I could hardly breathe, listening to Yunike’s story.

Our kids were playing marbles in the dirt road outside of her Borneo home. The electricity had been off in my friend’s neighborhood for hours. The stifling air added to her story, the heaviness of the moment turning into sweat running down my face. Yunike Hermanus, my Indonesian friend, was telling a part in her life story I’d never before heard.

She was dying on that day almost 20 years ago, in a remote Borneo village where she and her husband worked, unconscious from her sickness. Someone took her on a boat to a village with a dirt airstrip that villagers had carved out of the jungle by hand years beforehand. A small Cessna 185 plane picked her up and took her to a hospital—where she spent three months recovering.

“I don’t know if I’d be alive today if that airplane hadn’t taken me,” she said, then leaned closer to me, studying my face. “I told you all this before, right?”

I shook my head. I’d heard other stories from her life since I’d moved to this Indonesian town with my relief pilot husband, Brad, whose job it is to fly those little planes in the remote jungle villages like hers. Yunike had told me the one about how her daughter was born two months early—in that same village—and how she’d kept her frail body warm by heating up water and pouring it into plastic bottles that flanked her daughter. And then there was the one about losing her husband. She moved afterward, as a widow with young kids, to this town where we both live, making a life for herself there.

But she hadn’t yet told me this one—this long-ago trauma that was still so impactful that she was weeping with the telling of it.

I’ve lived in two different Indonesian towns for 12 years now. I’ve listened to many stories of life in the midst of some difficult circumstances. This is due, in part, to a culture rich in story-telling. Stories of war and love are told by dancers with glorious feathers on their heads, or by musicians with instruments made of bamboo, or by my neighbors in words over cups of hot tea—the ticking clock of time going disregarded.  Sometimes I watch painful stories unfold with my own eyes, like the sick baby girl my husband flew in from a remote village, who only ended up dying soon after in the hospital.

Many of the stories haunt me. I can picture the pain, the violence, and the desperation late into the night.

I started writing novels right after the death of a close, young Indonesian friend. I was pregnant with my first child when her accident happened. I turned on the computer and wrote the first two scenes for my fictional characters—one of a child’s birth and one of a funeral. I had so many questions. I needed to figure it all out.

I didn’t. Not all of it.

Instead, created characters who were on the same quest as I was, who made it all less lonely. And also, I discovered something that felt powerful—with the good kind of power. I started to learn how to shape a story in a world that seems, at times, to run amuck against our wishes.

On that recent hot Borneo day, I drove home, mulling over the parts of my friend’s stories in which bad things that shouldn’t happen to anyone had happened to her. And then I remembered all the other stories Yunike had told me…the ones in which she happened to her stories. Her ingenuity saved her daughter’s life. Her courage helped her heal from her sicknesses. Her friendship with me connects me, the foreigner, in a deep way to this community. And her generosity in giving me permission to share her story here broadens its impact.

I see the power of her trauma. But I see the resilience from her courage. I’ve got my own struggles I’m working through right now. But I’m finding my own courage. And we connect through our stories—through the choices we make, the redemption for which we pray and the good that somehow emerges from the worst of circumstances.

Today I’m partway through a several-month visit to the States after three-and-a-half years of being away in Indonesia since my last visit (and a total of 12 year of living abroad). But I have to admit, I was nervous about returning to the States at the time that it struggles with racial tensions, refugee needs, political division.

America’s story has some difficult pieces right now. It has had hard chapters at different times in the past. The future will, inevitably, contain pain, too.

I wish it wasn’t that way. I wish everything was going well and nothing was wrong and evil didn’t exist.

But I’m doing what I’ve always done when it all disorients me and I start to lose hope. I lean into the stories. I listen to people I meet at the pond share their own stories of courage and redemption while our kids, oblivious, chase after the ducks. I go to concerts and close my eyes and let the crescendos expand over me until they end on a satisfying note.  I go on hikes through the mountains with my husband and I talk and he talks and we listen and keep going and sweat and enjoy the vistas and look back and see how far we’ve come.

And I write.

“It’s a gorgeous cycle,” K.M. Weiland writes in a blog post, How to Benefit from the Biggest Reason for Storytelling, on her site www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com . “We use our art to interpret life, but, as artists ourselves, we also get to use our art to create and expand upon life.” (link https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/benefit-biggest-reason-storytelling/ )

Weiland next quotes author Caryl Phillips: “A writer begins by breathing life into its characters. But if you are very lucky, they breathe life into you.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rebecca Hopkins writes young adult novels while living in a world of ancient jungle tribes, sea-dwelling gypsies and isolated Balinese hand signing villages. It’s a world she’s trying to make her own—Indonesia. She’s lived in Indonesia with her relief pilot husband and three kids for twelve years. Read more about her writing and life in Indonesia at www.rebeccahopkins.org .

