Setting goals is critical if you want to get things done. For a writer, making a list of what you want to accomplish each year will put you on the right path. In an earlier blog post, I reviewed my goals for 2018. We discussed what got done and what didn’t. Authors can break down their goals into creative and business oriented tasks. So now let’s take a look at 2019. This might seem less ambitious than last year, but revising and reissuing my backlist titles is my main goal. That project could take the entire year, because I go through each book to tighten the writing and then do a full read-through once for any further changes and again to check for conversion errors after formatting. It takes time, because I want each book to be the best possible version. So I am not going to set myself too many tasks beyond this one. CREATIVE GOALS Reissue remaining backlist titles (6 romances + 4 mysteries) Write and publish Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries Write and publish a Bad Hair Day recipe book BUSINESS GOALS Enter latest releases in writing contests Carry on with newsletter, blogs and social media Update website in terms of hosting and other behind-the-scenes decisions Bundle books into box sets Consider wider distribution for audiobooks LEARNING GOALS Learn how to use various book production tools as new opportunities arise Learn how to plan and promote book sales after all my backlist titles are under my control <><><> Five years ago, I wrote a list of long-term, five-year goals. I am pleased to say that I am on target with most of these items. Once this year’s goals are met, it will be time for a career reassessment. Only by resetting our overall goals periodically can we gain clarity on the best path to take next. What is the main item you want to get done this year? GIVEAWAY Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN Gift Card atBooklovers Bench.
Do you set New Year’s Resolutions for your writing career? I divide mine into creative and business goals and also decide what I need to learn next. At the end of the year, I review my accomplishments and see what has to be carried over to the next term. Here are my objectives for 2018. Any additions or suggestions? What are your goals for the new year?
Reissue revised ebook edition of Silver Serenade Publish revised Author’s Edition of Died Blonde Publish Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition Produce Body Wave Audiobook
Finish and Launch Trimmed to Death, #15 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries
If there’s time left, start on these projects:
Plot Bad Hair Day mystery novella
Revise Keeper of the Rings Revise Dead Roots Continue backlist title reissues and audiobooks
Prepare PowerPoint lectures and handouts for upcoming events
Enter Hair Brained in writing contests
Keep up with newsletter, blogs and social media
Learn how to do Facebook Ads
Learn how to put books on sale across various vendors
Enter Here to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench.
What is a blog? And how do you start one? This past weekend, I gave a talk to a group of aspiring writers on “The Writer’s Life.” During the Q&A session, one person referred to my section on book marketing. “I don’t understand about blogs. Can you explain more about them?” So I thought this would be a good time for a review of the principles. I’ve been blogging for over ten years. I regard it as a live journal that includes glimpses into your life such as travels, hobbies, other fun activities or musings on life in general. Plus, as a writer, you can offer tips on writing craft and marketing and share the creative process. So here are some items to consider. Define Your Purpose. Are you aiming to build an author platform? Do you want to be recognized as an expert in your field? To engage with readers? Or to have other writers look to you for advice? Ask yourself why you want to start a blog. Determine Your Goals. Do you mean to increase book sales? Gain a substantial number of followers? Attract comments on each blog? Receive requests for guest posts? What’s your benchmark of success? Set Parameters. How often do you intend to post? What days of the week are best? What time during the day will more people likely read your post? How long should each post be? Check your analytics as time goes on and make adjustments accordingly. Brainstorm Topics. While you are writing a book, jot down blog topics related to your theme, research, and writing process. These will be useful either to show your story in progress or to provide fodder for blog tours when your new release comes out. Meanwhile, determine how your content can add value to people’s lives. In what way can your personal anecdotes inspire others? Some authors set certain days for specific blog topics. For example, one day they might post recipes. Another day they might bring in a guest blogger. Or perhaps they do author interviews. Excerpts, book reviews, or trivia related to a particular hobby or personal interest might fill in other slots. I like to do conference workshop recaps. Or you can write posts as they come to you. Acquire a Site. When you’re ready to start, register at WordPress.com or Blogger for a free site. Or add a blog to your website. Become familiar with the features and start posting. Link the Blog to Your Social Media Sites. Not only should visitors be able to tweet and share each particular article, but your posts can be linked to your Twitter and Facebook pages. Check your Settings for how to enable these features or ask your Web designer to add the proper Plug-In. What Pages Should Your Blog Site Contain? Keep in mind that visitors to your blog, if separate from your website, might not visit you elsewhere. So consider what Pages you’ll want to have. Here are some suggestions: Welcome or Home Page; About (Bio); Appearances; Book Trailers; Books List (with series books in order); Contact (your email); Giveaways. In the sidebar, you can show your book covers, a Blog Roll with links to other authors’ sites, a Search box, a Subscribe button, Social Networking Icons, and an RSS feed button. Include Photos in your Posts. Photos will draw more hits, but be careful of copyright issues. Upload your own photos. Obtain photos at royalty-free sites or at least make sure you provide attribution. Use Keywords. Use tags with keywords and put keywords in your text to drive traffic to your site. How to Gain Followers
Post often. Some people set themes, like “Recipe Monday” or “Guest Blogger Wednesday” or “Photo Friday.” Be consistent in your approach and keep your material current.
