tips on writing tuesday

Do you BlogFaceTweet?: A Comparison of Social Media Outlets (Tips on Writing #11)

I Facebook. I Twitter. I Blog.

For now, I refuse to get mired any deeper in this thing called ‘social media’.

Like most people I have talked too, I had a heck of a time trying to figure out how to use social media. I am still not where I want to be, but I certainly feel more comfortable. One of the things that has helped in overcoming my fear of building an online presence was to understand how each outlet is beneficial to helping me build an online community.

Your goal online is to build a community. That’s why it’s supposed to be “social” media…so you can actually interact with others.  The goal is not to sell your product, but sell yourself, and then the product will follow. Have something to give and be interactive and the result is you will not only increase sales, but – more importantly – you will make new friends and develop a community.

Sounds nice, but how does it work? It’s not a perfect analogy, but I think of it this way:

1) Your website/blog is your home!

My ultimate goal is to get people to my website (which for me is my blog). It should be where people find out all the information about you they can and find out how to purchase your product. I like to think of my website as mission control, the home base where I ultimately want members of my community to end up and enjoy returning too. Any other social media resource is utilized to find a community that wants to gather at my website/blog – my house.

2) Twitter is a quick text or broadcast to those in your community to convey information.  There is not much interaction. It is more formal in nature.

I look at Twitter as a news crawler at the bottom of the TV or a quick informative text. You don’t use it to push your product as much as you use it to share information. There isn’t as much conversation in this format, just quick sharing of information.

Whatever industry you are in (i.e. publishing, marketing, education, etc.) it gives you a quick outlet to share your thoughts and share the thoughts of others. It gives people online an idea of what your community is about and peaks their interest. If people agree with you or find value in what you share, they will follow and ultimately end up on your website/blog.

Items to share through Twitter: forwarding appropriate articles; links to industry related news stories; info about upcoming events or activities; sharing the name of Twitter accounts that you find informative

3) Facebook is an actual phone or face-to-face conversation with a group of people in your community. There is back and forth. It is less formal than Twitter.

A community should have a familiar, welcoming, less-formal feel to it. A social gathering. That’s what Facebook does, allows you to interact and converse with your community things about you. Not just business related things, or news regarding your product, but you in general. Your everyday life, your likes and dislikes, travels, etc. Your community on Facebook are interested in learning more about you and you should be interested in learning more about them.

Items to share through Facebook: short questions to get dialogue going, whether about your product/industry or every day life; pictures from industry events or every day activities; uplifting, inspiring quotes or pictures; updates on where you are on your projects

The above analogies have helped me wade through the social media waters. It might not work for everyone, but hopefully it will give you a foundation of understanding to start from. Just remember that in social media less is more and have something to give, don’t just try to take.

You will find your community, just don’t give up!

What outlets and resources do you take advantage of online? Are they working? Are you actually interacting with people and building a community?

PS – if you haven’t read it yet, the best book out today (IMO) on improving your presence online and building a community is Platform by Michael Hyatt.  Get it…today!  It’s his personal story of success online, but also serves as a one-stop-shop for all your social media question and concerns. 

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Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing (Tips on Writing #10)

First off, lets describe what it means to be published.  Simply put – your book makes it into print.  Period.  That is the definition of publishing in its simplest form.  Somebody has taken the financial risk, the time, and the energy to believe in your work enough to at least pay an editor, cover designer, and printer to bring your book to the world.  That is the publisher.

If you did those things, then you are self-published.