Finding the Courage to Walk Away

"Sometimes, the thing you most wish for is not to be touched." 

The quote above comes from the musical Into the Woods and offers a caution that doesn't apply only to fairy tales . . . it's important advice for publishing too.

It took me ten years, and five full-length manuscripts, to find an agent (and get my first publishing deal). During that time, I received a great deal of important advice and information and learned as much as I could about writing, the publishing industry, and the various choices available to me as an author. I wrote, I read, and I dreamed . . . and I hoped, above all, that one day those dreams would become a reality, in the form of published books with my name on the cover.

That dream had been with me since childhood. It burned in my heart like nothing else and remains a burning drive to this day. I love to tell stories. I love writing books. It's who I am at my core - and that means it also makes me vulnerable.

If you're reading this, you're probably vulnerable that way, too.

I often start my workshops on the legal aspects of the publishing industry by saying "charlatans and scammers flourish at the intersection of art and dreams" - and that statement is true. However, something else flourishes at that intersection too ...

... bad deals, inappropriate deals, and deals that an author will later regret.

In some ways, these are even more dangerous than the charlatans, because sometimes there's nothing obviously wrong with the deal . . . it's just not right for the author (or the work) at the time.

Writing is a critical skill for anyone who wants to be an author, as is good business sense, but the third thing an author needs to succeed in the publishing world is the ability to say NO when the deal isn't right.

When people find out you're an author, everyone from your mother to your plumber will be glad to tell you exactly how to run your publishing career. Advice is everywhere, some of it even worth remembering. The problem is, only you can decide when an offer is worth accepting--and you have the right to accept or refuse any offer, even if people around you--including people you trust--think you should make a different decision.

But how do you recognize a deal you should refuse?

The honest answer is a lot like the famous Supreme Court definition of obscenity: you know it when you see it.

On a slightly more practical level, here are some situations when authors should seriously consider walking away from a publishing deal:

1. The deal is really a scam. Do not fall for publishing scams. Learn to avoid them and walk away.

2. The publisher isn't offering industry-standard terms. Traditional publishing and self/author/indie publishing both have standards--the usual, expected terms and conditions authors have a right to expect. If anyone offers you less, remind yourself that you and your work deserve the industry standards at a minimum, and be willing to walk away.

3. The publisher acts like a bully even before you sign the deal. This happens. For real. In business, as on the playground, you have the right to a life free from bullying. If someone tries to make you feel badly about yourself or your work, walk away and hold out for someone who treats you right.

4. The deal doesn't fit your plans (for the work or for your career). Many authors seem to believe that they have to compromise "to get started" or "to get a foot in the door." NOPE. It helps to be realistic. For example, most first-time authors don't get million dollar deals (though it does happen occasionally). That said, if you're willing to write as many books as it takes and you want to hold out for the giant advance, you have the right to do that, and you should never let anyone tell you otherwise, if that's your vision.

5. You don't want to sign. Listen to your instincts. They are generally wise. If something feels "wrong" about a deal--whether it's with an agent, a publishing house, or the printer you want to hire to print your author-published books--have the courage to think the matter through carefully, evaluate the facts, and walk away if you still think the deal is wrong for you.

6. Any other reason you want to say no. It's important for authors to remember: you, and only you, are in control of your publishing career. No matter what you hear, read, or are told by others, at the end of the day, your books and your publishing career belong to you. You get to make the decisions (and live with the consequences). YOU get to say yes or no.

Walking away from a publishing deal may be the hardest thing you ever do in your publishing career. But if the deal isn't right for you, or your work, it's also the best and the wisest thing you can do. The tricky part is: only you can make the decision whether to sign or to walk away, and you'll have to make those decisions one at a time, as the deals come.

Never forget: it's better to have no deal at all than to have a deal you regret, and today's hard "No" leaves you and your work available for tomorrow's better opportunity.

Best Writing Books

How do, RMFW? Shannon Baker and Jess Lourey here again with the Lourey/Baker Double Booked Blog Tour redux. Between us, we’ve published over twenty books (S: I love saying that because I get the credit for the bulk of the publishing Jess has done.) Shannon’s latest is the second book in the Kate Fox mystery series, Dark Signal (Forge). Jess’s newest addition in her humorous Murder by the Month series is March of Crime (Midnight Ink). We hate to tras

 

h our reputations, but the honest-to-goodness truth is that we did not shoot from the womb knowing all there is to know about writing. (Jess here: but we did shoot from the womb with a full head of hair each, so picture that as you read.)

