Know-It-All: The Art or Plague of Research

POLL:  How many of you know what the 47th tallest structure is? (No googling, you cheaters).

I do.

Does that make me brilliant or lame?

I have no idea.

But I do know it makes me a writer. You see, I, like you, look for the smallest, seemingly inconsequential detail to breathe reality into my stories.

Or, I'm deluding myself, and my last month of ‘research’ into the tallest structures around the world and the effects on the body of falling off said structure have all been a waste of my precious, limited time on this planet?

Honestly I suspect the latter.

I’m all for research, as long as it’s for the book’s sake and not a means to procrastinate actual writing.

 

Example:

In my latest book, I found myself in the saggy middle, no idea how to write my heroine out of the corner I inevitably wrote her in since I never outline though I think outlining is a brilliant idea. So here I sit, my fingers on the keys, unmoving.

Crap.

Hmmm…Is my writer’s block a sign of early dementia? I mean, I haven’t written a word in over an hour. That has to be something, right? I jump on Google, searching for the signs.

I’m not a hypochondriac.

I’m doing research!

Maybe, since I’m here, I should research the shoes my heroine is wearing? I could name them in the book, show my readers I know my shoes.

Except I don’t.

So I’m not writing. So what? I’m researching!

Of course, what I really am doing is wasting my time on stuff that isn’t vital to my book. Unless shoes play a role, why bother with that level of detail? It is a way for me, at least, to procrastinate instead of doing what I should do and outline the rest of the damn book or at least the scene I’m struggling with.

Research gives life, makes worlds come alive (See this article from Writer’s Digest on how to use research).

But it is and always will be about the story.

No amount of research makes up for what’s on the page.

Or getting those words on the page.

 

BTW, read my next book for the answer to the 47th tallest structure. Hint, it’s close by. And if you’re interested, I’m still ‘researching’ the effects of falling off said structure.

Anyone up for a field trip?

 

What are you currently researching? Do you find yourself ‘researching’ instead of writing when stuck like me?

 

Rocky Mountain Writer #28

J.D. Dudycha & Sitting Dead Red

 

The podcast today is with J.D. Dudycha, who has ten years of experience in baseball at the collegiate level. He retired from the sport shortly after the birth of his son. Since his retirement, he developed a love for writing, an outlet he so desperately needed in the absence of playing the game.

His first novel, Paint The Black was published last summer on Amazon and his second, Sitting Dead Red, comes out in February just as pitchers and catchers are getting ready to report for Spring Training.

Jon Dudycha

Deb Hall

Intro music courtesy of Moby Gratis
Outro music courtesy of Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Be a good critique partner – Part 1 of 2

I credit the marvelous process of critique with helping me get published, and continue to be published. And just as my fabulous CPs help me, I help them. There’s a compelling reason to give our best efforts with every critique: the better critiquers we are, the better writers we become.

Book Too WonderfulToBeTrue Jan 2016
Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Many of us have suffered from or heard about nightmare critiques with back-handed comments and thinly veiled insults, and we want to make sure our critiques are both encouraging and helpful. One way to ensure this is to avoid excessive compliments and vague comments.

Here are some critique comments I’ve read over the years in critique groups, along with comments about how to make them more useful to your CPs.

Loved it!!  This will trigger a sense of relief from the submitting writer, but not much more.  Was it the opening that was strong, or the dialogue?  Or just the hunky hero? Include detail so the writer knows what, specifically, worked.

Couldn’t stop turning the pages!  One hopes that means the tension remained high throughout, with enough drama that the reader was anxious to know what happened next – instead of the possibility that you were just in a hurry to finish the critique and get on with your own writing.

This is perfect as is. I wouldn’t change a thing.  We all want to receive a critique like this! When backed up by specifics, this is a gem of a critique I’d copy, put in 60 point Times Roman, bold, and print out for the front of my computer.  Without accompanying comments, though, I’d still wonder if some parts might need work and the critiquer was just being generous.  But then, we writers have been known to be neurotic.

