Tag Archives: writer

29 Jun

Storing up LIFE to Write About Later

This week, I have been Frederick. The classic children’s book talks about a mouse who watches all the other mice gather seeds and grains for the winter, storing them away for the cold days. Frederick is a gatherer, too, but he gathers the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and feel of summer. When dreary days of winter come, Frederick is ready with poetry to remind the others that good days would come again.

My daughter delivered her second son, my fourth grandchild this week, and I’ve concentrated on just living. On being a Frederick who soaks up life at it grandest and stores it in the depths of my heart to be brought out in a written form when needed.

Here are some of the images of the week:

Mr. GFR weighed in a 7 lbs, 20.5 inches.

Big brother marched into the hospital and literally charmed the entire nursing staff. They were all hanging over the desk to get a look at his fedora and glasses.

Mr. EIR stole the show from his little brother.

And while the household slept, I took early morning walks, just rejoicing in the richness of our lives.

Heron on the Lake on the day that GFR was just two days old.

Sometimes, every once in a while, it’s good to be a Frederick! When is the last time you just lived and enjoyed the fullness of life?

20 May

Poland: A Writer’s Vacation

I just got home from ten days in Europe and I am ready to write. Why?
Because getting out of my writing cave makes me bump up against people, against history, against emotional struggles.

Belzec Death Camp Memorial

Belzec Death Camp Memorial, Poland

One place we visited is a memorial for the Belzec (Bee AWA zhek) Death Camp in eastern Poland, the first and worst of the Nazi camps which tried to exterminate Jews, gypsies and handicapped people. Over 600,000 people died here in 1941-1943. Then, the Germans flattened the camp and planted trees, in an attempt to hide what they had done.

This is history and deep emotions rolled into one poignant visit. For example, there was only one survivor of the camp–only one!–and his stories are heartbreaking. One quote was from a young boy who had entered the gas chambers and was heard to cry out, “It’s dark, it’s dark. Mama, haven’t I been good?” His last words.

For a writer to experience a sobering memorial something like this is to plumb the emotional depths to which a character might be forced to go.

Barn Swallow Nest

One place we stayed was a horse farm in eastern Poland and one morning I walked out with my camera to see what was around. Under the eaves of the horse barns were nest after nest of barn swallows. I like trying to find the small, hidden things to photograph, because as a writer, it reminds me to pay attention to the landscape, to notice the “telling details” that could make a story come alive.

"Beware of Dog" in Polish

I snapped this photo while we were stopped for a break along a country road. Writers need to remember that there are common emotions and thoughts across all languages and cultures, they are common to humanity. Fear of dogs is one of those things.

Window in Zamosz, Poland

And you can find beauty across the world, too, beauty in the common things of life such as a window.

The trip was amazing: as a writer, the trip reminded me that stories are universal, that evoking emotions–both happy and sad–is universal, and that beauty is found in the common things of life.

18 Feb

What Next? 15 Questions to Help you Decide Your Next Writing Project

I was lucky enough to get an Advanced Reader Copy of Chip and Dan Heath’s new book, DECISIVE: How to make better choices in Life and Work. You may know the Heath brothers from their previous books, SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard and MADE TO STICK: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. They are adept at taking massive amounts of research on topics with widespread appeal and distilling the information into something that can be used in daily life. In DECISIVE, they discuss decision-making and make it practical. Here, I have applied many of their ideas in a simple checklist: What manuscript should you write next?

Courtesy of the Heath Brothers amazing insights into the applicability of much research, these are practical ideas to help you make the best decision possible. If you want to know more, DECISIVE will be released on March 26, available now for pre-order.

You just wrote, “The End.” And you hit the SEND button. The manuscript is off to the editor.

What now? How do you decide on the next project?

Build a Career

An agent once asked this question: What is the next logical book for you in terms of building an audience that will support your career?

Do you see the criteria embedded in that question:

  • Build an audience
  • Support your career

Is that what you want? A career with a growing audience? Then, you probably need to stick with the genre of your first book, and turn out a second book that will appeal to the same audience. If you wrote a mystery and it sold well, write another mystery—different, better, but definitely appealing to the same audience.

