Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Is Voice?

New. Fresh. Unique. Distinctive. Agents and publishers are always talking about "voice" - that elusive thing we authors must nail in our writing.

But what is "voice"? I think there are really two ways to look at it or two parts to the same whole: the author's voice and the character's voice.

The author's voice goes with the author, from book to book. Certain phrases, tone, word choices, ways of description, style, etc., all contribute to the author's voice. I remember reading about how, within a few pages, you can identify a Stephen King book without looking at the cover. He has a distinctive voice.

Tawna Fenske and Simon Larter did an interesting experiment last week that tested an author's voice. I read the second post before the first one, so maybe already knowing blew it for me, but I did notice a definite change in style - or voice. And this is what is meant by author's voice - it's unique, distinctive and difficult to duplicate. At least, the good ones are.

Then there's the character's voice. For an example of terrific character voice, read The Sky Is Everywhere. Beautiful writing, lovely characters, heart-breaking plot...but, I think, what really made it memorable to me, what grabbed me and took me for a ride, was Lennie's voice. Fresh, new, unique - all those adjectives agents and editors use to describe the voice they're looking for. I loved her voice. She made me laugh and nearly made me cry.

This is Jandy Nelson's first book, so I don't know how much of her author's voice is in Lennie. But if all of her characters had the same voice as Lennie...well, then all of her books better be about Lennie, told from Lennie's first-person perspective. But we know, or at least hope, that's not the case.

So there is a difference between author's voice and character's voice. And both are important. You need to have your own voice as an author, but your characters' voices must also be well developed, unique and distinctive.

One more thing that I want to share because it may help keep you out of the loony bin. The Man and I were talking about the voices in my head over the weekend and, not for the first time, he said, "Just don't go talking about those voices to just anyone. If a psych doctor ever hears you, you'll wind up in an institution." And I said, "No, I won't. It's normal. For writers."

But I felt the need to explain to him, a non-writer, about the voices in my head. I asked him if, when he recalls a previous conversation, he remembers the dialogue in each person's voice, not his own, and he said yes. So I explained how, when I'm thinking about a conversation for my story, I "hear" the dialogue in the characters' voices much the same way. I also pointed out how Son #1 would tell a story differently than Son #2, even if it's the same story. He agreed. So I said, "Well, that's how Alexis is with me. She tells me the story in her voice. How she would say it, not how I would say it." Lo and behold, he finally got it! And now I know how to explain things to the psych doctor who knows nothing about writers, if I ever need to. Maybe you can use it, too.

This explanation just goes to show us - and our significant others and doctors - what "voice" is. Our author's voice goes into every book we write, but our characters' voices are what make each book different.

Have you ever tried to mimic another author's voice? Have you ever picked up a book without looking at the author and thought, "This must have been written by _____. It's totally her!"? Have you ever read more than one book by the same author and been disappointed because they sounded too much alike?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Marketing (Part 11) - Promotions 2

Last week, we discussed how the 4th P - Promotions - plays into the Marketing Mix and the marketing campaign. Today, we look at what you need to know before you can start planning your promotions.

First, you need to know your Target Customer - everything you can possibly find out. Where do they live? Work? Go to school? How old are they? What do they eat? What do they do on the weekends? Where do they hang out - both in the real world and online? What do they talk about? Where do they shop? What do they buy? What do they read? Watch on TV? What are their fears? Their desires? Their hopes? What's the hot topic they're talking about right now?

Second, you need to know the purpose of your message. What are you trying to accomplish? What do you want the prospect to know when they're done reading/watching/hearing your promotional piece? What do you want them to do?

Next, decide what media you'll be using to deliver your message. This is your communications tool. Selecting the media should be a decision based on knowing your Target Customer and how you can communicate with them. You want to be able to hit as many of your Target Customers' eyeballs or ears as you possibly can, otherwise, it's not worth it. If your Target Customer is a 16-year-old girl who reads, don't advertise in GQ, no matter how cheap you can get the ad. (Unless, of course, there's any chance you can get Dad or Uncle Bill to buy the book for her, but then your Target Customer is really Dad or Uncle Bill, not the girl, because they're buying it...but that's, well, going off on a tangent for the purpose of this post.)

So, what is the most effective way to reach your Target Customer? Online? Radio? Podcast? Television? Magazines? Newspapers? Other books? Billboards? Someone's boobs or butt? (Just making sure you're paying attention, although...yes, these have been used for advertising and might be a possibility...)

