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Writing to Market

Love or MoneyBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Writing to market isn’t a new concept, but recently it’s become one of the hot topic issues within the writing world, largely thanks to Chris Fox’s 21 Day Novel Challenge.

On one side of the divide over writing to market are authors who say that writing to market is the way to earn a good living off your work. On the other side are writers who say that writing to market makes you a mercenary and will lead to a short career where you burn out and hate to write.

This month, in my regular guest post at Fiction University, I’m explaining what writing to market means, taking a look at some of the pros and cons, and asking whether we really have to choose between writing for love or writing for money. Is it possible to find the spot where what we love to write and what we can make money writing overlap?

I hope you’ll join me for “Writing to Market – What Is It and Should You Try It?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description Showing and Telling in Fiction, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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Is KDP Select Right for You?

Janice Hardy Fiction University

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Because I was away teaching at a writer’s conference last week, I didn’t manage to share my regular monthly guest post with all of you. I didn’t want you to miss it, so I’m sharing it a little late. This month, I’m going over the pros and cons of KDP Select.

One of the choices we need to make when we publish our book is whether we’re going to distribute wide or go exclusive. Up until this point, I’ve always gone wide, but with a new series scheduled for release in November, the idea of going exclusive has been on my mind a lot lately.

Distributing wide means that we’ll offer our book for sale at all the major retailers—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, AppleiBooks, and Kobo at least.

Going exclusive, at this point, means we’re putting our ebook into Amazon’s KDP Select program. Amazon’s terms of service for the KDP Select program state that we can’t sell or give away the enrolled ebooks anywhere else. You agree to this exclusivity for 90 days at a time, and then you can either continue in the program for another 90 days or opt out. In exchange, they offer you some perks they don’t offer to books that aren’t enrolled.

I hope you’ll join me at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University for the rest of this post!

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Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Showing and Telling in Fiction, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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Is It Important for Writers to Also Be Readers?

Writers Should ReadBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

As an editor and writing instructor, I have the privilege of talking to a lot of writers, at a lot of different career stages. So it’s not unusual for patterns to crop up—ideas, trends, challenges, and myths.

Today I want to debunk one of the myths I’ve heard frequently of late.

Here it is:

You don’t need to read novels if you want to write novels. You can learn how to write from movies and TV shows.

That thunk you just heard? That was my head smacking into my table in frustration.

I’ll explain why this myth is dangerous for writers, especially writers who want to create novels.

Yes, we can learn some things from movies and from TV shows.

We can learn how to create interesting characters that the audience will love, hate, and talk about.

We can learn about hooks. TV shows are especially good at the art of the hook because the writers know how easy it is for the audience to wander off during a commercial. They want to make sure the audience sticks around. (Movies, on the other hand, can’t teach you about hooks.)

We can learn about dialogue (though, even there, you’ll find some differences). Almost anything Joss Whedon worked on would be a great self-study for authors struggling with dialogue.  

No, we can’t learn everything from movies and from TV shows.

In fact, some of the most important elements of fiction writing can’t be learned from a visual medium. The written format brings with it special challenges that we can’t learn how to conquer by watching, only by reading.

We can’t learn internal dialogue. In fact, we can’t learn anything about how to convey the internal life of the character—their thoughts, visceral reactions, or unspoken motivations.

We can’t learn description. In movies and TV shows, the audience sees what’s happening around the characters and they see what each character looks like. As writers, we have to build everything we want the reader to imagine with our words.

We can’t learn proper written story structure. Some elements of structure are the same between movies and novels…and some aren’t. For example, movies have the freedom to start more slowly than books do because, once you’ve bought your ticket and you’re settled in with your popcorn, the movie would have to be pretty bad before you’d walk out. If the start of a book is slow, you’ll never buy it in the first place.

We can’t learn how to balance description, action, dialogue, and internalizations. As I mentioned just a second ago, there isn’t any internalization in movies and TV shows (voice overs don’t count). The description is automatically taken care of. The actors fill in the action. So we can’t see how to weave them together on the page to avoid spots that either drag or leave the reader feeling disconnected from the character or the world.

We can’t learn how to maintain a consistent point of view. Point-of-view errors are non-existent in a movie or TV show. In a book, maintaining a consistent point of view is integral to keeping a strong connection between the reader and the viewpoint character.

We can’t learn how to actually put words into tight, interesting, clear sentences. Just because someone wants to write a book doesn’t mean they were born with this skill. Most of us have to learn it.

I could keep going on the differences, but here’s the bottom line.

For novel writers, movies and TV shows can be good supplements, just like vitamins supplement our regular diet. They’re not a fitting replacement for the regular meals of reading novels.

Writers write. Writers also need to read.

