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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Visibility is Everything



I’ve always heard that the most important way to sell books is to write a great story. When it’s done, write another great story. And so on, and so forth. But there are other factors that affect book sales. Today, I’d like to talk about one of them: Visibility.

Recently, I browsed titles on the Champagne website, looking for something new to read, and went looking for more information on a few author’s websites. I was surprised when I couldn’t find websites for some authors. As well, on other sites, there were no links to buy the books.

So here’s my question: How visible are you? For a quick check, go out and google your author name.  How many of the hits on the first page are yours? My personal gauge, especially if the author name is unusual, is that 75-90% of the hits on that first page should be you. If they’re not, you’re not easy to find. And if I go searching for an author and don’t find a website link on the first page of hits, I don’t look further, to be quite honest.

Visibility is everything in this business. If you aren’t seen, you aren’t selling books. Social media is a good way to be visible, but it’s also easy to get lost in all the tweets and Facebook invites.

One of the best ways to make certain you are visible is to have a website. Do you have one? If so, I applaud you. Every author should have a professional looking website. Let me say that again. EVERY author should have one. And every website should have information about your stories and LINKS to the major markets where your books can be purchased. The first rule of marketing is to make it easy for the buyer to buy. So make certain you’ve made it as easy as possible for readers to find and buy your books.

A website is also a great way to put a stamp on your brand, as Graeme recently discussed on this blog. If you know your brand, showcase it here. Let the world know who you are. Your website should have a place for news (hopefully front and center), a short biography about you, a books page (with LINKS), and links to your social media and email. That’s a minimum. Beyond that, I say have fun. Devote a page to the world you’ve created for your stories, or to a hobby you love. Or to your dog or cat.

That being said, not everyone can afford a professionally designed website. It’s not cheap. But there are options. Wordpress.com, for instance. You can design a free website there, with multiple pages. You can do the same thing on Blogger. And I’m sure there are other free venues out there. You don’t have to be a website designer to do this, but you do need to have a vision (your brand).  And if you need ideas, google your genre of writing, like “author, science fiction.” Start looking at other websites to figure out what you like. 

I’m not going to go in depth into domain names here, but as an author, I do suggest you purchase your domain name as soon as possible and tie it to your website so people can find you. Here’s where I strongly suggest you chat with other authors or entrepreneurs to determine where they bought their domain names. And if you can’t get the name you want, play around with it a bit. Add something like “author” or “books” to the end of it. Graeme’s website is graemebrownart.com. That’s a great way to individualize it, and if I search for “Graeme Brown”, it shows up on the first page.

A website isn’t the only thing needed to be “visible” on the web, but it’s where every author needs to start. I’ll try to talk about more things you can do to increase your visibility in future blogs.


Laurie Temple is an editor at Champagne Books


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Branding


Today I am going to talk about the "B" word.

B is for branding. In this industry, if you want to have a successful career as an author, it is very important you discover how to do it.

What is branding? Let's start with a few examples.

1. Myrtle Ball, the "Scribe of Bren"

You're going through a convention and you spot a table. On this table are all sorts of medieval books and statues of wizards, and the author of the books, Myrtle Ball, sits behind a glossy map of her world (cleverly mounted to the table). On the left are short stories about small significant events that occur in her world, on the right are novellas that explore larger events like quests, and the author tells you she's in the process of writing a novel about the Kingdom of Bren's first civil war. She tells you about her plans to write more, and how every story she writes opens up the doors to others (and adds more to her gigantic world map, which will soon be broken up into a detailed book of maps next year). Myrtle calls herself the "Scribe of Bren" and refers to each of her books as an act of unearthing more about this previously undiscovered realm.

I don't know about you, but I'd stop at this table and feel I have entered the unique world of the books. The products I see build one thing and offer you more to come. It's exciting. It comes to life. I think I'd buy one of Myrtle's Books.

This is branding.

2. Mary and Marvin McKay, science fiction near and far

You wander a little further down and find another table with two science fiction authors, Mary and Marvin McKay (husband and wife) whose series of space-war sagas line up along their table. The husband deals with the Colonizer series, set 1000 years after the Foundation series (which the wife writes). The wife's books, on her side of the table, are arranged in trios based on the various trilogies they belong to, while the husband is writing an open-ended series that relates to events that occurred before the Foundation series. Every time Mary (the wife) adds more to her series, she tells her husband and he gets ideas for his thousand-years-later line. They sound passionate and excited as they talk about how the saga has unfolded, and where they're going with it. "This is the future of our technology as we see it," Marvin says, while Mary adds, "We like to write about how our world changes over time, especially the people who are at the heart of it."

I don't know about you, but I'd stop and be quite intrigued. Suddenly, this isn't just about books they've written. It's about what those books are. Even though this husband-wife team write two separate series', they have branded themselves and made these books into a collective whole. The collections promise more and, most importantly, promise me, the reader, that if I start reading, I'm in for an adventure.

This is branding.

3. James Jenkins, a man of many mysteries

I reach the far end of the aisles and here is yet another author. James Jenkins writes stand-alone mystery novellas. None of them are the same and each of them borrow from different sub-genres. The Blood in the Alley is a thriller-suspense mystery, The Source of A Scream is a horror mystery, while Who Killed Mrs. Molly is a romantic-comedy mystery. It goes on and on—classic mystery, fantasy mystery, even erotic romance mystery—everywhere I look I have something different. I might think James is all over the place, except James has given me one important clue: all of his works involve mystery and a puzzle to be solved (he's made sure this is clear by picking a tablecloth with question marks in the fabric). James' opening line, as he smiles and watches me scan the shelves, is, "What kind of mystery is your favorite?"

James, too, has branded himself.


What do these three examples have in common? All three authors have embraced not just a book to promote themselves with. They have instead embraced a brand and are at their tables promoting that brand.

So how do you brand yourself? More importantly, how do you brand what you write?

STEP 1. Discover what you want to write, and stick to it

The first way to discover your brand is to discover what it is you really want to write. Maybe you write detective stories and horror stories. Maybe you hate both but really want to write romantic comedy. After all, your friends said you should be a comedian before you decided to become a writer. So, what are you waiting for?

