Tag Archives: Terri Benson

The Easy Button

By Terri Benson

Benson_Unsinkable finalMy day job includes coaching start-up businesses at a Business Incubator, and as a writer, I counsel people who want to write. Recently one of my clients opened the meeting with “I’ve started on a book. What I need is advice on how to find an editor who will give me a big enough advance that I can work full time on finishing the book.”

I so badly wanted to hand him that big red button that says “EASY” on it and have him give it a whack. You know, the one we hit to find the greatest story ever written, most savvy agent, or big publishing house editor who is floored by our writing. The one that ensures we have a huge marketing machine selling the heck out of our books, royalty checks pouring in, and a personal assistant who schedules our blog tours, book signings, workshop presentations, and makes sure we have time for a mani/pedi.

I got news for you, and for him. There ain’t no easy button.

We all know this, of course. But it doesn’t stop us from wishing we could just write, and have the rest of the icky work done by someone else. Not going to happen, folks.

Instead of wasting your time wishing away the unfun stuff, embrace it (this would sound so much better coming from an inspirational speaker). Because we have to write, it’s in our blood. If we want to publish (assuming most of us do), we have to finish our work and get it into the hands of someone who can make that happen. If it’s not a traditional publisher or Indie publisher, it’s us/our hands. Never before has the concept of “DIY Publishing” been so open. It’s not seen as “vanity” anymore. Big, well-known writers are self-publishing, and unknown writers are making some substantial royalty checks doing it.

So, in the absence of an easy button, here’s the scoop:

  1.  Write a great book (good isn’t good enough); use contests, critique groups and beta readers to get feedback on your writing – and listen to what they say!
  2. As you are writing (not after the fact), put together a marketing plan – know who will read your book, where it would go in a store, the cover it needs; write a great back cover blurb; brainstorm writers/reviewers who could review for you.
  3.  Set a timeline for finishing the book, edits, having it read by critique groups and/or beta readers and/or professional editors; have all the details covered BEFORE the book is ready to publish, not once you think it is.
  4.  Get a cover done – check out the local talent; you don’t have to pay huge fees to get a great cover (don’t do it yourself unless you really can).
  5.  For traditional publishing or an agent, list your top 10 choices, and stalk the heck out of them – follow them on twitter, subscribe to their newsletters/blogs/websites, get your submission in PERFECT condition, read every article you can on query letters, FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES, put on your big girl panties (or boxers, whatever) and send the sucker out. If you never send it, you can’t blame anyone but yourself for never being published. Be ready for the rejection letters and read every word they send you, because you can learn from them. Writers are so close to what we write that sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees; kill your darlings and make the book better – then do #5 all over again.
  6.  If you don’t feel the need to go traditional, and you’re positively sure your book is ready to see the light of day, get your manuscript correctly formatted and get it posted.
  7.  Then (better yet, while) doing #6, refer to #2, and market your book and yourself in every conceivable way possible. There are millions of books and writers out there – if you want to sell your book, you need to stand out.
  8. And do all this while you’re working on your next book. And attending conferences and workshops to hone your skill and learn new and different marketing ploys. And dealing with your other life – the one where you have to work a day (or night) job, that includes family, friends, mortgages, crashing computers, and your mother-in-law calling to mention she noticed your house wasn’t very clean and asking if you’ve been sick.

No, there’s no easy button. But hey, it’s not like you picked an easy job, either.

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Terri Benson1As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel, award winning short stories, and over a hundred articles – many award winning – in local and regional magazines and on-line e-zines. She has been a member of RMFW and Western Slope events are hosted by her employer, she also belongs to RWA. Benson currently promotes Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelts RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogs.

Her historic romance, An Unsinkable Love, a truly Titanic love story, is available from Amazon.

Writer’s Block? Surely you jest!

By Terri Benson

Terri Benson1Who’s Shirley? But seriously, folks (OK, not really seriously, but kinda), have you ever suffered from Writer’s Block? I hear about it all the time, but I think I’m immune. Even if I wrote 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, I don’t think I could empty out the ideas and words writhing around in my head. And on top of that, every day I add more ideas and words. One of these days my head might explode (I can see it now – Exploding Head at Library: Story at eleven!).

