Categories
Career changing Inspiration

Getting inspiration from music

Getting inspiration from music

Inspiration from music

Music is a rather common pairing with writing. Some people cannot write without it. Others are inspired by it. Still others are haunted by it.

Lyrics

Sometimes, it’s the lyrics. For me, personally, I pay a lot of attention to lyrics. As a result, I have a lot of trouble listening to tunes while writing or even editing. I have to shut it off, as I am unable to concentrate.

But I do listen when I go outside or offline. For a fan fiction piece, I created a kind of bad girl character. However, she did not come to life until I listened to Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good.

It’s not just the words, though. And it isn’t just the video. The bass line did it, too. As a result, the character snapped into sharp focus. I could not stop listening to the song until I finished the piece.

Sound

For a genius character addled with ADHD, I wanted his mind to be going about a thousand miles an hour. The best way to do this was to listen to fast-moving songs. This one was a must.

The song itself is kind of silly. The words are somewhat nonsensical. But the beat is fast. It’s not rap, although speed rap could have worked as well. Either way, the sound was discordant. And that was the idea. With so much clanging going on his head, the character was simply incapable of concentrating.

Creation

For those who need songs to write, playlists are a must. You can find several on YouTube by searching on writing playlist. However, that might not work for a lot of people. Writing is a personal thing, just like musical taste is. If I prefer disco, and you prefer country, we’re both right, so long as we keep writing.

Takeaways

If you need it, then by all means listen to tunes while writing or editing. If you don’t, then don’t. And don’t let anyone tell you their way is somehow better. It’s hard to find anything more subjective than this.

Categories
Career changing

Demystifying Twitter

Demystifying Twitter

What can Twitter do for you, the independent writer? Let’s look at demystifying Twitter in all its glory.

Demystifying Twitter: What’s the Big Deal About 140 280 Characters?

Twitter is essentially a microblogging service. You broadcast your thoughts to the ether. Some of those thoughts, to be sure, are more interesting than others.

Many of us know someone who tweets about everything in their lives. It’s dull, it’s dumb, and you want to throttle them half the time. Their cheesecake is not fascinating. Their slow bus to downtown is not riveting. You don’t much care why they didn’t buy a particular pair of sneakers.

We may also know someone who’s a lot more fascinating. I’m not talking about celebrities, who have other sources for their cachet. Instead, I am talking about people who just seem to be more interesting, or at least their tweets are. Or at least they are funny or relevant.

Guess which one you want to be like?

Two Lives

On much of social media, when you are an independent author, you lead two lives. There is your personal life where you have friends and family, but there is also your professional or semi-professional life. Even if you never sell (or never want to) a syllable of your work, if you want to improve, you’re at least in the realm of semi-professional.

Demystifying Twitter: Two Twitter Accounts?

That might not be such a bad idea. One for yourself, for your political opinions, your questions about the universe, your tweets to customer service when something goes wrong ….

The other? For writing. This can be for talking about what you’re doing, and even teasing it a bit. For reporting your NaNoWriMo progress, if you like, to your cheering section. Also, for #PitMad and #MSWL. For the hashtags #amwriting and #amediting, too.

Demystifying Twitter: A Little More About Hashtags

Engagement is the name of the game on Twitter. You want to, you know, actually tweet with people. Soooo…. what do you do? Well, if you start following hashtags you like, then you will start to see the content that you like.

And that means your stream will be more fun, more inspiring, and more of what you want. Pretty cool, huh?

There is more, of course. I’ll get to it soon. So stay tuned!

Categories
Career changing Publishing

Blurbs, queries, teasers, and elevator pitches

Blurbs, Queries, Teasers, and Elevator pitches

Among blurbs, queries, teasers, and elevator pitches – which is which?

Teasers and Teasing
Teasers and Teasing

Blurbs

Blurbs are short promotional pieces. They used to just stay on the backs of books, but now they can serve as the copy you read on an Amazon author or book page. They can even be the snippet pulled by search engines for a page.

The best blurbs are:

  • short
  • specific as to genre (don’t be coy; if it’s erotica, then say so!)
  • open about who the protagonist is
  • spoiler-free
  • not a rehash of the first chapter or the entire plot
  • neutral about the quality of your work (don’t say: this is an amazing book. ‘Cause then it probably isn’t. Sorry.)

In this fantasy tale, Alice is intrigued by a strange white rabbit. Even stranger, he’s wearing a waistcoat, checking a pocket watch, and complaining that he’s going to be late!

Queries

Furthermore, queries are cover letters accompanying your submissions to a publisher or agent. They vary in length, but Job One is always to do what the recipient wants. That is, if the recipient wants it as an attachment, send an attachment. Double-spaced? Do it. Times New Roman font? Why, that’s suddenly your favorite font, too!