Have a clear and catchy headline for each post.
End your posts with a question to stimulate discussion.
Don’t use your blog solely to promote your books. You’re building a community of readers who want to get to know you, or else you are establishing yourself as an expert by offering useful material. Share new release info, reviews, and contests sparingly.
Comment on other people’s blogs.
Invite guests who have a following.
Always respond to comments and respect other people’s opinions.
On occasion, offer a prize drawing from commenters.
If you get a lot of comments on certain types of posts, steer your blog in that direction. Be responsive to readers. Note what engenders interest and what does not.
Be careful what you put out there. This is a public post. Avoid politics, religion, and any mention of personal business or issues you don’t want to share.
Always be respectful of other industry professionals.
Include links and images in your posts to raise visibility.
Index Your Blog When your blog is a few years old, you might want to reissue an updated article. Keeping records of the topics, categories, and dates will help you retrieve these files. I suggest you write your blog in Word and save the posts by month and year. It’s imperative to keep your own blogs on your computer so you don’t lose them if there’s an online snafu. Then keep a separate file that’s an index so you can quickly search topics. GIVEAWAYS Goodreads Giveaway, July 6 – 20 Enter Here to win a signed ARC of Hair Brained (Bad Hair Day Mystery #14). Hairstylist Marla Vail determines to learn the truth when her best friend is hurt in a suspicious auto accident. Booklovers Bench, July 1 – 18 Enter Here to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench.
Occasionally, I’ll get requests from authors to review their books. Some of these I’ve accepted, but mostly I send a polite refusal. Here are some examples of what not to do when approaching an author, especially when you don’t know her personally. This also applies to guest blog posts.
Dear Nancy J. Cohen,
I noticed your review on Amazon for “Murder at the Seaside.” My book is a suspense novel set in Phoenix. It’s a bit outside the cozy genre, but the language is clean and amusing. Would you be willing to read my book and give an honest review? [When they start with my full name like this, I know they are unfamiliar to me. This book is outside my genre, and the author is an unknown who got my name off Amazon. No deal.] Dear Ms. Cohen,
I would love to have you interview me on your blog for my upcoming romantic comedy due for release from XYZ Publishing. See back cover blurb below. Please let me know what other information you need to consider reviewing it. [Is this person requesting a review or a guest blog spot? Either way, her book isn’t my genre, and the author is unknown to me. I’m not interested.] Dear Nancy,
I’ve finished my first medical thriller and would be honored if I can get a blurb from you. I love your romantic suspense novels. They keep me at the edge of my seat. I’ve really enjoyed reading Hair Raiser and hope to read more of your work. [This would be a polite, No Thanks. I write mysteries, not romantic suspense. And this person says “they” keep her on the edge of her seat, but she’s only read one. Thrillers are outside my genre, and while occasionally I do read them, I’d rather not be obligated here.] Hello Nancy J. Cohen,
I saw that you reviewed“The Stolen Queen.” My book has similar elements but more romance and intrigue. [Story Blurb follows]. This romantic adventure is so thrilling and unlike anything you’ve ever read, you’ll be hooked until the last page. My novel is a spine-tingling adventure with exciting twists & turns. [Bragging about how your book is a bestseller or how it’ll hook my interest is a turnoff.] Dear Nancy,
I saw that you reviewed the Alex Rider story, “Stormbreaker.” I am author of a middle grade fantasy titled “The Secret of the Oracle.” In this time-travel adventure, Eddie must overcome his fears and battle evil forces in ancient Greece to discover the identity of a sorcerer. Would you like to receive a complimentary digital copy of my book? [I accepted this one. YA Fantasy is a genre I like to read, and the story line intrigued me. The author didn’t make any braggart claims about how his story will blow me away. He was polite and concise in his request. I enjoyed this book and gave it an honest review.] Hello, I have a new release coming out titled “Murder in the Garden,” and I am organizing a book tour. I will provide excerpts and interviews. I’ll be running a Rafflecopter contest, and if you’d like to participate, I’ll include your social media links. (Story blurb follows) [I accepted this one and was happy to help a fellow mystery author. Why? Not much to do on my part except schedule a blog post on the set day. It’s the appropriate cozy genre. And I’d get social media links in her Rafflecopter. She sounds savvy and will likely show up on the blog to answer comments. This person made things easy.] <><><> My Advice · Request a review from an author who writes in the same genre or who clearly enjoys reading the type of book you’ve written.
