Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Building a Platform

Okay, well first off, new layout. Easier to read, better picture, and so on. Hope you like it! You can see more pictures like the islands at http://inrugia.zxq.net. And now, I'll tell you a little more about building a platform as an author.

One night, I was talking with my dad about Twitter. He's a programmer, and knows a lot about the new social networks. Unfortunately, everything he thinks is negative. He hates Twitter, Facebook, and similar applications with a passion. So when I told him I was on Twitter, he frowned and said, "So you get to see a bunch of people tell you what they had for lunch? Or is it, 'Oh! I picked my nose!'?"

I couldn't help but laugh. "No, dad," I said. "I use it as a platform. I talk to agents, authors, and publishers." Well, part of it is true. Truth be told, it can be a little nerve wracking talking to some of the people on Twitter. But, if you don't, you're missing a HUGE opportunity to sell yourself--and your work.

"Why would they listen to you?" he asked.

At first, I didn't have an answer. Why would an agent, or publicist, listen to what I had to say on Twitter? Especially if all I say is, "Writing today! Yay!" Well, I have an answer for you. The first thing I did was read a bunch of blogs and articles about Twitter as a platform-building tool.

Yes, I did research. Gasp! And after I did the research, I went back to my dad and said, "They'll listen to me because I've got a cool picture, interesting posts, a nice Website, a good story, and I stand out from the crowd."

His response: "Do you tell them what you ate for dinner? I don't see how anyone would want to listen to that. Besides, it's a finite amount of people seeing what you have to say. How do you expand this so-called platform of yours?"

Good question. More research gave me the answer, and in one word: Hashtags. Yes, the hashtag. I began to add "#writing" "#amwriting" and "#write" to every post at some point. But it's more than just ADDING those. You have to say something interesting. I write fantasy and follow a number of agents. One agent in particular, Donald Maass, gives writing prompts every day. He asks a writer to think about what they do. So I decided to do something similar without redoing exactly what he does. I started trying to come up with quick tips and little tidbits of information that authors might find interesting.

And what did my dad say? "Interesting. But don't all of these people just talk about their lunch?"

By that point, I was ready to give up on him. I really wanted him to see what it means to build a platform as a writer and stand out. I might not be the most interesting person on Twitter, but I did research on how to turn Twitter into a platform for selling myself and my work. And guess what? It worked.

The next night, I went to him with a big grin and said, "They may talk about their lunch, but I got five new followers on Twitter in one day, dad."

"Oh? That's nice."

"Yeah. That means I have five more people listening to what I say. Five people I've never met, spoken to, or seen before. What happens if they see what I post and they like it?"

"They tell others about it."

I couldn't help but be happy. "Exactly."

And this was the best part. My mom and dad grinned. My dad said, "I like this idea of a platform on Twitter."

"Will you ever join?"

"Heck no. I'm just glad my daughter isn't telling people what she had for lunch."

He's not an ignorant man, my father. Nor is he against social media. He might not want to be a part of it by having an account, but he was part of building my platform. He pressed me, probably on purpose, to do research about how to make Twitter less of a "what I had for lunch" social site, and to build a platform for my work.

Of course, building a platform doesn't mean you can just sit back and do nothing once it's done. You have to keep up on what people are doing. Talk to them, get to know them, and spread ideas. It's like a virus, but a virus of words. Ideas can get around far faster these days than ever before. Use that to your advantage as a writer. Push forward and build a platform people will be interested in.

I write high/epic fantasy, but with a touch of horror. Who do I talk to on Twitter? Who do I follow? Anyone who interests me. And some of them follow me back. You can't be on Twitter and just assume you're going to get followers. You have to put forth the effort--write blogs, update a Website, and most important, have a catchy bio.

Make your page unique. If you have art you've done, put that up. Anything to make you stand out!

So, if you're a writer, singer, artist, or what have you, use Twitter. Not to socialize just in the conventional sense, but to spread your ideas. Get people interested, and be interested in what they do. It will help you build a platform and get noticed.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Suspense is Suspenseful!