I don’t like your protagonist. This is crushing for a writer to receive. Though it may be true, it’s brutal.  Being writers, we can find gentler ways to say this.  One bit of wisdom I’ve learned over years of critique is: “Don’t send a critique if you’re short for time.”  Whenever I have, I realize I’m more likely to be abrupt, and when abrupt, a sense of uncaring and overly critical-sounding comments erupt that I later regret when I re-read it at a time I’m *not* so rushed.  As a critiquer, you’re walking in a field of priceless human emotions.  Even multi-published authors hardened by years of rejections and reviews can be hurt by abrupt comments.  Always take your time.  Better to be a little late with the critique than to cause unintended harm.

Characters aren’t convincing. Don’t shirk from giving or receiving this comment. This is a gem of an observation, so useful -- if accompanied by specifics. Is the character the ruthless head of an international corporation yet continually shown in scenes as indecisive or unaware of his industry’s jargon?  Or perhaps the character is a prostitute but acts naive in this particular excerpt.

I hope you love your critique partners as much as I love mine, and I wish you many positive comments in your future critiques. My next blog will offer more insights on your CPs’ comments.

RMFW Writer(S!) of the Year Begins

RMFW Writer of the Year Pin
Who will be this year's WOTY and I-WOTY?

Big news everybody!

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers has opened up two selection committees for great Writers of the Year this year. For the first time not only will we have a traditionally published WOTY, but also an independently published, or I-WOTY as well.

If you’ve been experiencing some publishing success please check out the website (rmfw.org) and look for the guidelines and entry forms. You may be the next representative for our great writing community. Here’s how the process works:

January 22 (that’s today), the entry period begins. Any member who has had a book published recently is eligible to enter their work for consideration. Or, if you have a favorite RMFW author too shy to enter for him or herself, please feel free to nominate your colleague. Entries are open from January 22 through February 24.

And here are a couple of tips:

  • If you’re a traditionally published author who entered a book last year, and have a new book this year, you can simply update your information to re-submit. This should save you a good deal of time.
  • If you’re an independently published author whose book originally published between January 2014 and December 2015 (that’s the past two years), you can enter your work for consideration for the I-WOTY. This may change in the future, so now is the time to enter your work.
  • You can find out all of the details for entry on the RMFW website. Go to Events, and select 2016 Writer of the Year WOTY & I-WOTY. Read through the requirements and then enter your work by following this link: http://rmfw.org/about-rmfw/pal/woty-nominations

How the work is judged:

Each work is reviewed a couple of times before three finalists for each recognition are selected. After you have submitted your work, a quick review is made to be sure you’ve entered for the appropriate vetting committee. As all basics have been checked, your application will be forwarded to a panel of judges. Each judge on the panel is responsible for reviewing your application and reading a couple of sample chapters from the work you submit. Every entry will receive approximately one hour of evaluation by each judge (for a minimum of five hours of review on your work). The judges will keep a tally of the works and candidates they think represent the best in RMFW writing.

In March, the vetting committees will meet and select three finalists for each award. You can be sure that these judges have several years experience writing and working with RMFW writers, and are well-qualified volunteers with your best interests at heart. Still, only three finalists are allowed for each recognition, so please remember that whether or not your name is selected this is not a reflection on you or your talent as much as it is an effort to find an author to best represent the writing values of our organization. Over all, we are very proud of the incomparable talents of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Starting soon after April 15th open voting begins among the finalists. This is the opportunity of our whole member community to voice their opinions on who our WOTY and I-WOTY should be. We try to give everyone plenty of time (and reminders) to select the two writers they think should be recognized as RMFW’s Writer and Independent Writer of the Year. Voting lasts until mid June.

The Summer Party

Each summer RMFW gets together to enjoy a summer party, and part of that celebration includes the announcement of recognition for our writers of the year. There will be announcements for this event in our newsletter, on our blog, and on the Yahoo groups set up for RMFW members. Keep an eye out and be sure to join us.

