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Anne R. Allen's Blog

...WITH RUTH HARRIS

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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."


Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Know Your Genre: Tips and Secrets from the Experts for Writing Bestselling Genre Fiction

by Ruth Harris

Romance with a side of horror? 

Happens in real life—oy!—but not such a hot idea in fiction.

Cozy mystery with a soupçon of blood and gore? 

 Only if you want readers coming after you with shoulder-fired missiles.

Sci-fi in a gauzy, vintage-y mood? 

Not unless you want to find an IED in your driveway.

Genres come with rules that create guidelines for writers—and set up expectations in readers. Break those rules, disappoint those expectations and the reaction will be a polar vortex of one-star reviews.

You can’t build a house without a solid foundation, so before you start playing around with wildly inventive and creative genre mash-ups, you first need to learn to stick the landing. 

  • Romance can be contemporary or historical, steamy or sweet, Gothic or Regency. The characters can be pirates, soldiers, doctors, knights, noblemen or, of course, billionaires. No matter the tone or the period, though, romance requires a Happily Ever After (HEA) ending or, at the very least, a Happy For Now (HFN) ending. Period!
  • Women’s Fiction. If the heroine decides she’d rather take a job at an archaeological dig in Kyrgystan than settle down with the boy next door, you’ve left romance territory and entered the world of Women’s Fiction. 
  • Horror requires scaring the cr*p out of the reader.
  • Chick Lit/Rom-Com needs humor and a light-as-meringue style (and shoes).
  • Thrillers must have a hero-heroine and a vile villain. Thrillers can focus on the CIA, the NSA or even the NRA. The backgrounds can be military, medical, political, legal or psychological.
  • Mysteries better have a crime that needs to be solved and a detective to solve them.

Julie Ann Lawson provides an excellent overview of genre—Julie calls it a cheat sheet—defining the do’s and don’ts of genres and sub-genres ranging from Survival Horror and Christian Fiction to Gothic Punk and Urban Fantasy.

Note from Anne: The terms YA (Young Adult, age 12-18) MG (Middle Grade age 8-12) and to a certain extent, NA (New Adult, age 18-25) define demographics, not genres. Almost all these genres can also be written for specific age groups (Although I wouldn't recommend MG Romance.) For more on the New Adult category see Chuck Sambuchino's piece for Writer's Digest.


Here's a list of some of the most popular genres with links to expert advice on how to write them:

Romance


Over half the books sold in the US are categorized as Romance. It’s the Big Mama of genres, competitive and potentially lucrative.

Romance University is Harvard for romance, useful to beginners and advanced students alive. Professors (successful romance writers and editors) tell all about how to write and how to market romance. (And it's FREE!...Anne)

We’ll stay in the Ivy league with Everybody Needs A Little Romance, a group blog written by romance writers who share their opinions and insights, their triumphs and—sometimes—their tribulations. Romance writers, it turns out, are just like us.

Contemporary Romance, a chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America) is devoted to the writing and marketing of contemporary (as opposed to historical) romance. Pros who write in genres and sub-genres ranging from “spicy to inspirational to young adult to adult” keep readers and writers informed and up to date via discussion forums and workshops. (This site requires RWA membership, but if you're a Romance writer, RWA membership is well worth the price...Anne)

Have a good time and learn at Romance Divas an award winning, website and discussion forum dedicated to romance.

Romantic Suspense


The suspense must add to the romance and the romance must add to the suspense. Nora Roberts lists some of her favorite Romantic Suspense authors—Mary Stewart, Sue Grafton and Elizabeth George (among others)—and explains the necessary balance between romance and suspense.

New York Times bestselling author, Lisa Gardner, lists 7 Tips for writing Romantic Suspense ranging from setting and research to character and plot.

Patience Bloom, senior editor of Harlequin Romantic Suspense, shares 5 Secrets for creating compelling Romantic Suspense.

Erotica


As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said you "know it when you see it." But the line between erotica and erotic romance has blurred in recent years. It can be a, ahem, "Gray" area. Here's a piece (complete with infographic) on the difference between erotica and erotic romance from Sorcha Grace in the HuffPo. Got more than two people in the scene and there's no HEA? It's erotica.

Women’s Fiction


Anna Quindlen, Anita Shreve and Jodi Picoult are among the stars in a genre that can also merge/morph into Mainstream Fiction or Literary Fiction.

Author and blogger, Amy Sue Nathan, who hosts Women’s Fiction Writers, defines this not-always-easy-to-define genre.

RITA Award finalist and former journalist, Wendy Wax, talks about the impact of headline news and real life on women’s fiction.

Screenwriter and novelist, Paul FitzSimons, states that of all the major genres of fiction-writing, crime, fantasy, literary, comedy, sci-fi, erotica (thank you EL James for making it okay to include that last one) – the most popular and successful is women’s fiction. Paul has pulled together a list of useful links for women’s fiction  authors.

Chick Lit (aka Rom-Com)


Think Bridget Jones Diary, Sex And The City and The Devil Wears Prada. Chick Lit, breezy and humorous, is written in the first person and is about 20- and 30- something women living in a big city. A Chick Lit novel is about relationships—romantic and otherwise—as the heroine searches for a job, a boyfriend, an identity.

Editors at Ballentine and Harlequin discuss what makes Chick Lit tick.

Will Write for Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel, by an author of chick lit, offers advice and a step-by-step method for writing the savvy and sassy chick lit novel.

While a romance novel usually ends with a wedding or a promise of one, a chick lit novel can end with the heroine having pink drinks with her girlfriends, dissing Mr. Wrong.

Note from Anne: Chick Lit is a bestselling genre that has found new popularity in the age of ebooks, but it was out of fashion for a few years. I see that Publisher's Lunch calls it "Rom-Com" rather than "Chick Lit" when talking about book dealsshort for "Romantic-Comedy." So if you're querying Chick Lit, you might want to call it "Rom-Com" unless the agent specifically asks for Chick Lit.

Literary Fiction


Cormac McCarthy and Michael Ondaatje come to mind as authors of literary fiction. Literary Fiction tends to focus more on character than plot although—because characters interact and events take place—LitFic does have plot.

The prose in LitFic possesses aesthetic value, and the theme(s) and emotions are layered, complex and serious.

Like other genres, Literary Fiction defines itself through cover design, titles, book formats and shelving. In addition, there are four characteristics that make Literary Fiction a distinct genre.

Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy


Think Charlaine Harris and Stephanie Meyer, Dead until Dark and Twilight. Think noir, paranormal and magic.

At Heroes And Heartbreakers, Larissa Benoliel defines the difference between these two popular genres.

Here’s a questionnaire that will also help distinguish between ParaNormal Romance (PNR) and Urban Fantasy (UF)

Award-winning author Jami Gold is a go-to guru in PNR and UF. She conducts workshops and offers tips, tricks and tools for writers. Jami mixes in “elements of suspense and women’s fiction to create ‘Beach Reads with Bite.’ Her stories range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply.” (And she's going to be our guest in August!...Anne.) 

Dystopian (Especially YA)


From Hunger Games to Divergent and Susanne Collins to Veronica Roth, this is a hotter-than-than-hot genre. In YA Dystopian fiction you’ll find reading lists, reviews and expert analysis.

