Who are we writing for?

who-are-we-writing-for-Silk’s Post #158 — The 5Writers are rolling again. Fingers flying over the keyboards. Chunks of time swiped from Normal Life to commune in solitary confinement with the muse. Free moments in between Other Important Things given over to imagining snips of dialogue or the delicate placement of plot points or the exact shade of a protagonist’s eyes.

Our own eyes scan public places for characters and their stories: travelers fidgeting tensely with their passports in the airport; mid-summer sidewalk cafe patrons sitting alone together with their iPhones; boaters walking the docks with burnt noses and three leashed dogs. Maybe we’ll see someone to add colour, or maybe we’ll find the inspiration for a whole new subplot.

Our families and friends may notice our blank stares from time to time, moments when we’re checked out of reality and are looking inward to a story twist no one else can see. Yet.

The miracle is that even one of us escaped from our writing desert, where we’ve been mostly trudging through a lengthy dry spell punctuated by the occasional sip of creativity at rare oases. Attempted re-starts at a sustained and serious writing life over the past year or so have been mostly mirages.

I can’t overemphasize how difficult this kind of drought is to overcome, even for professional, previously published writers. Which we are not.

So the fact that we have managed to re-boot our 5Writers critique schedule and our individual writing efforts as a group is pretty miraculous. Some will achieve momentum more quickly than others, that’s natural. Just as some may hit another hurdle to overcome, while others may find a clear path ahead.

But the statistics tell us that many, many more writers start a book than finish a book, and we’re determined to buck that trend. (I’d love to quote some stats here, but since I’m writing this offline while floating on a boat in a small bay in the San Juan Islands with sketchy cell service and zero wifi precludes it. However, I’ve gawked at the numbers before, and I know there is a shocking, planet-sized gulf between the large number of writers who give up and the smaller number of writers who follow through to “the end”. And an equally gigantic gap between the number of finished books and the number of books that actually get published.)

One of the key differences between giving up and following through may be the answer to the perennial question a writer must eventually answer: who are you writing for?

I just read a stinging observation in a favourite novel, in which a jaded inspector describes people at a demonstration in Moscow as “… a middle-aged intellectual crowd. Publishers who abandoned their writers, writers who wrote for the drawer … romantics who lamented a rendezvous with history that never took place.”

I think I can say with confidence that none of the 5Writers are writing for the drawer, at least not on purpose.

Rather, at the opposite end of the wide spectrum of possible goals for writers, our critique group actually began under a different banner: The Future Bestsellers Group. A moonshot goal.

Given our trials, our achievements, our learning, our disappointments, our experience, our growth, and now our resurrection, I think the 5Writers have a better handle on who we are really writing for – and for each of us, individually, that falls somewhere between the drawer and the bestseller lists.

Here, I speak for myself. I’ve come to embrace the idea that I write, first, for myself, and second for the kind of people I like to talk to.

I write for people who are interesting and interested, who have ideas and like to discuss them, who have empathetic hearts and curious minds. I write for people who love a puzzle, a mystery, a challenge, who seek truth whether or not they expect to find it in any absolute, unchanging form. People with open minds. Smart people. People who know they don’t have all the answers, and that no one else does either. People who care about others. People who cherish their values. People who feel deeply. People with a sense of humour. People who love words. People who love story. People I could stay up all night conversing with, perhaps over a few bottles of wine. And, of course, the most important item on their resumes: people who love to read.

When I’m feeling high and hopeful about my writing (and, thus about my chances of getting published), I think of this group of people as a crowd big enough to support a bestseller. When I’m in a trough of writing angst, sure that no one outside my 5Writers group will ever read my manuscript, I try to think of something else I’d rather do with my creativity, my mind, my words, and I remember that I write because it’s what I love to do most. I write for the experience, not the drawer.

But here’s some good news!

Ever since the whole Brexit tantrum, when the the Brits collectively decided to pull up the drawbridge and pretend globalization has not already occurred, I’ve been thinking about the global marketplace for writers.

This is especially interesting from the perspective of the sentimental vestige of Rule Brittania called The Commonwealth (where I now live, in Canada), and also that other former British colony where I was born (the US). The irony of Brexit is that it’s a reminder of the global power England once wielded.

The legacy of English dominance in the colonial era is still incredibly significant — in fact, it’s such a big a part of our global landscape that I think people don’t even notice it anymore, like the fact that the sky is blue.

That legacy is the English language.

Happily for us, it’s the language we write in — which is the most widely spoken language in the world by far. Wikipedia tells me there are 2,400 million English speakers in the world today. The next closest language is Mandarin Chinese at 1,090 million. Now, even though English has under 400 million native speakers, compared to about 950 million for Mandarin, it has become dominant as the world’s second language of choice. This virtually assures its continued spread in today’s era of globalization – which will continue, Brexit notwithstanding.

In fact, the new prime mover of world order – namely business/commerce – which has enthusiastically adapted to globalism even as political, cultural and religious institutions have resisted it, has adoped English as its own Esperanto.

I therefore dare to declare that English-speaking writers are in one of the most advantageous positions in the world today to practice our profession in a growing, rather than shrinking, marketplace.

Yes, worthy books get translated and can succeed (sometimes spectacularly) in places where people don’t normally read the language they were originally written in. But doesn’t it make sense that the more English speakers (and readers) there are in the world, the better the market odds get for writers of books in English?

There — doesn’t that make you feel good? And hopeful? And enthusiastic about pounding out some wordage today?

Dare to open that vein

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Credit: Soulsonpage

Helga’s Post # 123:    Whenever I am afflicted with writers’ block (a frequent occurrence), I am reminded of a quote that uses a chilling metaphor to describe the difficult process of composition: The famous quote, one that most writers are familiar with, is this:

‘There’s nothing to writing. Just open a vein and bleed.’

