Tag Archives: contract with reader

Spent today pitching a movie never to be filmed

READING SCREENWRITING BOOKS IS GOOD FOR NOVELISTS, TOO

It counts as research.

I’m reading – rereading in many cases – Blake Snyder’s three Save The Cat books.

These are well-known screenwriter tools, as is the Dramatica I use for plotting and character development.

The many similarities between the different forms of presenting a story allow significant crossover: a story is a story is a story. Each form is also very different from the others, because once they go out into the real world, a book and a play and a movie script are implemented differently.

But plotting Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD was not the reason for the reading. Plotting is all finished, and in the scene I’m working on right now, a movie is being pitched to one of our actors. I’m using the device of a pitch meeting to get all the information needed to understand this particular movie into the story in the most efficient way – without seeming like an info-dump.

Isn’t writing a whole movie a bit much as backdrop for a novel?

Of course it is, but you know me: if it’s going to be in the plot (and, with actors, you’re going to have movies in the plot), and I can give it verisimilitude (the appearance of actually being real), I can make you believe the one or two not real points in the rest of the plot.

Machiavellian, you say? Why, thank you.

But I’m not the only one to do things like this – heck, people in fantasies invent whole worlds and religions and ecosystems.

What attracted me to the idea is the fact that Snyder says, of the pitch:

“Poster. Logline. Simple story spine. Eager and inspired telling of the tale. Ten minutes, tops. That’s the pitch.” (p. 123, Save The Cat Strikes Back)

Which fits perfectly into my scheme to sketch out enough of this particular movie to last for the first half of NETHERWORLD, without taking up that much space in the book. After all, I’m writing a novel, not a movie.

I can trust that most people who read have seen plenty of movies, and, given the highpoints, will see a movie where there is only a ghost of one. My readers want to see people working (I hope), but they have no interest AT ALL in seeing the enormous amount of work and time it takes to produce a major motion picture.

Blake also says:

“Regardless of how you organize your story, once you’ve finished your pitch… shut up! The first one to talk loses. If you give into temptation and can’t help spewing more stuff after you’re said ‘The End,’ you are indulging in a pitching no-no called Selling Past the Close.

Shutting up

I’m going to follow his advice. What do you think of it?


*** Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is on sale for 0.99 until 1/30/17***


Thanks to Quozio for easy quote images.

It has been my privilege to pretend to be normal

An autumn sunset. Text: Too Late, A prequel short story, Pride's Children. Is it my child? Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

COVER REVEAL – TOO LATE, a Pride’s Children prequel short story

For the last few days, even though I haven’t changed, and rarely leave the house (and have done so even less than normal because the coughing reduced me to a quivering winter mess), I have had the excitement of participating, however vicariously, in the excesses of the new administration, and the marvelous Women’s marches worldwide.

It has been a privilege to be on Facebook, and write about my reactions, and pass on creative work of others. The activists knew where to start: make a BIG statement.

I like to think I would have gone, had I been able. Let’s leave it at that, so I don’t have to remember how much I hate crowds and uncertainty and noise and the feeling of not being in control which goes along with even peaceful demonstrations. And the fear of being cannon fodder should anything go wrong.

I am so proud – but I am not, by temperament or inclination, a participant or a rabble rouser or a shouter. Or a member of a group. That’s not, for better or worse, the way I think.

My charism is the individual effort

‘Charism’ is a good word, an important word. Wikipedia defines it as ‘in general denotes in Christian theology any good gift that flows from God’s love to humans.

When I was the only female student in my cohort in the joint Nuclear Engineering/Electrical Engineering/Physics PhD program at the U. Wisconsin-Madison, I wondered if God wanted me to be that, if that was my charism: to bring the presence of women to a heavily-male program, and that partly kept me working when things got hard (as graduate school does). There was a woman in the cohort ahead of me, and one behind, but it was a big program.

When I worked at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, I was one of three women PhDs – and wondered the same: was that where I was supposed to be? Again, a hotbed of male PhDs, where I learned early to identify myself as ‘Dr.Ehrhardt’ on the phone or be taken for a secretary (those same secretaries were my friends, the ones who knew me). ‘Dr.’ cut through a lot of BS.

And then I got sick, lost the physics, and became one of a whole host of women with a mystery disease (CFS) which mostly affects women. I maintained some small amount of individuality by being a homeschooler, using all that training for SOMETHING, even with no energy.

And then came writing.

It is in writing that you are truly an individual, because the kind of novels I write are NOT, in any way, a collaborative effort. I must have been struggling with that feeling of not mattering AT ALL to insist on doing everything myself.

I discovered I can do this. And I hope it will all be worth it, because the writing gives me joy, and the readers who get me, REALLY get me.

And this is what I do with my tiny bit of energy. Because there isn’t enough for both, I have to pour it all into the novels, and let other women (and men) have my admiration and support, whatever that means.

Because I am writing a trilogy about two women, one disabled, and the one man they both want – and why and how – in the backdrop of the world of entertainment, where fame is as fleeting as the last thing you did.

And I think it WILL make a difference.

Try my writing (click on the cover on the top right – 0.99 until Jan. 30. 2017). It is what I do, what makes me unique. Tell me what you think. Is it worth a woman’s life?

Write memories down or risk losing them

Autumn tree and bush. Text: What's on your trip down memory lane? Alicia Butcher EhrhardtTIME PASSES SO FAST – AND YOU CAN’T GO BACK TO TAKE PICTURES

This was in my potential blog posts, dated March 23, 2016 at 1:10 PM – and I had forgotten most of it:

“While I was napping, I was overcome with memories – memories which I am terrified of losing from my head, memories I haven’t shared or saved or written down, memories that will come from the detritus of making ourselves small to move to a CCRC*, and which I have no time to save right now.

“Memories which might be read to me in the nursing home so they would spark real memories.

“It is a huge project, even writing down what I do remember, and asking those people who still remember some of the pieces to tell me those pieces.

“The present could take so much time in locking down those memories, time I won’t have while I can still DO some things, still create a few more.

“Today I went out for daffodils, brought some in, and wonder if I took energy I don’t have – or released some restlessness that needed a place.

“And here I am writing – that takes more time.

“MY memories. For me. For our kids. But mostly for me, though I want to give them theirs – and Gary is NOT getting back to me with the digitized videotapes**.

“And I don’t have time this week anyway.

“One more thing for the To Do list.

“I could at least start, ‘An annotated Life,’ as a Scrivener project. DONE”

What you don’t write down may disappear

*A CCRC is a Continuing Care Retirement Community – and we’re planning to move to one as soon as our last chick is settled. I need the pool and gym facilities, and we need to be free of the not-fun-anymore chores of taking care of a house and yard and having to drive around for the doctor appointments.

They are not for everyone – and they are sort of permanent, so we will choose carefully.

My main concern will be quiet, and congenial people to do things with. After this last election cycle, we will be VERY careful in picking the state as well as the people.

There is something like a 50% chance of developing dementia if you live to 85, which is a sobering thought for a couple.

I’ve seen amazing things done for people with memory problems, which include photos, music, and other memory triggers. But you have to pick a place which will do that.

Before they get any older

**Even though it was a lot of work, and I was always exhausted, I took the darned camcorder everywhere, forced people to smile for the camera or the recorder.

But I never had energy for the next part: moving those precious memories to newer storage methods, making copies, annotating the contents beyond the label on the spine of the tape cassette.

By the time I really started panicking, 30 years had passed, and I had at least 18 tapes in everything from Beta to Super Hi8 (no digital!). Through Thumbtack, after posting a project, I found a person not too far away who seemed to understand what I wanted, and could do it: digitize those memories onto a state of the art hard drive.

Gary, of Films-4-good, did a wonderful job, but he had to fix our camcorder and find a beta machine (because the ones we thought we’d preserved were dead), so it took a while – and I felt the pressure of having those carefully saved memories out of my house.