Rather than giving you an example, it’s probably best to link to a successful modern query letter. Now imagine your work, showcased like that. Change the genre if necessary, the character names, etc., and you’ve got the bare bones of a query letter.

Suggestion: check several successful query letters, particularly those which are fairly recent and are in your genre. If they are the queries beloved by your actual target, then so much the better.

Teasers

In addition, teasers usually go a bit longer. You use them to generate excitement. Teasers often end with a question, but they don’t have to.

Alice is bored and sleepy on a lazy, sunny afternoon spent with her sister. But then she spots a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and checking a pocket watch. The rabbit says he’s going to be late! Should Alice follow him? What’s down that rabbit hole, anyway?

Elevator pitches

Finally, elevator pitches are, just like when you are looking for a job, the kinds of quick sales pitches done on the fly when someone turns to you and says, “You’re a writer. So, what’s your book about?”

Don’t just stand there! You’ve got to be ready.

Imagine if animals started talking, and they told you what to do in a topsy-turvy world.

 

My book is about Alice; she’s a young girl, a little bored on a sunny afternoon, when she spots a white rabbit. The odd thing about this rabbit is, he’s wearing clothes and talking. She follows him down a rabbit hole, but then she can’t get out.

That’s less than 70 words, and the person asking has the basic plot, the name of the heroine, and a reason to want to know more.

Back to you.

Categories
Career changing SEO Social Media

CLUMPS of SEO

CLUMPS of SEO

Huh? CLUMPS is an ugly acronym and I apologize profusely for that. But if you want to build and promote a website and improve your SEO (Search Engine Optimization), you should think in CLUMPS.

What are CLUMPS?

I will explain.

Content

C stands for Content, and Content is King. Don’t believe me? Try looking at a site – any site – and picture it instead as a framework with lorem ipsum written all over it. Kinda silly, eh?

How to Search Engine Optimization
How to Search Engine Optimization (Photo credit: SEOPlanter)

So, people need something to read. Or listen to. Or download. Maybe to play. Or discuss. Or purchase. And it could be any other of a number of things that they would want to do with a website. And they need it from you! So make up your mind as to what you want. Plan your content and work on it. Brainstorm what you want to cover, and keep records of that. This helps when the rubber really meets the road and you get writer’s block.

For Instance

For example, let’s say you want to create an episode guide for the old television show, Quantum Leap. The show aired 97 episodes. If you post a new episode every single day, you run out out of content in less than three and a half months. If you instead post twice per week, that covers 48 and a half weeks – almost a full year. Good, but what do you do after that?

So there are a few options. One is to post less frequently. Another is to churn up the content and repost it. However, what you could also do is branch out.

Therefore, post about the actors’ work before and since the show aired. And cover convention appearances. Add photographs. Post or critique fan fiction. Open up the floor for discussions of the show’s philosophy. Maybe you can find a related show to write about, and compare it to the original. It doesn’t matter. Just, recognize that your content might have a finite end to it, so you’ll need to work on extending that.

And More

Furthermore, it can also help to look around the online world. What do others say about your topic? Make a Google Alert for your topic or, better yet, make several, with variations. Follow the news and see what you can comment on. Don’t copy others’ work outright, but commenting on it, linking to it, and expanding on it are all fair game. Always, always, always link back! Speaking of links ….

Links

L stands for Links. You’ve got to get your link out there, and have it linked back to by other sites. Now is not the time to keep it to yourself.

This does not mean spamming! Rather, you need to launch a bit of a campaign. Find like-minded individuals and ask for them to link to you. Offer to link to them in return. Now, it’s better if you’re linked to by pages with good, large followings. How do you find these sites? One way is to do a search on the backlinks for your closest competition. Who’s linking to them? And target those sites.

And be patient! Rising in search results takes some time, although you can promote yourself by buying search, if you like, by using Google AdWords. But if you don’t have a budget to buy listings, don’t worry. You can still have good external visibility. What matters is not being number one. What does matter is getting onto somewhere on the top three pages of search results and then working from there. Of course, the higher the better. But the difference between page 100 and page 1000 of search results is a moot one.

Usability

U stands for Usability. If people cannot find what they are looking for, if your site is slow and unresponsive, or you’re just missing too many vital things, people may come, but they will not stay.

Case in point. I spent some time a few years ago investigating linking certain nursing job sites to various places where backlinks would be welcome. I did research, and of course nursing schools are a prime potential source of backlinks.

