Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's Alive! Divisible by Six Now Available for Kindle

Just a quick note to let you know that my long-awaited sequel, Divisible by Six, is now available on Amazon. You can read a sample by clicking on the tab in the header or check it out here.

Special shoutout to my good colleague and friend, James Cornette for creating an awesome cover. He's a talented artist and photographer. You should check out his work.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

You Won NaNoWriMo (ie, wrote a book)!? Now What? Part 1

So, you're on your way to finishing National Novel Writing Month with a completed manuscript (or already have one). Congratulations! It's quite an accomplishment to finish a novel. Now, the real work begins. Editing, revising, having "real" people read it. Getting it into shape to be published. If you're on the road to traditional publication, my usefulness probably ends here. Good luck to you. If your book ever gets published, I look forward to seeing it on a shelf in a bookstore several years from now (if bookstores are still around). I'm for independent publishing. And what follows is the first part of my list of "must haves" for successfully self publishing your novel. So, here goes...

1. A Finished Novel
Ok, this might seem obvious, but you'd be amazed the time some people waste looking into how to publish when they haven't even finished the story yet! If your manuscript is incomplete, you're not ready to be reading this list! And even if you think you're ready, you might not be. Story finished? You have my permission to read on. Not finished? Get back at it!

2. Honest Feedback
Yep, it's time to seek out some people who aren't your Mom, Dad, Sister, best friend, grandma, etc. Honest feedback is what can really take your writing to the next level. Let's face it, we all get a little blinded to our own writing. It's perfect in our mind and, obviously, what we've put on paper (or screen) is just as perfect. Errr... probably not. So, find a writer friend, a writing group, go out and seek people who are writers (or regular readers of your genre) who are willing to be brutally honest. Even if it hurts, it's an important part of the writing process. Guess what? If you're planning on publishing, you'll get that feedback one way or another. And, personally, I'd much rather have the feedback offline than online for the world to see.

If you can afford it, I highly recommend hiring a professional editor. Even a simple copy edit from professional eyes can make the world of difference. Your readers will thank you. However, be prepared for a bit of sticker shock. A simple edit of a 60k word novel will run you upwards of $500... and that's without really looking at content. Shop around. Preditors & Editors is a good place to start.

3. A Professionally Designed Cover*
*Unless you're an amazing artist with mad Illustrator/InDesign skills
What to not do...

Despite the wisdom of "don't judge a book by its cover," we all do it anyway. With the ease of self-publishing, it can be tempting to make your own or have that "nephew who knows computers" slap something together for you. Don't do it! If you invest any money in publishing your book, make it the book cover. You can get a professionally made cover for as little as $50 (for non-exclusive artwork) and ~$200 and up for custom work. It can make all the difference. And, while I could go on forever about what to not do (see image at right), I have a couple of pet peeves that stand out in what you should do when designing your book cover.

  • Big text for all! Your name should be as prominent as the title of the book. Most readers remember the author's name, not necessarily the book title. Make it big
  • Use bold colors or striking contrasts. Your book needs to stand out from the crowd. Avoid bland and vague
  • Make sure you can still get the gist of the cover when it's super small. Remember, Amazon uses thumbnails that are no bigger than 1"x 1.5" depending on the screen and some people are using B&W Kindles (the horror!). It should scale well and be clear
  • If you're going to use artwork, make sure it tells the right story. Readers notice these things. If there's a picture of a desert on your cover, your main character better be hopping camels through the sand (or something like it) or you'll hear about it. A recent example of this was a traditionally published book that had a dog prominently on the cover. Turned out the dog had very little to do with the story

4. A Properly Formatted Manuscript

No one wants to read
                   a poorly formatted                               BOok.

See what I did there? Believe it or not, this is how your book can look if you're not careful. If you're familiar with Microsoft Word, you shouldn't have a hard time. But, if Word seems like it's been written in a foreign language, you might want to seek out help. There are people out there who will format your book for epublication for a nominal fee. Anything over $50 is pushing it. That might seem like a lot, but again, if it's the difference between people making it through your book or returning it because they couldn't get past the formatting errors, the investment is worthwhile. Most epub sites (Kindle Direct Publishing, Nook Press, etc.) have instructions on how to format. Smashwords, which is a mass distribution site has what they call "The Meat Grinder." It takes your manuscript and turns it into whatever format is needed. It's a very strict process, so if there are mistakes, they'll flag it and notify you before allowing it to be published.

___________________________________________________

We're half way there!

Be sure to check out Part 2 of my You Won NaNoWriMo (ie, wrote a book)!? Now What? series!

What do you think so far? Agree? Disagree? Please feel free to post questions on any of these topics below. Thanks! :)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Divisible by Six Gets a Release Date!

Very excited to announce that I have set a date to release my sequel, Divisible by Six. The ebook version will be released on December 1, 2013 to the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iTunes platforms! If you haven't already, be sure to read the sample chapter and sign up to "attend" the release over on Facebook (don't worry, no purchase necessary ;). It's been a long time coming. I hope there's still some fans out there interested in the story. The paperback version will probably release later in the month or, more likely given the holidays, early in 2014. Stay tuned!

~Andy

Monday, October 14, 2013

Strategies for NaNoWriMo - 2013

There is nothing NaNo about this WriMo
So, I'm on the fence this year about actually participating in NanNoWriMo. I haven't taken part since 2008 and find that the time of year just isn't conducive to writing consistently. I'm definitely going to step up my output though and I've developed a strategy for cranking out those 50,000 words. And, while I might not participate, I can highly recommend taking part in NaNoWriMo for the inspiration and challenge. For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo is the abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month, which happens every November. Established in 1999, the nonprofit organization aims to motivate writers to produce a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It's a daunting task, to say the least, as it forces the author to crank out 1666 words a day for 30 consecutive days. But, it's possible. And, having just finished my sequel, I need a goal to recharge my writing engine. The trick to NaNoWriMo is to have a game plan. Here's mine.

In the past, I never approached NaNo with more than a whim and a vague idea. This can lead to burnout and frustration when the initial idea runs out of gas (as they often can). I've been brewing up a story lately that I think will work very well in the NaNo setting. It's a young adult (YA) post-apocalyptic paranormal series that I plan on telling in short episodes. It revolves around a young man who is living in a world changed by a cataclysmic event that wiped out almost all of the Earth's population and left the landscape a smoldering remain. When finished, I'll publish them as an introductory series to my YA writing under my own name.

In a sense, I've been preparing this story for a while. I've been jotting notes down for this story for the last three months, right after the initial idea came to me. It all started with an image. I saw it and thought, "That's got a story in it." At moments, I've thought over scenes and characters and tried to lay them out in an order that makes the most sense. I've now got more than enough to write several "episodes" and have written about 4000 words so far (don't do this if you're actually participating in NaNo... that's cheating).