· Mention a deadline if you have one for the review.
· Be gracious and accepting that the author might not have the time or interest.
· If you’re proposing a blog post, study the type of posts on the host’s blog and then suggest several relevant topics. Also note, while on her site, if she even hosts guests or has a submission policy.
· Be modest. Don’t make braggart claims about how your book is a bestseller, will keep readers riveted until the end, or is a laugh-out-loud funny story. Readers can judge these things for themselves.
· Mention your website or the Amazon page for your book so the author can find more information there.
· If the author declines your offer, thank her politely for her consideration.
Note that a book review request differs from an endorsement request. What else would you add to this list?
Halfway through the year, we should evaluate our status regarding the goals we’ve set for ourselves. Back in January, I listed these objectives for the year. I divided them into Writing Goals and Career Goals. Think about doing this if you’re an author. Let’s see how I’ve done in this progress report. If you’re wondering what I’ve been doing with my time, this will update you on my current projects.
Finish and Submit Hair Brained, #14 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. Ongoing. I finished this story at 85,000 words and submitted it to a freelance editor. I am working on these edits. This title will be published by Orange Grove Press in 2017.
Publish Author’s Edition of Permed to Death, #1 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. Done and published in March.
Revise backlist mystery titles Highlights to Heaven, Died Blonde and DeadRoots. Ongoing. I’ve completed revisions on Highlights to Heaven and need one more read-through.
Learn how to write short fiction. Done. I wrote “Haunted Hair Nights,” a Bad Hair Day mystery novella, which will appear in the Happy Homicides 4: Fall into Murder Anthology. Release date is Sept. 2016. I plan to issue this novella separately in a print edition, hopefully in October.
Enter Peril by Ponytail in writing contests. Done.
Learn about box sets. Consider bundling books 1-3 as a special offer. Postponed.
Hold Facebook launch parties for each backlist Author’s Edition and audiobooks. Ongoing. Next party will be to celebrate my first audiobook release.
Plan a promo campaign for Facials Can Be Fatal (Bad Hair Day #13) to be released by Five Star in Feb. 2017. I have put together the book trailer except for special effects and music. Waiting for cover art and ARCs.
Keep up with quarterly newsletter, blogs and social media. Ongoing.
I edited and published Florida Escape by Harry I. Heller. This is my father’s account of his 1935 true-life adventures in South Florida, where he encountered dismal swamps, sneaky skunks, black panthers, isolated beaches, and hidden chests buried in sand.
Revise book one in a new mystery series. This book is written but needs polishing.
Learn how to put my lectures on Power Point.
Learn how to put books on sale across various vendors.
So there you have it. Readers, what would you have me work on next? Writers, have you reassessed your goals lately?
Romance the Summer Contest Enter June 7-21 to win a gemstone necklace from Effy plus a signed copy of Shear Murder, my wedding mystery. Two runners-up prizes of signed proof copies Permed to Death Author’s Edition.. https://nancyjcohen.com/contest/
Once you get the rights back to your earlier titles, what do you do with them? Try to resell these books to a new publisher? Put them online as ebooks for sale? Offer them in a new trade paperback print edition? Go through an intermediary such as Draft2Digital or publish them yourself directly to vendors? And should you revise and update the stories first?
When I got my rights back from Kensington for my earlier Bad Hair Day Mysteries, I decided to tighten the writing, update the technology, and add back materials to the books. Now was my chance to hire a cover artist and get the design I’d always envisioned.
Here are four versions of Permed to Death, the first book in my mystery series. From the left to right: Kensington, Ereads, Open Road Media, and my new AUTHOR’S EDITION (Cover design by Patty G. Henderson at Boulevard Photografica).
