Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Dusty Novel

If you're like most writers, you probably have one or more novels sitting on a literal or virtual shelf gathering dust. They may be calling to you, begging for attention, but you've been so preoccupied with a current project that it's like wearing earplugs or a noise canceling headset.

Or maybe real life has shoved your writing aside. But for whatever reason, you've been neglecting them. Now the time has come to blow off the dust and get back to work.

How you begin depends on your basic approach to writing and whether the novel is a completed or partial draft.

If it's a partial, and you're a writer who creates stories without an outline of any kind, you'll probably do what you did to start with. Sit down and let 'er flow from the blinking insertion point into blank space. 

If the novel is a completed draft, you'll put on your editing hat and choose to concentrate on content/developmental issues or line/copy editing based where you think the novel is in the journey toward prime time.

But if you're a writer who prefers to work with some form of story map in place, the task with either a partial or a completed draft is quite different, especially since you have many more options other than simply to begin writing new content or editing the old. 

You're going to think in advance about how best to proceed, and the process will probably include a detailed evaluation of your existing story strategy and scene selection, handling of point-of-view, character arcs for the protagonist, opponent, and major supporting characters, just to name a few of the structural elements of fiction worthy of your attention.

At the risk of offering an opinion with no way to prove it other than with personal experience, I submit that most of us make a classic mistake by our failure to recognize what emergency-room doctors and nurses know full well. It's called triage, and the medical analogy is absolutely apropos of revising a novel.

I may be speaking only for myself (but I doubt it) when I say that my first inclination is to line/copy edit simultaneously with evaluating content and story development. This may not be a fatal flaw, but it certainly hinders the revision process. To avoid that revolting development of struggling with multiple versions ad infinitum, here are the proper steps:

1.     Stop the bleeding. Translation: Evaluate the story from a structural perspective to determine if it works. This is the big picture, not the tiny thumbnails like where the commas are.
2.     Perform major surgery. Translation: Fix the structural problems. Excise all the text that fails to support a major structural element of fiction and stitch the patient back together.
3.     Perform cosmetic surgery. Translation: Make the happy-for-glad substitutions and tighten the prose by distilling the text into a richer broth. (Please pardon me for the mixed metaphor, especially two whose combination is somewhat distasteful . . . and there I go again!)

And just like in the emergency room, failure to follow these steps may result in the death of the patient, or at the very least a prolonged hospital stay.

With two short non-fiction books recently published, and my commitment to have the second novel in the Pilot Error series on the Austin Indie Writers' table at the Texas Book Festival in October, the time has come for me to wipe the dust off Red Line.

We all know how time flies when we're having fun, so I'd best get to work.

Tosh is the author of the aviation mystery/thriller Pilot Error, the second-in-series Red Line (Fall 2012), and two non-fiction series: Book One of Wings On My Words, tales from the writer's desk, and Book One of Words On My Wings, tales from the cockpit. Visit him online at toshmcintosh.com.   

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Deciding to do a blog tour for your book

Most indie authors are publishing on a shoestring. So it makes sense to pay close attention to anything that costs money and might not earn back out. One of the less expensive marketing plans includes a blog tour.

When Baby Dust came out, I had a clear marketing plan for it. I knew I wasn't going to focus on traditional book review blogs, but blogs that resonated with women who had lost a baby. No book tour company could really help me with what I needed, so I spent about a week searching for blogs with enough traffic to be worth approaching, tracking down and emailing the blog owners (sometimes this is much harder than you think), and setting up dates.

While this was extraordinarily work intensive, I was very pleased with that tour. I gave away books at each stop (this is NOT a good idea, I learned later, see below), and many of the hosts posted two or three times about my book--an author interview, a review, and a contest for the give away. Each blog stop netted me between 10-30 sales. Since the only cost invloved some paperbacks and shipping, this was an excellent return.

But when I looked at a tour for my next book, I knew it would be much harder. This was a novel for 9 to 12 year olds, and so the blogs had to have an audience of parents, teachers, or librarians. A few feeble searches got me nothing useful, so this time I hired a blog tour company.

