Category Archives: writing workshop

Tineke Peeters: Pantser

Pantser

By Tineke Peeters

What is ‘a pantser’? Well, we are the writers that ‘go with the flow’ of our ideas without a set process.

Quite a few authors have a set of rules in writing out their plot and characters from start to finish in bullet points or another form before writing the actual book.

What we do is, in general, get an idea, but don’t work it out into detail before the writing process. I call it, as I have said before, go with the flow.

Some might say the characters tell the story and guide them throughout the story.

Others would say they have a muse telling them what to write without giving you a clue about the ending.

Don’t get me wrong, there needs to be a general idea obviously. There are no set ‘rules’ for how each and every author writes. All writers have their own process; no two are alike.

My personal process:

I write the first chapter without any idea of plot. My MC (main character) is only a vague character at this point. In my mind the characters get clearer as I write the next chapter. Then I start procrastinating for a few days about where this first chapter could go.

More than one scenario, with some research each, get written down on paper. If another one comes to mind one or half of another one gets scratched. When I think I have a plot, very vague still mind you, I start writing the next few chapters and then the muse comes into play. He or she, mostly she as my main character is a she as well, comes up with an idea, which I don’t have much time to work out. Bullet points are quickly noted. Problem here is that the new plot, yes, a totally new plot, doesn’t always work with what I have written yet.

I have to go back, not to edit, but to change some settings or another character. I will get the need to slap my muse around, but most of the time the new idea is better.

While writing I suddenly get stuck. Not necessarily writer’s block, but more like my vague plot needs some more detail. That is when the proverbial light bulb lights up.

Now, obviously, I get too many ideas and need to eliminate. Again, this process needs to happen fast, as my memory doesn’t work very well.

If I am still stuck, because my muse has a problem with my final idea, I chat with other writers or family or friends. They come up with ideas that my muse changes into something else, because suddenly she is happy with a certain idea that got triggered by chatting with everyone.

A perfect example was when my main character got stuck in the head of a unicorn and I didn’t know how to get her back out. What I did was talk to my teenage stepdaughter and her friend. They came up with one idea after the other, which led to another idea from my muse. This was my published book.

My recent book got some ideas from them as well, as I needed help with writing the diary of a twelve-year-old, which they are. Throughout all the ideas I got the light bulb thing again. Another idea about the plot suddenly became clear.

Basics of a pantser: no set plot, working with the characters, being open for changes throughout your story, and allowing the story to guide you.

There is always the editing process to work out the details which you missed while changing from one plot to the other.

Tineke Peeters is a 36-year-old pantser from Belgium and the author of ‘Book of Panacea,’ which can be found on Amazon.  You can find Tineke on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tineke.peeters.1

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Writers Unite! Workshop: Those Pesky Brand Names

Recently an author published a story on Amazon.com that included a brand name in the title. With the investigative algorithms that they utilize, Amazon caught it and politely asked the author, who complied immediately, to correct the error. Much effort ensued to change titles, ISBN numbers, and cross-references across the author’s extensive body of work.  

In this case, it was a simple matter of oversight. The author never considered there was an issue. The brand name was so commonplace, it never occurred that using it would be a problem. A lesson that illustrates the care needed to be taken when writing.

This is not to say you can’t use brand names. You can. However, the context that you use them in is essential.

In an article written by Michy and posted on the “Accentuated Authors Services” website, she notes the following:

•    If you have a character crying in your story, she should ask for a tissue, not a Kleenex.
•    If a person is cleaning the bathroom, they should be using bleach and not Clorox.
•    Babies should be wearing diapers, not Pampers.
•    When you order a soft drink, it should be cola not Coke.
•    If cleaning ears, one should use a cotton swab, not a Q-tip.    

The point is that brand names should not be used in describing a generic product that may have numerous other brand identities. However, don’t despair, brand names can be used when identifying something specific. Michy writes that if you are in a football stadium and the Goodyear Blimp flies overhead, it is perfectly acceptable to use its correct name. For a mystery writer like me, she also mentions that if you are identifying evidence in a crime, it is okay to use the brand name and type of a tire or an automobile or other items because it is unique to the situation.

What you must not do is use a brand name in a title. As we learned at the beginning of this discussion, algorithms exist to find such occurrences, and usage will be caught by the company or publisher through Internet searches.

There are times, however, when you can use brand names. If you mention that a character drove a Ford Thunderbird as a young man and loved the car, that is acceptable, but make sure it relates to the plot. The most important thing to remember is never to use a brand name in a derogatory way. Bad-mouthing a company or product is one quick way to receive a cease-and-desist letter from an attorney.

