Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Research Your Topic, Setting and Characters

Factual details add depth to every short story and novel, especially in terms of plot (killing a character in a murder mystery) physical location (the names of streets for a chase scene in Rome), activities performed by your characters (the equipment required to scuba dive in Norway compared to snorkeling in the Bahamas) and character descriptions.

Good research makes your story more believable because the author presents verifiable facts, interweaving “what if?” scenarios and implausible actions in a logical format. While some of these details can come from the author’s personal experience, it never hurts to perform additional research.
Internet search engines such as Google, Bing, Ask, Yahoo and others are all excellent sources of information, especially when researching specific topics.

Check news sites for stories on your topic of choice. For example, a search for the Zika virus had more than 44 million matches on Google alone.

In the pre-internet days, authors used libraries and books for research. While many people consider libraries and paper books obsolete and outdated in today’s technological world, books are still a very valuable resource.

For example, let’s assume you are writing a murder mystery. You want to have a victim die of poison, but not something exotic. Your villain needs to be able to whip up a deadly dose using common kitchen items. Where can you find a resource that helps you concoct just such a poison?

One answer is Deadly Doses: a writer’s guide to poisons. Part of the Howdunit Series of non-fiction books (currently 17 books) by experts in their fields, Deadly Doses was written by Serita Stevens and Anne Klarner. One online review of Deadly Doses is, “This book goes into detail about various poisons, the ease of access in obtaining them, and everything else that would help to explain why a character would choose a certain poison.”

Look hard enough and you can find answers to most of your questions. Can food crops grow in Martian soil? Andy Weir, author of The Martian, did his technology research.

Good authors take copious notes, copy web page links or both. When they get to a section where they need to describe a product or past event, they can look it up. This author uses two monitors: one for writing and one for research.

Another great research tool is Google Earth. Do you want to describe a foreign land without paying a fortune to visit it, or clutter a table with paper maps? Google has a free version for casual research and a fee-based pro version that uses data layers.

Authors can also use research to determine a character’s appearance. Novelists can get sued for libel and defamation of character by describing an individual too closely. For example, describing an ex-spouse or friend to the level of detail where that person could reasonably assume the author was writing about them—even with a different name—could get the author sued.

A vivid imagination lets you determine what kinds of personality traits the character might and have what kinds of experiences they went through to become the person they are. Research allows the author to describe physical characteristics (e.g., scars, tattoos, eye color, hair color, etc.) can be associated with those traits.

A method I use during the writing and rewriting processes is asking questions. A heroine sees she is about to be attacked by a mugger in park. How can she defend herself? The author can include some references to moves common in karate or tae kwon do to ensure the moves seem real.

The more accurate your research, the more real and enjoyable your book becomes to your reader, Believable descriptions make a huge difference in generating positive reviews, which translates into sales.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Critical Steps in Writing a Publishable Book

Note: Blog titles and links to the posts will appear when each section is written.
Please leave a comment for the author with any  comments, ideas or suggestions for future posts.


Step
Action
Blog Title
1
Perform market research.
If you…
Then…
find a market for your idea
·         write your story.
·         go to step 2.
do not find a market for your idea
·         revise the idea until you find one that is in demand.
·         go to step 2.
2
Research your topic.
3
Write the first draft.

4
Perform steps 1 and 2 for a second story.

5
Revise your first story’s first draft.
Repeat several times.

6
Submit the story to test “beta” readers for comments, ideas, suggestions and general feedback.
If the reader feedback is…
Then…
positive
go to step 7.
negative
·      review your story paying particular attention to suggestions on how to improve it.
·      revise your story.

7
Submit a query letter to a publisher.
Note: Submit to one publisher at a time since most publishers do not allow simultaneous submissions.
If the query feedback is…
Then…
positive
·      submit the complete manuscript.
·      go to step 8.
negative
·      revise your story paying particular attention to suggestions on how to improve it.
·      submit the revised version to a different publisher.

8
Determine if the publisher offers you a contract.
If the publisher feedback is…
Then…
positive
·         work with your assigned editor until the book is published.
·         Go to How to Market Your First Book (not yet created).
negative
·         revise your story paying particular attention to suggestions on how to improve it.
·         submit the revised version to a different publisher.