Almost everyone needs to learn their craft. Teachers earn an undergrad degree and have continuing education, accountants and lawyers get diplomas and study to pass extensive bar exams, doctors and veterinarians go to school ‘pert-near forever. So why should anyone think great writers are born, not made?

There are any number of terrific workshops and conferences, online classes, MFA programs, not to mention the Colorado Gold Conference, where I learned so much. But today, we’re going to go the self-help route. What are the best writing books you know? (Book links point you to Indie Bound, because we love our indies!)

Shannon: Since I get to go first, I’m going to rattle off the low-hanging fruit of Best Writing Books Of All Time. Let’s start with the ever inspiring and practical, Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, and Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, and On Writing by Stephen King because they will speak to the writer in your heart and teach you to translate your passion to the page.

Jess: You stole the best ones! Fine. When it comes to plotting, I recommend A Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. Also, although I hate writing short stories, I stumbled across Damon Knight’s Creating Short Fiction a few years ago and found the advice game-changing when it comes to structuring novels. Shannon, do you have plot and structure go-tos?

Shannon: Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks, Save the Cat by Blake Synder, and of course, Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel. All of these are loaded with step by step plans to get you from the opening sentence, through the sagging middle, and cruising to the exciting cli

 

max. I recently picked up Hallie Ephron’s Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel. This book lays it all out, with exercises and downloadable worksheets.

Jess: I couldn’t agree more about Hallie’s book. It’s worth its weight in royalties. Shannon, we’ve both listed a few different books that have taught us to deepen our craft, but if you had to pick a single one, above all others, what would it be?

Shannon: My true writer’s Bible, the book that taught

 

me the most basic terms, structure, detail, logic, and by far, the driest book on writing I’ve ever read is Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight Swain. This book was published in 1981, and believe me when I say it will teach you how to write a novel. You have to add the creative and color, because ol’ Dwight won’t provide it on the pages of this book. But, hands down, if you could read only one how-to write book, this would be my choice.

Jess: I’ve never read that one and now I must. I personally don’t have a single Writer’s Bible, but the last couple books, I find myself returning again and again to The Emo

 

tion Thesaurus so I don’t keep reusing the same old words to describe fear, terror, shame, etc. Love that book!

Shannon: This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are more books I’d shout my praises for if we had the space, but that’s what the comments are for, right? I do want to jump on the rooftop with my megaphone for this addition to the cannon of great writing books. Jess Lourey’s newest classic Rewrite Your Life. I promise, this book will take you to your deepest soul so you can write your truest stories.

Jess: Thank you. J I’m proud of that one.

Okay, this is where you help out your writing comrades by telling us your favorite writing books. We are each giving away three books on the Double-Booked Tour. Each comment you make on our tour will net you a better chance at winning, so comment now, comment often.

September 2            Mysterious Musings

September 5            Janice Hardy

September 7            The Creative Penn

 

September 9            Write to Done

September 12          Wicked Cozy Writers

September 20          Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog

September 21          There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room

 

September 23          Femmes Fatales

September 24          Writer Unboxed

September 25          Dru’s Book Musings

September 27          Do Some Damage

October 3                   Terry Ambrose

October 12                Jungle Red Writers

 

 

Jess Lourey (rhymes with "dowry") is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing "a splendid mix of humor and suspense." S

 

he is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft's Excellence in Teaching fellowship, a regular Psychology Today blogger, and a sought-after workshop leader and keynote speaker who delivered the 201

6 "Rewrite Your Life" TEDx Talk. March of Crime, the 11th book in her humorous mystery series, releases September 2017. You can find out more at www.jessicalourey.com

 

Shannon Baker is the author of the Kate Fox mystery series (Tor/Forge). Set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, Kirkus says, “Baker serves up a ballsy heroine, a colorful backdrop, and a surprising ending.” She also writes the Nora Abbott mystery series (Midnight Ink), featuring Hopi Indian mysticism and environmental issues. Shannon makes her home in Tucson where she enjoys cocktails by the pool, breathtaking sunsets, a crazy

 

Weimeraner, and killing people (in the pages of her books). She was

 

voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2014 and 2017 Writer of the Year. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com

The AHA Moments

Every writer has one—or two—or three.

When I first started writing fiction, I was writing blind. I was a trained journalist and understood non-fiction, but writing a novel… Suffice it to say, it presented a number of new challenges. At the time, we were living in Frisco (Colorado), and there were no writers groups, no published authors, and no creative writing classes offered at the mountain college. Then in rode Maggie Osborne.