Perhaps you write women's fiction and horror. You do well at both, but deep down you've always enjoyed giving people a scare. Maybe your mind races with ideas for terrifying stories and you have a box full of ideas waiting to be turned into stories, but you're working your way through it slowly because you're busy turning our those women's fiction manuscripts as well. Maybe you're selling those women's fiction manuscripts like hot cakes, but you hate the detour (in fact, you're even thinking of turning them into horror stories).

This is the point where you have to ask yourself how long you can keep it up. Or, a deeper question: money aside, are you satisfied as a writer?

Passion is a key ingredient to branding yourself. Why? Because you're going to put the core of your energy into this one product and you're going to bring it to life. If it's not something you feel passionate about, you're going to burn yourself out, and, worse, your readers are going to see behind the facade. Your brand might not be your current bestseller, but take a risk and put all your energy into doing what you love, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

STEP 2. Find a common ingredient

Branding is difficult if your "one thing" isn't easy to categorize. Often, a writer's first instinct with branding is to take everything he or she writes and try to lump it all together (see STEP 1 above - sometimes branding means closing some doors so others can open).

Branding yourself takes thought and time, and is more of a process than an instant change. As a personal example, I write epic fantasy. I am also a digital artist and web designer and a musician. (I'll leave out the math student-editor-computer programmer bit.) My website used to be a grab-bag portfolio of everything I'm good at doing. However, in the process of branding myself and realizing that my true passion lies in the art of storytelling and its application to the epic tales I bring to life every day at the keyboard, I've started making radical refinements. The digital mandala art I make will soon become a representative art form from the early ages of my world. My background in web design has allowed me to conceptualize a website that will be a central hub of free material for fans—to essentially create an environment where the world of the epic lives and grows while I take my time to craft each successive tale. The music, the math, and the computer programming are part of my personal life, and thus do not belong on my website at all. Granted, I'm still no Myrtle Ball, but at least readers who come to my site see a brand in development, not a labyrinth that promises to confuse.

Whatever it is you do when you brand yourself, you want it to have the effect of feeling like, "ONE". One thing, one entity, and you, the author, represent that entity. It's not a log-line, nor a catch phrase that you recite, nor a way of organizing your books. Rather, it's a way of putting them all together based on what they have in common, and your job, when you brand yourself, is to discover that and make it real.

STEP 3. It's a work in progress

Branding is a work in progress. It's not easy. You won't necessarily get it right immediately.

Take the first example above of our "Scribe of Bren". Maybe she wrote a short story and didn't know what to do with it. Maybe she tried a horror and it flopped. Readers wanted another story, so she wrote another one. That was when she drew the map. Things took off from there. (And, of course, she's been at it for seven years now.)

Or take the husband-and-wife team. Maybe they originally wrote unrelated science fiction works but wanted to promote one another. Maybe story number three for hubby related to something in his wife's world, then she started setting up her trilogies to relate to his. One night after a brief argument (he was wrong, by the way), they decided to name their series' and stick to the rule that the two were related.

Finally, look at our mystery man James Jenkins. In the beginning, he wrote in all sorts of genres. His rule of thumb was to never write the same thing. He wanted to change, "Like a snake shedding its skin," as he put it in one of his early interviews. One day his editor rejected his horror-comedy because they had no idea if it would sell. His editor talked to him about branding and after about a month, our author presented a horror-comedy mystery novel, invented the pseudonym James Jenkins, and presented a business plan to write more of these genre-benders, all with mystery as their common thread.

The need for branding

In this market, where millions of books are turned out per year, readers are easily distracted. As an author, you need to present them a magnet stronger than the other ones around you. A book by an unknown author is not going to do it, no matter how catchy the cover is. Nor will several books turned out every few months grab their attention.

You need something stronger. You need a brand.

Whatever that brand is, make it your goal to discover it, the same way you discover the stories that bring it to life.


Graeme Brown is a junior editor with Champagne Books. To find out more about Graeme visit his website: http://www.graemebrownart.com

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Talking Heads (or, When Life Hands You Dialogue, Throw in Some Action )


We’ve all seen it:

Hello, Cindy.”
“Hi, Jane.”
“How are you?”
“Fine, thanks. You?”
“Fine. Got any plans for after work?”
“Maybe go out for a drink.”
“Mm. I was gonna go for groceries.”
“Well, that, too, but I’d rather get a drink.”

Boooooooring. And how many of you had to count the lines to remember who’s talking? Or how about those passages where one person provides exposition of the plot or background, then another person presents an opposing opinion, then a third tosses in an idea that negates everything the first two said, and it starts all over. 

Booooooring.

Talking heads are boring on TV and they’re boring at a party and they’re boring in a book. (I’m not talking about the Talking Heads you still hear on FM radio. Though some people find them boring, too.) Humans are visual creatures and we like action. It’s up to you, the writer, to give your readers action.

Take a tip from director Ken Burns, for instance, in his great series on the Civil War. As in so many of his films, he has actors read from letters written during that tragic conflict. Gifted though the actors are, the readings could be a snooze. But Burns also gives us action, in the form of photos. Not static photos--he zooms in on a heartbreakingly real face, pans across fields of broken bodies, or highlights a telling detail. The spoken word blends with the pictures to create an indelible image.

So how do you emulate Ken Burns? By adding action to your dialogue. For example:

Jane stopped by her friend’s desk late on a Friday afternoon. “Hey, Cindy, whatcha doin’ after work?”
Cindy rubbed her eyes and gestured at the stack of paperwork beside her computer. “All this, then I need to get groceries.”
“Hmmph. Me, too. Wanna go for a drink?”
“Sweet Goddess, yes,” Cindy said with a laugh. Her shoulders lost some of their tension.

See the difference? Instead of just reporting what each person says, you’ve now given your characters a setting, indicated how hard they work, and shown something of their personalities. You’ve engaged your reader in the passage.

