What The H*ll Do You Want???

What do you, as a reader, want on author blogs? I see all kinds of things, and some pretty nonsensical advice from gurus claiming to know what readers want from author blogs and websites. So, as usual when I want to know something, I decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth. BTW, if you’re a reader, that’s you. So, here goes.

Not All Readers Are Created Equal.

A large percentage of the visitors to writers/authors blogs and sites are other writers. What they want may be vastly different from what the non-writer reader wants. As a result, we each have to decide which reader we want to target. Do we go for other writers, and have a pretty much guaranteed audience? Or seek out people who might actually buy our books and enjoy them?

Or, do we perhaps try for a mix, other writers and regular readers? If we do that, how do we achieve some sort of balance, or even separation, so that everyone gets what they want, without the parts they don’t want? Separate blogs/sites, one for writers, one for readers, aren’t an uncommon solution. The writer has to split her time and efforts, often inefficiently, and often leading to one blog being of far inferior quality than the other. If we take that course, which side gets sacrificed?

Other Writers As Readers

See, while writers tend to be voracious readers, we also tend to be 1.) very selective in reading material, and 2.) often, many of us are on a pretty tight budget. We often read extensively in our own genre, sometimes with a very narrow focus within it, but not much else. Or we read lots of writing craft books. Or only authors we wish to emulate. Or… Anyway, often, we don’t look at all the carefully placed marketing materials on author blogs.

With frequently limited reading time, as we push to write our own material, we look for blogs and sites that have materials that will help us improve our writing, find an agent, get published, and sell our books. Word quickly gets around about blogs that provide such useful materials, and they develop large followings.

So, if we’re aiming our blog or site at other writers, we need to focus on materials that will help other writers be more successful.

Readers As Readers

Here’s where things get tricky. What if we want people who are looking for books to make our blog their favorite online hang-out? Of course, we’d love to have the avid reader, the one who consumes multiple books per week, reading our blog. What does she look for in an author’s blog?

Our avid reader might be up for an occasional day-in-the-life sort of post, if she’s a little curious about how and what writers actually do. Writing craft posts aren’t too likely to catch her attention, though. She might like reviews, to help her choose other books to buy, but do we want to send her to buy from the competition?

How can we keep her focus on our work? Cover art, blurbs, and buy links should probably go without saying. How else will the reader know what books we have, and how to get them? I also see excerpts on quite a few author sites, of all levels, so the conventional wisdom would seem to favor excerpts. Give the reader a little taste of the product, as it were. But where do we go from there?

Leave It To The Imagination

One author (I’m sure there are many more doing this, too.) has a page on her website dedicated to artwork related to her books. That sounds good, on the surface. The problem is, she uses these computer drawn images of her characters, which can be gorgeous, when well done. Hers aren’t. They’re very took-one-class-and-now-I’m-a-professional-artist looking, with uneven proportions and colors that resemble dog-puke together. Such things, done purposely, can work, but not in this case. It ends up making her look like an amateur, almost childish, instead of a professional author.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but even before I came back to writing fiction seriously, that sort of thing really turned me off as a reader. If the representations of characters aren’t extremely well done, I greatly prefer my imagination.

Involving Readers?

I know of one mid-list author whose fans sometimes sent her original, professionally done graphics, just to share their enthusiasm for her books. She, with the artists’ permission, used the graphics on her website, and when the collection grew, on merchandise. She has gorgeous hoodies and tees with the graphics, and short quotes and slogans, for sale on her site. I have no idea how well that’s going, but with fabulous artwork, reasonable prices, and good quality, I’d be surprised if it weren’t successful.

How that can translate to other authors, I have no idea, but it seems worth exploring.

Other authors involve readers in various ways – giveaways and contests, responding to reader questions publicly, social media interactions, interviews, blog tours, reviews, newsletters, and etc. The problem with these things is that everyone is doing them, making it tough to stand out from the crowd. We’re told by all the experts that these things will translate to book sales, and they probably do for some. But isn’t there more we can do, without wasting effort and money?

The Question, Then, Becomes:

What can writers/authors do to draw actual readers to our blogs/sites, and keep them involved and returning? Even those of us just starting out, perhaps not even published yet? What can we do to build a loyal following of readers, eagerly anticipating the release of our (next) book?

Do any of the methods listed above catch your attention as a reader, bring you to our blog/site, and keep you coming back for more? Or do they all just get lost in the shuffle? What kinds of things writers do to promote their work annoy you? Would you buy their books even if you’re a little put off by their marketing?

What can authors do to make you feel special, and valued, as an individual? What can we do to convince you to be our reader?

 

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STRANGER DANGER!!

Absolutely not! I forbid it, young lady! What do you know about this… this… CHARACTER… you’re writing about? Nothing, that’s what! Well, I won’t have it! Before I allow you to write him, you’re going to figure out who he is!

Too much? Really? ‘Cause I didn’t th… Oh well, you get the idea.

Earlier in the week, as I was thinking about how to begin a short series of posts on characters for my Nailing Down The Essentials series, I came across this CuriosityQuills post. The author lays it out far better than I could.

Back in The Good Ole Days…

Way back, when I was a young writer determined to create a best seller, I wrote what I thought were extensive character profiles. Then I spent two decades just dabbling, while I focused on being all I could be as an Army wife, and a mother, and held down a demanding career. When I came back to serious writing a couple of years ago, I’d forgotten about character profiles.

I’m too old to waste time…

Okay, so I’m not ancient. 🙂 But, at 44, there are so many things I want to accomplish. I don’t mind taking the time to do something right, or to savor experiences. But wasting time, especially mine, really irks me.

I started writing my first weredragon novel with not much more than a vague physical description for Van, the hero. Really BIG mistake. I had no idea how or why he would act, what he might think or do in certain situations. I didn’t even know whether he was gay or straight, or what he liked. As a result, I spent a great deal of time writing scenes that didn’t ring true, and trashing them.

In frustration, I took another approach, that also wasted time and words. Every time I needed to make a decision about him (Was he modest, or comfortable with his body?), I wrote a scene justifying the decision (Slightly modest, as a result of his cousin’s cruel teasing when they were adolescents). I ended up writing dozens of scenes that I knew I would never use, but to be sure my decision rang true to his character, I wasn’t sure what else to do.

Why write character profiles?

Some writers might be able to write complex, multi-dimensional characters beginning with only the vaguest of details, and manage to keep every moment real. They make all those bits and pieces cement into characters that are more real and consistent than your college roommate. I can’t do it, though.

These days, I get to know my characters pretty thoroughly before writing the first word of the book, as part of my outline process. I’m not talking about their physical descriptions, or the list of events that make up their lives. I’m talking about the series of experiences that turned them into the people they are. I’m talking about WHY they make the choices they do, and react to certain situations the way they do.

When I know WHY, I can be sure all my characters’ decisions and actions will be realistic for them, that they will be consistent and multi-dimensional. After I point them in the general direction I want them to go, I can trust them to take care of the WHAT and HOW. It becomes their story. The events fit the character, rather than the character changing at the whim of the events.

Getting to know the stranger

HOW do I get to know them so well? Well, the process changes a bit with every new character. First, I decide the superficial stuff, but that could just as easily come after. The physical description, and things like: sex, age, race, profession, birth family structure, location, and etc., are pretty basic and generic.

Then we get to the hard parts. I write their backstory by first dividing their lives up to the present into stages – infancy, early childhood, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood (sub-divided into regular intervals, depending on age, decades, half-centuries, centuries, and etc.), and if necessary, middle-age and old-age, subdivided in the same way as adulthood. For each of those stages/intervals, I write two influential memories, one good, one bad – just a brief little scene overview that can be fleshed out further if necessary.

My vampire’s having a rough day

For a one-hundred and fifty year old female vampire, I would write one good and one bad significant memory for infancy, early childhood, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood. The second interval of adulthood would begin at fifty years old, then one hundred, then each decade thereafter.

Maybe her old brother threw her down the well when she was six, and now she fears water and cramped spaces, after spending thirty six terrifying hours in the well waiting to be rescued. So, she isn’t going to willingly explore the narrow cave that’s actually a tunnel leading to the bad guy’s compound. She’ll need serious motivation, and no alternatives, to go there.

Since I know that, I know that when the bad guy’s henchmen try to force her into the cave at gunpoint, she’s going to fight hard, because she fears the cramped, dark, and damp cave far more than she fears a gunshot wound. I need her to get in that cave, though, so after she kicks the henchmen’s collective ass, I have to throw something else at her, something worse than the cave.

The vampire bounty hunter, with orders to bring her head to the bad guy, bursts into the clearing at the mouth of the cave. Enough? No, maybe she’ll take her chances and fight him too. Let’s add to it. The bounty hunter’s two assistants are with him. And the love of her life will die a permanent death in less than one hour unless she finds a way to save him. Maybe. Oh, and she has the secret weapon, the only thing on earth that can kill the bad guy and ensure her, and her lover’s, survival. She darts into the cave.

Adding it up

If I hadn’t known about the well incident, I might have sent her bravely forth into the cave, even after an earlier scene hinted at her fear. The phobia wouldn’t have been integral to who she is, just a passing fear. We’d have missed that kick-ass fight scene, and the additional conflicts and complications. The character would have been less complex, less real. Each of those memories can be used to add additional facets to the character, and new conflict or resolution to the story.

I don’t stop developing the character when the memories are written. I also create a short story for each main character, just a couple of pages, summarizing the story from their point of view, as if they are THE main character. This takes care of each character’s agenda and motivation as it fits within the larger picture of the whole story.

Now, not only do I know my character quite well, I know how she’s going to react to each situation. I know what else I need to throw at her, for the story to have the kind of impact I want it to have, while being logical and realistic for my character. She’ll be a multi-dimensional person, rather than just blinding going along the road I set for her, overcoming obstacles and making the changes I think she should. She’ll think and feel, and change on her own, and her character arc will feel natural and organic to the reader. She will have a REASON to be in the story.

Yeah, it took extra work at the front end, but it saved countless hours of floundering around trying to get characters to do things that don’t fit their personalities. The result is that I’m writing the story to fit the character, rather than writing a character to simply plug in to the story.

What do you do to get to know your characters before you start writing? Or do you jump in with little more than a vague idea what the character looks like?

No Authors (or Elephants) Allowed!!!

A recent post on Dear Author sparked a discussion in my blogging network about whether authors should thank reviewers. According to the post, even a simple Thank You in the Comments of the review will kill discussion among readers.

I can see that happening if the review, or the ongoing discussion, is negative. Most people are uncomfortable saying unflattering things about a person’s work if they know that person is listening in. Especially if the phrasing is less than tactful. But if the discussion and review are positive, why would the readers abandon the conversation?

DON’T?

Now, in my Rethinking Reviews post, I stated that the best advice I’d ever seen for responding to reviews was simply DON’T. But, like everything else about writing, that approach doesn’t work for every author. Some feel compelled to acknowledge the roughly twelve hours the reviewer put in to read and review their book. In that case, a strictly professional Thank You comment or email seems to be the answer. Saying “Thank you for taking the time to review my book. I’m sorry it wasn’t right for you,” in response to a scathing review can be an effective method of taking the high road, and refusing to stoop to that level. For some readers, it gives the impression of class and professionalism.

No, see, what I really meant was…

One of the dangers of responding to reviews is giving in to the temptation to explain what we really meant when the reviewer obviously misunderstood. As much as we want readers to see exactly what we think we’re showing in the book, explaining can look like making excuses. We don’t want readers to think our writing is so poor that we’re unable to express what we mean, and thus have to provide explanations after the fact. Note – If we’re asked in an interview to explain something about our book, it’s a different situation. We’re expanding on, rather than making excuses for it.

What’s your motive?

Most of us write because we love it, and have a passion for writing. Like anyone else, we like to talk about what we love. So, are authors welcome to join in readers’ discussions of other authors’ books? Like the rest of it, we have to be careful of the impressions we give. If we didn’t care for the book, some people will assume it’s sour grapes, that we’re jealous of that author for whatever reason. And, if we loved the book, some will decide we’re simply promoting our friend’s book, hoping to boost her sales.

Squeee! Fangirl moment

Before I joined online writing communities and became acquainted with several of my favorite authors through the online conversations I’ve had with them, I would have been thrilled if an author deigned to discuss her book with me. These days, I’m ecstatic if an author talks with me about her book. There’s just something about talking with someone who created something that you enjoy.

 

How do you feel about authors joining in book discussions? If an author discusses books, hers or anyone else’s, do you doubt her sincerity and motivation?

Which Pants Are You Wearing?

Okay, so I’m not talking about clothes. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

Are you a pantser, or a plotter?

Translation: Do you write by the seat of your pants, with no plan, or do you outline and plot your project?

I used to be a pantser, but over time, became a plotter. As my writing evolved, so did I.

Have you ever taken a walk on the other side of the fence?

The debate about whether it’s best to outline, or not, often becomes heated. Anything so integral to our writing becomes intensely personal, with about as much emotion involved as debates over various child-rearing techniques. So “heated” is a gross understatement.

The point is, everyone thinks their way is best. Several writers, all using the same approach, will each individualize that method until it becomes their own, each finding what works best for them. And once we find something that works, we stick to it, sometimes to the point where writing becomes highly ritualized. Outlines longer than the finished book. Successive drafts in different colors or fonts. One particular location. A certain shirt. Hey, if it works, use it.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

I’m issuing a challenge. The goal is to adapt and expand as a writer.

If you’re a plotter:  Choose a plot question. A What-if? scenario. Something like… What if an angel fell in love with a serial killer?

Once you have your question, without any further thought, start writing. Don’t make any notes. Don’t think any further ahead than the end of the current scene. When you reach the end of the scene, start a new one, no notes, no thought.

If you’re a pantser: Choose your plot question, as above. Before you start writing, name two characters and decide their roles in your scenario. Write down one major, and one minor conflict. Begin with inciting incidents, the course of the conflict, and the resolution, with a minimum of one sentence to summarize each. Then write your story.

Whether you end up with a short story, or a novella, or even a whole novel, maybe you’ll have a few new tools in your repertoire. And just maybe, you’ll find something to add to your current technique that will help you be a better writer. Hell, maybe you’ll even have a little fun.

 

Are you a pantser, a plotter, or something in between?

Everybody’s A Critic

Many online writing communities have a place for writers to post snippets of their work for critique. Several communities revolve exclusively around sharing and critiquing, often on a sort of tit for tat basis. In order to post your work for review, you first have to critique several other writers’ work.

These sites can be invaluable for honing your craft and getting your work polished and ready to submit to editors or agents. But there’s a dark side, too. They can utterly destroy a writer, even a talented, promising one, with the drive and potential to be really good.

How the hell can a writing community destroy a writer?

Not long after I started visiting writing communities, I became a member of a tiny writing forum. One of the writers who often shared her work usually posted really short snippets, almost flash fiction. Her writing needed a great deal of work, but there were good points, too. The rest of us had picked up that there was something different about her circumstance – perhaps she was very young, or had a learning disability. But she loved writing and was proud of her work. We all offered some gentle criticism, and a bit of encouragement.

After a couple of months, one of the other members, who rarely ventured into the share-your-work area, deigned to critique her work. This other writer had been a member for quite a while, and was generally respected as an authority among the dozen or so regular posters. He posted a several hundred word long diatribe about why her work was “utter crap”. When challenged for his cruelty, he continued to rant, saying she didn’t deserve to call herself a writer.

In a very sad post, the first writer apologized for taking up time and space for her crap and promised never to “bother” anyone with it again. She left. I have no way of knowing if she continued to write or not. I hope she did. She enjoyed it, and what she lacked in skill, she made up in enthusiasm and unflagging support for other writers.

 Grow A Thick Skin

I’m not saying this happens on all share/critique sites. Far from it. But there are a few where the most out-spoken critics are harsh, even cruel, in their reviews.

So? Writers have to develop a thick skin. If you can’t take the heat… Rejection and harsh criticism are simply part of the game.

Of course they are. That’s not what I’m talking about. The fact is, there are people out there who totally get off on shredding someone else’s work in a way orchestrated to hurt the writer as much as possible. Even if a piece is decent, they do their utmost to find nothing good. Sometimes, it goes to the point of purposefully misunderstanding the writer’s words. If all that fails, it devolves into personal attacks.

These critics aren’t just critics. They’re bullies. Often, there are other writers on the site who jump in, backing up the bully. They certainly don’t want her attention turned to their work. In return for their loyalty, the bully gives their work favorable criticism, no matter how undeserving.

What about the writer whose work is subject to this form of bullying? Think about it. A dozen or more people, seemingly well-respected, tell you, in so many words, that your best work is utter shit. No one finds anything positive, and if they do, it’s something insignificant.

If you’re thick-skinned enough, you pack up your marbles and go play elsewhere, or perhaps you revise and re-post. If you revise and repost, chances are, the same thing will happen all over again, probably even worse. Heaven forbid you give a less than rave review of the bully’s work! To have such gall is to risk having the toxicity spill over from the writing site into other areas of your online life.

So, what do you do?

First, before posting work or critiquing, check out the community. Read the other members’ critiques, and their work. Do the reviews seem honest, offering constructive criticism that’s clearly explained, pointing out both the good and the bad? Do the reviews actually reflect the quality of the work, or is so-so work being hailed as the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Are the more negative aspects of the critiques worded tactfully, or cruelly?

Search for mentions of the site on other sites. Does it have a good rep among writers? Is there one person, or a small group, that makes the bulk of the critiques? Check the archives. Do people come and go fairly regularly, or do most people join and leave after a short period, with a few members staying for a long time? One or a few people making the bulk of the reviews over an extended period, while others come and go in rapid succession can be a red flag and warrants a closer look.

The answers to those questions will help you decide if the site has anything real to offer. If it doesn’t, keep looking. If you think it might, post a trial piece – something small that isn’t part of a work you’ve poured your heart and soul into. That way, if the critiques turn nasty, you aren’t hurt as badly. Once the critiques are in, ask for clarification of any points you don’t understand, to see if the other members are willing to explain their remarks, without flaming you.

Keep looking until you find a community that fits well. Above all, don’t give an anonymous stranger behind a keyboard the power to take away your dream.

What kind of experiences have you had with sharing your work for critique in online communities? Have you encountered bullies? Or have you found a site that works for you?

What can we do, as a community of creative individuals, to put a stop to this form of bullying, other than refuse to participate?

Happy 2012!!!

It’s finally here! January 1st!

Happy Birthday, 2012!

My family experienced a great deal in 2011. Some very good stuff, some not-so-good stuff, and lots of just stuff. In the past few weeks, I found myself reflecting on it all. From my current perspective, the good outweighs the not-so-good, and for that, I’m profoundly grateful. As the year closes, my loved ones are relatively healthy, safe, and happy, with enough. I’m sorry more people can’t say that.

As I contemplated what 2012 might hold, I planned a few goals, both personal and professional. I can’t call them New Years Resolutions because in elementary school, we were made to write down 10 Resolutions each year. Because we weren’t taught the significance of a resolution, and it was treated very casually, I promptly forgot them as soon as I turned my paper in. So now, I have that little “homework assignment” connection in my brain, and I haven’t been able to break it, but I always break New Years Resolutions. If I want to follow through and achieve them, I have to call them goals.

So, here we go. First, the personal stuff. It’s a fairly short list, mainly because I’m focused pretty exclusively on my family and on writing. Yup, I’m boring. 😀

