Jean Oram (.com)

Always Learning. Always Writing.
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  • Got Publishing & Writing Questions?

    Posted on November 23rd, 2012 jean No comments

    Ever wondered what to put in your query bio paragraph if you are a writing world ‘nobody?’ Could you use published short stories to build up your credentials?

    And the query itself–should you give away the ending of your story?

    What about hiring an editor before you query? (Are critique partners enough these days?)

    What about a plot that goes on forever and you just don’t know what to cut? Or even if the timing is right for that wonderful manuscript? What if you genre hop? Or quote material that is under copyright?

    Or maybe your concerns are the marketing itself.

    Wow. So many things to consider.

    Don’t worry, I won’t leave you with those questions burning a hole in your precious mind. Over on From the Write Angle a bunch of us writers and authors from different writing stages and backgrounds have weighed in and answered these questions. Why? To give our thanks to our wonderful readers (are you one of them?). So, pull up with a cup of coffee and click over there right now to read the answers to these writing and publishing questions. We won’t steer you wrong!

    ASkgiving banner

    Readers asked. We answered.

    So? What do you think? Do you have questions we didn’t answer? Is there an angle we missed? Weigh in here (comment section) or over on From the Write Angle.

    P.S. Looking for more tips? Did you see “Who to Follow on Twitter” (by me) over on The Indie Chicks? 5 great tips on finding the best people to follow in your niche–and get ahead!

  • How to Make it Happen: How to Expand Your Reach

    Posted on November 8th, 2012 jean 8 comments

    I’ve discovered a secret.

    The secret to success.

    It’s so simple. So straight forward.

    Why don’t more people do it?

    Because it is this… With all the research I’ve been doing about the business side of writing and business in the past eight months is this (are you ready? Better sit down): Those who succeed, do so because they work really, really hard to make it happen. They take action. Every day.

    Damn. You were hoping for an easy answer, weren’t you?

    Okay, I’ll admit that can be a bit overwhelming. However… it doesn’t have to be crazy scary.

    How to Expand Your Reach and Succeed

    The thing about expanding your reach–whether you are a writer, a blogger, a business person, or even an Avon lady–is that the magic doesn’t happen overnight. One ‘thing’ is not going to suddenly make you famous. Think about how many songs Parry Grip put out before he suddenly became ‘that guy on YouTube.’ (Heard of the Duck Song? Baby Monkey Riding Backwards on a Pig? That’s him.) It is a slow, methodical build. One brick on top of the other. Chris Brogan is another amazing example of this.

    These tips may help:

    1. Don’t freak out at the idea of all you have to accomplish. Do one small thing a month. Don’t try and rock Twitter, Facebook, and guest posting all in one month. One at a time. Once one feels ‘old hat,’ move on to the next one.

    2. Be focused. What is your goal? What steps do you think you HAVE to take to get there? Not the ones you want to take because they are fun time-wasters.

    3. Make a plan. Evil dictators have five-year-plans. Do you?

    4. Don’t go whole hog on an idea and burn yourself out. Pace yourself. Make a realistic timeline.

    5. Research. Educate yourself. Don’t expect to know everything at once. And don’t let yourself off the hook. This is a slow, methodical, and INFORMED growth we’re doing to expand our reach. You can write the greatest blog post ever, but if you don’t know how to get it to an audience or write a compelling headline, you aren’t going to expand your reach.

    6. What motivates you to take action? Figure it out and use it to your advantage.

    7. Be patient. It takes time and experimentation.

    Want some proof that the slow, methodical planned approach works? Check out author Ruth Cardello who made it happen for herself last fall. She hit the New York Times Bestseller list for three weeks with her self-published romance.

    How? How? How?

    By trying something new every day when it came to publicity and marketing herself, her brand, and her books. Day after day. (Not sure if she includes weekends, but even if she doesn’t she’s doing at least 20 things a month to get her books out there.) She was patient and experimented. And it paid off.

    She’s now a full-time author.

    Small Steps to Success

    Yup. We all want it now. That’s natural. Completely natural. And so is the–everyone else is rocking this, why can’t I?

    You want to know ANOTHER SECRET?

    Those who want it, find a way to go get it. They make it happen.

    Okay, that wasn’t really a big secret after showing what Ruth did!

    And while you may only see all their successes, there are failures too. There are always guaranteed failures. The thing of it is, people who succeed take flub-ups and leverage them. They add them as part of their growing expertise.

    Let me share a small, personal example. (So you don’t think I’m yakking out of turn.)

