states the following activities could help get the words flowing again: run errands or do chores; talk to another writer; research. Some ways Goins suggests include: go for a walk; spend time with someone who makes you feel good; play (a game on your computer, a card game with a friend or friends, a basketball game with a child or grandchild). One idea I use quite often is to begin another project or go back to a project I laid aside.

            Some people can relax the creative muse by listening to music, pushing the blank page or stopped page to one side. After the mind relaxes, the words may begin to flow again.

            When I can’t decide how to transition from one scene to another or from one event to another, I sit back and run the “movie” of the story through my mind. Letting myself remember and rewind the story often gives me the needed words to continue.

            Are these the only ways to motivate the creative stream to flow again? Of course not, but they are a few that worked for others. When anyone gets stuck, he needs something to unblock the logjam and to allow the stream to flow.


Sources:
     Croatto, Pete, “Parallel work,” The Writer, May 2018, page 10.
     Goins, Jeff, “How to Overcome Writer’s Block: 14 Tricks that Work,” https://goinswriter.com/how-to-overcome-writers-block/
     Zabel, Vivian, experience and methods from the past

Monday, April 2, 2018

What Makes a Good Fiction Story? Plot Driven OR Character Driven


By Karen Cioffi

Stories can be plot driven or character driven, so which is the best formula to use when writing a story? Knowing a little about both methods should help in making a decision.

Plot Driven Story

A story’s plot moves the story forward, from point A to point B. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in a straight line; in fact a course that twists and turns is much better. This type of plot creates movement and interest. It’s the twists and turns that will keep the forward momentum fresh, as well as creates anticipation. Anticipation will hold a reader’s attention.

The plot also provides reasons and explanations for the occurrences in the story, as well as offers conflict and obstacles that the protagonist must overcome to hopefully create growth. These elements create a connection with the reader. It entices the reader to keep turning the pages. Without a plot it is difficult to create growth and movement for the protagonist. It might be comparable to looking at a still photo. It might be a beautiful photo and may even conjure up emotions in the viewer, but how long do you think it would hold a reader’s attention?

Along with this, the plot molds the protagonist. It causes growth and movement in the character. Assume you have a timid woman who through circumstances, the plot, transforms into a brave, strong, forceful hero. Where would the story be without the events that lead this timid woman to move past herself and into a new existence?

Character Driven Story

On the other hand, a character driven story creates a bond between the protagonist and reader. It is the development and growth of the character, the character’s personal journey, which motivates the reader to connect. There doesn’t need to be twists and turns, or fire works. The reader becomes involved with the character and this is all the enticement the reader needs to keep reading.

In addition to this, the character works hand in hand with the plot to move the story forward. As the character begins her transformation the plot moves in the same direction.

In some instances, such as short stories, a character driven story can work amazingly well, such as in The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin. In cases such as this, the connection developed between the character and the reader can be more than enough to satisfy the reader. But, all in all, it seems to be the combined efforts of a well plotted and character driven story that works the best.

The Best of Both Worlds

According to science fiction and fantasy writer, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., “The best fiction should be an intertwined blend of character, plot, setting, and style.”

I agree. All elements of a story working together create stories that will be remembered.

All the aspects of a story should complement each other, should move each other forward to a satisfying conclusion, and should draw the reader in. If you have an action packed plot driven story, but it lacks believable and sympathetic characters, you’re story will be lacking. The same holds true if you have a believable and sympathetic character, but the story lacks movement, it will usually also fall short. As with all things in life balance is necessary, the same holds true when writing a story.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, successful children’s ghostwriter, and online author platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. For must-know writing and marketing tips, get free access to The Writing World.


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Writing with Focus


You have a wonderful idea for a story. Maybe it’s a mystery novel, a children’s middle grade story, or a picture book. Maybe it’s a young adult. You know what you want to say, or convey, and you start typing away. This is the beginning of every story.

But, we should backtrack a moment and go back to the idea. The idea: your protagonist has a problem or conflict. Delving a little deeper, you can see how each chapter or section will be worked out.