Here’s pro advice from YA authors Lauren DeStefano and Moira Young on writing dystopian fiction and 5 more tips from "Miss Literati" about pushing the envelope in this wildly popular genre.


Mystery


Bestselling author P. D. James, Baroness James of Holland Park, OBE, FRSA, FRSL, is an English crime writer and creator of policeman and poet, Adam Dalgliesh. Baroness James has learned from writers like Jane Austen, Wilkie Collins, Dorothy L Sayers, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. Here are her 8 suggestions for writing a mystery.

Ron Lovell, author of The Martindale Mystery Series, sweats blood. Not really but sort of, as he tells how to write a mystery.

Susan Spann, an attorney and author of the Shinobi Mystery series, says that “mystery novels work a lot like any other genre, except that mystery writers murder their imaginary friends.” Susan lists 25 things you need to know about writing mysteries.

Ginny Wiehardt, editor and writing teacher, offers 10 rules for writing mystery.

Cozy Mystery


The author Agatha Christie and TV’s Murder, She Wrote mean “cozy” to millions of fans who are looking for mystery sans graphic sex, profanity and violence.

Lynn Farris delves into the specifics that distinguish a cozy mystery from a classic mystery. Find out everything a writer needs to know about this popular genre as Lynn analyzes elements including cover, protagonist, audience, setting, and plot.

Author Stephen D. Rogers has written a useful run-down of characters, plots, setting and the exceptions that define the cozy mystery. Stephen also adds a list of resources and markets relevant to authors of cozies.

The Cozy Mystery List adds to the information about the genre and recommends books, DVDs in this increasingly hot genre.

Thriller


We’re in James Bond territory here. The thriller revolves around around anticipation and suspense, action and excitement. Unlike a mystery in which a crime must be solved, in a thriller the hero/heroine must prevent the crime from being committed or the dastardly plot from going forward.

Top thriller writers from Daniel Silva to Edgar Award-winner John Hart give advice about writing the can’t-put-it-down thriller.

Ian Fleming discusses the line between fact and fiction in a thriller and describes the nuts-and-bolts of his writing process.

Police Procedural


The police procedural ranges from Evan Hunter/Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series to Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s ten-book Martin Beck series to Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series.

Mystery novelist and college professor Margot Kinberg discusses the wide range of this genre, its diversity, history and current status on her blog, Confessions of a Mystery Writer.

Christian Fiction


Targeted to a large audience, Christian Fiction offers inspiration, positive uplift and points the way for relatable characters to resolve their real-life dilemmas via faith. Christian Fiction encompasses numerous sub-genres including mystery, sci-fi, romance, women’s fiction, historical and more.

CrossBooks, a publisher of Christian Fiction, reaches out to authors and lays out guidelines for writing Christian Fiction with realistic characters confronting gritty issues like abuse and alcoholism.

American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) is a professional authors’ association similar to Romance Writers of America (RWA) and/or Mystery Writers of America (MWA). The goal of ACFW is “developing the skills of its authors, educating them in the market, and serving as an advocate in the Christian Fiction publishing industry.”

Horror


Horror comes in a variety of flavors. There’s creepy, gross-out, and just plain evil. There’s H.P. Lovecraft, Peter Straub and Stephen King. Don’t forget slime, monsters, vampires and locked rooms. Horror, like all fiction, isn’t easy to write but here’s Ramsey Campbell’s guide to avoiding the clichés.

Stephen King shares some thoughts about the craft of writing horror.

Novelist, screenwriter, and game designer, Chuck Wendig, lists 25 things you should know about writing horror including severed heads and septic fear.

At Hellnotes, Robert Gray suggests 13 tips about writing horror fiction.


Western


Cowboys and Indians, sheriffs and outlaws, gunslingers and schoolmarms—we’re talking Westerns. Louis L’Amour, Tony Hillerman, Zane Grey, Larry McMurtry and Elmore Leonard are among the masters of the form. Western Writers of America, sponsors of the annual Spur Award, represents professional authors of Western literature.

Popular sub-genres include Western Romance and Western Historical Romance.

R.L. Coffield offers these guidelines for writing a Western and Adrienne deWolf’s writing resources for writing a Western offers tips and research help.

The NaNoWriMo site has interesting facts about iconic Western towns like Tombstone and the dangerous perils of six-shooters plus more tips for writing a Western.

Lyn Horner, bestselling author of Western Romance, shares tips and techniques for writing a Western Romance.

SciFi/Fantasy


Noted sci-fi/fantasy author and teacher, Jeffrey A. Carver, a Nebula Award finalist and developer and host of the educational TV series, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing, has created an on-line course, how to write sci fi/fantasy. “There are no rules, exactly,” says Jeff. “But we do have what you might call guidelines. And that's to have fun writing!”

Award-winning sci-fi author, Massimo Marino, takes a scientist’s approach to sci-fi. Massimo, who worked at CERN—an international lab for particle physics research near Geneva, Switzerland—then at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab as well as with Apple Inc., and the World Economic Forum, has created a useful and entertaining Guide For Down-And-Dirty Hairy-Knuckled Sci-Fi Writers.

Roz Morris, author, editor, bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor, shares 3 tips for writing watertight fantasy, science fiction and time travel stories. Roz talks about the roles of logic and magic and illustrates her points by discussing mistakes she herself made and how she corrected them.

Author and editor, Charlie Jane Anders contemplates 10 “Rules” scifi/fantasy authors should break. Charlie offers insights into portal fantasies, when it’s better to tell, not show, and the possibilities of faster-than-light space travel.

There are dozens of subcategories of SciFi/Fantasy, too many to go into here. Some are: Steampunk (The Anubis Gates, Homunculus) Space Opera (Dune, the Foundation Trilogy), Hard SciFi (I, Robot), Epic Fantasy (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones), Cyberpunk (Neuromancer), Speculative Fiction (A Handmaid's Tale, Brave New World) and Time Travel (The Time Machine—not to be confused with Time Travel Romance like Somewhere in Time or Time Travel Women's Fiction like The Time Traveller's Wife.) 

Genres and sub-genres help readers find books and writers need to understand the conventions of his/her chosen genre to write satisfying fiction. Ignore the rules of genre at your own peril! 

What about you, Scriveners? Do you set out to write in a particular genre, or do you write books first and ask questions about genre afterward? Do you write cross-genre work that you find hard to place in traditional publishing categories? Have you ever set out to write in one genre and had the book turn out to be another?


BOOK OF THE WEEK

A Kiss at Kihali--sweet romance set against the backdrop of African animal rescue
A must-read for animal lovers.

Available at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA 





Beautiful and inspirational, A KISS AT KIHALI draws on the power of human-animal relationships, the heroic accomplishments of African animal orphanages, and the people, foreign and Kenyan, drawn to careers involving the care and conservation of wild animals. Filled with drama and danger that lead to a happy ending, A KISS AT KIHALI will appeal to readers who love tender romance and who have personally experienced the intense, mystical bond between humans and animals.

"A must-read for anyone who cares about animals and the environment, because what we do to them, we do to ourselves”... bestselling author Sibel Hodge

Coming up on the blog


June 1st: Anne will talk about how to launch a new book in the digital age.

June 8th: Nina Badzin: social media expert and freelance writer: regular contributor to Brain, ChildKveller, and the HuffPo. Nina will talk about what happens when you realize you like blogging more than working on your novel.

