Sharing is Caring this Holiday Season: SO SHARE WITH ME!

Since the blog will be going on vacation over the holidays, from Dec 23rd to Jan 8th, I’d like to use my post today to thank you all. Our RMFW blog readers are a special group. Along with those bloggers. You all are the BEST of what RMFW has to offer. Good friends who understand why I constantly mutter to myself, occasionally shouting: “EUREKA” (Since I’m not a 1800’s inventor, I don’t actually shout that, but something unprintable brought to you by the letter F).

That being said, I’d love to hear your good writing news over the last year. Did you finish a manuscript? Get an agent? Publish a book? Write something you’re proud of? Give me all of it.

My good writerly news list:

  • Finished 4 manuscripts (a personal record)
  • Wrote my first YA, as well as my first collaboration project
  • Sold a project written years ago

Now let’s hear yours. I want gory details too!

Step Right Up

"Hurry, hurry, hurry! Step right up! The show's about to begin! For the price of one thin dime see wonders beyond imagining. Sales beyond your wildest dreams and begin earning good money right out of the box! Hurry, hurry, hurry."

Yeah. No.

P.T Barnum gets the credit for "There's a sucker born every minute" but it's more likely author is a Chicago conman named Michael MacDonald(1). With the rise of self-publishing and the subsequent success of self-published titles, the hardcore scammers and Johnny-Come-Lately wannabees have proliferated like daffodils in the spring--each eager to fleece the hopeful, the earnest, and the gullible.

And they keep finding new flocks to fleece every day.

How to keep from being clipped.

  1. Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Whose books does this company publish? If they call themselves a "self-publishing company" and they want to publish your book, it's a rip-off. The degree to which they're willing to fleece you is the only differentiation. If a company publishes books, it's a publisher. If they only publish their own books, they're a self-publishing company and they're not going to publish yours. If they're trying to say they're something they're not, they're warming up the shears in the back.
  2. Do your diligence: Google the company name with "scam" as an additional identifier. There's a wealth of data which should be making it more difficult for the shearers but too many people see a glossy website and a promising pitch without remembering the golden rule of grift: If it seems too good to be true, save your gold.
  3. Who pays whom?: If you're paying them, it's a scam. This shouldn't be confused with a self-publishing author who pays an editor or cover artist for their services. Of course you'll pay but the editor will give you your file back and the cover artist won't try to upload your books to the storefronts for you. That's on you, as it should be.
  4. Ask around: If you're still not sure about a company, even after exercising a bit of Google-fu, then ask somebody you trust. There are whole communities of people who can give you guidance--people with no vested interest in separating you from your money--or your book.

The whackamole process of avoiding scammers while still trying to self-publish can seem daunting. It's not really that difficult as long as you remember that anybody with a few bucks and a willingness to lie to your face can make a good living. Some of the worst offenders have been around for decades as vanity presses. They've only changed their storefronts, not their businesses. They're expert in separating the sheep from the goats--and the gullible author from his money.

Just because there's a sucker born every minute doesn't mean it has to be you.

 

1. Asbury, H. (1940). Gem of the Prairie: An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld. New York, NY: Knopf.
 
Image Credit: W C Fields as Gabby Gilfoil in Two Flaming Youths (Paramount, 1927).
Image Donated by Corbis-Bettmann to Explore PA History.

Thrillers: Part 4 of 4: Plotting And Pacing

The key to any fiction is tension. Romantic tension, professional tension, survival, etc. In a thriller, the tension is primarily adversarial in nature. Here, whether our protagonist is striving for some sort of reconciliation, kumbaya moment with the antagonist or is willing to stop them at all cost, the thriller is driven forward by the intensity of the conflict between our hero and our villain. The more intense the conflict the better.

Some thrillers open with an inciting moment that amps the conflict up to eleven right from the start, but maintaining that level of intensity through an entire novel can be challenging. You must be sure that your story has enough constant tension to carry it through to the end. This can also sometimes be a little much for readers, who may need to set your book aside if only to catch their own breath for a moment. There is then the slow burn: a build-up of tension from what may seem an innocuous incident at the beginning, mounting through a series of cause and effect events of ever greater intensity that eventually lead to the all-out war of good or bad outcome.