However, for some colleges, finding the link to either their nursing school or their placement office was akin to searching a hay field for sewing implements. I had, more than once, to resort to searching on Google rather than inside a particular school’s own pages, in order to find what I wanted. Sometimes, the pages were poorly named or written (e. g. placement office pages which didn’t have the word “jobs” anywhere in sight). Others had too many unrelated or poorly related or obscure keywords. E. g. referring to such an office as the painfully generic  “Student Services”.

It would have been far better to make sure that these pages were dense with correct words that people would use when searching, such as jobs, placement, careers, employment or internships.

Search Issues

Other sites had what I wanted but were painfully slow (that was often a server issue). Or the web developer was so in love with flash that the site has pretty scrolling pictures but it was hard to find where I was actually supposed to be clicking.

So look over your site. Or, better yet, have others do so. And find out from them what works, and what doesn’t. It’s not an occasion for them to tear you down or give you unstinting praise. Rather, it’s an occasion for you to learn what works, and what doesn’t.

Formal Checks

And for formal investigations, try using A/B testing methodologies. A/B testing means essentially serving up one version of a site to one person, and another version to another. And then you check their click behaviors. If these are people you know, talk to them. The difference between the “A” and the “B” versions of a page can be as small as a new color for the background or a different location for the logo versus a complete site overhaul. But it’s the smallest changes that are the easiest to process. Make small changes before you commit to larger ones.

This also goes into the idea of keywords. Keyword stuffing is, of course, a black hat strategy, and it’s the last thing you want to do. But white hat strategy isn’t just setting up a site for the benefit of search engines – it’s also setting it up for the benefit of people.

Metrics

M is for Metrics. If you’re going to do A/B testing, or if you care about whether anyone is visiting your site, you need to start looking at all of that. The best and easiest to use such analytical site is Google Analytics. Google Analytics provides all sorts of data, everything from which is the most popular page on your site to how long users are hanging around. Like many other things, take a little time and get to know the program but also allow it to gather some data. You aren’t going to get a terribly good picture of your site in a month. You need to let this percolate for a while.

Promotions

P is for Promotions. Again, I never advocate spamming. However, I do suggest that you put your link out there via your own Twitter stream, your own Facebook account, via Reddit, etc. For this hypothetical Quantum Leap site, you might want to find like-minded tweeters using a service like Triberr. You could look up science fiction, or television nostalgia, etc. and join tribes (groups of tweeters) with similar interests who would be likely to retweet your content. Use HootSuite or a Google Alert to run regular keyword searches on Twitter for various related terms. For people who are using those terms, they might have an affinity for what you’re doing. Perhaps you can follow them, and see if they will follow you back. And if they are reading your tweets, they are seeing your links. Look for reasonable hashtags and follow them, and start using them.

Check Your Metrics

But check Google Analytics after a while, and budget your time accordingly. If most of your time and effort are going into Twitter, but you get most of your readers from Facebook, you may need to rethink your Twitter strategy. Or, you could even try dropping it for a while, and only concentrating on Facebook.

Again, this is an exercise in patience. These things do take time, particularly if you have a shoestring budget and are essentially only using free services. For not paying, you will need to, instead, invest time.

Shiny New Stuff

S is for Shiny New Stuff. What I mean is, sites that stay the same, year in, year out, are just not that interesting. Plus, things change. Development proceeds at a far rapider pace than most of us know. Take a look at what’s out there, and see if making some changes will help.

For me, I started off creating a site completely from scratch, using HTML. I wanted to learn the language as well as possible, on my own. However, one area where I certainly needed help was in aesthetics. This went on for a couple of years as I had a site with good content, I was working on promotions and garnering linkbacks, and I was keeping it usable and was checking metrics.

I eventually moved the site to WordPress, and used their templates (the content, of course, is wholly my own). The site looks better and functions better. It also gives it a newer look. Plus WordPress fixes a lot of issues with key words. So long as your post is on point and mentions the keywords you want to tout, those key words will be in the page, and will be searchable by Google’s spiders.

Upshot

CLUMPS is still a lousy acronym. But I hope you’ll find it continues to hold true. The way to get your site out there, noticed and loved, is to make it as good a site as possible. Consider the sites you love. What they look like, how they work, what content they deliver and how they keep things fresh and interesting. Follow the metrics for your own site but take a leaf from those other sites’ pages. Not to out and out copy, of course, but rather to be inspired. And you can make your own quantum leap to better SEO.

CLUMPS of SEO
Quantum Leap
Categories
Career changing Community Management Facebook

Facebook versus Forums

Let’s Look at Facebook versus Forums

What hath Facebook wrought?

It’s a Facebook versus Forums smackdown!

Facebook, as anyone not living on a desert island knows, is a juggernaut of massive proportions. According to Oberlo, Facebook has about 2.80 billion monthly users and 1.84 billion daily users.

