Tuesday, September 27, 2011

'Tis the Season: Ghost Story Review #1

 Mary Downing Hahn must be the Queen of chapter book ghost stories. Granted she writes more than ghost stories, but it's the ghost stories I keep running across in used book stores. Wish I could squeeze out the suspense from my stories like Hahn does. What's worse for the inferiority complex is that Hahn makes it look easy.

Picked up Wait Till Helen Comes at the farmer's market. Hahn takes her talent for combining kid's family problems like lost secrets and general friction, then combines them with more tension in the form of a ghost story. Her books may be "simple" chapter books, but the story is scary enough to raise chills in an adult. [Guilty.]

In this 1986 book, Hahn tells the story a blended family -- the mother with two older kids who are expected to take care of their step-dad's younger daughter who hides a heavy secret. All the kids are unhappy about moving to a new home, but the youngest feels picked on until she finds a "friend", Helen, who wants to take her to a hidden land where she'll be happy forever. Molly, the older step-sister, soon finds herself trying to "save" a step-sister who doesn't want to be "saved". Molly finds herself caught getting blamed for causing trouble because every time she tries to help, her step-sister twists events so Molly appears in the wrong.

One of the wonders of a good chapter book is that it has all the elements of a larger novel, but there isn't as much internal dialog, complicated settings, or description to get in the way of the core. An adult reader can easily follow the basic craft structure of a novel in Helen: the introduction of characters, the complication that emphasizes the danger a character's in, and the working out of a realistic the solution. On this simplified framework, Hahn creates a scary story with a warm and happy ending, a must for younger readers.

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Yeah, writing for kids is deceptive -- looks easy but ain't. I can remember how once I thought I'd write kid's books so I could finish one book in one year. Two tween books even sit in my computer waiting for revision. See how that idea got blasted out of the water? WolfSinger Press, also,  sort of distracted me and pulled me back into my Half-Elven world.

If you're having problems plotting your novels, you might study writers like Mary Downing Hahn who have a closet full of awards. The books are relatively short and uncluttered, making the pace of the structure easy to see.

Yeah, when I revise, I go back to this elementary drawing board. I find I can learn a lot from reviewing what I thought I knew.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tweet, Tweet about Book Promoting

Tweet, tweet do the writers sing. Sometimes, they even warble useful songs, like Michael Hyatt posting an article on How to Use Twitter to gain the effective publicity for your new book ... or old one. The disgusting thing? I knew a lot of his tips. Doing them consistently and efficiently? Another can of worms. 

Tip I liked the best? Posting quotes from your book. [It's also harder to do for fiction than non-fiction.]

The tip I forget to do the most? -- Using hashtags on my tweets. This is important so more people than my followers seen my comments.

Yeah, I printed this blog off to study. So far, it's sitting on top of the pile of print-offs that need organizing ... a month's worth if you look at the post note about chiropractor info. My challenge: To figure out how to use the quote idea for fiction.

Bonus Marketing Tip: Fear Net has a discussion on why post short stories as ebooks, an interview by Brian James Freeman, the managing editor of Cemetery Dance. Read it. The comments by the authors interviewed should give you some effective ideas for promoting your work ... including just your blog.

Main points: Do you write short stories in your novel's world? You might get some added mileage out of them if you polish them and self-publish.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

To Market , to Market to Sell a Fine Book

Marketing has become an unavoidable basic fact of a writer's life. Even if you have a major traditional publisher, you'll end up doing freelance promotion for your books.  So, I sit in my corner and grumble about my own miniscule efforts at book marketing.

Fact #1, I hate marketing. Always have ... even when I wrote successful ad copy.  Fact #2, I'm not absolved from the Basic Fact. Fact #3, it means I must get the maximum effect from the amount of time I spend on doing. 

So, loved it when Tamela Buhrke [Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Daily] included a blog link to a Maria Zannini article about: Three Layers of Book Promotion, from Tony Eldridge's blog Marketing Tips. Don't know what her sales are for her book, but to me, Zannini seems to be doing quite well with her marketing. I've caught her all over the web promoting her book Apocalypse Rising.  [[How's that for teamwork?]]