With several weeks to go until November 1st, you should be using this time to plan ahead. Now is the time to plot, lay out that chapter structure and at least have a game plan in place. Trust me, it's so much easier to approach NaNoWriMo with a plan, than hope something comes up as you're writing. My plan involves having a full outline of each section before starting. Essentially, breaking it down into five 10,000-word episodes. A chapter in a book runs anywhere from 2000-2500 words in my usual writing, so the goal is to have 4 to 5 chapters per episode.

Sometimes it's easier to get a grasp when you see it layed out:

Episode 1 (10k words)
     Scene 1 (2k)
          (Characters, Setting, Conflict)

     Scene 2 (2k)
          (Characters, Setting, Conflict)

     Scene 3 (2k)
          (Characters, Setting, Conflict)

     Scene 4 (2k)
          (Characters, Setting, Conflict)

     Scene 5 (2k)
          (Characters, Setting, Conflict)

Episode 2 (10k words)
     Etc.

Rinse, repeat as necessary until you've reached your goal.

I'm reminded of one of my favorite Neil Gaiman quotes: "This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It's that easy, and that hard." Writing a novel is a difficult process and NaNoWriMo asks you to take all of that difficulty and try and condense it into a 30-day period. Remember that your goal here is a first draft that reaches 50,000 words. It's often more about turning off your interior editor and putting words to the page than creating something magnificent the first time through. I hope maybe I've given you some direction into how to make the challenge a bit less steep. It's not a bad plan for approaching any story, but when faced with a tight deadline and a seemingly insurmountable word count, it's often best to break it down into more manageable portions.

Good Luck! Are you doing NaNo this year? If so, do you have a plan? Let us know in the comments below!



Friday, October 4, 2013

Giving My First Library Presentation


Several months ago, I wrote an article on Social Media for the Independent Author, so when the
opportunity came up to do a presentation at a local library (actually 45 minutes from me, but now we're splitting hairs), I thought this would be a great topic to discuss. The presentation was to be 2 hours with 1.5 allotted for me to talk and a half hour for Q&A.

When I started putting the presentation together, my first thought was, "How am I going to fill 2 hours?" By the time I was done, I was afraid of going over. Social media is such a dense subject that can often rely on the knowledge of the audience. In this case, I had prepared my presentation with no real idea of who my audience was going to be.

Being my first solo talk outside of a professional environment, I didn't quite know what to expect. Hosted at a library, the presentation was open to the public. I arrived early and set up the room, discovering that the open blinds made the screen impossible to see. Great, I thought, now my audience was going to be in the dark... trying to stay awake during my presentation. With about five minutes left before the start, my first guest arrived. Phew! Worst case scenario, I was prepared to sit and chat with one person. I was not prepared for there to be no one at all. That might have burst my bubble just a little. Then another showed and another until there were 8 people there, looking at me eagerly. Now the pressure was really on.

Two hours later, we wrapped up the last bit of Q&A and they gave me a round of applause. At that point, I actually felt a bit embarrassed for it. Over the course of the morning, I felt more like I was just up there having a conversation than speaking on a particular topic. It was a nice feeling though and the overall response was fantastic. I've been in touch with some of the attendees since and have been a bit overwhelmed by the gratification on their part. It was a great feeling to be able to pass along, what I considered, just a small amount of knowledge and perhaps get people thinking about things in ways they hadn't before.

I really enjoyed every aspect of giving the presentation. My wife just shakes her head and wonders how I can get up in front of people and talk. That's the easy part for me. Stick me on a stage any day. So long as I know my lines, I'm good. When I forget my lines, that's when the nerves kick in. And, while presenting isn't for everyone, I highly recommend adding it to your arsenal of promotional tools. I don't expect to sell many books by presenting, but I hope to create relationships with writers who will recognize that I'm just trying to help and someday might be able to return the good will if they have a chance.

If you would like the 52-page PDF version of the presentation I gave, just sign up for my newsletter and send me an email (andyraneauthor[at]gmail[dot]com) with "Social Media for the Independent Author" in the subject line. Or, if you already receive my newsletter, just send me an email. If you're in the NJ area and are interested in having me give this presentation (or another on the subject of writing or publishing) for your writers' group or library, please let me know.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Authors, Entertainers, and Their Politics

I'd like to think that most authors are fairly open-minded people. I guess I like to think that way because
that's how I consider myself. I'm a rational thinker who doesn't like to go to extremes. The world isn't black and white, so what good does it do to think in those terms? So, when I saw a recent headline detailing ridiculous and borderline insane ideas being spewed by an author who, up until now, I had respected, I decided to investigate further. Needless to say, I'm utterly disappointed in what I found.

Dammit, I really wanted to see the movie too! >:(
Apparently, Orson Scott Card, the author of one of my favorite series (Ender's Game), has been drinking the Kool-Aid. It's disappointing on many levels. The first being that, in order to reach such conclusions, you have to be pretty damn paranoid. The second being that I really wanted to see the upcoming Ender's Game movie. Now, you won't see me in that theatre for dust. Sure, it does nothing to his bottom line, but it's the principle of the matter. This isn't just eye-roll worthy party bashing; it's downright insulting and over the edge bat-shit crazy.

Mr. Card, you've done some phenomenal writing in the past. And, yes, you have every right to express your opinions, as many other entertainers have done before you. But, I feel like you've crossed a line here. Like, the Ted Nugent line. And, once you cross a line like that, there's no taking back what put you over. I'm sorry, but you've lost a fan.

Now, while I am in total disagreement with what Orson Scott Card has to say about the Obama government, that isn't to say I'm particularly pleased with where this country is headed. However, my point here is that I would never jeopardize the opinions of my readers (both of them) by interjecting political rhetoric when that isn't my place of authority. That's not why I'm here! You're an author, Mr. Card! You want to rant about how awful things are? Impress me and write an allegorical tale that mirrors modern day. That's what you do! Use your talent, make your point with subtlety, and keep your mouth shut. I get your point, and still buy your books. We all win! I expect actors to act, writers to write, and athletes to... ummm... athlete. If I want to hear bullshit about politics, I'll turn on C-SPAN. If I want to hear crazy talk about politics, I'll turn on Fox News.

What's your opinion on this? Do you think it's important for entertainers, be they authors, singers, actors, or sports stars, to express their political views? And, if so, does it change how you view their value as an entertainer?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Great eBook Pricing Dilemma

I got $3 over here, do I hear $4?
Two years, when I started this great self-publishing escapade, I did my fair share of research regarding ebook pricing. When all was said and done, I settled on $2.99 for the price of my full-length novel. I thought it was the standard going rate and as an unknown, I didn't expect anyone to want to pay more than that. I rated my writing at $3. $3 for a full-length novel. $3 for something that, had I been traditionally published, would command a price upwards of $9.99.