I would think that a good many wannabe writers would rush for the razor without hesitation if taken literally, if that were all it takes to write a good book.

Replacing the metaphor with more realistic tools, what does it mean? At the danger of over-simplifying the quote’s meaning, the more life experience a writer has, the better the chance he/she will write a great book, perhaps even a bestseller (assuming a certain level of writing skills). But not just ‘experience’. Anything is an experience, lining up at the super market, taking the dog out, whatever. Life challenges might be more accurate. And the steeper the challenges, the deeper the valleys that life has carved out for you, the more likely you will be able to ‘open a vein and bleed’. Not always, but there’s a good chance that writers who took it on the chin for much or part of their life will write stories that resonate, stories that readers will remember. Not only remember, but they’ll be chewing their fingernails waiting for your next book to appear in their favorite bookstore.

Take these examples:

One writer leads a straightforward, uncomplicated life. He has travelled widely. He has a decent job but is bored because it doesn’t really challenge him. There are no conflicts in his daily routine or only minor ones, no complicated relationships. He has never had to worry about money and he has never been betrayed, simply because he doesn’t feel close enough to anyone that it would matter. Never felt much passion for anything, never felt the agony or ecstasy over falling in love or being abandoned or watching a loved one die. He thinks he is happy by the sheer absence of calamities in his life, but he has no way of measuring it. Such a person could become a reasonably good travel writer or write a suspense story based on a simple plot and lots of action rather than interesting, three-dimensional characters. But he would be hard pressed to ‘open a vein and bleed’ in his writing.

Another writer lives a life full of contradictions. She has glimpsed heaven and hell in equal measure (or better yet, has lived through more hell than heaven). She has suffered difficult relationships, has experienced delirious happiness when falling in love, and felt the heart-wrenching agony of losses when she was abandoned or lost a loved one to illness. She has experienced financial calamities as well as betrayals. She has a checkered past that would make Lady Chatterly blush and therefore hasn’t shared it with anyone, even her closest friends. But she has no regrets. Everything she does, she does with passion, or she won’t do it at all. She has learned from mistakes, of which there were many. Instead of wallowing in misery and turning bitter she has chalked them up as necessary training ground to become stronger and more independent. She leads a roller coaster life without ever a boring moment.

Who has more to give to their readers? Who is willing to open a vein and bleed profusely, making it part of their story?

All this is self-evident. So, what’s the point?

For one, it’s a great tool for readers to choose quality books. Books that not only entertain while we are reading them, but that stay with us long after we have read ‘The End’. Sometimes years after we’ve read them. Books that have the potential to change us, that’s how deeply they touch us. Stories that we can’t stop thinking about, because their characters are so real we feel we have met them in person. Relationships between them have depths of emotions we may never have known exist, let alone experienced. Or else we have experienced something similar to the story and can relate to the author’s version, remembering and identifying with our own past. With our own bleeding vein.

When choosing your next book to read, take a look at the author’s bio. Does he/she know about their subject matter from their own life experience? We are all familiar with Hemingway’s illustrious life and how he managed to mirror that in his writing. Or, take Sean Slater, a bestselling author and personal friend (in fact he was the original founder of our writers’ group). A police officer in real life, his books are brimming with events that ring true because many of them are. He has lived them and he effectively weaves  them into his stories.  Another example is one of my pet authors, John LeCarre. He has lived the life of a spy, so he knows how to write about it with authority and authenticity. It helps that he is a man of great intelligence, passion and awesome writing talent. He is well in his eighties now but you wouldn’t know it from the way he writes those wonderful love stories that are always an important part of his books.

I think these are pretty good criteria for selecting your next good book. (Depending of course on what kind of reader you are). Better yet, why not write one? If you are reading this blog it’s likely that you too have chalked up a lot of interesting life experience that can be mined for your next writing project. And if you are not in a hurry to get published so you can pay your next months’ rent, you will add more material to your arsenal for later use. Meanwhile, live those passions that we so love to read about, regardless of your age, because we are never really too old for that.

Oscar Wilde got it right when he said, ‘To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.’

 

Banish the beast

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Helga’s Post #122 —  The start of a new year is upon us, the symbolic signal to push the reset button. It’s an opportunity to let go of last year’s failures and disappointments and to embark on new beginnings. As Joe put it so succinctly in his recent post, whatever happened last year, simply ‘fuggetaboudit’.

New beginnings are always good. Imagine if we wouldn’t be able to have them. It would feel like being in a swamp with your feet stuck in mud, unable to move forward or back. Just stuck in untold misery and boredom. Even those who lead a satisfying life or believe they have a happy life, would do well to push that reset button. Just like nature, we all need renewal of some kind to keep us engaged in life and to experience it to its fullest potential.

I too have pushed that reset button on a number of levels. Getting used to single life in all its implications, for one. On a practical level it meant to acquire skills I never had, and to learn them in a hurry. Using tools that I never held in my hand before, learning about the mechanics of running a house, and chasing elusive plumbers, electricians, and my all time favorite, cable technicians. I am not complaining (too much) though. In fact, I get satisfaction from becoming self-sufficient and realizing, hey, I can do this too, on my own.

A new writing project is also part of the reset button. It started last year, but I decided to abandon it after the first three chapters. The characters were one-dimensional. They were in their mid-thirties, which is the age of a high percentage of characters in commercial fiction. I decided to start something different. More mature characters. That too is a reset button. I spoke to the local librarian recently, asking about the demographics of patrons. Not surprisingly, it’s people over sixty and up. And what kind of books do you think they most likely want to read about?