Sorry for the lack of updates of late. It's been quite hectic. I volunteer at the local University mending brittle bound books, and have also been taking some time to try and get some writing done. The sad thing is, I tend to study writing more than actually write.

And that's where this blog comes in.

I want to talk about building suspense in your novel. This may seem like easy stuff, and if you've heard about it/know about it/can do it naturally, then congrats--I admire you, because I'm not one of those people who can. I write high fantasy (fantasy that takes place on another world) and epic fantasy, so I tend to do a lot of world building, rewrite to destroy some of that world building, and then rewrite again. Amidst all of those rewrites, much of the suspense is lost, because I am thinking of what's interesting and what's not.

I like character-driven stories and dialogue-driven plot. This means I tend to put everything else on the back burner. To me, dialogue can say a lot more than an internal monologue. The problem with dialogue is that if you do it wrong, you give too much away.

"Duh," you might be thinking, "it's not hard to figure that out!" Well, no, it's not. But consider: How do you write dialogue as well as hide certain things a character *might* say? How do you edge around common knowledge without losing suspense? Finally, which genre do you write in?

Some genres have it easier than others. In romances building suspense is a little easier. I know it's not easier overall, but there's something about romance that makes readers *need* to know more. Romances play off of our desires, and we as the readers want to know what happens because we want that sexual satisfaction.

Epic fantasy (and fantasy in general) can have romance in it. Actually, a lot does. But there are some fantasies where the romance is downplayed (think later books of "The Black Company" or "The Glass Dragon"). I'm not saying it is non-existent--in fact, it's the very low-key romance that keeps us interested. There are hints throughout, but not enough to over saturate us with lust (as opposed to some YA paranormal romance, which is what it's supposed to do).

Examine the suspense, and what kind of audience you're targeting. Romantically oppressed tweens (NOT a bad thing--it sells like hotcakes!) or relationship-experienced adults and college students? The latter is a little more difficult to work with when building suspense, because much of the time, they *know* how a relationship is supposed to unfold. That's why books like "The Dragon Nimbus" and "The Color of Distance" put love in the background.

Now then, onto perspective. Perspective (POV) is really important when building suspense in your novels. I know he's not the only one to do it, but Sanderson is one of my favorite examples of this. He builds up something to be BIG (i.e. the army in the first book led by Kelsier), and then knocks it down HARD. He does what people DON'T want to have happen. Brilliant. It builds suspense because it makes you roll your eyes and mutter, "Why did they *do* that? It's so bad!" Notice how I said "bad," not "stupid." When a character who is supposed to be smart does something insanely stupid, it can be unbelievable. But if you build inherent flaws into your character, then slip-ups help to build suspense.

My favorite thing about suspense is trying to put it in by not overdoing POV. I like to write the first few drafts of a novel with 5-10 POVs, then cut that down to 3 or 4 (4 is pushing it). Why? Well, for one, having all of the POVs makes it easier to build characters. I know exactly how they would react, how they think, and what they're like. This helps me to portray them from the outside when another character observes them. It also helps me get the nitty-gritty of the scene down pat, because I've seen it from so many different perspectives.

At the same token, the first draft will substantially lack in suspense. So later, I go back and make notes of what each character knows, choose a few that are consistent throughout the story (i.e., the main character, his or her sidekick, and the antagonist), and build up what they do and don't know. Then I write scenes around them. Then I build on those scenes. Then I try to pull a Sanderson. Most of the time, I fail. This is because new ideas come to me and I can tweak it to make it better.

I make it better, even after submitting to agents and saying I'm done because I know it can be improved. Any novel can always be better. This goes back to what I've said before about revising and using new ideas. You will really learn a lot if you keep pushing for new things in your novel. Not to say this works with everyone; it just happens to work well for me (of course, I'm on my 15th or so draft of this book, so it depends on what you want--quantity or obsession).