In contrast, according to Worldometers, 1.439 billion people live in China, and 1.380 billion live in India. The US has a bit over 331 million in population.

Hence, daily Facebook usage is the entire population of China + the entire population of the United States. And another 7 million people on top of that. So, Paraguay.

It is the 800 pound gorilla of the internet. And it is rapidly changing our interpersonal interactions, both on and offline. So one of those areas is in the area of internet forums.

Facebook and a forums site like Able2know

Facebook hits all forum sites and not just A2K. For years, I have been seeing drop off on a lot of different sites. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they are large, generalized places like Able2know, or small niche sites devoted to something like Star Trek. In addition, I hear about this same kind of drop off in other areas.

Facebook has its fingers in a lot of pies, and it is only trying to get into more and more of them.

Everybody get in the pool

So there are two generalized kinds of interactions (there are more, of course, but hear me out, okay?). One concerns the shallow end of things. You trade information about weather and generalized health inquiries. It’s political sound bites and the zippy pop song.

The other side of things is deeper. Because here is the in-depth political discussion where you really get to the heart of the issues. It’s the detailed information on a health condition or even how to make a soufflé or plant an herb garden. It is the symphony. And online, just like offline, it is a far rarer bird. For you need time to develop that kind of trust. Furthermore, truly, you have to devote some time in order to have such a conversation in the first place.

Swimming with Facebook

Facebook fulfills the shallow end of online interactions extremely well. It is very, very easy to catch up on a superficial level with high school classmates or the like. A Star Wars groups, for example, might ask basic questions like “Who was the best villain?”

George Takei has mastered these kinds of interactions (although, in all fairness, he also writes occasional longer notes). Because these constitute the quick hits that people can like and share, all in the space of less than a quarter of a minute. It works very well for mass quantities of information.

Facebook versus Forums – where Facebook Wins

Topics about one’s favorite song go better on Facebook than on forums as they are a quick hit and posting YouTube videos is simple. It’s colorful and, just as importantly, it’s pretty easy to pick and choose when it comes to interactions there, despite changes in privacy settings.

Other basic interactions (remember a/s/l?) are seamless or don’t need to happen at all. Partly this happens due to Facebook’s real names policy. Also, more people tend to use their real photograph and their real (generalized) location and age than not.

Facebook versus Forums – where Forums Win

What Facebook doesn’t do so well is the deeper end of interactions (the extensive political discussions, etc.), and/or it does not do them well for a larger group of people or over a significant period of time or for a longer or wider discussion.

All of the deep discussions go unsaid. Topics about elections outside the United States (particularly if Americans participate in said topics) are handled poorly, if at all. When it comes to the deeper end of the interactions pool, Facebook is just not a good place for that at all. Another consideration: even now, a lot of people still find that Facebook moves too quickly for them.

Swimming with Forums

For the deep end, it makes sense to collect into forums. You need to get to the heart of the matter. Arc of a Diver Facebook versus ForumsAnd that takes time, a luxury that Facebook often does not afford, as it scrolls by in a blur. Instead of mass quantities, forums can fulfill a very different niche by instead concentrating on quality interactions.

Forums offer, even for people who use their real names and are fairly transparent about their interactions, a chance to use a persona.

This is because Facebook far too closely parallels to our real lives. There’s just so much posturing you can do about being a famous rock star when your high school cronies are also there, and they remember holding your head when you had your first beer.

The Endless Online Christmas Brag Letter

And Facebook, while it can be a refuge for people to truly show they care for each other (in particular, in the groups, or using notes or chat), is more often a place where people instead get a chance to preen and show off. Like something? Then hit like! Don’t like it? Then either scroll past it or click to hide it, or even report it as spam or as being threatening. And apart from the latter, the person posting the image, anecdote, status, etc. is none the wiser when it comes to your reaction.

But with the forums, even if you do not use your real name, your opinions are still out there, for all to see, whether it’s about global warming or the Designated Hitter rule.

Facebook versus Forums: the Future

My crystal ball says Facebook is only going to get larger and more complicated. And advertising and other ways of keeping forums open is only going to get harder. Unless Facebook finds a way to take a deep dive into topics – and make it easier for people to find their way back after a day or two – then I fear a form of interaction may eventually be lost forever.

That is, unless Zoom calls and the like can rise to such a challenge. In and among the fluff and Zoombombing and other annoyances and weirdnesses, perhaps that’s the way to go. Because I fear that forums are going to bite the dust before 2030, if not sooner.

There is room for both types of interactions. Facebook versus forums doesn’t have to pick a winner. The internet is a mighty big tent. But economics and sheer numbers might award a prize anyway.