As for those long expositions, report in dialogue only what is necessary to the plot. Summarized the rest from your character’s POV or break it up into shorter bits that can be inserted into scenes where they do the most good. Show the listeners’ reactions by indicating their body movements or interior dialogue. Maybe a word from the speaker triggers memories or makes a connection:


Jason’s mind wandered while the boss droned on. He caught the phrase “binomial equation” and drifted back to his high school algebra class. He’d been far more interested in that pretty girl Vanessa What’s-her-name than in… Now the boss was sketching on the white board, a complex pattern of cross-hatching and curved lines. Jason raised his hand. “Maybe we should get Professor Martin in on this,” he suggested.

If you must include long speeches, remember Ken Burns, any televised political debate, or a good science documentary. Include visuals like the audience reaction or appropriate clips of related action.
In short, do whatever you must to engage your readers’ visual cortex. Remember, we humans are visual creatures, and we like action.


Nikki Andrews is an editor at Champagne Books and a writer of mysteries and scifi. Visit her blog here for more grammar fun.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mastering Structural Revision


Linear revision kills
Many writers jump into revision like a swimmer into shark waters. They wade through their draft again and again, focusing on different elements, and slowly they drift out deeper and deeper, moving in circles, making deeper changes without a proper reference. Then the sharks show up and guess who's on the menu?
Whether those sharks are the editors or agents who send out polite rejection letters, or the Gollum in your head that tells you the task is hopeless, linear revision is bound to kill you sooner or later.
It's madness, but there's method in it
Not all is lost! Time to stand up straight and learn how to master revision. The first stop is the posture clinic, aka the post-draft outline.
What is this, exactly? (Or, if you're a "pantser", the dreaded O-word might make you cringe.)
For me (an outliner) it is an outline, but if you prefer to avoid outlines altogether, consider this an exercise. 
Go through your manuscript and try to identify distinct chunks of your story. These are not necessarily scenes or chapters. They are segments, anywhere from 200 to 2000 words or so, where your story takes on a unique cadence and shape. For example, if your scene is a dialogue between conspirators overheard by your POV character, followed by your POV character's introspection while she rushes down a dark alley to warn her father about the plan to kill him, these events would stand alone. 
Develop a numbering system -- I use decimals to show divisions. For example, if I'm in chapter 1, the segments will be 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, and so on.
Go through from beginning to end. If one of the sections is particularly long, don't worry, but do see if there is an inflection that breaks it up. For example, if you have a long conversation in one passage, have a look. If it starts out with an exchange on the history of the world, then someone interrupts with a recent event that changes the topic, then this inflection divides the action to make the two parts unique segments.
Going over your whole story and dividing it up will allow you to appreciate where certain segments wander. Imagine each segment as a plunge under water. If you keep pulling your reader into the depths without giving them a breath, they're going to politely swim away to another tour guide. Similarly, if you pull them under for a long time once in a while (which you should!) then it had better be worth the view.
Once you have your manuscript divided up, go over and ask what each segment does -- how it helps the story as a whole. Cut, develop, re-write. Be honest. Be brutal. Be thorough. 
Most important, watch out for the sharks!

Graeme Brown is a junior editor with Champagne Books. This post is based on Step 10 of his Storybuilder Inc. series, which he adds to every Tuesday at Worlds of the Imagination. To find out more about Graeme visit his website: http://www.graemebrownart.com

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

ANOTHER EPISODE OF ... ‘BEFORE YOU PUSH THE SEND BUTTON’


I know we sound like a broken record regarding submissions, but there are many things to consider before you press that all important send button.

After you’ve read your manuscript one last time to catch any little niggling mistakes, THEN run thorough spelling and grammar program check. You’ll be stunned and chagrined at what you find. I’ve experienced many a head-to-desk moment when I thought I’d fixed everything. Please spell check.  Please.

As you work through your manuscript, see if you have any long and complex sentences. She was taken at once by the beautiful and vast spread of the desert before her with small dips and hollows, and was grateful she had taken some time studying about the plants and animals that had lived in this area and thrived regardless of the harsh weather conditions.  How many times did you have to read this to figure out where it was going? You don’t want to lose your reader in a quagmire of unnecessary words.

Instead – maybe... She marveled at the vast and beautiful desert spread before her. After learning about the plants and animals that lived here, it still amazed her how they thrived in these harsh conditions. This brings the sentences into a pleasing cadence and simplifies it at the same time.
One trick to help detect these long, stumbling-block sentences is to read your work aloud. I know you’ve heard this before, and it can be embarrassing if you’re discovered reading to the family pet, but it really works. If you can’t read it aloud without tripping over the words, your reader will probably trip over them, too.

In your read-through, you may notice words you’ve used way too many times – pet words. Be aware of those as well. The Search and Replace tool is awesome for this job.

A necessary search-and-replace task will include eradicating ‘felt’ ‘began to’ ‘about to’ and ‘started to’.  As an example, ‘he felt like he was about to hurl’ could simply read ‘he nearly hurled’. More punchy? Yep. ‘Felt’ isn’t a very strong word – and there are so many replacements available. Try variations of these words instead: sense, experience, suffer, undergo, think, believe, consider, deem, suspect. There are many others as well.          

How about ‘he began to walk to the store’? It’s stronger as ‘he walked to the store’. Or ‘it began to pour buckets’ is better as ‘it poured buckets’.

Another search-and-replace task should include ‘was’ ‘that’ and ‘had’. Most incidences of ‘that’ can go away completely, as long as the sentence still makes sense. The words ‘was’ and ‘had’ may be part of a Passive Voice sentence, which we discussed a few weeks ago, and leads to weaker sentences and descriptions.

Sigh.


Yes, preparing a manuscript for submission is a TON of hard work. Almost as hard as writing it. However, if you want your readers captured by your story and eager for your next one, you have to take care of the structure that supports it. And the hard work will be so worthwhile. 


