Book Beat Babes

Book Beat Babes

Friday, February 27, 2015

We Live in an Info Bite/Snack World



I just read an opinion piece at Publishers Weekly that reinforced much of what I knew already but also opened my eyes about some important issues that make sense now that I’ve read this piece but I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of on my own.

In the email link the title/label is, “The 130 Most Important Words an Author Will Ever Write,” but the title of the opinion piece is, How to Master Your Book’s Amazon Description.”   Here’s the link:


Whatever title speaks to you, this is a MUST READ and once you read it you will know why.

The author, Maggie Anton, describes how her webmistress posted a description of her latest book on her very own website that was not the most up-to-date description of her book.  Upon asking where the webmistress obtained the description it was revealed that it came from Amazon and was from a communication with the author's editor at least a year prior.

What is really telling about this blog is how Maggie Anton describes the process by which she figured out that the magic number of words in a book description is 130 - and it’s not just Amazon that is of concern since multiple other sources, such as Goodreads, display the Amazon descriptions.

Take a look at the article referenced above and see if you need to fine tune your description or “pitch” for your book.  We often think of pitching our books in the context of attracting the attention of an editor or agent but this opinion piece emphasizes just how important it is to pitch to our readers as well, especially given the electronic and fast-paced world in which we now live.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Listen To Your Words! by DL Larson

I'm a music nut. I might not always know the performer's name, I may not know all the words to any particular song, but I do love a good melody. Readers do the same with the written word. They may pick up a book that visually intrigues them, but after a few sentences, they place it back on the shelf. Why? Usually, the reason is the words on the page didn't intrigue them as they hoped. I'm talking about style.

The way we, as writers, put our words together is important. I've attended many workshops on writing style and it always comes down to a few basic rules. Words need to create an image or impression to the reader in order to capture their attention. Then words must continue to enrapture the reader to keep them reading.

How does a writer accomplish such a monumental task? Work, work, work! Actually, the repeated word 'work' has a hint of style in it. It lends itself to not giving up, to keep on with the task at hand, to continue on, no matter what! Yet, all I wrote was, 'work, work, work.'

Also the word, 'work,' has a nice crunch to it. It gives the reader that grrrr feeling. It's a basic, elemental, primal urge to hear more strong sounding words. It's an action word over a passive one. Action creates movement in a reader's mind.

If you have a passage that lags, undoubtedly your style is lagging too. You may read it out loud and think it sounds okay, you're saying what you meant to say. But does it have flavor? Does it conjure up a particular image, or pull at some emotion? I tell my chess players, "find a good move, then discover a better one before you actually make a move." What you have written may not be wrong, it simply lacks luster and imagination.

Another simple way to work on style is to read your passage aloud. I know, you've been told this over and over. But listen as a musician listens to his orchestra. Is one word a little too sharp for the content of the sentence? Or fall flat? Is something missing? An unsung note perhaps that needs filling in. Is something out of tune with the rest of the paragraph or story? Is it too abrupt? Or not enough contrast? Is the balance in perfect pitch with the surrounding sentences?

I sing alto with our church choir and there are times when my friend and I will know automatically one of us was not on the correct note. No matter who was right on or off, we both knew it didn't sound the way it was supposed to sound. The result ended in discord. The wrong note had been sung just as times the wrong word is typed out and left to dangle like a broken reed.

If your story ebbs and flows like a symphony, then you have found your style. If it bleeps and spits and sounds more like a monkey banging away on his symbols, you need to work on your style. The sound of words give strength to your writing, if you put them in the correct order!

Let your words sing!

Til next time ~

DL Larson
www.DLLARSON.com

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Fun and Games at Tax Time!

I've been trying to get my tax stuff together for the accountant, so haven't had time to do much else. Every year, I promise myself to be more organized. I thought I'd done better this year, but discovered I still had tons of stuff to get ready. It's almost all together now.

Yesterday, I had one drawback. I list various categories on Excel spreadsheets each year and save the file with the year name and the category. I'd pulled up the prior year's spreadsheet in one category and made a number of entries into it and saved it. Then, I realized I'd automatically saved it under the old name, which meant I'd lost the version from last year on my computer. Yes, I have a printed copy, but it's still not the same.

Fortunately, my subscription to Carbonite came in handy. At first, I looked and couldn't find the prior version before I'd made the changes, but then I read their instructions again, and found the one saved last year, and was able to recover it.

So, it does pay to have a backup system!

Today, I'm going to wrestle with why Amazon sent me two statements for receipts, and neither matches what they deposited into my writing account.