One method of maintaining tension throughout your book is the ticking clock. Whether it is a loved one dying of a rare disease the cure of which must be found or gulp; an actual ticking bomb (or multiple bombs) that must be found before it explodes; or simply a deadline by which the antagonist must complete their preparations in order to meet some window of opportunity for their plan to succeed. The last one places the ticking clock not only on our hero but the villain as well.

In contrast to, say, the mystery, the romance, or the historical, thrillers generally have few quiet, introspective moments. Character development must be done on the fly, in the midst of conflict and tension, the quiet moments brief and still filled with the tension of an oncoming missile which may not be here yet, but whose whistle we can hear bearing down on us from the air.

The greatest challenge, I think, in writing the thriller is finding the right pace of building tension, and maintaining tension throughout the book. This is what the thriller writer must focus on primarily.

Do you have some examples in thrillers you've enjoyed or, most importantly, learned from? Let me know in the comments below.

Shout-Outs!

1. How about that Western Slope chapter of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers? Last Saturday morning, 28 writers gathered for a three-hour workshop. They came from Grand Junction and all over, from Meeker to Montrose.

Energy, enthusiasm, eagerness? In abundance. All sorts of writers—and half were non-RMFW members. Shout out to Vicki Law for the idea of a Western Slope chapter (many years ago) and to Terri Benson for running it so well today. Terri makes it look easy and, clearly, she’s getting the word out to the community at large. Plan a trip to the Western Slope around one of these workshops? Why not?

2. How about Jeffery Deaver? If you were there for his keynote at RMFW Colorado Gold a couple years back, you remember he left a mark. Friendly? Yep. Down-to-earth? Check. One of us? Yes. Even though he’s sold 50 million books, you’d never know it. I remember spotting him in the back of a workshop during Colorado Gold, taking notes like just another student. This year and next, Jeffery has been presenting workshops around the country—for free—for chapters of Mystery Writers of America. No charge!

So, in April (Saturday, April 7), RMFW and Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America are teaming up to bring Jeffery to Denver for a four-hour workshop on writing commercial fiction. More details soon. But with no cost for the presenter, the price will be very reasonable. Save the date. This will be at The Renaissance Hotel. Shout out to Jeffery Deaver for giving back. In a very big way.

3. NaNoWriMo crazies, you may my respect! If you did it, congrats. If you tried, congrats. I have no idea how you pour out the words in such volume for a whole month. What I know is that there are 1.5 million ways to write a good story and NaNoWriMo clearly works for some. Fifty thousand words in 30 days? That’s commitment. That’s production. Hats off.

4. Where would this town be without The Tattered Cover? Last month, on “Indie’s First” day, Tattered Cover organized a whole crew of writers to serve as guest booksellers, including many RMFW members. I had a fun two-hour shift alongside Jennifer Kincheloe and I had a long chat with Cathy Langer, who is retiring after forty (count ‘em, forty) years as the lead book buyer for Tattered Cover, one of the best bookstores in the country. Happy trails, Cathy. Thanks for all you did to shape and fashion one of the truly iconic bookstores in the country, a place that welcomes all and has done so much to support the local writing community.

5. And here’s to Pat Stoltey (one of those NaNoWriMo success stories) and Kevin Wolf. Check out Pat’s insights on the latest Rocky Mountain Writer podcast. She’s 75! She’s writing up a storm! She’s got ideas galore. Her latest book, Wishing Caswell Dead, comes out this month and it’s been a story she’s been working on for years. And years. Pat has had setbacks, but she’s just kept plugging away.

Same with Kevin Wolf. Kevin had a big publisher for his first novel, but a small publisher will work just fine for his second novel, Brokeheart. Both Pat and Kevin could have soured or gotten discouraged. No way, no how. Think you might hear some whining? From them? No way. They have stories to tell. Case closed. Shout out to them both!

And finally, thanks to all the fabulous guests I’ve had the opportunity to chat with on the Rocky Mountain Writer podcast! It’s never too early to reserve your spot.

Drop me a line: podcast@rmfw.org.

Panic Time

Gack! I just found out my book will be released in ebook and print on January 10th. I knew it would be sometime in early 2018 but was hoping for February at the earliest. My first book didn’t come out until almost 18 months after I accepted the offer. My last book with this publisher was scheduled three months ahead. But now, because so many writers drag out the editing process, my publisher doesn’t schedule release dates until the book is almost ready to go.