If you find yourself stuck, and I think this applies to just about every fiction genre, go to the mall. Listen to the kids talk to each other—you’ll get YA ideas, sci-fi (you can’t get more alien than teenagers!), dialect, swear words, current clothing, technology, and lots more. Or how about wandering down Main Street and observing the architecture – don’t you wonder what went/goes on behind those covered windows on the upper floors over the stores? Who might be looking out at you right now, and why?

Unless, or even if, it creeps you out, wander through the cemetery – you’ll find tons of names to file away, see interesting art, and read some great epitaphs. Like that Masonic symbol over there. Was he one of the secret society who held the key to great riches or knowledge, or did his poor wife have to take the only headstone she could afford, one that had been “returned” by another wife who decided instead of a formal burial, she’d just flush her old hubby and call it good?

Once in a while the newspaper will run an article about some obscure crime, location, or person that you can use as inspiration in your story. The Nobel Laureate who recently died could be your character’s college roommate who invented time travel in the alternate universe your story is set in, or the little old lady found dead after begging on the streets for years who was worth millions – maybe she was a famous cat burglar, or the character’s long lost mother, sister, or even your character in later years.

Benson_monkey flowerTake a hike – literally. Check out the flora (that’s flowers and green stuff to most of us) – look close – you can see creepy faces in those things sometimes. I saw a story today on a vegetarian spider (REALLY!). I don’t think I could convince anyone spiders come with stripes of red, blue, yellow and checkerboard – unless they saw a photo of that spider. In an alternate world the spider could be the good guy for a change, up against human-eating, fluffy, sweet looking, killer gerbils.

Benson_spiderPay attention to the temperature and how it makes you feel. Remember the feeling of sweat rolling down your back and wetting your waistband – it could be blood. Goo squishing up between your toes on the riverbank? Maybe not mud.

TV, bane of our existence, can offer up a host of inspirations as well. With the History, Science, Discovery, Military and other specialty channels, you can get all kinds of ideas to research – just don’t let the research suck you down the Rabbit Hole (hey, I resemble that blog!).

Even the stupid shows might help. How about Bar Rescue? You see weird people screaming, crying, and insulting each other. Let’s see: a story about the owner of a bar being renovated who kills the reality host and tries to pin it on the sex offender posted on the city website that lives in the scary old mansion-turned-flophouse down the road, who is actually the father of the highest ranking senator in the state, and the murder weapon was a 3D printed candy cane sharpened to a point with an electric pencil sharpener located in the office of the local Clerk & Recorder under investigation for fraud and involved in an affair with the bar owner’s wife (and If I see this in print, I’d better be in the credits. Seriously. No, really!)

Writer’s Block? Not me, and not you, if you just get out there and let yourself be inspired.

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Benson_Unsinkable finalA life-long writer, Terri Benson is published in historic romance, has written award winning short stories and over a hundred newspaper, magazine and e-zine articles – many award winning.

She has been a member of RWA for decades, and RMFW for the last several years. She promotes Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelts RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogs.

An Unsinkable Love (with a gorgeous new cover), is available from Amazon.

My Affair … by Author Terri Benson

Terri Benson1I’m having an affair. It’s OK, my husband knows all about it. In fact, he’s kind of been involved in all my affairs and he likes it.

Oh, all right! My affairs are in my books. My hunky love interests are my heroes and, even if they don’t vaguely resemble me, I’m the gorgeous heroine. That’s one of the reasons I absolutely love to write. I get to experience everything I ever dreamed, and I’m not going to get put in jail or divorced for it. Although, I did have a co-worker who read my book say they’d never look at me the same way again…

Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean (sorry, got carried away!) is that writing lets us be anything and anyone we want. We can create people we love to hate, or hate to love. We can change the world into any kind of place that suits our fancy (and our characters), and it can be centuries ago, or centuries in the future, or in an alternate future in an alternate universe. Whew.

Where else can you think up some diabolical way to kill someone off, and not worry that you’ll be carted off to the pokey? You don’t even have to use real methods, because writers can invent them. Need a poison or a weapon that doesn’t really exist, or a language to have a rousing argument in, or a pet that has one eye and one horn and flies and eats peo… (ooops, sorry, again) – you’re a writer, you can make one up that is believable!