If you had an agent, who found an editor at a traditional publishing house who did this for you (or you shimmied your way into a traditional publishing house on your own, sans agent) then you are traditionally published.
That’s it…easy breezy; but the discussion usually doesn’t end there.  The questions usually start flying after that:
“Which one is easier/faster/better/will make me more money?”
Unfortunately, those are all the wrong questions.  Some of the right types of questions should be:

– Do I want to handle ALL of the business aspects of my book on my own (i.e. marketing, shipping, account tracking, etc.) along with the time I spend writing? (if so, then you have the diligence and patience to try and self publish your work)

– Am I willing to take rejection letter after rejection letter and, more importantly, am I willing to listen to industry professionals, to make my work more marketable until I find somebody who is willing to take a risk on me? (if so, then you have the diligence and patience to try and get published traditionally)

– Is it important to me to really build a following of loyal readers or am I just writing books, so I can get them in print, so I can say that “I am a published author”? (if so, then self publishing is just fine)

And there are so many more questions to ask.  Ultimately, deep down, I think 98% of authors want to be traditionally published, but for a lot, self publishing is either perfectly acceptable or just a springboard until they get traditionally published.  Personally, I self-published my first book after a few rejection letters because I wanted the challenge.  I wanted to prove the book was marketable and then get picked up by an agent/publisher.  It didn’t work, but I enjoyed the experience…and learned a TON.  For my next novel – a YA adventure novel with a hint of romance called Maiden – I am most definitely trying to find an agent to help me get traditionally published.  But that’s just me.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how you publish unless you actually have something to publish.  Too often I hear “writers” talking about the pro’s and con’s of which publishing track to take, yet they have no product…no story…no finished manuscript ready to share.  Nobody in the traditional publishing world cares about you if you haven’t put your best effort on paper and even the vainest of self-publishing sites online can’t print your story for you if you don’t have a story to tell.

Finish your story…then there are a GAZILLION blogs, sites, articles, etc. (just like mine, some better 🙂 you can check out to figure out what to do with what you have written (sidenote: I found a great post by Anne Allen that goes into a lot more depth about each kind of publishing.  Check it out!) .  I can promise you, someone will want to read it.  Be patient and figure out the best path to take.

Building Worlds with Guest Writer Lana Krumwiede (Tips on Writing Tuesday #9)

Today, I welcome wonderful author Lana Krumwiede to share some writing tips on ‘world building.’  Lana’s debut middle-grade novel, Freakling, was published by Candlewick in October, 2012 and if you haven’t checked it out…well you should (see my review here).  In fact, you should check out Lana’s website here and check out Freakling either on Amazon or Goodreads.


Take it away, Lana…


I had the pleasure of acting as guest author for one of the summer writing camp sessions of Richmond Young Writers. Everything about it was awesome: the writers, the instructors, Chop Suey Books. Heaven!

Since I got to choose the topic, we talked about world building, which is just a more interesting word for setting.  World building is associated with fantasy and science fiction, because the author must provide enough information to allow the reader to understand the character’s world, be it another planet, an imaginary future, or an alternate reality. It’s not just the writer that builds the world–the reader also has to build a vision of the world in his own mind as he reads. The writer’s job is to provide the building material to make that happen. Like all building materials, they must be provided in a logical order and in manageable quantities. Otherwise, the builder (reader) has trouble knowing where all the pieces fit.
In writing Freakling, I knew world building was going to be a huge challenge. Patricia Wrede’s world building questions had given me a lot to think about. I had a lot of details about Taemon’s world worked out in my notes, but I knew including every single bit of that would overwhelm the reader. I had to choose. But how?
The answer involves a sad story from my family history.
In 1900, my great-great grandfather and two of his brothers were killed in a horrific mine explosion in Utah. About 200 miners lost their lives in the blast. Most of them were immigrants; some had entered the United States only two weeks previous to their death. For the small town of Scofield, it was absolutely devastating.
Every able bodied man was needed in the search for the bodies that were scattered throughout the mine. The people involved in the rescue had just lost family members, friends, and co-workers. They were exhausted from working through the night. Arguments broke out, in particular because the Finns refused to take part in the search despite the fact that some 50 of the deceased were their fellow countrymen. More level-headed people (or perhaps bilingual people) intervened to explain that Finnish customs were very strict about who was allowed to handle bodies of deceased persons, and that the search should be done on a volunteer basis.
A few of the Scofield rescuers, 1900
Customs about who is allowed to handle a corpse. Wow. From a writer’s perspective, that little detail about the Finns is a gold nugget. Conflict! Tension! It’s like revving the engine of the plot.
I thought about how people in Deliverance would feel about dead bodies, and that resulted in some great scenes in the book. I found that the suspicions and paranoia that had seeped into the culture of Deliverance made great fodder for conflict, both large and small. It also helped set the mood and tone for the scenes that are set in Deliverance. I suppose the answer to making choices about world building boils down to this: whatever serves the story best.
Isn’t that the answer to every writing question?


