About Rebecca Lacko

Rebecca Lacko

A columnist and fiction writer, Rebecca Lacko chronicles the sometimes chaotic adventures of exploring the world with her husband and two sons.

Her food column, The Unassuming Foodie, has been featured in a celebrity charitable cookbook, which was the finalist in the cookbook category of the 2009 National Best Books Awards sponsored by USA Book News. Her blog, Rebecca Lacko allows a perfect distraction from writing her first fiction novel about a hopelessly dysfunctional Orange County family unraveling at the seams.


Latest Posts by Rebecca Lacko

5 Mistakes Overachievers Make For Those Type A Personalities

October 17, 2011 by  

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I never got it as a student. It wasn’t until I became a teacher of college chemistry that I understood how meaningless (or misleading) grades were. College is a shock to many.  Students who found high school easy often have to work a lot harder to get the same grades.  And many of them don’t like it one bit.

My teaching experience was my first insight into the idea that intelligence and innate talents weren’t always the gifts we portray them to be.  For some, intelligence becomes a crutch and challenge something to be avoided.  Others wrapped their entire self-worth around their grades, which meant their self-confidence was much more fragile than anyone realized.

It wasn’t until I got into career coaching that I saw how a pattern of overachieving might negatively influence one’s career choices.  In fact, my bio used to say I’m a “recovering Type A.”  I had to take it out because I realized I never “recovered” from my Type A personality, but I have learned how to channel it.

So when Everyday Bright reader Kelly Seiler asked me about my experience coaching perfectionists (we had a good discussion about it on Facebook), I thought this might be a good topic.  Then, when the NY Times published an article discussing research that proves your character is as important (or more so) than your smarts, I had to weigh in.

Here are the 5 biggest mistakes I see overachievers making, and how to overcome them.

1. The need to please

My parents gave me money for getting A’s in school, not for studying hard.  In fact, while my SAT scores were good enough to get me into some of the top colleges in the US, they were a terrible disappointment to my father, who’d been training me for a specifically higher score.

In his book, NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, Po Bronson discusses the research that shows one of the biggest parenting mistakes is telling kids how smart they are.  It’s called “the inverse power of praise.”  The result is a generation (or two) of people who are scared to death to take on any challenge which involves a remote chance of failure.  They not only have a reputation as a smart and talented person to maintain, but the love, affection and admiration they are addicted to seems directly related to their ability to achieve.

Among my traditionally successful clients, many of them struggle with what their boss or colleagues or parents will think about changing careers.  And too often, they imagine a response that’s not real.  It’s true that I had no less than 10 former bosses and colleagues call me when I decided to leave the Air Force, in an effort to talk me out of it.  But it was, in some regards, self-serving.  They all worked for the Air Force, and thought my departure was a loss for the service, not necessarily a loss of personal mental stability.

Reframe: We tend to think the only way to impress people is through the traditional measures of success: wealth, fame, or power.  But happiness can be much more impressive due to its scarcity, especially among those who have sought the traditional success indicators themselves.

2. Afraid of failure

Of course, the need to please also translates into a fear of failure more generally, leading to risk-adverse decision making.  As Everyday Bright reader Tricia Best-Hurtubise says in the Facebook discussion

As an ex-perfectionist, I would also take the “safe” job, the “sure” bet… the things I knew that I could do. The only way I would try something different is if I could reconcile it to something I already knew–that would give me the confidence to try it.

It’s important to recognize that the term “over-achiever” is a negative trait, a strength turned weakness.  Achieving turns those dreamers into doers, but over-achieving is haunted by the necessary trial-and-error involved in any big endeavor.  And this, as Tricia points out, leads wonderfully talented people to underestimate their abilities and choose the safer bet.

Reframe: Stop praising yourself for achievements and start focusing on your ability to work hard and take risk.  This goes for conversations with friends and family as well as your internal monologue.  The truth is, people love a struggle.  Get them involved in your efforts, and you’ll replace the congratulations with honestly peppy cheerleaders.

3. Inability to take a step backwards

As I said in my post Want to Change Your Life? Let Go of Your Old One, you may have to take a step back in order to take make progress towards the right destination.  Too often, over-achievers are so focused on the implications of taking a step back, they’d rather keep moving toward something they don’t want or no longer care about than do what’s necessary to change course.

This is especially true in career change, where there’s some unwritten code about what jobs constitute a step back in the first place.  Again, the real issue is an image problem, not one of momentum.

Reframe: Remember that the truly exceptional people in nearly any field are the ones who’ve been willing to tear down what they first created to build something better based on all their lessons learned.  Tiger Woods had to completely overhaul his golf swing.  Steve Jobs had to re-evaluate the early concepts of the Mac before he could completely dominate personal computing with handheld devices.  Think reinvention, which still incorporates all your previous accomplishments, instead of wasted effort.

4. Too many options

When you’re smart and talented, a lot of offers come your way.  The luxury of choice must be a good thing, right?  But too many seemingly good options can be agonizing.  For one, over-achievers try to optimize a problem that doesn’t have just one optimal answer, resulting in analysis paralysis.

But there’s another problem.  If you turn down a prestigious offer, you must be turning it down for something equally if not more prestigious.  But what if it isn’t?  How do you convince yourself to pursue the dreams that aren’t in line with society’s traditional definitions of success?

Reframe: You can’t control how many offers you get, but you can try to change the nature of them and certainly how you respond to them.  For one thing: be honest about what you want.  Tell people what motivates you and then let them try to come up with offers that match it.

5. Too impatient

The real secret is that over-achievers have trained themselves for efficiency rather than results.  When faced with a true challenge, they say “It can’t be done” instead of “it takes too long.”  A number of clients told me they felt they’d never get hired in a new career field because it was too different from their current work.