They are safe now. We have five copies on five hard drives, so each kid has one – and therefore it is offsite storage. Phew! Annotation may take a while – even watching them will take a while – but the main part of the chore is done, and the relief is enormous.

Gary also processed the Butcher family movies, narrated by my Dad who is no longer with us, so I have digitized home movies and footage from the turn of the century. The TWENTIETH century – and the time of Mexican dictator Don Porfirio Diaz, with scenes from Mexico City back then, and my great-grandfather Nicolás García Colín and my great-grandmother Rosario.


Don’t delay – and keep updating.


***Pride’s Children is on sale at Amazon for the ridiculous price of 0.99 until Jan. 30.***


Did you take the pictures?

Every writer’s nightmare: corrupted Look Inside

Red Christmas ornament. Words When your sale goes wong; check, check, check; Alicia Butcher EhrhardtGOTCHA! MURPHY’S LAW STRIKES

I deliberately picked clashy colors for the image, where I normally at least try to make something catchy and attractive, because I messed up (yes, I bear full responsibility regardless of whose fault it was), and it may serve as a cautionary tale to other writers.

And as a request for forbearance for readers – don’t always assume the mess you find online is because the writer is an unprofessional idiot.

And, if you’re kind, drop the author a note, saying, “You might want to check your Look Inside feature on Amazon, because it doesn’t look right.”

Trust me, they will (should) be more than grateful.

No, you can’t do everything. No, you shouldn’t be paranoid. But I realize now I’ve seen what happened to me on other authors’ book pages on Amazon – and made that exact assumption: if an author can’t be bothered to make sure their book looks perfect on the Look Inside feature, they must not be very good at anything else, either.

Sigh.

The marvelous Look Inside! feature

After all is said and done – cover, advertising, book description – the most important action call is the Buy button that occurs at the end of your sample on Amazon, at which point the buyer makes a decision on whether you can

  1. write professionally
  2. start a story well
  3. keep interest going

All the advertising in the world doesn’t fix something badly written.

And that sample is the clincher for readers who are now skittish about books which disappoint, from having bought other books and not reading the sample.

So the sample should be pristine, with no errors of any kind. No typographical errors. No formatting errors. No spelling errors. No punctuation, capitalization, or grammar errors.

And preferably both something intriguing, and evidence at the same time that the author will satisfy the reader’s curiosity as the story goes along (as evidence by raising at least a minor question somewhere, and answering it). So, quality.

Because all readers are looking for at that point is a reason not to buy.

Don’t give them one.

A perfect upload doesn’t ensure things will STAY perfect

When I created and uploaded the files for Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, back in October of 2015, I worked my little tail off to make sure that the Look Inside feature was perfect.

Once it was, and all the previewers had satisfied me by showing exactly what I expected to see, I went live.

I then purchased the first copy, downloaded to my Kindle, and examined everything as if I were a customer.

I had done my due diligence – it looked just as I wanted it to.

And since then, I have been afraid to mess with it, because the 5 or 6 tiny typographical errors I eventually found (no book is perfect) were literally tiny – a misplaced comma, a dash which ended dialogue had its quotation mark sitting all by itself on the next line (thanks, MS Word) – and I didn’t want to take the chance of making anything worse.


Here is what happened:

Rather than attempt to tidy it all up, I will let you experience the panic, by putting in the text of the posts I made on my Goodread UK Kindle group author thread.

15 hours, 58 minutes ago:

WARNING: the look inside feature for the ebook, both US and UK (I have not yet checked the rest) is thoroughly broken – and I apologize profoundly to anyone who has looked at it, especially with a thought to possibly buying it, and found the horrible mess that I just found.

It never occurred to me (newbie gets bitten again by the obvious) that anything could change from the way it was when I uploaded it, bought the first copy, and checked it out – about a year ago.

I don’t know when this happened, but I will be spending whatever time and energy it takes to fix the disastrous formatting destruction on the Look Inside feature – the best place an author has to sell a book, because a reader can SEE whether there are problems.

I don’t know, not having bought another copy, and not recently, whether the problem is confined to the Look Inside feature, or somehow infects the copy a reader would download. My downloaded copy is exactly the way I set it up – so again, my apologies if you looked.

I didn’t do this – but it IS my fault not to have caught it sooner.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. It’s MY name on the cover.

I go to fix. Pray for me.

15 hours, 54 minutes ago:

Please note: electronic Advance Reader/Review copies should not be affected – those have never left my hands until I email them to someone.

15 hours, 52 minutes ago:

Phew! The preview here on GR is unaffected.

14 hours, 32 minutes ago:

Amazon Kindle Senior Representative confirmed it’s not my problem, and they will fix it within 24-48 hours.

I have been told by other authors, over and over, to recheck these things – and did not. Let this kerfuffle be a lesson to me to not take anything for granted.

And if it saves someone else time and panic, that would be nice.

‘Check your files periodically, as if you were a customer.’

A few minutes ago:

Amazon’s swift author support came to my aid last night – when I got up this morning, the problem with the ebook Look Inside feature (the print was never affected) for Pride’s Children: PURGATORY was fixed.

They told me last night it would take 24-48 hours, and I braced myself to worry. At 1:30 am, the formatting was still messed up when I went to bed.

The biggest relief last night was finding out that it wasn’t my fault – the file they had from me was uncorrupted.

I will probably never find out what happened, exactly, nor do I really need to know, since it wasn’t my fault, but thank you to the person who reported that the UK Look Inside was not looking good (wish I could remember where I put that notification); I checked later than I should have (I should check these things immediately), and maybe that explains why a 0.99 sale is not doing as well as I had hoped.

But all is well now, and I have learned my lesson: trust, but verify.

And it was an example of the amazing responsiveness I have received over this past year+ from the people who provide service for authors at Amazon. I’ve read of problems at B&N, and others – I’ve only had good service from A.

Admittedly, they somehow caused the problem – but I was asking them to fix it in the middle of the night.


The upshot?

It is fixed – for now.

I ran a sale without checking first (the last time I looked it was fine – really, I didn’t just not look at it for a year!).

I found out by accident that, yes, bad things can happen even if you don’t make any changes to your input files (so I should probably go fix that comma).

Someone may help you by catching a problem – and telling you about it – in which case, thank your lucky stars.

But I should have checked. I SHOULD HAVE CHECKED.

My apologies if you were affected – and hopes you will give me a second chance.


***** Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is on sale wherever ebooks are available at 0.99 (equivalent in your local currency) until the end of New Year’s Day 2017.*****

Books make great last minute presents – an email from Amazon will announce the gift.

To purchase a Kindle book as a gift (from Amazon help):
  1. From the Kindle Store, select the book you want to purchase as a gift. …
  2. On the product detail page, click the Give as a Gift button.
  3. Enter the personal email address of your gift recipient. …
  4. Enter a delivery date and an optional gift message.

The best ‘thank you’ and encouragement you can offer a blogger is to buy their book(s), especially when they do not have a Donate button.

And nobody says you have to READ them (though I hope you would).


Please comment and share your horror stories – I feel like an idiot right now, and it would be nice to have company!

There is always a new writing fear

A single red leaf on a concrete background. Words: Fear of failing. When you have something to lose. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtFEAR OF LOSING WHAT YOU HAVE IS PARALYZING

One of fear’s main jobs is keeping us safe: safe from falling, safe from making mistakes – from failing.

But, as many things, it is a more useful servant than it is a master.

I visited WriterUnboxed.com this morning, as I do most mornings, to get my brain in gear, give it time to focus, possibly preload it with something creative.

And I run smack into a blog post by Annie Neugebauer in which she talks about how to overcome the fear of making a mistake.

And not just any mistake, but the fear of falling flat on your face when taking a risk in your writing.