What do you think? Is it essential that someone who wants to write a book also read books?

I’d love to hear your opinion even if you disagree with me. (I welcome discussion here as long as opinions are expressed in a respectful, logical manner. Trolls will be deleted.)

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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Tools to Help Bring Your Setting to Life

A tool that I regularly recommend is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Rebecca Puglisi. The Emotion Thesaurus helps writers with building character emotions and showing rather than telling. So I’m very excited that these two ladies have come out with a pair of books that will now help writers with describing their setting. (And you know how important I think description is to fiction.)

Today, as part of their launch, I’ve allowed Angela to “hijack” my blog as part of the festivities they have planned. 

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As we storytellers sit before the keyboard to craft our magic, we’re usually laser-focused on the two titans of fiction: plot and character. Yet, there’s a third element that impacts almost every aspect of the tale, one we really need to home in on as well: the setting.

The setting is so much more than a painted backdrop, more than a stage for our characters to tromp across during the scene. Used to its full advantage, the setting can characterize the story’s cast, supply mood, steer the plot, provide challenges and conflict, trigger emotions, help us deliver those necessary snippets of backstory…and that’s just scratching the surface. So the question is this: how do we unleash the full power of the setting within our stories?

Well, there’s some good news on that front. Two new books have released this week that may change the description game for writers. The Urban Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces and The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Personal and Natural Spaces look at the sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds a character might experience within 225 different contemporary settings. And this is only the start of what these books offer writers.

In fact, swing by and check out this hidden entry from the Rural Setting Thesaurus: Ancient Ruins.

And there’s one more thing you might want to know more about….

Rock_The_Vault_WHW1

Becca and Angela, authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, are celebrating their double release with a fun event going on from June 13-20th called ROCK THE VAULT. At the heart of the Writers Helping Writers site is a tremendous vault, and these two ladies have been hoarding prizes of epic writerly proportions.

A safe full of prizes, ripe for the taking…if the writing community can work together to unlock it, of course.

Ready to do your part? Stop by Writers Helping Writers to find out more!

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Creating Promotional Material That Works: Swag

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Janice Hardy Fiction UniversityOver the last two months during my guest posts at Fiction University, we’ve looked at writing a tag line for our books and writing our book description that goes up on retailers and on the back of our book.

This month we’re going to talk swag. Swag is physical items related to our book/series. It could be bookmarks and postcards, mugs or magnets with our book cover on it, or even jewelry based on something worn by our characters.

I decided to poll a group of authors for this post (thank you to the WANA group on Facebook!) because I suspected that experiences with swag might vary.

Please join me for “Creating Promotional Material that Works: Swag” where I’ll share what I learned about how to use swag to your best advantage and where to buy some of the fun items authors are using.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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5 Times Katniss Nailed Deep Point of View

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’m guest posting today for Christine Frazier of the Better Novel Project. I hope you’ll join me because I’m talking about one of my favorite subjects–deep POV–and how we can learn about it from Katniss and The Hunger Games.

Join me to find out 5 Times Katniss Nailed Deep Point of View.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Dissecting Books: Reading as a Writer Part 2

Reading as a Writer PArt 2By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome back to my mini-series on how to dissect books to understand how and why they work. In other words, how to “read as a writer.”

I started this series because the advice “writers should read” isn’t explained often enough. Writers can spend hours and hours reading without learning anything about how to write if we don’t know what to look for.

Last time we looked at openings. This week we’re looking at plot.

Like last time, I have a few requirements for you for the books you pick.

I want you to pick out three of your favorite books in your genre. While there are skills we can learn from books outside our chosen genre, if we’re trying to learn to excel within our genre, then we need to be reading what we want to write.

The books you pick for this week should be ones you’ve already read. You won’t be as likely to be distracted by the story if you’ve already read the book, and this exercise works best if you already have a general idea of the overall plot.

They should be books written within approximately the last five years. Learning how to write from a book that was popular 15, 20, or 100 years ago isn’t necessarily going to help us with writing today. Conventions change and writing has evolved a lot over the years, in part because readers have more distractions competing for their attention.

Try to stick to the first book in a series or a standalone book again. I mentioned this last time, but books that happen later in a series can be a bit different. You’ll need to look at those separately (which is a good exercise as well).

Pick books with a high rating on Amazon and a large number of reviews. Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. Trying to select books that many other people are loving gives us a better measuring pole to make sure this book is really as good as we think it is.

Now for each book, take a look at the following things:

(1) How far in does the “key event” hit?

I’m calling it a “key event” here so that this doesn’t devolve into a debate over terminology. Basically you’re trying to find the event that people reading your genre will expect and want to see early on.

