Marcy Kennedy

5 Essential Elements for Pitching Romance

I’m still on the internet road this week, and today I’m visiting the blog of my friend Jami Gold, a paranormal romance author whose website is packed with great resources for writers of all stripes. She’s letting me talk about the five essential elements that need to go in any romance pitch. I hope you’ll join me there!

And don’t forget to read to the end where I give a 15% off discount code for my Show Me Your Fastball: Crafting Your Logline, Tagline, and Pitch webinar coming up this Saturday.

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Is Chasing Your Dream Preventing You From Living?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Over the summer, I dropped my blogging schedule down to one day a week. I also took a real vacation for the first time in three years. I did those things for a very specific reason.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry finds the Mirror of Erised that shows him his parents (who are dead) standing next to him. At first he thinks the mirror has brought his parents back to life. He shows the mirror to his best friend Ron, thinking Ron will be able to see Harry’s parents as well, but Ron doesn’t. Instead Ron sees himself as Quidditch Captain and Head Boy.

The mirror, it turns out, shows each person what they want most. As Dumbledore put it, “the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.”

Harry goes back night after night, just to be able to see his parents again. Eventually Dumbledore finds him there, and tells him that the mirror will be moved. He asks Harry not to look for it again. As wonderful as it is to look into the mirror and see your most cherished dream come to life, that’s exactly where the danger of the mirror also lies. Men have wasted their lives staring into the mirror.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams,” Dumbledore says, “and forget to live.”

That’s the danger I think all of us face when there’s a dream we want so badly that we focus our life on seeing it come to fruition—we forget to live.

There’s nothing wrong with focusing our efforts on achieving our dreams. There’s value in sacrificing in the short term in order to reach our long-term goals. In fact, we’re generally going to be happier and healthier people when we do pursue our dreams.

But we can’t chase our dreams at the expense of living life day by day.

Sometimes when we’re always looking forward, we miss the joy of the moments happening around us. Many people have written about this lately (including my good friend Lisa Hall-Wilson), but as much as we’re told to “live in the moment,” we’re also given the message that we should sacrifice whatever it takes to reach our dreams.

Just get up earlier to write. But what if that means you’re only getting four hours of sleep a night? Should we be sacrificing our health to reach our dreams?

Go back to school if you want a better job. But what if you need to work full-time to support your family? Should we sacrifice time with our spouses or children, missing out on years of their lives, in order to get what we want?

Tell your friends you can’t get together because you need to do thus-and-so in pursuit of your dream. But how long can we expect people to remain our friends if we never have time for them? Will you be content at the end of your life if you’ve achieved your dream and have no one to share it with?

When do we cross that line between chasing our dream and forgetting to live?

I can’t tell you where that line is for you, but this summer I’ve been evaluating where that line is for me. Balancing on that line will mean cutting out some things, reintroducing others, working a little less, and living a little more.

Does this mean I want my dream less than someone else wants theirs?

I don’t think so. I think it means I’ve broadened my dream. Instead of my dream being the “end goal,” my dream now includes the day-to-day. It includes how I want to live each day in order to look back on my life with contentment when I’m old. It includes how I want to live each day with the knowledge that none of us knows how long we have.

And those day-to-day, mundane dreams are just as valuable to me as “the dream” that I chase. I’m not going to waste my life staring into the mirror.

What about you? Have you found the balance between chasing your big dream and living your life? Do you think one is more important than the other?

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6 Ways Twitter Lists Can Help Build Your Author Platform

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I hope all of you are enjoying the final days of summer. In September, I’ll resume my regular three-day-a-week blogging schedule here, but until then I have another guest post to share with you.

Last week, I visited Joel Friedlander’s Book Designer blog to talk about how Twitter lists can help build your author platform. Enjoy!

If you’d like to learn more about Twitter, in September I’m offering two self-paced email courses through WANA International.