Maggie, a founding member of RMFW and an award-winning romance writer, moved to Summit County around 1986. Her first summer, she gave an author talk at the Frisco Library. I went up at the end to chat, and ended up cajoling her into putting on a workshop. By the time the librarian barred the door, Maggie had agreed to teach 5 two-hour sessions, once a week at her house, for $20, provided I could find at least two other writers to join in. A bargain, to say the least.

It didn’t take long to find two other interested parties, and we were brimming with excitement that first session. Maggie focused on character—point-of-view, motivation, physical attributes, flaws, strengths, desires… At the end of the session, she asked each of us to go home and write a few paragraphs from the POV of our heroine and bring back the pages the following week.

I was the only one who showed up. During the course of the week, the others had decided it was too much work, claimed Maggie was demanding too much. But I wasn’t complaining—we’d paid upfront, which meant, I had four one-on-one sessions coming with a master.

My first AHA moment came during that second class.

Here’s a sample of that early work.

“Why should I?” Lauren stepped back as Alex moved a step forward. “Look, my ex-husband introduced us. Once. I hardly know the man.” She returned Alex’s defiant glare.
Alex felt the muscles twitch in his neck. He had been furious when his contact suggested Lauren was involved in her partner’s business indiscretions. If they discovered that she knew Woodley, it would only fuel his colleague’s doubts.
“Did you mention Harmon’s accident in the conversation?”
“Yes, I didn’t realize it was a secret.” She studied him with dark eyes. “Now, it’s your turn to explain something to me.”

The important lesson that night was about POV. As Maggie pointed out, in addition to wonderful choreography, the above four paragraphs included four POV switches. Not to mention that Lauren can magically see her own “dark eyes.” It was like a lightbulb went off.

Is it any wonder that this book never got published?!

My second AHA moment came during critique.

I was at Lee Karr’s, another founding member of RMFW and award-winning romance writer. Here’s a small slice of what I offered up:

“Hello, how are you?”
“Great, great. Nice day, isn’t it?”
“Beautiful. They say it’s supposed to reach 90 degrees.”
“A scorcher, which reminds me, you were getting hot when you started asking questions about…”

The important lesson that afternoon was about Dialogue. When it was Lee’s turn, she pointed out that the dialogue served no purpose whatsoever. Her advice, make sure your dialogue does one if not two of the following things:

1. Advance the plot.
2. Characterize the characters.
3. Create suspense and intensify the conflict.
4. Reveal motivation.
5. Control the pace.

Another lightbulb moment.

My latest AHA moment came during this year’s RMFW conference. I signed up for a master class with Stuart Horwitz, Book Architecture. I’ll admit, I was skeptical. His method encourages a pantzer-plotter-pantzer/plotter type of model. In the first draft, you just write. Whatever you want, in whatever order you want. Pantzer technique. In the second draft, you apply a method for structuring the novel, cutting up the scenes and reordering them as necessary, discovering what you put in that you don’t need and what you didn’t put in that you need. Plotter technique. In the third draft, you rewrite, in any order you want. You punch up the scenes already written, write the scenes that you left out and add transitions between chapters. Of course, this is a very encapsulated version of a four hour workshop, but the point is—I think Horwitz’s method may be just what I need.

Here’s to all the AHA moments.

Including the ones yet to come. That’s why I still go to critique, still attend conferences like the Colorado Gold. It’s important to me to stretch my abilities as a writer, to always write a better book. It’s my hope that the AHA moments keep on coming.

Phobia noun pho∙bia \ foe-bee-a

Actually, I’m okay with bees but those wasps, yellow jackets, mud daubers—whatever they’re called—freak me out.

Speaking of fears, take Steven King—but don’t keep him—that guy writes horrors few humans can possibly survive, let alone think of: Carrie, The Secret Window, The Shining...

Now that I think about it, I have an irrational fear of science fiction writers too. What if I sit by such a warped genius in say, an airplane? Yikes! (Yes, Ken. I know you write sci-fi.)

Why in the world is that movie, The Time Machine so popular? Bad movies, a whole different level of anxiety.

What about those people who write literary fiction and those who are professional poets? How in the world can I face them, let alone actually engage in a conversation?  Smile, nod, “Beautiful,” repeat. Smile, nod, “Beautiful,” will certainly show my lack of knowledge of the genre. Never mind the obvious inexperience with a thesaurus.

Two crows, Pete and Repeat were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off, who was left? Consequently my phobia of bad jokes.

Then there’s—Holy eight legs, Batman!  That’s a huge…found a big boot to stomp it, but lost track of the hairy, speedy little devil.

Now, where was I?