WOTY & I-WOTY Panel

One of the highlights of the WOTY & I-WOTY selections is the chance to visit with all of our finalists at the Tattered Cover bookstore. This annual event kicks off the Colorado Gold celebrations and is a fun evening of interviews, prizes, and a chance to socialize with writing friends. You’ll want to be sure to mark your calendars for this event.

If you’re thinking of entering your work for consideration, please do! The vibrancy of our community remains because of the participation of everyone of our 700 plus members. Wishing you great luck on this, and always, continued writing success.

How–and Why–to Write a Business Plan For Your Book

“Do you know how to eat a whale?" the old joke asks.

The answer: "One bite at a time!”

The same advice holds true for writing a business plan for your book.

Many authors don't actually take the time to write a business plan. Either the process seems too boring, too complicated, or "not worth the time." In some cases, writers simply don't think to do it. Whatever the reason, writers who fail to write a business plan for every book they write are missing out on an important tool for writing and publishing success.

Business plans are important whether you self-publish or work with a traditional publishing house, and though it's generally better to write them before you start the novel, it's never too late to write a business plan for your current work-in-progress--even if the book has already released (though if that's the case, you'll probably focus more on the marketing sections and less on the pieces dedicated to how the book gets written).

Today, I thought we'd take a walk through the sections of a book business plan, to take a look at what they contain and offers some #PubLaw pointers on how to write them:

A typical business plan has seven sections, and a book business plan is no exception: 

1.  The Summary comes first (but you can write it last if you prefer, because it basically summarizes the rest of the business plan.)

The business plan summary isn't the same as a summary or synopsis of the book itself (that's Section 2). Instead, this summary contains a one-paragraph synopsis (think "jacket copy") of the novel and a summary of the entire business plan, including the genre, target audience, and other “at-a-glance” relevant facts about the book and the way you plan to sell and market it to the intended readers.

2.  The Book Description contains a synopsis of the book. If you haven’t written your novel yet, it’s OK to create a placeholder – a one-page summary of the story you plan to write. If you write your synopsis (or outline) first, you can add it here before you write the book; if you write it after the manuscript is finished, you can add the completed section to the plan at the appropriate time. 

3. The Marketing Section actually consists of three sub-sections, containing your plans to market the book during its pre-release, release, and post-release phases. The more detailed you can be when planning each section, the better. (And if you have no idea how to do this, I've blogged about it in detail at my own blog, in the #PubLaw category.)

4. A Competitive Analysis follows the marketing section. This part of the business plan requires you to identify where your book will sit in a bookstore (even if you plan for an ebook only release) and to examine similar works in the marketplace, analyzing why readers will (or should) want your book instead of (or in addition to) the other options. This is also where you brainstorm strategies to maximize your advantages and minimize any weaknesses you find.

5.  The Development Timelines Section is designed to keep both you and your work on track during the various phases of writing, producing, and marketing the book. Like the marketing section, this actually consists of three different timelines: one for the writing process, one for the publishing process (regardless of whether you publish traditionally or self-publish, there will be things you do during the publishing process), and one for marketing the work.

6.  In the Operations and Management section, you plan (in detail) who will handle each specific part of the writing, publishing, promotion and sales process. If you publish traditionally, many of the duties will fall to your publisher, whereas if you self-publish, this part of the plan becomes a critical roadmap to the staff and process of bringing your book to market.

7. The Budget finishes up your business plan. As with operations and management, this portion may be simple or complex, depending on the author’s plans and past experience. This is where you plan the budget for everything from production costs (primarily an issue for author-publishers) to marketing and travel expenses associated with the book's release.

In a panic? Don’t be! Business plans take work but they’re not as difficult as they seem. They're also a powerful tool to take control of your book and your writing career.

Have you ever written a business plan for your book? If not, would you consider it in the future? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the business plan!

I Have an Idea

"Where do you get ideas for books?"

I've been asked this question a lot, and I have to admit it bewilders me. I don't know what actually spawns them, but the suckers are everywhere, like ants at a picnic, like wasps at a barbecue.  They come to me in the night, born of dream fragments or of lying awake worrying about the state of the world and the creatures in it. They pop up out of books I'm reading. They lie in wait on pages of newspapers and magazines, on the TV screen, in snippets of casual conversation.