So, I have six weeks to send out review copies, write tweets, pick out excerpts, update my website, figure out how to send out a newsletter, write blog posts and promo copy, book a blog/review tour, sign up for the PAL mailer and organize advertising. And that’s just the things that come to mind immediately.

Oh, and there’s the little matter of the holidays in between now and then. Which at my house is a big deal, as my husband loves Christmas and we usually go all out. And we won’t even talk about the fact that I need to keep writing the next book in the series or I’ll never finish it and any following I’ve built with this book will go to waste.

What’s a person to do? Make lists, I guess, and then start working on my least favorite part of being an author. I’ve always hated promotion. It seems unnatural, awkward and downright embarrassing. I was raised in a social culture where it was rude to boast, or even draw attention to yourself. I was trained to deflect compliments and always be self-deprecating. And being female, the admonitions were even more intense. It was considered a tiny bit more acceptable for a man to promote himself. But a woman? No way.

The only hope for me is to pretend I’m promoting someone else. And I am. I’m promoting my hero and heroine. Especially my heroine. Because she is strong and determined and willing to break all the rules. She refuses to be modest and demure and biddable and everything that society in her time period said was the only way for a woman to be. (Funny how little things have changed in 800 years.) The book is named for her: Lady of Steel. She’s willing to defy all the conventions and risk everything because she’s doing it all for her son, whom she loves more than anything in the world. And that’s what I need to tell myself: I’m doing this all for my book, which I slaved away at for over a year (or actually twenty, as I first came up with the idea for the story that many years ago). For my heroine and hero and my story, that I still love, even after the tenth rewrite and the fourth time proofreading.

OK. Got it. My pep talk worked. Sort of. Now to finish this blog post and start on that list.

Happy holidays, everyone!

How to Pull Off a One-Day Writing Retreat

This November, I participated in NaNoWriMo with the goal of finishing the first draft of my next novel. I had a disadvantage, though, because I had family visiting for a week at the end of November. Unsure if three weeks would be enough to finish my draft, I decided to try something new at the end of those three weeks: a one-day mini-retreat.

I checked into a hotel at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday and checked out at 11:00 a.m. the following day. In that time, besides getting eight hours of sleep and eating two meals, I wrote over 12,000 words and got my first draft finished. It was easy, cheap, and invaluable—here’s how I did it.

  1. Get a room. It’s important to get away from your natural habitat, and all the distractions that come with it. If you can afford it, get a hotel for the night. Join hotel loyalty programs like I did, and put your points toward your retreat. If you can’t swing it financially, try a cheaper alternative like Airbnb, or ask a friend if you can hole up in their guest room for a night.
  2. Plan your meals. Snacks are fine, but you can’t get through a write-a-thon on protein bars alone. You need real food to keep those creative juices flowing. If you get a hotel with a fridge and microwave, you can bring leftovers to reheat between writing stints. Or, if there are restaurants near your hotel, you can take a break to grab dinner.
  3. Plan your words, too. When I’m struggling to get words on the page, the problem is never my typing speed—rather, it’s a lack of ideas. Set yourself up for success by mentally diving into your WIP the night before. Think about what you want to work on during your retreat. Make a list of scenes you could write, settings that need descriptions, or characters that need development. When you begin your retreat, you won’t have to waste any time thinking about what to write—just review your list and get to work.
  4. Ditch distractions. When you arrive at your retreat, set the tone for the rest of your stay by organizing your new space, settling in, and writing. For me, this meant clearing the coffee tray and phone from the desk, setting up my laptop, filling my water bottle, and turning on my favorite ambient sounds for writing (they’re Harry Potter-themed, and you can find them here). Don’t turn on the TV. Don’t check your email or Facebook. If needed, send a text message to your loved ones—then silence your phone and put it somewhere out of sight and out of reach.
  5. Adjust your goals as you go. You should go into your retreat with some idea of what you want to get done—preferably, something ambitious yet reasonable. For me, it was writing 9,000 new words. When I hit 9,000 at 9:00 a.m. Saturday, I could have given myself a pat on the back and left early. Instead, I set a new goal: 3,000 more words before checkout at 11:00.
  6. Take breaks. Writing is hard, and exhausting. I kept a pace of about 2,000 words per hour in the first two hours of my retreat, then slowed to half that in the third hour. I realized I was starting to lag; I needed a break to recharge. I stopped for dinner and a shower, then returned to the novel with renewed energy. Don’t feel bad taking breaks—in fact, you should plan to. But you should also plan when the break will end, and hold yourself to it.
  7. Push yourself. This retreat isn’t supposed to be relaxing. You’ll be drained by the time it’s over, but you’ll also have some major progress on your WIP. Be prepared to work hard. Then, when it’s over, celebrate.