So, my advise is you can never be too organized when it comes to taxes. Also, get a backup system if you don't have one!



Find Morgan Mandel's
Romances, Mysteries & Thrillers
at http://amazon.com/author/MorganMandel

Excerpts at: http://morgansbooklinks.blogspot.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/morgan.mandel

Twitter: @MorganMandel

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Borrowing

I have friends who talk about and browse Pinterest all the time. For me, I haven't quite got there yet. Mainly because I'm a bit afraid I'll get addicted and it will be one more thing to do on the computer that isn't writing a book. And believe me, I don't need any kind of distractions or procrastinations there.

And while the site itself is a fairly new idea, the theory behind it has a much longer history.

Everyone knows the mark of a good teacher is to take an idea from someone else and make it your own. I love doing this. Conferences are a great place to network and grab ideas. The IL Reading Conference is absolutely my all-time favorite teachers' conference. My curriculum is chock full of things I've garnered from this yearly event.

One of my favorite winter holiday traditions is our Historical Society's Christmas Housewalk. Each year about a half dozen homes in a local neighborhood are opened to the public to tour. On these walks I've gathered a lot of great holiday decorating ideas. Last year, I came across a year round decorating idea, which I implemented this past summer. I'm sure it's not a new idea, but after seeing it in one of the homes on the Walk, I knew I wanted to do something similar in my own home. It's simple, but it's become one of our favorite spaces in our home.



Black framed sepia-tones prints from the places we've traveled to. These aren't pictures of us, but photographs of scenery, monuments, and historic places we've visited. It was fun tracking down old photos for the project this summer, and I can't wait to expand the gallery with more photos of upcoming vacations.

Now with writing, this borrowing from other people can get a bit tricky. After all, no one wants to mess with that little thing called plagiarism. It's definitely not okay to blatantly take someone else's idea or words and use them as your own. However, as we all know, there really aren't all that many unique and original storylines out there. Think back to Freshman English class: You have your basic man vs. man, man vs. nature, etc. How many millionaire/secret baby romances have you read? These days it's shapeshifters and vampires and zombies. It's what we do with those traditional story lines and conflicts that make our stories unique. And with that, the possibilities are endless.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com

Friday, February 20, 2015

"Free" Resources for Writers



As a rule, I really don’t believe that anything is free.  In my day-to-day life of working as an IT Specialist and teaching IT classes I will routinely tell anyone that free really is a four letter word.  Often you have to buy one to get one free – which may not be as great a deal as you think – or provide demographic information that is used to market to you in some of the most underhanded ways possible.

There are, however, some online resources that are available at no extra cost provided you have access to the internet and can overlook all the advertising.  Of course, there is the cost of time, but it may be well worth your effort to check some of these out:

-  The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. is available at www.bartleby.com/141/.  There are other language usage books available as well as this one at this site AND there are other categories that you might find fun to peruse to include Quotations, Religion & Mythology, Literary History & Literature, etc.

- United States Copyright office www.copyright.gov.  With FAQ’s and tutorials, hopefully you can become informed about if, when and how you need to register for a copyright.

- Government Printing Office www.gpo.gov.  There is a store where you can purchase material but since the GPO partners with libraries if you find something you are interested in you can probably ask your local library about it if you don’t want to actually purchase it.   It’s worth checking this site out to see what they have to offer.  You can also sign up for their newsletter which alerts you to some interesting publications.  Often those newsletters are timed with events throughout the year such as President’s Day, Black History Month, National Preparedness Month, The History of eBooks, and so much more.  Essentially, the newsletter provides you with a reference guide related to a given topic and it is fun to read.  The topic list is extensive.

- Online dictionaries – there are several to include Merriam-Webster at www.merriam-webster.com.  Again, you have to put up with the advertising, but this site also has some other features you might find useful.

- Wikipedia.com – I’ve mentioned this before and sometimes they will ask for donations because it is technically a free site.

- http://www.reverso.net/spell-checker/english-spelling-grammar/ - now this is an interesting site and I stumbled on it from another blog.  I haven’t used it yet so I can’t comment on its utility at this time.

www.grammarbook.com – I’ve been using this one for years.

Well, as you can see there are lots of online tools available and some are more “free” than others.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Visit to the Panama Canal! by DL Larson

We had the great fortune to take a trip to the Panama Canal this winter. I remember learning about the building of the canal back in school, but I was surprised to learn the canal celebrated 100 years in 2014. The only changes made in that time are dredging the river and canal to keep it deep enough for ships and changing the locks from mechanical gear drives to hydraulics. The American Army Corp of Engineers had a grand vision and thousands of people from many nations worked to make the Panama Canal a reality.