June 22: Nathan Bransford: Yes. That Nathan Bransford (squee!) Blog god, former agent, children's author, and author of How to Write a Novel.

July 20th: Janice Hardy: host of Fiction University and bestselling YA author. Repped by uber-agent Kristen Nelson.

August 10th Jami Gold: editor, writing teacher, award-winning paranormal romance author, and awesome blogger.

September 14th Barbara Silkstone: bestselling indie author and owner of the Second Act Cafe.


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


BLUE EARTH REVIEW FLASH FICTION CONTEST  $2 ENTRY FEE. 750 words or less. Limit two stories per entry. First place $500. Second place $250. Third place $100. Winners will be published in the Blue Earth Review, the literary magazine of Minnesota State University. Deadline August 1.

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" Short fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

The Golden Quill Awards: Entry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Deadline June 30th.

Drue Heinz Literature Prize for a collection of short fiction and/or novellas. Prize of $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Author must have been previously published in print journals. Deadline June 30.

WRITERS VILLAGE SUMMER SHORT FICTION CONTEST $24 ENTRY FEE. $4,800 First prize. Second prize $800, third prize $400 and 15 runner up prizes of $80. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Judges include Lawrence Block, a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, and Jill Dawson, Orange and Whitbread-shortlisted author of eight novels. Winning stories showcased online. Any genre of fiction may be submitted up to 3,000 words, except playscripts and poetry. Entries are welcomed world-wide. Deadline June 30.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tweet THIS, Not That! 12 Things Not to do on Twitter


This Week Twitter rolled out its new "mute" function for mobile phones. Muting will soon be available on all devices including your PC. That means you'll be able to mute anybody who tweets too often or annoys you with spam. 

So it will be more important than ever to avoid annoying your Tweeps. 

Here's some straight talk on the subject from Molly Greene, social media guru, blog coach, mystery novelist, and author of the handbook Blog It! The Author's Guide to Building an Online Brand.

I've learned a ton from reading her blog, so I was jazzed that she agreed to come to visit and tell us how to behave ourselves on Twitter.

And in case you think these are just "suggestions," pay attention to what Molly says about the Twitter Terms of Service. If you mis-use Twitter, your account may be suspended and you'll lose all your followers and have to start again from scratch. 


I've seen some of those "How I Made Millions with Kindle" books that tell authors to do all of the things Molly warns against. Keep in mind those books were based on successes in 2007-09 when ebooks were new and Twitter wasn't overrun with indie authors and marketers. What worked then has been so overdone, it doesn't work any more. And could get you suspended. 

Remember the first commandment of social media etiquette: Thou Shalt Not Spam. Short version: if it annoys you when it's done to you, it's spam. Spam isn't defined by what you can get away with; it's defined by how it makes your target feel...Anne


Tweet THIS, Not That!

by Molly Greene


If you’ve spent much time on Twitter, you’re probably already aware that all kinds of people hang out there. Authors, spammers, celebrities, ranters, self-help advocates, you name it. All sorts of folk hawking their products and services jostle shoulders in our feeds. 

It reminds me of eavesdropping on a thousand conversations all at once. And it’s easy to pick out personalities from a few simple tweets, because true character shines through. Am I right? 

Think of that next time you compose a 140-character sound bite.

Unfortunately, members of the self-publishing industry are notorious for utilizing aggressive book sale tactics on the platform. Every day authors jump onto TweetDeck and Hootsuite and program in a million tweets to try and sell their books – and often, this very practice is offered up to clients by book marketing consultants and social media experts who claim to be “in the know.”

I’m here today to refute that claim. While it’s perfectly acceptable to tweet a certain number of self-promotional messages, it’s not okay to tweet that promo directly to others. Unfortunately, I get a least one @mention a day from someone who isn’t following me, yet insists I buy their book and RT the message. Here are a couple of recent examples:

·       @mollygreene From Parochial School to the VC-infested jungles of Vietnam, http://amzn.link recounts my experiences in UNIFORMS SF! #RT
·       @mollygreene “Remember TEN-B. Throat, Eyes, Nose and Balls. 1 day your life might depend on it.” THE MACHAIR CROW at http://amzn.link
·       @mollygreene Special #BookBub #99cents Feature -Post Pattern on sale today! http://amzn.link #amreading #kindle #RT

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say that I don’t believe these authors understand that this behavior is irritating – and spam to boot. 

And the tweets are nearly worthless, since marketing your book solely to other authors is a no-win game. (Especially an author who's not even in your genre! Send me tweets about heavy-duty gore and violence, and it's an automatic unfollow...Anne.)

Twitter is not a direct-sale platform, and Twitter rules call foul:

 “If you send large numbers of unsolicited @replies or @mentions in an aggressive attempt to bring attention to a service or link.” ...Twitter Terms of Service

That means repeatedly tweeting or DM-ing a demand for others to visit your blog (instead of simply providing links to valuable content), like your Facebook page (rather than simply providing value in your posts), or buy your books is not only deeply annoying, it can get your Twitter account suspended.

Examples of tweets you should NEVER send:


1.  Thanks for the follow @suesmith! Visit my Facebook page (or blog) and like me (or subscribe) there, too: www.bloglink oh, and buy my book! 

2. Thanks for the follow! You can read all about me here: bloglink 

3. Looking for a great read @suesmith? Buy my book: http://amzn.link 

4. Free today! #Free #Kindle #eBook #Giveaway #YoullLoveIt #BestNovelEver #MustRead #RT 

5. nice blog post @suesmith, now here’s mine – read and retweet: www.bloglink 

6. Why did you block me @suesmith? 

7. @suesmith just unfollowed me 

8. Hi @suesmith! I just followed you – follow me back now 

9. [Insert] angry rant about any event, person (including literary agents!), situation, or disappointment 

10. [Insert] unsolicited, sarcastic, buttinsky comment about my profile, tweet, blog post or conversation with another tweep 

11. [Insert any all-encompassing message in all caps] HI EVERYONE! HOW ARE YOU? HAPPY MONDAY, TWITTERVERSE! 

12. [Insert any horribly mis-spelled message] I no your gong to luv my buk!

All these behaviors will just irritate folks or get you blocked. 

So why are these types of messages a drag to read on Twitter? Because spamming with strings of hashtags, tweeting about who has unfollowed you, begging for retweets, bragging about your social authority, demanding follows, insisting people pay attention to your books, Facebook page, or blog content … all this is about you.

What should you do instead?


It’s easy to tell people what they’re doing wrong, harder to advise about what is right. But if you look at Twitter like you look at life, you’ll see that the same rules apply. 

Twitter works best when you put others first. 

How? Be a giver, not a taker. Be a resource. 

1. Tweet valuable content that will be of interest to your targeted followers. 

2. Add to the conversation by reaching out and complimenting others on the content they share. 

3. Shine the light on others. Then your fans and followers may flatter you by sharing your links and content with their own followers.

4. Thank those generous followers by sharing the RT love.

If you don’t have anything nice to tweet, don’t tweet anything at all


You are going to come across people on Twitter you won’t particularly like or admire. They might even pick a fight with you, challenge your position on something, hurl insults or badger or stalk you. 

In short, you’ll meet a small percentage of folks who hide behind social media and spew offensive things. Take the high road. Do not engage them. Do not add fuel to their fire by responding or adding to the drama. 