Then there are snakes. As a child, I loved being around gardener snakes here in Colorado. No lie. Then one day, deep in the Ozarks as friends and I sat on a river bank a long, thin thing rapidly sashayed across the water, showing off the inside of its mouth. My so-called friends ran off and left me captive in the life-threatening situation. That cottonmouth snake pretty much did in my love of reptiles.

Oh sure, then there’s the fear of failure. Fear of success. What?

What happens if I write and sell a good book? Good books? (Success and self-defeating behavior often travel side by side, at least in my world.)

Having actually finished THREE manuscripts, stories, possible books, future fame and fortune endeavors, I then thought about edits and rewrites followed by my critique group. (Insert uncanny music.)

Abruptly, I rediscovered false safety also known as putting off today what can wait until tomorrow, trepidation, apprehension…. My mind immediately puts out an SOS to my body in such situations.

What the…?

Dang spider. Where’d I put the boot? Hairy thing is fast.

Which brings me to thinking about that carnival ride, the spider? Octopus? Yuck.

Moving on. But now I can’t get roller-coasters off the brain. Oh, gee whiz…s l o w l y going up that big hill…DOWN! The stinking bar that’s supposed to keep me in sure feels loose. Crap, more height. A loop, who the, what the, WHY incorporate that in a ride? A loop. I don’t want to be sick in public.

Great! There’s one stall available in the women’s bathroom. An OUT OF ORDER sign is duct-taped across the seat. And there’s no TP.

So, returning to the fear of failure, the fear of success thing. When my mind puts out an SOS to my body regarding such situations, I am entangled in the fear that I’ll never eat chocolate again. I don’t know the correlation between the two, but I rush to the store:

Candles and Diet Pepsi are optional

Now I have to worry about a diet again. If…dang spider. Where’d it go now? Oh, my head itches.

Harry has escaped repeated efforts of photos and the bottom of my boot again.

 

 

WANT vs NEED

Last month we took a step back from Boy meets Girl to focus on some preliminary work. Although you can certainly throw your Hero and Heroine together on the first page, it may be better to show them apart first.

Then, when Boy Meets Girl, you’ll have the opportunity for SOMETHING to catch your characters attention - and that SOMETHING will directly relate to what is missing in that characters life. Just be careful not to be TOO obvious about it.

Remember, your hero and heroine go into this story ready for love. Even if they don’t know it. Love is what they NEED, not necessarily what they want. If you asked the hero and heroine on page one if they’re looking for love, they would categorically deny it. Might even say HECK NO! I never want to love again. (Oooh, backstory.)

But in that first meeting, you can give the reader a glimpse into why these two are perfect for each other. Which means you have to know all that before you start writing.

If you look at the beat sheet I introduced last month (http://jamigold.com/2012/11/write-romance-get-your-beat-sheet-here/) you’ll see that the very first thing listed is the “Opening Image/Hook: Opening scene or sequence of story; create empathy with characters by showing they lack for something.”

Now this lack that you introduce in the first scenes will be made up of things the character thinks he or she NEEDS. To save the ranch. To get that promotion. To fix a relationship. To attend a crucial event. You get the picture. (Quick assignment - go pick up a handful of romances on your shelf - read the first few pages and jot down the initial WANT for those characters.)

In these first scenes, you want to “introduce protagonists, hook the reader, and setup the romance conflict (foreshadowing, establishing stakes).” Does that sound daunting? It can be. But that’s why we read a lot of romance - to analyze and absorb how that’s done. And that’s why we do all that preliminary character work.

In these initial pages, you want your characters to come across as likable and to have wants that the reader can identify with. To do that, you have to know your characters. REALLY know your characters.

Why does she NEED to save the ranch? What’s in it for her. What’s behind that need/want? If you don’t allow your reader in to see the why then you won’t keep them reading, you won’t keep them caring. Most people never have a NEED to “save the ranch” - but most all of us can identify with keeping memories alive or fulfilling a responsibility that we’ve carried for a long time, or simply the need to make a living.

Are you confused by my interchangeable use of WANT and NEED? Remember, rarely does a character go into his/her story knowing what he truly needs. He knows what he thinks he needs. But that’s what the character arc is all about. The missing link in the hero’s life will be in the possession or person of the heroine and vice versa.
You’ve heard the phrase “he completes me.” Well, there it is.

A hero or heroine will likely go into the story not even guessing that there’s a huge hole in their life. One that only the “other half” will fill. That’s what the story is all about. That’s what the character arc is all about.

So, make sure you know what the true need is. But you don’t have to play that card yet. Please don’t. Simply open the H/H’s story with their normal world - skipping happily through life oblivious to what’s coming.

Make sense?