So what should you do first if you’re interested in reviving your old titles?
Obtain a File
First you’ll need a digital copy of your book in one entire file. I wrote my early books in the days when we copied the manuscript and snail mailed it to our publisher. Each file was a separate chapter. I didn’t have a single intact file for the book. Nor did I have the edits that were done by my publishing house. In other words, my original files didn’t match the finished product.
What to do? These books came out in hardcover and then in mass market paperback. I decided to have the paperbacks scanned in since they held the most recent edition.
The Scanning Process
If you’re lucky enough to find a digital copy of your book online, you could buy it, download the file and work from there. You can use the free Calibre program to convert between formats. Otherwise, choose a scanning company. I used Blue Leaf. You’ll have to sacrifice the book you send because it’ll be destroyed in the process.
Once you get the files back from the scanner, make sure you have an editable Word document, if this is the software you use. Then you have to review the text WORD FOR WORD to look for scanning errors. You may see a strange squiggle mark. Note this excerpt from Died Blonde:
Shutting off the blow-dryer, Marla plunked it on the counter. “Did you see how Claudia looked away when I mentioned a power blackout? She knew about it Probably Carolyn went to the meter room to turn off my electricity.”
You have to turn on the paragraph reveal mark in Word to see the irregular mark in “probably.” It looks like a hyphen with a bar hanging off the end. You’ll have to go through the entire document looking for this weird symbol. It’s intense, eye-straining work.
Notice the period is missing after She knew about it. Missing punctuation is another problem. Or quotes pointing the wrong way, use of an apostrophe instead of a quote mark, or an extra space after a hyphen.
In revising and updating your work, one of the things to look for are “ing” sentences like that first one. More about that when we talk about revisions.
Here’s another example with a misspelling for Sun-Sentinel. That weird mark is also present in “released.”
“The medical examiner’s report hasn’t been released yet, but the SunSenlinel reporter is saying Carolyn died under mysterious circumstances.”
Here’s a guide on whatto look for after having your book scanned:
· Weird symbols when you turn on the paragraph symbol in Word · Missing or wrong punctuation · A number “1” instead of an “I” · Misinterpretations, such as comer instead of corner. Watch for words like this with “rn” coming out as an “m” instead. · Misspelled words such as for away instead of far away; “die” instead of “the” · The letter “d” instead of “tl”: Words like abrupdy. Or see this example:
Marla setded a cape around her mother’s slim shoulders.
· Check the spacing for italics that it’s normal and not expanded or condensed (Highlight the word, hit Font, then Advanced). · Make sure italics don’t come out as bold. · Replace two spaces between sentences with one space if necessary. · Format chapter headings properly with a page break and remove any section breaks. · Look for run-on paragraphs or paragraph marks too soon that split a sentence onto the next line. Example:
“Carolyn promised Linda she would inherit her collectibles, but we couldn’t find any items of value.” “Jewelry? If a collection exists, it makes sense
they were gifts from her private benefactor. I don’t see how Carolyn could afford anything else. Did she have a safety deposit box?”
This should read:
“Carolyn promised Linda she would inherit her collectibles, but we couldn’t find any items of value.”
“Jewelry? If a collection exists, it makes sense they were gifts from her private benefactor. I don’t see how Carolyn could afford anything else. Did she have a safety deposit box?”
You need an eagle eye and several read-throughs to catch all these errors. Regardless of which route to publication you take, you’ll want to present a professional product. So gear up to begin the next stage, which is revisions and/or formatting.(Coming Next!)
Have you ever had a dream that sparks a story? I used to have them more often. A dream is what inspired Circle of Light, my very first published novel. I woke up and didn’t want that science fiction adventure to end. So I wrote the rest of the story and sold the book. It went on to win the HOLT Medallion Award.
Snippets from other scifi dreams have gone into my futuristic romance novels. To date, I’ve written eight books in this genre. But I seem to have lost the ability to have these dreams along the way. And never do I recall having a mystery idea dream like I did last night. Is it because I’m at a juncture in my career and seeking guidance on which way to go?
In dreamland last night, I had an experience that seemed so real, I felt a keen sense of disappointment when I awoke and realized it was merely a dream. I didn’t want to lose the wisps of this place from my mind, so I grabbed a cup of coffee and ran to write it down.