At the time, it made sense. $2.99 was sort of the standard indie number. It seemed that the majority of titles from colleagues were being set at the same price point. I dabbled with free back when Select had the most benefit (early 2012) and even dipped for a while into the $0.99 waters, without much luck. Since then, I honestly hadn't given much thought to pricing my book. Now, with the coming release of my book's sequel, the argument had crept back into my mind:
Am I short-changing myself at $2.99? In short, I felt the answer was "Yes."

So, that's why I'm changing my pricing regimen. I'm taking that leap of faith and asking... for a whole dollar more. I know, it's risky. $4 seems like so much more than $3, but it really isn't. I figure if erotica writers can get away with selling 15 pages "stories" for $2.99, then I can sell a 70,000-word novel for $3.99 and not feel too guilty.

I think the self-published market is experiencing dynamic change. People are recognizing the fact that quality work is coming from independent authors. I think more and more of those authors are taking chances with their pricing schemes and finding success. I'm feeling more confident about my pricing decision. It allows me more flexibility in terms of discounting and better return in regard to royalty rates. Some folks have it broken down to exactly how much they'll charge for a number of words. <10,000 = $0.99; 10,000-40,000 = $1.99; >40,000-<70,000 = $2.99, etc. I'm not producing at a rate where I need to worry about that, but I understand the scheme.

What do you think? Do you have a scheme, or are you still winging the whole pricing thing?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Why You Should Definitely Create a Paperback for Your eBook

I've observed, recently, that some authors don't bother creating paperback versions of their books. This surprised me, especially given that they were publishing in standard genres and not something that might merit such discretion (ie, erotica). Apparently, they felt that there wasn't enough potential for sales from that format to warrant the time needed to create the paperback file. While I’ll admit that some investment of time (and probably a little bit of $) is necessary, I’m still a bit boggled at the idea of not making the effort. I mean, if you were selling T-shirts, you wouldn't produce only one size. So, why would you not take advantage of a potential revenue stream by producing your book in only one format?

Because, gosh darn it, I'm worth it! ;)
My first novel (Multiples of Six) is now available in 3 different formats, thanks to recent work with ACX. And, while the audiobook was a bit of a bonus effort, I never had a doubt about creating the paperback version. In a world where ebooks are beginning to dominate, there is still a significant traditional readership market to be had. It might just be a matter of going out and getting them the old fashioned way, but that’s part of the fun!

I've probably given away as many paperbacks as I've sold. I’m hoping that changes this fall, but I won’t hold my breath. It’s not a big deal. To me, the paperback is a marketing tool for the independent author. It’s a means with which to put something tangible in readers’ hands. Some people need that. Some people need to see that stack of paper and the accompanying look in your eye that says “I've crafted something that I think you’ll like.” Only then are they willing to give it a shot.

There’s something also very personal about having a paperback copy of your book created. Sure, it sniffs a bit of the old vanity presses, but today's self-publishing is a completely different animal. You're an entrepreneur now. You worked hard to get where you are. And, even if you can count on two hands the number of paperbacks you've sold in two years (like I can), it’s a physical memento of what you've accomplished. It’s your trophy. That’s how I treat it, at least. I don’t expect anyone else to give me one, so I made one for myself.

Personally, I use CreateSpace for my paperbacks. While there is some monetary outlay at the beginning (cover creation, ISBN), additional cost is entirely up to the author. You can purchase copies at a significant discount and in any quantity you desire. My paperback is listed at $12.95 through Amazon and B&N and they regularly discount that at 10%. However, I can purchase for <7$, which allows me to discount the retail price and still make a little bit in the end. The quality is good, the shipping is usually timely, and their affiliation with Amazon makes it simple to link with the ebook.

If not publishing in multiple venues (eg, other than Amazon) is leaving money on the table, then publishing in a single format should be considered the same. In order to maximize your opportunity for income, you should leave no stone unturned. If you're on the fence about paperbacks, go for it. You'll be happy you did and you'll have a nice addition to your bookshelf.

I think the more formats, the better. What say you?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Finishing a First Draft

It's coming... really.
Let's just say, I've got a sketchy track record of completing first drafts. When I first wrote Multiples of Six, it took me 5 years, on and off, to complete the first draft. But, during that time, I also managed to crank out a 63,000-word YA fantasy in a matter of 6 months (not published). So, when it came time to put together the first draft of Multiples follow up, Divisible by Six, I was feeling pretty confident. So confident, that I made promises of 6-10 months. That was obviously a mistake. Two years later, I'm finally finished with the first draft. Yeah, I might've oversold it by 18 months or so. My bad.

So, what is it about the thrillers that bogs me down? Well, right off the bat, it's a much more complicated plot scheme. Multiples had 2 distinct plot lines. Divisible ramps it up a notch with 4. Four plot lines that have to intertwine and come to a resolution (of sorts) by the end of book 2. It was a first for me. Most of the other stories I've written have been fairly straightforward linear plots from the perspective of 1 or 2 characters, tops. Four was a pretty big jump.

But, the mere complication of the plot wasn't what slowed me the most. You see, and it shames me to admit it but, I'm a lazy writer. Not in the sense of form and function, but in the sense that I need someone to stand over me and crack a whip. I'm too easily distracted and even more so when the writing doesn't come easy. I overcame this recently by finding a group (which I detailed in a past blog) to act as my whip. It's just a group that meets to sit and write, but it was exactly what I needed. It gave me two islands of time during the week in which to focus solely on my writing and it accelerated my completion time immensely.

Writing a novel is as much about story creation as it is about putting one word after another until it's finished. You can have brilliant ideas pouring out every orifice in your body, but unless you take the time to crank out the words, all you have are ideas that might be good stories. I definitely envy my colleagues who can regularly crank out a novel every six months. Maybe I'll get there some day. For now, I'm just content with the good things I've got going on. I'm looking forward to getting Divisible finished up soon and the trilogy's finale, Power of Six, started.

Have you struggled to finish that first draft? Would love to hear about your experience.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Return to Truly Social Networking

Isn't it redundant anyway?
Remember when the term "networking" had everything to do with being social, but nothing to do with online "social networks"? It wasn't that long ago (Friendster [Facebook's grandfather] started in 2002). Nowadays, though we appear to be "connected" to more people, for the most part, we are further away in terms of "connectedness." In my arsenal of connectivity, I have 2300 Twitter followers, 3600 Pinners following my boards, 317 Facebook fans, and 80+ blog followers. Now, assuming some overlap, there may be ~4k-5k folks I'm "connected" to. Out of that, there are perhaps two dozen I recognize immediately through various online networks (outside of friends and family, of course) and consider colleagues who converse and share thoughts. That's a pretty poor ratio, methinks, but probably not a rare one. We like connecting, but conversing and actually making a connection is a very different thing. Are you tired of it? Well, guess what? The old-fashioned method still works.