But it may not be that easy. Maybe several genres interest you and you want to try something new. But that might risk your career, because you aren’t building a consistent following. How do you sort out all your ideas and commit to the next project? Here are 15 questions to ask yourself.

15 What Next Questions

  1. Don’t Get Trapped in Too Small a Framework. The decision is rarely one like this: Should I do Mss A or not? Instead, try to look at a range of options. Here are ideas that I have, A, B, C, D, and E. Which of these would appeal to the same audience as my first success?
  2. What else you could write in the same time period. If it takes you six months to write a novel, what else could you get written in that time period? What project deserves that time commitment?
  3. What if you couldn’t write the Mss you had planned to write next? What would you write then? For example, if you were planning a picture book biography of Shirley Temple and one was just published to great acclaim, maybe it’s not the best time for this story. So, pretend something similar just happened to your pet idea. What would you do then?

  4. Could you write the openings of several different manuscripts and THEN decide which one excites you the most? Multi-tracking sometimes allows the cream to rise.
  5. Look at the career of someone you admire and want to emulate. At a similar point in his/her career what was the next book published? Or, look at a musician or actor/actress and find parallels in their careers. For example, Sean Connery could have gotten stuck in the 007 role and never found his way to new projects. Instead, he has regularly “reinvented” himself by taking risky roles that led to an expanded career. Is it time for you to write that “breakout” book you’ve been planning?

  6. Looking over all the possible manuscripts and ideas—what has you the most excited? Which one are you scared to write—and therefore, will push you to write your best?
  7. Ask the opposite question: if you have been writing mysteries, what if your next novel was a romance? Is this the time to make a switch or not? Can you carry any of your audience over to a new genre? Is there a way to work more romance into your next mystery, so the transition isn’t total, but pulls in readers from both genres?
  8. Could you test new waters with a short story or a short ebook? Is there a way to TRY something new, without doing damage to your current audience? Once you decide on a new mss, you’ll have to commit wholeheartedly to write the best possible. But maybe you can take a couple weeks and try out a new market.
  9. Are you too attached to the status-quo? Your publisher wants more and more of this one type story and you get paid. But somehow, you feel your passions are lessened. At what point do you need to shake up the status quo?
  10. What would you tell your best writer friend to do in this situation?
  11. What are you passionate about? What are your core values? Does Mss A or B or C or D allow you to express that passion better?
  12. If you write this book and a year from now it fails(either not published or published to poor reviews), can you think why it would have failed to reach your audience?
  13. If you write this book and it succeeds, can you discuss why it would make your readers excited about your work?
  14. Do you set goals for your books? If this mystery doesn’t sell 10,000 copies, then I’ll try a different genre for my next project. Would a goal like that help you make the next career move?
  15. Are there deadlines for this project, or can you create a deadline? You’ll devote six months to this fantasy story, and then, you must write your next mystery.

You have a choice to make and the choice will affect your future and your career as a writer. What will you write next? There are no right or wrong answers, only answers that please you. You’re in control. I know–that’s scary! But that’s another post.

Hey, Chip and Dan–What will YOU write next?

01 Feb

Health Care for Writers

If you are self-employed, you are worried about health care. I know: I had surgery in July and it took six months to get all the bills cleared up.

The new Affordable Heatlth Care plan goes into effect in 2014, with enrollment beginning October, 2013, when self-employed persons can sign up for one of a tier of products. The Small Business Administration has just started a new website and blog about health care to help educate the public. Here are some places to start:

06 Jul

Author Bios: Concise, Relevant and Fascinating

When you write an author bio, what you include depends on, well, you.

Bio for Query

Writing a query letter requires a compressed bio of just a couple sentences.
Here, you want to touch on the highlights of your career. I might write:
Published in eight languages, I have books with Greenwillow/Harpercollins, Philomel/Penguin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Sylvan Dell. My website, www.darcypattison.com, has half a million visitors each year.

Just as you need a bio ready for multiple purposes, you should have author photos ready. I try to have a photo in 100x100 pixels, 250x250, 500x500 and at least one with a 300 dpi (high resolution) for print situations.

