Book Promotion “Do Nots”

I am not going to start by telling you that you should listen to what I’m about to say because, well, see #2. Instead, let’s just call these tips from someone who cares.

The Do Not List of Online Book Promotion

1) Do not use your Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Whatever account for nothing but your own book promotion because you wrote the darn thing so you’re unbaised as they come. Plus, on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is like a bee buzzing ten miles away, and 10 is watching My Little Pony for 17 hours straight, this is a 22.

2) If someone else on Twitter/Facebook/Whatever says something nice about your book, do not use your account just to quote them. This is pretty much the online equivalent of wearing a t-shirt that says I AM THE BEST! and it makes people want to punch you. Yes, you can thank them and you know what? That just might make people curious enough to see what you’re thanking Person X for. That’s okay because you didn’t shove it down their throats.

3) Do not ask people to buy your book. Ever. Tell them you released a book. If you’re smart, tell them something “hooky” about your book so they will make the decision to buy it.  When possible, tell them you’re giving away a copy or doing a book signing. These are all fine. But for the love of all things blue and fluffy, do NOT tell them to buy it. Do not email everyone you know or post messages on Twitter/Facebook/Whatever. With the exception of possibly your own mother, it won’t work because most people are not actually mindless robots. Also, see #1.

4a) Do not ask people to rate your book well on Amazon/Goodreads etc… so your ratings will go up. If they loved it, they will rate it well. If they didn’t, well then your request might just make them want to rate it even worse because you annoyed them.

4b) NEVER ask people who haven’t even read your book to do #4a. This is the book review equivalent of “stuffing the ballot box” and if you do it, you deserve a lifetime of nothing but My Little Pony shows.

4c) NEVER EVER EVER ask/encourage/allow your family/friends to do items 1-4 because a) like you, they are biased so we won’t believe them anyway, b) we will probably think you asked them to do so which is like buying yourself the t-shirt from #2 and then asking your brother to give it to you for Christmas, and c) see mindless robot comment from #3.

To sum up: don’t be an asswipe.

Passive Writing

I learned more things from Before You Hit Send than my brain can process and I’m not going to attempt to tell you what they all were because a) I won’t be able to do it as well as Angela James, and b) you really should spend the $55 and take the course yourself.  I will, of course, tell you about the one thing that hit me like a blunt snow shovel on a warm July day.

When Angela covered the horrors of passive writing, I thought, Oh, I would NEVER do that! Then she pointed out that, when body parts perform actions, this is passive writing. Although this was news to me, I still thought, Nope. Not me!

But then I searched my manuscript and found a slew of lines like this:

“His eyes travelled…”

“His gaze rested…”

“His hands moved…”

I closed my manuscript, slammed my forehead on my desk twelve times, and then took an Advil with a shot of whiskey. Okay, not really (it was only ten times. Eleven tops!)

In case it’s not clear, in the above examples, He is not performing the action; his body parts are. By definition, this makes the writing passive and according to Angela, this makes it less effective. (Footnote: Angela probably used a much better word than effective. To find out what is was, TAKE THE DAMN COURSE!)

This one is a relatively quick fix but then most of the tips from Before You Hit Send are easy. The beauty of these tips is that, if you make all the changes she suggests, you’ll end up with a more polished manuscript that doesn’t make a potential reader/agent/editor want to use your book as kindling. Or, worse, as lining for a litter tray.

A Plea to Writers

Dear Writers,

Before you finish revising your WIP, please do the following:

1) Decide the time frame for your novel including the backstory. For example, novel takes place from October 1-31, 2012 but there are many references to an incident that started in May 2011 and ended in June 2011. If you don’t have a specific time frame in mind, pick one anyway. You don’t have to actually give the dates in your novel.

2) Once you have done #1, Google the words “calendar October 2012” for each month you need. When you find the month (usually they’re posted in PDF format) click Print so you have a print copy of the calendar.