It is possible to miss the source of your fears

I left the following comment:

I have found that what scares you to write doesn’t often get the scary reaction – it’s more likely to be ignored, after all that courage it took to face the fear. In either case, though, you’re absolutely right: taking the dive feels good.

I’m doing that right now, diving into the fears I deliberately planted in the middle book of a trilogy – from the very beginning. I have spent years asking myself if I really had to go this route. The answer is that I do – there’s no way around it, and there’s never been a way around it.

If no one else in the world likes it or thinks it’s essential, oh well.

But now that a small number of readers have said they’re waiting for the second book, and the first one is slow, I just realized that I have been afraid of disappointing those readers! Who didn’t even exist when I started the first book.

What a concept: being able to disappoint readers.

Understand this first: the whole of what will be the Pride’s Children trilogy was meant to be, was planned out to be, a single book.

Due to my plotting with Dramatica, when the story got too long in the telling, the breakpoints to split it up were obvious (one of the great pleasures of plotting thusly), and it took very little to separate the pieces out into three volumes instead of one.

Writing Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD has not been automatic

I expected it to be easy; after all, I was just going to the next scene in a long list of scenes, and thought I would merely be doing what I always do: gather what I have assigned to the scene in Dramatica, Save the Cat, The Key…Power of Myth, The Fire in Fiction – my go-to books while writing; structure everything into a scene that ‘happens’ in time, instead of a collection of bullet points; become the character – and write.

And I’ve been baffled by how hard it’s been.

I even started a post (in draft) about how hard the first scene was to write (short version: a new kind of scene required some new thinking).

But it wasn’t until this morning, after Annie’s questions:

What scary drop have you been avoiding?

and

And are you willing to accept any bruises or ego dents that may come?

that I realize what was going on: a brand new kind of fear, one I’d been vaguely aware of, but hadn’t fully engaged with.

I may get reassurances on this one, of the “I’ll like anything you write” or “Whatever you’re planning can’t be that bad,” from my friends who really believe that, and have taken risks of their own.

Facing reality may not change it

But those reactions are promises made to a future which doesn’t exist yet. When making the comment – and encouraging writers to take the risks – readers and other writers don’t know what they’re endorsing: they are writing a blank check.

If I blithely accept the recommendation to keep going – it could still turn out to be something my readers hate.

All I can say at this point is that it is built into the story from the beginning, and if you liked PURGATORY, you have already bought into the foreshadowed premise, whether you know it yet or not.

If you don’t like it, remember it was a choice made with full realization that it is dangerous – and that I tried my darndest to make sure it was the best choice. The only choice I have is to write it as well as I can – and to be as accurate as I can be to the mind of the character I’m writing in.

I am trying to sneak it past the reader, which, paradoxically, may require mentioning it early, and then being almost too subtle.

You just gotta trust the writer

I remember being delighted by a comment in a review:

I honestly don’t know how to explain the grip this book had on me from the first. I couldn’t stop reading it, and I wanted it never to end. I’ve read other books that affected me this way, but the authors always hurt the spell by tossing a plot bomb in through the window. Ehrhardt may do that before the trilogy is over, I can’t see the future, but she doesn’t do it in this book.

That’s, of course, one of the readers I don’t want to disappoint, who were kind enough to say I knew how to finish a book.

Maybe, when it’s all finished, I will describe why it must be the way it is.

I hope it will gain more readers than it loses me. If not, I am still writing this trilogy for me.

As a reader, what do you do when the ending of a book doesn’t satisfy you?

As a writer, have you come to this place?

Comments are most welcome.


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create ten images a month – for free. If I ever need more, I will be using them.

Also, thanks to Blasty for helping me try to remove unauthorized downloads of Pride’s Children from Google search results. They are looking for more free beta readers to help them finish figuring out their methods. They have removed over 2000 infringements already for me. I mind, because I don’t want my work enticing readers to phishing sites. If you want to read for free, ask for an electronic Review Copy and consider writing a review.

Pride’s Children’s rankings after a year

pc-1-yr-sales-rankSALES RANK

pc-1-yr-kindle-romance-contemporaryKINDLE, CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

pc-1-yr-kindle-litfic-literaryKINDLE, LITERARY FICTION

pc-1-yr-author-rank

AUTHOR RANK

IT’S BEEN AN ODD YEAR AS A FIRST-TIME PUBLISHED NOVELIST

None of my sales have done much.

Word of mouth has been how most of the sales came about.

I am basically hand-selling to people I meet who also seem to have reading habits that mean they might like PC.

Now that I have a decent, if small, number of reviews (25), with at least one at every star ranking, I will be trying a few Fussy Librarian offers, to try to reach people outside of my immediate circle. If FL will have me.

KU, which I had high hopes for, has been a dud. Being in or out hasn’t made much difference.

The last Kindle Countdown Deal sold two copies (0.99 – so I got 0.67 each). Definitely not worth the effort.

Goodreads has provided friends – one or two sales; ditto FB and Wattpad. I have sent out a LOT of review copies (just ask – I will send you one). Everyone says I’m pricing wrong, but the 0.99 sales do nothing – and you can always have a free review copy!

I’m sure this is the way beginners start; I also spent way too much time watching it happen, as I’m sure many beginners do.

I’m well started with PC: NETHERWORLD, the middle book in the trilogy, full of surprises (if you can trust me).

And it’s been otherwise a very crazy year, so I think I’m going to put my head down (as soon as I can for sure is next Wednesday), and write, and try not to panic. Careers last a long time.

I liked the pretty graphs – and a year seemed to be a good time to review the results.

Oh, and I’ve sold, I believe, 7 paper copies.

I have avoided advertising which focuses on me, and kept it on story and writing (except for the online ME/CFS group where they already know me, and this blog, of course). I don’t know if that’s wise, but it is a one-way street to move into talking about a disabled writer, which does funny things to most people’s minds (such as lowering standards, and expecting inspiration, and just plain not wanting to read) which I’d rather avoid. On the other hand, an awful lot of books come out every year.

Hope this next 12 months works a bit better.

ETA: Author Rank pic.

 

The new impostor syndrome: redefining the literary genre

Single perfect yellow bloom with the words: Quality - who decides. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtRANTING ABOUT CATEGORIES GETS YOU NOTHING

It is funny how the meanings of things change, and with the change, a whole cascade of other meanings change.

Critics have quoted a ‘tsunami of crap’ as coming from the new self-publishing authors; defenders have responded with versions of Sturgeon’s Law: ‘90% of indie/SP/SF/… is crap, but 90% of everything is crap.’

The percentage varies according to the viewpoint and attitude of the critic.

Is literary the new mainstream?

But I digress from the point I wanted to make, and which I’ve mentioned before: that the category my writing used to fit into naturally, mainstream commercial fiction – set in the present or near past, with realistic settings, dealing with current human problems – has disappeared, leaving me with no category to put my non-genre fiction in – except General Fiction.

General Fiction covers too much ground, and makes no implications of complexity or quality.

Those of us in this position who aim for complexity and quality are thus, perforce, labeling ourselves ‘Literary Fiction.’

And ‘literary fiction’ is now considered a genre, much like science fiction or paranormal romance or mystery/thriller.

Who are the ‘literary’ writers?

Which puts me in an odd position of ‘competing’ with the likes of Saul Bellow, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie – who are highly literate types of the kind who publish in literary magazines and are pushed by literary small publishers and not expected, necessarily, to sell much. But who may aspire to Nobel prizes in Literature, and the Pulitzer Prize.

Or with the likes of Donna Tartt and The Goldfinch, a ‘literary’ anomaly in that it sold millions of copies.

I feel like an impostor when compared with what I used to assume were the literary writers. I feel less of an impostor when compared with the books that have done the same as mine, crowding into the literary category, but not necessarily supported by the MFA or the professorship in English Literature which used to be de rigeur, credentials I don’t have.