Once you have know all of these things, you have direction for your promotional piece. You put these together to create your marketing message, whether it's a video, a Podcast, a banner ad on a website or a newspaper ad (or a temporary tattoo, if you decide you really like that idea and it will be effective for your audience). Here's an example:

Your Target Customer is a 17-year-old female who spends most of her time reading, loves vampires, hangs out on the fanfic forums, rarely goes to movies, doesn't read magazines and, when not reading or doing homework, she spends her time on Facebook and Twitter. The purpose for this promotional piece is to get her excited about your new vampire release so she'll pre-order the book. You've decided to create an ad that can go up on the fanfic forums and Facebook.

Now you have a general idea of what your ad will be about (vampires, new book, pre-order) and who will be looking at it. So you can create your promotional piece with matching graphics and text. But how do you make it stand out? How do you get her to pre-order your book? We'll talk about that later...

Questions? Thoughts?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What Is a Chapter?

Yesterday, writer Liana Brooks shared her editing worksheet, a tool she uses to evaluate each chapter before she starts actual revisions. I always find it intriguing to learn how other writers handle different parts of the writing process and I inevitably learn something new or take away at least one really good idea to try out myself. Liana didn't disappoint.

However...her worksheet evaluates one chapter at a time and I don't know if I can use it the same way. In fact, with Promise and Purpose, I did something similar, but used note cards and had one for each scene, not chapter. Because, to me, "chapter" is kind of ambiguous.

I mean, seriously...what is a chapter? Some authors' chapters can be as short as one page while others are 40+. Some chapters contain a single scene, others contain multiple scenes and others are just one part of a multi-chapter scene. So how do we know when a chapter is done and when to start a new one?

When I first started writing, a chapter ended when the scene was over. Some were short, while others were painfully long. At some point in revisions of Promise, I realized that my chapters really were just scenes. I ended the chapter there because the scene had started, arced and ended and that was a good stopping place.

Just like for readers - a chapter is a good place to take a break. Go to sleep. Put the book down.

But, wait. As authors, we don't want them to put the book down! We want them to be so absorbed that even when the chapter ends, they MUST keep reading.

How do we do that? By ending the chapter with some kind of cliffhanger. Maybe it's right in the middle or at the climax of a scene. Readers will definitely move on to the next chapter because they have to know how it all turns out. But it doesn't have to be right in the middle.

The scene can end. The protag can share their reaction to what just happened. It's a good, sensible place to end the chapter and start a new one. To keep our reader from putting the book down, though, our last sentence must raise a new, compelling question. There must be something pressing, urgent, something that the reader can't wait until tomorrow to find out. It's the transition from this chapter to the next that must be done in such a way that the reader, who was just thinking, "Nearly done with this chapter and then I'll go to bed," reads that last sentence and now thinks, "Damn. Okay, just one more chapter. I have to know what that means!" (Or "what they'll do!" or "what happens next!")

I think, in years/decades/centuries past, the idea of the chapter really was to tell the reader to stop and take a break. Authors wanted to provide the reader with a breaking point.

But these days, a breaking point gives the reader an opportunity to get distracted. So many people, places and things fight for our attention and as soon as we lose the reader's attention, we might lose them for good. They might not come back for a long time and by then, might have forgotten what they read and then lose interest.

Today's author has to create a page-turner that sucks the reader in and keeps them entranced until the very last page. Based on reviews and people telling me I should have a disclaimer on my books that says, "Warning! May cause lack of sleep!" I apparently have done a decent job with this. How do I do it? Well, there are a lot of things, but as for chapters, here's a basic idea:
  • I decide an average chapter length. I don't like really short (1 or 2-page) chapters because, unless there's really good reason for it, it seems gimmicky to me, trying to make the reader think the pace is really moving quickly when it might not be. I definitely don't like long, over 25-page chapters. I also notice that, in general, my scenes range from 10-18 pages, but some are quite shorter and others quite longer. The number I came up with is 15.
  • I then scroll through the completed book, count out pages and find a good place to break at every 12-15 pages. I don't like anything less than 11 and no more than 18. Sometimes it's in the middle of the scene. Sometimes it's not and the scene has ended. Then I write a new last sentence, one that raises that compelling question that leads into the next chapter.