Romance. Yes, romance, was the overwhelming answer. Not necessarily strictly books in the romance genre, but any book that has romance as an important component. It can even be a mystery, or a suspense novel, no matter. To my mind come John LeCarre’s books. Inevitably, his novels have a beautiful, intense love story embedded in his hard-hitting espionage theme.

This caused me to reconsider my choice of demographics for the main characters in my work in progress. No thirty-somethings this time. Aside from the cookie-cutter cliché, at that age people haven’t yet acquired the hard life experience that shape and define more mature characters.

Have I made the right choice? I will know as I continue writing the story. I realize it’s risky, but to quote George Burns, I’d rather be a failure at something I enjoy, than a success at something I hate.

With that in mind, I will keep my post short so I can get back to real writing.

I wish you all a successful reset for the year ahead. Above all, don’t forget to live. Dance as if no one’s watching; sing as if no one’s listening, and live every day as if it were your last. And write as if no one will ever read your work.

Banish the beast, your internal editor. That’s when we can truly write with abandon.

The mind’s eye

imagination

Silk’s Post #148 — Imagination is an amazing thing – you might even say a super power. It lets you, as a reader, envision in your mind places you’ve never seen, and stimulates strong emotions about people you’ve never met – even people who never were. If an author has done a good job, your imagination fills in the sights, the sounds, the smells and the whole atmosphere of a written scene and brings it to life in your mind’s eye.

That’s the alchemy of written (or oral) storytelling. It’s an ethereal collaboration of writer and reader that allows plot, setting and characters to become real and active and compelling, without being literally dramatized on stage or screen.

Achieving this dynamic balance between writer and reader gives rise to a lot of literary “rules” that warn writers not to break the spell by putting their foot into the proverbial bucket.

Avoid the overt presence of “author voice” is one of those – an admonition that sounds slightly absurd the first time the budding writer encounters it. In whose voice should a writer write, if not her own?

But what it really means is: don’t tell the reader what to think, how to feel, where to go. Make him an active collaborator by letting the story play out in his own mind’s eye. Let him conjure his own picture of your characters, imagine and share their emotions, envision the experience of being inside the plot.

Such a delicate balance, this suspension of disbelief. So many ways to unintentionally burst the bubble. Too much backstory or narrative, or too little. Too many details, or not enough. Wooden or clichéd characters. Laboured dialogue. Plot twists that don’t surprise, or that come out of the blue. Cascades of adjectives and adverbs that leave nothing to the imagination. Too much telling and not enough showing.

We all know what it feels like to get “lost” in a book, to compulsively turn the pages, to feel like we’re there. That’s when the magic is working: when the story world in our mind’s eye is almost more alive than the real world – not because we’re inside it, but because it’s inside us.

It’s where the imagination of the writer and the imagination of the reader invisibly merge.

Achieving this storytelling “state of grace” with words alone is truly a feat. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a moving picture is worth a fortune. But a book of words has neither. It calls on a reader to exercise imagination, to become immersed in a story, to be an active participant, in a unique way. (Perhaps that’s why the often heralded demise of books and reading simply hasn’t materialized and, I believe, never will – despite movies, and TV, and now the internet.)

I think the great storytellers are the ones who write with an innate awareness that the job of their words is to evoke more than explain. To lead the reader into the story, and inspire his imagination. To stimulate the reader to bring those words to life, to dramatize them – in pictures, and shades of colour, and motion, and emotion – all in his mind’s eye.

Would it change your approach to writing if you shifted your point of view to see the storytelling process as a creative collaboration between the author and the reader?

Hmmm. Just imagine.


5/5/5 challenge scorecard for the week:

We’re deep into the holiday season now, and that’s challenge enough. Decorating, celebrating, shopping, wrapping, cooking, eating, drinking, visiting with friends and family. My post on imagination was a break from that non-stop holiday-making, a couple of hours spent at least thinking about writing, if not actually writing.

New pages written:  None

Word count:  Still 9,320

Rewrites:  Nope

Blog posts written:  One

Other accomplishments:  Fitting a turkey, a ham and about four bags of holiday groceries into my fridge.

Best new things:  Binge watching The Blacklist. Choosing a year’s worth of great reads for 2016 with my stellar book club. Receiving the gift of Helga’s treasured recipe for Dresden Christmas Stollen.

Holiday thoughts:  How to say “Peace on Earth” without it sounding as automatic and meaningless as “Have a Nice Day”? If we could all keep the spirit and grace of this holiday season in our hearts throughout the year, that would be a great start.

My warmest holiday wishes to all the readers of our blog and my wonderful writing friends.

Keep your promise to your readers

Helga’s Post # 106: During our recent downsizing from house to condo I was forced to part with a multitude of boxes containing heaps of notes and articles about writing. I lovingly and dutifully collected this treasure trove over years at writing workshops and conferences. I had even hoarded term papers from writing classes of my university years.

A painful process, judging what to keep and what to shred. Most of it went to the shredder. I did not want some dumpster diver getting his hands on my early manuscripts, basic though as they were.

I still recall some of my creative writing classes at Simon Fraser University, and the first year I attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Like a dry sponge I absorbed every word of dispensed advice! I made copious notes of everything my professors and workshop leaders offered. More importantly, I believed every word from my classes and conference workshops. Passionately.

Then came the second year of the Surrey International Writers’ conference, and the third, and more after that. They turned out to be still interesting, but much of the information was by now repetitive, and quite a lot of it contradictory. The most obvious that most of us are familiar with: Always outline. You can’t ever finish a novel without. Never outline. It will stifle your writing. Each camp has its devoted disciples.

