Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I Want This in My Writer's Studio

Sorry for the down time! This is my blog about writing and I've been too busy writing (well, editing) to write about writing lately. And I haven't had any major epiphanies to share, otherwise I would have found the time. But I did find the time to discover something awesome and thought I'd share.

I really want a wall like this in my writer's studio. As if I have a studio... Sigh. Maybe one day. But wouldn't this be awesome? Of course, it would be tempting me all the time to curl up and read instead of write. But I still want one. Check it out and tell me you don't want one too.

Do you have a writer's studio? Or at least an office? I have a bed-office (office in my bedroom) and I'm tired of it. I plan to take over oldest son's room as soon he moves out in a couple weeks. Bwahahaha! Where do you write?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why a 60-75 Page Partial?

The craft book I'm reading this month is Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, part of the "Write Great Fiction" series by Writer's Digest Books. I'm just starting Chapter 3, but have already learned some real techniques to apply to my writing. Chapter 2 is about the three-act structure and it got to me to thinking.

You're probably familiar with the three-act structure and this may be old news for you. But in case you aren't - or, as in my case, don't know as much about it as you think you do - here's an overview of how Bell explains it. A story (whether a movie, play or book) should be broken into three parts. Act 1 sets up the protag's world and a disturbance to that world (inciting incident), and ends with a "doorway" - when the protag makes a decision or does something that is irreversible. It's the first point of no return. This doorway leads into Act 2, where the protag faces confrontations and obstacles that move her to the second "doorway," another point of no return. Act 3 is the climax when everything comes to a head and explodes.

You often see books split into three parts, following this three-act structure and those parts are usually pretty equal in length. In a live play production, you're given intermission between acts and those intermissions are evenly spaced apart. According to Bell, however, the acts shouldn't be even.

In a movie, Act 1 is about the first 1/4 of the movie and Act 3 begins with about 1/4 of the movie left. So the middle, Act 2, is about 1/2 the story. For books, he says, Act 1 should be over even sooner - about 1/5 in. We need to get to that first doorway sooner rather than later. Otherwise, the book seems to drag.

This made me think about my book Promise. Although the majority of readers say they're hooked from page 1 and can't put it down, a few - those who are the hardest to impress, to suck them in - have said that the first 70-100 pages drag or, simply, "it's hard to get into at first," but the rest is un-put-down-able. In my mind, my three-act structure broke the story into three even parts. The first mini-climax, where Part 1 leads into Part 2, is when Alexis learns about Tristan's secrets. That part starts at page 98. See the correlation?

However, with Bell's point that Part 1 ends at the first doorway, that really happens when Alexis decides to give Tristan the benefit of the doubt. Her point of no return is really on page 63. And of a 355-page book, that's just within Bell's suggested 1/5 mark. So why do the hard-to-capture readers say it drags? Apparently because I didn't emphasize enough that she'd passed through that doorway. Or that it was even a major threshold for her to cross. I can easily see this now.

So all of this got me to thinking...is this why agents ask for 60-75 page partials? That's 1/5 through a 300-400 page novel. That's enough for them to get to know the narrator's voice, the author's writing style and the premise of the book. But maybe it's that specific number of pages because they want to see that the author has taken them through that first doorway by this time. And they want that doorway to be clear and exciting. After all, agents are going to be the hardest-to-capture readers. If you can impress them, you're on the right path.

Just something to think about as you're crafting your story and when you think you're ready to query (or self-publish). Look at those first 60-75 pages and ask yourself if your protag has gone through that first doorway yet and if it's obvious that he's crossed a point of no return. I could be wrong about this being the reason agents ask for 60-75 page partials - I'm certainly not an agent - but, really, it should be your goal to suck them (and readers) in by then anyway. To get them beyond that point of no return so they'll keep reading to the last page.

What do you think? Do you think this is why agents ask for that many pages? Have you followed Bell's structure when planning your novels? Can you think of a book you love that doesn't have the first doorway in the first 1/5-1/4 of the book?

Sunday, July 3, 2011


After being only the 8th author in history - and the 1st self-published author - to sell 1 million ebooks on Kindle, John Locke has been the latest buzz in the publishing industry. His new book, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months, may lead some people to believe that he's an overnight sensation. But, as is usual when someone makes it big, it wasn't so easy.

Locke put a lot of time and effort into achieving what he has and it started long before the 5 months to 1 million sales began. But he's an astute businessman and an investor and he has, smartly, applied business fundamentals to selling his books. When it comes to his books, from the first word he writes to his marketing system, everything is done with a purpose. He explains his success system in this short book. Yes, it's short - I read it in a couple hours - but that doesn't mean it's superficial.