Who needs to network in person?! That's pretty much how I thought of it when I first self-published two years ago. At the time, I didn't think that actually rubbing elbows with fellow authors was anything more than self-congratulatory excess. It couldn't possibly produce the same results that being connected to thousands of followers could. And, until this year, I had done very little in terms of getting out and meetin my fellow authors.

Then, back in March, I stumbled across Meetup.com and found a local writers' group whose sole purpose was to get together and write. Plain and simple. It might sound strange, but it's exactly what I needed. A place to go and be surrounded by others quietly tapping away on their keyboards. I've met some wonderful folks and, in the process, was directed to another group of local authors.

The New Jersey Author Network is a group of traditionally- and self-published authors from around The Garden State. It's goal is to connect local authors with local reading groups and libraries. By doing so, it provide authors with opportunities to sit on discussion panels as well as potentially present on topics related to writing and publishing. It also seeks out book stores where authors may be able to have signing events. Membership is free and while there are members who are more active at pursuing opportunities, all members are encouraged to go out and create the kinds of events they want to attend.

Since joining a few months ago, I've attended one signing event, have another set for August, and will be conducting my first industry topic solo presentation in September. Outside of the group, I've also scheduled another two signing events for September and October. I've also agreed, tentatively, to be on an independent publishing panel in the Spring of 2014 (check out my schedule of upcoming events here). While most of these events are open to outsiders, the group has certainly made these opportunities more easily accessible. It has also inspired me to seek out potential opportunities at my local library.

So, get out there and rub a few elbows. Trust me, it won't take anything away from your "lone-wolf" author persona. As independent authors, we need to be open to as many networking opportunities as possible. Besides, you might meet some great people and, equally important, you might find some new channels through which you can market your writing.

Have your own story about traditional networking success? Please share!





Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Busted! - Plagiarism in Publishing

Sigh. Two steps forward one step back. Independent publishing has come a long way, in case you didn't come to light that a certain successful debut novel by a certain independent author was merely a plagiarism of existing content from two previously published books.
know. It's going mainstream. It's getting recognition where it used to get ridicule. And then something happens and you smack your forehead. "But we were doing so well!" Recently, it's

Plagiarism isn't a new problem in the publishing business. Where there is written language, there will always be plagiarism of one form or another. However, in today's day and age of copy and paste and simplified electronic publishing platforms, the task is simpler and, I imagine, much more tempting to the potential perpetrator. Find some successful books, mesh similar plot points together, fill in some blanks, draft up a cover, upload to Kindle Direct Publishing and voilĂ ! You have only to get people to read it. Here is where the potential for success begins to fade. You see, this country (and others) is filled with voracious readers. And those readers like to read the same genres. And, if they read something similar, it doesn't take them long to sniff out a rat.

Some folks are suggesting (some seriously, some not so) that this was a conspiracy to put down independent publishing. While I wouldn't put it past Big Publishing to resort to dirty tricks to get their way, I highly doubt this was staged to besmirch indie publishing. While there was definitely some thought put into the act (and a lot of money spent on marketing to the New Adult bloggers who praised the book just prior to its release), I think it was just someone who thought they could trick the system. Luckily, it's harder to trick the people than it is to trick the system. In this case, the people prevailed. It was caught in such a short timespan that no check was cut to the perp and funds will more than likely (I hope!) be redistributed to those who bought the book.

The whole thing is very disappointing to an indie like myself. I'm not perfect, but my mistakes are mine. I own them and live with them every day. Sure, I use a pseudonym, but it's not to hide behind. It's purely marketing and anyone who wants to know my true identity doesn't have to look very far. So, to those folks out there who think they can cheat their way to the top. Well, go for it. Sure, I'll mourn the black mark you temporarily put on the face of steadfast independents, but I'll laugh when your facade comes down and you're left scampering away naked into the darkness of failure.

For some heated (and inquisitive) discussion on the topic, check out the KBoards.com thread.

Thoughts? Feelings? Please share!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

6 Things to Know Before Your Author Signing

This past weekend, I attended my second ever author signing event. Organized by the NJ Authors Network, this was an opportunity to set up a table at a public venue hosted by a local book store. Being as my book has been out for 2 years, you would think I'd have attended more events, but I pretty much fell off the public book event radar last year. I was too ashamed at having not finished the second book in my series (it's coming, I swear). That being said, I'm now booked for four more events this year and am hoping to schedule a few more.

It occurred to me that, even having just attended one prior event (2011 Collingswood Book Festival), I knew waaaay more about public signings than I had going into my first. And, that I especially had a bit to share with folks who had never done a signing event. So, here are some tips to prepare you for your first public signing.

1. Bring plenty of your books. This might sound obvious, but there's a point here. Even if you only have one book in print (like me!), you're going to need to take up real estate on a table (or even a booth for larger events). Even a six-foot table starts looking enormous when you only have one book. Bring 15 copies at least and make staggered piles. This is the "I had more, but already sold a few" trick. Keep some in reserve, though. You don't want to pile a hundred books on the table that you have to look around in order to greet someone.

2. Have something small to give away. Think bookmarks, flyers, business cards, or some other branded trinket. Heck, tape your business card to a piece of candy. Candy draws kids, but can also draw the ire of parents. Be creative with your giveaways. Try a theme if your book suggests one. Vampires? Give away fake teeth. Mobsters? Give away fake tattoos. Romance? Ummm...yeah... stick to candy.

Normally, I print my little signs in color, but the printer was down. :(
3. Consider getting some swag. I'm a huge proponent of Vistaprint. They have a lot of different options for marketing materials. It's not cheap, but here's the trick: wait for a Groupon (or Living Social) deal. Right now, you can get $70 of stuff for a $17 Groupon! You can get some serious swag for $70. As you can see in the photo, I have bags and mugs on the left side of the table. A dozen of both cost <$50 because of coupons. A bag works well, especially at a large show where folks may be carrying a few books with them. And, it's free advertising!

4. Bring a pen. Another obvious one, but there's a caveat here. Make sure it's the right kind of pen. Make sure you test it out. A Sharpie might be too heavy and run through your page. Practice with your pen and be confident about which page you're going to sign. Oh, and take it from me, if you've got a pseudonym, PRACTICE your signature a lot!

5. Have a hook. This is my least favorite part of the public book signing. The circus barker call. The "hey, come see what I have over here," only... a little less creepy. I'm passive aggressive. This can be surprising to some folks who know me, if only for the fact that I can be downright gregarious at times. Let me tell you something, the two are not the same. I hate confrontation and I'm very empathetic. I don't want someone shouting at me to buy their book, so why would I want to be that guy? Instead, I tend to engage only those who engage me first. They have to at least look my way and/or glance at my book. "Suspense, thriller. First book in a trilogy. A little bit of James Patterson with a dash of Dean Koontz." If they linger longer, I add a bit about the story. "Young man is accosted on his back porch by an identical twin he never knew he had." That's where I leave it. If they inquire further, I know they're interested. Otherwise, I give them the kind of space I would want.

