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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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Words of Ray Bradbury

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Ray Bradbury was an American fantasy and horror author who rejected being categorized as a science fiction author, claiming that his work was based on the fantastical and unreal. His best-known novel is Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian study of future American society in which critical thought is outlawed. He is also remembered for several other popular works, including The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury won the Pulitzer in 2004, and is one of the most celebrated authors of the 21st century. He died in Los Angeles on June 5, 2012, at the age of 91.

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Resources:

https://www.biography.com/people/ray-bradbury-9223240

Lynn Miclea: Comparisons? Stop Comparing!

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Comparisons. We all do it—we compare ourselves to others. Does he write better than me? Is she more successful than I am? And we find that we’re not as good as some, and we are better than others. Or so it seems.

However, this is misleading at best, and dangerous at worst. What we perceive is not always what is really there. And what we compare ourselves to might be an incorrect image built up in our minds, supported by fear and self-doubt.

First, it’s important to understand that each of us is on a different path, our own unique journey. Someone else is on a different path. We have different skills and abilities, we write in different genres, and we aim for a different audience. We have different writing styles, different stories, different characters, and a different voice. So a comparison is not helpful at all.

Second, what we usually end up comparing is our inner insecure selves—our fears and self-doubts, with the perceived outer performance of someone else. However, what we see is the mask they show the world—the accomplishments that they share. That is not a fair comparison. We do not see their inner fears and doubts, which we all have. And we do not often acknowledge or appreciate our own accomplishments, which others may look up to. It’s not an equal comparison, and it never can be. You can’t compare the hidden inner world of one with the visible outer world of another. It just doesn’t work.

And even if someone else is more accomplished than we are, or has published or sold more books, remember that you don’t see how they started. We all start at the beginning—and they most likely started exactly where you are now, and it took many years, struggles, difficulties, and hardships for them to get where they are. No one is an accomplished, successful author at the beginning. So it’s not an equal comparison there, either. You can’t compare a beginner to an experienced person—we all start as beginners. And we all can work our way up to being experienced and successful.

Third, the only person we should compare ourselves to is who we used to be. We are not here to be better than anyone else, but to be better than who we were before. We should strive to improve—and to take pride in that when we do. Have you written a short story or poem? Wonderful! Have you outlined a story in a fantasy world? Excellent! Appreciate and love that! Take pride in it—in every step and accomplishment.

So as for comparisons—they are either inaccurate, inappropriate, or unhelpful. Or all three. My best advice is to let all comparisons go, and simply work on being the best that you can be. And support everyone else in being the best that they can be. There is room for all of us to succeed and do well.

And the best way to get there is to learn as much as you can, keep improving, and take pride in where you are. Enjoy the entire path of writing and publishing, every step along the way, and appreciate each moment. You deserve to be happy, no matter where you are on the journey.

You have unique abilities, unique stories, and a unique voice. No one can tell your story or do it the way you can. You fill a niche no one else can.

So let go of comparisons. Believe in yourself—because you truly are amazing.

Comparisons? They can bring you down. Forget them.

Know that you are awesome!

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About The Author:

LYNN MICLEA grew up in New York and moved to California while in her twenties. A certified hypnotherapist, Reiki master practitioner, and musician, with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she has held many jobs but has always loved reading and writing stories.

After retiring, Lynn further pursued her passion for writing, and she is now a successful author with many books published and more on the way.

She has published numerous books of nonfiction (memoirs and self-help guided imagery), and children’s stories (animal stories about kindness and helping others), and is currently publishing several books of fiction (thrillers, paranormal, and romance).

She hopes that through her writing, she can help empower others and add more joy and love to the world. She asks everyone to be kind to each other as we all share this journey through life together.

Lynn currently lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband and two dogs.

Please visit her website at www.lynnmiclea.com and her blog at www.lynnpuff.wordpress.com.

 

Copyright © 2018 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

Adam J Johnson: Defeating Doubt: How to Stop Holding Back

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When you found a true passion for writing, did you know it would be so hard? You love the creativity, crafting a story, but the business end of it seems daunting? That’s because it can be! You put your heart into a story, it’s your baby, and then you present it to the world. It might get rejected by publishers and editors might tell you to change it. People might even say you will never make it as an author. How can they say all that when you put so much emotion, so much effort into it? All the negativity can build on us and eventually get us to question our own abilities—even possibly believing what they say. Sometimes, unfortunately, it causes some to give up. This is our familiar friend, doubt. Doubt will always be there. It stifles creativity and kills success. So, how do we get past it? How do we become successful in the face of such a vile enemy?