Building suspense is like dropping bread crumbs and then suddenly having wild animals get in your way. They eat the crumbs, and now you're not only out of luck, but they want to rip your head off, too. So, remember, try to learn for yourself what suspense is and how to develop it without giving too much away. Study the books you read. As a writer, you will never find any better resource than the books you read. After all, if there's something about them that captivates you, then it worked for the author. It sells. Learn what it is. Figure out how to mimic it in a unique fashion, then apply it to your own work (just don't plagiarize!).

After all, we're not just writers. We're researchers, scholars, and fighters.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Cold, Damp, and Blissfully Nice!

The weather disagrees with me today, but it's still a great day to be out and about! I'll be leaving soon to go do some book mending at the local University. That's something I really enjoy. It's nice to relax and numb my mind for a few hours mending books. Also, it teaches me to try and think of something other than writing. Does it work? Not really.

The 500-word flash fictions have been a success lately! I've been following my plan to do them at night before bed. Not my best writing, but it's getting me back into the swing of things. I'm very excited, because last night I did a short scene from Clei and Marik's future. Sometime down the line, when Clei is 23 and Marik is 29. I really enjoyed the setting, the discussion, and seeing how the characters have changed. It makes me think that perhaps there's something to Clei thinking he's the hero while actually being the villain.

Also revamping my book and thinking of writing a blog (next time) on literary structure. I really enjoy talking about it, researching it, and applying it to my own work.

Until then, take care, and keep writing!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

500 words!

Okay, silly title, I know. But I've found myself becoming lazy to the point where I think about my work all the time, but don't really do much about it. Yes, I am working on a new image for the Website. It should be done about the time I decide whether or not I want to publish with Kindle. But, I digress.

To remedy my laziness, I am writing 500-word flash-fiction stories every day before I go to bed. I want to push through this remiss and horrifying laziness that I've managed to (somehow) catch. I think it's the leftover exhaustion from graduating from college, but it's probably something else. "Life gets in the way" is not a valid excuse. I should ALWAYS make time to write. It's what I love, isn't it?

So, I'll push forward. I may or may not share my flash-fiction work here. It's not meant to be taken seriously--just to pull me out of this slump I seem to have fallen on.

Anyways, short blog, I know, but trust me! It's well worth it!

By the way, my first flash fiction piece, maxing out at 592 words, is called, "The Bones Were Broken" ;) Not quite what you might think it is, actually. Pulling away from the Inrugia/horror/fantasy pieces a little tonight...

Take care, and never stop writing! We are the revolution of literature!

Lesson Learned

All right, ye authors who might ever read this, I've been doing some research the last few days, which is why there was no update yesterday. BUT I think what I've learned might help those seeking the indie publishing route with Kindle or another eBook application.

I was impressed. That's just some of what I have to say about the eBook (Kindle, mainly) publication system. They give their authors either 35% or 70% (depending on whether or not you own the rights to your work and where the work sells...look up their terms and conditions if you have any questions). Before you try the eBook route, please try traditional publishing. For one, good people may lose their jobs due to the high volume of eBook publications. People who would otherwise be selling your book, marketing it, helping you get gigs, and even buying it. We want the economy to do better, not worse.

Now that I am done preaching, one of the things I learned about the Kindle publishing is that you MUST find out whether or not you own the rights to your work. This can be easily done by contacting a copyright specialist. Always cover your butt, because if you're not careful, it might come back to bite you.

Also, note that only a small percent of eBook authors are really successful. It might be a good way to earn some money, but don't expect instant success. Build a platform before you choose to publish with anyone--even eBooks. That means make a Website, meet people on forums, and go out to meet others in the field. Go to bookstores, see if they will let you talk to people as they come in. A good way to cater to both bookstores and sell your work is to offer to hype up the eReaders out there, like the Nook, Kindle, etc. This will give the bookstores a reason to have you meet people in THEIR store. I'm not going to guarantee that this will work--just keep it in mind as a method of trying to sell your work. Remember, if you go through ePublishing, you are going to have to market your own book. You won't have a team from a publishing house to do it for you.

As a final word, do your research. Decide for yourself if you want to write to sell, or if you want to write to write. I know it sounds strange, but don't expect ePublishing to be an instant fix. Talk to an actuary. Learn the statistics and try to decide which way is best for you and your work.