Reframe: The question usually isn’t whether or not something can be done, but how long it will take and how hard you’re willing to work at it.

In an interview I did with Copyblogger founder and online mogul Brain Clark, I asked him how he knew when to cut his losses.  What he said might well be the singular piece of advice over-achievers need to hear

There is a difference between general passion of what you want to do which could be a general field of subject matter or even broader. What you’re actually executing on at a project level is some very specific sliver of that. So just don’t be committed to one idea. Be willing to give that up, but don’t give up your broader passion. I think sometimes people don’t see the difference between. Failing at one execution within that realm is not the same as failing in general.

First you have to know what you want, then you find a way to get it.  It’s that simple.

The person you need to please is yourself.  And there’s no risk of failure when you never give up.  Nor are there too many options: most won’t even be relevant.

As I’ve said many times, we’re most proud of overcoming challenge, not avoiding it.

It’s inviting trouble into your life, and I can’t promise it will always be easy.  In fact, I can guarantee it won’t.

But you’ll be happier, and maybe for the first time in your life, you’ll have yourself to thank.

Reposted/published from: http://everydaybright.com/2011/09/5-overachiever-mistakes/

How to Write a Book or a Paper: 8 Steps for a Focused Writing Plan, Fact and Fiction

September 30, 2011 by  

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Let’s say you’ve been ruminating over a creative writing project based on true facts, compiled research, or a memoir. At first glance, you have a choice of two markets—fiction or non-fiction—but if we delve deeper, we see an emerging trend in publishing of successful combinations of truth mingling with fiction, offering readers information presented in an engaging, emotionally driven story arc. Publishing: it’s kind of like life, isn’t it?

Author Terri Giuliano Long offers insight about how to make the right choice to execute an effective, focused writing plan. Below are excerpts from her post 8 Steps for Focusing Stories.

At first skim, this info might look like Writing 101, but there is plenty of (mostly self-published–sorry) material out there lacking focus, a clear theme, direction and a point. I only post what rings true for me–which is to say I too once overlooked the importance of theme–and I’m here now to advocate against it.

1. Decide what form your story will take. This may seem basic, and to some extent it is, but there’s currently a great deal of crossover between fiction and nonfiction. Writers use the same techniques to craft narrative nonfiction as they use when writing fictional stories.

In the past, questions about form often came down to whether the writer preferred or felt more comfortable with expository writing or fiction. It’s no longer necessary to make that distinction. Frank
McCourt’s wonderful memoir Angela’s Ashes, for example, reads like a novel, with carefully rendered scenes, dialogue, description and so forth pulling readers into the moment. This flexibility gives us greater freedom, and also presents a confusing array of options.

2. Consider your purpose. What do you hope to achieve by writing this story? If your goal is to educate readers, you might consider a news or magazine article, in which you state your ideas in a straightforward manner, and then use concrete evidence–facts, examples, expert testimony–to support them. If your goal is to create a work of art or enlighten your audience by inviting them to experience a situation, choose narrative.

You’ve defined your purpose, you know what you hope to accomplish, now -

3. Brainstorm. Although most how-to articles offer specific suggestions –map, create bubbles, free-write –experience tells me that there is no one correct way to brainstorm. For some writers, mapping works, while others, like me, figure out what they want to say only after writing it down. Do whatever you makes you feel comfortable.

Let you imagination run amok. Try to get as much down on paper as possible. Allow yourself to digress. If you’re writing about parent-child relationships and suddenly find yourself writing about
baseball–let yourself go. That may be the perfect lens for your story.

4. Draft and assess. Write a draft of your article, essay or story. Now read what you’ve written. As you read, ask questions. What appeals to you? Why? What stands out? What surprises you? Why? What catches your attention? Where did you spend the most time?

Look for patterns. Which words, descriptions or snatches of dialogue have you repeated? The answers to these questions will tell you what interests you most in the piece.

If you have trouble answering these questions or finding a pattern -

5. Create a rough outline. If you’re like me, you have outlines and lists and details on everything. But, there is a growing and rowdy population pantsing it, writing organically. –RL. That’s
fine, says Ms. Long, but, “lie if you must. Tell yourself this isn’t really an outline.”

Go through, paragraph-by-paragraph or scene-by-scene–chapter-by-chapter, if you’re working on a book –and jot down the main point in each. No need to write in sentences, but each point must be
simple, precise, and clear. When you’re finished, read your descriptions.

After we’ve read and reread a piece, words tend to blur. Ideas that seemed perfectly clear in our head morph into confusing, amorphous blobs. This exercise does two things: first, it breaks the work into component parts. There’s a reason marketers write in bullets–they’re easier to see, read and absorb. It also creates distance. If you don’t have the time to put the work away, let it rest and look at it later, dissecting it puts you in a different frame of mind and enables you to see the piece more objectively.

6. Identify Meaning. A story may have a clear beginning, middle and end, yet lack focus. While the plot moves clearly from A to B to C, the meaning or focus is unclear. This is called an anecdote. Focused stories add up to something; they have a focused meaning, a theme.

We can tell a story in many different ways. Suppose you witness a fire: you can ramble, give a directionless accounting, listing any detail that comes to mind. Or you can focus on a single aspect of
the fire–the courage of the firefighters, for instance, or the way the community rallied around the victims. By shaping a story around one particular focal point, selecting and relating only those details that further the point, you convey meaning.

Consider the example of the parent-child story and the baseball details that emerged in your draft. Maybe to make your point about changing parent-child relationships, you tell a story about
baseball. The plot relates the events of a story; the focus divulges your meaning, also known as “theme.”

7. