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?

 

Nailing Down The Essentials: Dialog

Recently, I’ve seen a lot discussions about the various elements of a story. Because of some of the questions, and yes, some of the replies, I decided to put together a new Writer Wednesday Series. Each week, I’ll take a look at some aspect of one of the story building blocks.

Basically, it’ll be the kind of stuff I searched for when I came back to writing fiction seriously, after a couple of decades just dabbling. I needed a refresher of the techniques and rules I’d learned long ago, as well as all the skills I still needed. So, I’m going to begin each element with just the broad strokes, then tighten the focus.

Some if it will be very basic stuff for some of you, but it might clear things up for others. If we don’t have an understanding of the very basic rules and techniques, the  more advanced skills won’t do us a lot of good. And rest assured, once I’ve covered that basic stuff, I’ll start on more advanced things.

 

Dialog, The Rules:

The art of writing dialog, or conversation between two or more people, is, for some writers, one of the most difficult parts of writing fiction to grasp. The goals are to make it sound real, the way actual people talk, keep it interesting to the reader, and make it understandable. If we don’t follow some standard formatting and punctuation, the reader will have a hard time following the dialog. Readers don’t like to work to be entertained, so if they can’t understand what we’re writing, most of them will toss it across the room. Or at least, click away. Since we want them to keep reading, and to enjoy it so much they tell their friends, we better keep the writing understandable.

Formatting and punctuation for grammar is pretty straight forward, once you know the rules. Now, if you’re one of those writers, who think the rules don’t apply to you because your story is so amazing, the reader will carry it home on stone tablets if need be… Well, just be aware, very few readers would go that far for the greatest works of fiction in the world, let alone your story. Besides, if you don’t know and understand the rules, how can you possibly break them consistently and effectively?

Formatting and Punctuation

So here we go, some of the basics of formatting and punctuating dialog.

  • The paragraph changes every time the speaker does.

“How are you doing?” John asked. The conversation opens.

“Busy lately. You?” Mary said, tying her shoe. The speaker changes, so we have a new paragraph.

“Yeah. Work’s been a madhouse.” John paid for his coffee. Another new paragraph, since the speaker has changed again. If we added a 3rd person here after John, we would start a new paragraph.

  • Every word spoken aloud is enclosed in quotations.

“How are you doing?” John asked. If John said something further, we would open a new quotation for those words, and close it when he stopped. If, instead of saying something else, he does something else, like walking on down the street, we would write that without quotations.

  • Punctuation that goes with the words being spoken aloud is inside the quotations.

“How are you doing?” John asked. Notice the question mark after doing is inside the quotes. If an exclamation were warranted, it would be inside as well.

“Yeah. Work’s been a madhouse.” John paid for his coffee. Here, I ended the speech with a period, since I didn’t use a dialog tag. *see below*

If, instead of the above, I had used a tag, it would be: “Yeah. Work’s been a madhouse,” John said, paying for his coffee. If a dialog tag is used, a comma replaces a period at the end of the last sentence being spoken. Question marks and exclamations are not replaced by a comma.

  • We can use attributions, or dialog tags, to let the reader know who’s speaking. The use of dialog tags is becoming less favored than it once was. Now, the preferred method to let the reader know who’s speaking is to make it clear through word choice, sentence structure, action beats. I’ll delve into all that in another post. It used to be fashionable to use all sorts of creative dialog tags to keep from boring the reader with said. Who can forget the ever popular “Oh, no!” he ejaculated.?  Now, said and asked are considered sufficient, and nearly invisible, or unobtrusive, to the reader. Personally, I prefer to use almost no dialog tags.
  • When using a dialog tag, following the closing quotation, the next word is not capitalized unless it is a proper noun, since it is a continuation of the same sentence.

“I’m glad that’s finished,” Mary said. The comma replaces the period after finished, and since Mary is a proper noun, it’s capitalized.

“Me, too,” he said. Again, the comma replaces the period after too, and since he is a pronoun, it isn’t capitalized. 

Next week, I’ll look at dialog tags, action beats, and breaking up the dialog.

Is there anything about dialog in particular that drives you nuts?

Sharing Saturday – The Hero Chronicles

Sir Galahad, a hero of Arthurian legend, detai...

Sir Galahad: Image via Wikipedia

Some of you know I occasionally do reviews and blog posts for GraveTells.com. All during November, GraveTells is hosting a Discussion Series The Hero Chronicles. Each week will focus on a different aspect of the books we love: Heroes, Heroines, Villains, and World/Setting. And each week, one commenter will be selected to receive some random swag. At the end of the month a Gift Card for the Book Depository will be given away!

This week, check out my post, A Hero To Die For, and tell us all about your favorite  Hero, and the qualities that make him perfect. Your comment might just be the winning one! Then come back each week for a new segment. See you there!

Writer Wednesday: Critique Series: Postponed

Due to a scheduling conflict (for me, not the blog), the conclusion of the Critique Series will be posted next week. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Reviews Discontinued

After a great deal of thought, I have concluded that regularly scheduled reviews are not feasible here. In addition to my writing, and maintaining this blog, I have become a regular contributor and reviewer at GraveTells.com, and I’m working on other projects related to writing. In short, there just isn’t enough time for me to do everything I need to do.

I will occasionally post a review here whenever I have the time and inclination, but it won’t be according to a schedule. Anyone interested in having a Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy reviewed should visit GraveTells Reviews Policy and Submission Page for information. GT also offers author interviews, character interviews, and other promotional opportunities for authors.