Monica Britt, editor
http://www.facebook.com/authormjbritt

Twitter @mons1954


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bring It Here, Take It There


Cranky Old Grammar Lady threw the newspaper across the room yesterday. The offending photo caption read (paraphrased to protect the guilty), “The car crashed into this convenience store and the victim was brought to Central Northern General Medical Center and Wallet Removal Service Inc.” (Disclaimer: no such hospital exists in this state.)

What’s wrong with it? The misuse of the verb bring. Or in this case its past form, brought. COGL has noticed a marked uptick recently in the confusion between bring and take, and will now clarify the difference. Pay attention, you there in the back row.

Ahem. To cite Merriam-Webster, bring means “to convey, lead, carry or cause to come along with one toward the place from which the action is being regarded.” Take means “to lead, carry, or cause to go along with one to another place.”

In other words, one can bring something here, or take something there.

Example:
Incorrect: “Did you bring the outgoing mail to the post office?” he asked, as we sat at home.
Correct: “No, dumkopf, I took it to the post office. But here, I brought home a letter from your mother.”

Mnemonic--If the person or item is going there, use take. If the person or item is coming here, use bring.

Getting back to the newspaper. The victim is “carried to another place” from the convenience store in the picture. In other words, the victim “went there.” If the photo showed the ER at Central Northern etc., then the caption could correctly say the victim was brought to it--“conveyed to the place from which the action is being regarded.”

So far, so good. This being English, there is an exception, which accounts for COGL’s chronic crankiness. Actually, if you pay attention to the definitions, it’s not so much an exception as a nuance. Suppose COGL contacts her son and invites herself for a visit. In return, she offers some genuine New Hampshire maple syrup, which the poor boy can’t get in Pennsylvania. “Would you like me to bring you some? I’ll bring a gallon for you,” she says. Huh? The syrup is going there. Why is bring the correct verb and not take?

Because “the place from which the action is being regarded” is the son’s house. If that confuses you, think of it this way--because COGL has called/written/emailed/contacted the son, she has in effect put herself beside him and is regarding her own action from his location. It’s a courtesy, if you like; putting oneself in another’s shoes.

Of course, if COGL were speaking with her husband, Cranky Old Car Guy, she would say, “I’m going to take a gallon of maple syrup to our son’s house.” To which COCG would say, “You’re gonna spoil that kid.”



Cranky Old Grammar Lady, aka Nikki Andrews, is an editor at Champagne Books and a writer of mysteries and scifi. Visit her blog here for more grammar fun.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

True or false: write what you know

I’m an editor mostly now but I started as an author. I’d like to share with you something I still hear, taken literally, that I think means something else entirely.

Always, authors are told to “write what you know.”  I did some research on who first said this and while this is most frequently attributed to Mark Twain, there is a general consensus that no one really knows who first said it. Surprisingly, the general consensus is also that the saying should be banned. Or at least an author’s reliance on it.

So, what does “write what you know” mean, really?

Well, some believe it should be taken literally— writers should not write about things we have not personally experienced. This is actually the definition I heard many years ago. Now, I find it very amusing and my reaction to it can be summed up by a quote from Robert Duncan—“If I write what you know, I bore you; if I write what I know, I bore myself, therefore I write what I don’t know.”

Isn’t that great?

Here’s another by Howard Nemerov that made me laugh—“Write what you know. That should leave you with a lot of free time.”

So true. Now, I don’t consider myself uninformed. I’m smart. I know stuff. But I don’t know enough about places and things to infuse my stories with the atmosphere readers want. Because while we read about characters, we also read for places and things. If I were to write only about what I know, I’d be writing short, flat stories.

I write paranormal stories. I have yet to meet a fallen angel, demon or a shape-shifting rock (Relic Defender: Key of Solomon). I have yet to experience life in a futuristic Earth (Hit Me With Your Best Shot) or travel to another planet. I have yet to visit Egypt and see the pyramids at Giza (Children of Egypt: Blood on the Moon). I have yet to explore the Mayan ruins in South America. Yet, these are all places I have visited in my research and in my imagination.

I’d like to leave you with another great quote on author’s writing what they know. This is from Valerie Sherwood: “Don’t write what you know—what you know may bore you, and thus bore your readers. Write about what interests you—and interests you deeply—and your readers will catch fire at your words.”

Would my writing be any better if I experienced some of these things? Maybe. I don’t know. I think what makes it great is that I haven’t been there so I can infuse my stories with the passion of discovering something new. And that’s what I try to do.


If you read my books, I hope you agree.


Cassiel Knight

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dialogue - Five Tips for Natural and Realistic Flow


There are times when, reading dialogue, I both recognize and sympathize with how hard it can be to make it sound right.  Conversations can so easily come out stilted and monotone. So I came up with a few tips that can help strengthen passages with dialogue.

1.  Adverbs describing speech - get rid of those -ly words.

Example: “Get out of this house,” she said angrily.
Solution:  “Get out. Now.” Her arm shook as she pointed to the door.
Or, if you prefer to describe the voice:
“Get out. Now.” The sting in her voice bit deeper than a rattlesnake’s fangs.

2.  Don’t show me an emotion or action IN the dialogue and/or action, then tell me.

Example:  “You feeling okay? You don’t look so good,” he said, studying his friend.
            (since he’s commented on how the guy looks, we already know he’s studied him.)
Solution: “You feeling okay? You don’t look so good.”

Example: At the loud report, he raced to the garage and threw open the door. “What happened?” he asked, concerned.
Solution: Let the dialogue say it all. Leave off that  “he asked, concerned”. And “threw open the door” isn’t needed, either. It’s implied when he races to the garage. It’s much stronger and keeps the reader in the action to simply say:
At the loud report, he raced to the garage. “What happened?”

3.  Don’t use dialogue tags where they aren’t needed. He said/she said are superfluous most of the time. I’d always been taught that he said/she said are invisible and should be used over more explanatory tags, but often these aren’t needed at all, unless it’s a conversation between more than two people.

Example: “What do you want for dinner?” he asked.
Solution: “What do you want for dinner?”