Gradually, I sifted through all the learning from my early writing years and applied what sounded most practical for my style. Not only ‘applied’, but relied on it. But here’s the rub: I got increasingly stuck trying to squeeze the multitude of ‘rules’ into my writing. I tried to use them all. I spent more time trying to write to the ‘rules’ than letting my story flow. After a while I felt like getting buried in an avalanche.

Until I realized that it wouldn’t work for me. Time to change tactics. To find a better way.

I am not suggesting that new writers should disregard writing rules. Every writer needs some rules. But the key is to be selective. Just as some writers absolutely have to outline, it would stifle the writing process for others. We need to apply the rules that suit our individual style and preference. Cherry-picking, rather than one-size-fits-all.

Nonetheless, some cardinal rules apply that have stood the test of all writing styles. Take those related to starting your story. Mountains of books have been written about the pivotal ‘First Chapter’. If it doesn’t start right, nobody will read your novel. Those rules are ironclad. Ignore them at your peril.

Some of the cardinal rules that have been most useful for me are also the most basic. They continue to serve me well. Here they are, in a nutshell:

Start your story with an action scene. That applies to all genres from romance novels to thrillers. Start with the ‘real’ tension and conflict. Don’t start with the main characters reflecting on life, thinking about their current or past situation, or contemplating doing something.

First chapters are a bit like speed dating. A reader knows within a few minutes if they will be interested enough in your story to continue. They might hold a really good book in their hands, but your story has to grab them or they’ll drop it and never buy another book you wrote.

Avoid backstory on your first pages at the fear of torture. Don’t spoon feed your reader with detailed explanation. Let them guess – less is more. Use dialogue instead of narrative. And by all means, use conflict. Ideally the main conflict of your story should be clear at the end of the chapter.

In my early attempts at writing I made the mistake of introducing my protagonist in a way to ‘force’ my readers to like him/her. I did this either by ‘telling’ a heroic quality early on, or by giving her/him some kind of flaw, counting on the reader’s empathy. Reading through my first manuscripts I notice how hard I tried to have my readers ‘like’ my main character in the first few pages with all kinds of backstory, when instead, I should have focused on an action scene to keep my readers turning those crucial first pages.

Consider this: Your first chapter is a promise to the reader. It tells them what kind of story they can expect to get. Without going into details, or worse, backstory, the reader should know the main conflict of the book and have some sense of the main character’s personality.

headhunters

Headhunters: How did we get from this…

Keeping the promise to your reader is of utmost importance. We can all think of a book or movie that broke that promise, and we feel cheated at having wasted our time. For example, I watched ‘Headhunters’ on Netflix the other day, a movie based on Jo Nesbo’s book by the same name.

I was intrigued the way it started: Stylish Scandinavian setting and actors, beautiful house and art exhibits, great theme (high-end art thefts to support a lavish lifestyle), all the right things. Our protagonist gets in trouble, finds his wife cheating him, etc. But then the theme gets derailed and confused.

.... to this ?

…. to this ?

Suddenly I find myself watching a horror movie, with some disgusting scenes including when he has to hide inside the dump hole of an outhouse. All the way, deep down, and then we are forced to watch him emerge in glorious detail. And on it goes for most of the film. So where’s the theme? Suddenly the lavish lifestyle is gone, and all we get is blood and disgusting other stuff. To me, this is a good example of a broken promise. If the film had started differently, fine, I knew what to expect. But that way I felt kind of cheated. As an aside, book reviews praise this standalone work by Nesbo. I assume the filmmakers used his theme as a platform for the gory version.

After all the lectures and conferences I’ve attended over the years, the first and most useful rule then, is this: If you’re writing a murder mystery, don’t start your first chapter like chick-lit. Or vice versa. Set the tone and stick to it.

Once you got your first chapter down and you haven’t lost your reader, things will get easier. And more fun.

(Until you get to the sagging middle)

The ever changing publishing world: Kindle Unlimited is another addition

Karalee’s Post #89

Now who would have thought that books could be bought on a monthly subscription? Unlimited eBooks for $9.99/month? eBooks on Kindle have gone the way of Netflix!

Amazon recently released Kindle Unlimited for $9.99 per month.

Now my first thoughts were gloomy. How can authors possibly make a living?

Then they switched to picturing Joe stuffing a whole apple in his mouth like he wondered about in one of his last posts on self-publishing. (Who knows why but this is how my mind works sometimes.) I’ve been chuckling over this image for the last couple of weeks because in my early days of dating my husband we counted how many grapes he could put in his mouth at once. Joe’s apple is a happy trigger. (Note to writers that this is a good trick to use.)

And it’s those memorable things that stick. Like certain scenes in books we’ve read, particular characters, or places that authors have taken us to vicariously. Or a new way of becoming published and read as authors.

 

quote winston churchill

 

Then I came back to reality.

CHANGE IS HAPPENING.

Period.

And it isn’t subtle.

 

Sometimes I feel like this quote by Churchill, that me as a writer am at the end of the pile driver with no choice but to embrace these changes. But then it depends on how you look at the pile driver (or Joe’s mouth full of apple.)

If you want to read a great post on Kindle’s eBook subscription have a look at what David Gaughran wrote regarding Kindle Unlimited. Below I’ve quoted a couple of his paragraphs from his post that I find particularly interesting:

Kindle Unlimited:

The main stumbling block for self-publishers is that participation in Kindle Unlimited is restricted to titles enrolled in KDP Select – Amazon’s program which offers various additional marketing tools in exchange for exclusivity. Author compensation will be similar to borrows under the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library – a percentage of money from a fixed pool. The only real twist is that payment will be triggered when 10% of downloaded books have been read.’

 

How popular will Kindle Unlimited be?