Another critical factor to remember is that brands are fleeting and can date your story quickly. That is why choosing the generic word for a product, if one exists, is essential. You want your reader to relate to the product more than the brand. The fact is using too many brands can lead to your story reading like a commercial. Brands can be distracting, so use them wisely and infrequently.

There is one other area where company names and brands are important. World building is not just a tool of the science-fiction or fantasy writer. All writers build their world, and it is essential to be accurate about location when setting your story in an existing town or city. Remember, some of your readers could live there, so be precise with places and street names, and especially business names. 

I tend to be quite careful about the names of individual businesses when I write. I often set my novels in New Orleans, and I will mention Jackson Square, Café du Monde, Preservation Hall, and other iconic landmarks or businesses but set the action of my story in fictitious locations. Again, this is to keep the possibility of any negative connotation being associated with a real business or brand. You should not, however, use the names of private companies. If your scene calls for action at a restaurant which is in a specific area and there is an actual restaurant there, make up a name for it.

Using the real names of well-known landmarks provides realism to your stories and enhances the reader’s experience. I once had a reader tell me that my description of a small town in California was exactly how she remembered it from growing up. She knew the town square, the ice cream shop I mentioned, and the corner drugstore, and said I must have spent a lot of time in her hometown. The fact is I had never been there, but I utilized Google Map’s street-level view to provide the ambiance and setting for that scene. Her reaction shows that an accurate representation to your reader brings them into your story.

Writing can be a challenge. With so many factors to consider, we must remain cognizant of the issues that can harm our stories. If you do, you will not have to worry about those pesky brand names.  

Resources:
http://accentuateservices.com/archives/567

Writers Unite! Tips on Writing: Grammar

WT- Improve Grammar

NaNoWriMo Survival Guide- How To Write a Novel in a Month

 

WRITING WRITING A NOVEL

NaNoWriMo Survival Guide- How To Write a Novel in a Month

If you have any doubts about signing up for NaNoWriMo, let’s squash them today, with my NaNoWriMo survival guide. Here a few tips and tricks for how to write a novel in a month.

It’s November! And for us writers that means it’s time to draft an entire novel at breakneck speed. Is the end result always great? Hell nah, it’s about as draft as a draft can be. But is it fun, productive, and an epic way to tell yourself the story that’s brewing in your mind? You can bet your arse it is! If you have any doubts about signing up for NaNoWriMo, let’s squash them today, with my NaNoWriMo survival guide. Here a few tips and tricks for how to write a novel in a month.

Just Tell The Story

Encouraging NaNoWriMo survival guide badge, to help readers learn how to write a novel in a monthNaNoWriMo is all about challenging yourself to get your story down on paper (or screen) as fast as possible. Unburden those epic characters from your mind, and bring them to life through words. It’s about breaking the barrier of the dreaded novel, getting the hardest part (finishing) out of the way, so it has no power left over you. 50000 words sounds intimidating, but its not a hell of a lot when you think about it. You’ve got a main character, a couple of side characters, an antagonist, a plot to unfold, multiple character arcs, all drawing to a final showdown. You’ve got this. You’ll hit 50k in no time.

The First Draft is For you

In Stephen King’s ‘On Writing,’ he talks about how you write the first draft with the door closed. It’s for you, and only you. The first draft is like a foundation, upon which you build your novel. You’re effectively telling yourself the story, with the intention to polish it up, catch plot holes, weave in a theme or moral, and all that other pretty stuff, throughout your second draft. So don’t sweat the small stuff. Start writing your story, and let the characters pull you through to the end. The hardest part of this novel writing mumbo-jumbo is telling the damn story, so rush it down! There’s time for making it cohesive, polished, and epic after.

Let’s Do The Math

NaNoWriMo Survival Guide- Keep Calm and Write OnIt’s time to pull out the calculator folks, let’s dissect this baby and crunch some numbers. There are thirty days in November, that means, if we want to set ourselves a daily word count to achieve the goal, all we have to do is divide 50k by 30.

Run it through your calculator and you get 1,666.666 words per day. (Here we can see how the devil created this challenge and put his unique stamp on it.) So if you intend on writing every day of November, shoot for 1700 words per day. Simple.

But let’s be real here, are you really going to write every day? It’s unlikely. Whether you have work commitments, kids, blogs and social media to keep up with, or murders to go cover up, you’re gonna need some breathing room to deal with your personal shit. So let’s assume we can stick to a target of writing for twenty days out of the month.