DO NOT retweet their unkind remarks in hopes others will take notice and come to your aid.

JUST MOVE ON.

Apply the 80/20 rule for self-promotion


Nobody’s saying you can’t self-promote or share sale links to your books on Twitter. 

But if your feed is over-weighted with calls to purchase your goods, be forewarned that followers will grow weary of your spiel and unfollow you. 

The 80/20 rule applies: post 80% helpful content + RTs of your follower’s content + personal, “live” convos with others, and use the remaining 20% for self-promotion.

Readers, what do you love and hate about Twitter? How do you feel about auto DMs, crabby tweets, and aggressive book sale tactics? How do you balance interaction and self-promotion on social media?

Molly Greene is a blogger and author of Blog It! The author’s guide to building a successful online brand, and the Gen Delacourt Mystery series, which includes Mark of the LoonRapunzel, and Paint Me Gone. She blogs about her life and self-publishing topics at Molly-Greene.com and she spends time on Twitter  (@mollygreene) • Facebook and Google+  Stop by and say hello!

***

PS from Anne: This week I found another helpful tip for writers using Twitter. If you're aiming for a traditional publishing career and you're submitting to agents, the hashtag #MSWL can be a great short-cut to finding the right agents to query.

#MSWL stands for Manuscript Wish List. Agents tweet what they're looking for (and sometimes what they're tired of) so you can get a peek into the minds of those agents you're so carefully researching. (You are researching carefully before querying, right?) Here's an overview of the #MSWL community from DS Mosier on the Publishing Cohorts blog.

Other Twitter hashtags for queriers are #querytip and #askagent. But DO NOT send book promos for a manuscript or self-published book with those hashtags. Seriously, when I checked the hashtag right now, I saw a bunch of tweets that looked just like Molly's "Twitter Don'ts"! Mostly that stuff gets ignored, but some agent just might see your tweet and remember you. Not in a good way. 
...Anne

Coming up on the blog



June 8th: Nina Badzin: social media expert and freelance writer: regular contributor to Brain, ChildKveller, and the HuffPo.

June 22: Nathan Bransford: Yes. That Nathan Bransford (squee!) Blog god, former agent, children's author, and author of How to Write a Novel.

July 20th: Janice Hardy: host of Fiction University and bestselling YA author. Repped by uber-agent Kristen Nelson.

August 10th Jami Gold: editor, writing teacher, award-winning paranormal romance author, and awesome blogger.

September 14th Barbara Silkstone: bestselling indie author and owner of the Second Act Cafe.

And of course NYT million-seller Ruth Harris will continue her information-packed posts on the last Sunday of each month. 


BOOKS OF THE WEEK


Molly Greene's great blog guide for authors is available on Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA , Kobo, and Nook

Blog It! The Author's Guide to Building a Successful Online Brand by Molly Greene



"Molly's book taught me so much. When I read it, I was pretty much blogged out. I'd said everything I had to say about the art and craft of writing and publishing. But Molly re-energized me with her concrete solutions for bloggers in need of new topics. I had to stop reading to jot down ideas for posts, that's how fast this book works.

Blog It! is easy to follow and packed with pertinent information. Molly gives clear, concise instructions for beginning bloggers and those of us in need of a blog-lift. I'd recommend this book to any blogger, from seasoned pro to newbie to not quite there yet."...Cynthia Harrison

and also...

FREE ON AMAZON!!


Due to a weird glitch, Anne's funny mystery SHERWOOD LTD. is FREE right now on Amazon US. (I'm not sure if it's free in other countries, since they don't show the price) It climbed to the top 200 free books over the weekend: #3 in Humor and #21 in Romantic Comedy. So if you haven't read #3 in Camilla's misadventures (great to read as a stand-alone) and you want a fun summer read, grab it while it's free. My publisher is working on restoring the price, but he has no idea when it will go back up to $3.99



Camilla's hilarious misadventures with merry band of  outlaw indie publishers in the English Midlands, where she falls for a self-styled Robin Hood who may or may not be trying to kill her.

"Good Manners for Bad Times author Camilla Randall (Dr. Manners) could use a publisher, or, at least, the cash advance from a publisher. Currently broke and homeless, she would welcome opportunity knocking on her nonexistent door. Eventually it does. Sort of. From across the Atlantic, the upscale pornography press, Sherwood, Limited, is looking to become respectable. Free residency in their Lincolnshire factory is included. How can any well mannered person decline?" ...Kathleen Keena

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


Amazon’s literary journal Day One is seeking submissions. According to Carmen Johnson, Day One’s editor, the litzine is looking for “fresh and compelling short fiction and poetry by emerging writers.” This includes stories that are less than 20,000 words by authors that have never been published, and poems by poets who have never published before. To submit works, writers/poets can email their work as a word document, along with a brief description and author bio to dayone-submissions @amazon.com.

Drue Heinz Literature Prize for a collection of short fiction and/or novellas. Prize of $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Author must have been previously published in print journals. Deadline June 30.

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" Short fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

WRITERS VILLAGE SUMMER SHORT FICTION CONTEST $24 ENTRY FEE. $4,800 First prize. Second prize $800, third prize $400 and 15 runner up prizes of $80. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Judges include Lawrence Block, a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, and Jill Dawson, Orange and Whitbread-shortlisted author of eight novels. Winning stories showcased online. Any genre of fiction may be submitted up to 3,000 words, except playscripts and poetry. Entries are welcomed world-wide. Deadline June 30.

The Golden Quill Awards: Entry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Deadline June 30th.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

The New Golden Age of Short Fiction: 12 Reasons to Write a Short Story This Month

by Anne R. Allen

I recently heard from a writer who said she felt disrespected by her writing group. They were all working on novels and memoir and didn't take her short fiction work seriously.

I saw another writer on Google Plus asking for help because his work kept coming in at around 40 pages—like that was a bad thing.

They were dealing with a common problem: short stories (up to 30K words) and novellas (30k-50K words) haven't been getting much respect since the demise of the fiction market in mainstream magazines two decades ago.

(Those word counts are from Writer's Digest. Some people use the term "novelette" to mean a story in the 10K to 30K range.)

For the past twenty years or so, most writers have treated short stories as practice pieces for classes and workshops—like the finger exercises piano students do before they graduate to playing real music.

And many of us have been treating novellas as unfinished, failed novels that need "fleshing out."

But that's so last century.

Shorter fiction is having a renaissance in the digital age. In fact, this may be the new golden age of the short story.

The New York Times reports, "Stories are perfect for the digital age...because readers want to connect and want that connection to be intense and to move on. That is, after all, what a short story is all about."

Book marketing guru Penny Sansevieri said in the HuffPo: "short is the new long. Thanks to consumers who want quick bites of information and things like Kindle Singles, consumers love short."

Short stories can also be a marketing tool for longer works.  Digital Book World's Rob Eagar said, "Selling your book means writing effective newsletters, blog posts, short stories, free resources, social media posts, word-of-mouth tools, magazine articles, etc."

So it's definitely time for fiction writers to start re-thinking the shorter forms. I wish I'd never left them. It's hard to get those "writing muscles" working again when I've been focused on novels for so long.

During the early part of my career when I was writing and re-writing my “practice novels” I could have been building an inventory of short pieces that would be a gold mine now.