Have You Googled Today?

I just Googled myself. I’ve done it now and then, and I’ve set up a Google alert (but all that does is tell me someone with my name got arrested for cruelty to animals, which really isn’t what I had in mind), but I was reading an article on making sure you have a “platform” and decided to do it again.

Of the first six items on the main page, the top two were Facebook telling people they could find me there. The third one was LinkedIn saying there were fifty Terri Bensons listed. Googling

But, the next three were my website and my book. Yeah, me! A co-worker suggested I look at images as well, and I found myself starting on line three – so not too bad again. I don’t post a lot of photos of me or my family – most of them are business photos from our office website or RMFW, or the ones associated with my book launch. There was this lady in the orange jumpsuit (no, it’s not the new black!) with the big label “Terri Benson” and side bars that say CaseyAnthony.com – not a good look for her, and not really anyone I want to be associated with. Image of

But it was interesting to see how much I showed up (or didn’t) online. I only have the one book out, but I do have a website and a personal Facebook, which may or may not be connected to a business and/or author page (Facebook and I are having a bit of a battle about that). I had a Twitter account until my provider quit (providing, that is) and Twitter demands that you log on only with the original e-mail address, no matter what, in order to change your e-mail (??!!??), so the two Tweets and three followers (how the heck did that happen) I had are out there somewhere in the ozone, all alone.

I realize I need to do better. And I’m thinking about it. I use Facebook and Twitter daily for work, and so far my stubborn brain is telling my marketing brain that I’ve already done my share for the day and it isn’t going to go any further. That’s another thing I’m working on – getting my brains all on the same wavelength, but no luck so far.

So, have you Googled today? If not, try it. And if nothing else, you’ll find some really creepy person who has the same name and will explain the looks you got from co-workers a couple weeks ago, right?

Oh, and Write On!

WHEN, WHERE, and HOW do I write a book?

I’ve been so busy writing, editing, and reading, I almost forgot about this blog.

 

WHEN:

A wise friend of mine said to me, “Time is there, you just have to take it.”

If you have trouble with it, then tough. That’s right, I said it—tough! Too many writers use lack of time as an excuse not to write. When you say you don’t have the time, what you are really saying is, “Something else is more important right now than writing.” ~Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D

Create a schedule (please don’t forget about pets, spouses, children, and a steady income).

An old song’s chorus begins like this: "To everything there is a season..." Be sure this is the right season for you to write an entire manuscript. If not, one suggestion is keeping separate files for future characters, settings, plots, etc.

If you ride a bus to and from work, well, there you have it.

 

WHERE:

Be prepared to write wherever you may safely do so. Jeffery Deaver writes in his office in the dark. The only light is from two computers, one for internet use and one for writing. Anne Perry often writes (by hand) overlooking a beach.

“When you’re reading, you’re not where you are; you’re in the book. By the same token, I can write anywhere.” ~Diana Gabaldon

 

HOW:

Invest in you. Join RMFW for classes, retreats, conferences, blogs, critique groups, or monthly presentations. There are many incredible authors (traditionally published and self-published) willing to help—check out the wealth of education, knowledge, and experience our members have.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.” ~Stephen King

“You start at the end, and then go back and write and go that way. Not everyone does, but I do. Some people just sit down at the page and start off. I start from what happened, including the why.” ~Anne Perry

Be observant. “You see something, then it clicks with something else and it will make a story. But you never know when it’s going to happen.” ~Stephen King

Participate in RMFW’s NovelRama. “25,000 words in 4 days. Because you can.”

Interaction, Engagement, Influence

Back in the 40's Abraham Maslow(1) put forth the proposition that humans are motivated by needs. Maslow postulates that each low level need must be satisfied before the next higher need can be addressed. It makes a certain sense. Without the foundation, you can't build walls. Without the walls, you can't build the roof. His pyramid of needs has served as a model for understanding human behavior ever since.(2)

I maintain that a similar hierarchy exists in social media marketing.