50k divided by 20 is 2500

Now, 2500 words per day may seem a lot to some of you, but remember, that’s only twenty dedicated days to your NaNoWriMo challenge. While you’re pushing to write a novel in a month, it is only a draft. 2500 words of draft isn’t all that hard to get down once you get flowing, especially if you are following some kind of plot or structure. The trick is to write write write. Don’t keep checking your word count. Set an hour of dedicated, uninterrupted time, then check. If you’re done, then you’re done. If not, shoot for another hour, and go over if you can! You may save yourself another day of writing, or end up with an epic!

Remember Your ‘Why’

It’s easy to get caught up in the pressure and the challenge aspect of it all. Such demands can be stilling for writers and creatives. But try to remember your ‘why’ for taking up with NaNoWriMo. It’s not to win, It’s not to show off, and it’s not to write the most amazing novel that’s ever been written. It’s to tell yourself a full, complete story, and to break through that ‘novel completion’ boundary before it ever gets ahold of us. It’s a creative exercise to show us what is capable, with a little determination and consistency.

Exercises like this are great for an individual’s psyche. To have a positive end result at the end of a periodical commitment, reminds us that gratification and success takes time and effort. We are often disappointed and sunk into ‘lows’ due to our minds being wired to instant gratification in the modern world. Getting fifty thousand (or even twenty thousand) words down throughout a set period of time, where you are pouring in your heart and soul, rewires the part of the brain that expects everything in the now.

Look, we all have different reasons for doing things, but storytelling is an art in and of itself. It’s a beautiful element of human nature that we could scarcely live without. It’s been here from the beginning of time, and it’ll be here ‘til the end. Let’s not get lost in the intricacies of it all. Just tell the story, build the characters and setting, and enjoy the process. You’re a story teller by nature. Bravo! Now go do your ‘thang. Come back to this NaNoWriMo survival guide whenever you need a little nudge in the right direction.

Plotting Tools

Save The Cat Writes a Novel- Click to purchaseClick to purchase from amazon.com

I’m personally not a plotter. My work is pretty much exclusively character driven, and a plot tends to still me and crush my creative flow. That said, for a challenge like this, it helps to have at least a timeline of events you’d like to happen, so that you can easily work from one to the next without too much difficulty. You can always go off track and your characters can still surprise you, but the briefest of brief outlines offer a little guidance when you may be lost. Equally, if you don’t fancy writing at the point you’re at, you can jump ahead and write a scene that strikes your fancy. Win/win. It’s all words!

If you’d like a real structured plot to guide you, I personally recommend looking up the snowflake method. For everyone else, it’s worth checking out Save The Cat Writes a Novel. Even for us non-plotters, this book is novel-writing gold. It provides a guide filled with beats and moments for within your story, without tacking a rigid structure around everything. Do yourself a favour writers, and pick up your copy today. It really will help turn your novels from good, to great.

Amazon US | Amazon UK

(This is an affiliate link. I only provide links to products that I have personally used, bought, and love. I will never endorse a product I have no experience with purely for monetary gain.)

NaNoWriMo Survival Kit

All this aside, there are a few things we’re gonna need throughout November to keep us sane and on track. Us writers are a picky bunch, and we need a variety of items in order to complete our work. Below I’ve compiled a list of handy items to have on or around your desk at all times, and cues on how to use them.

  • A pad of Paper- for doodling on and scratching out notes.
  • A variety of pens- for even more epic doodles.
  • Tea & Coffee- because caffeine.
  • Coloured pencils or markers- to colour our doodles and highlight stuff.
  • A cat or other stroke-worthy cutie- because we’re writers. We’re lonely.
  • Alcohol (if of drinking age)- this helps…
  • Slippers and a Dressing Gown- comfort is key.
  • A chair cushion- once again, comfort is key.
  • A cuddly blanket- to hide from the screen when we’re stuck.
  • A teddy bear- to cuddle when times get hard. And to talk to…
  • An altar to the creative Gods- complete with candles, incense, frog eyes and snake skin, and blood for ritual sacrifice.

That should just about cover everything. Of course, bring yourself, your laptop, and your charger, and be sure to disconnect all your devices from the internet. We don’t need any distractions!

Well, that just about brings us to the conclusion of our NaNoWriMo survival guide! Doesn’t sound that hard, right? Seriously, as long as you set yourself a daily goal, and commit yourself to completing the challenge, you will succeed. It starts and ends with you. You can implement the above advice to streamline your experience, but ultimately it comes down to your dedication to getting your novel down on paper. You know you can do it, I know you can do it, so go do it! And if anyone asks you how to write a novel in a month, send them this way!

Share this post with your friends and writing groups, to help them achieve success in this amazing challenge right alongside you! And if you’d like to stay up to date with my NaNo activities and connect with me personally, head over to my Facebook. I’ll be posting daily NaNo tips and inspiration.