6. Prepare to be disappointed. Be realistic. Let's face it, no matter how well prepared you are, things might not go the way you hoped. Maybe the venue is slow. Maybe the clientele isn't your typical readership. Maybe you get a bad traffic location. Maybe you didn't find the right hook. Maybe the guy next to you was so aggressive, he was scaring everyone away. Stranger things have happened. As a self-pubbed writer, you also have to understand that some folks don't want to buy a book from someone they've never heard of, even if your idea is the greatest ever. I sold three books at my first signing. I'll admit, being at a large book festival, that number was a bit disappointing. But, I took what I knew from that experience and applied it to my second event. I had the same number of sales with much less traffic and a much smaller venue. I'd tempered my expectations and walked away pretty satisfied.

The point of doing a signing isn't about making money. If you go into it with that as the primary goal, you'll more than likely come away with a bitter taste in your mouth. It's an opportunity to get your name and the title(s) of your book(s) out there, and to talk books with fellow readers and writers. Book signings are as much about networking and socializing as they are about selling books.

If you live in NJ or the tri-state area, be sure to visit my Facebook event page and check out some of the places I'll be this summer and fall.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Multiples of Six Audiobook Giveaway!

Enter to Win!

Free Audiobook!
I'm giving away two copies of the recently release audiobook version of my suspense thriller, Multiples of Six! Narrated by the very talented Eddie Frierson, he adds a whole new life to the story. These free copies will be available through Audible.com. While no purchase is necessary, you will be required to create an Audible.com account to receive the free copy. I hope you'll check out the giveaway page over on Facebook. Thanks!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Achieving Writing Goals the SMART Way

We all have goals as writers. Some folks want to write more. Some want to get published. Some want to write better. Some want to finish their project. Others want to start. So many goals, so little time. So, what do we need to do to achieve these goals? Well, the details are different for everyone, but if we apply a standard formula, the steps are pretty much the same. Using the SMART method (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound), anyone can create a path to achieving their goal.

So, let's take a look at an example.

SPECIFIC This is where you lay out your goal. It's important that your goal is as specific as possible so that it can answer to scrutiny. What do you want to accomplish? Why? As we're talking about writing, let's have a goal that most writer's have: "I want to increase my per day word count so that I can finish novels quicker and produce more content over the course of the year." Nothing vague there. Let's move on.

MEASURABLE It seems obvious, but this is where you define how you will measure the success criteria for achieving the goal. In this example, it's a matter of being able to point to a higher word total per day and, therefore, more finished projects and content (eg, I write 500 words a day now and publish a novel every year. I want to write 1000 words a day and publish 2 novels a year).

ATTAINABLE Is this a realistic goal? Is it achievable? Have I set the bar to high? And, if it isn't achievable now, what tools or resources do I need in order to achieve this goal? You may not even know the answer to this right away. Do some research. Find out how others have gotten over this hurdle. In our example of "writing more," I'm sure there are many answers out there. However, you need one that works for you. There may be several ideas that you can use at once (eg, carry a notepad wherever you go, write before you go to work, write on your lunch break, set your alarm a half hour early in the morning and write then).

RELEVANT How much does this matter to you? Guess what? If you don't care, you'll probably never achieve the goal you set. It doesn't matter what it is. You don't just accidentally accomplish anything, right? Well, at least for me it doesn't work that way. You have to want to get there. And, it has to make sense for you to get there as well. You may be at a point in your life where the additional stress of another goal, or a particular goal, isn't worth the hassle. But, you must also consider that by achieving the goal, you may relieve other stressors in your life (eg, writing 2 novels a year may increase my cash flow and pay a couple of bills).

TIME-BOUND When? When do we start? Now. How soon before I start evaluating my progress? Two weeks? A month? If you don't set a time boundary, you're setting yourself up for failure. We're creatures of habit and if your goal involves a new one, you've got to put it into motion right away. Even if your goal isn't habit related, you should still have a due date at which point you need to assess your progress toward your goal. Have you met it? And, if not, what went wrong? What can you do to get back on track? Do you need to adjust your goal, or the process that you're using to achieve it?

I hope this provides some guidance for setting and achieving goals. The SMART criteria were first described in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran as a method for writing goals and objectives for management. I think it's a good tool for just about any goal-setting objective.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Can You Hear That? My Book Is an Audiobook!

As I mentioned several weeks ago, my debut novel, Multiples of Six, was in production to become an audiobook. Narrated by veteran movie voiceover actor Eddie Frierson (IMDB, Matty.org), I could not be happier with the end results. It is now available through Audible.com, Amazon, and iTunes (clicking this last link will open iTunes).

From the author's perspective, the process is relatively easy. You just have to go through the grueling torture of listening to your own words spoken back to you. I mean that in the most loving way, of course. But, I found it exceptionally difficult to hear my own writing. Not that it was badly written or poorly spoken (did I mention how awesome my narrator is?), it's just mine... and I've only ever heard those words in my head as I wrote them and as I read them. It's definitely a leap of faith on many levels, but Eddie was able to produce a gem. I really love what he did with the characters.

If you're an author and you've been wondering about audiobooks, head over to ACX.com (an Amazon company) and check it out. With luck, you'll find someone to team up with to produce your own book.

Have experience with audiobook production and sales? Please share your story!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fan Fiction Gets A Venue - Amazon Announces Kindle Worlds


Fan fiction's new best friend.
Amazon has announced a new platform available to authors called Kindle Worlds. "Amazon Publishing has secured licenses from Warner Bros. for Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries, with licenses for more Worlds on the way."

Definitely an interesting development and another sign that Amazon is doing all the right things for independent authors. While I don't personally have an interest in fan fiction, I can see this being HUGE for those who started their writing this way. It will be interesting to see what other licenses Amazon acquires for Kindle Worlds in the future.

What do you think?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Let's Tell a Story

5 Essential Parts
A while back, I wrote a piece about how to plot your novel. Well, today, we're going to break that down
even further into its basic elements. How do you go about the “simple” process of telling a story. I've read and seen a lot of answers to this question, but we're going to keep it as simple as possible.
At its base level, there are 5 parts to a good story; foundation, change, significance, culmination, and purpose. That’s not to say that these are the only parts or the order in which they must appear. However, take any one of these away and you might be left with a story that doesn't feel whole. And starting to write before fully understanding what makes your story complete can make the experience harrowing. Writing can be challenging as it is. Let’s go through the parts and see what we have.

1.       Foundation – This is the “Once upon a time…” or “A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…” aspect of the story. What’s the norm? What’s the average day-to-day like in your story? Even if it’s just a glimpse, providing this information gives your story a platform on which to build. We don’t always need to put this up front, but we need to know it’s there. No character should live in a bubble… unless your story is about a character in a bubble… so, show the life that goes on around him/her/it. Bob was a hard-working man who loved life and his family.