On the other hand, I'm not doing particularly well at all. Oh, I've sold a few books, but they're buried deep in the kelp bed and may never see the light of the surf. Maybe regular readers of my blog and a few others might know I have a couple ebooks floating around out there ... if they think hard enough to bring the memory to their fore-brains. So, I wondered what I was missing. If I figured the thing out, I might just jump-start my sales. Study time again. 

Zannini divides marketing into passive, active, and lateral forms. Thought I'd would've covered  the passive forms -- the do it once and leave it alone stuff of marketing -- best. Some of her thoughts didn't pertain to me, but I have a book trailer ... which people even watch and which has more than tripled visits to my Half-Elven website. 

Negatives: I need to revise my website home page. Big time. What needs to be done? Well, add the Taking Vengeance Facebook link and redo my business cards so I have links to the two ebooks for sale. Plus other stuff like getting an email catcher, something I haven't figured out a "prize" yet. There're some other things but I forgot them at the moment.

On the proactive side, I've touched all the bases except for book signings which don't apply to ebooks. I've heard some rumblings about ways to sign ebooks, but the technology escapes my understanding. [Yeah, I'm a computer klutz and can't even get the "like button" to appear at the top of the Taking Vengeance Facebook page.]

Then, there's the lateral forms of promotion. I surprised myself when I learned I was covering this base -- the blogging, Facebook, Twitter, social forum things -- more thoroughly than the others. One thing I haven't done is write articles on a consistent basis. 

So, if anyone wants to reprint this as a guest blog, you are more than welcome. You have my permission as long as you give me links to where people can buy Taking Vengeance and Cavern Between Worlds. Or, you could to give reference to this blog since the buy info's in the sidebar. Guess I could add I'm available for interviews, but that might be dangerous. I tend to say what I think.

My thoughts on my mixed achievement? All these are nice given time constraints. At the moment I'm leaning more and more to limiting my social networking activities to the afternoons where they compete with errands, doctor's appointments, gym visits and whatever else shows up on the calendar, including coffee with friends.

Hey, I have a life and set priorities according to my energy levels. I write first and foremost. Marketing's going to get squeezed in at the end.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why Indie Writers Should Read Best Sellers

Reviewing another urban fantasy by a best-selling author: Jeaniene Frost's One Grave at a Time. Really loved the villains in this episode of her Cat Crawford vampire fantasies. One's the ultimate manipulating bureaucrat with a hidden agenda and the other is the malevolent ghost, Heinrich Kramer of Malleus Maleficarum infamy, who comes back every Halloween to torture and burn three women. Having two villains really adds tension to the story line.

Of course, Cat is out to save the three women Kramer has picked to sacrifice since in his opinion all women are witches. The way Kramer oozes through the simple attempts to contain him proves he isn't just any wimpy evil spirit. He's out to gather enough power by killing "witches" so he can materialize any time of year.  One of the twists in the book, one of the ghosts helping Cat catch Kramer was a witch killed by Kramer, who then killed Kramer by materializing and spooking his horse. 

The bureaucrat villain performs his role by complicating the attempts to contain Kramer while holding out promises of creating even greater complications in later books. Complications are the keystone in this book. All the secondary characters seem to add both negative and positive contributions to the plot. Not knowing when something will backfire is part of the fun of the read. In short, an evil spirit chaser's job is never done ... as proven by the latest book in the series is hitting the best seller lists. 

Frost's book is pretty straight forward urban fantasy. Okay, what do you expect with two vampires as the VP characters. I still prefer mixed genres, maybe because I tend to mix things up in my own writing.

Do you confine yourself to one genre? I've always thought of my Half-Elven as a basic high fantasy with, maybe, a touch of science in the form of genetic drift in a mixed population, but I recently got told I really don't know what I write. Marsha A. Moore at Fantasy Faction has a blog on fantasy sub-genres. Granted it's a matter of opinion, but what they say makes a lot of sense. Will I change my mind? Don't think so. After all, I'm the person who thinks that most mysteries are fantasies. 