In this ethereal place, my husband and I were strolling along a shopping strip, and I noticed a store we hadn’t been in before. It was a day spa, and since the heroine sleuth in my Bad Hair Day mystery series owns a hair salon and day spa, I thought I’d drop in to see what this one offered.
It wasn’t like any day spa you’ve ever seen. This was more of a Zen-like retreat.
An attractive fortyish woman greeted us when we entered. We posed as prospective members and asked to be shown around. The place had an ultra-modern feel with open spaces and contemporary furnishings. Recessed lighting in high ceilings provided illumination along with wide windows. The polished wood flooring added to a soft ambiance.
Our guide explained that members used private trainers for physical fitness. They would help you devise a series of exercises custom-tailored to your body’s needs. There wasn’t any ugly machinery here.
Massage rooms were available, but that was the only concession to the traditional spa.
A serenity section, bordered off, was filled with water. Jagged white opaque glass pieces floated artistically over this pond to imbue a sense of peace, like at a Japanese rock garden.
We saw a wave runner section, where you stood on a room-sized inflatable mattress. It pitched and rolled like on a ship. Our guide explained that this got members accustomed to ship motion so they wouldn’t get seasick on a cruise. As we watched, a fellow dressed in a pirate outfit rode the motion on the blue mat, clearly living out his fantasy.
Another section was for folks working with their personal trainers, practicing yoga or whatever else they were instructed to do. Young men and women worked hard to condition their muscles and control their breathing. We didn’t see any older clients around. Where did they do their cardio? Outside, perhaps?
As we moved along, our guide pointed out a chair where you sit strapped in and your body temperature is lowered to acclimatize you to colder temperatures. This was popular with Floridians who were traveling north. Left alone in the chair, you could freeze to death. I feel my eyes light up and my face brighten. I nudge my husband. “You hear that? A person could freeze to death.” He knew exactly what I meant. Here was how the victim in my next mystery novel would die.
A shop by the front offered a dazzling array of items but nothing that appealed to me. The selections included wine glasses and accessories, New Age crystals and incense, jewelry and tchotchkes from around the globe.
Voices coming from the rear led us through a narrow corridor to a large hall filled with members eating like in a cafeteria. I overheard one fellow say to a friend, “You’d better sit on your towel in the corner like ordered, or you’ll forfeit your passes.” What did this mean? Was it a form of discipline? They had to get passes to leave the premises? Did these people live there?
An undercurrent of something not quite right pierced me before the owner found us and led us back to the front section.
This is great, I am thinking. Somebody can freeze to death in that electric chair. Sounds like a great way to commit murder.
Once a writer, always a writer.
How can I ever think of quitting? Stories are everywhere, waiting for me to pluck them out of the air. They beg to be written and read by the multitude.
This story wouldn’t suit a Bad Hair Day mystery. Marla has already been to an athletic club in Murder by Manicure, and a murder occurs at her day spa in Facials Can Be Fatal. But this would be a neat place to set my other mystery heroine waiting in the wings for her chance at fame. She could go stay at a retreat like this one if I set it in a more isolated location.
And then I remember one of my earlier unpublished stories takes place in the exact same type of setting. Could I adapt that mystery to a new series? Possibly.
You know what this means, don’t you? I answered it for myself in the dream. Retirement isn’t an option. As long as I breathe, there are more stories to tell.
Do you ever get story ideas in your dreams?
Contest Alert! Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench, where readers are winners.
Writers can spin stories out of thin air. Yes, it’s true. We grab ideas out of the effluvia around us. Soon we’re building a novel. The characters gel, and the setting takes on detail. And then we’re off, pounding at the keyboard, the fervor of creation keeping us in its grip.
Let me give you a demonstration.
The other day, my husband and I enjoyed a sunny afternoon at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray. Florida may have changeable weather in the winter, but we have no snow, sunny skies, and colorful flowers.
Birds fly down here in the colder months to share space with ducks and turtles that grace our neighborhoods.
We also have a variety of critters we’d rather not meet up close and personal. Witness this guy we observed during our visit to Morikami.
Here he is enjoying a meal. Thank goodness iguanas eat plants and not people.
Places like Morikami remind me of why I became a writer. When I sit on a bench and gaze at a lake or tread upon dead leaves through the forest, I let my imagination soar to other worlds. And so here we go with an example of how easy it is for a writer to start a story under any circumstances. We are walking along a wooded trail surrounded by tall trees and leafy foliage.