What I Liked About This Book:
  • First and foremost, his emphasis on knowing your target market - your reader - Of course this is my favorite part! After all, this is what I stress all. the. time. in my Monday Marketing series. You must know everything you possibly can about your reader so you know where to reach them and the best message that grabs them and makes a connection. You must know how much they'll spend on a book by an author they don't know as well as how much they'll pay for an author they do know and love. You must know where they learn about new books and where they buy. Knowing your market is the foundation to effective marketing. Without it, everything else falls down.
Locke takes it a step further - by knowing his readers and what they like about his stories, he writes his next book with that in mind. It's not the same thing as writing for trends or what you think readers, in general, want. This is understanding your specific readers and what they like when it comes to characters, situations, plots, steaminess (for romance), crassness of language, details in blood and gore, etc.
I, personally, have to write the story that I'm given, not what readers tell me should happen because then the story isn't true. But, it's a good idea to know how much gore your readers can stand, if they like details of a scene and poetic language or if they want the down-and-dirty, nitty-gritty action. Because if you turn them off with a single scene in one book, you might have lost an otherwise lifetime fan.
No, you can't please them all all of the time. You have to write your story. However, if the difference is something that doesn't matter to you but does matter to your readers, then make your readers happy!
  • His views on self-marketing vs. traditional marketing - Locke made some excellent points about why this is a good time to go indie, but what I really liked were his ideas on why today's publishing and book world calls for new means of marketing. Although he emphasizes the need for self-pubbed authors to fight their own fight - and not their opponents' way - this can all be used even by the traditionally published author, especially those given little attention and marketing dollars (at least 90%!) by their publishers. It's a new game now. Why should any of us be playing by the old rules?
  • Usable marketing techniques that make sense - Locke gives you a straightforward plan that worked for him and can be easily followed to work for pretty much any writer who gives it the time and effort it needs. Which, really, isn't overwhelming and no more (and possibly less) than what most authors do right now. It's a proven system. At least for one author. Only time will tell if it works for everyone who uses it.

What I Didn't Like About This Book:
  • His underestimation of what worked in his favor - I strongly believe Locke underestimates many other factors that led him to success besides the system he shares in this book. The number of books he had out at the time he started his plan, pricing, timing and some luck all go into it, too. I can say this because I've pretty much have been using a similar plan, although there are a couple areas where I can improve. Maybe those are the areas that would make all the difference in the world, but I don't think so. Because my sales have really been great in the last few months - hundreds of books a day and thousands a month. That's nothing compared to Locke or many other indies out there. BUT, I only have 2 books out!
Locke does recommend having at least 4 out to expect incredible results and I really think that's a big part of the secret - probably THE biggest part. If you look at the few indies who are highly successful - Amanda Hocking, John Locke, Michael Sullivan, etc. - they have 6, 7, 8 books out before sales really take off. If a reader really likes your book, they're going to read the next one (whether or not it's a series) and they'll keep doing so until they read something they don't like so much and lose their love or they run out of books. Momentum is built. But it also slides when they run out of books and it slides a lot faster the sooner they run out.
  • Style/structure of the book - This is probably just a personal annoyance to me because I'm so familiar with copywriting techniques. You know those junk letters you receive in the mail that really suck you in because everything sounds so good? They're usually for some kind of magazine or other information service that will make you wealthy, healthy or more knowledgeable about whatever subject it is (from investing to traveling to parenting). I've taken courses on how to write those. I know the techniques used that make direct mail so successful. And I believe Locke does, too (notice that he's an investor and how the topics of these letters are often investing...). This book reads like those letters. The only difference is that he actually provides his plan in the book and isn't trying to sell you anything additional. At least, not yet. Did I mention the man is an astute businessman? I'm sure he'll recognize other business opportunities available here and make the right business decision about them.

There is a lot more I could say about this book, but this post is already so long. I had to keep my likes and dislikes to a minimum. What it really comes down to is this:

Recommendation: Yes, I'd recommend this book not only to those who are indie or are considering self-publishing, but to all authors. Especially those with no or very little marketing knowledge. Locke provides a good system to use. Unless you already have at least 4 titles to publish, just go into it with reasonable expectations. Even if you follow his plan to a T, you might not sell 1 million ebooks. You might sell more, you might sell less. But either way, I think you'll be satisfied with the results.