Traditional publishing still isn't interested in story collections from new writers, but collections of previously published shorts by big names like George Saunders are reaping awards and making money for the Big Five.

And Amazon welcomes short fiction in both their Kindle Singles program and their new literary magazine Day One. Self-publishers are finding success with shorter fiction on all retail sites.

People talk these days about the novel as if it's the most "legitimate" form of fiction, but it's a relatively new art form. It was perfect for the age of Gutenberg, but perhaps it won't dominate the market so completely in the digital age.

Cervantes is generally credited with inventing the novel with the 1605 publication of Don Quixote, but the form didn’t make it into English until a century later—and for a long time it had to masquerade as “history” as Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe did in 1719.

Non-factual narratives were considered frivolous and time-wasting even into the Victorian era. In the 20th century, the novel finally surpassed the play as the most revered form of fictional artistic expression in English.

But who knows what will happen in the 21st century? The times they are a-changing, especially in the publishing business. The popularity the novella, short story, and serial is on the upswing. 

Here are some reasons why writers might want to rethink short fiction:

1) Smaller screens and shorter attention spans are changing the way we read.


We're a multi-tasking world. As bestselling short story writer Amber Dermont told the New York Times: “The single-serving quality of a short narrative is the perfect art form for the digital age…Stories are models of concision, can be read in one sitting, and are infinitely downloadable and easily consumed on screens.”

When the Kindle Singles program launched in 2011, they sold 2 million "singles" ebooks in the first year. And you don't have to be accepted into the highly competitive Kindle Singles program to publish stand-alone stories as ebooks. Many indies are doing it too. And agents are assisting their clients in self-publishing shorts.

Cal Morgan of Harper Perennial said in the same NYT article: “It is the culmination of a trend we have seen building for five years…The Internet has made people a lot more open to reading story forms that are different from the novel, and you see a generation of writers very engaged in experimentation.”

As I mentioned above, Amazon is actively promoting short fiction with Kindle Singles and its new Day One magazine. Kindle Singles are mostly for established authors, but Day One is actively seeking debut authors. (Info on submissions in the "opportunity alerts" below.) Amazon knows that the e-reader has ushered in a new kind of reading that favors brevity. More on that in my post last week on the 21st Century Reader.

2) The success of serial fiction like Hugh Howey’s Wool


Hugh Howey made history (and a nice chunk of change) by self-publishing his sci-fi novel Wool as a series of shorts—like the Saturday matinee cliff-hanger short films of the early 20th century. He put his first episode—a stand-alone that’s also a teaser—perma-free on Amazon, and the fans ate up the succeeding chapters, offered at 99c each.

Howey is now a superstar with a top agent, a deal with Random Penguin, and a movie deal with Ridley Scott. And it all started with one little short story.

I know many writers who are now serializing their work for free on  Wattpad, which is a great place to showcase short fiction and get new fans. And Readwave is a story sharing-site that looks like a promising alternative to Wattpad.

Note: not every author can do what Howey did. I know some writers have had negative feedback when they sold each chapter for 99c, since so many full length books can be bought for that price these days.

So make sure each installment gives value—I'd say at least 10K-20K words, maybe divided into chapter-lets—and make the first one perma-free. Some novels lend themselves to serialization and some don't. You want each installment to work as a stand-alone story arc with a cliffhanger to keep the reader coming back.

3) Story anthologies are a great way to get your work in front of fans of more established authors in your genre


Short story and personal-essay anthologies are one of the best ways to increase your visibility. Especially for indies. They're inexpensive to put together as ebooks. They usually don’t pay, and often donate proceeds to a charity.

But if you can get a story into an anthology with some well-known authors in your genre, you’ll be paid in publicity that would be hard to buy at any price. All those authors' fans will be exposed to your work. For more on anthologies check my post on how to tell a good anthology from a scam.

Being in an anthology also gives an unpublished writer some great cred as a writer. Many successful authors I network with were first published by the Literary Lab anthologies, which also gave me a leg up when my career was in freefall.

Another plus for anthologies: some of the biggies, like the Chicken Soup series, also come out in print and are stocked in bookstores. So some anthologies can get you noticed by the old-school reader, too.

4) Published stories identify you as a professional.


Your website or blog has much more cred if you've got some publications to link to. And no matter what your genre, agents will be more likely to look at your pages if you've got publishing credits.

And it’s still pretty much the only way to a publishing contract if you write literary fiction. I don't know of a lot of successful literary writers who didn't also publish short stories in places like The New Yorker, The Paris Review, the Atlantic or McSweeneys

But they didn't get the first story they wrote published by The New Yorker. First they had to place dozens in small literary journals—those tiny labors of love that used to cost a ton to produce and often had under a hundred subscribers.

In the old days we often had to pay $25 or more to subscribe to find out what kind of writing they wanted and get the info on how to submit to them. But these days, most literary journals are available online. They have larger readerships and you don’t have to pay a fortune to read them or find out what the editors are looking for.

And if you write genre fiction, you don't have to start your career getting endless rejections from the ultra-competitive print magazines that still buy short stories, like Women's World, Ellery Queen and Asimov's.

Now there are are lots of genre story online zines. Here's a link to a great list of genre story markets put together by Romance author Cathleen Ross. Writer's Digest has contests exclusively for genre fiction.

5) Networking with editors at small magazines can get you a leg up.


Editors at literary magazines do their work for the love of their craft. Often they have connections in other parts of the publishing world. If you impress one of them, you can get an "in" with publishers you might never find otherwise.

I found my first publisher because one of their editors also volunteered for an online litzine that accepted my short fiction. The litzine went under before my story went up, but the editor liked my writing so much, he asked me if I had any novel manuscripts he could take to the publishing house where he worked. Two months later I had my first publishing contract.


6) Indie films are often adaptations of short fiction.


Stories are easier to adapt for the screen than full-length novels. Cheaper too. They tend to have fewer crowd scenes and more small interior settings.

Cost matters in the growing indie film world. Just as indies are revolutionizing the publishing industry, they are also the life-blood of the film industry. While the big studios concentrate on huge comic book spectacles and remakes of old TV shows, the more emotionally rich, award-winning films are coming from small-budget indies.

Some of our most enduring films have come from short stories. Classic films like The Birds; Breakfast at Tiffany's; Don't Look Now; Double Indemnity, Flowers for Algernon—and I’d need a whole post to list the stories of Stephen King and Philip K. Dick that have been made into great films. More recent Oscar contenders like Brokeback Mountain, Away from Her, and the Squid and the Whale were originally short stories. And I just heard on NPR this morning that the new Jesse Eisenberg film, the Double, is based on a novella by Dostoevsky.

7) Online retail sites favor authors with more titles


The more titles you have in an online bookstore, the more visible you are. You can write and publish a lot of shorter titles and have a bigger presence in the marketplace than with one long book.

Most writers can’t turn out more than two or three books a year, but they can turn out a lot of short stories and novellas.

8) Contests raise your profile and can win big bucks


Winning a story contest is a great way to promote yourself as a writer and create visibility for your books. Win a well-known contest and you can crow about it in social media and send press releases to the local newspapers to get some ink in your own hometown.