Step #1: Research Potential Publishers

Many people have these ideas and think, “Hey, this would make a great story. I’ll sit down and write a novel. People will love it, they will buy it and I can ride my idea to fame and fortune.”
Unfortunately, though, the odds are heavily stacked against Joe or Jane Average becoming a published novelist, let alone a successful one.
Using hard work and a method I’m sharing in a series of blog posts, I managed to beat the odds and have a publishing company pick up my first novel. Love Comes With a Leash is now available at Liquid Silver Books.
There are a lot of obstacles authors tend to place in their own paths, plus pitfalls that can doom even the best intentions. With that warning in mind, an author’s first step after they have an idea is to research the market for it.
Marketing professionals will tell anyone willing to listen that good companies look to see what already exists before they decide what products to produce. There is no sense spending the time and money required to bring a product to market if the market is already flooded with similar products.
A critical point in marketing is positioning your product so it can succeed, not fail. The best way to do that from a potential author’s perspective is to examine publishers’ writing guidelines before you start.
For example, Karen Fox has a detailed list of Romance Publishers on her website.
Read the comments as a starting point before following a link to the publisher’s guidelines.
Tips:
·         Some publishers only accept stories from established literary agents representing authors that have a proven track record of above-average sales. Skip these publishers until you have several books published.
·         Concentrate on publishers willing to accept unsolicited manuscripts since your first book will likely fall in that category.
Examine several website for notes, hints and guidelines in terms of what each publisher will consider or reject outright. Avon Romance is a good starting point. Liquid Silver Books is another.
Common comments include preferred genres (Steam Punk, Historical Romances), minimum and maximum lengths (in words), types of language, situations to concentrate on (super sexy heroes or heroines) and situations to avoid (anything remotely resembling rape when used for titillation).
Examine the FAQ (frequently asked questions) sections. Here you can find questions you might ask when submitting your book.
Taking notes will help you decide where to eventually submit manuscript and which publishers to avoid.
Only after you complete the publisher research does it make sense to research your topic and eventually start writing.
 Author’s Note: I am a Certified Technical Writer, former weekly newspaper editor and now published author of Love Comes With a Leash.

Commonalities Between Technical Writing and Fiction

At first glance, technical writing and fiction have nothing in common beyond being documents Technical writing is frequently about process steps: how to get from here to there. Fiction is a story from the author's imagination.

Ah, but fiction stories also have a starting point and an end, just like technical writing. Even serial stories generally come to a conclusion at the end of each story, though they leave the door open for more to come.

First-time fiction writers can learn a few techniques from technical writing that can improve the quality and appeal of their stories, simply by applying a similar logical, methodical process to their stories.

Start by looking at process technical documentation. This form of writing generally uses a Step-Action table listing a series of steps, many of which contain multiple actions. A common single step in a Step-Action table document includes:

  • The first sentence, known as a "stem" sentence, which introduces the reader to the action.
  • Level one bullet points list what actions to take. A single action is not bulleted; two or more actions are.
  • Level two bullet points provide additional details related to the level one bullet point directly above. Not all level one bullets contain level two bullets but all level two bullets must be preceded by a level one bullet
  • Notes provide additional clarification for a bullet point but do not require action on the reader's part.
Some process steps within a Step-Action table include embedded tables such as "If... Then...",  "Step, Who... Does What..." or lists of terms and definitions or actions.


Embedded tables contain at least two rows since they list actions and a single action is not a list. For example, an "If this... Then..." table has different responses for each action. If the answer is...  Yes, Then... take this action. If the answer is... No, Then... take this different action.

So how does this method apply to fiction?

Consider the example of a hero responding to a phone call for help from a friend. The stem sentence is, "Harry, I need to your help, right now," one character says in the story. That creates a starting point. The end point is the hero delivering (or failing to deliver) the aid.

Level one bullet points, but written in paragraph style, are:

  • How is the request for help sent? Is it a voice call on a cellphone phone, a text message, an email or a blood curdling scream heard through an open window?
  • How does the hero or heroine get from the current location to the victim's? Does the hero run, take a private car, use a taxi, jump on a bus, or fly?

Level two bullet points could be descriptions of the vehicle used to get from one spot to another. For example, "She ran down to the street, and jumped into her older, bashed, rusting but still powerful Ford Mustang before laying a streak of rubber on the asphalt while tearing off to the rescue.