Doubt is a natural coping mechanism. When we create and step out of our comfort zone, it’s a risk. We disrupt the safe state of our lives then doubt steps in to tell us not to take a risk because we are already comfortable—safe. While it may keep us comfortable, it also keeps us stagnant. The first step to defeating doubt is to acknowledge when it happens. When you hear that voice pop up saying, “I’m not good enough,” or “I’ll never make it,” identify that as doubt holding you back to keep you comfortable. We don’t want to just be comfortable, do we? We want to step out of our comfort zone because that’s where our current situation ends and growth begins. Stepping out of your comfort zone and denying doubt is the first step on the pathway to success.

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Once you’ve acknowledged that nagging voice of self-doubt, you can begin to fight it and change your mindset. When it pops up, replace doubt with positive rhetoric. Tell yourself, “no, I can do this” or “yes, I am good enough!” Self-talk is a huge factor in your overall mindset and success. A lot of you may think mantras or self-affirmations are silly or a waste of time, but they truly do change the landscape of your mind. When trying new things, it usually takes around 30 days for something to become a habit and 90 days for it to become a lifestyle. The same is true for your self-talk and its direct correlation to your quality of life. When you repeat to yourself, “I’m unstoppable,” or “I can make my dreams come true,” or any positive message that you need in your life, it starts to become a part of you. If you repeat that for 30 days, how do you think you will feel? How about 60? How about 90? You will start to feel unstoppable, you will start to feel like you can grab your dreams and make them a reality. The same happens to us when we let doubt have a defining voice in our minds.

Think about it, how long have you had self-doubt? How long have you thought that you aren’t good enough or even that you don’t have enough time in the day? Chances are, it’s been more than 90 days, meaning that mindset has become a part of who you are. Doubt has become a guide in your life. This is nothing to be ashamed of. As previously stated, doubt is a mechanism to keep us safe and comfortable. We are only doing what will keep us safe. So don’t be ashamed of the doubt because it’s present in all of useven the Titans of our craft suffer from doubt. The main difference is, they have conquered doubt, stepped out of their comfort zone and made the necessary adjustments to walk the road of success. Stephen King even fell victim to doubt. When he was an aspiring author he faced rejection after rejection. It came to a point where he let his doubt win and threw his newly-completed manuscript in the trash saying, “it’s no use, it will just be rejected.” His wife had so much faith in him that she pulled that manuscript out of the trash and sent it in for him. The manuscript that his wife sent in brought his first publishing contract. It was for a story you may have heard ofit was called “Carrie.”

So again, do not let doubt beat you into submission. Keep fighting it and stepping out of your comfort zone until you are successful because the key to success lies in each of us. Sometimes we just need a little push from someone who believes in us. If you don’t have that support, you need to be your own support, because if it is truly your dream then nobody can bring it to life except you. There are three simple steps to follow when overcoming doubt and freeing yourself from holding back.

  1. Identify negative self-talk
  2. Replace it with positive motivation
  3. Take action toward your goal.

Don’t think I’m offering you a quick fix for your self-doubt because that will only breed frustration and even stronger doubt. The road to defeating self-doubt is not an easy one or a fast one. You must constantly remind yourself that you ARE capable, you ARE good enough, and you WILL accomplish your goals. When you feel that doubt, that is the perfect time to take action. When you feel like you aren’t good enough to write that story, that’s when you write that story. If you think you shouldn’t send out a manuscript because they won’t accept it, that’s when you send out that manuscript. When you get into that positive cycle of challenging negative self-talk, replace it with positive. By taking action against the doubt, you will find yourself becoming more productive. You will find yourself becoming more positive. You will find yourself becoming more successful and ultimately, you will find yourself being a happier version of yourself.

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Thank you all for spending this time with me and the rest of the Admin team from Writers Unite! We hope you Live Limitless and not only chase but live your dreams!

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 Three)

 

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Part Three:

How do you get your story to the publisher and impress them to read it?