Story and creative short nonfiction contests are easy to discover and enter in the era of the Interwebz. Hope C. Clark's Funds for Writers , Poets and Writers, and the website Winning Writers are good sources for vetted contests.

For a list of fee-free contests and opportunities, Erika Dreifus has a great list on her blog called The Practicing WriterWriters Digest has a number going on throughout the year.

And, ahem, I always list a few good ones in the "opportunity alerts" in these posts.

Entering short story contests is also an excellent way to get your career started. A big win for one of your pieces looks great in a query or a bio. Plus you might even win a money prize.

A lot of those prizes are bigger than the advances publishers offer on novels these days.

Plus some of the biggest prizes in literature are still for short fiction, like the Pushcart and the O. Henry award. And the venerable "Best of…" anthologies give huge prestige to those included.

9) Shorts keep your fans interested between novel releases


Forward-looking agents are now encouraging their authors to self-publish shorts to fill in the gaps between novels. They especially like shorts that are about characters in your novels. They keep your fans interested while they’re waiting for the next book.

(Note, if your publisher has a non-compete clause, you won't be allowed to do this. Another reason to have a legal professional look over your contract before you sign.)

Consider writing a couple of shorts about your main characters while you're working on the novel. It may get you through a tricky spot in the big work as well as giving you a saleable product for later down the road.

10) Short stories make money and hold their value


In terms of labor, a short story can make more money than a novel. Not only does it take less time to write and often sells for the same price as a novel in an ebook, but it can be re-purposed many times. Also, as I said earlier, contest prizes for short fiction can be substantial

I have stories that have been published and republished up to six times litzines and anthologies. And I can always self-publish them again in a collection sometime down the road.

11) Writing short keeps your writing skills honed.


Writing  poetry and short stories keeps your writing from getting flabby and verbose. You can't spend three pages describing the wallpaper in short fiction. You have to learn to sketch with a few broad strokes.

In these days when readers demand "just the good parts" writing, learning to write short can help no matter what genre you're writing in .

12) May is Short Story Writing Month


Inspired by April’s National Poetry Month a group of writers supported by the StoryADay writing challenge, deemed May to be International Short Story Month.

They say short stories:
  1. Make the perfect intro to a new author’s work
  2. Are a great way for readers to get a top-up from their favorite authors between novels,
  3. Are a perfect impulse purchase on a phone or e-reader.
So isn't this the perfect time to write one?


Like any other skill, your ability to create short fiction will atrophy if you don’t use it. I find it a lot harder to write a short story now than I did when I wrote them regularly.

I admit I've always preferred reading and writing longer fiction. Most writers do gravitate to one form or the other. I know my ideas generally spool out in about 80,000 words. Shorter is harder for me.

The reverse is true for other writers. Some great short story writers have a hard time writing good novels. One of our greatest short story writers, Katherine Anne Porter, only wrote one novel, Ship of Fools, which was more like a tapestry of many short stories woven together without a compelling story arc. Critic Elizabeth Hardwick said it was " too static" in spite of "the flawless execution of the single scenes."

There's nothing wrong with preferring one form over the other. But these days, it will pay off to work on fiction in a variety of lengths. Not just short stories. Novellas, once taboo in traditional publishing, are soaring in popularity in the e-age.

Do note: I don't encourage newbie writers to self-publish your very first efforts at story-writing. To succeed in publishing—whether self- or traditional—you need to put in your 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell hours. But you can maximize your efforts by spending more of those hours writing short fiction and creative nonfiction shorts.

What about you, scriveners? Did you get out of the habit of writing short fiction the way I did? Have you written any lately? Have short stories helped your career? 

Coming up on the blog: We have a fantastic line-up of guest posts for the summer.


May 18: Molly Greene: blog coach, romantic suspense author, and author of Blog It, the Author's Guide to Building a Successful Online Brand

June 8th: Nina Badzin: social media expert and freelance writer: regular contributor to Brain, Child, Kveller, and the HuffPo.

June 22: Nathan Bransford: Yes. That Nathan Bransford (squee!) Blog god, former agent, children's author, and author of How to Write a Novel.

July 20th: Janice Hardy: host of Fiction University and bestselling YA author. Repped by uber-agent Kristen Nelson.

August 10th Jami Gold: editor, writing teacher, award-winning paranormal romance author, and awesome blogger.

September 14th Barbara Silkstone: bestselling indie author and owner of the Second Act Cafe.

And of course NYT million-seller Ruth Harris will continue her information-packed posts on the last Sunday of each month. 


I'd like to wish a happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. It's a tough day for me since I lost my mom recently. So I want to give her a gift today and spotlight her wonderful books.


Books of the Week

Two books by Dr. Shirley Seifried Allen, my mom. 
She died December 1st, 2013 at the age of 92. 
She published her mystery Academic Body at the age of 89.

I learned most of what I know about writing from her. She was a Bryn Mawr PhD. who taught English Literature and creative writing at the University of Connecticut for many years. She's also the author of the nonfiction book, Samuel Phelps and Sadler's Wells Theatre, published by Wesleyan University Press. It's out of print, but still available used. 

Roxanna Britton, a Biographical Novel. 
Special Mother's Day sale: Only 99c on AmazonAmazon UK, and Amazon CA


"This has become one of my all time favorite stories of "real" people. Ms. Allen's adept use of dialogue and her clear eye for drama and suspense kept me compulsively turning the pages. Her evocation of a bygone era, rich with descriptive details--the historical Chicago fire is one vivid example--is absolutely brilliant. 

I will never forget Sanny and her family, especially her struggle and her daughters' struggle to become individuals in a male dominated world. But it is family that triumphs in the end; and the need for it to survive resonates most deeply in my mind and heart. An excellent novel that I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys reading true stories about people who not only overcome adversity with grace and integrity but through strength of character also prevail. Well done, Ms. Shirley Allen!"...Ann Carbine Best


Academic Body: A Classic Cozy Mystery in the tradition of the "Thin Man" books. Available for $2.99 at Amazon USAmazon CAAmazon UKNook and Kobo

"The academics at Weaver College are maintaining their exemplary standards, setting a stellar example for their students. Extramarital affairs, presumptuous posturing, blackout drinking, and gossip are part of campus life for this faculty. 

But when their blackmailing dean is suddenly murdered, all who saw him that night become suspects. Retired stage director Paul Godwin, lately turned professor, and his actress wife Lenore ponder the dean's death with the theatrical knowledge of given circumstances, personal motivation, and a thorough comprehension of Shakespeare's classic tragedies and Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, which seamlessly parallel the action. 

A hilarious farce about college life delivers us to the circumstances that lead to murder most foul."...Kathleen Keena


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS

Amazon’s literary journal Day One is seeking submissions. According to Carmen Johnson, Day One’s editor, the litzine is looking for “fresh and compelling short fiction and poetry by emerging writers.” This includes stories that are less than 20,000 words by authors that have never been published, and poems by poets who have never published before. To submit works, writers/poets can email their work as a word document, along with a brief description and author bio to dayone-submissions @amazon.com.

Drue Heinz Literature Prize for a collection of short fiction and/or novellas. Prize of $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Author must have been previously published in print journals. Deadline June 30.