What if you have no publishing credits or background? Not to worry. Say nothing, unless it directly relates to the manuscript you are submitting. In this case, the manuscript will stand on it’s own, without the ever-so-slight prop of a bio.

Include work history? Probably not, unless it directly relates to your story.
I might write:
The main character is hearing impaired and I hold a Masters Degree in Audiology (doing hearing tests) and have worked for the Arkansas School for the Deaf.

Otherwise, your lips are sealed. Nothing about grandchildren who love your story; nothing about jobs that don’t directly relate; nothing about the newspaper who interviewed you about your invention that has nothing to do with this manuscript. Everything must relate to THIS manuscript. Otherwise–mums the word. Absolutely, no padding.

Expanded Bios

There are times for a longer bio, on your blog or when you send out press releases about your new book, that’s the place to list everything–if you like. For example, when my new picture book Desert Baths (a story about how desert animals take baths) comes out in late August, I’ll be ready with standard bios to send around with the press release.

I try to condense everything into a one-page document, because, really, who will read every word? I keep an updated bio that has a letterhead with all my contact info (email, phone, fax, mailing address), and just print this out and slip into an envelope or attach to an email. If appropriate, sometimes, I’ll take a yellow highlighter and make something jump out. For a picture book submission, I might emphasis that The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman was an honor book for the 2003 Irma S. and James H. Black Picture Book Award from Bank Street College.

Bios, in this sense, aren’t curriculum vitae, which are academic biographies which list all your publications, your speaking engagements, work history academic history, etc.. I keep one of those up to date, but rarely use it because it’s too long to send around easily; if any one asks, though, I’ve got it and don’t have to create it.

What you’re trying to do is establish specific credentials, highlight relevant information and hook an editor into reading the manuscript. In the end, the bio is important, but not crucial. In the end, there’s only one question: does this editor like this story? does this reader like this book?

11 Dec

Writers Must Be Readers

Darcy Pattison Reading

What comes out depends on what goes in. Garbage in, garbage out. Literature in, literature out.

But what if there’s nothing going in? I’ve been reading less lately and it shows in less coming out. Well, that’s not strictly true. I’ve been reading, but mostly internet articles, websites, blogs–not books. This week, though,I’ve read two novels and have a stack of a couple more to read. It’s a breath of fresh air, a coming home that I didn’t know I needed to do.

Why did I leave? I’ve been swept up in the online world for a bit this year. It’s a vast, uncharted world of opinion, with bright spots of voice and humor. Reading around has been interesting, but even here, my habits were shallow, skimming and not staying for a long time on any site.

But this week, I read two novels and was swept away in Story, falling in love again with the language, characters, events,with the way you get lost in the flow of a story. Hours pass, as you travel, meet new people, feel strange emotions, live in the moment of Story. I read Eva Ibbotson’s fantasy middle grade novel, The Secrets of Platform 13. Then I jumped to an adult mystery with Look Again, by Lisa Scottoline. In line next is an adult fantasy novel, and waiting in the corner is a fantastic new bookstore I’ve just discovered. Meanwhile, I’ve stood in B&N and read through board book after board book, in search of the special ones to give to my new grandson for Christmas. From short to long, baby audience to adult, I am devouring Story.

I am gearing up to write and write and write a new story in January. And this is the right preparation: read and read and read. Literature in, literature out.

What books are you currently reading? What are you giving for Christmas presents?

11 Oct

Advice to a Beginner

Writing for Kids? It’s easy, right? Recently, I’ve talked to several beginners and here’s some of the most common advice I give.

Main Character to Relate to and Identify With

What age are you writing for? Adults? Then, you need an adult main character. Teens? Then, you need a teen main character. Elementary age kid? Then you need. . . In other words, your audience needs a main character they can relate to and identify with.

Yes, I know. Fairy tales are about old dudes like Rumpelstiltskin. And Pooh Bear is, well, a bear. Yes, there will be an odd book about a grandparent as a main character. But those are harder to pull off and best left till later in your career. Create a main character a bit older than your audience. It can be an animal–which is generally a kid in animal clothing. But any time you move far off from your audience’s age and general characteristics, you will have to work harder to make the audience care.