    I read about this thing about ‘drafting.’ Basically, the idea is that you use some popular blog/post/news topic and draft off it. You find a way to slide yourself in there and get a slice of the publicity. But in a non-slimy way.

    About a month ago, I thought I would try it out. I spent an hour sending out emails to about 5-7 blogs/news sites, contacting the writer/reporter. I *tried* to create intrigue around this other angle I had on the news story they had reported on. Whether my emails were read, whether I was too late to ride the wave, whether I was too ambiguous, whether I was wasting their time and didn’t hook it right… I don’t know. But I didn’t hear back. An hour of my life I will never get back. (Maybe that’s the problem there–maybe it was too much of a slap-dab-and-slash appreoch.)

    BUT… last week the publication of The Fall: Tales From the Apocalypse was delayed due to Hurricane Sandy. Aha! I thought. This is an opportunity. I might be able to make something happen.

    Because I had been researching (see #5 above) how to write press releases (don’t ask me why, it just seemed like something I should know) I decided to write one using the Hurricane Sandy angle to ‘draft’ off a news topic.

    Did it work? Well, I think so. As ‘big’ as I had hoped… well, maybe not quite. However, of the six newspapers I contacted with my press release (with minor tweaks to provide a local connection for each paper) I was (so far) granted one interview which has appeared online and will come out in today’s physical paper. So, not bad. Better than my first attempt at drafting and always better than a kick in the pants with a pair of cowboy boots.

    Lesson: I didn’t wait for them to come and find me. I went to the papers and shared the news. And I was prepared. I had taken headshots a few weeks ago and I had a press page on my site with more information which I linked to. I had cover art ready as well. All my gathering of resources and knowledge came together for me, expanding my reach and making it happen. I’m in the paper! And it’s not for starting kindergarten! (I really was in the paper when I started kindergarten. Yeah, slow news day or else I am actually a princess in hiding. Or, you know, from a really small town. Your pick.)

    The indie Chicks Contributor

    Another quick example of behind the scenes work coming to fruition? Today I am on The Indie Chicks.com. Get Ahead Girl is a new series I pitched a few weeks back, but had been thinking about and honing in my mind for months. I had previously answered their call for submissions when they first started in May. While I didn’t have anything for them after my first post, I continued my connections with them and waited until I had something well-suited to their brand and could help mine as well. Today, “Who to Follow on Twitter” is out building their brand as Chicks Who Make it Happen as well as mine which is The Helpful Writer. (Okay, still working on that brand!)

    The overall lesson here:

    Sometimes things come to you, sometimes you have to make it happen. <– Tweet this.

    You can do it! Get Ahead! Expand Your Reach! Make It Happen! You can do it! I’m cheering for you! <rah, rah, rah!>

    What have you always wanted? Can you use the tips above to create a plan that will take you there? Do you have tips to share as well? Share ’em in the comment section!

     

  • Getting the Most From Your Writing Critique Partner Opportunity

    Posted on November 4th, 2012 jean 8 comments

    Critique partners and beta readers rock. (Can I get a Hell Ya!)

    Sometimes it’s slightly terrifying waiting to hear what writing critique partners or beta readers will say about our stories. Why? Because they are looking at our work from a standpoint that is intended to provide cold-stone criticism and praise, it can be difficult to take. In some ways… getting a writing critique is like wearing a bikini on stage & asking for feedback. <– Click to Tweet.

    Getting a critique partner is like wearing a bikini on stage and asking for feedback

    But it’s worth it. It’s always worth it if you’re at the point in your writing journey where you need help getting to the next level (whether it is as minor as getting your grammar down pat or as major as connecting with your readers) and are ready for some feedback.

    When I think I don’t need feedback and that my story is as great as it can be, I like to remind myself of this:

    I, the writer, know my characters, story, and literary plan best–as THE CREATOR. But my critique partners and beta readers know my characters, story, and overall literary impression best as a READER. <–Click to Tweet.

    Once our books are released into the wild and into that rocky rollercoaster world of readership, what we *think* about our story no longer matters. The only thing that matters is how our READERS interpret and react to our story.

    And we can’t figure that out on our own. Every single time I ask someone for feedback on my ‘perfect’ work I realize there’s something still in there that I can improve or build upon.

    So, while, at times, getting that scary criticism may feel as though it might take too much time, effort, bother, agony, or whatever it is that is preventing you from getting it, it is important. For example, the other day I had a little scene which I thought was great. But the feedback I got the hero was NOT likeable. Uh-oh! I am REALLY glad to know that now so I can fix it before releasing my story to literary agents, publishing editors, or the general readership.