Mystery: I’m a tour guide/curator/director leading a group through a botanical garden. Our continued funding depends upon the success of this excursion as does my job security. All is going well until one of our party goes missing and later turns up dead…murdered. Whodunit? Is it the real estate magnate who covets the property to turn into condos? The chief curator at a rival attraction? A meandering spouse who saw the tour as a good opportunity to make his partner disappear? A politician whose stance on public safety will lift his status on the campaign trail? The mystery deepens as I begin my investigation and learn that each person in the group has a secret to hide.
Romance: I’m sitting on the park bench when a cute guy sits beside me. He wears a camera with a big lens around his neck. With a sexy grin, he peers over my shoulder and asks what I am sketching. We get to talking. I love the dimples that crease his cheeks when he smiles. But I’m dismayed when he tells me he’s the photographer assigned to the article I’m writing. Oh, no. How will I keep my professional distance when all I can think about is jumping his bones?
Horror: Patrons have vanished from the trail around the lake. Other guests have reported hearing strange noises in the brush and glimpsing a reptilian tail. But my friends think it’ll be a hoot to stay here overnight. We’re all drinking and having fun after dark until Ada is pulled screaming into a clump of trees. No one sees what grabbed her, but she’s totally gone except for the blood. We pack to leave and go to call for help, but our cell phones have no service and the road is closed due to flooding ahead. We’re trapped there….
Science Fiction: With my laser weapon strapped to my hip, I patrol the woods. My acute sense of smell tells me the creature is near. Anticipating the bounty for my catch, I track its life form on my portable viewer. My client will pay a bonus if I capture the specimen alive. All I have to do is net the prickly ardtrunk and transport us both to my flier.
Fantasy: I halted at the Japanese rock garden, admiring the combed gravel. At the far end, a pair of white stone statues guarded the display of Bonsai plants. A sense of peace washed over me as I stared at the small, glittering stones on the ground. They’d been raked recently, with a spiral pattern leading one into the other like a miniature maze. I’d been drawn to this place, never realizing the oasis sat just outside the city beyond the Fae Woodlands. I glanced to my right, where the air under a painted red archway seemed to shimmer. My heart raced as I approached. I could no more stop my feet from stepping across the threshold than I could stop my breathing. And that’s when the world tilted….
YA Fantasy: Oh Gawd, why’d my parents have to bring me to this boring place? They might enjoy the trees and plants, but nature isn’t my thing. Give me my cell phone and a Diet Coke, and I’m a happy sixteen-year-old. I took out my cell phone to text Marlene and tell her what Randy had said to me in math class, but the dang thing wouldn’t connect. “Hey, Ma,” I yelled, glancing up. “When are we leaving already?” Oh great, I couldn’t see my folks anywhere in this freakin’ garden. They must have gone up ahead. Wait, that hedge hadn’t been there a moment ago. And where did that weirdo come from? The short little guy stood staring at me as though I had come from Mars.
Isn’t this fun? Which story do you like?
As you can see, storytelling is in my blood. I can’t stop playing the “What If?” game. Where do you go for inspiration?
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It’s annoying, when I’m judging a writing contest or reading a self-published book, to find common mistakes that could be avoided with editorial help. Unfortunately, many beginning writers don’t even realize they need assistance. They’ll ask a friend or an inexperienced critique partner or a local English teacher to proofread their work, and the result is considered ready for publication. Think again. If you write fiction, you want an expert in the genre to edit your work and not the local journalist who has published nonfiction or the lit professor mired in academia.This post doesn’t apply to indie authors who know the ropes and have an expert eye screen their story.
Revise and polish your work as best you can before submission, whether to a writers contest or a publishing house or even to an editor you might hire. Here are ten common mistakes to avoid.
1. Create an Identifiable Main Character
Get us into the action right away with a sympathetic viewpoint character. Put us in her head and show us the world from her unique viewpoint. Make sure we can identify with this character throughout the story, so stay in her head as much as possible. Even when you use multiple viewpoints, we want to root for the hero.
2. Make Your Characters Likeable
Remember to address your character’s goals, motivation, and conflict. What does your character want? If she wanders aimlessly through life with no particular goals, that makes me as a reader less interested in her. Give me a reason why she behaves that way. Maybe she lacks confidence because of a past event. Maybe she’s afraid of failure. Knowing this will make the reader become more engaged with her. Give her redeemable qualities so we’ll like certain aspects of this person. If not, the reader won’t care, and that’s the death knell to your story. This also applies to the anti-hero. What makes him redeemable? Why should I, the reader, care about him? By balancing action with reaction, you’ll motivate your characters and make them more believable. For every action, you need a reaction. Don’t focus on plot to the exclusion of emotion. Makeme care about your characters’ lives.