Marketing is about getting people to do what you want. Doesn't matter if you're selling toothpaste, insurance, or an elected official. Your goal is to get people to do the thing you need them to do. Buy the toothpaste. Enroll in the plan. Vote for the person. For that to happen you have to influence the public's behavior.

Mass marketing has been with us almost forever. From the Molly Malone to carny barkers. From paperboys to fast food restaurants. From magazines and billboards to television and radio. Mass media has developed some pretty compelling models regardless of what scale the seller operates on. The mass marketing is getting your message to as many people as possible in the hope that some tiny fraction of people will hear your message and take the desired action.

Social media marketing has only really been a thing for the last twenty years or so. The desired result - get people to take the desired action - is the same but the process is different. Social media marketing strives to get your message to only those people who want to hear it so that a large percentage of those people will do what you want. Mass market techniques are antithetical to social media because social media messaging is controlled by the receiver, not the sender.(3)

That's a long set up to understand the three levels that govern social media marketing.

Interaction is the base. Without some level of interaction, nothing else is possible. It's where you get likes, retweets, and followers. It's requires nearly nothing of the receiver - only that they don't block, unfriend, or unfollow you. Most social media marketing advice tells you how to grow your numbers but not how to move up the pyramid.

Engagement is the next tier. This is where people actually pay attention to you, maybe talk back to you by leaving comments or adding their own ideas to a re-tweet. Engagement is a required - but not sufficient - condition.

Influence is the goal. Just like mass media marketing, social media marketing works to get people to do what you want. For authors - particularly self published ones - it's "buy the book." There are other less demanding goals that you might pursue - sign up for the email list, leave a review, tell a friend - but the ultimate goal for authors in doing social media marketing is to sell more books.

Here's the thing:

Most measures of influence *kough*klout*kough* use interaction as a proxy for engagement. Advice on how to get more followers, more friends, bigger numbers only applies to interaction. Sure you need to reach people but these numbers by themselves are meaningless. How many are bots? How many just follow you because you're a joke to them? How many just clicked like because it's almost a reflex action and not any kind of thoughtful response?

You can actually get a sense for engagement by comments and quoted retweets. It's a rough measure because most engagement will come from the lurkers - that 90% of people below the surface who actually follow what you do and pay attention to it, think about it, but don't actually step out of the ether to make themselves known to you. It's why counting doesn't really work here. Numbers aren't the answer and can be misleading.

Influence is even harder to measure because the action you want people to take isn't an action done in social media. It's invisible in that realm and only shows up in sales. The problem gets compounded by delays between message and action fostered by the internet. _Once on the internet, forever on the internet._ A comment you left on somebody's blog last month could drive a sale next week. Messages you put out last year could result in actions taken next year. You find yourself in the position of seeing a spike in sales when you've done nothing to promote your work, because somebody somewhere referenced a tweet that you responded to and forgot about.

Bottom line:

Keep interaction going by remembering that - on social media - "yes" is conditional but "no" is forever. Foster engagement by being engaged with your audience - don't robo-tweet, reply to comments, like and +1 posts. Remember that your goal is not numbers, but engagement. A mailing list of 20,000 names where only one or two percent click through to your book is much less valuable than a list of 1000 names where eighty percent open and fifty percent click through. It means you have more influence and it's influence that gets you sales.

 

  1. Maslow, A.H. (1943). "A theory of human motivation"Psychological Review50 (4): 370–96. doi:10.1037/h0054346 – via psychclassics.yorku.ca.
  2. The other model is called the "expectation theory" - or sometimes "drives theory." It suggests that people are motivated by experience and that a person's motivation to undertake a task will be based on prior experience and their expectation of how much they'll enjoy the reward they'll get from doing it. Restated: If you expect to enjoy your day on the job, you'll be more motivated to do it than if you expect your day will suck. If your day doesn't suck (or doesn't suck as much), you're going to be more motivated to go back tomorrow and vice versa.
  3. Social media is "pull." The receiver pulls messages they want to get by controlling who they're willing to get messages from regardless of channel. Mass media is "push" because messages are pushed to every receiver who uses the channel regardless of whether the receiver wants it or not.