NOTE: If you don’t want to Google & print, go find an actual calendar and photocopy it.

3) Once you have all of the months you need, go through your book and write down every chapter in the box for the day/days it spans. Do the same for the important elements of the backstory.

4) With your calendar on the wall or table in front of you, read your manuscript. Every single time you refer to a date or an event with an implied date (for example, last week, last month, the last time I saw her), check the calendar to ensure the reference makes sense. This is especially important for backstory. If I have to read ONE MORE BOOK where a character has a baby 11 months after peeing on a stick, I will throw something hard at something fluffy.


Do Your Scenes Need Loglines?

This past weekend, I attended a workshop that was given by writer Roxanne St. Claire. This workshop covered scene revision and pace. First let me say that, if you have the chance to attend one of Roxanne’s workshops, GO! She’s brilliant and funny and she says things about hospital corners you’ll never forget.

I learned a thousand things at this workshop but will be covering only one today and that is this:

Every scene in your novel needs to have three things: a goal, a conflict and a change.

Sound familiar? Why yes, Ms. Bodger, that sounds a bit like a logline to me! Now Roxanne did not suggest we write loglines for each of our scenes. She suggested we make sure we have a goal, conflict and change, but because I LOVE loglines so much, I decided to try to write one for each scene of my WIP. To do that, I first had to make obvious breaks in my scenes (I usually separate them by spaces or chapter breaks but I decided it would be easier to use chapter breaks for all of them for now). Once that was done. I highlighted the scene/chapter number and added a revision note that gave the time & date (I always do this) as well as the character’s goal, conflict and change (or result).

Here’s an example of one I wrote for the second scene in my WIP:

The deal is off if Emma doesn’t get Rachel’s coffee to her before 7 am, but when Emma gets to Starbucks, she realizes that she can’t remember the order and forgot her money. Matteo, the Starbucks cashier, is sick of bratty rich kids who annoy him and so when Emma offers to pay after she brings the coffee to Rachel, Matteo refuses. In the end, Emma gets the coffee but only because the other barista gives it to her.

As far as loglines go, this isn’t great. It doesn’t cover much about the characters since we already know them by this point and it gives away the outcome which you also don’t usually do. But despite this, it does what it needs to do for my revision. It establishes Emma’s goal, her obstacles and the outcome.

Now, you’re probably looking at this and thinking this is a lot of work. You’re right. I have 42 scenes in my WIP and it took several hours (and that was just to write them, not to fix them!) However, in doing this exercise, I was able to identify all of the scenes in my WIP that were lacking a purpose (goal) or real tension (obstacles). For example, in the one above, before I did this, I still knew what I wanted the scene to do but I didn’t know how to make it do it BETTER until I’d identified the real conflict.

If you’re still not sure this will help you, try it for only a few scenes. Maybe the ones that seem too short or maybe the ones that seem to drag. Even if it doesn’t result in any changes, it’s a great way to keep track of what’s happening in your scenes.

The Hierarchy of Writers

In my experience, the hierarchy of writers feels something like this:

Is this fair? Of course not. We all know that some of the writers near the top of this pyramid do not possess more talent than some of those at the bottom. Being a great writer does not guarantee that you will ever sell anything to anyone you don’t call Mom. That is determined by the market and frankly, the market watches shows like Jersey Shore.

But that is not the point of this post. The point is to say this: this hierarchy exists because we, as writers, support it. We look up to the top and down to the bottom but WE DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS! Every writer deserves the same amount of respect, regardless of the size of their publishing deal (or lack thereof). Think about this the next time you glorify (or disregard) the opinion of another writer.

More Advice from Michael Hauge

From Michael Hauge’s list of Writing Misdemeanors:

JOHN, DON’T DO THIS: In real life, people rarely address each other by name – particularly when they’re alone together.  So unless your character is searching for someone, shouting at someone, calling on someone in class, addressing only one person in a group, or being introduced to someone, avoid having your characters address each other by name.  And above all, avoid any temptation to add full-name dialogue to your love story, as in (gag, puke), “I think I love you, Edgar Cuddlebuns.”  I know you want your audience to learn the characters’ names, but you’ll just have to find a more natural, logical way to reveal them.”