NaNoWriMo Survival Guide- How To Write a Novel in a Month

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Gary D. Holdaway from the Facebook group Fiction Writers Global has graciously shared this great article on how to survive NaNoWriMo! Read now for how to be successful as you write a novel in a month!

NaNoWriMo Survival Guide- How To Write a Novel in a Month

Also, check out Gary’s FB site: https://www.facebook.com/groups/490323944710900/

Good luck with NaNo!!!

Me? Market My Book? Part Two:  Prepare for Launch

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Part Two:  Prepare for Launch

 It is never too early to prepare to publish your book. When your muse taps you on the shoulder and suggests that it is time to write, you should begin to create the tools that you need to market yourself and your writing.

Publishers and agents prefer to deal with an author who has a strong presence on the web or other marketing venues. If you are planning on self-publishing, those marketing outlets will be crucial to connecting with buyers for your book.

In this era of social media, there are numerous avenues open to make vital connections to potential readers. Novice writers are often unknown entities within the literary world. Unless you have acquired a public persona in a career field or some other endeavor, your social media reach may only be your family and immediate friends. You need more.

In this article we will discuss those pathways in general, addressing each of these social media platforms in greater detail in later articles.

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Blog/Website

Having a blog or website is akin to having a home address on the internet. This is where you, your thoughts, your work, and links to your sales platform and media appearances reside. Blogs at one time were highly necessary in the competitive world of traditional publishing. Agents and publishers only took blogs with a high number of followers seriously. Years ago I read a statement by an agent who declared unless an author had a minimum of 10,000 followers, she didn’t bother with reading their submission. The opening of self-publishing has reduced that need, and while a following is still essential for all authors to be successful, a huge following is not as critical.

This is the internet presence you should start as soon as you consider writing. It takes quite a while to build followers as well as establish your presence on the web.

Facebook

Well, it is Facebook. Love it or hate it, this social platform is imperative to establishing yourself as a writer. Not necessarily for your credibility, and it can help there, but for name recognition.

The largest social media group in the world, Facebook gives you a global presence. You should as an author establish an author page, join not only writing groups but in some cases, depending on the genre you write in, there are pages/groups for the readers of that genre, and post—often.

While not every post is going to be read by everyone, Facebook can be a valuable tool for a writer. The key is to be active.

Twitter

Twitter is unique.  You can follow anyone or any group you choose at will, and they may or may not follow you back. With the incredible number of accounts on Twitter, finding like-minded Tweeters is not difficult. Twitter recommends accounts with similar interest.

The key here is Tweet, Tweet, Tweet. It is how you gain followers and retweets, which increases your exposure. Not sure what to tweet about, tweet about everything related to your writing or interest in writing and reading. Tweet out links to your blog posts, short excerpts from your work, where your next book signing is, something about your favorite author.

Instagram

This social networking app (owned by Facebook) allows you to post images and videos from a smartphone. Gaining in popularity by the second, many ‘experts’ think Instagram is overtaking Twitter. It is indeed quicker to send a photo or video, but it can also be used to post quotes from your writing. If you have access to programs such as Gimp or Photoshop or can add simple text to an image, you can display an image and promote your work.  The key to Instagram is to be repetitive and, as with Twitter, post, post, post.

Tumblr

Tumblr remains a bit of an enigma. There are conflicting opinions of this site, but those who love it, love it a lot. The site is a bit like Facebook and a personal blog in that you can post links to articles, images, videos, gifs, and quotes, etc. It offers you a simpler version of a blog site.

YouTube

That YouTube is popular is a given. I doubt a day goes by without any of us viewing at least one video on YouTube. There is a growing sense that the video medium will soon be the most valuable outlet for promotion.  Having your own YouTube channel allows you to post book trailers, which are now becoming a favorite promotional tool, read quotes from your novels either using video or audio only and, as we discussed, drive traffic to your main platform, your website/blog.

Google+

Google+ is a Facebook-style social community. There are pros and cons to this site due to the forced interaction it requires for all of the Google platforms. However, there are some excellent writing groups there, but while it has many users, it is not utilized as much by the members. That said, Google is trying to improve the site and if you have a blog, posting your blog posts, etc. into a Google+ community can be accomplished with a click of the mouse.

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These social media sites can be used to promote your brand from the moment you begin to write. After publication, the work you have done to put these tools into place will be invaluable to you. The consensus is that it is never too early to begin to present yourself to your reader.

We will be addressing these platforms in greater depth and other avenues available to you to promote your writing in future articles. In the meantime, start setting up those profiles and keep writing!