Oyster and Scribd have a headstart, but Amazon has proven it can eat up that ground in no time. While the competition has more big books from big names, thanks to its deals with major publishers, Amazon has two key advantages (aside from the obvious). To my knowledge, Kindle Unlimited is the only subscription service that will work on the tens of millions of e-ink Kindles that are in circulation – the others are app based. And it’s also the only major subscription service combining e-books and audiobooks. The audio market is growing faster than the e-book market at the moment, and Amazon clearly feels that it’s only getting started. It is pushing the audiobook angle in all the marketing and PR, so it views that as a big selling point to readers.

Not long ago I used to think that eBooks would never take off. Now I believe they are here to stay and for many good reasons:

  1. Many “old” people like my parent’s generation are taking to the electronic readers because they can increase the font size
  2. Airlines putting a weight restriction on luggage means that downloading books are a great option
  3. If you run out of books on holiday or anytime, it is very easy to download ebooks 24/7
  4. I realized that when my husband and I started downloading books we wouldn’t share our iPads to read each other’s books we recommended, so we downloaded the same book on our own iPad. Bonus to authors!
  5. So maybe this subscription method of unlimited downloads per month will also open an avenue for readers to try new authors. The main problem I foresee is the time limit to read lots of books every month. (Netflix and family time do come into the equation too!)

eBooks are a reality. They are here to stay and truth be told, I hear mostly positive feedback from reader friends on how easy it is to access books they want. (Now finding new authors is another issue I won’t tackle at this time.) So, I’m taking these changes as the way the world is and embracing them and accepting that change is happening not only quickly, but it will be to the benefit of authors with good stories to tell.

roads to follow

 

We all have our own road to follow, but I’m getting the feeling that the pile driver that Churchill refers to above is actually building the foundation for the new way of doing business as authors.

What path are you going to follow?

Happy writing!

Seven ways for writers to use Twitter

Karalee’s Post #71 — I met with my fellow 5Writer Joe this week. He asked me to share what I knew about using Twitter. It’s not that I know a lot, rather my husband David Greer is a computer geek that has embraced social media of all kinds since, well, forever. He’s an early adopter and for some reason Joe feels that since I live with a geek, some of the geekiness will rub onto me.

It has in some ways and I want to share what I know about Twitter and how writers can use Twitter in an interesting and engaging way (rather than it being a complete chore) that also increases your profile and the number of potential readers for your books.

Within the last year Twitter put the brakes on the automated following and unfollowing programs many people were using to obtain literally thousands of new followers in a short period of time. I had used one of these automated programming interfaces (API’s) too and the number of followers seemed to be what everyone was after. But, to me, it didn’t make much sense since none of those “people” knew me, or me them. Thousands of tweets flew by on my timeline every day and I really didn’t know what to make of them and how they could help me with my writer’s profile in a marketing sense.

So how do I interact with all these followers, and without API’s, how do I continue to gain followers?

Talking to my geeky husband that is also a marketing expert, he enlightened me that I need to let the Twitter world know who I am on a regular basis and offer something that is interesting and useful to my followers.

How do I do that? Does that mean that I need to be more selective in who I follow? These are my helpful hints you may want to consider:

1. Find the type of people that you want to follow and that you want following you. Twitter search subjectFor writers that could be agents and authors, but it is also important to follow people that have other interests of yours such as gardening, photography, pets, etc. This encourages more potential readers for you. To find them, do a search in Twitter and look at profiles and follow people that interest you. Note: this does take time.

 

 

 

 

2. Tweet something interesting every day. Many people develop a tag for themselves such as  using a quote, sending a picture, a daily suggestion, etc. This is one way to let your followers get to know what you like or how you think, etc.

3. Twitter your own blog posts.

4. Read other people’s blogs and discover ones that interest you and are professional and well-written enough for you to want to tweet them. You can set up an automatic tweet for all the new posts from their blogs. (My geeky husband did this for me. Thanks!)

Note: you can also set it up to automatically Facebook to your friends too.

 

 

 

 

5. Reply to people that retweet and/or favorite one of your tweets. These messages are found under Twitter’s ‘Notifications.’

twitter notificationsThis is a great way to establish a relationship with individual followers. In turn it encourages them to retweet your information to their followers, which increases the potential for more followers for you, etc, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

6. Retweet your follower’s tweets that interest you. This helps to connect with your followers too and adds to the potential for new followers (refer to number 5 above). For writers this is a great way to connect with agents, and if they are using Twitter as a connection point in the social media world, they will become aware of you.

7. Take time every day or so to look at the profiles of new people following you and see if you want to follow them too. To find your new followers, look under ‘Notifications’ as in number 5 above. Also look under ‘Me’ and scroll down and have a look at ‘Who to follow’ since the Twitter app suggests people with similar interests.

To help make tweeting a habit for you, you may want to check out Becky Robinson’s blog called Weaving Influence. In her Resources section she has a book to help you increase your Twitter traffic and it is also available on Amazon.

Product Details

Becky works with authors and leaders to increase their online influence and promote their books too.

Happy tweeting!

 

Surprises heighten emotions

Karalee’s Post #67

My 5Writer friends have been discussing the need to have and the difficulty of creating surprises, conflicts, and suspense in their writing. Even the joy of reading for reading sake seems like a lost pleasure in today’s generation, taken over by social media, video games, movies and TV.

So is all the time and effort worth it to keep writing stories that we fear the new generation has no interest in reading anyway?

Well I must confess that I have spent most of my reading hours in the last couple of months viewing Downton Abbey (now into its fourth season) and House of Cards (in its second season). Before now I hadn’t watched either and I wanted to understand what my friends were talking about.