A Beginner’s Guide to Twitter ($25) starts on August 31st and covers essential terminology, setting up your Twitter account, choosing a custom header and profile background to represent your brand, writing an outstanding bio, choosing between TweetDeck and Hootsuite (as well as how to customize the one you choose), using columns, using lists, short links, how to enable a “tweet” button on your website, and most importantly, how to stay safe. Click here to learn more.

An Advanced Guide to Twitter ($25) starts on September 14th and covers hashtags, what to tweet (and when’s the best time to tweet it), time management, using images to stand out, hosting events on Twitter, and much more. Click here to learn more.

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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Top 10 Links for YA Writers

Writing YA FictionBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’m on vacation this week, which means my husband will hide my laptop if he catches me doing work, so I thought this would be a perfect week to offer you a targeted mash-up on something I’m not likely to write a post about myself.

So I’ve gathered some great links for those of you who write young adult fiction (or who are thinking about writing YA). Enjoy!

1. 5 Common Problems in Your Young Adult Manuscript by Kristi Cook

2. Writing from an Authentic Teen Viewpoint by Lydia Sharp

3. Reaching the Teen Market by K.P. Simmons

4. Top 10 Tropes in YA by A.E. Rought

5. State of the YA Market by Mandy Hubbard

6. A Countdown of the Top 15 Most Overused Things in YA Fiction by Joelle Anthony

7. 5 Tips for Writing and Marketing YA Books by Natalie Wright

8. 2013 Cover Trends: Part One

9. 2013 Cover Trends: Part Two

10. 2013 Cover Trends: Part Three

Do you have any tips or links for YA writers? Please share them in the comments!

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Image Credit: Korosy Istvan

Why Every Writer Needs to Be on Twitter

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’m still on my summer guest posting travels around the internet (you’ll see more posts here at the home base starting again in September), and I didn’t want you to miss my latest. This past week I visited Kristen Lamb’s blog to talk about my favorite social media site–Twitter.

Twitter often gets a bad rap by people who don’t understand it, misunderstand it as full of spam and celebrity stalkers, or don’t know how to use it to its full potential to build an author platform. When used correctly, though, Twitter can be one of the best tools for meeting new readers and increasing traffic to your blog. Not to mention, it’s fun!

Don’t believe me? Well, let me prove it to you then. I have seven reasons why I think every writer should be using Twitter.

I am also starting to plan out my WANA International classes for the next year, as well as what topics I might cover here during the remainder of 2013, so if there’s something you want me to post about or if there’s a particular subject you want me to teach a webinar on, please leave me a message in the comments below!

How to Make the Most of a Scene

Jami Gold paranormal romance authorI have a special treat for you today. As some of you might remember, I used to co-manage a writing blog called Girls With Pens with my good friend Lisa Hall-Wilson. We shut Girls With Pens down earlier this year, but I didn’t want the great content we’d collected to be lost. So I contacted Jami Gold, who’d written a fantastic post for GWP, and asked if I could run her post again on my site.

Not only did Jami agree, but she also sent me links for helpful worksheets she’s created since the post originally ran. Make sure once take advantage of those once you finish reading the post. They’re great tools for self-editing.

After outing a tribe of incubi in government, Jami Gold moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where she could put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fortunately, her muse, an arrogant male who delights in making her sound as insane as possible, rewards her with unique and rich story ideas. Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.

Take is away Jamie…

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How to Make the Most of a Scene

By Jami Gold

Whether we plot our stories ahead of time or write by the seat of our pants, we need to ensure our scenes are working as hard as they could be.

  • If we’re plotters, we consciously decide on the focus of our scenes ahead of time.
  • If we’re pantsers, we make up our scenes as we go along, and the conscious evaluation doesn’t happen until revision time.
  • And if we’re somewhere in the middle, we might have an idea of where the scene is supposed to end up, but we take a rambling path to get there, so our revisions will look more like pantsers.

However we get there, at some point we’ll be taking a hard look at every scene. Is this scene needed? Is it too long or too short? Does it have tension? Does it avoid information dumps? Etc., etc.