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" Short fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

WRITERS VILLAGE SUMMER SHORT FICTION CONTEST $24 ENTRY FEE. $4,800 First prize. Second prize $800, third prize $400 and 15 runner up prizes of $80. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Judges include Lawrence Block, a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, and Jill Dawson, Orange and Whitbread-shortlisted author of eight novels. Winning stories showcased online. Any genre of fiction may be submitted up to 3,000 words, except playscripts and poetry. Entries are welcomed world-wide. Deadline June 30.

The Golden Quill Awards: Entry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Entries accepted from April 1-June 30th.

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Sunday, May 4, 2014

How To Write For the 21st Century Reader: 6 Tips to Modernize Your Prose


Publishing isn't the only thing that's being transformed by the digital age. Reading and writing themselves are evolving.

We may not like it, but as writers, we need to be aware that our audience's habits are changing.

Last month I wrote about how to format your blog for easy skimming, and unfortunately, we need to keep the skimmer in mind when writing our books as well. A good percentage of readers buy their novels for screens now, and their habits spill over from Web browsing to novel-reading.

Recently I've been getting some bizarre reviews for my novels, and I'm seeing similar ones on my favorite authors' books. It often seems to me the reviewers have read an entirely different piece of fiction.

But I can now see the reviews probably come from people who skim.

My books—and the ones I like to read—are full of fun one-liners and little ironic treats for people who are paying attention. But all the humor and irony is lost on skimmers who are rushing through, reading only for plot.

Personally, I'm a slow reader who savors every word.  I grew up reading literary fiction and I also read genre fiction with an eye to detail, character, and nuance.

Reading only for plot seems to me like eating the pizza crust and throwing away the toppings. Or maybe watching Seinfeld with the sound off. But I have to accept that people like me are no longer in the majority.


"Before the Internet, the brain read mostly in linear ways — one page led to the next page, and so on...The Internet is different. With so much information, hyperlinked text, videos alongside words and interactivity everywhere, our brains form shortcuts to deal with it all — scanning, searching for key words, scrolling up and down quickly...Some researchers believe that for many people, this style of reading is beginning to invade when dealing with other mediums as well."

The changes in reading and writing are so profound that Rob Eagar wrote in a piece in Digital Book World  last October that authors no longer exist. 

He said—obviously with a layer of snark:

"There is no such thing as an 'author'.  Instead, there are only people who write stuff that they want other people to buy. Nobody dreams about writing for free, and the few who don’t care if people buy what they write are generally known as 'poets'.  If there’s no such thing as an author, how do we define people who write stuff that they want other people to buy? We call them 'salespeople.'"

Okay, okay, don't bite my head off. I didn't say that, Mr. Eagar did. (I actually write some poetry and admit I'm totally jazzed when somebody offers to publish it for no pay whatsoever.)

But he's making an important point. We probably need to think of copywriting as part of our skill set—as he says:

"Selling your book means writing effective newsletters, blog posts, short stories, free resources, social media posts, word-of-mouth tools, magazine articles, etc." 

This isn't really news. Ruth and I—and most writing bloggers—tell you this stuff all the time. Last month Ruth wrote a comprehensive post on the art of the blurb which is all about using copywriting skills to sell your book.

But Eagar is pushing it one notch further: he's saying we shouldn't think of selling as a burden, but part of the job description. He says writers have to learn to "sell" within the prose itself.

We now need to entice the reader to stay with us. 

Readers now have the content of all world's libraries and bookstores—plus most of the films and TV shows—at their fingertips. Plus instead of investing $15-$30 in a new book, they're probably paying under $5. If it doesn't grip them with every word, they click away.

But the merging of sales techniques with the art of fiction isn't exclusive to the digital age. James Patterson pioneered it in the early 1990s.

Patterson came to writing from a career in advertising. (He was the Don Draper of one of the biggest ad agencies in New York in the 1980s.) He used his copywriting skills to create the unique prose style that has made him the bestselling novelist of the past 14 years. His books have sold more than 300 million copies: more than Stephen King, John Grisham, and Dan Brown combined.

Patterson isn't just a "good storyteller" as he described himself in a recent interview with Joe Berkowitz at Co.Create .

He is a master of white space.

He places words on a page in a way that's enticing and easy to read. He uses short chapters that invite the reader to go for "one more chapter," creating a kind of popcorn for the brain. 

Or as he puts, he "glues people to the page"

I'm not saying we should all copycat Patterson—but there are things we can learn from him that will make our stories more modern and will draw in the contemporary, skimming reader:

1) Shorten chapters. 


An Oyster study reported in the New York Times in December 2013 says people are 25% more likely to finish books with shorter chapters.

We don't all need to write two-and-a-half-page Patterson chapters. Sometimes a scene goes long and that's how it works best. But if a chapter has natural breaks—the ones we generally indicate with a skipped line—consider making each scene a separate chapter.

My editor suggested I do this with my third Camilla mystery, Sherwood, Ltd, and a lot of people have told me they prefer it. I used even shorter chapters with No Place Like Home, and that's my most popular book yet. So I have to admit there's something to this, even though it was hard to break from my habit of 10 page chapters with a multi-purpose, sometimes ironic title that gave an overview of all the scenes.

2) Unbury your dialogue.


Start a paragraph with dialogue instead of action. I learned about this from reading blogs like Writing on the Wall, the blog of  Freelance Editor Lynette Labelle.

As she says, avoiding buried dialogue "isn’t a rule. It’s more like a trick to help keep your story’s pace flowing well. If you look through some of the more recently published novels, you’ll see authors rarely bury their dialogue"

Here's a scene from my original 2005 Babash-Ryan version of my rom-com, The Best Revenge:

Mr. Kahn’s voice got louder.“Why are you working for me? It’s obviously not the money. Eight hundred dollars a month is pocket change for somebody like you. “Is it revenge, Ms. Randall? Wasn’t blacklisting me enough for you? Is that angelic face hiding the soul of a vindictive bitch?” His eyes flashed icy blue.

This last speech had an odd effect on Camilla. She stopped wishing for the floor to swallow her up. Taking a deep breath, she drew on her mother’s most powerful weapons: a steady smile, and a slow, calm voice. “Mr. Kahn, I do not intend to get into a contest of bad manners with you. Bad manners are obviously your field of expertise, not mine."


And here's the more modern version:

“Why are you working for me?" Mr. Kahn’s voice got louder. "It’s obviously not the money. Eight hundred dollars a month is pocket change for somebody like you."

His eyes flashed icy blue

“Is it revenge, Ms. Randall? Wasn’t blacklisting me enough for you? Is that angelic face hiding the soul of a vindictive bitch?”

This last speech had an odd effect on Camilla. She stopped wishing for the floor to swallow her up. Taking a deep breath, she drew on her mother’s most powerful weapons: a steady smile, and a slow, calm voice. 


"Mr. Kahn, I do not intend to get into a contest of bad manners with you. Bad manners are obviously your field of expertise, not mine."

See how the eye is drawn through the scene?

Putting the dialogue up front allows people to see something juicy is coming as they scan the page. Readers generally prefer dialogue to internal thoughts or "business". So we need to put the most important stuff at the beginning of the paragraph. Or, second best, at the end.

3) Break up paragraphs.


Recently I happened on a piece by P. G. Wodehouse from a 1970s issue of The Paris Review. Wodehouse was of the most entertaining writers of all time. But I found it tough going.

I mean, those paragraphs were HUGE. Solid blocks of words. I found myself mentally breaking them down to get to the point.