Beyond a doubt I’m enjoying both series, and although the plot-lines are very different I keep watching them for the same reasons: the characters and the element of surprise and suspense.

downton abbeyI find that Downton Abbey is more predictable in its plot-line, but I’m still entertained due to the  the awesome setting in the abbey as well as the characters and their interactions and changes.

 

 

house of cardsAs for House of Cards, the element of surprise has me intrigued. The protagonist Francis Underwood (an antihero) is devious and malicious yet shows that he cares for his wife enough that he isn’t totally unlikable (although he is becoming more unlikable as the series continues). By the time Francis murdered Peter Russo, a Democrat running for Governor of Pennsylvania, I was expecting it, but when Francis pushed the reporter Zoe Barnes in front of an oncoming commuter train, I was completely blown away.

At first I couldn’t believe it. Why would the scriptwriters kill the person that I related to the most in the series? I LIKED Zoe. She had balls to stand up to Francis (now VP of the Unites States) and I was rooting for her to take him down!

To dissect this turn-of-events, it isn’t the fact that Francis murdered Zoe that bothered me, it’s the fact that Zoe is dead. Out of the series. Gone. Kaput.

zoe in house of cardsNow what? I was depending on Zoe to do great things in the series. She was bright, cute and gutsy. How could the scriptwriters get rid of her?

I found my feelings of disbelief, disappointment- and yes- anger, quite intriguing. Then, before watching the next episode I put my writer’s hat back on and asked myself: What has killing Zoe achieved?

  • total surprise, which caused my above emotional responses.
  • curiosity. Now what? Someone has to take Zoe’s place and go after the antihero Francis Underwood. Francis can’t literally get away with murder and ultimately become the president of the US!
  • Zoe’s replacement will also be in danger, so suspense is still high and I want to keep watching to see what happens.

Now with Zoe being literally killed off, it made me think about the characters I’m developing in my next story. I had NEVER thought about getting rid of one of my main characters that I’m literally telling my story through. It’s like killing the detective in a mystery.

But why not? It is absolutely a way to bring a new main character on stage to keep the story going. It may not be what I choose to do, but on the other hand it has opened my eyes to seeing other possibilities.

And it’s these other possibilities that not only keep writers writing, it also pulls in readers (or even starts people reading) and gets producers excited about turning our books into movies.

No, I don’t believe that readers are a dying breed, but they do expect a good story with unexpected twists and turns in order to devote their time to reading the book or even watching it in movie form.

Have surprises you’ve experienced through someone else’s storytelling enriched your own writing? 

A clear and present danger

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Paula’s Post #65 — We live in the digital age. A time of ever-increasing distractions. Our iPhones, our iPads, our Fuel Bands and Fitbits, our 1000+ digital cable channels, our Netflix and Twitter and Linkedin accounts… all contribute to a world where the hours of the day are subjected to being sliced and diced like a French chef’s mirepoix, until there is nothing left but a few stray minutes here, an hour or so there.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t shake the vague sense of feeling ‘robbed’ by all these distracting influences.

I know, I know,  I can hear you all now: “It’s your own fault if you can’t turn off your phone for an hour or two – if you can’t push yourself off the couch and pick up a book instead of sitting rooted, like a gnarled old oak, transfixed by the Olympic’s Women’s Parallel Slalom Snowboarding event or the latest episode of Downton Abbey.  

We all make choices, this is true, but there is no disputing the radical changes the digital age has brought to our everyday lives.

Just 10 years ago, I actually visited libraries on a weekly basis. Visited bookstores too, almost as often, checking out with armloads of heavy books from my favourite authors. I recall vowing to purchase Sue Grafton’s alphabet offerings, in order, all the way to Z is for… but alas, faltered somewhere around P is for Peril.

P is for Peril

I was amongst the first to cheer the introduction of the eReader, the device that heralded the dawn of a new age, a utopian future where we could travel through Europe without fear of running out of books to read, or of being charged excess baggage fees when the 17 travel guides we’d squirreled away in our luggage resulted in our suitcases topping out the scales at somewhere north of 50 pounds.

Up until the last decade, for better or worse, actual physical ‘books’ were an omnipresent part of our everyday lives.

Now, with rare exceptions, most of my books are downloaded to my iPad. I still like to buy real hard copies of the reference books that I used in my business and  I think I will always want to buy hard copies of ‘writing’ books, for these I like to index with little stickies and dog ear the pages to mark passages that resonate with a particular sage piece of advice. But now, my purchase of ‘real’ books, as far as fiction is concerned, is more often than not confined to purchasing that special first edition of a favourite author’s book, or better yet, the hot off the presses launch of a writing colleagues debut novel.

To me, this is disturbing.

How could so much have changed in so short a time?

Not everyone is like me. I’m sure many of you are still acquiring books, whether from a genuine preference for the touch and feel and smell of ‘real books’ or from an altruistic need to ‘save’ a dying art form.

When I packed up my house to move last summer, I could have built eight foot walls from the shelves full of books we’d accumulated over the years. Some purchased, some inherited, but either way far too many to move yet again.

In case you think otherwise, there isn’t a huge market for used books – they’re difficult to even give away. But my 5writer colleague Joe was quick to step in, offering to ‘shelter’ several fine books in his collection.

Indeed, I’ve started to think maybe we need to develop ‘book rescue’ organizations, something akin to ‘pet rescue’. Noble undertakings where you offer to provide a home, temporary or otherwise, to save old books from being euthanized at the dump.

But think about it for a minute. Even if you do rescue these books, how many of these books are you actually going to read? Are we ‘book readers’ the last of a dying breed?