They love to present themselves when I'm on a writing deadline for another project. Those particular ideas emerge from the ether, floating around my head scattering fairy dust and singing a siren song of distraction.

I don't know about your writer brain, but mine works like this:

I scan through Facebook, see a picture of an amazing underground cave that has plants growing in it, and I get an idea for a fantasy set in a subterranean world.

I see a story about a missing woman on the news, and I get a thriller idea about a woman who fakes her death and goes into hiding, probably to protect her family from the aliens who are blackmailing her.

I'm at work in the clinic and the doctor takes an extraordinarily long time in the room with a patient.  I start wondering, "What if they're both dead in there? If they were, how could it have been done?"

I walk outside and see icicles hanging from the eaves, beautiful but lethally sharp and pointy, and think they would make a fabulous murder weapon. Or we're burning dead wood on a bonfire and I have the same thoughts about a sharp ended stick...

Oh, and the day we discovered new orders had been entered in the chart of a deceased patient? Clearly a zombie story with a humorous twist...

You get the idea. (Ha. See? Ideas lurk all over the place.)

The difficulty is not in finding ideas. What's tricky is distinguishing a good idea from a bad idea.

In my younger days, if an idea hit me I used to just dive in and start writing, emerging from a creative frenzy only to realize that what seemed like sheer brilliance unrivaled in the history of mankind had fizzled out into nothing. Ah, youth. There was time for such foolishness then. I had a gazillion years in which to write every idea that came my way, and I wasn't writing professionally. I had the hope of being published, but not the expectation. That is a very different sort of thing.

These days I need to be a little more selective.

Here are a few questions I use to decide whether a story idea is worth my time or not:

  1. If I write an idea down and leave it alone for a week, am I still excited about it when I look at it again?
  2. How much energy does the idea have? Is this an idea I'm going to want to spend the next year of my life writing, rewriting, editing, publishing, promoting - or if I commit will it start to feel like an ill-advised Vegas wedding?
  3. Are there actual plot possibilities? Can it support a story arc and a cast of characters? Or is it just a bit of fluff that might be fun to add into another idea?
  4. What are the odds that anybody else will want to read it? (Consider this one with caution. It's impossible to predict what readers are going to latch onto, and trying to predict and follow trends is a quagmire.)
  5. How many times has it already been done? The truth is, most ideas have already been written in one way or another. If an idea burns in my writer soul like a little sun of inspiration, though, I'm going to write it anyway.
  6. Consider genre. If you're writing purely for the sake of Art (which is a wonderful thing) discard this bit of advice. If you're seeking publication, or are already published and want another contract, you've got to at least think about genre. Where does this idea fit in the grand scheme of things?

After you wisely consider all these things, if you're like me at all you'll still end up writing something like my Dead Before Dying - a weird, misfit paranormal-mystery-thriller-with-cozy- elements, born of a Twitter conversation and a joke about a geriatric vampire. And maybe, if it makes you happy, that's okay.

 

 

W is for Writer

“What’s a writer like you doing in a place like this?” The white rabbit asked.

“Somebody told me this is the road that leads to publication.”

“Really? How long have you been on it?”

“Couple of lifetimes.”

“Oh dear.  Any luck yet?” Said the rabbit, his eyes gleaming with curiosity.

“Not so far. And once I find the son-of-a-bitch that talked me into to this, I’m gonna…”

“Whoops! Gotta go. I see my agent is calling me. Looks like we’ve got an offer. It’s been nice talking to you.”

And with that the Rabbit of Publication disappeared down the rabbit hole.

That about sums it up, doesn’t it?  A writer lost in the magical world of thinking, “If I only do this, say that, write this, follow this road, I’ll be published.”  And now the traveler having been on this road for a couple of lifetimes is weary, cynical and angry.  But reading between the lines, we also see the traveler is still on the road. They didn’t say they were getting off it.