Yes, the question said, impress them. Shouldn’t your story alone be the deciding factor? Well, yes, that is the deciding factor for whether it should be included in their publication, but, they are receiving so many submissions, you must impress them to take their time to read yours over someone else’s. That can be done several ways with the submission letter, an author bio (biography), or just by properly jumping through all the submission hoops established by the publisher. This last could possibly include a restriction of who may submit: first-time, female authors from Canada with red hair. Yeah, that last part is an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

Submission letters are probably the most important part of the process; remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Publishing, on any level, is first and foremost a business, and the personnel involved in content selection should be respected as professional business men/women. Your letter (email) should be business like, date at the top, name, business, address, and who it is being sent to above the Dear XXX. Yes, I know we are doing this electronically, so this information will already be on the email heading, BUT making the extra effort will catch the eye of the reader and give you a better chance of moving on in the process. If you don’t know who will be reading this in order to put their name or exactly where this internet site originates, no problem. Using our example you want:

Date

 

Editor

A1 Publication

Dear Madam/Sir:

 

Notice it says “Madam/Sir”; this is politically correct as well as professional and when in doubt, alphabetize.

The first sentence of your first paragraph should NOT be a question; no What if or Did you ever… Your first sentence must be a strong statement about your story that will entice the reader to continue reading to see if you validate your point. Example:

The relationships we have when we are children are meaningful and help to shape the adults we will become. None of these is more meaningful than the relationship we have with our beloved pets.

The reader cannot argue with this statement and in fact, if he/she wants to find out why you feel this way, he/she needs to keep reading your letter. This is a good place to practice your elevator pitch. The elevator pitch is a synopsis of your story that you have prepared to present just in case you ever find yourself on an elevator with the person who can make the decision about your story. You can either ride up in silence or you can make conversation with a captive audience. Your pitch must be short and to the point, while remaining interesting, because you only have the time between the doors closing and opening to speak.

Continue your letter by telling how your original story, (insert name), goes on to explain/explore/entertain (whatever) your first statement. Be sure to include the word count, rounded up to the next fiftieth; this is usually a requirement of the publisher that it be mentioned in the body of the letter, and/or maybe in the subject line of the email itself. If your work has been published before, be sure to mention it here and cite the publication. Notice in the example below that I have also included a comment about a pen name. This is not necessary if you submit it under your regular name, but should be mentioned if you don’t.

Attached is Conversations with Bingo, an original short story written under my pen name, Somebody Else. It is about 2,100 words long. The story tells of the ten-year relationship between a boy and his beloved dog. Throughout good times and bad, his faithful companion was always there as his sounding wall to hear comments about his hopes and dreams, fears and delights, and disappointments and joys.

If the publisher has requested any special requirements for submission, like the ones mentioned above, now would be a good time to list them.

I am currently an unpublished author, but I believe my story would fit well with your publication. I have resided in Toronto for six years, and am a member of the Women of Fire Hair Club (yeah, cheesy, but you get the idea).

If you have received writing awards of note, or have had work published elsewhere, make note of that, being sure to cite where your work can be found so they can look you up for comparison if need be. If in their submission guidelines they ask for a head shot, it should be mentioned here that it has been attached to the email. If they ask for an author’s bio, you can mention that it is either attached as well or may be found below the signature line on this email.

Author head shots are used by the publisher for identification and promotion purposes. You do not have to run to a professional photographer for just one photograph—yet. This picture should be clear, sharp, and a good representation of your personality. It should be submitted in JPEG format for ease of duplication. Eventually you may want to get that studio shot for the back cover of your novel, but that is way down the road. If the publisher does not require a head shot in their submission guide, you can always just mention that one is available upon request in the body of the letter.

Your author’s bio should be written in third-person narrative. It can be difficult to speak of yourself as someone else, but think of what you would want a trusted friend to write. It should be no more than 100 words as a courtesy to the publisher. It can speak about your background, your family, your interest in writing, and maybe address something about your personality. If you are an established author, here is where you mention that and any awards you might have received. This blurb, like the head shots, will be used by the publisher as well, and should constantly be refined as your career advances and you evolve as a writer. Your first version may seem awkward when compared to your tenth, but eventually you will find the words to best represent your professional persona.

Finally, your letter should thank them for this opportunity and close with a comment about how you look forward to hearing from them and a positive comment about how they will enjoy your story. Sign it “Sincerely” (or something similar), with the name you want to be on your contract, along with all your contact information (address, phone, email, website, etc.). Let me state that again–the name you want to be on your contract! If you have a pen-name, then that should be mentioned in the body of the letter, the author’s bio, the title of the head shot JPEG file, and under your real name as:

Sincerely,

 

My Real Name

(writing as Somebody Else)

If you want the contract to be issued to you under your pen-name, then that is how you should sign the letter and skip mentioning it in the body.