 

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Writers Unite! Tips on Writing: How to Open Your Novel

WT - Opening

Deborah Ratliff: A Storm is Coming

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The news was full in recent days with updates regarding an impending hurricane headed for the Gulf shore of the United States. A severe storm in an area still smarting from the horrors of hurricanes past deserves our attention.

I will admit, however, that there is a little part of me that becomes excited when a hurricane is forecast. The writing muse that lurks in my head hears “hurricane” and immediately conjures up scenes of roiling dark seas, ragged gray clouds, and howling wind driving heavy rain sideways, stinging all it touches.

A storm is coming.

I love storms. I love the growl of thunder. The boom reverberating off my chest sometimes takes my breath away. A purple streak of lightning both startles and excites me. Along the shore I love so much, the rough waves slamming into the soft sand display the power of the weather. Those emotions are strong, and I find that I often use weather to establish a mood.

For example, this is the opening passage of my upcoming novel One of Those Days:

“It was another one of those days, like every day in southern Louisiana. The sun was a golden glare in a washed-out sky, the air thick with moisture, its weight heavy and clinging to her skin. Adie Morgan winced against the bright light despite the dark sunglasses hiding her eyes.”

Yes, I opened a novel by describing the weather despite Elmore Leonard’s first writing tip, “Never open a book with the weather.” In this instance, the main character has returned to Louisiana due to a near family tragedy. I needed to show it was an ordinary day and weather is a good measure of how ordinary a day can be.

Concerning Leonard’s epitaph regarding weather, many writers stop with that statement, considering it gospel. However, Leonard went on to offer a justification. “If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long.” Leonard also added an exception—“If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.”

Hemingway didn’t adhere to Leonard’s pronouncement either. He wrote to John Dos Passos: “Remember to include the weather in your god damned book—weather is very important.” Going so far as to include a mention of the weather in the opening and in the body of such works as A Very Short Story, In Another Country, and Cross-Country.

Bullet-pointed rules rarely tell the entire story. The nuances of a subject are far better to use as guidance. In Leonard’s case, his apparent state of “never” is in truth a more thoughtful description of when using weather is appropriate.

I admit to employing weather as a tool whenever I can in my writing. I love the emotion invoked by weather. A gentle rain may be soothing or melancholy to a thoughtful character. A blizzard can be cozy and warm in front of a fire or bitter cold and frightening when stranded. Toss in a hurricane, a tornado, an earthquake, or volcano eruption, and you have chaos, fear, and often, heroism. You don’t need a significant weather event to invoke a mood, and that is precisely what the inclusion of weather can do to a story.

Foreshadowing is an invaluable tool in a writer’s arsenal and assists in building suspense. I wrote a character—a photographer—who ventured outside in a light rainstorm to take photographs, not realizing she was being followed. The rain provided a way for me to slow her down and become more aware of her surroundings, consequently becoming suspicious of the situation. Later in the day she went for a run, ominous clouds of a much stronger storm rolled in, and she increased her pace to hurry home. The storm broke before she reached safety and the bad guys following her caught up. As the subsequent scenes played out, the heavy rains remained as a constant, adding to the dark mood of the plot. The rain and later raging storm served to foreshadow the confrontation with the villains.

More than anything, weather can help set the mood of a story. The website Literary Devices defines mood “as a literary element that evokes certain feelings or vibes in readers through words and descriptions.” Mood is attained through setting, theme, word choice, and pacing. 

Setting:

Weather is a component of setting. Its impact is in the extremes of weather—blizzards, tornadoes, monsoons, heat waves—which have a wide-sweeping effect. Remember that even a calm, balmy evening can be integral to your story, but when the weather becomes too commonplace, better to keep the topic in the background as it is in real life.

Theme:

Theme is the message that you want to convey to your readers. The theme can be love, good vs. evil, overcoming odds, survival, heroism, or other emotional experiences. Weather can affect the mood of your theme. The pain of unrequited or lost love could be represented by thunder, lightning, high wind, or rain. Joy could be represented by a sunny, warm day with a gentle breeze.

Word Choice:

The selection of the proper word to use is crucial when writing and when setting a mood. When writing weather, referring to sunlight as bright or brilliant or blinding can convey different meanings.  Referring to the air as hot and dry provides a different environment than calling the air hot and humid. Be cognizant of the impact of the words you use on your reader. One word can make a huge difference in your message.

Pace:

Weather can augment the pacing of your story. Remember that alternating action with quieter narrative is essential. By providing “rest” sections in your story, the reader has a moment to take a breath before you ramp up the action again. Calm weather, even a soft rain or a cool breeze is restful. A powerful storm, an impending tornado, or the occurrence and aftermath of any significant weather event steps up the pace and suspense in your story.