Categories
Career changing Content Strategy Facebook Social Media Twitter

Social Media Balance

Social Media Balance

Social media balance is sometimes elusive. Yet much like everything else, social media needs to be balanced. Too much, and you’ll alienate your readers. And too little, and they’ll wonder if you’re still alive.

I’ll confine my comments to just blogging, Facebook and Twitter. Of course there are other outlets, but let’s just look at those three.

Too Much

social media balance
CHRISTMAS MUSIC (Photo credit: Zellaby)

During the 2012 Christmas season here in Boston, the oldies station began broadcasting all-day Christmas music early. How early?

So it was, if I am recalling correctly, before Veterans’ Day. Egad, it was awful. And then of course other radio stations also began their regular broadcast of holiday music. So it was very hard to get away from it all.

Now, lots of these songs are lovely. This is not me slamming religion – don’t misunderstand me. Rather, it was just … c’mon already! Because it was way too much!

It was not festive. Instead, it annoyed. And the same can be said of social media. If you’re a small outlet, a tiny company, a Mom and Pop operation, here’s a little secret. You don’t need to constantly tweet and update Facebook.

Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Overdo It

  • You’ll oversaturate the people you’re trying to endear, and they’ll turn off to your message.
  • And you’ll burn out.
  • Also, you’ll run out of things to say.

Not Enough

It continually amuses me when people say something like, “I have a blog.” And they’ll post

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr... social media balance
Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Français : Logo de Facebook Tiếng Việt: Logo Facebook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

their link. However, the last time they updated was 13 months ago, or more, or they’ve never updated. Or it’s a Twitter stream with three tweets, and the account is over a year old. Maybe they have a Facebook page with nearly nothing on it.

Given the number of abandoned accounts, and the number of deceased persons’ accounts on Facebook and the like, followers might be wondering. Have you gone to the great computer room in the sky?

Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Underdo It

  • Your readers will leave you, big time. They may be loyal but today’s audiences are also pretty fickle. You’re no longer shiny and new. So they leave.
  • Google still indexes abandoned accounts, although the information is out of date. And it can sometimes end up making you look worse than not having a social media presence at all.
  • You show, essentially, that you no longer care about your subject matter. So why should anyone read what you write at all, if even you don’t believe in it?
  • The algorithm will smash your site into smithereens. While the exact, perfect information on any algorithm is proprietary and kept secret from us hoi polloi, onething is certain. Newness counts. No posting means you’ve got nothing new going on. And it will push your site down in rankings on Google and YouTube. Facebook also values recency. And as for Twitter? No one will be able to find your stuff.

Balance

It’s rather Zen, I suppose, to seek a balance here.

social media balance
zen (Photo credit: mkebbe)

But how do you get it?

The easiest way is to consider the people who you follow where you just love their updates. They don’t seem forced or rushed, and they seem to come in, just at the right time.

Don’t think of really big wigs in social media, like George Takei, Shama Hyder Kabani, Wil Wheaton, Guy Kawasaki, or Ashton Kutcher,

Shama Kabani social media balance
Shama Kabani (Photo credit: bjmccray)

etc. Instead, consider your friends, colleagues, and neighbors, even if it’s people who aren’t making (or trying to make) a career out of social media.

Look at their Facebook walls and their Twitter streams and their blogs. What is it about how they handle those outlets that grabs you?

By the way, recognize that a person might be really good at one form of balance, but not at another. That’s not unexpected, as these are all rather different forms of media.

Your friend who crushes it on Twitter might be just plain awful on Facebook.

Reasons Why You Should Strike a Balance

  • Posting too much at the beginning can lead directly to posting pretty much nothing later on, so spread things out over time, and you can avoid both issues simultaneously.
  • Giving yourself a degree of posting responsibility can help you take it all more seriously. Of course you can (and probably should) be playful. But even the silliest of accounts have some form of a schedule, particularly if they’ve gotten large. They can’t just “forget” to post.

Schedule Those Suckers

  • If you’re really inspired and have a lot to say, that’s great! But unless it’s time-sensitive, use the scheduling features of programs like HootSuite. Or try Facebook’s own post scheduling feature. WordPress and Blogger both allow you to save drafts and schedule them to publish when you want them to.
  • Spreading the wealth over time will assure your readers that you’re not just some flash in the pan. It will also assure them that you’re still among the living.
  • Too many posts means that many of them get lost in the shuffle. Too few means that they can loom large, and maybe seem more important than you think they should be. Spread the wealth, and you can avoid both problems.

One more thing about social media balance. While Tweeting, Facebooking, etc. should be mindful, it should also be kinda fun. Overdoing it means that you’re probably spending too much time online. While underdoing it probably means that it no longer interests you that much. Or, at least, what you’re posting out has lost its luster.