What the ‘real’ traditional practitioners of literary fiction think of this travesty, I can only imagine. It was hard enough competing against all those MFA graduates for the limited number of poorly-paying slots in literary magazines with tiny distribution but with prestige, and now they have to compete with all those upstarts who should have been weeded out firmly by the editors at the publishing houses who were known for publishing literary works.

But, HISTORY…!

Possibly, I am reversing an earlier unfortunate trend, in which authors such as Charlotte Brontë wrote ‘a novel’ such as Jane Eyre, which has now become a ‘literary’ classic. They used what they knew: an education in the classics, including Greek and Latin, would have been natural for a parson’s children; their writing reflected who they were, what they’d read, how their world was organized. They were not aiming for ‘literary’ – but simply wrote with the care and knowledge that would be common to their position in society and their level of education.

That education would have been based on reading widely; there may lie the root of my comfort with the idea of classifying my writing as, among other things, literary. My youth was spent reading everything I could get my hands on – including much of what is now considered literary canon.

I found, though, that I did not like a lot of the more modern work. I read Toni Morrison and The Color Purple and Seize the Day and hated their preciousness in focusing on language to the exclusion of plot and characters I could identify with (yes, that makes me a heathen). I read Down and Out in Paris and London, which I liked, but can’t get past page one of Ulysses.

Categories change; we change with them

So I’ve decided not to worry about impostor syndrome and calling myself literary, and assume that the category is broadened, by necessity, to accept us johnnies-come-lately who actually may be hewing to the earlier, classical meaning of novelist – one who writes stories – without going so far as to kick the others off the high end of the island (those who write stories I can’t read because they seem to be missing the ‘story’ part).

De gustibus non est disputandum (no accounting for taste). There’s room for all of us, and, in this day of algorithms, we must make some accommodation for others so we may all be found at Amazon.

We indie literaries probably escape the notice of those who are firmly in the publishing grasp of the real literary publishers, anyway. But I’ve stopped worrying about being an impostor – because I care about the results.

Are you categorizing your writing as ‘literary’? Do you find reading material with ‘literary’ as a keyword? What do you believe the literary writer promises the reader?

Do you like your books pessimistic or optimistic?

Mountains, lake, trees. Words: Should fiction lift your spirits? Alicia Butcher EhrhardtWHAT DOES READING FOR PLEASURE MEAN TO YOU?

Why do we read?

To learn about the world and to learn about our potentialities as humans.

Really.

To read a book is to live part of another life.

To learn something new.

For relaxation.

For a vicarious adventure.

For pleasure.

Okay, so what KIND of books?

Optimist or pessimist? is a question I ask books.

Even horrible books can raise spirits, especially by the end of the book. The Diary of Anne Frank does that.

Is your book ultimately depressing or uplifting?

It’s a value judgment.

A depressing book – depressing author?

Doing some research, I spent time reading the Top Reviews for Karin Slaughter’s Pretty Girls (2016).

‘Top reviewers’ on Amazon are the ones who get the most comments or upvotes; the first four pages with that option selected had negative after negative reviews (it wasn’t until page 4 that I found two short positive reviews, from readers), many of those from reviewers you would love to get to read your book: Top 500, Top 1000, Vine Voice…

And those reviewers were appalled at the violence against women that was graphically depicted, over and over. ‘Gratuitous’ was used as a descriptor.

Many commented that the writing was good or adequate or competent (workmanlike would have been my assessment, from reading the Look Inside sample provided), but that the choice of subject matter left them sick to their stomach.

Ms. Slaughter is a NYT bestseller.

Apparently, previous books she wrote were not nearly as negative as this one; but many of these reviewers commented they would not read another of her books.

Some commented they wished they could scrub their minds of the images, for which they could find no socially redeeming reasons.

Me, I wondered why they continued reading, even if they skimmed.

The optimistic book – optimistic authors?

And I don’t mean just sappy and inspirational, with ready-made solutions to the world’s problems.

SF can be pessimistic (dystopias) or optimistic.

Romance is usually optimistic, and those fans who like to read Romance want their ‘happily ever after’ (HEA) ending, and can be very unhappy with writers who don’t provide one. There is a subset of books which end, not with an HEA, but with a ‘happy for now’ (HFN). These books are still hopeful, but possibly more realistic – and also possibly open to sequels.

Jane Eyre is optimistic. Silas Marner is optimistic.

Huckleberry Finn is optimistic. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Heinlein) is optimistic.

Thrillers and mysteries can be all over the map – but do deal with the grittier side of life, and more often are pessimistic or neutral, but possibly with an optimistic undertone, say, to a continuing detective’s life.

A special category is the detective who finds happiness

My favorite, obviously, is the definitely HEA ending of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels, ending with Busman’s Honeymoon, where Peter and Harriet marry, finally, and solve one last real mystery which sets the tone for their married life. Sayers wrote only two short stories about the pair and their children after that, even though her series was popular and is still popular now.

During all the novels, there was still an optimistic cast to the series: there was a right and wrong, people had principles, and there were consequences – but mysteries were solved and things set ‘right’ where possible. Sayers went on to write theology, so her stories were optimistic because she believed in the possibility.

You read what you like

And I don’t like ultimately pessimistic books.

Almost every genre can be written either way; even serial killer Dexter is optimistic.

I just want to know that, at the end of the book, things are, or have the potential of being, better.

That covers a lot of territory, but the thing in a book that makes me pick another book by an author is that there was hope at the end.

And you write the same way

The road to happiness for Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey is a rocky one. But when he asks her, on their honeymoon, if she finds life, on the whole, good, she answers,

“Yes! I’ve always felt absolutely certain it was good–if only one could get it straightened out. I’ve hated almost everything that has happened to me, but I knew all the time it was just things that were wrong, not everything….Things have come straight. I always knew they would if one hung on long enough, waiting for a miracle…”

I haven’t the slightest reservation about Pride’s Children. It is an optimistic book.

Not easy. Not simple. Not fast. And you may have to trust me for a while.

It makes a difference to me.


Are you an optimist or a pessimist? And does it show in what you read and/or write?

Data mining for the critical book description

Teddy bear with sign Looking for friend; Words: Help refine the book description; Author: Alicia Butcher EhrhardtCROWD-SOURCING IS THE NEW GOLD STANDARD

The purpose of a book description

The description of a book should do one thing, and one thing only: get a reader to click further.

The click may be to the book’s page on Amazon, to a Buy link, or to the Look Inside feature on Amazon. The next material seen, if it’s not the book, already downloaded onto a Kindle or Kindle app or a book in the mail, has to continue the process, but the first click which lands in a place the reader can make a decision should have an irresistible ‘Call to Action.’

The book description is the beginning of the words that form the Contract with the Reader.

Why fiddle with the book description after spending so much time crafting it?

At this point in the development of marketing for Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, the book description, originally crafted to attract the kind of reader I thought would like it, someone exactly like me (!), isn’t working.

Plus that turned out to be wrong: there is something that unites the merry band, a sensitivity perhaps to the way I’ve chosen to tell a story, or to something in the characters themselves, but I haven’t isolated it yet.

My gentle description of what is an intense book full of unexpected shadows is too mild. It expects too much of the general reader – and is not helping convert those who might reach the description into possible readers of the book.

Advertising – the soggy ground

The field of advertising is one I don’t wish to plow, because of the energy it takes to generate a hundred concepts until a few seem ‘possible,’ and then to refine the gold in those into ‘probable,’ and continue working an ad into ‘Yes!’

Companies spend a lot of money on advertising. I have neither the money – nor the time. So I’ve resisted doing the work.

I tell myself, ‘Finish the next book – then this one will sell.’ I think, ‘It’s good enough,’ or ‘The description is accurate,’ or ‘It doesn’t matter what I do.’

And maybe I’m expecting too much – and all this is moot.

But an ad I crafted for a summer issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly netted exactly one sale. I’m not getting it right.

Are there stones left unturned?