2.       Change – Something needs to change the status quo. You’ve established the norm, so now you need to introduce the catalyst that induces a change to which your main character(s) needs to react. The extent of the change need only be relative to the main character’s need to be affected. Folks have a tendency to assume that big things need to happen in order to invoke change in a story (eg, death, cataclysm, zombies). However, sometimes the smallest stones make the largest ripples. Bob loses his well-paying job.

3.       Significance – The change has occurred. What does this lead to? How is your main character’s daily life affected? In life, as in the stories we tell about it, events aren’t usually cut and dry; Bob can’t afford food anymore and is forced to kill his neighbor. Hmmm…seems like we might be missing something. Like maybe some details? Bob can’t afford food anymore; Bob’s neighbor offers to give Bob help, but he wants something in return (a night with Bob’s wife); Bob’s got nowhere to turn and is running out of options; Bob’s sadistic neighbor taunts Bob and threatens to… and we could go one, but you get the point. A series of events then leads us to the…

4.       Culmination – …and in the end, Bob and said neighbor struggle in a fight to the death before Bob comes out on top. Extreme? Yes. Overly simplified? Indeed. But, you get the picture. You’re significant events must lead to a focal point, or climax. This is where everything comes together and the conflict that has propelled the story to this point is resolved, one way or the other.

5.       Purpose – Why did the character just go through all of that? What’s the resolution, or the new norm? Essentially, what’s the moral of your story? I would argue that this is the most important part of your story. What is it that you’re trying to tell the reader? When Bob is arrested, the police discover that his neighbor is a wanted serial killer and Bob is exonerated and they all live happily ever after (except for the neighbor, obviously). The moral? Don’t mess with Bob.

These 5 points create the thread of your story. While the order of the story thread can vary, it’s rare to find a good story that doesn’t incorporate each one of these. If you have an idea for a story, determine which of these parts you know and which you don’t. I often have 1, 2, and 4 in mind before I ever start writing, but 3 and 5 can often be the most difficult to put together on the fly. Starting your next project with all of these pieces in place can make the story-writing experience that much more enjoyable.

Friday, April 19, 2013

My $0.02 on the Boston Marathon Bombing

Let's get something out of the way. I'm not going to pretend for a moment that I have anything new or insightful to say about the who, what, and why of the Boston Marathon incident. But, I have to say something. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh said, "I have to write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living."

So, what do I know of terror? What can I add to this story that has any sort of relevance? I honestly don't know. My wife said to me, "Why would someone attack a marathon? It's not like they're affecting the people who make the decisions." True, but that's not what they're after, is it. They didn't strike at the infrastructure of the industrial machine. They struck a blow at the heart and soul of what makes America a wonderful place to live; that sense that you can stand on a street corner and watch something as simple as a footrace and not fear for your life. When I use "they," I mean terrorists. But, don't get me wrong, I believe terrorists and terrorism are a means to an end, not some poor generalization of a particular group of people. Timothy McVeigh was just as much a terrorist as any of the men who perpetrated 9/11.

The Boston Marathon attack is so hard for those of us in the United States to grasp, but it should look very familiar if you simply compare it to the many attacks that occur in Middle Eastern countries. A marketplace, a place of worship, a police recruitment center. Someplace where people have gathered in a place they believe they are safe. The significant difference here? The attackers walked away from the bombs. Instead of strapping themselves to the devices and going out for their chosen god, they dropped and ran. To me, that says a lot about who these people are and who they aren't. I might be wrong, but this seems to me to be a politically motivated attack carried out by people who want to make a statement and instill fear, but aren't willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. That may seem to blur the line, but there's a very clear difference between someone who has no regard for life (including their own) and those who simply have no regard for the lives of others. As a sidenote, I find it interesting that Massachusetts has no death penalty, though capital crimes are prosecuted by the federal government, so that might be moot.

 In the end, 3 people died (as of this writing on 4/18) so that someone could be heard. That someone made the decision that this was the only way to get their message across and be heard. Blunt, cowardly, and destructive violence perpetrated at a moment of least expectation against people whose only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. An 8-year-old boy, a 29-year-old young woman, and a grad student whose age was not disclosed. Three people and countless others who more than likely thought they were safe. Three people whose lives were cut short. Countless others who will never look at a crowd of people, or a man with a backpack, the same way ever again. This is how it begins. They've planted the seed of distrust and fear. Just like they've done before. Killing the seed is impossible. It's there; it's taken root. We can't fight it either. That just makes it spread; violence begets violence. We simply have to refuse to let it grow. Refuse to fuel the flame. At a time when it seems an impossibility, the best thing we can do is put this in the darkness of the past and move on.

Update: Just a note that, despite the post time being 9 AM, this was written on Thursday night, prior to the manhunt that occurred Thursday night and is currently in progress.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Amazon Buys Goodreads!

Nom nom nom.
This is fresh off the presses, folks. That's right, Amazon.com has purchased Goodreads. If you don't know what Goodreads is, it's only one of the biggest social reading networks around. This purchase raises some very interesting questions. What will happen, if anything, to Shelfari? Does this blur the line between Amazon book reviews and Goodreads book reviews? Safe to assume that Goodreads book pages will no longer link to other book sales sites? Will this cause an exodus of readers from Goodreads? Is this a good thing or bad thing for independent authors? Does it make Goodreads a more valuable tool to the indie author (and does it make the top 10 now)? Would love to hear your comments below.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My Book is Becoming an Audiobook!

And, I have to say, I'm pretty geeked about it. Back when I first published Multiples, a few friends joked around with me that they'd buy it when it was available in audio format. I never thought they'd have to follow through on that promise. Creating an audiobook even just a few years ago cost serious money. But, as technology has become more accessible, so has the process for creating an audiobook.
I am book, hear me roar!

ACX.com is a division of Audible.com which, in turn, is a subsidiary of Amazon.com. They've essentially created a place for authors, narrators, and producers to come together and make audiobooks. As an author, You simply sign in with your Amazon account and create projects based on your books. You upload a sample that you want to have read and, eventually, you may receive an audition or two. You can also browse through auditions from their library of narrators and request to have them work with you. The best part, at least from the indie author perspective, is that it can cost as little as $0. With their 50/50 contract, and exclusive distribution through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes, you can have your book narrated for no cost at all to you.

I recently received an audition from a career voiceover actor and was absolutely blown away. I had uploaded my Prologue several months ago and had sort of given up hope of ever hearing back from someone. And, to be honest, I hadn't really put much effort into finding a narrator. It seemed like a superfluous thing to have. I mean, it's not like every book has an audio version, right? Well, after listening to the audition, I think I'm changing my tune. Get the right narrator and your story takes on a whole new life.