Consider what either of those scenarios means to you. Because social media balance matters.

Categories
Career changing Publishing

Beta Reading, Part 2

Beta Reading, Part 2

For beta reading, part 2, let’s take a look at the actual feedback process. But first, let’s get the mechanics out of the way.

Practical Mechanics

When beta reading, you are generally only using a few possible programs. Here’s how to best use them:

  • When using Microsoft Word, go to Review and then select Track Changes. Use this feature to add Comments as well. If using Word, it helps a lot if the writer is using styles and headings. If they don’t know what those are, Google is their friend. Styles make it easy to change a font size on the fly if a publisher demands a different one for querying. And headings make it easier to find where chapters break.
  • When using Google Docs, turn on Editing Mode.
  • For any other programs, you may do best to just ask the writer to save the piece into Google Docs. Why? Because it will be easier for you. After all, you are doing them a favor. You aren’t being demanding if you ask for some consideration in this area.

What Sort of Feedback do they want?

This might feel like it should be obvious, but it’s not. Abusing the author is, of course, out of the question. You certainly should be honest in your assessments. At the same time, though, consider the following two sentences.

The main character is boring.

or

The main character is not very interesting.

These two sentences mean nearly the same thing, but the second one is a bit gentler. Consider this: even the worst of stories is somebody’s baby. Don’t be a jerk to the writer. This holds true even if you really want to burn their computer to assure that they never, ever write anything again.

And I have read stories like that.

Fixing Problems

Every reading is different, but there are a few basic issues which a manuscript might have.

Technical Issues

Your writer doesn’t know how to use dialogue tags. They argue with you over how to write out numbers. Punctuation and capitalization feel wrong, but you just can’t explain why. This one is easy. Call in the authorities. Grammar Girl is an easy, breezy read. Just cite it, with a link. Or try Strunk & White for something more formal. Get really fancy with The Chicago Manual of Style. Don’t forget, American English differs from British English, and there can be some nuances with Canadian or Australian English as well. Normally, it’s a logical fallacy to appeal to an authority. But in this instance, it will save everybody’s time.

Inconsistencies

Is the character dark-skinned on page 3, and fair on page 78? Point these out immediately. For some inconsistencies, the writer may be able to split the difference. Maybe a short character got tall because they grew.

Padding

This is a big problem with NaNoWriMo novels. And for good reason! You are rewarded for being verbose. Hence ask the writer – is this scene necessary? Is this level of description vital to the plot? Characters are analogous to actors in a film. The main ones are leads, then comes the supporting cast. And then come the extras. The leads need a lot of description, assuming that’s not some sort of spoiler. The supporting cast gets some description, but not as much as the leads. The extras are sketched. And the same is true for scenes. Scenes which drive the plot are leads.

Transitions and other necessary scenes that aren’t plot drivers are relegated to supporting status. These can be red herrings and blind alleys in a mystery. Or the more minor obstacles thrown in the way of true love in a romance. Or they can be the scenes depicting local color, and expository paragraphs.

Truly minor scenes are extras, and they can also be extras if they are a part of a more important scene. For example, if your two police officer characters go to a coffee shop to discuss the case, then their discussion is probably a lead. But the color of the walls of the coffee shop, or the barista’s snappy comeback? Those are extras.

If a story feels overly long, then it’s probably been padded. Work with your writer on how to streamline those parts of the narration.

Sketches

I am guilty of this one, mainly because I am often working to get the idea down on paper. This is another thing which can happen in a NaNo novel. The time limit can push a writer to elide over certain transitions. Same rules apply. If it’s a lead, then you need some meat on those bones. For supporting, it depends. Further, if every scene feels like an extra, then it’s hard to figure out what the work’s focus and plot really are.

By working with a three-tiered scene and character system, both you and the writer can focus better. If Betty the Barista is important, then the story really needs to focus on her dark eyes, her jaunty beret, and the rose tattoo on her left shoulder. If she’s just seen in passing, then she probably doesn’t even need to have a name.

Above All (When it Comes to Beta Reading)

Be kind and patient, as well as you can. These problems may take the writer some time to fix. Be encouraging! But if it is just not working, then don’t hesitate to cut the cord.

Categories
Career changing Publishing

Beta Reading for Indie Writers

Beta Reading

Beta reading is both an art and a science, I feel. There are good ways to do it. And there are not so good ways.

But as an independent writer, the best way to get beta readers to help you is to become a beta reader yourself. Here I’ll address common issues and ways to make it a more productive experience for both of you.