This post first appeared on Lana’s website.

Literary Agents #3: How To Pitch An Agent (Tips on Writing Tuesday #8)

In the first part of this series, we talked about what you should know about literary agents (hint: they are regular, everyday people!).  In the second part, we discussed why it would be a very good idea to pitch an agent in person.

Today, we will talk about how to pitch an agent.

1) Know What Your End Goal Is

Knowing how you are approaching the pitch and being comfortable with your decision will go a long way.  If you are shaking the agents hand and still don’t have a clue what direction you want to go, then you have a problem.

If your manuscript is ready and you are looking for representation, that’s wonderful.  If your end goal is to just get practice, network, and get feedback, that’s awesome, too – just make sure the agent knows.  Don’t try to pretend your book is done, when it’s not.

2) Dress Professional and Be Professional

The agent-author relationship is a business.  So if given the option of dealing with high-maintenance authors who have no idea how the business side publishing works, or working with writers who understand what it means to be prompt, courteous, easy-to-work with and NOT crazy…I’ll let you guess which author the agent will go with.

3) Use Your Time Wisely (aka The Anatomy of the Pitch)


Most conferences will allow anywhere from 7-10 minutes of time for you and the agent.  You want to take advantage of ALL of it.  You are in charge of the pitch, so knowing how to use your time is crucial.  In my experience, the pitch comes down to the three main parts: the intro, the pitch, the question and answer.

The intro should take no more than 30 seconds (maybe a minute if your agent seems especially friendly).  “Hello, my name is…nice to meet you…how are you enjoying the conference?  You can even ask about any new acquisitions they have or how a recent release is doing.  Doing so lets them know you have done your homework.  Smile and be friendly!

Then you go right into the pitch.  Tell the genre and word count of the book you are pitching and then give the pitch line – that one sentence that describes your story: “My book is James Bond meets vampires” or “My story is Joan of Arc meets Game of Thrones”.  You get the point.  Whatever it is, make it true and make it grab their attention.  Then go into the actual pitch.

The actual pitch of your book should be between 1 and 2 minutes long.  That’s it, no more.  Only a few main characters need to be mentioned.  What’s the protagonist want, how are they trying to get it and what/who is keeping them from it?  What is the conflict?

When you are done with the pitch…stop talking.  No, really, don’t say anything else.  Over and over again the one area where an author hijacks a perfectly good pitch is they don’t stop talking and walk themselves over a cliff.  Practice the pitch, say it, and then shutup:-)

You have just told the agent about your baby; the story you have been toiling over.  Let them ask you a question.  And then another…and then another.  When the questions come, keep your answers short and sweet and to the point, avoiding side tangents.  If you have done your job with the pitch, then the agent will have questions about the conflict, other characters, setting, etc.  Remember, you want it to be a conversation.

4) How to End the Pitch

When the time is up usually one of two things will happen: they will give you a card and tell you they want to see some or all of the manuscript, or they will shake your hand and think you for the visit.

If they want to see more of your work, take the card, thank them with a smile, and tell them you look forward to sending it and will be in touch shortly.  You can skip and jump and shout after you are out of their earshot.  If they don’t give you a card, still shake their hand, say thank you for their time, and walk away, grateful for the opportunity to grow as a writer.