It was both terrifying and exciting to listen to my own words come back at me, acted out as I had heard them in my head. He had really nailed the intended voice, which made me feel pretty good about how I'd written it. I can only imagine what it must be like for someone to watch a movie based on their book. Listening is one thing; watching is a whole other story. It's still early yet, but I hope to follow up with more details and perhaps a sample chapter.

Have you used ACX, or are you considering it? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Top 10 Social Media Sites for Authors

...and Whether You Should Be There


You can't turn around on the internet nowadays without running into some form of social media. As you read this, you'll see cues in the sidebars of my blog (as well as in the article itself) directing you to connect with me here, there, and everywhere. You can like, tweet, pin, plus and...ummm stumble to your heart's content. That's just how things work nowadays. So, let's take a look at some of the top social media sites, as well as some of the others I specifically recommend for authors. We'll look at the opportunities and challenges of each.

1. Facebook - Despite its recent poor history in regard to stock prices, Facebook is still tops when it comes to social media, connecting people around the world.

The Social Media Juggling Act
Should I be there?: According to the data, >40% of global internet traffic is through Facebook. Global! And the average user spends almost a half hour there. If you or your books are not on Facebook, you're missing out on what potentially may be your largest source of an audience. Their integrated advertising system is fairly simple and it's even easier to "promote" individual posts now. More likes = more chance for viral reach.

Challenges: Be sure to separate your author business from your personal account. Create an author page and invite friends to like it. You don't want to alienate friends with repeated calls to "Buy my book!"

Connect with me on Facebook.

2. YouTube - From cats playing patty cake and staring ground hogs to car accidents and behind the scenes videos. If a video isn't on YouTube, it's not being watched.

Should I be there?: Book trailers are not unheard of. Whether or not they lead to success is another story. However, the potential virality cannot be denied. Make the right video about your book and you might

Challenges: The tutorials on how to make a trailer for your book are out there, but in order to make something truly special, you either need to have video-making talent, or know some. While that shouldn't deter you from trying, I wouldn't put in the effort unless I knew the end product was going to be something to be proud of.

3. Twitter - Changing the world 160 letters at a time.

Should I be there?: Definitely. Revolutions have begun through Twitter. It would be foolish to think it couldn't help your branding or book sales. It can be hectic though and you've most often only got a small window of opportunity to make a good impression.

Challenges: There are millions of people on Twitter and they all have something to say. That means you have only a small window of opportunity to be heard. Pick up a Twitter tool like TweetDeck to help you sift through all the noise and find your crowd. Don't underestimate the power of tagging (#). And don't get overwhelmed. You don't have to spend all day in order to see an impact. 15-30 minutes of focused interaction every other day can make a world of difference.

Connect with me on Twitter.

4. LinkedIn - Looking for a job? Or looking to hire someone? This is the place to be.

Should I be there?: This one is two-fold. If you're a job candidate, there's no better place to be. With just a few connections, you may find yourself indirectly connected to someone who may have the opportunity of a lifetime. As an author or writer, it also provides another avenue for viral communication of your books and writing.

Challenges: While good for connecting with other writers, I'm not quite sure it's the place to be trying to sell a book (unless you're going the traditional route, in which case it might be a great place to meet up with potential agents). While I have connected my personal profile, I have not yet set up an author profile.

5. Tumblr - A blogging tool that allows you to customize your own stream with a variety of tools.

Should I be there?: Well, if you don't already have a blog, consider using this. It combines the possible virality of a social media site into the blogging mix. It also allows for more simplified posting.

Challenges: Less control of content. Personally, I use Blogger and I can code it just like a web site. I know a lot of folks also use WordPress and a handful of others.

6. Pinterest - Ask nearly any woman aged 25-44 about Pinterest and you might hear it's great for fashion, cooking, and interior design. Well, it's way more than that.

Should I be there?: Pinterest is simple. You visit a web site and "Pin" images to boards you create. Book covers are images! By pinning your book cover, you can link pinners directly to the point of sale, or to your web site. If the image catches on, with almost 21 million monthly active users (as of 01/24/13) there's great potential for viral takeoff.

Challenges: It's addictive! Don't get sucked into the pretty pictures. Allot yourself a little time each day, but don't let it break into writing time!

Connect with me on Pinterest

7. Reddit - Reddit's tagline is "The front page of the internet". It's a forum for posting links to interesting articles and conducting discussions about topics from memes to politics to writing and books. Readers (or redditors as they're called) can vote items up and down depending on their like or dislike of a subject matter.

Should I be there?: The Writing forum is a great place to pop in a see what's going on. It's also a great place to make connections and get the word out on your work. Don't hawk your book there, but engage in conversations and, if you post writing related articles to your blog, you may find that posting it here drives additional traffic. You may also want to check out the Books forum.

Challenges: Did I already say don't hawk your book there? Ok. Don't expect anyone to put the kid gloves on if you ask for a critique. And don't expect them to flock to your new ideas with praise and adoration. It's a cruel world out there, kid, and this corner doesn't pull any punches. While folk are generally cordial, you have to be on the up and up, or you'll hear about it.

8. Stumbleupon - Another addictive time waster tool for finding new stuff on the internet, Stumbleupon allows you to enter a subject matter and then "stumble" from site to site (supposedly at random) that fits that category.

Should I be there?: Another chance for viral recognition. I'm not completely sold on this one. While I've had some visits directed to my site from Stumbleupon, it's been a bit hit or miss. In my mind, I've simply added it for the sake of adding it, but I don't do much stumbling myself.

Challenges: Another potential "time suck." Don't get caught up in it.

It's been so long, I can't even remember my StumbleUpon password... yeah.

9. Google Plus - Google's valiant attempt at one-upping Facebook. Not quite there.

Should I be there?: There's still a lot of active users having a lot of conversations about books and writing. It's certainly got the potential for getting your name out there. The ability to group followers into categories and reach out to them directly via email has its advantages. Hangouts are also a potentially great tool for interacting. Just make sure you've got pants on when your web cam kicks in.

Challenges: No one is exclusive to Google Plus. If they're having the conversation there, you can guarantee they're having it over on Facebook or Twitter as well.

Connect with me on Google+.

10. MySpace - OMG! They're still alive? Yep. Alive and kicking.

Should I be there?: Well, to be honest, the answer might be "No." While they still make it into the top ten, MySpace has had to remake itself over the past couple of years in order to remain relevant. They recently rolled out a new design, but I closed my account years ago and have no intention of going back at this point. It might be the perfect opportunity to get a foothold when there might not be a whole lot of competition, but I'm not sure it's the right venue for books. Now, if you also have a band, it might be the perfect place.

Challenges: Well, the challenge is, it's MySpace, which has become the punch line to a few jokes. Not sure the ship has completely sunk, but I'm not planning to get back on board. And, unless they show me something that Facebook can't compete with, I don't see that changing.