And if you’re still not sure how it’s done - keep reading great romance novels - the ones on the keeper shelf. Read them. Analyze them. Go through with the beat sheet in hand and figure out how that author did it. And don’t forget to WRITE.

Until next month - BiC HoK - Butt in Chair - Hands on Keyboard.

Take Two Advice, and Call Me in the Morning: GOLD EDITION

I’ll bet you came back from the RMFW Gold Conference, excited to dive into your current project, filling it with all those things you learned over the weekend. Right up until it came time to actually write. The post-conference blue/block is a very real thing. Trust me, I’m not a doctor.

And I don’t play one on TV either (*millennials, google that those last two sentences, it’s funny. Really).

Anyway, you, like me, might be sitting around in your pajamas (because, what else would you wear?) wondering about how to incorporate what you learned with your writing style and voice or promotional style and voice.

The thing about the advice provided at conference is, the facilitators aren’t looking to change you as a writer, but rather let you explore their ways and means of creating great books. The whole take some, leave some approach. Try things out, see what fits and what doesn’t with your own writing life.

There are no perfect fits when it comes to being an author. What works for one writer, might fail for another. My best advice, and you can take it or stick your tongue out at me, is don’t live your writerly journey in the shoes of another writer. For one thing, they pinch, but most importantly, wearing someone’s shoe is unsanitary. Trust me, I’m NOT a doctor.

What advice did you learn at the conference that you plan on implementing in your own style/journey?

Marketing Physics

Back in the dark ages when I took physics, I learned about the six simple machines. When dealing with marketing, I find the lever makes a good analogy. It increases the force applied by a given amount of effort. Rephrased: You don't have to work as hard to get the same result.

Call me lazy, but any time I can get the same result with less effort - especially in marketing - I'm all over it.

The concept is simple. In marketing, we need to apply effort to gain purchase - literal as well as figurative. The more leverage we have, the less effort needed.

Marketing isn't the lever. It's the fulcrum. It's base you need in order to focus the application of effort. The fulcrum needs to be solid enough to take the load of both the effort and the output. If it's too squishy, applying effort will crush it. It can't really be too strong, but there's no need to make one stronger than you need. A fulcrum that can support ten tons doesn't actually give you any advantage when you're only trying to move a ten pound load.

In this context, marketing is not what you do. It's the way you've decided to do it.

I write SF/F novels. I self-publish them. I use social media as my primary communication channels. I follow the "Big Frog, Small Pond" and "1000 True Fans" strategies. Those were my decisions regarding marketing. That's my foundation, my fulcrum.

Effort is the sum of all the forces applied to the lever. For authors, that can be time spent at conventions, on social media, or writing blog posts. It can be cash spent on ad buys and market research. It can be anything the author does to promote the works. It's built from all the decisions an author makes about strategy and model. What do you have to offer? Where do you offer it? How do you choose to make people aware of your product?

The output load in this case is the number of purchases or - perhaps more accurately - profit. After all, it does little good to spend $10 for every $1 in revenue. It might be advantageous to achieve some short-term goal, but it's a bankrupt model in the long run. Literally.

The lever is the key. The lever is what multiplies the effort and provides the applied force to the output. For authors, that's the backlist. If you only have one book to sell, then the lever is short. You have to apply a lot of effort to get a unit of output. If you have two books to sell, then you get a multiplier. Perhaps people who buy the first will buy the second. You have more visibility - a bigger footprint - which makes your lever longer but also stronger. Add a third and a fourth and a fifth and you begin to build a machine where only the lightest touch of effort can give you a huge amount of purchase.

It's just simple physics.

Thrillers, Part 1 of 4

In my four-part blog series on the Thriller genre, I'm going to discuss the core nature of the thriller and what sets it apart from other forms of fiction. In three future segments, I plan to discuss the hero(es), the villain(s) and plotting and pacing. My intent is to offer some insights to fellow thriller-writers and perhaps learn something myself along the way.

The primary thing that sets the thriller apart from its cousin, the mystery, is that most often there is no whodunit. For the most part, the bad guy (or guys...assume hereafter I mean both singular and plural, masculine and feminine) is revealed fairly early on in the plot, if not the very first page.

This leads to a temptation for many aspiring thriller writers to open their book with a prologue, in which the villain incites the story through some nefarious act that sets his plans in motion. Please resist the urge. Most editors do not like prologues and neither do I. There are justifications for prologues, but they should be the exception, not the rule. Prologues are a whole other blog article.