Great, but that’s all a little vague. After all, how can we tell if a scene is needed? Sure, some scenes might be obviously unnecessary as we pantsed our way down a rabbit trail, but other scenes feel like they’re needed. So how can we tell?

Guidelines for What Makes a Good Scene

Good scenes should have at least three reasons for existing. Those evil info dump or backstory scenes falter not only because of bad structure, but also because they fail to be relevant to the overall story. They’re missing those other reasons for existing.

So as we go through our story, we need to make sure every scene has at least three of the following revelations:

  • a plot point
  • a character’s goal
  • action to advance the plot
  • action to increase the tension
  • character development
  • a cause of character conflict
  • an effect of character conflict
  • how stakes are raised
  • a reinforcement of the stakes
  • character motivation
  • character backstory
  • world building
  • story theme
  • foreshadowing
  • the story’s tone or mood

Janice Hardy has a great blog post about how to mix and match these elements in a way to make the scene feel like a full meal. She points out that some elements, like foreshadowing, world building, or tone should be treated more like appetizers. In other words, those elements shouldn’t be the main point of the scene.

I Have Three Elements in This Scene, Am I Good Now?

Making sure every scene has three reasons to exist proves the scene needs to be in our story, but we still haven’t checked to make it the best it could be. When we’re consciously evaluating a scene—whether during initial planning or revisions—we need to be aware of the main reason that scene exists.

In her post, Janet talks about the elements that are legitimate main points for a scene: Is a character pursuing a goal? Are we revealing important information? Is the plot advancing? Those questions ensure we’re not just padding an info dump scene with two other minor elements.

But even those questions don’t get to the heart of a matter. A story is more than just a collection of plot points. Stories are meant to evoke emotion. So the most important question to ask ourselves is:

“What do we want this scene to accomplish from the reader’s perspective?”

Maybe we want the reader to be scared, or worried, or excited, or whatever. Then we need to look at the actual plot points, dialogue, revelations, character emotions, and whatnot in the scene and decide:

“What’s the best way to show the elements of this scene to accomplish that?”

Once we know what we want to accomplish, maybe we’ll decide the words of the dialogue are revealing the right information, but the tone is wrong. Or maybe we’ll decide there’s a better way to show the protagonist’s vulnerability. Or maybe we’ll decide we let the protagonist advance the plot too easily.

This takes hard brainpower and conscious focus. I’ll admit this deep evaluation doesn’t come easily to me. But if I take the time to do it, I’ll often see how a sentence here or a reordering of paragraphs there will create stronger emotions in the reader. And that’s what good storytelling is all about.

Have you evaluated your scenes in depth like this before? Does it come easily to you or not? When you’ve evaluated your scenes, what have you discovered?

Find Jami at her blog, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Goodreads. And don’t forget to download her elements of a good scene checklist and worksheet!

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The Dangerous Side of Hope

The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

In a world that can be dark and brutal and unfair, hope is one of our most powerful weapons. It can also be a weapon used against us, to keep us from changing our lives.

In the movie version of The Hunger Games, the screenwriters chose to pull back the curtain and give us a look at what was happening with President Snow and the game-makers while Katniss was in the arena. (I love that they did this.) In one scene, President Snow summons Seneca Crane, the head game-maker, and asks him an unusual question.

“Seneca,” he says, “why do you think we have a winner?”

Seneca frowns. “What do you mean?”

“If we just wanted to intimidate the districts, why not round up twenty-four of them at random and execute them all at once? It would be a lot faster.”

Seneca doesn’t know how to answer.

President Snow almost smiles. “Hope. It’s the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. Spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.

President Snow realized what most of us don’t. Hope, like many other great things, has a dangerous side.

A little hope is what keeps us in a bad job, a bad relationship, or any bad situation. We have just enough hope that we tell ourselves if we stay long enough something might change. We might get that promotion, that raise we deserve. They might realize how wonderful we are and treat us better.