  • I want to be more accessible to my family, especially my daughter, who’s going through some pretty intense personal stuff right now, and my little grandsons, who need all the stability and love they can get.
  • I want to be sure the boys have a solid foundation for education, so I’ve started supplemental home-schooling for the eldest, who’s in preschool – nothing intense, but enough that he knows the importance we place on learning. In 2012, I want to expand those efforts into all the developmental areas, and do more focused activities with the middle and youngest boys.
  • I’m a little… shall we say… domestically challenged. I’m pretty good with the laundry and dishes, but I tend to get lax with some things. I want to stay on top of it all, so my house isn’t merely presentable. Over the last few weeks, I’ve worked on eliminating a lot of no longer useful things we’ve accumulated, and getting the remainder organized. I want to finish that, and maintain it. Hubby has always taken care of the essential outdoor work, but a lot of things  have slipped through the cracks. So, that needs to be addressed and dealt with.
  • There are several home repairs/improvements we’ve been dragging our feet on, so one of our family goals is to take care of the most essential of those – new flooring, new rain gutters, and hopefully, a new bathtub.
  • Hubby needs to lose a few pounds, and I have a few extra this year ( I was skinny up until about a year ago when a med change made me gain some), and our whole family needs to eat healthier. Since our daughter and her boys live almost next door, we often eat together, especially if she or I actually cook. The entire family needs a healthier, less meat-centric diet. To that end, D and I both will be cooking more from scratch. We’ll give up some of the time-saving and convenience of packaged prepared foods, but it will be worth it in more ways than one.
  • We all need to get more exercise. My health problems can make “exercise” impossible, so I have to be careful to use daily physical activity to maintain some level of fitness. The rest of the family is capable of intentional fitness building activity, so using the boys’ need for physical activity, and for positive fitness role models, should spur them on. Hey,  I’m not above manipulation, especially for a good cause. 😀

And now, professional stuff. This list is a lot longer, and I had to cut it to keep it reasonable, and hopefully, achievable. There are far too many things I want to accomplish with writing, and I have to force myself to work deliberately toward each goal. Otherwise, I’ll end up with a huge mess, and nothing to show for it. So this list is the result of cutting down the three pages of my original goals.

  • Get Blood Dragon out there, and find a publisher. I’m winding down the last leg of some much needed revisions. There’s been a little interest in it already, so I’m pretty optimistic for it.
  • Get Blood Dragon II finished and out on submission. The first draft is halfway there. Just a couple weeks of my usual 5k/day production will get it done (if I can ever get it together enough to do that consistently again!). So far, it’s my cleanest first draft, so editing will be mainly story level stuff, I think.
  • Rewrite the two trunked Blood Dragon stories and get them on submission. They both have solid stories, but I’ve learned so much since I wrote them. I need to integrate all that before anyone sees them.
  • Finish building the new creature and write the first draft of the foundation book of the series. It’s coming along, slowly, but I haven’t devoted enough time to it. A couple dozen hours of solid work, and it will be fleshed out, with a complete evolutionary and natural history, just waiting to step off the page into your life.
  • Self-publish a few of the short stories sitting on my hard drive, and write more. Currently, I have several contemporary erotic romance shorts, and a couple of horror shorts just sitting here. So, I’ve decided to clean them up a bit, and self-pub them.
  • Post here more consistently, with more interesting, helpful, and thought provoking content. I’ve already started the Writer Wednesday series, Nailing Down the Essentials, where I’ll cover different story elements and techniques, and hopefully how to make the most of them – stuff I wasted a lot of time looking for when I first started writing fiction seriously again. I’m also going to be hosting other writers in an Author Spotlight feature, beginning in mid-January – so watch for some fantastic writers you might not be aware of yet. And I’m planning posts for roughly once a week on pretty random topics, though most will be relevant to readers and writers. I’m working on an overhaul (again) for the blog, which will include some expansions, but I’m not sure when that will go live. Still a lot of work to do.
  • Use Social Media more consistently, building tighter relationships with other writers, and especially with readers. I’m pretty consistent with Twitter, but I need to work on other platforms a bit.
  • I attended my first Writers Conference in April 2011. I want to attend at least 2 in 2012, with at least one of them being a bit larger than the free event in Bowling Green. It was fantastic, with some really useful workshops, and I learned a great deal, but if I’m going to travel several hours and spend 2-3 nights in a hotel, I’d like a little more bang for my buck.
  • And over and through it all, continuously improve my writing and increase my productivity.

I think that’s enough for now, don’t you? Periodically through the coming year, I’ll post an update to let you know what kind of progress I’m making.

What kind of goals and resolutions do you have for 2012? Do you have plans in place for achieving them? Or are they just “I’d like to someday…” things? Do your goals depend on someone else in any way, or are they your sole responsibility?