You can write from the perspective of a child, or an animal, or a God (or Goddess) or an angst-ridden teen, or an omniscient person of the first order or whatever. But what we all must do is write something that’s worth reading. I believe that even if we don’t intend to publish what we write, we shouldn’t waste our words on something that doesn’t move us, or our readers. Of course, I’m talking fiction here, because it’s kind of hard to move your readers when you’re writing a technical manual on gear ratios (I’m sure someone out there will argue that point, but who’s writing this, anyway!?).

What I’m getting at is that we have the absolutely best job in the world—writing. We have no limits, no restrictions, no rules (except those darn editor-people ones). The only thing that would make it better is if we were guaranteed to get paid for each and every one of the words we put on paper, but hey, life’s a bitch, sometimes. At least we have fun not getting paid. Revel in your gift of words. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s “not a real job” because you can’t quit the other one and pursue writing full time (or if you can, God, I hate you!). Keep putting those letters and words and paragraphs on the page. We’re entertaining the world, after all.

Words! Gotta love ‘em.

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As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel (An Unsinkable Love), award winning short stories, and over a hundred articles – many award winning – in local and regional magazines and on-line e-zines. She has been a member of RMFW for the last several years, and her employer provides the location for the Western Slope events. She is currently promoting Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelting RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogging.

Her book, An Unsinkable Love, is temporarily down as the publisher has recently been bought and her rights reverted. But never fear, she shall overcome and those of you clamoring for a copy shall be satisfied! Visit Terri at her website. She can also be found on Facebook.

Too Busy to Write Blog for RMFW

By Terri Benson

Terri BensonYou’re too busy to write? Wrong.

I know, we’re all busy. Life gets in the way of letting us become the truly great writers we know we are. Kids are sick, the boss needs you to work overtime, you’re tired, the sun is shining and you need to get out and exercise. The number of reasons you’re too busy is infinite – or are they excuses?

To be a writer, you must write. A lot. And not just when you have all the time in the world. This is advice for me, as much as for anyone else. It’s so easy to tell myself that I need a long open period to write. That I can’t just pick up where I left off and go. But if I have to, I can. And so can you.

It will take some effort, no doubt. We’ll have to set the alarm clock a little earlier. Write instead of soaking in the tub with the newest best seller. Let the kids watch that video they really want to instead of playing a game with them. Take the teens to the library and let them do research or homework for an hour or two while you write. Ignore the piles of laundry as long as everyone has a clean change of underwear and socks. Record the game and watch it later (refuse to answer the phone until you have a chance to watch so no one spoils it for you) – you’ll enjoy it just as much. Plan a date night with yourself – go somewhere besides home and write, with or without other writers. Let the family order pizza and spend the time you would have been cooking, writing.

Benson_An Unsinkable LoveCarve out those precious moments to write in, no matter how small. Make the most of the time by being ready to write. Know where you’re going to write. Have your laptop or tablet charged, or paper and pens handy. Don’t get sidetracked by research, or try to edit as you go. Just write. Word after word. Page after page.

If you’re not in the process of writing a full manuscript, work on a short story, an essay, an article, a poem. You can get published and paid for those, too, you know. If you are working on a book, set goals for yourself – number of words/pages/chapters you can realistically write, how many hours a day/week/month you can set aside – and stick to them. Give yourself a reward when you reach them – and maybe the family, too (see next paragraph).

Talk with the family and make sure they understand how important it is that you have this time for yourself. Set rules for interruptions (i.e. amount of blood spilled that qualifies as an emergency, or specify that lost keys or shoes do not qualify as an emergency). Don’t give in to little issues that erode these rules – this is important and they need to understand that. Remind them that Stephen King and Nora Roberts make a lot of money writing, and you might, too, if they’ll just leave you the heck alone.

The next time you find yourself thinking “I’m too busy to write,” say, OUTLOUD, “No, I’ll make time, because this is important to me.” And do it.

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As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel (An Unsinkable Love/Lyrical Press), award winning short stories, and over a hundred articles – many award winning – in local and regional magazines and on-line e-zines. She has been a member of RMFW for the last few years, and her employer provides the location for the Western Slope events. She is currently on the RMFW Publicity Committee, promoting Western Slope events and assisting with articles for the newsletter and blog as needed.