For all the people in the districts in The Hunger Games, seeing one victor gave them just enough hope that their lives might get better if they persevered long enough. That little thread of hope kept them controlled.

But a lot of hope is what freed them. And it’s what can free us.

Because Katniss didn’t play by the Capital’s rules, and because she succeeded due to daring to try something different, she gave the people of the districts a bigger hope. A hope that said they could change things rather than waiting for something to change.

A little hope convinces us to wait, that if we’re patient, things will naturally change for the better. A lot of hope convinces us to act, that if we take the initiative, we’ll be able to have something better than what we have now. It tells us we’re strong enough, smart enough, valuable enough, brave enough. It tells us we can change our circumstances if we’re willing to take a risk.

Those of you who come to my blog regularly know my husband and I have decided we’re tired of having just a little hope. It’s time for a lot of hope. So he’s going back to school, and I’m self-publishing (first book will release next month if all goes well!), and yes, we’re both afraid. Terrified really.

But hope is stronger than fear.

What risk have you taken lately in the hope of making your life better?

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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How Well Do You Understand Showing and Telling?

Spock from Star Trek

Spock says it would be illogical not to sign up.

I’ve been traveling around the internet again, and I didn’t want you to miss the guest posts I’ve done on showing and telling.

How Star Trek Helps Us with Showing Rather than Telling at Kristen Lamb’s blog

How to Include the Five Senses Without Falling into the Telling Trap at Janice Hardy’s blog

I hope you enjoy them. (And both of them have a special bonus code where you can get 15% off my upcoming webinar on Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction.)

If you haven’t yet signed up for my newsletter where I tell you about upcoming classes, books, discount codes, and freebies, now is a good time to do it. If all goes according to schedule, I’ll have some very exciting things coming out starting next month and my newsletter readers will get a chance to read them for free in exchange for a review!

 

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How Important Is Freedom?

Superman Man of SteelBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Man of Steel is supposed to be a story about the origin of Superman. It’s really a story about the importance of freedom.

On Krypton, Superman’s home planet, everyone is created for a specific purpose. They have no choice about the path their life will take. Superman’s parents dream of a free Krypton, so they conceive and give birth to him naturally. In doing so, they give him back the freedom of choice for what kind of man he wants to be.

And growing up as Clark Kent on Earth, Superman struggles with this. His earthly father encourages him to hide who he is at all costs, but Superman chooses to help others even if it puts him in danger of exposing who he is.

When General Zod of Krypton appears, Superman realizes why his birth parents made the choices they did. He chooses again to allow Krypton to go extinct rather than allowing Zod to commit genocide on the human race.

“I exist only to protect Krypton,” Zod says. “That is the sole purpose for which I was born. And every action I take, no matter how violent or how cruel, is for the greater good of my people. And now, I have no people. My soul—that is what you have taken from me!”

When he lost his freedom to choose to be something different, Zod lost other qualities as well, like compassion, hope, and morals. With Krypton and its people gone for good, Zod has no reason to live.

Few of us who live in free countries would argue that freedom isn’t important.

Its innate value is why many science fiction and fantasy books and movies explore it—and what could happen if it was taken away.

Battlestar Galactica took a look at freedom from the opposite side as Man of Steel. The Twelve Colonies were free. They had a president and elected representatives. People chose their careers and could change their lot in life through hard work. Then the cylons attacked, wiping out all but around 50,000 humans.

Running for their lives and looking for a new home, the remaining humans were forced to live on a small fleet of ships. This meant that people were pressed into jobs based on the needs of the fleet, such as working the fuel processing ship. They couldn’t change their job, and worse, their children were being trained up in the same job without any chance to be anything else.

But what other choice did they have? If the fleet had any hope of survival, they needed fuel processing, and waste processing, and all the other jobs done. They suspended freedom. They felt it was for the greater good.