Basic Writing Skills

Yes, there are basic writing skills and you need to master these. They include sentence structures and punctuation. For this, I suggest you work through The Art of Styling Sentences. It’s a simple, fun way to review basic writing.

Basic Fiction Skills

Ah, but after you brush up your basic writing skills, you need to learn some basic fiction techniques. Do you know how to punctuate dialogue correctly? Do you know how to Show-Don’t-Tell a story? Do you understand that fiction is about conflict, that you can’t create a plot which has no obstacles and simple obstacles makes for a simple, but boring plot?

I always recommend two basic texts for writing fiction:

If you study these two books on fiction writing, you’ll be far ahead of the gang.

Ask for and accept help!

Advice from the Sage One

I’ve read that a career in writing often comes with an apprenticeship of twenty years. Sigh. Learning to write great fiction can take time. But there are many people willing to give help. (No–I can’t read your story; I can and do read stories from those I know personally–as time allows.) There are many conferences, retreats, classes which can help. I strongly recommend you ask for help. And then, take the advice, practice, try it out. You can always go back to the original version, but you should try doing what they ask. If you don’t understand something–ask! Please. Ask! I can’t answer questions you don’t ask. I can cut five years off your learning curve–if you let me.

Worry about the words, not the art.

Finally, if you are writing a picture book, worry not about the art. Worry only that your words soar.
The publisher, editor and art director will match you with a fantastic illustrator. You don’t have to find an artist, indeed, it will cut your chances of a sale in half if you do. They WANT to and EXPECT to contract an illustrator for a picture book. Worry about the words. That’s your job.

30 Jun

Geoff Herbach: 2K11

Replace Abstractions with Concrete Detail!

Guest post by Geoff Herbach

Introduced first in 2007, debut children’s authors have formed a cooperative effort to market their books. I featured Revision Stories from the Classes of 2k8 and 2k9 and this feature returns this year with the Class of 2k11.

What’s wrong with this passage?

Bobby was such a nice boy. He would help people who needed to be helped. But something wasn’t right. Bobby felt sad everyday of his life.

It’s dead. You can’t see, feel, or smell it. It’s all tell, no show. What makes the passage that way? Abstractions!

In writing, abstractions are words that symbolize a notion. For instance, in the passage above, what does nice mean? What does helped mean? What does sad mean? Abstract is good in math (math describes reality using symbols, which are by nature abstract). Abstraction can be really cool in visual art. Check out Mondrian’s work Broadway Boogie Woogie, a series of lines and blocks of color meant to represent Midtown Manhattan. You get a different idea of Manhattan through abstraction. Abstraction does not work in writing, though!

Low-res used under Fair Use

Mondrain: Broadway Boogie Woogie, Low-res used under Fair Use

You might have had an English teacher or writing instructor ask you to “show” not “tell”. Often they’re asking you to replace your abstractions with concrete detail.

Reading should be a visceral experience. You should feel it in your guts. If I say I am nice, do you know what nice really means? No way! You can’t see it, feel it, or smell it. If I say every morning I get up at the cold crack of dawn, roll out of my warm covers so I can trek three miles to my disabled grandma’s house to help her make breakfast, do you know what nice means? Oh yeah. You can see and feel it.

Circle Abstractions. When I am revising my work, one of my steps is to go through the manuscript and circle every one of my abstractions. After I do that, I’ll think about each instance and decide if the abstraction serves the story or takes away from the reader’s ability to “see” what I mean. Almost always I’ll replace the abstraction (showing what nice means) with concrete details like getting up at the cold crack of dawn or making breakfast for my grandma.

If I replace every abstraction in that initial passage, I get this:

Every morning Bobby woke up at 5 am so he could cross the wide street in front of his house and serve Old Lady Grisham a breakfast of poached eggs and apple smoked bacon before he left for classes at Golden Prairie High. Still, even though his parents hugged and smiled at each other every time they looked at Bobby – they were so proud, each morning that spring, in first hour English, Bobby’s stomach twisted and his face reddened and he excused himself and went to the bathroom to talk himself out of crying.

Now the passage is alive. Abstractions are replaced with concrete detail that shows who your character is, where your character exists, and how your character is nice, helpful, and also sad. What an easy trick!