Whether you feel the meeting was positive or negative, write your feelings about the experience as soon as possible.  What went well, what didn’t, what can you improve for the next experience you have with an agent?  Were there questions the agent had that you didn’t have answers too?  Learn from the experience!

What experiences have you had with agents at pitch sessions?  I would love to know!

Literary Agents #2: Why You Should Pitch an Agent (Tips on Writing Tuesday #7)

Last week I shared my experiences meeting agents over the past few months and the amazing conclusion that (gasp) they are people!

No, really, they are.

Today I want to talk about the other half of my experience: pitching an agent.

Literary agents want to find writers to represent.  They want to find that story that blows them away and gets them excited.  How do they find those stories?  One of two ways.

Either you query an agent through email/snail-mail following specified guidelines on their website or you “pitch” an agent at a writer’s conference.  A “pitch” is basically querying an agent, except it’s in person.

Today, we’re going to focus on the pitch.
As I mentioned before, I have had the chance to meet multiple agents in the last few months.  At both of the conferences I attended I took advantage of the opportunity to pitch my current novel – MAIDEN – to two different agents.
Was I scared?  You bet!
Did I survive?  Yes!
Did I learn a TON?  I learned a whole lot of TON! That’s why I want to pass it on.
Three reasons why you should pitch an agent:
1) Learn How to Present Yourself and Your Product 

The publishing world is a business, it’s that simple.  All writers got into writing because they love to write (mostly)…a good portion of writers are scared to death of the business side of things.  Either they don’t know or don’t care about marketing.  But, you need to care about marketing, at least enough to know how to present you and your story.

The more experience you get going to conferences, interacting with professionals, and pitching agents, you have no other option BUT to gain more experience.  When you pitch agents (or anybody really) you find out very quickly how you are doing in prepping your product for the marketing world.

2) Learn How to Improve Your Story

As I mentioned last week, finding an agent is like speed dating – I’m still seeking an agent myself – and the more agents you interact with

3) Learn What Type of Agent is Right For You

Find out the type of agent that is right for you – As a writer, I still personally do not have an agent (sigh), but…I definetely have a better understanding of the type of agent I want to work with.  “What?” you say!  “I’ll take any agent…it’s been my lifelong dream!”

Come back for the last post, part 3…Literary Agents: How to Pitch an Agent

Have you ever pitched a literary agent?  What was your experience?

Literary Agents #1: What You Should Know About Them (Tips on Writing Tuesday #6)

You’ve got your novel ready.  You have written, rewritten, revised, edited, lost sleep, written and written some more.  Beta-reader after beta-reader has torn it apart and you have made the appropriate changes.  Is your manuscript perfect?  Probably not, but it’s as good as it’s going to get.
Now what?
You are either going to self-publish or try to get picked up and published traditionally.  If you are planning to get picked up traditionally, most likely you are going to try to get an agent to represent you. 
What kind of agent do I want?
How do I get one?
Will they even know I exist?
I want to share with you some of the experiences I have had over the last few months as I have a) been researching agents and b) interacting with agents at local writing conferences I have attended.
The very best way to sum up the whole process of trying to get an agent was said by Rachel Dugas, a literary agent for Talcott-Notch, who said these wise words at Hampton Roads Writers Conference in September, “Trying to get an agent is like speed dating.”
Say whuuuu?
I can tell you she meant it figuratively, because the moment you send an agent flowers, you have taken a step backward:-)
No, what she meant was that, just as in speed dating, when you are trying to find an agent it’s all about making the right connection with the right agent.  There is not just one agent out there for every writer.
I repeat, it’s important to make connections with the right agent.  And believe it or not, those same agents are out looking to make the same connection with you.
“Are agents really interested in making a connection with me?” you ask.  
YES!  
Question: How do you think agents make a living?
Answer: By building long-term, professional relationships with writers they feel they can represent.  
That means YOU!  That means right now, this minute, there is an agent out there who wants to work with you, now you just have to find them (which, I admit, is the tricky part).
But the first thing you have to remember is that they are people, just like you and me.  Just like you want to find the right agent to represent your book – your baby – they want to find that story that they can fall in love with and they can share with the world.
You don’t have to be scared when you talk to them and you don’t have to be nervous and you don’t have to hope that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime.  
You DO have to be professional and you DO have to do your homework.  If a particular agent isn’t right for you, more often than not they are going to give you positive feedback to help you improve your work so it’s even better for the next agent that you approach.
As I mentioned, in the past six weeks I have talked to a total of five literary agents (and one editor) and every single one of them was approachable, willing to answer questions, and wonderful to work with.  They were regular, everyday people that I was able to have a professional conversation with.
You can too!
To find out more about the agents that are out there, try some of the sites listed below:
To find out more about some of the conferences that may be in your area where you can talk to an agent face-to-face, try some of these resources: 
Do any of you readers have experiences with literary agents at writing conferences?  I would love to hear about them!