4. Do use action tags, but not on every line of dialogue. Here’s a brief conversation to show how a quick action tag will do so much more than a dialogue tag:

“What’s for dinner?”
She cocked an eyebrow. “I don’t know. What are you cooking?”
“Hmmm. I guess that means we’re eating out.”
“I like that idea.”
“Yeah, thought you might.” He grinned.

5.  And here’s the biggie: Does what you’ve written sound like your character would speak? There are nuances and accents we all try to infuse our characters with, but make certain it works. Read the dialogue out loud, without the tags. Does it sound like they are reading off a card or like natural conversation?

Dialogue is a huge way to show your reader what the character is thinking and to move their interactions forward (or backward, depending on what you have in store for them). So make it real, and make it count.


Laurie Temple is an editor at Champagne Books and writes under the pseudonym Laurie Ryan.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Guest blogger Rayne Hall: Body Language in Dialogue Scenes


Body language can add another dimension to your dialogue scene, because it reveals a person's intentions, feelings or mood.

The five main types of body language are gesture, posture, movement, facial expression and tone of voice.

Gesture Examples

She pointed to the orchard. “I saw him there.”
He slammed his fist on the table. “I've had enough.”
She scratched her chin. “Are you sure this will work?”
Welcome.” He pointed to the couch. “Why don't you make yourself comfortable?”

Posture Examples

She raised her chin. “You can't make me do this.”
He locked his arms across his chest. “No way.”
She leant away from him. “This isn't working between us.”
I consider this an insult.” He stood with his shoulders squared and his legs braced. “Take it back.”

Movement Examples

Maybe another time.” He turned to leave.
She walked faster. “I told you I don't want a date.”
All right.” He shuffled forward.
Follow me!” She leaped across the brook.

Facial Expression Examples

Her eyes narrowed. “You expect me to believe this?”
His cheeks turned tomato-red. “What do you mean?”
I'm sorry.” She stared at the floor. “I didn't want it to be this way.”
The corners of his eyes crinkled, and his lips twitched. “Really?”

Tone of Voice Examples

We will stand together in this.” His voice was deep and resonant like a church bell.

I've told you a hundred times, and I'm telling you again.” Her voice sounded like a dentist's drill, high-pitched and persistent. “Why don't you ever listen?”

You know that I'm going to kill you, don't you?” He sounded as casual as if he were discussing the weather. “Do you prefer a shot in the heart, or the head?”

You've been with that floozy again, you cheating bastard!” Her voice was loud enough to wake up the whole neighborhood.

Body Language instead of Dialogue Tags

Using body language allows you to cut boring dialogue tags (he said, she asked, he answered) because it shows who's talking.

Tag versions:
What about the girl?” he asked.
Bastards!” she shouted. “I won't let you get away with this.”
What now?” he wondered aloud.

Body language versions:
He jerked his chin at her. “What about the girl?”
Bastards!” She slammed her fist on the table. “I won't let you get away with this.”
He scratched his head. “What now?”

Point of View

Most people aren't aware of their body language. Therefore, use body language for the character who is not the PoV.

If the body language is intentional, for example gestures, you can use it for PoV and non-PoV characters.

Lies and Secrets

Advanced writers can use body language to hint at secrets and lies. The characters' words say one thing, but their body language another.

Yes, tell me the rest of your life story, it's so exciting.” She glanced at her watch. “It's a pleasure to hear all about it.”
He hugged his arms around his chest. “I'm not frightened.”
His face paled. “That's all right, honey. It doesn't matter at all.”

If a character avoids eye-contact, this suggests that they're not telling the truth or are hiding a secret.

Don't wait with dinner for me tonight, darling. Arabella and I will have to work late again.” He did not meet Sue's eyes. “It's a bore, but the workload is getting heavier every day.”


Rayne Hall is an author and editor.
After writing and editing, her great love is teaching, and she teaches online classes for writers, which you can find out more about by visiting: https://sites.google.com/site/writingworkshopswithraynehall/
Follow her on Twitter: @Raynehall






Thursday, September 12, 2013

Be This - Not That!

Today, let's discuss author etiquette, both at conferences and in the online world. Here are just a few behaviors authors should avoid seriously avoid.

1. I'm sure you've heard the horror stories of authors pushing their manuscripts under the toilet stall to an editor or agent. Don't be that pushy person! Respect their space. Trust me - they-ll remember who you are and your chances of making a good impression at your pitch appointment will be ZERO, no matter how good your story is. Editors and agents share their horror stories with each other.

Instead, have your elevator pitch perfected and ready to go. You may meet an editor or agent in the hallway at a conference, in the dining room, or in the parking lot. Open a casual conversation first. Let them give you the opening to share your pitch.  

2. Recently, intentionally negative commentary on a large, well-read website forced an author to back off her book's release date. She was devastated. Don't be that negative person!   Other authors will know who you are and de-friend you faster than you can blink.

Instead, remember the adage, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  Think Thumper from the old Disney movie Bambi. 

3. At your pitch appointments, stick to your time limits. If you're in a group pitch with three minutes per person, don't go on and on about every minor character and trivial detail of your book. This leaves everyone else with no time to share and a serious desire to pummel you senseless. Don't be that inconsiderate person! This behavior will not earn you a request. 

Instead, have your presentation ready, whether it's memorized or on paper. If you have three minutes, yours should last two. Leave time for the editor or agent to ask you questions and - most important - request your business card or sample chapters.  This applies to one-on-one pitches as well. Be brief, be bright, and leave a good impression. Listen to what the agent or editor tells you. Ask them how they're doing! Thank them for their time. 

4. When you're on Facebook, Twitter, or other social websites, stay social. I see too many authors who only use these social networking tools to push their latest book, flooding you with invitations to their website or a book release party. Don't be that obnoxious person! 

Instead, be social! Share funny anecdotes, especially if it includes kittens or bacon. Be interested in other people's posts. Encourage people who seem to be having a rough time. Congratulate people on their successes. They'll remember that you're genuine and be more apt to like you. Then, when you share your accomplishments as an author, people will be more than happy to share and congratulate you. 