I am a writer

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Part Four:  Okay, am I ready to send this story to the publisher?

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(November 2017 All rights reserved)

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

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Part One:

Since the written word has been offered to others for profit, there have been those seeking their work included in these publications. We, my brothers and sisters, come under the heading of the Seekers—writers of novels, songs, poems, essays, plays, and short stories. All are similar in how to go about getting published, like the way dogs, cats, babies, and drunken girlfriends all like to curl up on laps, but that is where the similarity ends. Each has their own criteria, demands, and audience. I’m going to discuss the what I have learned with regards to having a short story published. Business buzzwords will be bolded.

I started my career as a writer by penning a novel—silly me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good story, just not anywhere near ready for publication. I needed to know more about not only what makes for a good story, but the process involved with the publication of that story. After switching over to short stories, I was encouraged by friends to seek publication of what I had written. Little did I know what that entailed, and I wished someone would have explained the process to me in depth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they would have if I had asked the right questions. The purpose of this essay is to help explain the process.

Some generalizations about how written work gets published.

Anybody can set themselves up to become a publisher, all they need is a business plan, adequate capital, time, and connections. Anyone can also be a writer, you take an idea, put it to paper, and offer it to the publisher for their review and recompense. If the work is good–you will both win. If it’s great—they make money and you go on talk shows. To get your work before the publisher, many fields require an agent to act as a go-between the two parties. Agents are a valuable resource for a writer because they know which publisher is looking for work like yours, and for the publisher, because they act as a filter for all the manuscripts out there for consideration. There are some large market publishers that will accept non-agented submissions, but that is only during an advertised period (Harlequin usually open in the fall, like a goodwill gesture before the holidays).

Today’s electronic world has made self-publication an easy option. Skip the outside publisher and keep any profits earned for yourself. Unfortunately, this also means the writer also takes on all expenses the publisher, i.e. editing, formatting, printing, advertising, distribution … well, you get what I mean. Self-publishing is not at all a new concept, and the writer should not be discouraged by my description of the process. It is just not part of the process of having a short story published unless all the stories in the book belong to one writer, then it becomes a collection as opposed to an anthology. Notice I keep using the word writer instead of author. That is because the general concept is we are all writers, but we are not considered authors until we have had something published.

Practical steps prior to submission of a short story.

You’ve written a story and you think it special enough to want to share it with the world by having it published. You believe it is something of quality, something people are willing to spend their time, or even money, to read. Whether it is something that will make them laugh or cry, it needs to be well written.

First, you must know what the market genre or subject is. You don’t want to offer Erma Entices Eatonville to a publisher of children’s books, and vice versa. Know your audience. Have select members of that audience test read your work to see if the plot/message is being presented as you imagined. If this is done during while writing the story, they are known as Alpha readers. If they are reading it after you have finished writing the story, AND, reviewed it for errors (punctuation, spelling, etc.), they are called Beta readers. Take whatever comments these readers have to heart. You may not always agree with their remarks, but remember, the way they have processed your story will be how the publisher will as well. Make whatever changes, then submit it to an editor for another review.

You should never have to pay for an Alpha or a Beta reader. There are enough people around willing to read your work, just make sure they will comment without reservation. Your editor, on the other hand, is someone you should spend money on. Always send your editor the best version of your story, this person is a professional hired to bring your work up to industry and professional standards. There are line editors and content editors. Line editors will read your work, line by line, and correct any punctuation, grammatical, or continuity errors in your work. Think back to your English Composition class in high school and how your papers were returned with red ink notations by the teacher. This is what a line editor does. A content editor will do the same but also, with your permission, rewrite portions to give it more of an impact. They charge accordingly, the content charging more because they are being asked to do more work. You can find an editor just by asking, most authors have an editor they can recommend. It is appropriate to ask a potential editor what their rates are and their timeline for returning your work, do they give discounts if you have them take a second look, etc. Editors are your employees, your contract with them the same as you would a roofer or house painter, you wouldn’t take the first person who came along just because of convenience. Editor prices will vary, many of them charge less than a penny a word for work being asked. If they charge more, they had better provide more than just spilling red ink on your work.

Where can you submit a story for publication?