Best of luck, writers!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


And just like that, I learn another thing about writing. This is a VERY interesting article about ebook writers and sellers who go indie.


Give it a read and decide for yourself if it's a good route for you.

Writing to be Published

Today I am going to talk a little about what I have learned of publishing. Now, I don't claim to be an expert, but I want this blog to be less like a lot of ramblings and more akin to something useful. First off, if you ever have any questions about trends for novels, poems, TV scripts, movie scripts, or graphic novels, please, please, PLEASE do some research. Always look at what AGENTS want, not what people SAY agents want. That was my little disclaimer.

Okay, now onto the real stuff. The first step to getting published is to write your novel. Write the rough draft. I have done some research on my own to help determine what can make a good writer. Now, you may be naturally good. That's awesome. But don't forget the fundamentals. There are some things that even you should know about writing. One is that you should write to entertain. Your work is a product to be marketed. This is common knowledge, but a lot of authors (including myself) forget this at times. See what people are buying. I'll give you a hint: Sanderson is big right now, as are Terry Prachett, Neil Gaiman, and many, many other writers. Well, cool. You may have a story idea like theirs that you think can sell, but examine their writing style before you jump to conclusions. The writing style of an author can tell you a lot about their work. See my previous blog for more information on first books of authors. Someday soon, I promise I will go into more detail about this. I am currently writing a paper for myself describing what I mean. It's a complex system that needs some serious thought put behind it.

Next, as you write your first draft, don't think to yourself, "Everyone's going to see this. It's so terrible." That's a good way to get writer's block. This was an interesting tidbit I picked up from around the Web: Write your first draft as if no one will ever read it but you. Seems a little counter-productive, doesn't it? Especially when I just said you have to write to entertain. Well, think of it this way. The first draft is trash. No matter how good you are, you're never so good that you can't improve. Write your first draft to get something on paper. Make sure you're hitting the entertainment points you want: Whether it be that your book is funny, suspenseful, horrifying, or any other intriguing aspect, it has to entertain. The second, third, fourth, fifth (and sometimes more) drafts are where you smooth it out and let other people read it to give you feedback.

Last time I mentioned something in passing. As an author, you'll love your characters, your creations, and your world in general. It's a bad habit we have. Agents, prospective readers, etc., may not be so inclined to love your ideas off the bat. If you're lucky enough to get an agent, then listen to that agent. He or she will give you advice that can't be beat! If they want you to change something, change it. How often do you think you'll be picked up by someone at all? It might be worth it to make a few small tweaks to help your work sell at first, then to use your prestige later on to write whatever you want. Changes can always be undone, and the original will always be with us. Of course, it may so happen that you LIKE the changes made to your novel. If this is the case, you're damn lucky. Push forward and persevere. That's a rare trait among writers--especially new ones. I've worked with a few writers who want things their way, and nothing can ever be changed. It's really difficult to appease them, and you don't want to be difficult to work with. Agents want someone who will be easy to work with (at least, I presume so. Always check with your agent. I think that you'll find in most cases that an agent wants someone easy to work with instead of someone difficult and pretentious).

Okay. So by your Nth draft, you think you've got something sellable, interesting, and entertaining. You've been writing queries and trying to get an agent but no one's biting. Now what? Well, that's normal. There are HUNDREDS of agents out there for any genre. Before you try them all, use Websites or writing groups to help you fix up your query. There are two places I frequent. One is interactive: Query Letter Hell: http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=174. The other one is less so, but damn, it's useful. Janet Reid is an agent, a shark, and will eat your query letters: http://queryshark.blogspot.com/. Listen to what she has to say. Yes, there are almost 200 blog entries from her. Do you have to read them all? I would recommend it. If you're serious about becoming a writer, you'll realize that it's a lot of work. It's a JOB, not an instant fix to money problems.

You're query is spicy, it's sexy, it's got people asking for pages. Now what? Well, you've made it that far, so keep going. Find an agent that works best with you, and you'll probably do fine.

Best of luck writers!