There are books out there whose readers I want, and I haven’t mined them yet to see whether there’s something I can use. Amazon has oodles of data – the whole book’s page is stuffed with information. Some of it I can’t get easily (or within my budget, such as Kirkus review) because the big publishers need a staff to do that for the books they’ve decided to push, and my staff consists of me.

‘Editorial Reviews’ can contain some pretty heavy hitters (‘Stephen King recommends that if you read one book this year…’) I don’t have access to – whether anyone reads the blurbs or not.

And I haven’t mined the 24 reviews, 21 of them positive, to really hear what my readers have said. The ones I already attracted, and who were impressed enough (yeah, I’m going with that explanation for now, rather than the chain-gang one) to write a review.

I intend to start doing this.

Especially the first: if I think Pride’s Children would attract readers who either liked, for example, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, or who specifically didn’t like it because of perceived flaws, I need to be spending some time looking at the description the copywriters at the big publisher produced for the book, and what the book’s readers have left in the reviews they wrote. I’ve done some of that – it could use a serious go-around.

That’s work I will do on my own.

You, my blog readers, have been kind

But I also want to ask my blog readers whether they think I’m doing the advertising part wrong – and what they think might work better.

Feel free to do one of two things:
1) Think for a minute and tell me what attracted you to read Pride’s Children, if you did, and
2) Anything you haven’t already told me about what I’m not doing right. Because I have saved, and will be rereading everything anyone already sent.

I have my own small data bank – that cache of all the words I’ve received already, kind or caustic – plus the reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and blogs, and I think I’m ready to do some more digging.

Email privately (abehrhardt [at] gmail [dot] com) if this blog is too public for you. I promise not to publish anything identifiable! And I’ll be taking suggestions in the helpful intent they’re offered. No hurt feelings.

For blog responses, here’s the easy link (no scrolling back up).


PS: price and cover are not up for discussion in this round – they are separate issues. I’ll reexamine both eventually, but right now I’m concerned with book description and ad copy. Just the words.

PPS: Don’t worry, writing NETHERWORLD is still my first priority. If you were worried.

Choose reading carefully for maximum satisfaction

A runner with the words STOP The reader is the starting pointARE WE GOING TO HAVE A READER VS. WRITER PROBLEM?

General warnings:

If you don’t like epic mainstream commercial fiction (i.e., ‘big books’), you should think a bit before you start, or you might have to make some adjustments along the way. I’m not going to tell you what you can read and can’t read (note carefully this is not on the book’s site, which should contain nothing but praise and happy customers’ reactions).

If you don’t like the epigraphs at the beginning of the chapters in Pride’s Children, you can skip them. All of them, the long ones, only the ones that are Kary’s writing, or the biblical ones – whatever you want to skip. I won’t stop you. Epigraphs in general are sort of pretentious, aren’t they?

At the same time, feel free to ignore the Chapter titles – they probably don’t add anything to your reading, and are just the author pretending to be refined. Too mysterious by half, just decoration. Skip.

If you don’t like prologues, you can skip mine. You will miss a few tiny pieces of critical information tucked into a single-page, 145 word piece, but it’s definitely your choice if you don’t like prologues. Besides, some of that won’t even be relevant until the second or third book of the trilogy, and you’re not going to remember it anyway. Skip without a thought.

Character warnings:

If you don’t like third-person multiple point of view, we’re going to have a major problem, because that’s the choice I’ve made for how the story is told, and it isn’t easy to change, though you might just tell yourself it’s omniscient pov done poorly, and live with it. Three first-person povs, rotating, seemed more awkward, so I chose three third-person ones.

There may be a problem with too many characters. I stopped counting after about 50. Just ignore the minor ones and you’ll get most of the story. If they’re important, they’ll come up again. If not, why bother remembering them? If you don’t want to read about disability in your characters, you might want to skip the whole thing anyway, and look for books with young, hot, healthy characters – all of them.

Many people aren’t all that happy spending time with Bianca. Her scenes are clearly marked, so if you want, you can just skip those. You probably get plenty of her in the scenes by the other characters anyway.

Writing warnings:

Don’t like big paragraphs of mixed dialogue and interior monologue, some direct and the rest indirect? Feel free to pick up the dialogue bits (they’re marked with double quotes, single quotes when it’s remembered dialogue), and skip/skim the rest. Your choice. There are all kinds of annoying bits that foreshadow things that won’t happen for a long time, anyway.

Don’t like paragraphs of pure description of which you think there are too many? Skip ahead – don’t worry that there might be something buried in those descriptions that will add to the story. They’re probably window-dressing, the author showing off she knows many words for sky color.

After all, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is a whopping 167,000 words, and they can’t possibly all be relevant to the story, and you usually skip the boring parts, so skip ahead freely, without a qualm.

Don’t pay too much attention to the language – it really is a little bit much, and it would have been much better if the author learned to ‘write simple.’ Maybe she will by the next book. If you bother to read that one. Skip the part about context.

Plotting warnings:

If you’re still going to be unhappy that he and she (not telling which she) don’t get together and have hot monkey sex sooner, feel free to skim until you find the parts you like to read. It won’t bother me anyway, since I won’t know unless you decide to write about it in a review, and then you don’t really have to put your name on the review, so it’s no biggie.

You can even tell everyone you didn’t like PURGATORY, and aren’t planning to read NETHERWORLD and whatever I decide to call the third book in the trilogy. Besides, trilogies are too long. Fine with me – I am happy for you to have your own tastes and opinions, and truly believe they are just as good as mine.

I’m not sure I can help at this point if some of this stuff seems confusing, there are too many characters, the story seems to keep getting disconnected, and many pieces just plain don’t make sense, though.

I wish you much happy reading with other books more to your taste if you don’t like mine.


Still want to read? Or should I have warned you before you already read?

5W+H newspaper method gels writing beat

different wayI HAVE SIX FRIENDS THAT HELP ME WRITE

Every once in a while I get myself into a jam, and, though I think I have every thing I need in writing a piece of a scene, it fails to gel, I feel frustrated and tied in knots, and I keep going at it from all directions, starting and restarting the section without getting to a coherent flow.

I tried an old newspaper trick this morning.

Newspaper reporters have to make it fast and easy for a reader to engage with a story, get the basic information into the reader before she does the pre-computer equivalent of clicking on something else to read: giving up on one story, and finding either another one to read or moving on to the rest of her day.

Your English teacher probably taught you this, too (I didn’t have an English teacher, so maybe that’s why I came to this in a roundabout way).

It’s called 5W + H.

And it means, you recall, supplying the six pieces of information the reader needs to lodge the basics of the story in his head:

  • Who – people present or necessary to the story
  • Where – setting
  • What – is going on (the plot)
  • When – time, time frame, sequence
  • Why – are you telling this story? Why did they do it?
  • How – the plot reaches resolution, and the information is transferred securely into the reader’s head.

The order doesn’t really matter as long as, after a very brief period, the reader has enough to interest him to keep reading the details.

TV news people usually drag this out as long as possible, especially if there have been little advance hints all day (news at 11) – and now they have to supply the goods. They tease you along with the less interesting bits, finally supplying the actual meat of the story (which is often anticlimactic – I waited up past my bedtime for this?) after as many commercials as possible, when they could have ‘informed’ you the first time you heard about the story.

Writers can’t afford this – the reader won’t stick around.

For the writer of FICTION

The problem for a writer is when the dramatic pieces want to come first – the startling headline, the shocking news – but they won’t make sense without the more informational bits.

Readers have an empty gray-goo area in the brain, a formless void, when they approach a new story, and it has to be filled in quickly.

If you don’t reveal that this shocking dog’s death occurred, not in their neighborhood, but in Manila, they will 1) assume it’s local, and 2) be annoyed at you when they find out it’s not.

So the system is: shocker, fill in the absolutely necessary stuff to orient the reader, more shocking details.