I didn't come up with this idea all by myself, of course. I'm just not that brilliant. You can see it easily in fast-paced novels by well-known authors. I actually really noticed it in Twilight. Not my fave book ever, but I did get sucked into it and couldn't figure out why. This is one reason - read the last sentence of each chapter. Go do it and you'll see. Same with The Hunger Games series (which is one of my fave series ever).

So what is a chapter? It's one part of a longer piece of writing. A way to break it up so readers don't feel intimidated by one-really-long-and-scary narrative. It can be used to offer the reader a break...or to keep them excited and enthralled, unable to put your book down.

What's a chapter mean to you? How do you use chapter endings in your writing to keep the reader reading, or at least, anxious to return?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday Marketing (Part 10) - Promotions

So we've been through all but one of the Ps (or Cs, from the customer's point of view) of the Marketing Mix (to revisit the others, click here) and now we hit Promotions. This is the area most people think of when they think of "marketing." As we've learned, it's about much more than advertising and other Communications, yet without it, customers wouldn't know about the Product or the Price or the Places they can buy it.

Everything-all the Ps/Cs-work together in a successful marketing strategy. Whether it's a media kit, advertisement, blog or public appearance, your Promotions must incorporate all the other parts of the Marketing Mix to be successful. You have to know who your Target Customer is so your piece effectively grabs their attention. You have to know the Product inside and out, its Price and the Places it can be bought in order to create your Promotion piece. You also have to know the other part of Place-where to find your Target Customer to deliver the Promotion.

In other words, to create a Promotional piece for your book, you have to know more than just your story and yourself (the author is part of the Product). You must know who would most enjoy reading it (Target Customer); what Internet sites, forums, blogs, magazines, newspapers, TV shows, etc., they spend their time on as well as where they prefer to buy books and where your book sells (Places); and, of course, how much the book costs and whether this particular Communications piece offers any kind of sale price or other special (Price). Pull all of these together and you have the important elements you need to create your Promotional piece.

As for the 4 Ps, Promotions includes everything that communicates a marketing message to the customer. You have to decide the purpose of your message, the different media you'll use to deliver the message and any special offer you're presenting with this message. Everything together, delivered and executed, is the "marketing campaign."

Your marketing campaign might be to announce your upcoming release (because all of you WILL have one of those, if you haven't already...I promise, because I know you're all wonderful...and passionate and persistent). You'll use a variety of media and have many different pieces supporting this message, from a press release to a blog tour to giveaways to signings and possibly much more. Each piece must serve its purpose of effectively delivering the message that you have a new, most-awesome, everyone-needs-to-read-it-now book coming out. All the pieces together comprise your marketing campaign.

To wrap-up, here's a breakdown:
  • Promotions/Communications (in the Marketing Mix) - Everything that serves as a communication tool between the marketer and the customer with a specific marketing message.
  • Marketing Message - A specific message to deliver to the Target Customer that includes the other Ps of the Mix.
  • Marketing Campaign - All of the media and pieces working together to deliver the same message to the same Target Customer.
  • Promotional Piece - Each individual piece of the marketing campaign used to deliver the message.

Next week, we'll discuss what you need to know before creating any kind of promotional piece. Questions? Don't hesitate to ask. My goal is for writers to know the basics of marketing because whether you seek a traditional publisher or go indie, you'll have to market yourself and your book. It's the knowledge I have to share, peeps, so feel free to tap into it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Write-Brain & a Gerbil

I picked up some craft-y books for my Christmas present to myself. Craft-y as in writer's craft stuff. One, The Write-Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing by Bonnie Neubauer, is, well, exactly that. 366 fun writing exercises.

I decided that each day, before cracking open my WIP (currently titled the enigmatic, glamorous and oh-so-original "Book 3"), I would do one of these exercises. You know, warm up my brain and fingers, get the juices flowing...should be a great way to spark some awesome writing. It's day 12 of the new year and I've done one so far.

It was fun, though, and I enjoyed seeing where I went with it. The direction actually surprised me - no paranormal/fantastical/supernatural!!! - and it makes me wonder now what I had on my mind!! lol Actually, I DO know what's been on my mind and it's quite apparent here.