Such has been my path to fictional publication. It seems to elude me, tease me. It builds up my hopes only to smack them down again.

Three years ago I attended my first writer’s conference. Colorado Gold they called it.

I stepped onto the golden road as a newbie. My newbie nametag was so shiny and bright it could be seen blazing in the hallways. Filled with the encouragement of my mentor and friend, I knew I was in my right place. This was the place where books, stories, novels and legends were created. I was simply happy to be there.

Everyone was so nice to me. People came out of the woodwork to greet me, show me around, answer my questions. I was home. And I was armed with an idea, and several thousand words on the page of which I was going to pitch to agent. Not only was it my first conference, it was my first pitch too. I just knew I was going to be wildly successful. Sound familiar? Ah the bliss of naiveté!

The pitch was successful. To a point. The word count was too short. Tighten it up, extend it and get back to me. Sure. No problem. I can do that!

Three years later I’m still searching for that elusive “Yes, we would love to publish your novel.” I’ve cried, torn up my office, thrown things and tried to convince myself this is dumbest, stupidest quest we’ve ever set our feet upon.

But something else has happened too. I’ve continued to attend the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference. My world of friends and knowledge has expanded exponentially. I’ve continued to have success as a non-fiction writer. And I’ve learned tools and skills to help me keep going.

For those things alone the journey has been worth it. I’m in for the long haul, as long as I can stop chasing white rabbits.

 

GetAttachment

Najah Lightfoot is a contributing author for Llewellyn Worldwide Publishing. Her non-fiction articles appear in their Magical Almanac, Witches’ Companion and Spell-A-Day series.

When she is not busy crafting articles for Llewellyn, she is busy polishing her fictional stories and manuscripts, hoping they will someday find their forever home. She is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and lives in Denver, Colorado.

Time to Call the Family!

The amazing thing about being a writer is that it automatically makes you part of a family. And who better to call when you're in trouble than family?

The Colorado Gold conference was four months ago. All that fresh energy that boosted us in those first couple months has begun to dissipate. Time has softened our resolutions. We’re lagging in our production and criticizing ourselves.

The flurry of emails with new friends and those we reconnected with has lessened. The daily contact we had has waned. The holidays shifted our attention and we lost touch with one another. Life seems lonely. We’re feeling more isolated and the introversion is creeping in.

Those who received nibbles on their manuscripts have slaved to edit and perfect and complete them. Some have done so and moved forward toward their goals. Others encountered road blocks. A few have had responses from editors and agents that weren’t what they desired.

It’s also the middle of January. We’ve had cold and snow and ice. Spring is still a couple months distant. “Blah” seems to sum up our distaste.

It’s times like this that we turn to those who care and bolster us most—our families.

Relatives, though, may not be the families that we writers most need. No matter how much they love and accept us, our siblings and children and significant others often do not share the experience of writing. They may love us, but that doesn’t mean they truly understand what we’re feeling in our particular unique “winter of discontent.”

These blah stretches are those during which we owe it to ourselves to reach out to our writing family. This is the perfect time to send an email or make a phone call to jump start relationships. These are the days when it’s important to meet for coffee/tea/lunch/drinks and seek one another’s energy. This is the time when we should get together and allow ourselves to whine a bit.

After all, who knows better what a writer is going through than another writer?

Lest we view reaching out as a weakness, we must remember we don’t have to leap into complaints. We just need to make the contact, ask a fellow writer how the winter is going. The conversation will flow, organically, as it always seems to do among writers. One of us is bound to launch the topic as well as to offer the support the other needs. That’s what family does.

And, in giving support to someone else, we are given the support we crave ourselves.

So, my friends…my family…it’s time to reach out, get together, and defeat the doldrums of the post-conference, pre-contest, mid-winter blues!

We owe it to ourselves and to one another.

Writing Space

It's January and goal-making time, and most of us have determined what we want to accomplish this year with regard to our writing. It might also be time to take a look at our office or writing work space to see that it's set up right.