Lots of these companies exist. Some are very inexpensive, and primarily cater to small to mid-traffic blogs run by avid readers who like to get free books and to be part of the publishing culture. Tours at these companies tend to run less than $100.

Others are large companies. They might have some bigger sites on their roll sheet, but you aren't guaranteed any more traffic than the smaller tour companies. Typically their packages will start at $300 and will include banners and other perks.

Most tour companies specialize in specific genres, and you want to make sure yours is a good fit. The more narrow the focus of the blog, the more likely you will see results. But remember success of a tour isn't measured only in sales.

Less tangible but important gains from a tour is:
  • Exposure to new readers
  • New reviews
  • Permanent "homes" for information about your book that can be picked up by Google
  • A network of wonderful blog hosts you can call upon later outside of a tour

Some guidelines for your tour, whether self-directed or through a hosting company:
  • Don't give away the book on tour. People won't buy it if they think they can win.
  • Give away something related to the book, or a backlist book.
  • Do give copies to your host. You want the reviews!
  • Vary the type of posts. Some hosts give excellent ideas for topics. If not, you must!
  • Promote each stop yourself to drive traffic to the host.
  • Stop by and add your comments to the conversation about your book.
  • THANK your host publicly on the blog.
  • Promptly send out give away items to the winners.

Ideas for blog tour topics:
  • Q/A with a writerly focus
  • Q/A with a personal focus
  • Q/A with a humor focus
  • Five things no one knows about you
  • Inspiration for your book
  • Book Excerpt
  • Book Outtake
  • Poignant moment on the writing journey
  • The first story you ever wrote
  • Your first rejection letter
  • Why you write

Here are some excellent inexpensive small tour guides:


Bigger companies:

http://tlcbooktours.com/ (for traditionally published authors)

June 18 starts my two-week, ten-stop book tour with Goddess Fish. I am curious to see how it goes. If you want to follow the stops, check the schedule!


Deanna Roy is the author of Baby Dust, Jinnie Wishmaker, and several other novels for women and children.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

SNR: The story-to-noise ratio

Many temptations lie in wait for the novelist. One of the more insidious is the tangent. I recently read two detective novels by different authors that went on at length on topics that were marginally relevant to the case at hand, but which stopped the story dead in its tracks.

I call this the story-to-noise ratio (SNR). Like the signal-to-noise ratio in the audio world, which tells us how much music we hear compared to noise generated by the recording or playback process (such as tape hiss or the 60-cycle hum of poorly grounded equipment), the story-to-noise ratio tells us how much story we get compared to irrelevant rambling.

True, there may be a good reason to slow down the pace, perhaps to establish character or a sense of place, or any of the other little things authors do to keep a novel from turning into a screenplay. And to be sure, there is a certain amount of personal taste involved in determining the proper SNR, and I have a fairly liberal meter, as anyone who has read my novels knows.

But when you go twenty or more pages in a detective novel without anything of significance happening, the SNR is dangerously low.

In some cases the writing may be good but fails to move the story forward even a centimeter. Typically these pace-killing detours are some soapbox topic of the author or perhaps an attempt to get some mileage out of hours of research.

I have only one thing to say about this temptation: resist it. Do not succumb to the urge to spend ten pages, or even two pages, on characters talking about some pet topic, whether, as in the books I recently read, women’s fashion or gender roles or theology or clever but pointless banter between characters. Or anything else that doesn’t advance the story. And if you discover during edits that a passage of this nature has crept in, excise it immediately and ruthlessly, regardless of how much you may love it.

If not, you’re practically inviting your readers to start skimming, which is not a thing to encourage in your novels. Do like Elmore Leonard, who said, “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”

If you want to follow rule number one of publishing (Write a good book) then you must pay attention to the SNR. More story, less noise.

Brad Whittington is the author of the Fred trilogy, What Would Jesus Drink? and Muffin Man.