Editing, Copy Editing, and Proofreading

A beta reader is analogous to a beta tester. You are supposed to be checking a piece before querying or self-publication or posting on a free content site such as Wattpad. Beta testers generally do not test software’s very first iteration. They might be asked to test a function or even the whole shebang once it’s done. But they don’t test the lines of code to see if they are correct. That is a developer’s job.

And beta reading is similar. You are not responsible for checking basic stuff like spelling. The author should have run their work through a spellchecker, prior to sending it to you. If they do not have a spellchecker for some odd reason, then you as the beta reader are in for quite the ride. And this is not a happy ride, I assure you.

How to handle it

What should you do If someone sends a document utterly riddled with spelling errors? Here are a few options:

  • Kick it back (nicely) and tell them to run a spellcheck before they send it back to you. If they don’t know how to do this, then you can suggest they Google free spellcheckers or save it as a Google doc (under Tools, there is a spellchecker).
  • Correct their spelling, but make it clear this will increase the time frame considerably. For most people, even if they are not in much of a rush, this a good incentive to take care of business.
  • Tell them the relationship isn’t working out.

A lack of spellchecking does not necessarily mean someone doesn’t care about your time. The writer might not be a native speaker. They might be very new to the scene. Or they could have certain forms of dyslexia which make a spellchecker kind of throw up its metaphoric hands and run in the opposite direction. If any of these are the case, then see if you can get compensated for your time. Because at that point, you’ve gone beyond beta reading.

Length and Time and Expectations

The best-laid plans, yadda yadda, you know the rest. We plan one thing, but life has a tendency to inconveniently intervene. Consider your time, how fast you read, and any monkey wrenches life might throw. A good rule of thumb for planning is to multiply by one and a half. Therefore if you think 1,000 words will take you an hour, then consider it will take 90 minutes and plan accordingly.

Ask about their schedule. Maybe they want to publish in two months, or twelve. If you can’t meet their deadline, all is not lost! Instead, you could just beta read the first few chapters. Figure out what works best. Or agree to work together at a later date.

Next, I’ll look at what you need to do, to be a good beta reader.

Categories
Career changing Inspiration

Speculating About the Future

Let’s Consider Speculating About the Future

Speculating is fun. However, future predictions can be notoriously inaccurate. I’m still waiting for my flying car, for example.

However, some predictions have been eerily on the nose, such as cell phones, which are a lot like Star Trek’s communicators. So here’s a few idea on how to essentially build your own crystal ball.

Extrapolation

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Speculating About the Future

The easiest way to speculate and predict is to take what currently exists, and then extrapolate from that.

Transportation

For example, consider transportation. Your car gets a certain degree of fuel efficiency and it has a particular top speed. It holds a certain number of people. And it has a particular styling. So what happens when you stretch those characteristics? And so you can consider a car that can go faster yet safely. Maybe your futuristic vehicle is self-driving, or a robot ‘drives’ it.

Since parking can be a pain in a lot of places, why not think up a car which can park itself, or can fold up so it doesn’t need a conventionally-sized parking spot? Maybe your new car is partly powered by solar or nuclear fusion. And how sleek and aerodynamic should it be?

Communications

And you can consider other basic areas of life. Let’s look at communications next. Because nearly all of us already have smart phones, think about the trends. Sometimes, phones get smaller, and are more lightweight and compact. However, at other times, they become larger and almost could be thought of as tablet hybrids. What do your characters need? And what are the limitations on either scenario? How small can the phone become? How large?

Can it be embedded?

Feeding the World

So what about food? People still starve. However, that’s usually due to distribution problems rather than enough crops being grown or the existence of enough arable land. Hence how do your characters (or your setting) solve this problem?

And so you can look at any basic area of life, from finding love to consuming entertainment or buying clothing. See where extrapolation takes you.

Off the Wall

And then there’s the somewhat pie in the sky, kinda crazy stuff. For example, let’s think about the second Back to the Future film. Doc Brown uses fusion power to make the DeLorean go, but one of the things he grabs for fuel is a discarded banana peel. What a brilliant off the wall idea!

Off the Wall Fashion

So let’s look at, say, fashion. Maybe it’s the opposite of today, where everything is covered up but genitalia.

But what kind of a society would support that? Or maybe everyone wears a uniform, but the uniforms look really odd.

More Ideas Out of My Overly Fertile Imagination

Cars could be six stories tall. Communications could be facilitated with chewing gum. Maybe you vote telepathically. The sky, as always, is the limit.

Takeaways

Depending on your genre, and how much room there is for humor, your ideas about the future can go in any number of directions.

Decide on how plausible you want everything to be. And don’t forget to take into account professional predictions like Moore’s Law!

