Sunday, September 28, 2014

Danging the Hook

By: Stephanie Burkhart 

You often hear: "A writer has to hook a reader quickly." I agree, yet creating a hook is not an easy thing to develop, especially for newer writers.

Consider the following: In today's world, there's an expectation of instant gratification. The average length of a commercial is 30 seconds. That's all a product has to "hook" you – 30 seconds.

So what's a hook in regards to a writer? A short, pithy sentence intended to make readers interested in your story.

Keep this in mind: When a reader is in a bookstore (or even browsing online) they consider the following when buying a book: #1 They notice the cover. #2 They read the book blurb. #3 They read the first sentence. If they like the experience, they're hooked. Total time? Between 30-60 seconds. Instant gratification.

Is your first sentence in your novel a hook?

Remember, a hook is a short, pithy sentence intended to make readers interested in your story, so it might very well be the first sentence. It could be the "pitch" sentence you tell others when they ask about your writing.

Remember: Hooks should be short, witty, and catchy.

What can you/should consider?

Make the reader scared or excited. (Blood soaked my shirt.)

Use a contradiction. (The world is going to hell around me, but I feel fine.)

Use an interesting description. (The obsidian forest bustled with life.)

Hooks should:

Grab a reader's attention.
Make readers hungry for more.
Make a great first impression.
Use strong, active verbs.
Imply or allude to the main conflict.
Consider the audience.


Can Sofia's faith give Darrin his heart back?

Travel with Caterpillar through the meadow learning to share and care about others.

Jocelyn Dunkirk plopped down in a chair and fussed with the ring on her finger.

Zoltan jerked the steering wheel too late.

Question: How do you hook readers? Do you have any tips you'd like to share? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Author Bio: Stephanie Burkhart is a 911 dispatcher for LAPD. Raised in New Hampshire, she spent 11 years in the US. Army before settling in California. She loves coffee, adores chocolate, and is a den leader for her son's Cub Scout's den. "The Giving Meadow" and "First Flag of New Hampshire" are published with 4RV Publishing.







Thursday, September 11, 2014

Speed Up Your Writing

Do not Pass Go, Do not Collect $100

by Suzanne Cordatos

What is the fastest way from Point A to Point C? Generally speaking, a straight line through Point B does the job. Like pawns in a board game, characters move from one point to another around the story—but their writers should be warned. Mobilizing a main character from the breakfast table to school to a post-game pep rally should not, literally, take all day.

I’m a wordy writer. My first drafts are complicated affairs with blow-by-blow action determining what each limb is up to (“with one hand, the protagonist did x but with the other, he did y!) and so on. Boring! It is not necessary (or desirable) to report every turn of the doorknob between Point A and Point C (unless, of course, the knob-turning is a vital part of the suspense you are creating). 

Is it part of the game? If not, skip it. A bored reader is not a page-turning reader. A bored reader is not a book-buying reader. The writer holds the cards. In the game of Monopoly, for example, Chance cards direct players to skip entire sections. Go to Jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $100. Translation for writers? Imply action.

Scene Breaks
A few extra lines of white space separate one scene from a new one, marking the passage of time, a change of location, mood, end of thought, and a new beginning of some sort. Anyone who has been to school knows that a locker scene or cafeteria scene implies a school day. No need to talk about Period 3. It gives readers a rest for the eyes, permission granted to put the book down for a snack—or better, a chance to anticipate what might happen next.

Section breaks
Three asterisks (or other simple art) centered above the break indicates a stronger change than time, mood or location. A section break is more definite and is often used to mark a different character’s point of view. It keeps the momentum of a chapter going but lets the reader see it from another angle. Next time you read a book that moves along at a good clip, notice scene and section breaks. Chances are excellent the writer is using them to great effect.

Practice “Writing down the page” 
Brainstorm your protagonist’s next move in a quick list is another technique to speed things up. Without bothering to write out complete sentences or scenes, you'll see where the ideas take you. Quickly list the steps of a scene down a page. Bogged down with details? Determine which are necessary to the plot, which can be implied. Skip some, imply some, move it along. Now, you're ready to write out your game-changing sentences.

Breakfast table to School to Pep Rally  Writing down the page lists prove that my character's day has too many details that prevent the reader from getting to the exciting pep rally. Forget Mom’s complete breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast with butter and jam and a tall glass of milk if it not key to the story. Instead, the character throws on his backpack, grabs a muffin and Mom’s hug and uses the bus ride to munch the muffin while mulling over his hopes—and fears—for the pep rally. Next?
<<Scene Break>> Something happens at his locker during the school day that foreshadows his hopes getting brighter—or fears getting stronger.
<<Section Break>> From another friend or foe’s point of view, we get another glimpse of the plans.

The reader is anticipating what will happen at the pep rally in the next chapter!

Have you found it easy to imply action and move it along with scene/section breaks? How long are your chapters? Are you consistently using a few scene breaks per chapter or is it more random? I'd love to hear how you use these techniques in your writing.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Book Marketing - Yesterday and Today (online marketing strategies to use in 2014)

By Karen Cioffi

“The Times They Are A-Changin.’”

Bob Dylan’s title to his 1964 album is still right on the mark in regard to today’s book marketing arena. In fact, we might say the times are still a-changin,’ since we’ve seen lots of changes already and there are many more to come.

The major change that's unfolded has been a turn toward online marketing as being an absolute essential part of any marketing strategy. Offline strategies that worked yesterday don’t quite cut it today or we might say they’re not as effective. Let’s take a look at a few.

Five old book marketing strategies that don’t pull the weight they once did:

•    Book signings
•    Offline book tours
•    Traditional paid book review sources, such as Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly
•    Print advertising
•    Broadly targeted and impersonal press releases
•    Impersonal media kits

This is not to say these strategies can’t bring some visibility and value, but they are certainly not as powerful as they once were. Taking the marketing lead are savvier, reader friendly, personalized, and search engine optimized strategies. Let’s look at a few of those.

Eight newer and more effective book marketing strategies:

•    Optimized author websites and blogs
•    Content marketing
•    Social media and networking
•    Virtual book tours (online)
•    Online reviews from high ranking review sites
•    Free excerpts, other useful freebies, e-galleys
•    Personalized media kits
•    Email marketing (e-newsletters)

If you look closely, what do you notice? What are some of the main elements of the newer more effective strategies?

Four prevalent elements of the newer book marketing strategies:

The very first element is the cost – there really isn’t any. While you may incur some expenses, they are usually reasonable and affordable. And, much of what needs to be done can be done for free.

You can also improve your skills free of charge. Take free courses in your niche. Attend free online conferences. Watch free webinars or videos. Do what it takes to help you hone your craft or build your marketing skills.

Having low or no-cost strategies within reach is great for indie authors and those with small publishers.

The second element is having an online presence or author online platform and generating ongoing visibility. The foundation of that platform and visibility is a website. You CANNOT have an effective online presence without a website.

Other elements of a platform include content marketing, social networking, and email marketing.

The third element is giving people what they want, whether it’s information, excerpts of your book, special offers, or other, it’s about ‘giving.’

The fourth element is connecting, being sociable, and personalization. Moving forward, having a relationship with people, especially your readers, will probably be the most important element in effective book marketing.

There is of course more involved in creating and maintaining a successful book marketing strategy, but these four elements are in the forefront of what you should be doing.

What strategies are you using in 2014?

Karen Cioffi is an Online Platform and Website Optimization Instrutor. Find out more at: Build an Online Platform That Works.

P.S. Get more visibility-generating writing and marketing tips sent right to your inbox - at The Writing World.