While the primary question in a mystery is 'who?" the big question in a thriller is 'how?' How is the villain planning to accomplish his goal? This is critical for the hero to know how to stop the villain. In a mystery, on the road to finding out who committed the crime (usually murder), finding the 'why?' or motive goes a long way toward helping the protagonist sleuth to finding the culprit. In a thriller, similar but different is the 'what?" Finding out what the villain plans to do helps our hero know how to thwart him.

Which brings us to another difference. In a mystery, finding the perp is usually the end of the story, sometimes after a brief pursuit and/or capture scene. In a thriller, finding the answer to 'how' only kicks the thriller into high gear. Our daring protag still needs to execute a spectacular plan to dismantle the villain's plans. And of course when has a plan ever come off exactly as laid out? Therein lies more fun.

Your audience for a mystery is those who like the process of uncovering secrets and following obscure evidence trails to uncover even more. In many cases, the more shocking the secrets revealed the better they love it. I know that's part of what makes me love a good mystery. Your audience for a thriller are those who like action, adventure and daring do. The pitching of two enemies against each other until one comes out on top. Where a mystery is like the old card game Concentration - uncovering clues and remembering them, matching connections when they appear - a thriller is like chess - opponents making moves in attempts to misdirect and outwit each other and win the day.

Of course, like all attempts to define something complex, these definitions (mystery vs. thriller) are not all-encompassing or true in all cases. For example, I haven't mentioned how many mysteries and most thrillers include elements of romance, or how either can take place within the realm of historical fiction or SciFi, etc. As with all forms of fiction, there is overlap. I've only attempted here to lay out the broad strokes of what makes a thriller. Your results may vary.

Colorado Gold 2017: Some Practical Information

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Conference is almost here!

In addition to the previous conference day-by-day walk-through info post, here is some practical information to help you get organized:

Parking: Parking is free at the hotel for conference attendees. Yay! You'll need to validate your parking ticket at the front desk before you leave.

Airport Train Info: From the airport, you'll need to take the Light Rail train, ($9.00) to the the Central Park Station, which is 0.7 miles from the hotel. If you arrive and there is no shuttle present, call the hotel. They will pick you up at the station. For more details about train times, station stops, and other info, download the RTD info flyer or check out the LIGHT RAIL schedule. There is no longer a free shuttle from the airport.

First-Timer Meeting: On Friday at 12:00pm (before conference officially begins), our New Attendee Liaison, Kevin Wolf, will be hosting our "first timer meeting" in the Vail Room.  This is an opportunity to meet some of the RMFW conference staff and get a brief orientation about conference. We will also have a special prize to give away to one lucky attendee! This meeting will last about 30 minutes. Feel free to bring lunch or purchase a boxed lunch from the hotel kiosk.

Conference Badges: Your 2017 official conference badge must be worn AT ALL TIMES. If you are not wearing your official conference badge, you'll be asked to retrieve it. Without your official conference badge you will not be able to attend the meals. If you RSVP'd to bring a guest to any meals, your guest must wear their official guest badge in order to attend the meals. There will be no exceptions to this rule.

Don't Forget! Bring a Blank Journal to Conference! RMFW Special Guest, Stuart Horwitz, is delighted to share: Book Architecture has partnered with Cocoon Journal, a non-profit organization that puts blank books in the hands of high school writers.

The idea is that by writing, they can clear their head (and maybe generate the first draft of a future project). Do you have some blank journals lying around that you aren't using? Now, the solution: BRING THEM TO CONFERENCE! Cocoon Journal will be collecting unused, blank journals during Colorado Gold this September. You can also ship blank journals to: Cocoon Journal P.O. Box 740340, Arvada, CO 80006.

Classes to Prep For: If there are classes on the schedule that you're planning to attend, be sure to read the class description in the event the instructor wants you to bring something to use in class. Some that have requested a mention:

  • Deep Revision Master Class - Heather Webb: Bring a some pages of your writing to work on in this session.
  • The Joy of Writing Great Sex - Andrea Catalano & Heather Webb: Anyone who'd like to participate in an anonymous critique may bring one printed page from one of their scenes without a name on it. We'll read aloud and talk about what's working and what isn't.
  • The Art of the Author Reading - Aimie Runyan: please bring a short cutting from one of your works! Laptop, printed pages, bound book--anything you can read from comfortably.
  • The Faster I Go, The Behinder I Get - Becky Clark:  Check the handouts download and bring a paper copy of the calendar with the times down the side.  We'll be doing an exercise with that one

Handouts: Handouts are available online. Check the HANDOUTS page often as we get closer to conference and more are added by our presenters. Please download handouts to your device or print them at home. You *can* download them at the hotel using the public wifi in the common areas of the hotel, but you will have to leave the classrooms to do so. While there is Wi-Fi in the hotel, there is NO Wi-Fi in the classrooms. 