A lesson learned is that all writing tips are not set in stone. There are exceptions to any opinion regardless of the experienced writers’ dictates. Use common sense and know when it is appropriate to follow your instincts. Break the “rule” when necessary but make sure it is for a reason and that it moves your story forward. Begin your story the way it needs to be begun.

Remember, opening with the weather is just fine. After all, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

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Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and a love of writing. A career in science and human resources provided the opportunity to write policies/procedures and training manuals, articles, and newsletters but her lifelong love of mystery novels beckoned. Deborah began writing mysteries and her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published shortly with a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. Deborah regularly contributes articles on writing to the blog, Writers Unite! and serves as an administrator on the Facebook writing site, Writers Unite! which has 43,600 + members from around the globe.

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Resources:

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/11/23/writers-in-the-storm

http://j-nelson.net/2015/03/never-open-a-book-with-weather/

https://www.shmoop.com/quotes/it-was-a-dark-and-stormy-night.html

https://literarydevices.net/mood/

 

Deborah Ratliff: I Went to this Writing Seminar

Writing is an endless learning quest.  In search of answers to our questions about grammar, structure, point of view, and all the components of writing, we join writing groups or search the internet for answers. We also attend writing seminars.

One would think that with assembling a collection of “experts” on writing it would be highly informative. However, remember the old idiom, “Never judge a book by its cover.” That phrase is very telling when attending a writers’ conference.

My expectations are always high when I attend seminars. I admit to being one of those people who love to learn regardless of the subject matter. With my passion for writing, attending a writing conference is an inspiring event for me.

Until I go.

Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy attending, but I often come away feeling very short-changed. I expect, especially if I have paid money, to be informed, engaged, and to a point, entertained by the speakers. I am not so naïve that I expect all speakers to be entertaining. I do expect them to be informed and organized when giving their talk.

In another article, we discussed what to expect when you search the internet for answers to your writing questions and how to judge the information given. There are considerable differences of opinion because much advice is subjective. Writing is a craft, not a science, and even the most rigid component of writing—grammar—has rules that can be bent. Our perception of what is correct when writing comes from our likes and dislikes within the general framework of the “rules.”

Which brings me back to the subject of seminar presentations. I do not expect to agree with the opinions or objectives of each presenter, nor do I expect to learn new things—a review of knowledge is as valuable as exposure to new ideas. What I do expect is that the presenter is organized, professional, and informative.

What happens in reality?  Some presenters, especially those at smaller seminars, tend to be unprepared. A recent workshop I attended opened with an author who entitled her presentation as one subject. Then after a rambling introduction, off-topic and incoherent, she announced she was only discussing a portion of her announced topic. The presentation went downhill from there.

Another presentation was a frantic attempt to generate interaction with the attendees about creating characters. The presenters assembled the audience into small teams and assigned a task. The exercise was “describe a character” and their first question, “What color are his eyes?”

While the color of your character’s eyes can be an essential part of your plot, most of us are rather adept at giving a physical description of a character. We also know the pitfalls of providing that description in a tell-versus-show manner. In a group presentation, wouldn’t delving into the deeper attributes of character development be a more challenging and informative exercise? I tend to think so.

As authors, we should relish the opportunity to share our knowledge as well as promote our brand by speaking before diverse groups of people. While the opportunity to talk to fellow authors may arise more often, we should seek out presentations before non-writing-related groups to broaden our audience.

Before speaking in public, you need to prepare. Let’s look at the steps you should take to develop a presentation.

Steps to the Perfect Presentation:

Who is your audience? 

  • Determine the demographics of those who will be listening to your talk. If writers, how skilled are they or will there be a mix of novice and experienced writers? Is this a group of genre writers as in a mystery or romance writing group?
  • When speaking before a community group, be confident that you understand the focus of the organization. Tying your message about your writing and your novels to their interests will strengthen the connection between you and your audience.
  • For instance, if you are speaking to a community club with a charitable focus, mention their efforts and provide a book or two for their next fundraising event. If possible, tie your theme into their work. Keep it short and straightforward but make the connection. If it’s a group of entrepreneurs or a corporate audience, you can talk about the business side of writing or the process of writing as opposed to the nuances of creating a story.
  • The goal is to give your audience what they need to hear.

What is the subject of your talk?   