But it’s not the reader’s job to avoid the confusion: it’s the writer’s job.

LEAD with the emotions

Life is boring – readers need vicarious experiences.

We are, as Lisa Kron says in Wired for Story, primed to absorb new information that we need.

Need is critical: grab readers by the emotions, and supply the details as quickly and efficiently as possible, and they will follow.

What I figured out was that I’m relatively good at doing these steps in a normal scene – hook, set the scene, supply story, leave cliffhanger of at least one question so the reader will read the next scene.

But not when I get tricky – for good story reasons – and try to cram a lot into the piece of scene.

Then I need to stop, make sure the 5W+H are provided asap, and choreograph the presentation of story information in the most effective way I can. Deliberately. As if I had a news desk editor with a lot of experience to satisfy, and the pickiest readers.

The contract with the reader

Lead the reader down the garden path, as it were, until we find the dead body.

If you can do this in a tricky case, it improves the facility for doing it in normal situations.

It comes down, after you’ve identified the 5W + H:

DON’T CONFUSE THE READER – FOR VERY LONG.

Just as soon as the reader starts to think all this is a bit too much, it GELS.

Because the critical information is all there.

And the reader is no longer confused, the dreaded info drop has been avoided, and the story is firmly lodged (one hopes) back in the reader’s brain.

The analytical side of my brain is very pleased with itself – the artistic side is chomping at the bit.

The details? You’ll eventually have to read Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD to grade my performance, but I can tell you the bit is the beginning of the second scene; it involves four people and four different settings; there is a tiny necessary shift in the timeline; the formatting helps (Lord knows how I’m going to do this in the audiobook version); and, if I do it right, it will bring you right back into the story with very little ’splainin’ (think Ricky Ricardo and I Love Lucy: “Lucy! You got some ’splainin’ to do!”).

Trust me, the other way was long and boring.

What say you? I love discussion.


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create images for posts.

 

Blogging topics can turn too serious

where are we goingGOING DEEPER OR GOING HOME

Blogging is optional. No one pays you for posting on a blog like this one, you have promised no one anything you must deliver, and the posts usually reflect what’s going on in your chosen topics.

This has mostly been my writing blog and my CFS blog, and they go together because many of the things I do as a writer, except for the actual writing, are affected by CFS and low energy and brain fog.

When I say, not ‘the actual writing,’ it’s because that part is still as much a mystery as when I started. The preparation is tailored to me and my damaged brain – so I can operate on very small chunks of material at a time, and still end up with a coherent whole.

But the writing – the actual words that come out, sit on the ‘page,’ and are chosen to stay in the final product –  that is something that just comes when the prep is finished. This post is not about my fiction.

Blogging is different from writing fiction

Up until now, when I had something to say about the things I was learning as a writer or a person living with CFS, I would come up with an idea, sit and write about it for a while, clean it up a bit and add some headings, and voilà, blog post.

Like sitting down, and dumping my opinionated opinion on someone who happened to ask, “What do you think about…?” and then sat and recorded what I said. I often clarified my thinking about something – or organized a proper set of steps to do something (quite different usually from the chaotic way I figured it out) – as I wrote.

These were easy.

Images became de rigueur – so I added some

I’ve added a few photos I took and occasionally worked on. I used programs such as Quozio and Stencil which had free and easy ways to make a few easy quotes and images.

And I’ve created specific images with Pixelmator, as necessary, to illustrate how I do something.

Nothing fancy, but that has been uncomplicated.

Something’s changed, and I’m chewing on what that means

Most of this blogging occurred during the writing and launching of my first published novel, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY.

As a newbie, I first looked mostly online, and some in books, for instructions on how to do things involved in getting a book ‘up there’ on Amazon. If I didn’t find something that worked for me already described, I wrote it up.

Because I have a Mac, and don’t use Word any more for most of the writing, and am not learning Photoshop or GIMP, my solutions were often different – and I wrote about them.

There’s nothing unusual in that among bloggers.

How deep is too deep for a purveyor of fiction?

But now I have 30-40 blog posts that I’ve started – and nothing is coming out of my fingertips.

Thinking about it some gave me the insight that a good number of these abortive topics are ones where I’m getting in a lot deeper than I intended to get on a blog.

Opinions that I hold are coming out of the depths – and I am not naive: I know these are controversial, argumentative, and not bland.

I think that’s why I’m not finishing these posts and posting them. I keep thinking: if I say this, it’s out there forever. Potential readers can find it, and may not read me because of my opinions.

Other people are controversial, but I haven’t been, not out loud. Partly because it takes way too much energy to deal with the controversies in our modern world. If you’ve read my fiction, you’ve probably figured out that I hold opinions that are considered somewhat old-fashioned. But in fiction the ideas are expressed with some subtlety, through characters pro and con, not stated overtly.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do

I like blogging. I like the people who pop by and enter the conversation. I have a variety of new friends since I started commenting on the publishing blogs, and then blogging myself.

But I’m not sure if I’m ready for the consequences of the topics I keep coming up with since I have moved beyond the stage of getting a book actually finished and published.

It’s not that I don’t stand by those opinions. If I don’t feel like entering the fray, I could cut off comments, not approve commenters, or not engage – all valid blogging strategies.

It’s that I shy away from publicly stating that I hold any ONE position – which divides the world into us and them.

Going back to basics: why do I blog?

The original thought was the common one: blog, people will get to know you, and when you publish, there will be a group of people out there who already like your writing, and will try your books/stories.

It doesn’t work like that, at least not with this kind of blog.

That’s more like an Author page – or a Book page – where the main purpose is to let your fans know when the next book comes out because they want to know. Most of those readers are not going to engage with the author on other subjects. They like the book(s), not necessarily the writer and her opinions on writerly topics.

I visit regularly a number of writing blogs. I comment when it seems appropriate. But I don’t buy the books that come out of the same writers often – because they are not, and were never, my kind of book. I still have a lovely horror story I bought because I loved the cover – but I don’t and won’t read horror because I can’t get it out of my head.

Some writing topics are common to all stories; I read those posts. Some publishing or formatting or editing topics are common to all writers; I read those posts.

The future of my blogging is: I don’t know

The internet is forever. If I put posts out, they will be there, part of me, characterizing me, for anyone to read.

I may lose interest in staying relatively informational and bland after I finish my silly little set of Author Photo posts.

I am NOT going to post scenes of NETHERWORLD as I finish them. That I know for sure. I was a huge effort, it worked when I needed a little commitment to keep me going at a couple of tough spots – because I had promised, not because readers were clamoring.

I’m not going to publish much new fiction on my blog, except for adding a few Drabbles I’ve written for something else to the ‘short stories’ tab. I’ve learned that I don’t go to people’s blogs to read their fiction.

So the answer is that I have no idea how this is going to play out – and that’s why I haven’t been posting nearly as frequently. I think that happens to bloggers a lot – when I came to the blogs, Joe Konrath published rants almost every other day, and Hugh Howey’s posts were very different from what they’ve been lately. The only fixed lighthouse has been ThePassiveVoice, and even that has been changing subtly lately.

Maybe the whole thing was fueled by the need to share, to pull more people into self-publishing by showing them how. I came to that party late.

My ‘how to’ posts fit in that category, even though I realized a while back that NOBODY writes the same way I do. They’re quaint when viewed through that lens. I have no followers for my methods, so I failed there. Even though I wasn’t trying to get ‘converts,’ I didn’t realize until I’d been out there a while how very different my methods are. I hope I have provided a few laughs and head-shaking moments for some entertainment value. SP is common now; we are taking down the barricades and coming down from the ramparts.

Bottom line?

Bear with me as I figure it out.

Tell me which posts you’ve liked and would read more of.

Tell me what you think you would do, if you were me.

Tell me you’ve been waiting to hear the controversial stuff. Or think there’s plenty of that out there already, and find my blandness soothing.