In the episode “Dirty Hands,” after a labor strike that almost devolves into mutiny, the government of the fleet decides freedom is important enough that they have to protect it along with their survival. They institute training programs and a work rotation.  

But it raised an interesting question, one our own society is facing today, about whether there’s ever a time when certain freedoms should be suspended. Or is freedom of such a high value that it shouldn’t be violated in any circumstance, no matter the cost?

What do you think? Is there ever a time when freedom should be sacrificed for the greater good, or is freedom something that should never be violated?

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 Tips for Navigating the Marketing Maze

Marketing for WritersToday I’m pleased to welcome special guest poster Grace Fox to share some insider secrets on marketing.

Grace Fox is the author of five books including Moving from Fear to Freedom: A Woman’s Guide to Peace in Every Situation. She’s written hundreds of magazine articles and speaks internationally. She’s also just a super nice lady. You can connect with her on her Facebook page.

Take it away Grace . . .

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5 Tips for Navigating the Marketing Maze

By Grace Fox

Marketing—the word strikes dread into the hearts of many authors. We’d rather spend our time and energy doing anything but slogging our way through the self-marketing maze. Cut us loose to research, write, edit, revise, tweet, blog, check our Amazon stats, sweat through a book proposal—anything but market.

And yet the latter task is non-negotiable for us. So what’s an author to do?

First, we need to understand the difference between marketing and publicity. Steve Laube, president and founder of The Steve Laube Agency, says marketing is “all about creating multiple impressions” whereas publicity is “all about meeting the author.” He says marketing can be done through ad placement, reviews, contests, banner ads, and more. Publicity is done through radio, television, and social media. The difference, he says, is that authors “feel” publicity because they are involved. They do not “feel” marketing, per se, because they are not present.

Armed with that clarification, we need to look at our options and then develop our marketing strategy several months prior to the book’s release. Here’s a list of ideas for authors with limited time and money:

Write articles that pertain to your book’s topic. Assuming your articles are published, your byline will contain your name, your book title, and your website address. This is free exposure, and hey, you might even receive payment! (Marcy here: This is a good tip for fiction authors as well as non-fiction authors. Just think outside the box about what topics or themes appear in your book and what magazines address those topics.)

Make a list of influencers—people who have a wide following—and offer to send them a copy of your book. Ask them to recommend it to others if they enjoy it or find it helpful.

Visit and phone bookstores. Introduce yourself to the manager or the person who orders the stock. Tell them about your book’s topic and who the intended audience is. When I introduce Moving from Fear to Freedom: A Woman’s Guide to Peace in Every Situation, I say that its content is relevant to women such as those going through divorce, dealing with cancer and other illnesses, single moms, military wives and moms, and women facing significant transitions. Inevitably, the person’s eyes light up and they say, “Wow—thanks for those ideas!”

Brainstorm. What organizations or ministries might find your book useful? Find their contact information online and make a cold call. Tell them about your book, explain why its topic is relevant to their demographic, and offer to send them a copy. Tell them you’ll follow up in a few weeks. Keep your promise, but don’t be too pushy.

Develop a list of potential readers’ names and email addresses. This is critical! These are the folks to whom you’ll send regular newsletters that contain useful information for them plus info and updates about your book. How do you collect their names and addresses?

  • By placing a box in an obvious place on your website homepage (and other pages, too) inviting them to subscribe to your newsletter. Check out mine at www.gracefox.com.
  • By offering a doorprize when you speak to groups. The prize slips should include a place both for names and email addresses. Be sure to let your audience know that, when they give you their email addy, they’re giving you permission to send them a newsletter or you’ll be deemed a spammer.

I’ve used these methods and more. Unfortunately, one size does not fit all. Each marketing endeavor looks different depending on the author, the book, and the audience.

Remember—you can’t do it all. Pick what works best for you, and do it well.

What’s your biggest fear about marketing? What marketing techniques have you found that work (and which ones don’t)?

Marcy again: 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: Gabriella Fabbri