  • Choose your subject based on your audience demographics. Your topic should be interesting to your target audience and appropriate to the event where you are speaking. Discuss your intended topic with the event planner so that you don’t replicate someone else’s presentation. You can complement another speaker but not imitate.
  • You should stay within the framework that you have expertise in. If you do not write in deep-POV, don’t talk about it unless you do extensive research and understand it.
  • Audiences ask questions. You do not have to have all the answers, but you should be prepared enough to know when you don’t know and say so. You can follow up with the questioner later.

Develop Content.

  • Preparation is the key to a successful presentation.
  • Use the 4-1 rule—spend four hours on every one hour that you are presenting. Most of us will rarely be giving a talk that lasts more than an hour, most will have approximately twenty to forty-five minutes. Regardless, spend the hours needed to gather the information you need.
  • If presenting to fellow writers, keep in mind, most know the basics. Think of your talk in the framework of what obstacles writers commonly encounter and how to overcome them. Be personal, share your issues and how you resolved them.
  • Collect the data relevant to your points and then prepare your presentation.

The Script.

  • Think of your talk as a script.
  • Your goal is to be prepared and not leave out important points.
  • Start with your main points, then fill in the finer points you want to emphasize.
  • Keep your content clear, concise, and focused on the subject. Provide an introduction, your message, and a conclusion.
  • Include anecdotes of your own experiences and examples of your points.
  • Do not attempt to do your presentation without notes. Have your script with you in whatever format you feel comfortable using. If you use multiple pages or the infamous index cards, number them in case you drop them. It happens.

The Visuals.

  • Technology is a beautiful tool to use when presenting. PowerPoint presentations add color and focus to your message. Do consider attention spans when preparing slides. Keep your slides simple and easy to read.
  • A successful venture capitalist by the name of Guy Kawasaki developed a plan for doing PowerPoint in his talks called the 10/20/30 rule. “…A PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.” It is not necessary to follow this rule explicitly, but it is a great reminder to keep your slides to a minimum and be readable.
  • You should use visuals as an asset to your message but not to convey the message.
  • Create handouts to accompany your talk. Whether the full outline of your speech or bulleted points of the highlights, a handout can provide information and you can also brand with your website and other contact information.
  • If possible, print your handouts in color for impact.
  • Determine the number of people who will be present and print enough copies plus extras. Do not interrupt the flow of your talk to distribute handouts. Give the handouts to the audience at the beginning or end of the presentation.
  • Remember—technology fails. Be prepared to give your talk without technical support.

The Presentation.

  • Be yourself, do not try to adopt a persona that doesn’t match your personality.
  • Dress professionally. Casual meeting? Dress in business casual. Image is important.
  • Speak clearly and slowly. Nervousness causes rapid speech.
  • Humor is an excellent way to connect with an audience. If you have an amusing anecdote about your writing, tell it if appropriate to the topic you have chosen.
  • Make eye contact with the audience.
  • Move around a bit—wander the “stage” area if not tethered by a microphone. Movement will help keep the audience from focusing on one spot, and they will be more relaxed.
  • Take time for questions, and answer concisely. If you don’t know the answers, say so. Do not try to cover something you do not know.

While you may have a bit of stage fright or feel uncomfortable, if you are prepared, you will do well. Remember, you are talking to people, your writing peers and those who are interested in talking to you, so enjoy the experience.

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About the Author:

Deborah Ratliff is Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A career in science and human resources provided the opportunity to write policies/procedures and training manuals, articles, and newsletters but her lifelong love of mystery novels beckoned. Deborah began writing mysteries and her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published shortly with a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. Deborah regularly contributes articles on writing to the blog, Writers Unite! and serves as an administrator on the Facebook writing site, Writers Unite! which has 43,700 + members from around the globe.

Resources:

https://www.slidegenius.com/blog/102030-rule-powerpoint-pr

Writers Unite! Tips on Writing

WT - Editing

Patt O’Neil: The Submission Process For a Short Story or What I Wish Someone Had Taught Me (Part Two)

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Part Two: 

What are you looking for when you look at the publisher’s page?

Let’s stick with the children’s story theme, the publisher has a menu heading that says About which will tell you what type of magazine/journal they are and what type of story they are looking for. Unless you are already familiar with this publisher, you should read this over, as story submission takes time, so you want it to be a worthwhile investment of yours. The one you are looking at says their audience genre is YA or Young Adult, which usually means a high-school-aged audience. Don’t be discouraged, I’m sure your story, Conversations with Bingo, would be considered cute if the teen were babysitting a younger child, but I wouldn’t expect them to go out and purchase a copy for themselves.