    And yes, sometimes a critique partner or beta reader may have a different vision for your novel. That is normal. The reason their feedback is so valuable is because they are not us and have different opinions. However, if you get feedback from three people and they all are saying the same thing…  you have some serious thinking to do.

    How to Make the Best of Your Writing Critique Partner Opportunity:

    – Always wait at least a day before tackling changes after you receive feedback unless you are so amped up and ready to go you’re afraid you’ll lose that spark that has been gifted to you.

    – Don’t wait too long after getting feedback to apply the changes. (Unless you don’t feel ready yet.)

    – Take notes as you read your critique if ideas start coming to you. Set them aside as over a day or two one or two of them will probably float to the top.

    – Go for a walk after getting feedback. Listen to what you are telling yourself. If it is positive, go with it. See where your muse takes you with the new ideas about your story. (If you are like me, you might need to bring a notepad so you can stop and write it all down!) If it is negative, listen and figure out where it is coming from. Maybe it’s just fear talking–it is a chatty little bugger, especially when faced with some hard future edits.

    – Listen to ALL the feedback even if you think it is completely missing the mark. If you are getting the feedback in person, don’t interrupt. It can be difficult to express a critique in words–especially to a person’s face.

    – Consider every comment made and its overall impact on the story. (Talking big things, not commas.)

    – Consider whether you will be able to pull off the suggested comments.

    – Create a new file with your story and TRY IT. You never, ever know until you try implementing those ideas. Experiment! It might take you off in a great direction.

    – And the most important for me has been–DISCUSS. I’m blessed to have a wonderful relationship with my critique partners (whom I have never met in ‘real’ life). We are doubly blessed to have a private forum where we can hash things out, talk about different options for our storylines, share our critiques, and discuss the feedback and possible solutions to problems identified–as well as providing later drafts of possible solutions to see if we’re on the right track. This has been the most beneficial for me. That and…

    – Make sure your critique partners give you guff. Foster a strong relationship so they feel comfortable and safe making suggestions. For me, I’m not always ready to hear what my critique partners have to say the first time. I find I dismiss large ideas because at first I feel as though I won’t need to make them–I can just make small changes and have it work out. But I am lucky in that they will kindly bring it up again at a later date. Usually the second time I am ready to hear it and their idea feels like the story lifeline it is.

    – Be willing to change your plans. Based on my critique partner’s suggestions I am breaking my ‘ambitious’ (but failure of a novel) into two stories. Now I can focus on developing the characters more thoroughly.

    – Never say “no” just because you think it is going to be too difficult. Hear them out. Talk about it. Seek clarification. See how you feel in a few weeks.

    On the flip side you also need to GIVE to your writing critique partners, right? Here are some tips on how to be a good writing critique partner:

    – Always be nice.

    – Put yourself out there.

    – When possible, place comments in context so they will be interpreted the ‘right’ way.

    – Take the time to explain your thoughts on the changes you feel will be the most important for the writer to make. Explain the impact these changes may make so they can follow your reasoning.

    – Never rewrite their work. If you want to illustrate what you are trying to say in a comment, then you *can* say something like: This is how I see it going down in my head… something like… and then do a SHORT little rewrite to help them show in a clear way what you are saying. But always let them know that this is just a suggestion.

    – Build a relationship. If they know you and your mannerisms (especially important if you have never met them in person) they are less likely to take something you ‘say’ the wrong way.

    – Never crush.

    – Ask how deep a critique they would like. When we first started out we only commented on a few overarching issues and didn’t go hard at each other. Now that we’ve grown and developed the trust to say it like it is, we go for deep critiques. But if a CP wants a quick read for something like tone, then that’s what I try to give. In other words, give what they ask for.

    – Be inspiring.

    – Be a cheerleader.

    – Tell the truth. If a scene is slow–you are the person responsible for mentioning it. Even if you can’t put your finger on why something isn’t working, mention it. This is your job. I know I sometimes feel like I shouldn’t say anything, but if I ignore issues like this then I’m not being a good critique partner. Telling the truth doesn’t have to be crushing. It can be helpful–and a relief to the writer.

    -Critique in your genre/category for best results. You want your readership giving you feedback.

    -Compliments. I love reading compliments. As well, it helps me show what I am doing right for my readers. Some say in a critique you should sandwich good-bad-good. Start with good, end with good. Because let’s face it, everyone has something good in their work.