Categories
Career changing Opinion Twitter

The Power of Social Media (Neurotic Writers’ Edition)

Welcome to The Power of Social Media (Neurotic Writers’ Edition)

Chicken Scratch

Neurotic Writers. I know aspiring writers.

You probably do, too. There are lots of people with a Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Quill | Neurotic Writersmanuscript out there … somewhere. Perhaps it’s just in a hard drive. Or maybe it’s been uploaded to a fiction site. Or perhaps it has gotten a little exposure by having a chapter or a tantalizing fragment tossed onto a forums site. It might take the form of a blog (Gee, I wonder if I’m doing that …?). There are some that are typed (Remember that?). Others are only in long hand. And still others are locked away in brain form only.

Attention Monsters, All

Neurotic Writers
Social Media Iceberg (Photo credit: Intersection Consulting)

Whatever form it has taken, there is one thing I have learned about aspiring writers (And this includes fan fiction writers, by the way. Don’t dis ’em; they care about what they do, too!). This may also be true of established writers as well. I’m not even so sure where “established” starts happening. If it starts when you’ve gotten a check for writing, then count me in the established camp. If not, well, then it might be that I am still waiting for my established writer card. But I digress. What have I learned about aspiring writers?

It’s that we are all attention monsters.

We all crave attention. But it’s more than just “Look at me! Look at me!” Instead, it’s more like, “Please oh please oh please read my stuff and leave detailed feedback so I know you really read it and don’t forget to tell me how kick-bun awesome I am!

Er, yeah.

Now, pretty much everyone on the planet adores hugs and positive attention and love and happiness. For aspiring writers, though, it’s poured onto a page. The soul is naked, for all to poke at (Erm, that wasn’t meant to evoke an NC-17 image. Shame on you for thinking so. And now that’s all you can think of, am I right?). It is scary and it is daunting. And it is exhilarating when you get even a scrap of positive feedback.

Enter Social Media

For aspiring writers with a backbone and a somewhat thicker skin, social media can be a way to get some of that craved feedback.

How?

The first and probably most obvious method is to have a Twitter stream dedicated to your writing. I doubt that most people want to read about writer’s block, so you need to have something going on. Perhaps you could write about inspirations, or earlier works, or how things fit together in your universe.

Hence I am also talking about a blog. You can blog about writing. The creative process can be fascinating for people who are into it. Maybe you’d like to review your own work, and comment on what you’ve learned, and how you’ve grown as an author. Put both of these together, and you’ve got a pretty dynamic combination. You write, you blog about it and then you tweet about your blog posts and your writing.

Plus writing begets writing. Even blog writing (which is a rather different animal from book-writing) can help keep writer’s block at bay. It helps to exercise these muscles fairly regularly.

Another Option?

Post on social sites. Hence for fan fiction, there is Fanfiction.net. And for purely original stories, they have a sister site, Fiction Press. Or try Wattpad. In addition, plenty of more specialized fiction and fan fiction sites exist. Google is your friend!

Be aware of scams; they do exist. Furthermore, putting your work out there does not guarantee that you retain full rights to it. And this is despite the laws in your own country. In addition, understand there’s a lot of plagiarism and downright theft out there. So remain as cautious as with any other information you put online.

Understand, too, that if you neurotic writers are going to submit to a traditional publisher, they often don’t want you to have posted your story elsewhere beforehand. Because this has to do with the full rights to your product. Hence you might want to put out your smaller or less important works, and save your really big one, if you are ever planning to submit to a traditional publishing house.

Competitions

Yet another option is competitions. Here’s one, at America’s Next Author. Because the inspiration from this blog post came from learning that a friend had a story in this competition. The competition ran as a pure social media experiment. Hence, while good storytelling and story-crafting matter, so does publicity. Like with any other social media site, “likes”, comments and popularity all play a role. For my friend, and for others trying to make it, putting the link onto Facebook or Twitter is essential to getting the word out. Even this blog post is helpful (FYI, and just for the record, this post is my own idea and she did not request or suggest it).

The Reader End of Things

The community of aspiring writers is, truly, a community. And that means give and take. What kind of give and take? The kind that goes along with reviews and comments. Because for those who are trying to write for a living, commenting and reviewing should be a part of that. Readily and cheerfully provide constructive criticism, if desired.

Aspiring neurotic writers write for exposure. And often they get exposure from fellow aspirants. What better way to forge a sense of community than to read one another’s works, and comment thereon?

The Upshot of It All

For those of us neurotic writers who put it out there every day, who bare ourselves and our souls with prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction, fan or wholly original, short story or multi-novel series, we all have a major issue in common – we want recognition. We don’t even necessarily want to be famous, but we want to be the one at the fireside who spins a yarn as others sit, enraptured. And with social media, we hope, there just might be some people listening.