Hey I found a rationale
for picking the books I review:
Don't know if you noticed, but a lot of the books I review end up on the "best seller lists". Part of this is because I pick up a lot of the books I read at the supermarket ... surprisingly from their best seller section. Hate to admit it, but I follow a bunch of writers who have thousands of other fans. But, there's another factor, the independent bookstore I frequent most is making it by selling more and more used books. Such is the nature of the book business at the moment. 

Yeah, I've got stuff loaded in my Kindle ... by I haven't read any of the books yet. *blush* [I least I think I know how to blush even if I don't do it much.]

To the point, The Passive Guy wrote another blog that should have sitting up with their eyes perked:  What You Can Learn from Best Seller Lists.  His parting comment: Write a spectacular book. 

For the Fun of It
In Case You Missed It:
The Passive Guy has been resurrecting Dorothy Parker. Latest quote: "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."  

Even Passive's Guy's readers are getting into the act. The link is to a search I did on his site for "Dorothy Parker".

Monday, September 12, 2011

Dense, Denser, ... Light Reading?

Urban fantasy is by definition mostly light reading even when dark. Jennifer Ashley's Pride Mates will give you a quick, enjoyable read, but that's not to say it's a simple, one-note book. It's just a quick, straight forward read in comparison to Landy's Skulduggery series [dense] and Martin's Ice and Fire crew [denser].

Kim Fraser, an up and coming lawyer, has battled to represent a career-making case to defend a despised Shifter, who she think is innocent of murdering his human girlfriend. Fraser seeks information about the secretive group, and her world turns upside down when she meets, Liam, the son of the Austin Shiftertown leader. Once the platform is set, Ashley layers on the complications.

I liked Ashley's take on Shifters. No cliched weres for her, but engineered playthings of the Fae, who abandoned them when they retreated from our world. The Shifters were in danger of extinction until they came out and agreed to wear collars to curb their violence. 

For example, the simplistic villains would be the prejudiced humans. Ashley builds her conflict on the aspirations of a subjugated group ... which don't necessarily have to be evil. Evil is as evil does.  Ashley presents disagreeable people without them being ultimate villains. In short, Pride Mates gives the reader a three dimensional world even if it's based on the girl meets boy- problems rear their ugly heads-boy wins girl formula.

This book is going on my trade pile, but I'll probably buy Ashley's next book if I notice it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Joining the 9-11 Chorus ...

Made a comment at another blog that has me joining the 9-11 chorus.  

While I sympathize with others' enormous grief, I'll always be eternally grateful -- [yeah, I realize I doubled up there] -- that my middle daughter turned down a job offer in the restaurant at the top of one of the towers. I'm not familiar enough with New York to remember the name of the restaurant, but I can imagine how comfortable the people in the Towers must have felt until the unthinkable happened. 

What makes me cringe is that I remember wondering how she would support herself working freelance with her harp.

The most telling comment I've read so far about the 9-11 attack: "We once again had a common enemy and it wasn't ourselves."

The enormous holes in the New York cityscape and people's lives, notwithstanding, I find it sad the American people haven't clung to that sentiment. Seems we have turned on ourselves and are trying to cannibalize our neighbors to further our own self-interests.  

Sadness at the violence ... and the stupidity.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Middles: When Do You Write Too Much?

Now that I'm not trying to social network all over the place, I'm getting more web-reading done. One of my first rewards was discovering Amy Rose Davis' blog, Fantasy Faction. Thanks to a Twitter link, I visited her comments about "Cramped Middles". No, not about eating too much. About making your plot complications meaningful. Davis asks whether your complications contribute or do you just throw a bunch of action against the wall and stop when you get to your word limit.

I tend to concentrate on my opening, primarily because I always back into them. I've sometimes added four chapters onto the beginning of a novel draft before I discover an action-filled, inciting incident to complicate my main character's life. Davis reminded me that middles are important too. Middles of novels not only have to be un-boring, but have to remain pertinent to the MC's problems. 

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Then, there's the question of why even bother with the beginning or middle or ending of a book. Like why do you write? For the glory of it? Excuse me while I snort.