An "If... Then..." moment could refer to a decision the hero has to make on the route they use to drive to the victim. For example, "Cheri thought, "do I take Broadway, which is likely to be jammed with traffic right now, or the back way through the bad part of town, which I never use?"

These are just some examples of applying technical writing to fiction. Keeping these non-fiction techniques in mind while writing fiction allows novelists and short story writers to keep readers engaged using believable plots and action sequences.

Note: David B. Reynolds is a Certified Technical Writer and author of Love Comes With a Leash, available now through Liquid Silver Books

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fiction Readers Wanted

There is one crucial step authors should perform before submitting fiction for publishing: getting people to read it and comment on it.

Having people read the stories lets authors use their feedback to improve their work before publication. One-word comments such as “boring” or “interesting” will not work.

As an author, I want to know what you found interesting, what you found boring, what you liked and what you did not. The more detailed your comments, the better the finished story.

Anyone interested in reading and commenting on the stories below should send a note to davereyn83@hotmail.com listing the story or stories they want to read. I will respond to every serious comment.

Payment cannot be made for reading these stories. However, anyone who submits a complete review will be acknowledged in any self-published book or collection. The author will attempt to also list readers/reviewers as contributors in stories or novels picked up publishers.

Requirements for readers are:
·         A completed non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
·         Willingness to provide several detailed comments.
·         Time to read my fiction.

Note that:
·         All stories listed below are original works of fiction created by David B. Reynolds.
·         All rights are reserved to each story, plot, summary, characters, etc.
·         Some stories have two versions:
o   One for mature audiences only
o   One for general audiences

Stories currently available for review include:

Working Title
Bring Little Gwen Home
Synopsis
A considerate man’s offer of help for a single mother turns into something neither one expects: romance. Love blooms after the woman’s ex-husband steals her daughter and the mother and her new friend do what is necessary to get her back.
Genres
Romance, erotic romance, general fiction, suspense, action
Maturity level
Contains explicit sex scenes and some descriptions of graphic violence. Written for mature audiences. Not appropriate for anyone under 17.
Length in words
95,225
Setting
California’s Western Sierra provides a scenic backdrop for this tale that shows what one man will do to protect an innocent mother and her children.


Working Title
All I Want Is To Be Published
Synopsis
A would-be author gets more than he bargained for when he obtains an interview with an all-woman erotic publishing house.
Genres
Romance, erotic romance, humor
Maturity level
Contains explicit sex scenes and some descriptions of graphic violence. Written for mature audiences. Not appropriate for anyone under 17.
Length in words
7,933
Settings
A typical two-story home in the suburbs is an unusual location for an erotic publishing house, but that is where aspiring author Roger Stein finds himself.
Working Title
Love in the Valley of Fire
Synopsis
A man gets kidnapped and forced to help a woman transport a load of cash and cocaine she stole from a Mexican drug cartel.
Genres
Action/adventure, erotic romance
Maturity level
Contains explicit sex scenes and some descriptions of graphic violence. Written for mature audiences. Not appropriate for anyone under 17.
Length in words
23,640
Settings
Set initially in the winter wonderland that is Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas and the Valley of Fire National Park near Las Vegas become the background for this non-stop action story.


Working Title
Does God Play Dice With the Universe?
Synopsis
Man, and its successor species, endeavor to find out the answer to a question, which is a restatement of a comment by Albert Einstein, “God does not play dice with the Universe.” Are you so sure?
Genres
Science fiction
Maturity level
General
Length in words
988
Settings
Space


Working Title
The Connected Computer Commuter
Synopsis
A tech savvy commuter on a train educates a woman about computers. A casual friendship deepens over time, leading to romance and love.
Genres
Romance, erotic romance.
Maturity level
Contains explicit sex scenes. Written for mature audiences. Not appropriate for anyone under 17.
Length in words
15,156
Settings
A major city, the country.


Working Title
Green Water, Red Blood
Synopsis
A man taking scenic photos interrupts an attempted murder and gets caught in the cross-hairs of a blackmailer.
Genres
Action/adventure, romance, erotic romance
Maturity level
Contains explicit sex scenes and some descriptions of graphic violence. Written for mature audiences. Not appropriate for anyone under 17.
Length in words
53,994
Settings
Point Lobos National Seashore, San Francisco and Mexico are the locations for this action-packed adventure throwing a well-meaning man into dangers he never wanted or expected.


