What’s coming in 2014

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Ready for a Christmas party? So am I. Almost. Maybe not so much.

My blog has been an accurate reflection of my writing time once school started. Some of you know I have returned to the classroom as a high school literature and journalism teacher.

In between the lessons and grading, I don’t have very much time to blog or write, or party, for that matter. I snatch the moments I can and work with them, meaning to others, I might seem antisocial for not hanging out.

For 2014, I commit to blog and even vlog (yes, a video blog) once a week with information on my writing and marketing journey. There has to be something from my triumphs and/or mistakes that can be of use to you. I plan on sharing those.

Also, in 2014, my fifth novel, Sophomore Freak, will bow right before the summer. It’s the second book in my teen sci-fi novel series, Reject High. The third installment has been languishing on my flash drive for some time. That’s on my to-do list, too. There’s also a sequel to The Revelation Gate there. As you can see, I’m asking Santa for some extra writing time.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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If you’re an author and you don’t have Beta Readers, there’s something seriously wrong with you

Beta Readers are a test audience for your new material.

For example, in the movie The Break Up, Vince Vaughn’s character originally came out looking better than Jennifer Aniston’s character. That ending did not rate well with its test audience, so the ending was changed.

If The Break Up was a novel, the test audience would have been Beta Readers.

For my next novel, Sophomore Freak I’m following the advice of Allen D’Angelo of Archer Ellison, Inc. Here it is:

  1. Find 100 Beta Readers. How do you find them? Research your target market. (Mine’s a YA, so I want both YA and adults, which is 15-35. Adults read YA more than YA read YA). Then ask around — relatives, friends, friends of relatives. Cast a wide net, but not TOO wide. Nobody has an “audience of everybody.”
  2. Get them to rate every chapter you write between 1 (“hot rotting trash on a summer day with no breeze”) to 10 (“That chapter was so good, I just cheated on my husband/wife/significant other by reading it”).
  3. If it’s not at least an 8, ask them why. Were they confused? What needs to be improved?
  4. Revise and resubmit. By the time you get to a finished product, it should be UH-MA-ZING.

The ultimate goal is getting “pass along” value. “Pass along value” equals “People talking about you.” This is what you want. Try it along with me!

Hope this helps!

What the Nook?

To drive early sales, get reviews and create buzz, I released the Kindle version of Reject High a month early and set the price at .99 using Kindle Direct. The process was simple — I uploaded my print-ready PDF and cover files and it was on sale within minutes. 

One of my beta readers and a good friend asked that I release it for the Nook as well. 

Ugh. 

I’ll be honest; my experience with the Nook isn’t great. I used Pub It (now Nook Press) for my first two books and never registered one sale. Why? It’s not user-friendly and when you’re marketing yourself, you need a break sometimes. I know three people with Nooks. Where are the other Nook ones?

Furthermore, MS preparation takes forever. I find myself questioning its worthiness when Amazon does it for you and is crushing the Nook in competition right now. 

What’s your preference?

All your character wants is a meatball sandwich

E! True Brian Story: Though the meatball marinara sub  sandwich at Subway isn’t the greatest in the world, I still REALLY wanted one the other day.

My wife set me up with a text, describing it as “hot,” and “fresh.” I so wanted that.

Instead, my mother, who is in town, made me a homemade version. It was good, but it wasn’t what I wanted — so I was a little frustrated.

This is a struggle you should give to your fictional characters — the want something but don’t get it. True, a sandwich isn’t an appropriate plot device unless it’s an episode of FriendsBut your characters need to want something. 

Whatever that something is, even if they say that’s what they want, don’t give it to them. Frustrate him or her, string them along. And when he or she is about to burst, only give them a bite.

Hope this helps!

Plotting: I’m a believer. Are you?

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m in the midst of writing my sixth manuscript. It’s the third in my Reject High teen series.

I got stuck. Like all four wheels spinning helplessly in the mud stuck.

I didn’t want to try writing out my plot.

For my first three novels, I created my characters, wound them up and let them go. My major plot points were a function of their behaviors. While I knew where they were going and how it would end up, I let them guide me through the “how.”

With this book, it was just different. I couldn’t do that anymore. My characters were letting me down (they’re teenagers, so there’s that).

So, I turned off my cellphone and iPad, stepped away from my laptop and started writing with my main character, Jason. Once I finished his arc, I worked on his love interest. Three hours later, the entire plot was done.

I’d never thought I’d say so, but I’m a believer in sketching out plots on paper now. Are you? What’s your process?

Back Cover Copy = Torture!

For me, writing back cover copy is a lot like the first time I met my wife. 

At first glance, I automatically wanted to meet her. But, without any idea of what I wanted to say, I didn’t want to get shot down either. My first words would determine everything.  

Those of us who are indie publishers or self-publishers understand how crucial it is to make a positive first impression. Misspelled words, grammar errors, and crappy copy are automatic death knells to book buyers. 

I want my readers to feel like I did about her, to be drawn in by the outer package enough to get to know the inside. Ironically, what she told me I said (minus the verbal fillers and the genuine awe at her beauty) is advice I follow when I’m trying to write copy for my books.

  1. Authenticity. She told me I didn’t try to “kick game” but I was honest with her. Readers appreciate honesty, directness, and the absence of fluff. She didn’t get the impression that I was selling her. . .even though I was selling myself (not literally!) 
  2. Brevity. I didn’t try too hard or say too much. From what I’ve read over the years, 125 words is pretty standard. If you’re having difficulty meeting the word count, give the sentences punch by restructuring verb clauses, eliminating adverbs, and cutting down on excessive prepositional phrases.