Harlan Coben did a blog about "Want to be a Great Writer? Follow These Three Steps". The tone of the blog may be tongue-in-cheek, but he gives any writer a lot to think about, if they ever hope to publish a bunch of books like he has. His most important point, I think, is what would you do if you didn't write. I know I would have a lot less fun each day if I didn't visit Word each day.

Why do you write? Do you even know why? 

Progress Report:
Should say I'm still reading The Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin -- off and on. Have about 200 pages of the into the read and don't know if I'll even reach the middle of the book. Martin's opening chapters are a series of vignettes about various characters and situations. He displays his mastery of craft by pulling you from one disconnected scene to another until about 100 pages in you realize he's giving you insights into his cast of characters rather than one character's dilemma.

Having said that, I still don't know if I'm going to finish the book. Another book just pulled me away from the Martin tome. Worse, the book's about shifters rather than political intrigue. Does that I'm sick of politics and the election season hasn't even begun? [To be honest, the shifter book does have some pointed situations about crass authority figures.]

I wonder how many other writer's find Martin's craft skills uncomfortable. For me, I look at my "one-character-plots" out of the corner of my eye ... and wonder why I should even bother with marketing. After all, I write to amuse myself.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Extending the Life of Your Fantasy Worlds

Like the way Stephanie Laurens avoided series fatigue in the latest of her Cynster family books -- Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue. Yeah, the Cynster books are romances featuring aristocratic alpha males and head strong females. Yet, only a few of the books in the series fall off the edge of the story line into the cliche-bogs.

How does Lauens keep pumping interest into her series? She builds interesting characters within the romance parameters [cliches], and then, mines characters from previous books for new pairings. I started reading Laurens after I had heart surgery, and the story lines were just simple enough -- with an adequate mystery thrown in -- I could follow them. Yeah, her books tend to be multi-genre even though not marketed as such. 

Laurens' twist on the romance formula hooked me not only because of her admirable craft skills, but because she knows her constructed late-Regency world as well as Georgette Heyer did hers. I hate it when Regency writers throw in Victoriana or other anachronisms. If I want to read about a Victorian world, I'll read Anne Perry's two series and/or the classics.

Why read the Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue? I let several of Laurens recent books slip by without buying because I was focusing more on fantasy and YA. When I noticed this book, I saw the younger females were getting their chance at a Season, and I wondered what could go wrong. Well, Heather Cynster gets kidnapped because of a family vendetta, setting off the chase and romance. Funny, just realized Laurens romances often are coming of age [aka YA] stories.

I get a little tired of Laurens odes to "love", but I can always skip over them. I'm sure lots of readers grove on them.

Good News for Me:
Just read that Karen Marie Moning is writing a sixth Fever novel  and more. The new one will feature an interesting secondary character of her Fever novels, which feature MacKayla battling the evil fae, and a scion of her Highlander novels. 

It must be the anthropology dose I got in college, but I love revisiting worlds that I enjoyed in previous novels. I found the announcement blog interesting because Moning bristles about protecting her world's integrity against publisher norms.

You can bet you'll be getting a review of the book someday.

The Writing Life:
How much time do you spend building your worlds and characters?

For the last three-four months, I had been building background for a science fiction world. The idea has haunted me off and on for years, maybe over a decade. Gave up on it again, though I have pages of background in my files. Couldn't come up with any focused characters to take the place of the vague place-holders. Another way of saying this: I have plenty of societal conflicts but no personal ones.

Now I'm constructing a grimorie, of all things, to do a non-Half-Elven story based on a short story I wrote in my never-never-California world. I might as well get some use out of the thousands the old man spent building his library. Besides, I don't have to worry about due dates and library fines.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

When is Enough, Enough?

Scrounging for  Books Reviews:
To market, to market to sell a fine story or two. Unfortunately, selling a story to a publisher isn't the end of a writer's efforts. Whether you self-publish or are publisher-published, you still end up having to create some buzz about your book. One of the best ways of creating buzz is having your book reviewed ... especially if your social networking platform is on the small side -- like mine.