Because I haven’t the faintest idea how to break this streak of unfinished posts except by writing them, and it will be a lot of work, and I’m not sure anyone wants them.


What say you?

Is it a mistake to gut your readers emotionally?

ride of lifeOR IS IT YOUR JOB AS A WRITER?

To give them the biggest emotional journey you can, the most stress and pain they can take vicariously?

At least, it is your job to consider their feelings – and how you’re going to invoke them – if not as you write, then at least before you publish.

You owe your readers a thorough exploration of the questions raised by the story. If you present one action, and only one reaction, you’re preaching. Which is fine as long as you know what you’re doing, and some writers and readers are perfectly fine with that.

But not me.

Mountains, anyone?

Real-life choices are made with options. Fictional choices are made with a lot MORE options. Just because writers can. There is no budget needed when a writer says, “Overnight, a mountain had moved in front of her window.” A few black marks and it’s done. Less than a minute of writing time, and we have a new mountain, right where I say it is.

So there’s no excuse such as “it’s too expensive” or “where am I going to get a mountain?”

Since I write realistic fiction, I do have limits that I choose (and shouldn’t use dream sequences with new mountains very often). But the mountains of K’Tae, where Kary sets her SF novel (if you’ve read Pride’s Children, you know what I’m talking about; if not) were necessary for her plot on an inhospitable planet, and cost me practically nothing. Nice, eh?

Readers’ reactions to roller coasters, emotional

Leaving out those who like their fiction tame, and those who prefer a lot of physical action, gives me readers who want to know how the appearance on a single TV interview can make such a difference in the life of a woman who normally hides, due to a carefully managed illness, from any publicity. How much can she take? What does it do to her? How does she cope before, during, and after a roller coaster comes into her life?

Do we want her to get off? Do we care where the ride stops? Is it even a possible ride for her and the other people involved?

Readers deserve an author who takes into account their emotional journey, presents each relevant event as the only possible next event, has a sequence of emotions calculated to lead them through a scene, chapter, book in an inexorable progress (Noooo!) to the only possible end to the story, and then dumps them at the station wanting more.

Margaret Mitchell did that continuously through a very long Gone With the Wind, and left us at the end wanting the more which either she didn’t plan to write, or didn’t get the chance to. And which was so badly mishandled by the writer her estate hired to do the sequel that I won’t mention it – which disappointed many.

How to engineer a roller coaster:

Planning, planning, and more planning is how I do it.

My tools (the books I consult most frequently while setting the journey up) are:

  1. Writing the Blockbuster novel, in which Albert Zuckerman masterfully takes apart several important and well known scenes (from The Godfather, GWTW, and Ken Follett’s The Man from St. Petersburg) showing how it’s done.
  2. The Fire in Fiction, in which Donald Maass carefully shows how to create conflict in every element of a scene (from landscaping to literally nothing happening).
  3. Wired for Story, where Lisa Kron shows how to make a reader empathize with a character with a thorough understanding of how the human brain works, and how we feel.

I start a scene, for example, by asking myself what the character needs to go through emotionally for the scene to work for me.

Then I start working out whether some of the emotions cluster in groups. If so, a smooth transition from feeling to feeling within a group gets planned.

I ask myself where the scene starts, what the emotional changes in the character have to be, and where the character needs to end.

Once I have the character’s path and the actual events working to give a transition which makes some kind of sense, I work out how to get a reader to identify – and take the same journey. It has to be a believable journey. In real life, people go through circular emotional journeys, coming back again to the same thing, over and over, repeating themselves. If you do that in fiction, readers will notice.

You don’t get to take that trip in fiction because it’s boring. Once a character achieves insight over something, the reader expects him to remember that insight.

That’s because stories are the highlights of life, condensed, told as quickly as possible so that readers can get many vicarious lives. My kind of stories, anyway.

Relevance?

That’s where I’m at right now: writing the very first scene in Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD. In the midst of taking the reader expectations left at the end of PURGATORY into account, setting a new direction for the next level of exploration, making sure the reader gets dragged into Andrew’s head for the battle (yes, Book 2 starts with Andrew), making sure a few old questions get answered, and even more new questions get lodged in the reader’s consciousness, and planning that very long ride up from the station to the tip top of the track and then…?

Thing is, the starting point is partly determined by where Book 1 ended, and where I know Book 2 ends and Book 3 begins.

But I know it has to kick things up to a new level, so I get out my trusty software tools, and my slow brain, dump all the marketing and promotion stuff which has been bedeviling my existence, and start chuckling at what I’m planning to do.

Because the Roller Coaster Designer gets to take the ride over and over and over until it’s as good as she can make it.

Gentle Reader: do you like roller coasters?


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to make up to 10 free images per month. I’ve enjoyed using their easy tools – and every month they give me new choices. I will get a paid account as soon as I need more images – I’ve only explored the surface of what’s available.


I you like my prose, consider purchasing my fiction. It’s written by the same person.

I’m planning to put up a few short stories in a polished form as soon as I can create covers.

Creating and improving the dreaded Author Photo: Part 2

look like 2CHOOSE YOUR GOAL: HOW SHOULD YOUR READERS SEE YOU?

This is a toughie, because we would prefer to be attractive naturally (‘attractive’ here meaning strictly to find more readers who will like your writing), and then any picture would do.

So you have to instead suss out what those readers expect to see, and trust to produce the kind of writing they like to read.

You can go with mysterious, and skip all forms of visual presence. Your choice. Which will be destroyed if you ever get interviewed, do a book signing, go to a convention – and someone takes a photo of the ‘mysterious author’ and makes it public.

“But,” you say, “I never go out in public.” Like me. Okay, not never, just rarely. Maybe then it’s even MORE important to have a photo you like be your representative out in the world.

I’m sure it varies widely by genre, and a fresh-faced young beautiful blonde girl would lack the picture creds to write a really nasty military thriller conspiracy. We trust Stephen King to write horror – he LOOKS like he writes horror. We have these ideas in our head…

If you don’t look like the stereotype, can you modify yourself to look like the stereotype? No.

Can you modify your PHOTO to look like the stereotype? Yes.

Determining the stereotype requires a bit of detective work

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is a mainstream contemporary literary love story.

Here’s my analysis:

  • The author of such doesn’t have to be as pretty as the author of a Romance (who should at least look a bit like her (usually young and beautiful) heroine).
  • She should be older than the ‘pretty young thing,’ but maybe not ‘old.’
  • She should be smiling. Love, after all, makes us happy. But not grinning.
  • She should NOT look like a business person, yet she should look competent. She will be your guide on an adventure.
  • She should be slightly soft, rather than hard.
  • She should not look deeply worried.
  • She should definitely not look realistic, warts and all.
  • She should be dressed in something that does NOT signal Romance or Romance writer (think of Meryl Streep in She-Devil with Rosanne Barr – go look; I’ll wait). Nor should she dress like Roseanne Barr on that poster (which is a parody of the Romance-reading suburban housewife). Roseanne Barr is a beautiful woman, and so is Kathy Bates, but they have made a career out of allowing themselves to be portrayed as ugly or frumpy – I’ve been startled by how well they clean up!

How does this translate to what I hope to aim for in the Author Photo?

Plan to ‘airbrush’ or ‘retouch’ the heck out of anything I choose. This is not the time to be starkly realistic.

Plan to pick a background to enhance the person; here’s the Kristin Hannah photo on Amazon – if I looked like her… but older? A really good makeup session, and a really good photographer would do that for me. The choice of clothing and the background combination bring out her eyes beautifully.

A forward-facing but slightly un-centered and three-quarter body position is better than one squarely facing the camera, like a mug shot or a photo for a job application.

Look directly at the reader. Readers need to be able to trust the writer of an improbable tale.

Smiling, but not grinning.