For example:

  • If you’re writing a mystery, when does the first body drop?
  • If you’re writing a romance, when do the hero and heroine meet?
  • If you’re writing a fantasy, when and how does the writer cue the reader in to the fact that this world is different somehow?

Calculate this as a percentage based on the page where it happens compared to the length of the book. This will give you a “truer” result than if you just look at the page or chapter number.

You’ll likely find a range. For example, in a cozy mystery, the first body usually drops somewhere between 8-11% in the first book in a series.

Now compare it to your book. If you’ve ever gotten feedback that someone “couldn’t get into” your book or that your book “felt rushed,” it might be because you didn’t meet their expectation for where they subconsciously thought the key event should happen.

(2) Compare what happens in each book at around 20-25%, 50%, and 75%.

These are your major plot points. I call them the Commitment Point (20-25%), the Flip Point (50%), and the All Is Lost (75%). (The percentages are approximate.)

This isn’t a post about plot, so I won’t go into a ton of detail here (later this year my book Plot and Structure should be available), but I’ll give you a quick overview.

The Commitment Point is the spot where your protagonist commits to pursuing their goal and can’t turn back without serious consequences. James Scott Bell calls this the first Doorway of No Return.

The Flip Point is where the stakes or the protagonist’s perspective on what’s happening in the story changes. (It “flips.”)

A lot happens around the All Is Lost, but the main element that I named it after is the fact that usually at this point it seems like the protagonist cannot possibly achieve their goal.

That’s a general overview, but how these plot points look in each genre is different.

Let’s quickly compare a cozy mystery to a contemporary romance just as an example.

Commitment Point:

In a cozy, our amateur sleuth makes the decision to investigate the crime. Her story goal is to find the killer.

In a romance, the hero and heroine often start the relationship.

Flip Point:

In a cozy, the stakes are usually raised through a threat to her “life.”

In a romance, the stakes are often raised through the first “I love you,” the first kiss, or the first time the characters have sex with each other.

All Is Lost:

In a cozy, there’s often a false resolution of the crime. The murder seems solved, but it isn’t really. The true killer is still at large.

In a romance, it appears that there’s no way the hero and heroine can possibly end up together.

Within each genre, there’s still a lot of room for creativity and developing a surprising, interesting plot, but we need to be building plot points that fit with what readers in our genre crave.

(Jami Gold recently wrote a post about genre expectations that I highly recommend you read as well.)

(3) How does the writer hook you from one chapter to the next? Why do these hooks work?

That why question is back again.

Chapters are the natural place for readers to stop, put the book down, and possibly never pick it up again.

Look at the last sentence/paragraph of each chapter. How did this particular writer make us want to keep reading regardless of how late it was or what other responsibilities we had?

Now look at the end of each of your chapters. It’s hard to be objective, but does each chapter end with an irresistible hook? If it doesn’t, you should be able to find a better place to stop your chapter or come up with a stronger hook based on what you saw in the books you analyzed. If you can’t, it’s time to question whether you might have a bigger problem with your plot. (But that’s another post for another time.)

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Image Credit: Lynn Lopez/freeimages.com

Creating Promotional Copy That Works: Book Descriptions

Janice Hardy Fiction UniversityBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last month I started a new series on creating promotional materials for our books with a look at tag lines.

A tag line is a teaser or a catch phrase meant to capture the emotional tone of the book, hint at the genre, and hook the reader. They don’t tell the story. They don’t name the main character. They are bait.

This month we’re going to look at book descriptions. These are what we’ll upload to our book page at all the major retailers and put on the back cover of our print versions.

Please join me for my regular monthly guest post at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University!

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Using Deep POV to Capture Readers’ Emotions

Image Credit: LastClick/www.freeimages.com

Image Credit: LastClick/www.freeimages.com

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

The books that we remember the best are often the books that made us feel something. Those are the books we recommend to our friends. Those are the authors we seek out to see if they have more books that will provide us with that vicarious experience again.

So it makes sense that when we create our own stories, we want to provide that same emotional experience for our readers too 🙂

One great way to create emotional involvement in our readers is through deep POV.

Please join me today at Jami Gold’s blog for the rest of this post!

What’s Coming Next? I’m guest posting next week as well at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University about writing your book’s back cover copy, but then I’ll be continuing with my series on dissecting books and reading as a writer here the following week.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Dissecting Books: Reading as a Writer Part 1

Dissecting a NovelBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

One of the pieces of advice that every writer hears until it makes us sick is “you need to read.” And that’s true and valid advice. (And if you don’t love to read, why are you writing?)

Here’s the piece that most people miss though. It’s not enough to just read, as if the knowledge we need will be magically absorbed into us. The truly great books make us forget we’re reading, which also means…you guessed it, we’re not paying attention to how they made that book awesome.