In addition, testimonials from other authors don’t hurt, but they are certainly difficult to get. Any authors out there with other “tricks of the trade” they like to share, feel free to do so.

The Power of Negative Reviews

Here’s one lowlight review on Amazon for my first novel, The Lost Testament. 

“I put the book down after the first few chapters. Who cares about the lost testament? NO ONE alive is from those times so why waste your time giving your opinion on “lost” things. No one knows and they won’t either until all of sudden, we gain all that knowledge.”

The Lost Testament is a Christian fiction thriller centered around the discovery of an apocryphal text written by Jesus Christ post-resurrection.

This young lady seems to believe that since no one from the first-century Christian church is alive, then nobody should care. Throwing out 2,000 years of history doesn’t seem like a good idea, and, at first, her opinion made me made enough to spit nails.

Then, I read an article about how a bad review can add balance to the opinions about your product. I’m still not sure if I believe it. After all, a bad review is a bad review.

On the other hand, the bad reviews are the first place I go when considering a new service or product. Not that I’m a pessimist, but I like to see what’s the worst someone can say about something and whether or not it has merit.

What are your thoughts?  

Writing in a time crunch

My writing process is insane. Don’t try it at home.

I envy those writers you read about who can flick their muse on and off like a light switch. I have, what my editing Jackie Rodriguez calls “writing jags.”

Imagine if your writing muse had the stomach flu. One moment, there’s nothing, and the next, there’s everything. 

One day, I might not write anything, the next, I’ll churn out thirty pages. I don’t pretend to make sense of it. I just ride it out.

You can imagine the flux I was thrown into halfway through my fifth novel when my second daughter was born. In addition, I went back to teaching full-time and we have a four-year-old in Pre-K as well. My peak writing times are — you guessed it — when I’m in school. Balancing my after-school commitments and family time is tough, but you do what you have to do.

To get through it, I grab any and all writing time I have. Ten minutes before I get my daughter up for school, five minutes while she plays in the bathtub. A half-hour when my wife is nursing our newborn, and maybe twenty minutes during my lunch break. My muse has learned to live with it and gradually, so have I.

So, tell me, if you’ve had a similar situation in your field, how have YOU done it?

I’ve been followed, too

If you’re a minority, you might have one of these stories. Thankfully, mine doesn’t end with a bullet.

During my freshman year at Morehouse, I hung out with a group of about 11 other young men. We hailed from different parts of the United States – Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Georgia, etc.

One day, we walked around Phipps Plaza — a fairly upscale shopping mall that used to have a music/video store in it. The dozen of us went into this store and split up. Our presence brought the attention of a white store employee, who asked us if we “needed something” ad nauseum.

This morning, I recounted the story to my wife, saying, “I can understand why we got followed. After all, there were 12 of us.”

Wait, what? 

Twelve educated, well-dressed, African-American men cannot walk together in a group and disperse into a store without drawing suspicion? What if we were dressed in designer business suits instead of jeans? Would that have made a difference?

I have a real problem with the point-of-view that says “We’re going to keep an eye on you, just in case you do something. If you actually do something, that justifies our suspicions. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”

And. . .what if nothing happens? Not one of us stole a thing. Isn’t it a violation of my rights as a human being, to not be able to browse a store without “Big Brother” policing my prospective inner intentions?

You can investigate my past – I’ll tell you, I’m not a saint. I’ve done some things I’d rather not have to explain to everyone on the planet. I crashed my mom’s car in 1994. Tomorrow, I will turn 36 and she still reminds me of it, along with pretty much everything I did wrong as a teenager. I forgot to take out the trash, A LOT. I once broke curfew to drive a drunk friend home.

Still, my imperfections don’t mean I deserve to be followed, or get a bullet to the chest, do they?

Editing: really, it’s nothing personal

In another life, I was a professional journalist.

Steve Berlin, my copy editor, tore my first article to shreds and made me redo it. If I told you what I imagined doing to him, you’d think I wrote scripts for the Saw franchise.

Prior to Steve, no one had really bloodbathed my journalistic writing before. In my eyes, that article needed, no, deserved 20″ of editorial copy. Push that quarter-page ad to the back — I don’t care.

He won that round, and the next ten or so before I stopped being stubborn and learned from my mistakes.

I remember R&B singer Erykah Badu once telling her audience that she’s an artist who’s sensitive about her craft. Aren’t we all? Prior to the birth of my daughter, and my career in teaching, my creations were my babies. Nobody wants to be told their baby has crooked feet – something correctable, but maybe painful, time-consuming, and possibly, a little embarrassing to admit to other people.

This might be the reason why some self-published authors skip the professional editing process. They don’t want to be told their manuscript doesn’t walk as well as it should, or worse, they claim they can’t afford to fix it.

Honestly, editing is nothing personal. I’ve edited a few manuscripts in my day, and I don’t cackle in an evil voice, “Haha, a comma splice error!” It’s an editor’s job to preserve the author’s voice, as much as he can, while providing the author constructive ways to fix their stories and grow in the process. In other words, you’re paying them to be Steve Berlin – a nice guy who just wants you to get the job done.

FYI: For those of you who can’t afford editing (it goes between .012 cents per word to .045 cents), e-mail me at brian@authorbrianthompson.com, or try the freelance route at Elance.com.

Hope this helps!

B

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