Some ships are too large to fit through the locks and another canal is nearly built to accommodate their size. They expect the new locks to be completed by 2016. But this has been a problem for many years and even before the canal was completed in 1914, trains hauled cargo and people from the Atlantic to the Pacific and vice versa. That still goes on today. The Panama Canal is a busy, international port.


This is our ferry entering the first stretch of the lock. There are three sets of locks. The small rail tracks on the right are for the electric mules that once hitched to the ship, help guide the ship into the locks.

This picture shows the walls of the canal lock. The water will rise using gravity. Some ships have only a foot of space on each side. This picture, we are probably about 6 feet away from the canal wall.


Here we are ready to pass through the second set of locks. The water has risen to the same level as the lake. The third set of locks is further down and out of view. Every ship that travels through the canal must have a Canal pilot on board to direct them through the canal. We waited about twenty minutes for our pilot to arrive before we could enter the channel. As a sign of respect, we were asked to applaud when he stepped on board.

 This is taken from our resort, a beautiful place, for sure. But if you look toward the horizon, the bumps to the left of the mountain are actually ships waiting to pass through the canal. All ships pay according to the weight of their cargo. Sometimes it's cheaper to unload at the shipyard, have the train move the cargo to the other side of the canal and load up on another ship. There are many, many options to traverse cargo and people. All financial transactions must be paid before moving through the canal. Most ships wait from 24 hours to longer for their turn to move through the canal. Approximately 30 ships pass through in one day.

So other than sharing my vacation time with you, my writer's mind was on overload thinking of images and plots for an international romance/mystery. I most wanted to ride the train, but we did not have the time to do that. But it didn't keep me from thinking of other famous stories that involved trains and fascinating people on board. Sometimes it takes a vacation to rejuvenate my imagination. I may never write a novel with the Panama Canal as a setting, but our trip intrigued me to the many possibilities available.

Til next time ~

DL Larsonwww.DLLARSON.com

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Cold and Flu Season

It's that time of year when everyone seems to be sick. So far, I've been fortunate to escape with a brief head-cold a few weeks ago. Hopefully, that will be all I come down with this year.

It got me to thinking though, having a character in your story feeling under-the-weather can be a good way to show something about the hero and heroine. I'm not saying to have either one puking their guts out for three pages (ugh and yuck), but if say one comes down with a cold, how does he/she handle it? Do they toughen up and power through? Do they curl up on the couch with tea and a blanket? Do they take to their bed and hide away?

How does their counterpart handle the situation? Do we see a softer, more tender side of the hero while he cares for the heroine? Perhaps he brings her soup or her favorite movie to watch. Do we see a stronger side of the heroine? Even though she's feeling poorly, she doesn't let it get in the way of what she needs to accomplish.

Giving our characters everyday situations to deal with can make them seem more human, and thus more relatable to our readers. Again, we don't want pages and pages of mundane life. (We get enough of that in our own lives, right?) But these types of situations can be great, simple character trait revealers.

Hope you are staying healthy this season.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com

Friday, February 13, 2015

Conferences and Other Networking Options for Writers

The past few years of my life and been very hectic and I’ve been overwhelmed with a number of non-writing events and activities, all of which have interfered with my writing and networking efforts with fellow/sister writers, many whom I consider friends.  There was a time when I attended at least two conferences and a dozen or so writing workshops/meetings a year but I had to put all of that on hold for those pesky non-writing events that were so overwhelming that I wasn’t certain if I would still be living in the same city or not.

Well, I recently reconnected with a number of writer, and non-writer friends at the Love Is Murder CON and it felt so good to talk about writing goals and more.  I expect to resume my networking efforts this year and I am so excited about just the prospect of doing so.  However, since I’ve been away from conferences and meetings for several years I was surprised at how many different venues have sprung up and how many have shutdown.

Then there’s the cost - and not just the conference fees!  There’s airfare, hotel, meals – more and more conferences are eliminating meals from their events so attendees have to fend for themselves.  But not Love Is Murder (LIM).  This particular CON wants everyone to be well-fed both physically as well as in their writing.  Go to Loveismurder.net for more information.

There are also local writing groups that sponsor retreats and workshops so I’m making a list and checking it twice to plan my year.  I’ve participated in online workshops as well and depending on the subject matter presented, these online events can be quite helpful, but not everything lends itself easily to the online format.

Then there is just the fun and excitement of getting together with other writers in person and giving yourself, and perhaps them, the nudge you might need to take your writing career to a new level.