This varies from story to story, I know that sounds simplistic, but basically, that’s about it. If you write children’s stories, research who publishes children’s stories, magazines, journals, anthologies. Find out if they are accepting submissions. If it is a magazine, get an issue and look for the submission guidelines, if it not specific, send them an e-mail (I would say write but in this electronic age …) and ask, are you accepting and what are your guidelines. Better yet, go to their website and look for their submission guidelines there. Take note, those guidelines will be very specific and if not followed exactly can be the reason for rejection regardless of how good a story you have written.

If a publisher is accepting submissions, another consideration is whether your piece fits the size criteria, market type or length definition. Still working with the children’s magazine as an example, what if they are only accepting Flash Fiction pieces? Flash Fiction is any work 750-1,000 words or less. Count the total words of your story, minus the title and byline, for your word count. Is it less than that amount of words? If it is more, then it is a Short Story. Short stories measure up to 10,000 words, more than that it becomes a Novelette or Novella. A Novel is considered over 40,000 words. For the sake of example, yours measures 2,100 words which means you need to find somewhere else to submit it too.

If you don’t know where to look for open markets, try asking for recommendations or do some research to find out who has made a call for submissions. By reading this I know you belong to a Facebook writing group. Many of your fellow members will share information about who is accepting submissions. Another source is by subscribing to online resources like Duotrope of The (Submission) Grinder for referrals. These sites collect all the information I will mention here and periodically report what they know about these publishers. Another source is internet websites such as Writing Career, where like the two listed above, also list open markets and writing contests, both paid and unpaid. When you get one of these recommendations, go to that publisher’s website first to verify it is open, and second, to make sure your work fits within the parameters of their publication.

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Tomorrow:

Part Two: What are you looking for when looking at the publisher’s page?

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 (November 2017 All rights reserved)

Comfort Reads: All of the Comfort with None of the Calories

For long periods of time when I’m not feeling well or I’m stressed out, I read books I’ve read many times before. These are what have been referred to as ‘comfort reads’. A comfort read is like comfort food but without the calories. Both I think are a good way of coping sometimes that we all need but thank goodness a book doesn’t add inches to a waistline. I know for me a comfort read is a way of holding on to my sanity amid the storms of life sometimes.

But what makes a good comfort read?

First, I think the book has to be very well-written. It’s a book where you’re not pulled out of the story at any time by issues with editing and such. It’s a book that flows well and that you can pop in and out of and immediately pick up where you left off without having to think back to what happened before.

Second, in the books that I call my comfort reads it’s the characters that keep bringing me back. I know the story and the plot twists so well that I barely notice them. But what I do notice are the characters and how they make me feel. I care about these people and yes, I would love to know how their lives turned out after the end of the book (that’s why I love books with recurring characters from previous books: it’s like visiting with old and dear friends).

I think I get my re-reading from my late father who like me read the same books over and over so many times he could practically recite them. Personally, I think if someone re-reads your books many times it means it’s a really good book. Because if something is mediocre or un-memorable then I honestly don’t think people would go back for a so-so experience.

So I won’t rag on anyone who re-reads the same books over and over again because either they’re going through some difficult time in their life, or they just need to give their brain a break. Eventually, something new and shiny will come along and hopefully, it will become a comfort read.

In addition to writing a good book that someone wants to read the first time, I hope to write a book that people will read again and again. Because to me, a comfort read not only will build a relationship with a reader and hopefully get them to buy my other books, it will give them a respite from their daily lives. I want to write good stories, but I would also love for my stories to be so good people come back to them like they come back to their favorite comfort foods.

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Michele Sayre is a writer who consumes her favorite books like comfort foods and hopes that her books will become someone’s comfort read someday. And my comfort foods are: donuts, pizza, tacos, saltine crackers, Cheetos, and ice cream or chocolate without nuts.

ComfortReads

Deborah Ratliff: We Just Click, Dude!

How a deep connection between characters engages your reader.

 
“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”    ― Aristotle

A writer recently posted a question in a group discussion. What causes a reader to return to subsequent novels by an author? He wondered if the author and their writing style was the reason.

I have heard this question many times, and I think that while an author’s style is important to a reader, what brings a reader back repeatedly is how the author crafts characters.