We need to read mindfully.

So I decided to create a mini-series to take the “writers need to read” advice deeper and show you ways you can dig into published books to learn and grow as a writer. Dissecting a book to understand how and why it works is a skill in itself. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

This week, we’re going to do it for free using Amazon’s preview feature to explore the opening hooks of books in our genre.

Head over to Amazon. (I’m using Amazon because it’s the easiest tool for this exercise.) And my apologies to my international readers, but it’s also best to use Amazon.com for this one.

Select BOOKS, then KINDLE BOOKS, and then the category that you’re writing in. Each genre category has slightly different conventions, and it’s important that you study what you’ll be writing. I’ll use Mystery, Thriller & Suspense as our example for today.

Now pick Best Sellers. For this particular exercise, we want to learn from the books that are grabbing enough readers to hit the lists.

Now we’ll need to dig a little more into the sub-category we’re writing in. Let’s go to Suspense > Psychological. (You don’t want to go any deeper into the categories than that, even if given the choice. We want books that are moving a lot of copies every day.)

Here’s what I found for Psychological Suspense.

Psychological Suspense Bestsellers

We want to collect a sample of at least five books out of the top 10.

Out of the top 10, cross off all books that aren’t a standalone or the first in a series. Mid-series books sometimes start differently because, ostensibly, readers are coming in already familiar with the characters and what’s happened before.

Now cross off any duplicate authors. You want a diverse sample, so if an author has more than one book in the top 10, pick just one of theirs.

Eliminate any obviously cross-genre books. For example, #6 in my screenshot failed the test because it’s more horror.

Also, eliminate books that seem to be at a promotional price compared to the others on the list. We can’t be sure whether they ranked because they’re great or because of the price. For example, the #1 book in my screenshot is priced at 99 cents compared to a $2.99-$5.99 average price.

Here’s the list I came up with:

  • The Girl You Lost by Kathryn Croft
  • The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen
  • The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
  • Orchids and Stone by Lisa Preston
  • Kill Me Again by Rachel Abbot

Once you have your list, it’s time to read the samples.

When you finish each one, ask yourself these questions.

(1) Did the first line hook me? Why or why not? How did they hook me?

The why is important. I’m going to be writing a whole series of posts on openings later this year, but for now, let’s look at the opening lines of the five books above.

On the night I asked my father the question, my family had been five years in the basement – The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen

Daphne didn’t quit college to become a roofer – Orchids and Stone by Lisa Preston

It had been easy to get him alone – The Girl You Lost by Kathryn Croft

It was raining when they came for me – Kill Me Again by Rachel Abbot

I’m sitting at the breakfast nook sipping from a mug of cocoa when the phone rings – The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

The first four opening lines all hook the reader by making them ask a question. What question did he ask his father and why had their family been in the basement that long? Why did Daphne quit college? Why did she want to get him alone? Why did they come for her and who are they?

The final three opening lines hook by creating fear and suspense as well.

The Good Girl does it in a subtle way. We’re primed to expect that phone call will bring bad news. (She also builds on this in the rest of the paragraph with images of dead leaves, clinging lifelessly and an overcast sky.)

(2) Did I want to keep reading? If I did, what made me want to keep going? If not, why not?

Again, the why is important. Why did we want to keep reading? Was it an interesting premise? A setting you wanted to explore more? A quirky character whose voice you wanted to keep listening to?

Don’t just stop there. Think about the specifics. If it was an interesting setting, how did they bring it to life? What types of details did they use? What made it interesting to you?

If you didn’t want to keep reading, what made you want to stop? Sometimes this can be personal preference—for example, we don’t like that particular writer’s voice. I’ll personally stop if a book contains too much profanity.

Sometimes it can be something specific that they did—for example, did you lose interest because nothing seemed to be happening (i.e., the story was taking too long to get rolling)? Were you turned away because the viewpoint character was too unsympathetic?

(3) What was the viewpoint character doing? How did you feel about them? Why?

You’ve probably noticed the why again there. In that sense, writers need to be like children. Asking why is how we learn.

Openings are tricky because we need our characters to be doing something interesting, while also making the reader care enough about them to read on. (Don’t confuse that with being likeable. Readers will stick with an unlikeable character pursuing an intriguing goal that matters to the character.)

What’s important here is to see what works and what doesn’t and then figure out how the writer made it so.

Now apply all of this to your opening.

If you have a finished book or even a work-in-progress, read approximately the same amount as you saw in the samples.

Does your book do any of the things that made you stop reading? Can you incorporate some of the elements that made you want to keep reading those other books?

What other things would you suggest fellow writers analyze in those samples? Anyone brave enough to share how their book’s opening compared to the bestsellers in their category?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue, Description, or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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