Keep searching until you collect a list of publishers of stories for the appropriate audience. For example, you are given a list of twenty publishers, but only three meet your market type or criteria (let’s call them A1, B2, and C3). Let’s investigate those three: age appropriate, check; accepting submissions, check; genre appropriate, check; length, check. Okay, you have three possibilities, now what? This is where you dig deeper into their submission requirements/guidelines. Do they pay for stories they accept? What, you hadn’t thought about being paid for writing your story!? Don’t feel bad if that hadn’t crossed your mind OR if your intention is to make writing your sole career. Let’s work on the premise that you want to get paid for your work. Publisher A1 has a pay scale of $.06 per word (six cents) and B2’s pay scale is royalties only. Publisher C3 is a non-paying market type. Publisher A1 will pay you six cents a word for your 2,100-word story. Nice, that is a one-time upfront payment for the right to publish your story in their magazine/journal. Publisher B2 will pay you after their product has sold a few copies. This is usually an annual payment of an unspecified amount, paid equally to all the authors featured, typical of anthologies. Publishing with C3 will give you exposure but no monetary reward. This is not a bad thing–everybody has to start somewhere, and the chance to advertise that your work can be read in C3’s magazine/journal is a good thing, just not an immediately profitable one. For this example, you decide you want to be paid for your work, so good-bye C3.

Side note: Another thing to consider is the rights or ownership of the story. Some publishers will state their intention for the rights, others might wait until you are presented with a contract. I must admit I was uncomfortable at first, but this is a personal and important decision each writer must make. My advice is keep the rights, or make sure they return to you in the end.

Now what else does the publisher want? Electronic submissions, both A1 and B2 specify this mode only, but what does that mean? It means they do not want to receive a hard copy of your story. You send them anything through the postal service and they will just pitch it without even giving it a glance. There are several ways to submit a story electronically: cutting/pasting it into a box on their publisher’s website, attaching it to an electronic entry form through a submission service, or sending it as an attachment to a specified email address used just for that purpose. Some things to note about these methods: the first is the submission service. It is a good thing to register with this service, but use a passcode you can easily remember because it banks your information and saves time down the road with future submissions. Second, the cut/paste method. Be prepared to lose any formatting you might have had; spend the time to fix the paragraph spacing. Lastly, when it says an attachment to the email, be sure you present it as they specify: no PDF, .doc, .docx, or PDF. These can be deal breakers.

Already you are probably thinking this is just nit-picky stuff and you are right it is, but remember there are thousands, if not millions of writers out there competing for a spot in a publication that is only going to be accepting applications for a small amount of time, for a small amount of print space. So yes, they can afford to be picky–it weeds out many prospects, and the point of this exercise is to make you one of the select few who has a chance for consideration.

Other things the publishers will mention are Reprints, Multiple Submissions, and Simultaneous Submissions. Your eyes might be glossing over now, but don’t worry, here’s an explanation. Reprints means your work has been published elsewhere. A publisher can choose whether to accept a piece that has been featured elsewhere. You look at your work and think, “nope never been published.” But wait a minute, did you share it on a public Facebook writing page, or on a blog, or on a site like Wattpad? In the industry, these are considered previously published and therefore rejected. If you shared your story on your Facebook page under a private setting or in a closed group for review, it’s considered fresh and yet unpublished work. Multiple Submissions means you might/might not submit more than one story to this publisher during this submission period. Example would be if they are taking stories for the month of November but not again until January, then you may submit one in November but not another until January. Some say multiple submissions are accepted, but usually they will put a limit on how many. Simultaneous Submissions means you might not be able to submit your work elsewhere for consideration until it has been formally refused by this publisher. Most publishers will list how long to expect them to consider your story, and in fact, advise that you contact them if you think it has taken too long. The cons with not accepting simultaneous submissions is your story can be held captive by one publisher so long that you are missing other opportunities with others, and some have been known to take up to six months. That is your choice if you want to go that route. If a publisher does accept simultaneous submissions, it is not only polite, but standard practice to let a publisher know if it gets accepted elsewhere while under their consideration.

Side note: I set up a poll in a Facebook writing group asking if the members always adhered to this guideline; never adhered to this guideline; or did, but felt bad about it. They had only one choice to make. It was about 2:1 for adhering to the guideline and being true to one publisher at a time. Of those who responded, one-eighth admitted to having done it at least once.

So how does all this affect your decision to submit to A1 and B2 publishers? Well, this is your first, and only, work and other than your editor and friends, no one has read it. That takes care of reprints and multiple submissions, but what about simultaneous? Let’s go with A1 says yes, but B2 says no. What do you do? That will be up to you, but for this exercise, we will go with A1 from here on.

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Tomorrow:

Part Three:  How do you get story to the publisher and impress them to read it?

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(November 2017 All rights reserved)