What about young people? Are the majority actually reading actual books these days? I know the Hunger Games trilogy and the Divergent series have captivated a certain segment of teen and young adult readers, in much the same way as J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series managed a decade before with somewhat younger readers, but is this an isolated trend?

My sister-in-law Eleanor is visiting this week; a retired high school teacher, she is a life-long reader who still works with young people, tutoring ESL students. Eleanor is a true reader, having read every day of her life, from the time she learned to read. She even admits to feeling upset if she doesn’t read a little bit everyday, if only for ten minutes, before she falls asleep.

But Eleanor readily agrees that she finds it disturbing when she has to almost ‘force’ some of her young adult students to read books, even for pleasure.

I’m beginning to wonder if we may have done our children a disservice, herding them into English class and forcing them to dissect books like specimens in a biology lab. Dictating that a novel must be ripped to shreds until there is nothing left to love. Lost is pacing, plot and most egregious of all, the suspension of disbelief. Who wouldn’t rather play video games?

Perhaps what we need is a revolution in reading. Since it debuted in 1996, Oprah’s Book Club has helped to keep reading fun, social and interactive. She’s even got lists to help introduce kids to the joy of reading.

Yet even here, some have criticized the pop culture, mass appeal of the books Oprah has championed over the years: Scott Stossel, an editor at The Atlantic, wrote:

“There is something so relentlessly therapeutic, so consciously self-improving about the book club that it seems antithetical to discussions of serious literature. Literature should disturb the mind and derange the senses; it can be palliative, but it is not meant to be the easy, soothing one that Oprah would make it.”[1]

Seriously? What a snob!

I don’t know about you, but I want to fall in love with books again. Yesterday, a beautiful 80 degree blue sky day in the California desert, I launched my floatie raft and drifted about my pool. Within minutes though, I was antsy. I knew something was wrong. I didn’t have a book I could take into the pool. Two sat on my bedside table: The Spellman Files, a hardcopy, first edition mystery by Edgar nominated author Lisa Lutz bearing a personal inscription to the friend in my Bocce league who’d lent me this delightful debut novel.

No, no, no, no – definitely not taking that one in the pool.

Ditto for the second book on my night table, The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett, another hard copy first edition debut novel that is winning rave reviews. This book a Christmas present from my cousin Mark.

Not pool fodder, no, no, no.

I finally settled on launching with NumbersRachel Ward’s debut YA psycho thriller about a disaffected teen with an unusual affliction, the ability to see ‘numbers’ attached to people, the numbers the dates of each person’s death. I’d purchased the book when researching the genre for my own 5writers YA novel, but never did more than read a few of the early chapters.

Yesterday, floating on my raft under an azure sky, I lost myself in this little paperback book, if only for an hour or so before yet another social engagement. But that hour was enough to rediscover the joy of reading. I didn’t pick it up at the end of the day, when I was exhausted and destined to fall asleep in a mere 10 minutes or so. No, for once I found the time to read in the middle of the day, my iPhone and iPad safely ashore, I floated adrift and unplugged from the normal distractions of everyday life.

I can’t say it is the best book I’ve ever read, but that is not the point. Yesterday, I cherished the simple pleasure of reading just for fun.

The Atlantic’s Mr. Stossel would no doubt cringe at my choice of reading material, decrying the author’s thin characterizations, familiar themes and simple prose.

Who cares!

If we do not rediscover the joy of reading for pleasure, I fear there is a clear and present danger lying just ahead.

I fear we will have no one to write for.

For you followers of our 5writers blog, I suspect I’m preaching to the converted. If you’re following a blog about writing, your either a reader, a writer, or both. Most likely your spouses and kids are too.

But what about the rest of the people in your little world? Do you know a boy or girl who never reads? A young adult who has yet to discover ‘the joy of reading’? A spouse who may have slipped from grace, distracted by the easy ability to watch six episodes of Breaking Bad in a single evening instead of picking up a book? Even amongst yourselves, are you finding you have too many books you are ‘supposed’ to read, with little time to just read for fun?

If so, I’m suggesting a small experiment. Pick up a book you’d never otherwise read. Read it for fun as quickly as possible. Try not to analyze it. Try just to enjoy it.

When you are done. Give it to someone else.

Bonus points for anyone who can coax a young person, under thirty, into reading a book, just for fun.

Paula’s Post #65.5 — A quick update: Alas, I did not quite manage to get this post posted by Tuesday, midnight, the deadline for my once a week blog offering. As in ‘if this is Tuesday, it must be Paula’s 5writer blog day’.

As we 5writers all know only to well, the road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions. I’d smugly written this post Monday morning, leaving it to add only the insertion of a number of links to author pages, etc. I figured I had plenty of time to do that Tuesday morning before my flight from California to Canada.

I figured wrong.

Remember, suspense in fiction is created by unexpected events. Events like the misplacement of keys before an international flight. The only set of keys that would let us into our rented postage stamp apartment in Vancouver. The keys we were sure we’d taken down to California, but were no where to be found, despite a massive key hunt. The keys that made us an hour late for our flight (good thing the flight was an hour late too).

But as Will Shakespeare famously wrote: ‘Alls Well that Ends Well’: a good friend picked us up to the airport in Vancouver, stayed with us all afternoon and hung out at Starbucks with us until we managed to track down our property manager and an extra key to our apartment. Our kind friend then joined us for dinner and drove us both to dinner and home, after we realized we still didn’t have a working ‘fob’ that would get us into our locked garage where our car is parked.

The fob is coming at 9 am this morning and we’ll be back in action, even if it looks like I’ll end up with a late start for my journey up the coast to check on our renovations. No bumpy journey is without a silver lining. For me, that was being reminded of the true value of a good friend.

Thanks, Colleen!