I offer promotional opportunities other than reviews, such as author interviews, character interviews, guest blog spots, & etc. If you have a review scheduled at GraveTells, and would like to do additional promo here, contact me to make arrangements.

Writer Wednesday: Match Made In Heaven, Or Hell?

Welcome to Part 4 of my Critique Series. If you missed the first three posts, definitely check them out. Fresh Eyes, 10 Qualities Of The Perfect Critique Partner, and Where, Oh Where, Has My Little CP Gone?.

So, once you’ve found someone you’d like to try out as a CP, what do you do? Unlike a good crit, I’m only skimming the surface here, but maybe it will help a bit. First thing, you’ll probably want to exchange work for a trial crit. If you’re writing a novel, exchange opening scenes, or even the entire first chapter. Beginnings make good first exchanges because the other person can see your work as a reader would, and be able to tell you if something is confusing, or if you’re revealing too much or too little.

How do you know what to crit in the other person’s work, and how do they know what to crit in yours? This is a detail that needs to be worked out either before, or as, the work is exchanged. Personally, I prefer to have the other person do an in depth, extensive critique. That allows me to gauge the person’s skill in critting, and whether they’re at a similar level in knowledge of writing technique. It also lets me know if they’re going to be nit-picky, or if they overlook a lot of errors. I can also figure out whether they pay attention as they read, or if they just skim, and whether they have decent reading and language comprehension. Sometimes, I’ll even “salt” the work with problems of varying complexity to see if the person is able to pick them out and make viable suggestions for fixing them.

What are some of the things to ask for, or expect, in a critique? When you specify what you want in a crit, specify any, or all, of the following, among other things.

  • Mechanics: Grammar, punctuation, spelling, verb tense, pronoun use, sentence construction, word choice, typos, etc. Let the other person know if any of these are a particular problem for you, and if you simply want errors pointed out, or if you want suggestions for fixes.
  • Narration and Description: Is everything understandable? Have you given enough, or too much, information? Are there info dumps? Is your description over done, is it too sparse to give the reader enough to approximate your vision? Any purple prose? Do metaphors and analogies work? Is narrative balanced with dialog and action? Is all the narrative necessary to move the story, or have you gone of off on tangents and self-indulgent info dumps? Any characters staring at themselves in mirrors in order to describe themselves to the reader? Are details and characteristics consistent throughout?
  • Dialog and Action: Is your dialog realistic, the way people speak, or have you given all your characters the same voice? Any talking head syndrome? Are dialog tags or beats effective, overdone, impossible? Can the reader visualize what the characters are doing as they move around the scene? Any extra body parts or physically impossible movements?
  • Pace and Flow: Does the story move along, or does it drag in places, or halt entirely? Are some areas simply too fast for the reader to follow? Does one scene flow smoothly into the next? Is the order of events logical?
  • Voice: Does your voice as an author intrude on the story? Is your message or agenda interfering with plot? Is the narrative voice consistent, reliable or unreliable? Does each character have his or her own unique voice?
  • Character: Any flat, cardboard cutout characters? Are all the main characters unique, well rounded, three dimensional individuals? Do main characters grow or change, or remain static? Are character motivations clear and logical, or at least justified? Is there enough info given about minor characters for the reader to have a hint about who they are? Are any of the characters stereotypical? Any Mary Sues? Is the point of view clear and consistent?
  • Plot and Arc: Does the sequence of events move logically from beginning to end? Is there enough conflict? Is the story working toward a resolution of conflict? Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end? Plot holes? Have you skipped or glossed over events the reader needs in order to understand? Have you given too much, held the reader’s hand?

There are other elements to crit as well, but there isn’t enough space here to go through everything. Both you and your potential CP need to know what elements the other wants and expects to be critiqued. You need to be very clear about whether you want suggestions for fixes, and you both need to understand that such suggestions are not an attempt to rewrite the story. Both of you also need to understand that trying to take over, rewrite, or make significant changes to the other’s story isn’t okay.

When you do a crit, it’s important to read carefully, and analyze the writing, both in detail, and in a “big picture” view. You both owe it to the other to do the best crit you are capable of doing. If the other person just does a rushed, half assed crit, just skimming the surface, be aware that’s probably what they’ll do each time.

In order for this potential partnership to have the best chance of succeeding, you both need to be clear about expectations and needs, as well as scheduling and level of commitment. Don’t take advantage, or allow yourself to be taken advantage of.

Are there other issues you would need to clear up at the beginning? Other specific elements to a good crit? Things to look out for that signify a  potentially poor match?

 

 

 

Six Sentence Sunday

This week’s Six is from BLOOD DRAGON II, still in first draft. From the perspective of Cam, the twin brother of the main antagonist, Ryn, the scene shows just how monstrous the antagonist is. The pair have been sitting in a car, outside King’s apartment, watching for him. Ryn has just tortured Cam, re-traumatizing a knee injury, then sent him off to get coffee.

He started off toward the corner, long legs eating up the distance, despite the bad knee. People he met took one glance at his face, and looked away fast. Not that he could blame them. The knife wound that caused the scar from forehead to chin had also ruined his right eye, and lifted the right side of his mouth in a permanent sneer. The wide, angry scar glowed stark red against his tanned skin. He would look away, too, if he could.

Cam is as decent as his twin is evil, but commits whatever crimes he’s ordered to, feeling there is no escape from Ryn’s wrath. Is it possible for such a damaged person to find love? Unknowingly, he’s about to find out.