These are just a few examples, of course. Remember to be considerate and respectful of everyone around you, in every situation you encounter. Agents and editors will remember these traits. It shows them what kind of author you'll be to work with. Your behavior will help you sell your story. 

Don't be the person everyone avoids. Be the person everyone respects.


Monica Britt, editor
http://www.facebook.com/authormjbritt
Twitter @mons1954

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bring It Here, Take It There
Cranky Old Grammar Lady threw the newspaper across the room yesterday. The offending photo caption read (paraphrased to protect the guilty), “The car crashed into this convenience store and the victim was brought to Central Northern General Medical Center and Wallet Removal Service Inc.” (Disclaimer: no such hospital exists in this state.)

What’s wrong with it? The misuse of the verb bring. Or in this case its past form, brought. COGL has noticed a marked uptick recently in the confusion between bring and take, and will now clarify the difference. Pay attention, you there in the back row.

Ahem. To cite Merriam-Webster, bring means “to convey, lead, carry or cause to come along with one toward the place from which the action is being regarded.” Take means “to lead, carry, or cause to go along with one to another place.”

In other words, one can bring something here, or take something there.

Example:
Incorrect: “Did you bring the outgoing mail to the post office?” he asked, as we sat at home.
Correct: “No, dumkopf, I took it to the post office. But here, I brought home a letter from your mother.”

Mnemonic--If the person or item is going there, use take. If the person or item is coming here, use bring.

Getting back to the newspaper. The victim is “carried to another place” from the convenience store in the picture. In other words, the victim “went there.” If the photo showed the ER at Central Northern etc., then the caption could correctly say the victim was brought to it--“conveyed to the place from which the action is being regarded.”

So far, so good. This being English, there is an exception, which accounts for COGL’s chronic crankiness. Actually, if you pay attention to the definitions, it’s not so much an exception as a nuance. Suppose COGL contacts her son and invites herself for a visit. In return, she offers some genuine New Hampshire maple syrup, which the poor boy can’t get in Pennsylvania. “Would you like me to bring you some? I’ll bring a gallon for you,” she says. Huh? The syrup is going there. Why is bring the correct verb and not take?

Because “the place from which the action is being regarded” is the son’s house. If that confuses you, think of it this way--because COGL has called/written/emailed/contacted the son, she has in effect put herself beside him and is regarding her own action from his location. It’s a courtesy, if you like; putting oneself in another’s shoes.

Of course, if COGL were speaking with her husband, Cranky Old Car Guy, she would say, “I’m going to take a gallon of maple syrup to our son’s house.” To which COCG would say, “You’re gonna spoil that kid.”



Cranky Old Grammar Lady, aka Nikki Andrews, is an editor at Champagne Books and a writer of mysteries and scifi. Visit her blog here for more grammar fun.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Haven by Celia Breslin



Haven by Celia Breslin is today’s Taste of Champagne. Haven, Breslin’s debut novel, sits at the top of Champagne Books’ Bestseller List. A few pages in and it’s easy to see why. Check out the short excerpt that showcases Breslin’s storytelling/writing skill as Carina looks back on the morning and afternoon of her birthday.

“So, on my twenty-fifth birthday, a day meant for celebration, I found myself with family secrets to unravel, mysterious strangers to meet, and unknown dangers to avoid. Unease slithered up my spine and my head throbbed yet again. I was a pawn in a game I hadn’t even known I played. I didn’t like it one bit.”

Carina Tranquilli is a wealthy nightclub owner in San Francisco who endures a 25th birthday from hell. Her life is a twenty-something’s dream with parties at her own nightclub, friends and family who love her, and a to-die-for wardrobe. Until the morning of her 25th birthday when the witch attacked her, only the death of her parents and a twelve-year-long memory gap troubled her otherwise perfect life.

When vampires arrive claiming to be kin, she’s forced to delve deep into painful memories that she’d rather leave undisturbed. If your relatives are vampires, what does that make you—especially if you’re acquiring a taste for blood? She discovers that these same vampires have been hosting a private night at her nightclub where the only humans invited are those on the menu—willing feasts for vampires she didn’t even know existed.

When she meets Alexander, a gorgeous vampire as drawn to her as she is to him, the action moves from steamy to sizzling—even if it is forbidden by her newfound relatives. The same relatives demand the right to control her life to protect her from unidentified threats until she can protect herself with her vast powers. Those powers, whatever they are, fail to protect her and her friends when the really bad guys, also with fangs, show up.



Haven, the first installment in The Tranquili Bloodline series, is one of the best new stories I’ve read in a long time. The rich plot and compelling characters provide the set up for a long series run. I’m looking forward to the next one.

Click HERE to buy/read excerpt of Haven.





Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Eliminate Needless Adjectives and Adverbs

It's Wordy Wednesday, and that means...
...time for some reflections from the editor's desk!


This week I’m continuing the theme Graeme started last week – what to look for when perfecting your manuscript. I’m going to add to his list by declaring war on needless adjectives and adverbs. Too many of these words weaken your story and look amateurish. In the nineteenth century, I’ve heard, authors were paid by the word, hence the flowery prose of that era. In the twenty-first century, authors are usually paid a percentage of sales, and do not need to embellish quite so much. We also talk much more informally, and the excessive verbiage of two centuries ago becomes stilted and unnatural.

Does this mean to never use adjectives or adverbs? No, of course not. Sometimes they are absolutely necessary. But use them sparingly.

Consider the following paragraph:

Annette tossed back her curly reddish blonde hair and slammed her hand down on the dark oak desktop. She rose up on her red stiletto heels and glowered at Arthur, her dark-haired bearded protesting subordinate.

What if you wrote the following instead:

Annette tossed back her hair and slammed her hand on the desk. She stood up and glowered at Arthur, her protesting subordinate.

In which of these paragraphs does Annette come across as the powerful manager that she is? Sure, at some point you might want to insert a description of what Annette and Arthur look like, but not here, where the key point is the action. And let me also note that a manager would probably not wear red stiletto heels unless she worked in the fashion industry, or possibly publishing.