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One endless year wiser

desk-insetSilk’s Post #51 — One year ago today, as the DW (designated writer) of our critique group’s first post, I clicked “publish” and 5writers5novels5months launched itself into the crowded blogosphere.

“Let Us Tell You a Story …” introduced our crazy, self-imposed challenge of each writing a novel in five months, and our even crazier hope of getting at least one of them sold within a year.

It’s now 365 days and 245 posts later, a good time to reflect on our journey. What have we accomplished? What have we learned? And what are we going to do next?

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Accomplishment #1 – happy anniversary to us

First and foremost, we’re still together. Through all our individual personal changes, challenges, triumphs and frustrations this year, the 5writers are (in today’s parlance) still committed to a deep and meaningful relationship with each other. We held an anniversary meeting on September 5, 2013 to celebrate, re-charge our batteries, and plan a new group literary venture for 2014.

Can’t tell you more now. Very hush hush. But watch this space for details of our next ridiculously idealistic and ambitious scheme in the new year.

The writing life is no place for realists. Much too hazardous to their sanity.

Accomplishment #2 – OMG, we’re actually blogging

A couple of our 5 had a bit of blogging experience. I wasn’t one of them. This whole blogging venture was – let’s call a spade a spade – a total crapshoot. Could we organize 5 different writers in 5 different places with 5 different lives to create a blog with any kind of continuity, and somehow sustain their efforts week after week? As 5 of the millions of unpublished writers out there, did we really have enough to say that people might be interested in? Could we attract any followers? Could we keep them?

As it turns out, we could. Okay, we’re not a trending phenom, but a few hundred of our valued readers keep sticking with us, and we promise to keep working hard to make it worth your while.

So, our sincere thanks to you. You keep us going, and hopefully we help you do the same.

Accomplishment #3 – over 323,064 words and counting

If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that only 2 of the 5 finished their first drafts by the designated target date of February 5, 2013 (Joe and Paula). By the time the 5writers got together for our big Whistler critique fest in June, Karalee had finished her first draft, and Helga and I submitted partial manuscripts. As a group, we got over 300,000 words on paper, and critiqued every one of them.

And now, of course, we’re changing probably 150,000 of them, and adding another 300,000.

Ugh. Math. A writer’s least favourite subject.

My big, fat, life lesson

Personally, I’ve learned as much about myself in the past year as I’ve learned about writing. And that’s a lot.

Though I’ve been writing pretty well all my life, I came to fiction late and with great trepidation. I thought I had my eyes wide open by realizing at the outset that it would be a steep learning curve. I knew I knew how to write, but I didn’t know if I knew how to tell a story.

I not only underestimated the expected storytelling learning curve, but I was blindsided by all sorts of other learning curves I hadn’t anticipated. Like the extra determination it takes to start a whole new career when you’re 60. Not a hobby, where success is measured purely in terms of personal satisfaction, but a career, where success is also measured by satisfying an audience.

Let’s face it, most writers will never be published. There. I’ve said it. But if you’re writing to be read, then publication is the goal. And for me, the reality of what that really means finally sank in this year. It means:

  1. I have to actually finish the first draft.
  2. I have to then figure out what’s wrong with it (there will be lots), and polish it to a level that outshines the gazillion other unpublished manuscripts out there as I compete for the attention of an agent, editor and publisher.
  3. I have to go through the torturous snakes-and-ladders process of finding and selling to the abovementioned gatekeepers, which also means …
  4. I have to have another book, or more, in the works immediately.
  5. I have to repeat ad infinitum to feed either the slush pile or the bookshelf, depending on my degree of success.

Okay, we all know this stuff. We’ve read it. It’s been hammered into us by experts at conferences. We’ve discussed it ad nauseum. But internalizing the reality of this commitment – making it part of one’s life mission, because nothing else will really suffice – is another thing altogether. I had a long, long list of things I was eager to do when I retired from my “real” career. This year I had to realistically face whether writing was to be one of many pleasant pastimes, or would become another “real” career.

Everyone who writes has heard the famous writer-at-a-cocktail-party story, broadly ascribed to a lecture given by Canadian lit queen Margaret Atwood:

A brain surgeon meets a writer at a cocktail party.

“So you write?” says the brain surgeon. “Isn’t that interesting. I’ve always wanted to write. When I retire and have the time I’m going to be a writer.” 

“What a coincidence,” says the writer, “because when I retire I’m going to be a brain surgeon.”

I’ve been harbouring the secret suspicion that I’m really just a naive “brain surgeon” who thinks writing is easier than brain surgery – something to keep me amused and purposeful in my retirement. This year’s 5writers challenge has forced me to come to grips with my ambitions. What kind of writer am I – really?

My decision: I’m still teetering. My heart says, “career”. My head asks, “do you really want to work as hard as you did during the 40 years you had your nose to the grindstone?” Because that’s what it will take to become a writer who gets published, gets read, achieves commercial success.

Like the majority of that huge community of unpublished writers out there, I haven’t really committed yet to writing being my life’s absolute, number one, top priority. But, like many of them, I thought I had already made that commitment. This year taught me that I have not.

And that, ironically, is real progress.

I’m acutely aware that I’m part of a generation that wants it all – a ridiculous impossibility. Time is a cruel taskmaster. To do something really well, you have to feed your dream with your blood, sweat, tears … and time. You have to give up other things.

I am a writer. I will write for the rest of my life. Because, as Maya Angelou wrote, “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.”

But the question remains: what kind of writer will I be? My “5writers year” has been endless. That is to say, I’ve not yet typed “the end” in the story I began on September 5, 2012. When I do, I can make a new beginning.

Hopefully by then I’ll be wiser about what kind of writer I am.