No plastic hair for this – enough said? Soft, flowing, but tidy, a frame for the face. This part is me: no bangs/fringe. Not too much hair obscuring the face. No hint of hiding.

And, of course, the EXPRESSION – the overall ‘feel’ of the image – has to be right. And no, I can’t define ‘right’ in this context; I hope I’ll know it if I see it. It’s not just ‘pretty’ or ‘confident’ or ‘competent.’

It’s the same reason I licensed the photo for the cover that I chose: I could not find another that had the right ‘expression’ as a whole – and that one worked for me, though in that case the face is not visible – it’s the whole body and body position that expresses the longing.

Okay now – skillset? Acquire or farm out?


CAUTION

*** This is how a PWC* is doing this, not how you should if you want a beautiful photo. ***


I thought about going to fiverr for the retouching after I picked out a photo with a suitable expression. There are a lot of people there who will retouch for a very reasonable fee, and the portfolios I saw were impressive.

Maybe I’ll go there later, if Richard Avedon still doesn’t live in Hamilton, NJ.

For me, it’s always the balance between how much energy it takes to set up and work with another person, usually a healthy, energetic person. But more importantly, people with their own ideas and opinions, whom you hire because of those, are not going to get exactly what you want without a good deal of back and forth over a suitable period of time. And it would take a lot of time to vet the portfolios, and go through the whole process with several people. I might be surprised and pleased – the same way I might be surprised and pleased with some of our local photographers – but I don’t have a history of success in that department.

Maybe I’ll just send the picture I choose, pay three or four people, tell them ‘glamorous,’ and see what comes back. Still sounds like a lot of work.

I don’t have a friend who just had a gorgeous head shot taken.

I don’t live near my sisters, or their hairdressers.

Pixelmator and Youtube to the rescue!

With the caveat that the best way to get a great picture by retouching is to start with a very good picture that is almost what you want, but needs a little enhancing and cleanup – and I lack said good picture – I located online, free, available any time (my kind of energy saving), a series of videos giving me exactly the tools and instruction I need, and which I am learning, taking notes on, and starting to follow.

As usual, I talk/write too much, so I’m going to cut the ‘goal’ post off here, and write the rest as I try to achieve my goal: to look like me as you should see me, not as the cold harsh light of day does.


Your place to dump the insecurities that make this dreaded – from the Author Bio post comments, I assume many other authors (and normal people) have the same problem, or I wouldn’t be posting this!


*PWC: Person with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome).

Also, thanks to Stencil for the free account I’m using to do the images at the beginnings of my posts. They have paid accounts if you need more than an occasional image.

Creating and improving the dreaded Author Photo: Part 1

look likeYOUR CHANCE TO CONTROL HOW THE WORLD SEES YOU. LITERALLY.

After having just interacted online about the dreaded Author Bio, and navigated that to a conclusion (satisfactory or not), I continue on my mission: to have every useful feature that connects me to potential readers for my fiction neatly and professionally (in the DIY sense) filled out.


CAUTION

*** This is how a PWC* is doing this, not how you should if you want a beautiful photo. ***


I COULD go out and find a photographer, get the professional headshot created, and post that. In fact, that’s on my To Do list. Has been for YEARS. NOT very near the top. If I ever become famous, have some extra time to waste, or decide I absolutely must, well, there are photographers in Hamilton, NJ. Every once in a while I look them up online. Richard Avedon is NOT in Hamilton, NJ.

I want to return to writing – and I’ve seen so many headshots that I positively hate, and few that I don’t – so, in my ‘fools rush in’ usual manner, I’m trying to make do with no help from anyone. Because I can count on me, and my tools, and everyone else seems elusive and slippery.

I have a nice little camera, courtesy of husband a few birthdays ago. It has lots of megapixels. It is the source of the snapshot that is the current photo of me in most places online. I’ll put it here, because the whole point is that it’s about to change.

AliciaHeadshotNO

It has, of course, been edited. Taken in New Orleans on a family vacation a couple of years back, it is cunningly calculated to fool all automatic editing by the cunning collection of windows and other architectural features from the cathedral I was standing in front of when someone caught a snap of the least objectionable expression on my face of the whole vacation.

Truly.

The source of the problem is…

That I, like many women (including models), don’t like the way I look in photographs.

There are PLENTY of photographs of me.

I come from a photogenic family – any picture of my sisters will show you how beautiful, polished, smiley, and always impeccably dressed and made up and coiffed (even on the golf course) my sisters are. Mother’s cheekbones are still impressive and lovely, and she just turned 93. She is ALSO kept beautifully coiffed by her lovely helpers.

But I rarely measure up. The CFS means the energy it takes – and it is considerable, ask my sisters – is not available. I throw myself together the best and quickest I can (cleanliness IS next to godliness, if not before it – I manage that often), with no thought for style.

This little detail is a very large part of why ‘Have professional headshot taken’ is so low on the priority list, BTW. Besides the four months of doing nothing but dieting required, I would have to get hairstyling and makeupping and fashion updates which are out of my energy budget from the sheer amount of time they would take, not to even mention the energy.

Your excuse may vary.

So the solution comes from…?

Well, I’m working on it.

For people like me, there are two sources of an acceptable photo:

  1. Candid shots taken by someone else – the source of the one I’ve been using
  2. Shots taken by me on daughter’s forward-facing iPhone camera – one of these days; for reasons which will be discussed below, it won’t help until I have some extra energy
  3. Shots taken by me on my computer – with the software and hardware already available to me – in this case, the wretched Photo Booth

Why wretched? Because it turns out the resolution is absolutely crappy, and there is no way to change it! The resolution settings for the camera – which sends much better quality pictures of me to Skype and such (so I know it can) – have NO way to be accessed ON the computer.

But it has the ONE advantage I need: I can see what I look like as I take a picture. Or rather, what I THINK I look like. So I can manipulate the heck out of that.

The source photos I accidentally acquired

One day within the past year, I went to church, where I sing in a tiny choir.

As I try to do, I was tidy, had a tiny bit of makeup on (okay, eyeliner – it makes my pale lashes stand out a little; possibly lip gloss – easy compared to lipstick), my favorite purple shirt, and my hair was as clean and soft as it gets with my limited haircutting and maintenance routine (yes, I cut it myself when it drives me crazy; very fast compared to that energy-sucking salon trip which normal people use).

So, basically, I looked as good as it gets nowadays (don’t expect that much).

For an unknown reason, I had a bit more energy than usual when I got home from church (maybe daughter drove), I sat at my computer, and it hit me: take some quick snapshots – and we’ll process them later and see if we can kick this headshot thing up the next step. I took my glasses off to avoid reflections. Besides, I don’t usually wear them EXCEPT at the computer, so you wouldn’t expect to see me in glasses.

I quickly took about 20 photos with Photo Booth – and the day’s extra energy was used up.

When I looked at them a few days later, I discovered that Apple, which usually does much better for me, had chosen the low resolution photo as the output of this app which comes with the computer AND there is no way to change that!

Aargh! After blowing my energy wad, I had 20 low resolution photos of me at all kinds of coy angles, every one of which would go straight to the garbage if I had my druthers, and not one of them was suitable as taken because of the background, the coloring, and the subject.

But I’m nothing if not game, and I will be using one of these photos (I might even dare post beginning and after versions) as the source of the dreaded Author Photo, which, unless you are beautiful may actually be better a little fuzzy. Okay – a lot.

Thus endeth Part 1.


LAST KINDLE COUNTDOWN DAY US AND UK!

Amazon US     and     Amazon UK

If you like my prose, consider purchasing my fiction. It’s written by the same person.


Your place to dump the insecurities that make this dreaded – from the Author Bio post comments, I assume many other authors (and normal people) have the same problem, or I wouldn’t be posting this!


*PWC: Person with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome).

Also, thanks to Stencil for the free account I’m using to do the images at the beginnings of my posts. They have paid accounts if you need more than an occasional image.