By that, I mean that it is right for you. I know what I need for my office, and some things might apply to all of us, but make sure you have your space set up the way you prefer and need it. Anything that keeps you from writing should be corrected.

First, consider lighting. It's also winter. I suffer on gray days, so I've put full-spectrum light bulbs in both my desk lamp and the overhead fixture. My office faces south so I usually get sunlight during some of the day, too, which keeps me working. That said, the sunlight can hit shiny materials that set up a glare when I look beyond my monitor, so my blinds are angled to minimize this. Lighting can also be a subconscious cue. When the overhead lights are on, I'm usually looking for something, or checking out my bookcases. When the desk lamp is on, it's time to write, and my brain (and fingers) know this.

Currently I have a full office set up, including separate keyboard, large monitor, computer stand and a u-shaped desk with bookcases on two sides. Computers being so small and portable now, also consider where you'd like to work and what peripherals will help you most. You may prefer a notebook on a table in a sunroom rather than an actual office.

But do think about those peripherals. My separate keyboard has a numeric keypad which I find useful and is more ergonomic than a laptop keyboard, and with larger keys. It also on a pole that can be raised, lowered and angled. That works for me. Are you happy with your keyboard?

My monitor is a full 22 inches and excellent to compare documents side to side, particularly during the copy edit and galley stage. Or for two versions of a document. I do have a tiny 11 inch travel computer and have found comparing documents on that difficult. Are you happy with your monitor?

I have my most used research books in hard copy and within reach, since if I look on the internet for a quick answer I can be distracted. I also have an engagement calendar where I write down my progress at my elbow. At a glance I can see how much I've written during the week and if I've made my daily goals. These help me.

What are you sitting in? I recently met with a friend who has a reclining chair with a tray that I lusted after, one that cradles her bad back. I tend to use a covered exercise ball. And make sure you have the room to stop and stretch in between (I hope) bouts of inspiration.

Consider the tidiness of your office. Do you look in and cringe at how sterile the place is? Or shudder at the stacks of stuff on your desk that you think you should take care of before you write? You are the best judge of the ambiance of clutter you like, but make sure it isn't keeping you away from your workspace. And, I admit, that's why I wanted to write this article. I do have a stack of papers – okay, two stacks – that are bothering me right now. Time to clean them up and get going on meeting my deadlines.

May you create your perfect space for writing and find pleasure in your craft every day.

Robin

Rocky Mountain Writer #27

Nathan Lowell & Going Your Own Way

 

The podcast today is with Nathan Lowell, a member of IPAL writer who clearly starts by taking what’s typical and turning it inside out.

Nathan Lowell goes his own way.

Nathan has been writing for only nine years yet has developed multiple series under the broad category of speculative fiction. As you’ll see, he sets a hard-charging pace for his daily production.

Nathan has developed a large and adoring audience. His latest title, In Ashes Born, came out in September of last year and already has drawn 400 reviews on Amazon, carrying a rock solid five-star rating.

Nathan Lowell was born in Portland, Maine, in 1952. He grew up in an agricultural community in rural Maine and spent time working on fishing boats along the coast. His first literary success came with the publication of a poem while still in elementary school. That early success was followed by forty years of attempt, rejection, failure, and ultimately giving up on the dream of writing science fiction.

In 2007, with the rise of podcast fiction, he started writing again. He completed his first successful novel – Quarter Share – in January, 2007, and podcast it through Podiobooks.com over February and March, 2007. Since then he has written eight novels, several short stories, and a novella. His podcast novels have been finalists in the Parsec Award five times, and he’s won Parsec Awards for Speculative Fiction (long form) twice — 2010 and 2011.

He holds a BS in Business Administration with a minor in Marketing from SUNY/Buffalo (92), an MA in Educational Technology (98), and a Ph.D. in Educational Technology with specializations in Distance Education, Interactive Media, and Instructional Design (04). He lives Colorado with wife, two daughters, and a trio of feline companions.

Nathan Lowell

Podiobooks

Intro music courtesy of Moby Gratis
Outro music courtesy of Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com