Once at a meeting of a writing group, we were discussing the merits of writing a novel series and what would cause readers to continue to follow the books. A local playwright listened to this discussion before pounding the table. He declared that there was only one reason a reader came back: the characters. Provide a character that a reader can identify with, care about, connect to, and they will respond and read everything you write about that character.

This is true for me personally. The first author and character I became enamored with were John D. McDonald and the infamous Travis McGee. Everything about his books drew me in. The main setting, the coast of South Florida, remains a favorite to this day. Every detail, the ancient Rolls Royce McGee converted into a pick-up truck, the houseboat he won in a poker game, the marina where the boat docked, all characters within the novels. But that alone did not bring me back.

Travis McGee was larger than life. A man of honor with a strong moral center who, while he would bend the rules to accomplish his goals, never lost sight of the truth and what was right. He was reliable, counted on to help people when they had exhausted all other possibilities to undo a wrong. I think we all want that level of stability and strength in our lives.

McDonald didn’t stop with his main character. He created a world of characters that existed from novel to novel. McGee’s best friend, the economist Meyer, was unique, along with a cast of colorful and eccentric characters. From Chookie, who danced at a local club, to The Alabama Tiger, who held a constant floating party on his boat, these characters became old friends. The last Travis McGee novel may have been the saddest book I have ever read. My friends were gone. There would be no new adventures.

However, that instant connection I had with McGee and company will never leave. I read those books over often and feel nostalgia and peace simultaneously. Once you have felt that connection whether in real life or in your imaginary life that feeling will never leave.

The question then becomes this. How do writers craft characters that readers can connect with at the desired level? Let us examine what makes a character memorable.

 

Who is this person?

You must establish your main character as likable and relatable. They do not have to be perfect but do need to have characteristics the reader can identify with, or there will be no connection.

An important consideration is not to stereotype your character. Perfection is not the goal here, realism is. The reader wants to see someone who is strong and heroic but with flaws that they have themselves. Then they can project themselves into the action. Remember, Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes.

Construct your character through show and tell, don’t provide a litany of characteristics. If your character is short (which I identify with) frame the description as “she stretched to reach the top shelf” not she was five-one. The reader will have experienced the reaching or watched someone who did and identify without an exact reference to the character’s height and create an image in their imagination.

Above all, reveal your character’s flaws. Are they afraid of new love because of hurt in the past? Are they devastated or angry because of a tragedy? Did they lose everything and have to start over? Show the fears they feel, the pain and anger. You should also give them a reason for hope—a faith that they will survive and reach their goal. Give them humor and confidence, even if you shake it from time to time. Let them laugh, cry, rant, and fight for what they want. Your reader should be cheering for your character to succeed with every word.

 

What are they seeking?

Establish your MC’s goal as soon as possible. What do they want? Once you have established the task before them, throw obstacles in their way. Create the need for the reader to become engaged in their quest. We have all wanted something we seemingly can’t have, and as problem after problem piles on, we think we will never reach our goal. Let the reader feel that frustration, fear, anger as they fight through the issues keeping them from their goals.

 

Who are their companions?

As with the Travis McGee series, secondary characters are significant to how your reader identifies with your main character and invests in the story. They need to be memorable as well.

I wrote a story where I introduced a character, a bartender in the New Orleans French Quarter, who was meant to be a vehicle for my protagonist to run into her former lover. Within two paragraphs, I had fallen for the bartender, and he morphed into a cousin and best friend of the former lover and became an integral part of the plot. The story became more vibrant with more depth because I added a character who had a vested interest in the outcome.

Create the friend, the mentor, the grandmother, the housekeeper, whatever character you need to help you present your MC’s human side. Someone who recognizes their flaws and is not afraid to tell them. Someone they can confess their thoughts to, someone they trust. With each interaction between these characters, the reader will become more attached to the main character.

 

What does this effort give you, the author?

Going back to our original question, why do readers return to a writer, they come back because they like the characters.

They “just click” with them. Standalone stories with great characters will bring readers back to an author. A series of novels with the same character succeeds because, while writing style may have allowed them to enjoy the first novel, readers will want to read the second and third and so on because you gave them a character who reflects their desires and one they can identify with time and again.

Never forget how it felt to instantly connect to someone important in your life. A good author will give that incredible emotion to their readers. Those readers will be back for more.

 

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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 43,000 + members from around the globe.

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Resources:

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/18077-what-is-a-friend-a-single-soul-dwelling-in-two

https://www.goodreads.com/series/52264-travis-mcgee

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082971/

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