     

    How about you? Do you have a good critique partner relationship or beta reader relationship? What works well for you? Share your tips and thoughts in the comment section.

    Need a writing critique partner but don’t know where to find one? You might find this post on How to Choose a Writing Critique Partner from the archives helpful.

    P.S. The Fall: Tales From the Apocalypse has made it through Hurricane Sandy and been released! Get your copy here. (Affiliate link.)

  • How the Right Writing Tools Make the Writer

    Posted on October 28th, 2012 jean No comments

    Lately I’ve been getting serious about my writing and taking it up a notch from simply working on it to make it better to also treating it like a business. (Hopefully a money-earning one!)

    Why like a business? Because these days writing isn’t simply a creative process. As soon as we move from writing as a hobby to making money from this venture it becomes an entrepreneurial adventure fraught with risk and potholes–even if you go the traditional publishing route. We have to learn to market ourselves, our books, our brand. We need to learn what makes a good website, how to create email lists, how to write good copy, how to approach reviewers, how to interpret royalty statements, how to figure out business taxes and more. There’s so much to learn!

    Because time is a limited commodity and I know you really want to spend your time writing, there are a few things that have helped me squeeze business knowledge into my day while still protecting enough time to write.

    Writing Tools that are Secretly Business Tools

    Mac Laptop

    I like to use a Mac laptop because it simply works.

    Yes, it cost me more than the equivalent PC laptop, however, so far, it has also outlasted a PC. So, instead of dealing with spending my time waiting for numerous Microsoft updates while I am trying to work or going computer shopping every two years (which is how long a PC laptop typically lasts me) I get longer computer service (which saves time) and have increments of increased writing time (fewer updates).

    End result: The money I’ve spent isn’t more in the long run and I get more writing time. I’m spending my computer time doing things that don’t drive me crazy.

    Smart Phone

    Recently, I upgraded my old android smart phone (which was close to bricked) to an iPhone. Yes, this upgrade cost me $180.00. However, three weeks in I can see a marked difference in the amount of time I have at my computer to apply fingers to the keyboard. (For one, it syncs automatically with my laptop–no need to remember or attach cords!)

    You cannot undervalue the importance of being able to attend to your business easily and efficiently while on the go.

    For example, since I now have a powerful phone at my disposal, I was able to dictate this blog post into my phone while driving (by using a hands-free device which came with the phone–make sure you pay attention to the road!!). The best part? The phone automatically emailed a copy of the notes to my computer.

    As well, while on the go I can set reminders, tweet, blog, Facebook, read and comment on blogs, subscribe and read newsletters, reply to emails, watch videos, and more.

    End result: Taking these tasks off my plate before I sit down at my computer means more writing time. It’s all about efficiency.

    Podcasts

    I’ve also begun listening to podcasts using my smart phone. (You’ll see me blogging about that over on From the Write Angle in a few months.) While driving, cooking, or even watching my kids in the park I can listen and learn. The other day I learned about making my books (er, should I have any) accessible to the visually impaired. Last night I learned about middle sags in novels. The night before? The 7-structure plot outline. Just before dictating this post while driving across the prairie I listened to one on marketing. There are tons of free podcasts that deal with smart business marketing ideas as well as writing. It’s a goldmine I previously missed due to having a crappy phone. (A word on phones–the ones that are free with contract may time out in their capabilities before your contract is up–they are often old almost obsolete models. That’s what happened to me. This time I paid more in hopes of having a faster, more capable phone for the full length of my cell phone contract.)

    End result: Great, free information on the go that I previously could not access.

    Videos

    The other day while waiting to pick up my daughter after her music club I was able to watch a video of a smart marketer sharing ideas on how to be successful. There are some amazing YouTube channels such as Marie Forleo’s and Social Triggers. Great, entertaining, and knowledgeable business videos are a great place to start your world conquest.

    End result: An entertaining break during my day–but also taught me valuable business advice I can apply to my blog, websites, and newsletter.

    Marketing Books, Free Ebooks, and Newsletters

    There is a pile of good information out there in marketing books. Don’t want to buy them? Try your local library. I’ve read about eight business and social media and marketing books in the equivalent number of months. I’ve gone from a total noob to kind of getting this whole marketing, social media thing. Well, in theory anyway. We’ll see what I can do when the chips are down.