So, as one of your revision steps, make sure you locate where you use abstractions, and consider replacing them with concrete details!

30 Mar

Social Media for Authors: Start Slow

In a recent post about Facebook Author Pages, Nathan Bradford said:

When fan pages were first created, I think people were kind of nervous to get started on them due to the whole “fan” thing. It seemed a bit presumptuous to have a fan page when one wasn’t a celebrity. But Facebook pages are increasingly how people distinguish between their private and public networks. So even if you aren’t (yet) a published author, I would definitely consider creating a page for yourself.

Wow! Intimidating. Before you even have a manuscript to submit, you should get involved in social media? I strongly feel authors have a social presence. A friend finds this intimidating and asked for advice. I’d suggest a slower start than others. For one thing, you’re probably unsure of your goals for social media beyond name recognition. You’re unsure of whether you want to target writers, parents, teachers or readers (adult or kids). Dip your toes in for a while; wade a while.

Start Slow in Social Media

In Social Media: the turtle wins.Get a Business Email. Usually, this will be something like FirstLastName@gmail.com. Use this email to start accounts on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Comment. Since you’re unsure of what manuscripts you’ll sell, and where you’ll fit into the chidlren’s literature world, take some time to look around. Use something like Alltop.com to find blogs to read. On Alltop, you just search for a topic–writing, moms, dads, teachers, etc–and find blogs.

Using your new business identity, read blogs and comment.
Pay attention to topics being discussed, the layout/design/platforms of the blogs and anything else that interests you.

On Twitter, don’t worry about posting, you can just attend a chat:
KidLit Chat

Or Follow some folks and Message them about their Tweets

On YouTube, watch book trailers and add authors and publishers as friends.

At first, set small goals. Maybe a goal of 10 comments a day. That should help you make the rounds of blogs that interest you. It lets you see your options. You can go to AllTop.com and search for writing blogs, moms blogs, reading blogs, or whatever.

OR, if you like Facebook, try posting daily and Liking 10 things daily.
If you like creating videos, post a new video weekly and comment on 10 other videos.
If you like Twitter, post one thing daily, and Message 10 people daily.

Well, you get the idea.

Notice What you Notice

Meanwhile, notice what you notice. Which blogs draw you back over and over? What topics do you comment on? Why? Which platform do you like: FaceBook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube? Do you gravitate toward things for readers, parents, educators? Are you drawn to info about picutre books, nonfiction, YA/Teen lit?

Start slow, start small. Notice where your interests lie. Read tutorials on platforms that interest you. And when you’re ready dive in. Yes–you should do it sooner, rather than later. But if you don’t have a mss ready to submit, you’ve got time. Use it to find a niche that you can sustain.

11 Mar

The New Facebook Page for Authors

Today, everyone should be rolled over to Facebook’s new Page features. Why should authors care? Because it gives us new ways to interact with each other and with our readers.

LIKE my Facebook Page: I know there are neat, nifty little buttons you can put here so you can LIKE my Page without going there. Alas, I’m part geek, but not enough to have figured this out YET. Instead, PLEASE CLICK through and LIKE my Brand-New Page! BTW, I went with DarcyPattisonAuthor as the name of my page, so the URL is now http://www.facebook.com/DarcyPattisonAuthor.

Basic Changes to Facebook Page

Here’s a great detailed explanation of the changes. Here’s what authors need to know.

Darcy Pattison

My new 180x540 Facebook Profile Pic.