As for adverbs, many of the extraneous words Graeme posted can be used as adverbs. Words like just, some, somewhat, really, very, actually, quite, or still, are frequently unnecessary and often weaken what you’re saying. Note the difference between these two simple sentences:

She felt somewhat lonely that evening.

Vs.

Her loneliness dragged at her.

The second sentence is a stronger statement.

Adverbs are frequently used when the verb is not precise enough. Whenever you see an adverb, double-check your verb. Often you’ll discover that a more powerful verb eliminates the need for the adverb.

Tom forcefully moved the papers across his desk.

Vs.

Tom shoved the papers across his desk.

Be ruthless in weeding out unneeded adverbs and adjectives. Your prose will be the better for it.


Diane Breton
Content Editor
Champagne Book Group

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Say it Tight

It's Wordy Wednesday...

...but today I'll talk about more words you want to get rid of before submitting (a follow up to my post 2 weeks ago, which you can view here). Today's focus: unnecessary words.

Here's the checklist, followed by examples:

Just
Really
Very
Somewhat
Somehow
Seemed
In a way
Actually
Rather
Quite
Then
That
Thing
All
Quick
Step
Hard
Little
Long
Still


Enter these words (and their variations) in your "find" box for your word processor. If you don't find each one dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of times, then congratulations, you have a tight manuscript. If not, here's some examples to get your started:


1) It's all like just somehow really very wordy

Now, you probably don't have sentences that wordy, but they might look something like this:

Somehow, he knew this would happen.
vs.
He knew this would happen

It all made sense. If only he could just make sense of that last clue...
vs.
It all made sense. Now, if he could decipher the last clue...

She really hated him, and it spread to all her friends like it was some kind of pandemic.
vs.
Her hatred for him was pandemic. After a week of gossip, everyone in the office wanted him out.


(Notice that cutting unnecessary words doesn't always make your sentence shorter.)


2) It seems quite hard to read, or rather, its actually somewhat tedious

Now that's a tedious sentence. Yours might look a little more like these:

She seemed to notice him.
vs.
She noticed him.

It was rather hard not to think of him that way.
vs.
She couldn't think of him that way.

The dog looked somewhat angry.
vs.
The dog growled.


3) In a way, this thing is still a little long

Ugh! Here are some examples:

In a way, her answer reflected wisdom beyond her years.
vs.
Her answer showed wisdom beyond her years.

The box was lined with black things, long little tubes that poked up in all directions.
vs.
Finger-length, black tubes lined the box, poking up like porcupine quills.

It was taking them a long time to get where they needed to go. Bryan looked at his watch.
vs.
Bryan checked his watch. 5:00. "We should have been finished by 4:30!"

4) It's not just about cutting words

Notice these examples are not mindless word-cutting exercises. Sometimes there is a place to use "just" and "that". Your goal isn't just to cut words, but to replace them with ones that show the reader your story.

Now take the challenge further. Read your manuscript and look for words you use a lot. Put them in your "find" box and see how you've used them. Can you cut them out and make your writing sharper?


Graeme Brown
Junior editor
http://www.graemebrownart.com/the_pact.html
Twitter: @GraemeBrownWpg

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ear Worms

It's Wordy Wednesday...

...time for some reflections from the editor's desk.


Pardon me if I seem to be in a “pet peeves” mode today. You know how sometimes you notice one little detail, and suddenly you see it everywhere? Well, lately I’ve noticed an overuse of two clichés, the literary equivalent of ear-worms, so I’m on a de-worming campaign.

A cliché starts as an original expression, but devolves through misuse and overuse into meaningless verbiage. One I can’t get out of my head is “turn on one’s heel.” The original use appears to have been an attempt to show how a character can spin around, usually in anger or disgust. My problem with the phrase is not only overuse, although that’s bad enough. What gets to me is that the action described is nearly impossible to do. The angles of our knees and ankles and the balance of our muscles are all wrong for this motion. Seriously, have you ever tried turning on your heel? I dare you to do it without landing on your derriere. Go ahead, try it. I’ll wait… See? If you want to change direction quickly and emphatically, you pivot on your toes. The only person I’ve ever seen turn on his heel was an actor, playing an alien disguised as a human. The effect was truly eerie and, well, alien.

The other worm in my ear could be considered less obnoxious because it takes many forms:

I forced my way through the crowd.

He picked his way over the stones.

She edited her way through a manuscript.

They ate their way through the meal.

We swam our way across the river.

All these sentences indicate movement against resistance, which isn’t so bad. But he pushed his way through the open door? Yes, I’ve run into that one. Where’s the resistance he’s pushing against? My objection to this cliché is its frequency and its lack of detail. How about:

 I wriggled between the dancers.

He tested each stone before he trusted his weight to it.

She wielded her red pen like a machete over a jungle of turgid prose.

They gorged on a smorgasbord.

The river nearly carried us off, but we floundered to the other bank.

He took one bold step into the room.

Yes, these sentences are longer, but much more vivid.

Clichés serve a purpose. They are a kind of shorthand we use without thinking, in the faith that our readers will know what we mean. Indeed, if you never use a cliché your writing may feel foreign or unnatural. However, we can do better. We can use stronger verbs, more precise nouns and more descriptive adjectives to create a sharper picture in our readers’ minds. Examine your use of clichés. If they are not the best way to get your ideas across, turn on your heel and work your way through to better writing. 

Better yet, ditch the cliché and get creative.



Nikki Andrews is an editor at CBG and a published author. She also does freelance editing. Visit her blog at www.scrivenersriver.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Word Weeding

It's Wordy Wednesday...

...but today I'll talk about the opposite of being wordy. In particular: words to weed out before you submit your manuscript.

Start, begin, turn, look, could, and feel are the biggest culprits. As an editor reading submissions, the first thing I do is search for how these words are used. If the counter comes up in the hundreds for more than one, I return the manuscript, even if the story is good.

Here's a basic check-list to help you clear your manuscript of these pests:


1) Do your characters start do to things? Do they began to walk? Begin to speak?