Wi-Fi: There is wifi in the hotel public areas but there is NO WIFI in the classrooms for presenters or attendees. If you wish to access the handouts for a class but your device requires wifi, you will need to download them before your class.

Agent & Editor Pitch Appointments: If you requested one, your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. There will be a separate check-in table for the pitch appointments located on the third floor. Please make sure you arrive at least 10 minutes before your appointment. If you have any questions or conflicts regarding your pitch appointment, you will need to speak to the volunteers at the third-floor check-in table. Additional pitch appointments are free and available on a first-come, first-served basis while space allows. Any questions about booking additional free pitches should be handled at the check-in table for the pitches with our Pitch Master, Mike Ruchhoeft, and his team of volunteers.

Preparing for Your Pitch Appointment: We always have many questions about pitch appointments. Remember to relax and know that the agent is there to hear about your story. It's ok to be nervous. It's ok to ask questions. Your appointment should be a conversation. It's not a requirement that you have your pitch memorized; bring notes and read from them if that's what you need to get it right. For more prep, here is an excellent blog post from RMFW Pitch Coach, Susan Spann.

Have a Special Appointment? Arrive 10-minutes early please! If you have an appointment with Pitch Coaching, Mentor Room, One-on-Ones, or Agent/Editor Pitches, etc., please arrive 10-minutes before your appointment. This helps everyone stay on schedule and prevents delays.

Leaving Classes In-Session: If you signed up for an appointment, it is likely that you will have to leave a workshop in-session in order to attend. If you need to leave a workshop in-session, this is perfectly fine and happens throughout conference. Simply gather your things and quietly depart. Once your appointment is over, feel free to return to any workshop in-session.

Conference Check-in/Registration: Conference Check-in will be at the bottom of the escalators, accessible from the lobby. If you're attending a Friday morning session (Master Class or a Critique Round Table) check-in opens at 7am. If you're not attending a morning session, check-in opens at 10:30am.

Need Help? Have Questions? “ASK ME”: We have a whole army of conference veterans who know the ropes and are there for you to ask questions. If you see someone with an ASK ME ribbon on their badge… don’t be shy! Also, the Registration Table is HQ for conference. We will have volunteers there just about all the time throughout conference, so this is another place to go if you need assistance.

At-A-Glance Schedule & Brochure: The AAG is the go-to document when you're looking for the workshop schedule. There are lots of shifts that happen with the AAG over the months leading up to the conference, and the brochure updates lag behind. In the event the brochure elves slip up and there is a discrepancy, the AAG is the true schedule.

Workshop Recordings: All the open workshops/panel programming at conference are recorded. If you’re unable to be in two places at once, or if a class was especially helpful to you and you want to listen to it in the future, purchase a copy during conference at the recording room, next door to Boulder Creek. Orders placed before the end of the day on Saturday will be available on Sunday. Orders placed on Sunday will be shipped to you.

What to Wear: Dress comfortably for conference, and wear shoes that make walking easy. You’ll do a lot of walking at conference. Dress in layers to be sure you aren’t too hot or cold as the temperature shifts. Some people do dress up for the Friday Kickoff and Saturday Awards Banquets, but you’re going to see everything from jeans to cocktail dresses and capri pants to suits. Don’t be afraid to dress up, but be equally assured that you can wear whatever makes you comfortable.

Need a Break? Take a Break! You don’t have to attend a session every hour. If you need to take a break, then you’re totally welcome to skip a session, go back to your room, hang in the open areas, or find a quiet place to write.

Drink Water! CO is very dry, and if you’re not from here, it can come as quite a shock how easy it is to become dehydrated. Drink lots of water. Drink lots of water. Drink lots of water. And if you're not sure... DRINK LOTS OF WATER!

Meals: Your conference registration includes several meals:

  • Fri Lunch - ON YOUR OWN
  • Fri Dinner - Kickoff Banquet, Plated Meal, Included
  • Sat Breakfast - Continental style, Included (7-8a)
  • Sat Lunch - Buffet style, Included
  • Sat Dinner - Awards Banquet - Plated Meal, Included
  • Sun Breakfast - Continental style, Included (7-8a)
  • Sun Lunch - Buffet style, Included

Conference Badges: Your 2017 official conference badge must be worn AT ALL TIMES. If you are not wearing your official conference badge, you'll be asked to retrieve it. Without your official conference badge you will not be able to attend the meals. If you RSVP'd to bring a guest to any meals, your guest must wear their official guest badge in order to attend the meals. There will be no exceptions to this rule.

More Questions? Join our
FACEBOOK GROUP
for Conference attendees!