  • Photos at the top. Some time ago, Facebook Profile pages switched to pictures at the top and the Pages are doing this also. These are randomly displayed, but you can X out the ones you do NOT want to appear. The photos are drawn from those you upload and those you Tag with your PageName. It will NOT include photos posted by those who like your Page.
  • Use Facebook as your Page. When you login you can switch and surf around Facebook AS YOUR PAGE. This means you can LIKE other Pages, post comments as your Page and function as the entity, Author. You can NOT post on profiles, only other Pages.
  • Email notifications. You can choose to receive notifications when people post or comment on your Page.
  • Featured Pages and admins. Hurrah! If you have Pages for each of your Books, you can feature these on your Page, thus linking all your Pages together in a coherent fashion. You can feature your publisher, your illustrator, your favorite organizations, etc. If multiple people are involved in the page, say for an anthology, you could feature each of those authors (if they have pages). It’s a nice networking tool
  • Mutual connections: When someone visits your Page, they will see which of their friends also likes your Page, as well as other Pages that both they and your Page like.
  • Profile picture size. Profile pictures were limited to 200×600 px, but that’s reduced to 180×540 px. What do you think of my new pic?
  • Navigation. Gone are the tabs at the top, replaced by the Links on the left-hand side, exactly like on a profile. Tabs are swapped out for the personal info that used to be under your pic. Make use of your Info to highlight what is important.
  • Custom “tabs”/Links to additional pages on your Page, now) can be created with iFrames. This is important enough it gets its own section below.

IFrames with WordPress

So, what’s the big deal about adding iFrames. Facebook is a clunky interface with no chance for customizing it unless you do some fancy coding. Before you had to use FBML (Facebook Markup Language), a variation on HTML (hypertext markup language).

Note: If you skipped learning all that stuff ten years ago, then you’re one of those who uses a Visual Editor on everything, a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get. It’s OK. There are tools out there for you.

Now, Facebook is switching to iFrames, which means that you create content and host it somewhere outside Facebook, on your own domain or server; then you pull it into Facebook, like putting a picture into a frame.

Complicated? Yes, a bit. Now, I’m not afraid to do some playing around with codes, but this iFrames stuff looked overwhelming to me. Fortunately, there are already apps to make it easy.

I use WordPress, which I host on my own domain. When I found this newly updated Facebook Tab Manager Plugin, I was excited. I followed the recommended video and quickly managed to create a custom page through WordPress and pull it into my Facebook Page.

Whatever platform you’re using, see if you can find a new App; wait a month, there will be one!

SEE THE CUSTOM PAGE: To see the resulting page, you need to LIKE my Facebook Page first. Then in the left-hand column, click on What’s New.

Using Facebook to Promote Books and Yourself as Author

So, why should authors care about all this new-fangled stuff?

Pull Together all Your Online Presence

    For the first time, Facebook seems to be a place where you can pull together all your online presences. For example, I talk about writing fiction here on Fiction Notes, including the Novel Revision Retreats that I teach; I talk about book trailers at BooktrailerManual.com; and I talk about my books everywhere, including on some websites dedicated just to them. It’s frustrating because it’s hard to pull it all together in one place. A FB-Page now has that capability.

  • Strategic Linking Use strategic linking on your Page, including Featured links to Pages. Use iFrames to create Links to pages that pull in your info to this one central place.
  • Networked Blogs Use the Networked Blogs App to pull in posts from any and all of your blogs.

Keep People Engaged

Already, folks are pulling together info on how to best use a FB-Page for business. Here’s my best tip:

Tip: Get Hubspot’s Facebook Page Marketing 2011 free ebook. They give many more tips on using the new pages to promote. It’s not geared specifically toward book promotion, but many things apply.

  • Timely Posting Specifically, Hubspot suggests that you post about every other day on your Page. Daily posts are too much for fans, but every other day is about right.
  • Offers. This is hard for authors, but Hubspot says that in a recent survey, a majority said they LIKE a page, so they will get offers from you. I’ve always thought that book signings are a way for people to take home a tiny slice of an author: I’ve touched someone special and have this autograph to prove it. Likewise, the “offers” might be something like a book giveaway; but it might be a tiny insight into how you work; or it might be sharing an emotional moment with your fans, a success or a failure. The “Offer” for us isn’t necessarily physical, it might be an offer of an emotional connection. But it needs to be there.

Read Hubspot’s ebook for more tips.

LIKE my Facebook Page: I know there are neat, nifty little buttons you can put here so you can LIKE my Page without going there. Alas, I’m part geek, but not enough to have figured this out YET. Instead, PLEASE CLICK through and LIKE my Brand-New Page! BTW, I went with DarcyPattisonAuthor as the name of my page, so the URL is now http://www.facebook.com/DarcyPattisonAuthor.

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