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Archive for April, 2011

In honor of Easter weekend, I decided to “resurrect” an old post. Giving an honest critique can be difficult, but even more so is giving an honest critique that actually helps the writer improve his or her writing. The following is one method I like to use that is simple and useful.

Sandwich Critiquing

You’ve been asked to read a friend’s manuscript. After dutifully plowing through 100 pages of less-than-perfect, sometimes entertaining, but often difficult to understand prose you’re left with one question: how do you tell your friend her manuscript needs a lot of work?

Unless you really don’t care about hurting your friend’s feelings and possibly losing a friend, this can be a very tricky situation. I know several writers who refuse to read other people’s unpublished works for just that reason. Yet, it seems crueler to me to let a friend send an unpolished manuscript out knowing you could have helped.

Read the rest here.

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This week I found myself having nightmares about conspiracies and daydreaming about a long vacation at some remote beach. That’s when I realized my life was once again out of balance.

Who among us hasn’t felt like they were running uphill at full speed for days on end? It’s a common experience, especially if you’re trying to balance more than just a small family and your writing career. For most of us we’re balancing a day job, family (and all those household things that go with it), volunteer activities and a host of other responsibilities as well as launching (or maintaining) a writing career.

Yet even in the midst of all those responsibilities, and maybe even because we have them, it is important to find a balance between them and our peace of mind. The following 5 links can help you achieve a better balance.

  1. Downshifting: The First Day of the Rest of My Life, by J.D. Roth: J.D. shares his personal journey from being a regular 9-to-5 Joe with huge debt and lots of wasted time to being a problogger with finances in great shape and no time to finding a balance between his new self-employed status and having time to do nothing.
  2. 10 tips on leading a balanced life, by Allen Galbraith: Although this post is written for the 9-to-5 crowd and those self-employed in businesses other than writing, there are some helpful tips nonetheless.
  3. 5 Tips for Better Work-Life Balance, by Jen Uscher and Miranda Hitti: These tips are more generalized (and also more focussed on 9-to5ers) but, again, some of them are helpful, especially when it comes to family and household responsibilities.
  4. WE ARE NOT ALONE: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media, by Kristen Lamb: This book is specifically for writers and is a great tool for learning how to manage marketing via social media so that it doesn’t become a time suck.
  5. Sensitive (Mental) Health: HSPs and Burnout by Elaine Aron: This very short article is specifically for highly sensitive people, though I think some of it applies to non-hsps as well.

Balance is attainable, even if for a brief period. What are some tips you’ve discovered on maintaining a balance between your writing career and the rest of your life?

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If you don’t already know how important having an ebook is, then perhaps you want to check out this post: Ebook Buyers: Can You Afford To Lose Them?

For the rest of you, I’d like to make a quick suggestion: don’t stop with ebooks.

On the Enneagram my husband is a 7 and I am a 9. We like to joke that he’s the idea man, but I’m the one who makes those ideas come to life. So, when my idea man suggested I put my latest book, Simply Prayer (also on Nook and Kindle), out as an audio book, I jumped on it. (It didn’t hurt that I know at least one person who prefers audio books because she’s so busy.)

A little research helped me find not only how to produce my own audio book for free, but also who I could list it with (distribution is still a major factor in making money!).

Here’s what I learned so far:

  1. Author Tim Hampton suggested in an interview on Self Publishing Coach using CDbaby.com because “CDbaby also makes my work avaliable at itunes, emusic and more…”

  2. There is free software available to create your audio book called Audacity.

  3. There are tutorials like Create An Audio Book With Audacity & Audiobook Cutter and Create and Sell an Audio Book Using These 5 Simple Steps by Shelley Hitz.

  4. Don’t expect the print version of your book to make sense to a listener. You may need to script your book, especially if it contains long web site addresses or footnotes.

I’ve only just begun working on putting together a Simply Prayer audio book, so I’ll be adding more information as I go. In the meantime, I would love to hear from anyone who has thought about doing an audio book or has already made that journey. What tips or questions do you have?

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I am not a fan of drama. However, against my better judgement, I took the advice Les Edgerton gives in Hooked and rented Thelma & Louise in order to learn about how to create a “proper” inciting incident and the resulting escalating conflicts.

I wish I could say the movie pleasantly surprised me, but it didn’t. It was exactly as I figured it would be. Yes, it has a powerful ending. Yes, the real inciting incident isn’t what most people think it is. No, I didn’t find the story riveting or the conflict keeping me glued to the screen, though I did watch the whole movie out of respect for the cast, crew and Les (and to get my $3.50′s worth).

I can say that I learned something from the movie, though it’s not exactly what Les probably meant to be learned. In the case of Thelma & Louise, and most other dramas I’ve read/watched, the inciting incident is the first in a string of bad decisions in which each bad decision is decidedly worse than the last. If you truly care about the characters, this would indeed be conflict for the reader as well as the characters. If… and that’s a big if.

Life is drama. I don’t need to see it played out on the big screen or read about it in a book. For me, simply being human in an unpleasant situation is not enough. Therefore, characters like Thelma or Louise only irritate me. They make bad decision after bad decision, never stopping to consider the consequences or the other characters in their lives. That is not entertainment. That is a train wreck.

The problem for writers arises in trying to create characters readers will connect with. Escalating conflict isn’t enough. If your reader doesn’t care about what happens to your character, then she may be cheering for the character’s demise by the end of the book. (I was by Season 5 Episode 22 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

So what’s a writer to do? Here are 6 links that can help you create characters your readers will fall in love with:

  1. T is for Terrific: 4 Ways to Create Minor Characters
  2. 5 Questions About Characters’ Desires
  3. Checklist of 17 Character Qualities
  4. Holy Rusted Metal, Batman, I’m A Sidekick!
  5. How We Write Wednesdays: Making Characters Realistic–YOUR Way
  6. Let your MC succeed while they’re failing – the power of reward

What do you think? Does a chain of bad decisions make a great story or do you need to fall in love with the characters first?

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I love my mother. She’s one of my biggest cheerleaders (and marketers! :D) and a very good proofreader. She loves just about everything I write, which makes storytelling fun because I know someone will enjoy it. She’s also pretty good at giving me honest feed back, but let’s face it… she’s my mother. Of course she’s going to like what I write. She’s great for my ego, but not necessarily a good measuring tool when it comes to my WIPs being something anyone else would want to read.

On the other hand, my husband, who has read everything from the latest Star Wars series to Les Miserables by Victor Hugo to The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson, has usually been ho hum about my stories. What I write isn’t what he’s interested in, though he’s kind enough to read it if I ask. I know the best I’m likely to get is a “surprisingly not bad,” which is basically the same as “don’t call us we’ll call you.”

Imagine my surprise when I let him read some of my unfinished, unedited WIP and he begged for the as-yet-unwritten next chapter. To me, that means I’ve got something worth pursuing.

When we look for beta readers, we often go after those who read our genre and ignore everyone else. However, by doing that we miss a fantastic way to measure our product’s appeal to a larger audience.

Sure, most of the time the response will be “surprisingly not bad” (unless the person doesn’t care about your feelings, then it might be a more… honest… response), but there is always the possibility that person will love what we’ve written. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask and even if they don’t enjoy the work, they may point out problems that could turn off readers we are targeting.

Knowing I have at least two people impatiently waiting for me to finish my current WIP makes me want to work harder because where there’s two there’s bound to be more.

What are some of your experiences with beta readers?

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