Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Writing as a Team Sport

I once told my wife that I loved writing because I didn’t have to deal with people I couldn’t erase with my delete button.

Back then, I thought that writing was a solitary endeavor.   I pictured me as a grizzled old man, hunched over the crumb-infested keyboard, my haggard face warmed by the glow of my monitor, a cup of steaming tea by my right hand.

But the fact is . . . writing is much more of a team sport than I originally believed.

Yes, when I sit at my computer typing away, I sit physically alone; however, I have the echoes of various people in my head.  For instance, I constantly have to keep in mind the readers and reviewers who have given me feedback on my previous work.  They’ve made some valuable points about my first novel and I want to learn from them.

There are also tons of other people who have helped me get published.  My agent, Joelle Delbourgo, for one.  The good people at Diversion Books are others.  More recently, I’ve found an incredible editor who has been going over my second manuscript (Betrayal in the Highlands) with a fine-tooth comb.  I’ll be speaking more about her once she gives me permission to rave about her services.

There are also the dozens of the people who have helped promote and pimp out my book.  Without them, I probably wouldn’t get a chance to write a second one.

I simply could not be writing without all of these wonderful folk . . . my “team.”

And writing is a sport of sorts—complete with various leagues and champions and scorecards. 

In the Big Leagues, score is kept by the thousands of books that are sold and the number of weeks on best seller lists.

In the Minor Leagues, in which I am currently swinging, we keep score by the number of positive reviews we get on Amazon (fifteen so far) and Goodreads (thirty-four! Yippie!!). 

That’s not to say struggling writers don’t care about sales.  We do.  In fact, occasionally four or five people might buy my book in the same day and I allow myself to dream of being called up to Big Leagues where I could hobnob with the likes of Stephen King and J.K. Rowlings.  (For some reason, in these daydreams, I'm always wearing a tweed jacket and smoking a pipe. Go figure.)

It’s a dream.  But the grass is just as green on Minor League fields as it is in the Big Leagues.  I'm happy to be playing the game regardless of what stadium I'm in.

I suppose this is what I want to say to the other writers out there, especially the yet-to-be published writers who are trying to break out onto the playing field:

You need a team.

Get a good group of people around you—people who will tell you honestly what in your story works and what doesn’t, people who are insightful and energetic and supportive. Surround yourself with them and listen to their suggestions. Allow them to help you promote and market your book and above all, don’t try to go it alone.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Writer's Depression...

As many of you know, I suffer from depression.  It’s nothing too serious.  It’s just one of those things that makes me who I am.  It could be a beautiful spring day, the sun shining, birds singing, the leaves all green and waving in the warm gentle breezes—and I still have a tendency to feel down. That’s who I am.  I’m an Eeyore.

This time of year is particularly difficult for me.  The school year just ended.  I’m coming off the stress of grading hundreds of finals and papers . . . and students are complaining because they only got an “A-.”

However, I’m a bit down today for another reason.  You see, I just finished the second draft of my third manuscript (tentatively titled, Blood in Snow).

This is problematic for a couple reasons. 

First, Blood in Snow is the last of the trilogy that Diversion Books has contracted me to write.  I don’t know if they’ll have me write anything else.  So it’s a bit of an end for some characters that I’ve grown to love.  In a strange way, I feel as if there’s been a death.  Friends are gone and I’m never going to see them again.

Second, the end of the second draft is a kind of milestone for me when I write.  The first draft is all helter skelter—paragraphs incomplete, dialogue long and rambling, conflicting details in the plot—it’s just a skeleton of the actual story. 

During the second draft, I flesh the skeleton out.  I fix the holes in the plot, complete the fragmented sentences, and get things in better order.  I then set the manuscript aside for a few months, letting it germinate, so to speak, before I polish it a couple more times.

There in rises the problem . . .   I don’t have anything to do.

Oh, I’m sure I should start another manuscript.  Maybe I could even begin working on a fourth book in the series and hope that the first three sell well enough for the publisher to buy it. 

I should. . .

But I can’t.

My heart just isn’t in it.  I don’t know why.  I’m just not in that mindset.  I’m in a funk and I’m having difficulty getting out.  