Use the "find" feature in your word processor and go through your manuscript, looking for all forms of "start" and "begin" ("began", "begun").

(Note: Don't use "find & replace", because you will have to think about how to tighten most sentences where the rogue words occur.)

Here are some examples to help you:


Joe started to walk down the street.
vs.
Joe walked down the street.

Jane began to ponder her predicament.
vs.
Jane pondered her predicament.


2) Are people turning and looking and seeing? Do you have them turning to the door? Are they looking at each other when they talk? Does Bob see the path ahead of him?

Again, use the "find" feature for all three words - "turn", "look", "see" (and "saw"). Here's more examples:


He turned to the door, seeing it was partly ajar.
vs.
The door was ajar.


Hansel turned to Rachel and looked at her shimmering red dress.
vs.
Rachel's red dress shimmered.


She saw the path before her, then turned to look at Chris as she spoke. "Are you going to get over it? I told you I'm sorry."
"I need time. Weren't you listening?" Chris said.
vs.
The path stretched ahead. Chris kept pace with her, brooding. "Are you going to get over it? I told you I'm sorry."
"I need time. Weren't you listening?"


Notice in the last example how cutting those words makes the story do its own telling? Good storytelling hides a lot between the lines, so you can say more with less.


3) Check if you have a case of the "coulds". Do you find that Chuck could feel his panic rising? Or that Haley could smell the fresh rain?

Go through your manuscript, searching "could" and "feel" (don't forget "felt" and could's cousins, "should", and "might").


Alex could hear the alarm from across the room.
vs.
The alarm blared.


He might have felt fear, but he steeled himself anyway.
vs.
He steeled himself, ignoring fear.


He felt the snake slither across his leg.
vs.
The snake slithered across his leg.


Sanford could have sworn he was supposed to be at the office by eight, but he must have been wrong.
vs.
Sanford arrived at the office by eight. It was empty. He checked his calendar.


4) If you've ticked off this checklist, then you're on track. But the list goes on: said, asked, just, very, and realize, to name a few.

There are many great books on writing craft. I would personally recommend Strunk and White's, The Elements of Style and Rayne Hall's, The Word Loss Diet, as short, easy-to-follow drills that will help you make your submission shine.



Graeme Brown
Junior editor
http://www.graemebrownart.com/the_pact.html
Twitter: @GraemeBrownWpg


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Do Your Characters Sigh Too Much?

It's Wordy Wednesday, and that means...

...time for some reflections from the editor's desk!

Today we welcome a guest, Rayne Hall, author of more than forty books and editor of the Ten Tales series.



In thirty years as an editor, I've found the same words blight and bloat the style of many authors. One of them is "sigh".

In real life, people who constantly sigh soon get on our nerves. Few folks enjoy the company of sighers. The same applies to fiction: readers don't like characters that sigh a lot.

Yet, sighs creep into fiction and multiply like vermin.  If you're not on your guard, your novel soon reads like this:

He sighed.... She sighed deeply.... He heaved a deep sigh... A sigh escaped from her lips.... With a sigh, she did this... Sighing, she rose.... He looked at her and sighed...

Moreover, a character that sighs at the slightest trigger comes across as a wuss.

One sigh is enough for the reader's subconscious to file that character as a wimp.  Two sighs make the character a wimpy wimp. By the time your heroine has heaved her third sigh, the reader has lost respect for her.

It's raining - sigh.
Aunt Agatha is coming - sigh.
Little Laura misbehaves - sigh.
The kitten scratches - sigh.
Work needs doing - sigh.
Another Monday - sigh.
Life goes on - sigh.

Use your word processor's Find & Replace tool to count how many times you've used "sigh", and then cut most of them.

By cutting the sighs, you'll make your writing tighter and your characters spunkier.

I recommend keeping just one or two sighs in the whole book: one for a wimpy minor character, and one in the second half of the book where your protagonist has real reason to sigh.



Rayne Hall is an author and editor. After writing and editing, her great love is teaching, and she teaches online classes for writers. To find out more, visit: https://sites.google.com/site/writingworkshopswithraynehall/


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Passive Voice


It's Wordy Wednesday, and that means...
...time for some reflections from the editor's desk!


English is a funny language. We want our stories to compel our reader’s attention, from the first sentence, all the way through to the end of the book. Just do a Wikipedia search of passive voice. It will make your head spin. However, the rules of passive voice affects us all, especially in fiction. We want our prose to carry power and punch. Passive voice generally creates sentences that lack those ideals.

Here is an example of a sentence in passive voice.

The man was bumped by the elephant.

In passive voice, the recipient of the action becomes the subject, making the subject the man. But he is not active. He’s just the receiver of the elephant’s action.
Contrast that with the sentence below in active voice.

The elephant bumped the man.

In an active sentence, the subject commits the action. So the elephant, the subject, is doing the action.  He bumps the man. The man is the object of the sentence.

Grammar lesson over. I know this is a confusing subject.

I found a great example on Grammar Girl, using a Marvin Gaye song title.

“I Heard It through the Grapevine.” 

"I" is the subject, the one who is doing the action. "I" is hearing "it," the object of the sentence.

If you wanted to make the title of the Marvin Gaye song passive, you would say, “It was heard by me through the grapevine.” -- not such a catchy title anymore.

You can see how the active voice carries so much more punch, and makes a more compelling read.

How do we fix this in our own work? Sometimes, just flipping a sentence can help. Like this example:

Her books were piled in the center of the table as she peered at him from over the top.
vs.
She peered at him over the top of her books piled on the center of the table.

It’s a simple fix, and it changes the cadence and the strength of the sentence.

When you do your next spelling and grammar check and a passive sentence pops up, these tools can help you make your sentences and your manuscript stronger.

However, you might find sentences where the method of flipping won’t work:

Daniel grinned to himself as the velvet curtains were pulled shut.

This sentence doesn’t lend itself to a complete flip with "were pulled shut quickly." But one good fix is:

Daniel grinned to himself as the velvet curtains twitched shut.


Monica Britt is an editor at Champagne Books.