And I'm an old person. I can only imagine how it is for younger people who have never had to attack those indigestible hunks of text.


4) Don't paint a picture, sketch.


In the age of instant media, descriptive passages are mostly for the author (and our inner poet), not the reader. If you want to get the map of your medieval village or your teen heroine's school set firmly in your mind, by all means write it all down.

Just don't put it in your final draft.

Everybody has an idea what a medieval village and a contemporary high school look like, and if they don't, they can Google it.

But back in the 19th century, before air travel—and films and color photographs—a writer knew many of his readers probably didn't have a clue what an English country house looked like, or the Rocky Mountains, or a spooky old castle.

So Victorian novelists wrote pages and pages of description, like this opening paragraph of Henry James' 1881 novel, Portrait  of a Lady. (No, this isn't the whole paragraph. It's about half. Obviously written in another time.)

"Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. There are circumstances in which, whether you partake of the tea or not - some people of course never do, - the situation is in itself delightful. Those that I have in mind in beginning to unfold this simple history offered an admirable setting to an innocent pastime. The implements of the little feast had been disposed upon the lawn of an old English country-house, in what I should call the perfect middle of a splendid summer afternoon. Part of the afternoon had waned, but much of it was left, and what was left was of the finest and rarest quality. Real dusk would not arrive for many hours; but the flood of summer light had begun to ebb, the air had grown mellow, the shadows were long upon the smooth, dense turf. They lengthened slowly, however, and the scene expressed that sense of leisure still to come which is perhaps the chief source of one's enjoyment of such a scene at such an hour. From five o'clock to eight is on certain occasions a little eternity; but on such an occasion as this the interval could be only an eternity of pleasure. The persons concerned in it were taking their pleasure quietly, and they were not of the sex which is supposed to furnish the regular votaries of the ceremony I have mentioned."

But these days, hey, most of us have seen Downton Abbey. And even for the people who haven't, pretty much everybody has their own picture of this setting in their own memory banks from a movie or photograph. Describing it in detail will not only bore them, it may even interfere with their own imaginative enjoyment of the story.

As Patterson says, "I think what hooks people into my stories is the pace. I try to leave out the parts people skip."

And these days, people skip a lot.

What you want to share with your reader is the emotions, not the visuals. They can do a lot of the visual work themselves. Let us know how the country house or the medieval village or the spooky old castle makes the characters feel and you've hooked the reader.  

5) Make entertainment your top priority.


"The way it really happened" is almost always NOT the best way to tell your story.

Real life is full of traffic lights, pointless conversations, and long lines at the bank. Entertainment just gives us the good parts.

Realism is overrated. The most entertaining books and films aren't realistic at all. In fact, the most memorable stories go way over the top. One of my favorite movie moments ever is when Harold and Kumar ride the cheetah. 

Is that realistic? Not even a little bit.

  • Is it realistic that someone like Miss Jane Marple of St. Mary Mead would personally know hundreds of murderers and crime victims?
  • Or that a 107-year-old vampire would go to high school? (Even if you suspend disbelief about the whole vampire thing.)
  • Or that some rich guy would dress up in a bat suit to fight crime?

Nope. But this is the stuff of some of our most popular entertainment.

In real life, we get stuck in traffic on the way to the burger place and end up eating the stale M & Ms in the glove compartment and going home and watching reruns of Law and Order

In entertainment, we ride cheetahs.

I love this quote from Patterson,

"I don't do realism. Sometimes people will mention that something I've written doesn't seem realistic and I always picture them looking at a Chagall and thinking the same thing. You can say, "I don't like what you do, or I don't like Chagall, or I don't like Picasso" but saying that these things are not realistic is irrelevant." 

Yes, you're going to get snarky reviews from people who think every book needs to be "realistic" (I sure get them—even for my silliest farces), but that kind of review doesn't seem to have hurt Mr. Patterson one bit.

6. Write Shorter Books and Publish More Frequently


Novellas and short informational books are surging in popularity. That's not to say that full-length books are on their way out, but you can fill in with shorter ones. Or you can break that doorstop saga into a trilogy of shorter works.


"Ten thousand to seventeen thousand words is generally acceptable. Keep in mind that if you do short, you don't have room for fluff. "

For more on novellas and short works see our great step-by-step post on how to write a novella by Paul Alan Fahey.

***

Am I personally going to switch from reading Margaret Atwood and Donna Tartt to downloading this week's Patterson? (He does turn them out at record speed.)

Sorry, no. More thoughtful fiction is my comfort zone. I love a nuanced, complex read, and I hope writers will continue to create the works of art I prefer.

Am I going to remove my signature irony, whimsy and humor from my books to accommodate the chronic skimmers? Again, no.

Am I going to start publishing four novellas a year instead of desperately trying to come up with one or two 80,000 worders?

Probably not right away. I'm going to have to learn to write novellas, for one thing. Writing shorter takes different muscles. And I tend to like big plots with lots of intertwining subplots.

But I am working on breaking up paragraphs, unburying dialogue, providing more white space—and I'll keep working on those shorter chapters my editor loves.

What about you, Scriveners? Have you started writing to accommodate the skimmer? How do you feel about adding "salesmanship" to your skill set? Do you write shorter chapters than you used to? Do you have more tips for writing 21st century prose? 


BOOK DEAL OF THE WEEK

The Best Revenge: normally $2.99, is Only 99c on Amazon this month! Also available at Amazon UKAmazon CAAmazon AU, and Nook


Snarky, delicious 1980s fun. And hey, the New Yorker says the 1980s are THE decade for nostalgia these days.


Perennially down-and-out socialite Camilla Randall is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but she always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way. This first episode of the Camilla Randall mysteries romps through the glitzy 1980s, when 19-year-old Camilla loses everything: her fortune, her gay best friend, and eventually her freedom. When she's falsely accused of a TV star's murder, she discovers she's made of sterner stuff than anyone imaginedherself included.


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


Amazon’s literary journal Day One is seeking submissions. According to Carmen Johnson, Day One’s editor, the litzine is looking for “fresh and compelling short fiction and poetry by emerging writers.” This includes stories that are less than 20,000 words by authors that have never been published, and poems by poets who have never published before. To submit works, writers/poets can email their work as a word document, along with a brief description and author bio to dayone-submissions @amazon.com.

NOWHERE TRAVEL STORIES $15 ENTRY FEE. $1000 prize plus publication. Award-winning literary travel magazine, Nowhere, is teaming up with Outside Magazine for the first Nowhere Spring Travel Writing Contest. Stories can be fiction or nonfiction. Entries should be be between 800-5,000 words and must not have been previously chosen as a winner in another contest. Previously published work is accepted. Deadline June 15

Drue Heinz Literature Prize for a collection of short fiction and/or novellas. Prize of $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Author must have been previously published in print journals. Deadline June 30.

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

$800 prize for your unpublished or self-published novel, plus possible representation. Writers' Village International Novel Award. $22 entry fee. The winning author will be assessed by international literary agency A. M. Heath for possible representation. The top eight contestants will receive personal feedback on their novels by the judge, novelist Michelle Spring, Royal Literary Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge. Entries are welcome worldwide. Deadline June 30th

The Golden Quill Awards: Entry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Entries accepted from April 1-June 30th.

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