    You would be amazed at the free ebooks some sites give away. Some are pure gold. Others, not so much. Same with newsletters. I subscribe and download ruthlessly. (And yeah, I even read some of them on my phone now!) Subscribe. You can always unsubscribe if you find it isn’t delivering value. It’s an easy way to learn in small chunks.

    End result: Increase in knowledge in small chunks of time. Plus, I don’t have to go looking for it–a lot of it comes right to me (in my inbox).

    Ereader or Tablet

    Yup, more technology. I originally got an ereader so I could beta read for my critique partners. It was a good excuse. Now it is almost a necessity due to the number of ebooks out there. (I hate reading books on my computer and long ones on my phone tend to make me skim instead of read for knowledge.)

    The problem with my ereader is that is almost a first-generation which means I can’t leave comments when I beta read. Writing down notes on paper as I read and then typing them up to send to the writer… not so efficient. So, I sneak off with my husband’s tablet (he doesn’t mind, I promise) and use an app to leave comments right in the document. Then I email it back to the writer. Voila! Time saved. (You can use your ereaders and tablets for other stuff too, of course.)

    End result: Convenience!

    Those are some of the tools that have helped me get the business stuff into my head while still protecting my writing time. Just a little bit every day adds up over the months. Share your favourite tools in the comment section.

    BTW, if you feel as though you are a year to two out from publishing your first book, it is time to start treating your writing as a business. And if you do, you will already be ahead of the game. Good luck!

  • 7 Words That Weaken Writing

    Posted on October 19th, 2012 jean 13 comments

    Love is too weak a word - quote by Woody AllenThere are some very evil words in the English language of which you must pay special and particular attention to because they are sneaky little devils. These words will sneak into your writing into your sentences.  Your entire manuscript will be full of the evil words, and you may not even notice them. But they will secretly weaken your writing and add no nutritional value to your word count.

    What are some of the evil words you must fight against in your quest for the best manuscript ever?

    SOME: “Some” is vague and not at all specific.

    He ate some grapes. Versus.  He ate a handful of grapes.

    Which sentence creates a better mental picture? And in many cases, being more specific can also tell us more about the character. For example, if he shoved the whole handful of grapes into his mouth, that tells us something, doesn’t it? He was in a hurry, he didn’t savour them… etc.

    VERY: “Very” is like “some.” Vague and not that specific.

    She wore a very pretty sweater. Versus. She wore a pretty sweater.

    To quote Mark Twain: “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it & the writing will be as it should be.”

    In the above example “very” doesn’t add much. It’s superfluous. Delete it.

    JUST: “Just” ends up being a filler word more often than not and doesn’t add to the story.

    She just didn’t understand. Versus. She didn’t understand.

    In the example above, “just” doesn’t particularly add anything. Sometimes it can be added for impact or to show that something happened very recently, but often it doesn’t add value.

    NOW/THEN: Using “now” or “then” in the middle of a sentence often gets in the way of the action we are trying to build. It is us, the writer, sneaking in and telling the reader instead of giving them credit and assuming they will understand that because Y is mentioned after X, that they happened in that order.

    He went to the door and then shut it. Versus. He went to the door and shut it.

    The action in the second sentence is a lot more direct, isn’t it?

    SUDDENLY: “Suddenly” is another action breaker.

    She walked up the steps and suddenly a loud scream pierced the air. Versus. She walked up the steps and a loud scream pierced the air.

    Interestingly, the second sentence feels a lot more immediate and sudden, doesn’t it? While common in picture books, “suddenly” is pretty much a no-no is adult fiction because it is the epitome of telling the reader instead of using our skills to show it.

    THAT: “That” is often unneeded.

    Not some weird vision that he thought was real. Versus. Not some weird vision he thought was real.

    “That” sneaks into sentences like mice under a cottage door. Nine times out of ten the word “that” can probably be removed from a sentence without impact–other than making the sentence smoother and stronger.

    ~~

    Be vigilant and attack the words listed in this post. Cut vagueness (and possibly your word count) and help your story move forward as well as make it stronger.

    (My personal crutch words used to be “look” now seems to be “sigh” (as in all my characters are now sighing instead of looking).) No matter what your crutch words are, the question is… can you remove them and improve your writing?

    So how about you? What words do you overuse? What words can you cut from your sentences?

    Note: Today I am over at From the Write Angle sharing more editing tips–and in particular, how to deal with evil internal editors that stop you from moving forward in your stories and writing. See you there!

     

    (P.S. I came across these great writing and editing quotes over on Terribly Write. Thanks, Dad!)