Deep hole filled with fuzzy darkness . . .

I suppose that I just need time to “mourn” the passing of my characters and the completion of my contractual obligations to Diversion Books.

Maybe I need another “hobby”/”compulsion” on which I could perseverate. 

Maybe I should see this point as a success and be happy!  After all, I set out to do something I’ve always dreamed about doing…and I did it!!  What’s more, many of you seem to like my little stories.

But I can’t.   I’m an Eeyore and seeing the dim side of the bright lining is what being an Eeyore is all about. 

“Oh, bother . . .”

I suppose if I stare at my beloved computer screen long enough, the radioactive glow will eventually warm my heart…and I’ll start writing again.  Only time will tell.

Do any of you have this issue?  Do you feel really down after you complete a manuscript?  What do you do to pull yourself out of it?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

God Bless!!!

A couple days ago, somebody asked me what I’d do if I became the “next” Rowlings or Tolkien.

Without hesitating I said, “I’d stop promoting my book.”

Honestly, I love writing. But I HATE promoting my book (Riddle in Stone…a dark fantasy available for $2.99 at and other places where e-books are sold). 

Seriously.  I really can’t stand this marketing stuff. And I’m sure that many of you are getting tired of hearing me talk about my book (Riddle in Stone). And for that, I am HUGELY sorry. Sincerely! 

I am so tired of asking people to read it, to review it, to spread the word!  But it’s what authors have to do nowadays otherwise books don’t sell.

UGH!!!  I feel so dirty!

I’m afraid I’m just not a “marketing kind of guy”.

I’m a “dark room, antisocial, writer kind of guy.”  It’s a good day when I can just bask in the humming glow of my computer screen and not interact with anybody. 

No offense.

I just hate trying to get enough people to buy RIDDLE IN STONE so that my publisher will publish more of my manuscripts.

With that said, I have stumbled upon something really wonderful. 

Many of you experienced writers mentioned it to me before, but it wasn’t until a couple days ago that I checked it out.

At, you can make ads promoting your book.

This is how it works. . .

You create a little ad with the picture of your book and a brief blurb (I think 150 characters long). The ad appears on the side of Goodread’s pages. If people click on the ad, they are taken to whatever link you want—such as your book’s page on Further, you don’t pay unless people click.  I think I pay $0.50 per click.

Not a lot of people click on the ad, so it really doesn’t cost that much. Only 12 people have clicked on my ad. 

But the big thing is that you get people to view your ad and see your book!

So far I have had 24,731 views.  Now, of course, most people aren’t even noticing my little ad.  But some are! I’ve noticed a significant upswing in how many people have put Riddle in Stone on their “to read” list. In fact, within the past couple of hours, five new people put Riddle in Stone, on their “to read” list, whereas I hadn’t had somebody do that for a couple of weeks!

And I’ve only spent $5.00, which I think is a bargain!

What’s even better is that you can target certain audiences. For example, you can make your ad appear for people who like “fantasy, horror stories, and thrillers.”

You can also play around and see which wording seems to attract people the most. 

For instance, I have three ads running.  One is pretty straight-forward.  It basically says, “Tired of feeling like a loser, Edmund sets out to become a famous adventurer, but his first quest goes horribly wrong…”

The second is supposed to be more mysterious: “Edmund knows a secret, a secret that every king, thief, and assassin would kill to have…” 

And the third focuses more on the romance aspect of my story: “Trying to win the heart of the woman he loves, Edmund sets out to come a famous adventurer…” 

It’s interesting to me that the one focusing on romance is getting far more clicks than the other two.  In fact, the straightforward one isn’t getting ANY clicks…which gives me a clearer idea of how to approach the market.

Plus, it’s kind of fun to see how many views they each get and by what groups of readers.  It’s like watching the stock market or a telethon.  Okay, that didn’t sound too exciting, but you’ll have to trust me!  It’s fun!

Since I have a feeling that the romance aspect of my story is going to attract more readers, I’m tinkering with new ways to rephrase the other ads so that I can attract female readers (who tend to buy a lot of fantasy books). 

How is this?