The exercise provided 3 sets of words and I had to pick 1 word from each set. Then I had to write something using all three words and starting with the sentence provided. Here's what I wrote (warning - total free-writing, unedited, unproofed, unimaginative and all - I feel a little naked) (sentence in italics is what I had to start with):

Three words: banister, insensitive, keepsake
Sometimes I feel just like a gerbil, running around and around on his wheel! I keep running and running, though I go nowhere, stuck in this place I call life. A box surrounds me, one I can’t see but can’t escape, either. It closes me in, confining me within its boundaries. I can press my face to the glass and see a world beyond it. A world much bigger than me, than this box, a world taunting me with so many places to see and explore, things to do and experience.

Others go by, moving about freely, doing all those things I want to do. They come and go, share exciting stories with each other about their adventures and they feel so insensitive to me, who sits here, trapped, scurrying back and forth in this box, running and running on my wheel, pretending if I run hard and fast enough, I might actually escape.

Through the glass of my world, I see them descend and ascend stairs, taking them to new levels that I will never know. A door sits ajar at the bottom of the stairs, a door opening to something unknown to me. Part of me wants to slide down the banister, feel the air rushing in my hair as it takes me to a new place, a new life, a new world beyond that door. But, admittedly, part of me tenses with anxiety with the fear of the unknown.

What if I’m fooling myself? I know what to expect in my box—food, water, basic comforts, all that I need for survival. I know every square inch, having traversed the same paths over and over again. It is all familiar. I know what I’m doing. I can’t fail here.

That world out there, beyond my glass walls, promises so much…including the potential for complete and utter failure. What if I can’t make it? What if it’s not what I thought? It looks so bright and shiny from here, but what if, up close, it’s dingy, grimy, dark and dim?  What if I lose my way? Lose myself?

As I ponder these thoughts, the shrill sound of shattering glass pierces my ears. A curtain of rain—sharp-edged little pieces, not water drops—falls before me. The wall. The glass wall that confines me no longer exists. Something has destroyed it, giving me the freedom I ache for.

I sniff the air. It smells so different, scents of promise, hope, disaster and failure layering the air. But mostly I smell fear. My own fear. Fear I must overcome. I must not be afraid. I must take this opportunity given to me, not hide out in my three-sided box, always wondering…wondering.

I take with me a little bell. A token to remind me of this place and this life that was comforting but never enough for me. It is my keepsake so I can remember who I am and not lose myself, even as I get lost in the big world ahead of me.

I think I'm going to like this book and the exercises. I've browsed ahead and I know there are some I won't do, but I don't get to write every single day either, so maybe it'll all work out and I'll get through most of it by the end of the year. If you'd like a little jump-start to writing sessions, check it out.

What do you think? Did I go in a totally different direction than you would have with the same words and sentence? Would what you'd write change if accompanied by this picture instead:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday Marketing - Picking It Up Again

It's been a long time since I've done a Monday Marketing post. I plan to get back into it, though, starting next week. After all, we left off at the good part, the topic most people think and care about when they hear the term "marketing." We'll be talking about the fourth and final "P" - Promotions (and C - Communication).

For today, here are the previous posts, since they've moved from my blog to this one. Mark this link because these will take a while to get through, but they provide a marketing tutorial for the non-marketing writer.

Part 1: But I Just Want to Write
Part 2: The Mix
Part 3: The Target Customer
Part 4: Product
Part 5: Product
Part 6: Product
Part 7: Price
Part 8: Price
Part 9: Place

As always, if you ever have any marketing questions, feel free to ask!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Smart Ways to Use Twitter & Facebook

I read a lot of articles about using social media as a writer - to network with other writers and industry professionals, to grow your "tribe," to promote your books, even to research for your stories. Tips for blogging, tweeting and Facebook posting.

Not too often do I come across new, helpful information that those of us who already actively blog, tweet and Facebook (like most of us here) don't already know. It's usually, "Follow others and comment," "Share tips and links in your tweets" and "Establish a Facebook fan page." Yeah. Duh. Know it. Do it. Love what it's done, but I want more!

The past few days, I've hit some really good stuff. Good as in Ghiradelli-brownies good...or Starbucks-caramel-java-chip-frappaccino-with-whip-cream good...good as in Dimitri-Jace-Tristan-Peeta-Gale-Brothers-of-the-Dagger-all-rolled-into-one good. Okay, maybe not that good. That's like fangirl heaven!

Anyway, here are some great articles and blog posts for those of us already in the know looking for more:

Also, a few other good articles for writers, especially those who e/self-pub or are thinking about it:
Please let me know of any other articles you've found particularly helpful!