Slow me took a while to learn enough to implement the book reviewing process, and I thought I'd share what I learned. If you got a publisher who's free with the ARCs [advanced reading copies] and a marketing department, your efforts will be supplemental. If you are the sole marketeer, like me for Taking Vengeance, you're going to end up creating your own buzz.

One of the best ways to create book-buzz is to have others give your work four and five star reviews. To find book reviewers, you can Google-search book bloggers, and you can drag Twitter, Goodreads, and other networking sites to find people who accept requests for reviews. These places will also help you jump beyond your immediate social network into larger circles.

For me, the simpler way was to look for lists of people who review e-books. Then I took several weeks sending review requests to likely looking reviewers/book bloggers. This took time because each reviewer has their specific requirements as to the type of books they review.  I then checked out their audience and a few of their reviews.  All told, I sent out about 60 requests. Ten/eleven reviewers have emailed back to say I'm in their queue to be read/reviewed sometime between now and Christmas.

What was my magic procedure? There weren't none. I gave the details of the book I was requesting a review for [title, genre, number of words], gave an elevator-type pitch for the book, and explained I could send a PDF or text file if they were interested. Of course, some reviewers hated PDF files, so I didn't send a request to them. The reviewers I liked best were the ones who had a request form on their site.

Who were the best lists? I think Simon Royle's list was the best, mostly because he updates the list. Step-by-step Self-publishing has a good list too, mostly of people who will review indie works in several genres. Another useful list: Lauri J. Owen and Pippa Jay offer a Comprehensive List of Book Reviewers at Owen's blog "Embers". There are others of course. Google indie book reviewers and who knows who'll show up in the links.

How many contacts are enough? Only you can decide based on the time available and any writing deadlines you might have.

One word of caution. You'll find duplicates on the above lists so you need to keep track of who you email your requests to.       

[In case you're wondering, the buzz about Taking Vengeance is more like air fizzling out of a flattening tire. I'll report if sales increase once reviews start appearing. Of course, the ebook may get universally panned. I'll tell you that too. So far, one four star review is out by a guy who liked my different take on elves.]

This Week's Fantasy Review:
Finished three more Skulduggery Pleasant books, one after another and didn't get sick of them. The Skulduggery books are written by award winning, Irish author, Derek Landy. While I wasn't as happy with Mortal Coil as I was with the others, the book stood head and shoulders above most books I read. I'll nit-pick that Landy is letting the character development of his villains slide. All too often they appear, do their thing, and go away to come back and fight another day -- twirling their mustaches as they go.

Why do the books hold up after reading six of them? The same mordant sense of humor and  snidely named characters doing dastardly things, some of them even unexpected, keep the reader entertained. Of course, the various villains all want to conquer the world. The old and new villains try their best, but Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain are there to get beaten up while they save the day. The duo may be powerful magicians, but they get clobbered enough to let the reader know that saving the world is dangerous business.

Valkyrie's still making the wrong decisions but now is often getting out of the jams without being rescued by Skulduggery and her other friends, as she was often in the early books when she was younger. Mortal Coil has some minor shifts in allegiances which may cause some greater emotional conflict in the future than was previously contained in the story line. 

The next book in the series, Death Bringer, came out September, 1. Cheapo here is going to see if New Yorkie kids will buy it and send it on.

One of the things I like best about the series is its delicious darkness. The books have been translated into Spanish and German, but the last three don't seem to be published in an American edition. I wonder if the Mrs. Grundies got to the sales reps?


PS:
I've joined the e-reader revolution and am now the owner of a Kindle. It's a Kindle because it was given to me and the price was right. 

First thing I loaded? One of my critique partner's story published by TRW Press, Just Desserts. It's a funny little story well worth a buck to watch some kids outsmart the devil ... who also wants to take over the world. [You'd think the bad guys would have better things to do with their time.] Whatever, look up Steven A. Benjamin and preview the story on Amazon. A novel of his is a finalist at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's Conference.

PPS:
Sorry to be late with the blog this week, 
but had too many doctor appointments between the old man and me.