For more information about Terri and her novel, visit her website.

Down The Rabbit Hole of Research

by Terri Benson

This post was originally published on September 9, 2013

Just about any form of writing requires research, some more than others. Being a historic romance and cozy mystery writer, I do my fair share of research on a wide variety of topics. And that’s a lot of the reason I write – I love history and digging out tidbits of fact I can use in my fiction.

When I wrote An Unsinkable Love, I found literally hundreds of websites dedicated to the Titanic. I was like a kid in a candy store, flitting from one brightly colored jar to another. And that brings me to the Rabbit Hole.

It’s really easy to get caught up in research. With the WWW at our fingertips, everything is within reach from the comfort of our own homes, the local coffee shop, or a smart phone sitting on a park bench. The problem is, all that time spent researching, you’re not writing.

And almost as bad (or possibly worse), is there’s an awfully good chance those “facts” you’re gleaning, aren’t really. Facts, that is. Any Tom, Dick and Harriet can set up a website and populate it with keywords and whatever they want, and sit back knowing that someone, somewhere, will read it and take it as gospel.

Even with the Titanic, which has been written about adinfinitum for a hundred years, there is a huge amount of conflicting data.  What time the ship sank, even how many died. You can avoid that by finding multiple sources of the same information, taking even more time. Better yet, get around it by not using a specific – i.e. “in the dark moments before midnight” instead of at exactly 11:54 p.m. Readers won’t quibble. They’re reading a (hopefully) compelling story, not a dry press release. This issue leads into another quagmire:  too much research ending up in the story.

Research is a means to an end, not the end. While some of us are fascinated by Victorian architecture, our readers don’t care about every corbel, pilaster, Palladian detail, or intricate pattern in that Rocco furniture. So, unless your hero is a Victorian architect who is being pursued by a villainous building inspector, less is probably more.

I also have to fight the tendency to just keep gobbling more and more research.  Invariably the information I really need for my story is muddled with unnecessary stuff, and if I didn’t make notes of where I found it, I spend more time trying to find it again. Note to self:  start making a note of the sites you visit!

In a recent workshop put on by Cindi Myers, she talked about how she avoids getting sucked in to the Rabbit Hole.  She writes from start to finish before editing—which clearly works for her since she has more than 55 published books under her belt. When she finds a place that needs researched, she puts in a series of asterisks. I use a long blank line. This works wonderfully to remind you to check a date, or maybe include a description of clothing, a vehicle, a location, etc.  It can even be a space-holder for an entire scene, but it keeps you moving.

If you use an outline, story board, or bible, you probably have an idea of the types of research you’ll need—an untraceable poison, the latest in DNA identification, what kind of airplanes flew in 1914, the titles of officers in the British military in 1830, or who ruled in Bulgaria in 1620. Spend a specifically allotted amount time before you start writing getting needed details lined out, then keep yourself from going back and forth to research small tidbits as you’re writing. You’ll have a lot more words on the page at the end of the day.

One downfall of doing end-of-story research is that finding some really great piece of research might change the direction of your story just when you think you’re finished, but that’s part of the fun and interest in writing. I don’t know about you, but my characters often decide to go off on their own tangents.

And don’t become a hermit who never leaves the house to do research. Remember libraries and museums? They have vintage photographs, actual items you can look at up close and personal, and knowledgeable staff who can get you “just the facts, ma’am” in less time than it takes you to boot up your computer. If your story takes place in a fictional home town, local desert or mountains strangely similar to your own, get in the car and drive around. Chances are, you’ll see things that make your story more real.

So unless Alice is your name and Rabbits your game, stay out of the Rabbit Hole and keep on writing!

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Terri Benson was born and raised in the Grand Valley of western Colorado.  Married for nearly 35 years and counting to the same very unromantic man, and having raised 2 sons, she enjoys reading and writing historic romance and mystery to get away from the day-to-day realities of life.  In addition to writing dozens of published articles in local, regional and on-line newspapers and magazines, and award winning short stories, she enjoys camping, boating, hiking and gardening.  She doesn’t enjoy housework.  Find more about her at www.terribensonwriter.com.  Member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of American, and a great critique group.