Riddle in Stone
Tired of being made fun of, Edmund sets out to become a famous hero, but finds being a hero isn't as easy as it sounds. (Dark Fantasy)

What do you think?

At any rate, the Goodreads program has really made promoting RIDDLE IN STONE fun and interesting. And best of all, it seems to be working.  Another person just added my book to their “to read” list!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

How Do You Know What Your Characters Should Do??

Well, it’s the last week in the semester here in the ivory tower!  Next week is finals week, which always overwhelms me more as a faculty member than it did as a student.  At any rate, I want to take a moment out of my grading to relay a bit of a conversation that I had with somebody.

You see, last week, a fellow struggling writer read my last post and e-mailed me.  The thrust of his e-mail was that he understood the need to, as I said in my blog, “stop thinking and just write.” However, he said that he had difficulty getting started because he never really knew what his characters “should do.”

Evidently, my reader doesn’t like to plot things out and is a “pantser” (as am I) and he feels overwhelmed by all the different things that his characters COULD do.  So when he sets up a situation, he can never decide whether his characters should do x, y, or z.  He freezes because he doesn’t know what the “best” course of action should be for the rest of the story. Action x could allow the characters to go down such-and-such a path, while action y allows the characters to develop a completely different way.  He asked me, “how do you choose what your characters do?”

This is an expanded version of my answer to him . . .

I told him that I don’t “choose” what my characters do.  My characters choose.

I know that sounds flippant, so let me explain.

As a writer, I view my role as being a kind of recorder.  I simply write down what I see my characters doing.  I don’t try to force them to react any particular way.  I don’t have any endgame in mind.  I simply put them in a situation and then sit back and watch the fun.

I believe my e-mailer has difficult doing this for one of three reasons.

The first is that he doesn’t let his characters go.  He doesn’t let them be who they want to be.  He wants them to do something (what that something is, he doesn’t know).  He isn’t willing to let them do what they want because he doesn’t know if it’ll be interesting and worthy of a story.

To this I say, everything is worth of a story.  Just make sure you have characters with conflicting desires or perspectives. Which leads me to the second issue that my e-mailer might be having . . .

I don’t think he knows his characters. 

This is probably going to sound crazy, but my characters feel real to me.  I can imagine what they would say to nearly any question.  I can picture them sitting around a dinner table bickering back and forth.  I can imagine them getting old or being young.  This degree of familiarity makes it so much easier for me to write about what they’d do in any given situation.  If they are walking in a forest and come to a three-way fork in the path, I know that Edmund would sit down and analyze each and every path. Pond Scum would throw a leaf up in the air and skip down whatever path it landed closest to.  Abby (a character in book two none of you have met yet) would leave the paths and start walking through the woods, because she doesn’t want to go anywhere other people have already been.

So the question thus arises . . . how did I get to know my characters so well?

And my answer is this--I honestly don’t know.  Maybe it’s because I daydream about them a lot in faculty meetings. Maybe it’s because, subconsciously, Edmund is largely me and Pond Scum is somebody else in my life. 

I don’t know. 

I do know that I get to know the characters better with each passing draft.  That’s where they really develop.  I might have a vague view of who they are in draft number one. But the view of the characters sharpen as I get into drafts three and four. 

Which leads me to the third issue that I think my wonderful e-mailer might be having . . .

He isn’t willing to re-write. Or more precisely, the thought of “re-writing” bothers him, as if he sees re-writing as a mark of failure. 

To this I say--you have to be willing to re-write sentences, scenes…the entire novel-length manuscript.  Even if the writing is BRILLIANT and a heavenly light shines down upon your computer screen, you still have to be willing to re-write it.  That’s what writing is!! It’s a process of re-writing. 

So my suggestions about deciding what your characters should do?

1. Get to know your characters.  How is up to you.  Maybe try therapy.

2. Allow your character to do what you think they would want to do.  

3.  If it doesn’t work, re-write the scene and have them do “y.” If that doesn’t work…keep re-writing.  Keep re-writing until everything fits.  However, their actions should be consistent with their personalities and past behaviors.  

At least, that’s what I think.  What do you think?