Working Title
Breaking the Circle of 13
Synopsis
An office drone gets far more than he bargained for when he tries to comfort a distraught co-worker.
Genres
Action/adventure, romance, erotic romance
Maturity level
Contains explicit sex scenes and some descriptions of graphic violence. Written for mature audiences. Not appropriate for anyone under 17.
Length in words
66,229
Settings
A major city, the mountains.


Working Title
The Gravity Shield
Synopsis
An apparently ignorant desert rat enters a famous Chicago  museum claiming to have a 5-gallon bucket full of Martian rocks. A skeptical curator learns, much to her surprise, the man is right.
Genres
Science fiction
Maturity level
General
Length in words
16,132
Settings
Chicago, the International Space Station and Mars all play a part in this fanciful “what if” tale.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Control What Appears on Your Blog

What is one key difference between Angie's List, Yelp and a Blog in terms of people commenting on a business?

All three allow people to make comments about a business, good, bad and indifferent. Customers or reviewers--which are often the same--can make any comments they wish. They can praise a business as being the best of its type they have ever seen or curse the owner's every waking moment.

Each of these vehicles is a source of information that other people, especially potential customers, can use when deciding where to go and who to use for their service or product needs. However, each provides varying levels of content control.

Angie's List

This site requires:

  • Writers ("members") belong to the site, therefor paying a fee.
  • Does not control any content on the pages, allowing anything--true, false or misleading--to appear in its site.
  • Permits non-paid responses to comments made about a business to appear on the same site, giving no more--or less--weight to those comments.
  • Will not, under any circumstances, remove comments made by anyone. This applies even to those that meet the legal definition of libel or slander.
Disclaimer: a lack of a link to this site is intentional. This author refuses to support Angie's List in any way, shape or form based on a past attempt to remove defamatory content.

Yelp
Yelp allows people to review businesses and websites. Yelp permits businesses to respond to comments, including negative ones. This means:

  • Reviews are posted by individuals.
  • Businesses responding to reviews on Yelp should follow the company's suggestions.
  • Individuals can control what they post, including removing reviews if they wish.
  • Businesses responding to a negative review may not make the situation better but in fact, make it worse.

Blogs


Blogs, such as this one, permit the blog "content owners" (i.e., the people who post content to it) to control comments and posts. In terms of comments, this means:

  • Blog owners can determine what comments, if any, appear on their blog.
  • Have the ability to not only edit their posts, but comments about those posts. Some blog owners only post positive feedback. Other choose not to post any.
  • Have the ability to disregard or "blow off" negative comments and criticisms. It is best to only post negative comments when they are factually accurate. Posting comment promoting competing websites is bad for business.

Responding to Public Posts


How should a business respond to a public post, especially one critical of the company and/or an employee?

  • Respond honestly and accurately, even if the original comment or review is false and misleading. Readers can make up their own minds, but only if you show them your business in a different light.
  • In general, use criticisms as a way of looking at how you are doing business. What can we learn from this comment? How can we get better? Then explain that in your reply.
  • Provide a link to your own blog, assuming the reviewing site allows it. This lets readers see other content not controlled by the negative reviewer. Most people will see the lone bad review as the exception when compared to 20 good ones.
  • Ignore the negative review in extreme cases. Here is an example: an attempted comment, received 12/2/14 from a man who has previously defamed my character, states in part, "Fraudulent blog as (he) is unable to write a sentence let along a paragraph. All of this blog stuff, in my view looks copied, or worse, plagiarized in my judgement." (Note: this comment was marked as spam and the poster blocked from commenting on my blogs.)



How should a company not respond to a negative comment? Never use any of these methods, no matter how tempting:

  • Offer the negative reviewer some form of compensation if they change their review to a positive one.
  • Go into a back-and-forth public debate with a negative reviewer. The other person sets the rules. This means you will always lose.
  • Tell the negative person to, "go slither back under the rock you came out from," or words to that effect. While these comments let you vent your anger, they do nothing to change the situation.