3. Avoid Bouncing Heads
Don’t switch viewpoints in mid-scene. If you must switch viewpoints, use a space break. Don’t leap into the head of every minor character. We cannot know a person’s thoughts unless we’re in their mind. You have to infer what the other person is thinking through non-verbal cues or dialogue. It becomes very disconcerting when every character we meet has an internal dialogue. Then the story loses focus. Stay in one character’s head. When you switch, indicate it with a space break.
4. Establish the Setting Up Front
As soon as possible into the story, establish the place, season, and time of day. Remember your five senses of Who, What, Why, Where, and When. Try to work these into the opening pages. Examples: Crickets chirped their nightly summer chorus, or late afternoon sunlight glinted off an icicle hanging from the roof. Also, don’t mention a street name or landmark and assume the reader knows where this place is. Be specific and give a location. Use the five senses to bring your settings alive, but remember to describe them from your viewpoint character’s perspective.
5. Watch Your Use of Bad Language
The occasional curse word may be acceptable for a hero who’s a hardass or for a heroine in the urban fantasy genre, but elsewhere it may raise a reader’s hackles. It can also turn off some readers completely, so this language should be sprinkled in judiciously, if at all. Add it only if it helps to define a character, not because you believe it makes your protagonist seem tough. Ask yourself: Is this necessary? If not, leave it out. Or deploy a substitute, like “frak” on Battlestar Galactica. Remember the old adage: Less is better, especially if you want to expand your readership.
6. Show, Don’t Tell
To keep the pace flowing, use dialogue and action and minimal exposition. If you have long passages where nothing happens except the protagonist thinks to herself or explains what happened in the past, the story comes to a dead halt. You want to imbue a sense of immediacy to your story, and that won’t happen unless you involve the reader. Long meandering passages of narration may have been acceptable centuries ago, but that doesn’t work today. Show us what’s happening; don’t tell us.
7. Avoid Flashbacks Like the Plague (and don’t use clichés, either)
The first chapter is your only chance to grab the reader so she’ll continue your story. If you segue into a flashback, the forward momentum is lost. Who cares what happened in the past? Throw in a line or two of dialogue or introspection to show us how the past is relevant to the current action, and then move on. Or make it part of the story action, such as a confrontation with a friend or a hesitation on the part of the main character to perform some act. Work backstory into your chapter with minimal intrusion. Flashbacks, too, will kill pacing, so remove those long passages that reflect past scenes and not the present. Only retain what is necessary to explain the current action.
8. Every Conversation Should Have a Purpose
When I suggest you use dialogue generously, I don’t mean that two friends should get together and chat meaninglessly on matters that don’t move the story forward. Dialogue must serve a purpose: to reveal information, define character, move the plot ahead, offer reaction and reflection on what’s just occurred. So ask yourself as you approach a conversation, what do you want to get across in this segment? If you don’t have a point to make, delete the scene.
9. Use Character Tags Sparingly
Try to replace “he said” or “she said” with actions. Avoid adverbs and show the tone of the conversation in dialogue instead. Don’t use “he thought” or “he wondered” if you are in the character’s head. Do use italics for inner thoughts.
“You’d better not stick your nose where it doesn’t belong,” he said in an angry voice.
You’re telling me to mind my business? she thought. “I’ll do whatever it takes to find Angie’s killer,” she replied. “You’re the one who should watch your back.”
“Oh, yeah?” he sneered nastily. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“You’d better not stick your nose where it doesn’t belong.” He towered over me, as though his superior height could intimidate me into behaving.
You’re telling me to mind my own business?You’re the one who should watch your back. “I’ll do whatever it takes to find Angie’s killer.”
“Oh, yeah?” He jabbed his finger in the air. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
10. Proofread Your Work
Would you enjoy reading a book riddled with spelling errors or misplaced commas? No? Then why send one to a contest where mechanics are judged? Proofread your work for typos, dropped quotation marks, missing periods, and misspellings. Same goes for your work before you indie publish it. Get beta readers to help if you can, and definitely hire both a developmental and a copy editor. You want your work to appear professional, not only out of respect for your readers but also for your future career as an author. If the goal is to increase your readership, you’ll strive to publish a polished product so readers will want more.
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