Why You Need Beta Readers

So I read this book that had a character the same age as my 7-year-old daughter. This character vacillated between doing things that my child would have done at the age of 3 and things my child probably won’t do until she is 14. And you know what? This drove me nuts. I know I am a trees person and I get my knickers in a knot over details many people probably wouldn’t see, but this one in particular drives me crazy. If you want to write about characters of a certain age, you HAVE to have a beta reader who is or knows that age. So, if you are 40 and you’re writing about 14-year-olds, yes you need to get betas of that age (or, at the very least, betas who are parents or teachers of kids that age) and if you are 14 and you are writing about 40-year-olds, you also need to do the same thing. Don’t assume you know how a 6-year-old acts if you’ve never been around one (it does not count if you were one 20 years ago!) and don’t assume that you understand the motivation of a parent if you haven’t been one either.

I’ve said it before but I will say it again: making mistakes like this weakens the strength of your narrator and thus of you, the author and once you lose that trust, you can’t get it back.

When the goal is a secret

A lot of my posts seem to start with the words, “So I read this book…” and this one is no different. For the book in question, when I first started to read it, my initial reaction was, What the H? There was a character talking about stuff but there was no goal, no conflict, no nothing but, well, stuff. It felt like something had to happen but it took until 1/3rd of the way through the book before a goal (and plot) became apparent.

I started to think about why it took so long to get to the goal and it finally came to me: the goal was a secret. The author set up the story so that the initial hook for readers was in finding out what the goal was. The problem, of course, is that the only reason I didn’t stop at around the 10% mark was because I’d been PROMISED that this book was FABULOUS.

So what does this mean? It means that you might be able to get away with things like not having a plot or goal for 1/3 of your book if it is so fabulous that word of mouth will force people to stick it out, but in my opinion, you are going to have a much harder time getting to that point.

Inciting Incidents versus First Plot Points

I have seen a lot of confusion over the difference between the inciting incident and the first plot point. To me, it is simple:

The inciting incident is the event that changes status quo for the main character. For example, Anne finds her dog dead.

The first plot point is the point at which the main character decides to pursue his/her goal. For example, Anne decides she must find the asshole who ran over her dog with a milk truck.

These two things cannot happen at the same time. The main character needs some time to adjust to the event, question its meaning and convince herself/himself to take the journey. Without this struggle, the goal will not be perceived as difficult for the character, both outwardly and inwardly, and if it’s not difficult, the reader will have no reason to want to hop on to the journey.


Don’t make it worse

Those of you who are familiar with Donald Maass’s books and seminars will have heard him use the words “make it worse” over and over again. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a rash of books lately where the author has taken this advice a bit too literally.

What Maass wants you to do is to add more obstacles to your main character’s journey. For example, your 19th Century heroine needs to get to the church before the love of her life marries some dolt with 20,000 a year. Rather than just making it take a while for her to get to the church, Maass would tell you to make her journey harder. Maybe a herd of cows blocks the road for ten minutes. Maybe the carriage wheel gets stuck in mud. Maybe the driver goes to the wrong church.

What Maass is (hopefully) not suggesting is that you think of random bad things to throw in. For example, your 19th Century heroine who needs to get to the church to stop the love of her life from marrying a dolt with 20,000 a year should not suddenly fall into a pit of sharks and then climb out only to be sucked into a spaceship. Yes, this does make things worse but it also makes the reader say, “What the H–?”

Final thought: Even if you do keep your obstacles appropriate for your character’s journey, be careful not to mount them too high. Yes, everyone has bad days, but if you throw 147 bad things into the same day, you will lose your readers. For good.