Oh the upside to all those non-writing distractions – I have a plethora of topics and experiences to weave into several stories and I have been plotting away during every spare moment I can find.  It may take me a few years to pull everything together but I'm very excited about this new writing adventure and journey that I am taking.


Here’s to happy and fruitful networking and plotting!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Perks of Being a Regular

Just about everywhere you go these days you can get a rewards card for frequent visits. The more I eat at Panera, the quicker I stack up freebies and other perks. The more coffee I drink at Starbucks, the sooner I get a freebie there. I even get rewarded for working out and eating healthy via a point system through my insurance program.

This past week, I found out about another perk for being a regular.

We were home on a snow day on Monday, so I decided it was the perfect opportunity to finish a few final edits of my WIP, do one last read-through, write a synopsis, and send off a query. My editor is usually very quick to respond, and this time around was no exception. However, this time around, I received a pleasant surprise. Instead of answering back with a 'send the mss', she noted 'you didn't attach the mss'. When I questioned her about the comment, she said that returning authors can send the full mss with their query and synopsis; it was a perk of being a regular.

This was news to me. I don't know if this is new policy at TWRP, or at this point I've been around long enough to have achieved this status (the mss I sent was my 11th with them), or if it's her personal preference. Whatever it was, I was thrilled. It will certainly take out one step of the finger crossing ritual. Now, instead of waiting to hear back about a request for a full, I can simply send everything at once and wait for the offer of a contract (fingers AND toes crossed). :)

There are definitely advantages to being a regular!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com

One Great Night - available now from The Wild Rose Press

Friday, February 6, 2015

Subject Matter Experts




It’s a myth that writers of fiction do not conduct research, sometimes very extensive research, when penning their novels or short stories.  Sometimes we find the research part more enjoyable than the writing part.  I often become distracted with research because as they say, truth is stranger than fiction, which is probably why reality TV is so popular.

The Internet and World Wide Web (they are not the same) have provided many of us with the ability to research without leaving our homes or even getting out of our pajamas.   But how does one know that the information found on these platforms, or even from a conversation with a supposed expert, is truthful?  As the recent firestorm over newscaster Brian Williams has shown, even if you were there – and the issue of credibility aside - your facts might not be as factual as you thought.  Then there is the whole Chris Kyle (American Sniper) and Jessie Ventura debacle.

The term literary license is often thrown around to cover up many issues of fact in fiction, because after all it is fiction, but one of the comments often cited in book reviews is how realistic the concept of a story is or how believable the characters are for the reader.  If a writer describes how something works as part of a story, say an airplane, then they probably should have their relevant facts correct.  The airplane that we board for a commercial flight and the helicopters that take tourists over the Grand Canyon are both referred to as aircraft but they operate very differently.

So, what’s a fiction writer to do?

Well, I recommend that everyone always use multiple sources to conduct research and while it’s often looked down upon by universities and librarians, Wikipedia.org is one place to start.  Notice I said a place to start.  In fact, look up aircraft on Wikipedia.org and see the results to include additional references.  I think Wikipedia.org does a good job of introducing a multitude of information to the masses but since it isn’t vetted according to academic standards it is often frowned upon as a reference.

Unless someone has been living under a rock or in an environment such as North Korea, we’re all familiar with search engines such as Google, but you have to be aware that search engine algorithms are designed to return results based on a number of factors to include advertising revenue.  This makes the ranking of the results subject to influences that may be hidden to the searcher and very few of us page through all the results, let alone get past the first page of results.  This is one of the reasons I like Wikipedia.org.

Just because someone is a writer of fiction, doesn’t mean that they don’t have to check facts or conduct research, but in the end, it’s how believable your story and characters are within the context of your voice that will pull readers in.  Jules Verne springs to mind as a writer who was able to capture the reader’s attention with stories about things that didn’t exist at the time.  It is amazing how visionary he, Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek) and Dick Tracy turned out to be and they didn’t have the multitude of resources we have today.

YouTube and Ted Talks (ted.com) also provide some amazing opportunities for a writer to flesh out the potentially fact-based issues for their fiction, and don’t overlook trade associations or professional organizations that exist.  For example, the American Booksellers Association exists to protect and promote the interests of independent retail book businesses and as is the case with most everyone and everything these days they have a website.  So, if you have a character who is an independent bookstore owner facing the challenges of a big chain store coming to the area you would be able to use this resource.  Oh, wait, that story line was already done.  Of course, you could put a different twist on it.

Then there’s the Wayback Machine!  Look it up.