The Importance of a Support System (Tips on Writing Tuesday #5)

This past week, friend and fellow local author, Lana Krumwiede, had a Twitter chat to answer questions about her debut release, Freakling, (which I will be reviewing in the coming weeks), but also to talk about a local writing conference where she will be speaking.  (Sidenote: if you are a writer, and live in Central Virginia, why are you not coming to the James River Writer’s Conference?)

During the Twitter chat, somebody asked her about critique groups.  They asked, “Do you feel every writer needs one?”

This was Lana’s response:

Critique groups may not be important for everyone, but every writer needs writer friends in some fashion. Need that support!
This is something, as a writer, I have only come to appreciate (and apply) within the past year.  Anybody, in any line of work, but especially a creative outlet such as writing, needs a support system.
Now I don’t mean your mom saying, “That’s the best thing I’ve ever read!” or your significant other saying, “You should put that on FB, that’s really good!”   No…you need a support system of people that are not related to you:-)

Why?
What I have learned from other writers, and what I have experienced myself, is that the benefit of having a support system of others is at least two-fold:
1) You have an outlet to share your struggles, frustrations, concerns, goals, highs, lows and everything in between….with people who know exactly what you are going through.  It’s one thing to share it with your best friend who says, “Hey that’s great!” or “Don’t give up!”  It’s another thing to share it with a fellow writer, who has struggled as you have, who knows what it’s like to stare at the blank page in frustration.   
You need that kind of support in this lonely world called writing.
2) Your writing will improve.  Writing is not just about writing.  It’s about ideas and learning and techniques and background and every once in a while getting away from the keyboard to find out what others are doing.  Then, when you come back to your material, you will be amazed at how much you have grown.
As Lana mentions above, your support may come from a critique group (maybe online or in person), it may be a local writing group that hosts workshops or just a few friends that get together informally.  However it is, the key is that you find that support.  
Interested but not sure where to start?  Here are some great resources that have been VERY beneficial to me and I hope can at least give you an idea of what’s out there:
Absolute Write Forums – THE writers forum online to discuss everything from ideas, format, technique, editing, publishing, agents, etc.  You name it, it’s on there.  A great community!
Goodreads – Goodreads is a free website for book lovers. Imagine it as a large library that you can wander through and see everyone’s bookshelves, their reviews, and their ratings. You can also post your own reviews and catalog what you have read, are currently reading, and plan to read in the future. Don’t stop there – join a discussion group, start a book club, contact an author, and even post your own writing. 
– Scribophile – The online writing group and writing workshop where you get thoughtful critiques and feedback on your writing.  I was amazed at how much my editing improved as I edited other peoples work, not my own.
– http://www.newpages.com/writing-conferences/ – A great, comprehensive list of local writing conferences.

What kind of support system do you use to help you grow as a writer?