Honorable Mentions for Writers and Authors

These are some of my personal favorites that I recommend for authors:

11. Kindle Boards - A great place for the writing community, the Writer's Cafe is an invaluable resource for the fledgling independent author.

12. Goodreads - Possibly the largest reading community on the internet. Authors can create their own profiles, make sure their books are searchable there, create advertising campaigns, and join the conversation about great books and great writing. You can check out my profile here. [UPDATE: On 3/28/13, Amazon announced that it had purchased Goodreads. This definitely changes their importance, from a self-publishing perspective, and position on this list.]

13. Triberr - It took me a while to understand exactly what was going on here. Essentially, you join "Tribes" in order to promote blog posts. Get in with the right crowd and you may find your reach spread to as many as 600,000+ as I've seen in just a matter of weeks. Tribes consist of people willing to tweet, repost, plus, like, etc your blog posts all in an easy and automated fashion. Beware the automatic feed tribes. These are groups that remove the choice of whether you want to post the subject matter or not. Check it out and join my tribe.

Thanks for taking the time to read through. Did I miss any of your favorites? Post in the comments below!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Plotting Your Novel


Four Steps to Putting Your Plot in Order


I've spent a bit of time on Reddit's writing forum over the last couple of weeks. One of the recurring questions I kept seeing was about plotting (or outlining) a novel before starting to write. To be honest, I was never a big proponent of plotting. Until, that is, it worked for me.

Do you remember the movie How to Train Your Dragon? Well, the morning after seeing that movie with my then 4-year-old son, I woke up with a name in my head and the title of a book on the tip of my tongue. While the title quickly died (for being a bit too similar to an existing series), the character thrived and within 48 hours I had plotted out the first book of a proposed trilogy. Six months later, I had translated that outline into a 55,000 word YA novel (which is still on the proverbial shelf). As soon as I finished that book, I sat down and plotted book #2. I was thrilled at how easy it came to me. But, it doesn't always work that way. Let's take a look at some of the key points to successfully plotting your novel:

1. Know where your story begins

When I sat down to write my suspense thriller, I cranked out 40 pages of writing. It was the least suspenseful pile of drivel ever imagined. I shelved 98% of it. It was back story. I had spent ~10,000 words trying to build up a sense of who my character was, without realizing he had accomplished absolutely nothing in that time. You need to establish your starting point. If you're protagonist is a 24-year-old, the reader doesn't need a detailed description of the 24 years that preceded the story's starting point. These are details that can be infused throughout the rest of the story (y'know, the one you really want to tell?). Don't be afraid to throw your characters immediately into the fray. Whether it's drama, fantasy, suspense, or sci-fi, nothing will tell the reader more about your character than seeing how they react when the pressure is at full tilt. Finally, don't be afraid of being vague at this point. We're not writing yet, we're plotting to write. A sentence will do if it conveys Who, What, Where, and When (Why can wait a while). When you recognize your starting point, give yourself a pat on the back. You've found the starting line. Now, stop the self-congratulations and move on.

2. Know (roughly) where your story will end

This one can be tricky for a number of reasons, but it's possibly the most important part of the whole process. Why? Because knowing the ending allows you, as the author, to seed the path with the kinds of things that readers eat up. Nothing impresses me more as a reader than when I get to the end of a book and find that the author has tied together little bits and pieces of the story that were sprinkled throughout. Plus, as a writer, it gives you a point of focus (we'll talk more about focus in step #3). So, where do you want your characters to be at the end of your novel? Can't see it? Imagine the end of your five favorite movies. Happy endings, sad endings, poignant endings, doesn't really matter. But, the best endings are those that show how life has changed the characters involved, for good or bad. As fiction writers, we're conveying a series of events that happened to people. And, despite what some people may believe, life changes us (if it didn't we'd all be pretty damn boring). So, what are the results of the events in your story? What sort of consequences do your characters have to deal with? This is where you may discover the "Why" of your story. When you find that, you'll have found your finish line.

3. Know where the middle point of your story is

Scranton, home of The Office and... not much else.
Consider this a way point in your plot development. We're trying to get from the start to the finish, and a good plot rarely takes a straight line to get there. If it does, it probably won't be very entertaining. But, there's a difference between a plot detour and a major plot detour. Sure, we could just jump on the Jersey Turnpike to get from Philly to NYC, but it might be more interesting to take a detour through Scranton. Essentially, don't be afraid to take side routes to get to where your going. But, it's important to keep your middle point within shouting distance of your proposed ending. Go to NYC from Philly through Cleveland and you're going to lose readers (and potentially drive yourself insane). Why? You're prolonging the trip. Readers aren't dumb; they can often see where you're going. And, even if they can't, when you do finally get where you're going, you may leave them scratching their heads. Why the heck did he walk around the block to visit the neighbor?! So, what is the middle? Well, in my mind, it's the part of the story that leads right into the climax of the story. Your characters have been introduced and the catalyst of the story has been introduced. The middle is where it all begins to come together and it's a straight shot to the end game.
Your riders (ie, readers) might be a bit ticked at your "short cut."


4. Fill in the gaps of your story

Now, comes the hard part for some folks. You know your beginning, middle, and end, but now how to get from one to another. Well, this is where your ability to build a story shows itself. Here's what I do. Thirty is my magic number. It's the number of chapters I start with. I jot down my starting point at #1, my middle goal around #15, and my finish line at #28 (I like to have some room to let things settle at the end). I then mark out the first 5 chapters, the next 10, and the final 15.

The first 5 chapters are character development and initial action. It's in these chapters that you will capture your audience. Some writers will argue that it has to happen in chapter 1, which is true, but you can't place all of your hope on one chapter. Give the reader 5 strong chapters at the beginning of your novel and they will let you take them on whatever journey you want. Grab their attention and empathy for your character in those chapters and you'll be set. No empathy = no care for what happens to the characters = no reason to read on.

The next ten chapters are entirely a setup for the end game. This is where your characters are challenged, poked, and prodded into their point of no return. The reader should be able to look back at this point of the story and say, "That's where it could have changed." If he had only taken the blue pill!

The final 15 chapters are are where the roller coaster plunges over the precipice and the laws of gravity take over. This is where the novel should run at full speed to the climax of the story. Everything chapter should have a distinct effect on how the story will end. Anything else is just slowing the coaster down.

Now, obviously, 30 is just a number I like. You might have 50 chapters or 20. Either way, you should be sure to balance out the plot so that it makes sense for your story; beginning, middle, and end. End too soon, without enough transition, and you'll leave your readers feeling short-changed. Put too much filler into the "middle" and your readers will get bored before they can get to the end. And, a weak beginning won't stimulate the reader to continue reading about your characters.

Would love to hear your opinions on the subject! Questions? Suggestions? Best practices that have worked for you?