You are sure you can bring your idea to full fruition—without the use of an outline. Okay, that’s fine. Many writers use the by-the-seat-of-your-pants (pantser) writing method. So, off your mind and fingers fly . . . creating something from nothing . . . well, not exactly from nothing, from an idea.

This is the beginning.

You type a draft of your story. How long this process will take depends on how long your manuscript will be—whether a novel, short story, or children’s story. Take note though . . . even if your story is as short as a children’s picture book, you still need focus in your writing.

Writing Focus

Focus is the path from point A to point B. It’s the path from beginning to end that keeps the story together and wraps it neatly up.

An example might be an ice skater whose goal is to become good enough to get into the Olympics. His focus will be to train vigorously to accomplish his goal.

Another example might be that of a school bus on its route to pick up children and bring them to school. The shop is where the bus begins, point A; it will end up at the school, point B. But, between point A and point B, the bus must deviate from the direct path to pick up each child.

The same holds true for your story. There is a path the story needs to follow to accomplish its goal. If you deviate too much from this path your story becomes diluted or weak.

This is not to say you cannot have subplots, it means everything needs to be tied together moving forward on the same path toward the same end.

Using an outline can often help with maintaining focus, even with a short story. It’s kind of a writing GPS that guides you from point A to point B. It allows you to stray here and there with the comfort of knowing that you need to be at certain points throughout the manuscript. It’s a reminder to keep you focused.

This article was originally reprinted here in November 2012.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, children’s ghostwriter, and online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. For must-know writing and marketing tips, get free access to The Writing World.






Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What Editors and Publishers Hate.



 

         Anyone who deals with an editor (whether paid or a volunteer or an editor for a publishing house) or directly with a publisher need to know what irritates them. Keeping a publisher and/or an editor happy makes for a smoother relationship. So, what things do publishers and editors hate?

1. Submitters who do not follow guidelines irk anyone dealing with writers. More than one person has submitted to 4RV and sent material we do not publish with cover letters stating the story, writing, whatever was SOOOOO good that we would accept the manuscript any way. What arrogance. Editors and publishers hate when authors do not conduct themselves as professionals. If a manuscript, no matter how excellent, does not fit the form, style, or genre of a publishing house, it will be rejected. Even if the most well-written, wonderful material in the world, not every publisher will be interested.

         A sub-point of not following guidelines is an author shows he does not or will not follow directions. No one wants to work with anyone who won’t follow directions.

         According to Alex Field (“The Editor Behind the Curtain,” Writer’s Digest, March/April 2018), authors need to do their homework. Research the differences between fiction and nonfiction, and what is needed for submissions for each. “Every category and genre of publishing is governed by unspoken rules.” Writers must know what is needed and what isn’t.

2. Editors and publishers HATE a writer whose submission is rejected who sends a hateful attack in reply. For example, one of my imprint editors sent a very polite refusal letter to an author with suggestions for improvement. He wrote an email attacking the editor, calling her inept and blind, saying that her “vanity press” would never matter, and a few other choice words. In his email, he revealed that he had stolen the idea for his manuscript from a popular children’s book from some years ago. As I told him, the publishing community is small, and if he wanted to be accepted by any publisher he needed to 1.) Write better; 2.) Work with others better; 3.) Learn how to use rejection to become better; and 4.) Never be rude. I also informed him that we weren’t a vanity press, that we paid for everything and the authors paid for nothing, and that as the people paying the bills, we could refuse anything submitted that we didn’t like.

3. Unprofessionalism can also be found when a writer asks a writing expert to give an opinion and sends a rough draft, and, yes, writers even submit rough drafts to publishers. Anytime someone sends a manuscript to a professional, the material should be well-written and well-edited.

         Other turn-offs for publishers and editors include the following:

4. Publishers and/or editors hate manuscripts that are not completely edited. Bad punctuation, spelling, and grammar: traits of a writer with no experience or one who hasn’t taken the time to learn or research correct needs of writing sentences, much less a manuscript. Editors hate when an author doesn’t even run spell-check or try to correct grammar and punctuation. Yes, the major part of a submission is the story, but punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes distract readers from understanding what the author wants to convey.

         Other editing problems include lack of coherency, cohesion, clarity, completeness, and conciseness.

         Steven James and Pam Johnson (“The 7 Deadly Sins of Editors & Novelists,” Writer’s Digest, March/April 2018) wrote a give and take between a novelist, Steven James, and editor, Pam Johnson. One point that novelists should avoid is sloppiness, not submitting one’s best work. No, it is not the editor’s job to fix an author’s typos and errors. “Never settle for sending in less than your best.”

5. Unbelievable dialogue is disliked: Dialogue should flow and not sound stilted, needs to be realistic. Also incorrect punctuation around dialogue.

6. Publishers and editors hate scenes not set. No, an author doesn’t need to give detailed descriptions, but enough information is needed so readers have an idea where or when the scene takes place – at least a general idea.

7. Cardboard characters “turn-off” editors/publishers. Characters should be 3 dimensional, and someone for the reader to care about. Don’t let characters be predictable and don’t give a character’s back story all at once. Providing a back story is not the same as creating and developing a character that comes to life. One is telling, and the other is showing. Make characters believable with motivation for actions.

8. They don’t like novels too long or too short. Over 200,000 and under 50,000 words are unacceptable for common publishing standards.

9. A poor plot: Every story needs a plot that begins with a hook and keeps the reader interested. The plot should not have inconsistencies in the story, characters, or timeline.

10. No originality or freshness. Even general ideas need to be “made” the author’s. My example earlier about the writer “stealing” the idea of another book was bad enough, and then his poor writing made it worse.

11. Publishers hate when an author figuratively sits backs and crosses his arms and does nothing to promote or market his book. Authors should have a marketing plan before submitting a manuscript, a platform. If authors such as James Patterson must promote “his” books, then the rest of us surely need to do the same.

         Alex Field says an author must be his/her book’s CMO – Chief Marketing Officer. “You are its (your book’s) first and last advocate.” No one cares more about a book’s success than its writer.

12. Editors hate when the writing is heavy and unwieldy. It includes inflated sentences, stilted language, and overuse of adjectives and adverbs.

13. They hate repetitive use of vocabulary and repetitive sentence structure and length.

14. Publishers and editors hate clich├ęs and stereotypes. Lazy writers use such devices.

15. They hate the narrative telling rather than showing. Narrative must develop the scene. “The party was loud” tells, but describing the conversations, the waiter dropping a tray, cell phones ringing shows.

16. Editors hate when dialogues turn into speeches. Dialogue shows relationships, moves the story along, creates scenes, etc. It is the interaction of two people or more, not a chance to “tell” by having someone give a speech.

17. They hate when events or a character’s behavior has no motivation, no reason.

18. A complaint from many editors, including those from 4RV, is writers do not learn, whether they can’t or won’t. An editor points out a problem in one section of a manuscript and suggests the writer check the rest of the manuscript for like problems and correct them. However, the writer doesn’t, expects the editor to find them and correct. Then a writer doesn’t learn from one project to the next. The same problems occur one project after another. An editor’s job is not to rewrite a book for an author but to help the author polish a manuscript.

19. Authors fail to realize that writing and preparing a book is a long process. The writing portion requires round and round of revisions before the book is submitted. According to Pam Johnson, “Quality takes multiple rewrites.” Steven James adds, “Anything worth publishing takes time.”

         A few other bits and pieces from publishers and editors that they hate: use of “fiction novel”; following a trend without an authentic manuscript; manuscripts too complicated to be published; manuscript is boring; shifting into a sliding point of view; a writer saying how great his book is; writing is too flowery; graphic violence, profanity, and explicit sex; writer has an unpleasant tone and attitude; book’s pacing is off.

         Of course, I can’t possibly cover every possible thing publishers and editors hate, but those are the main ones I’ve found and many of the ones I hate.


Sources:
            Vivian Zabel, from general researching, experience, and writings
            Angela Hoy, the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, and the co-owner of BookLocker.com
            Amanda Hampson The Write Workshops
            Alex Field, “The Editor Behind the Curtain,” Writer’s Digest, March/April 2018
            Steven James and Pam Johnson, “The 7 Deadly Sins of Editors & Novelists,” Writer’s Digest,
                                               March/April 2018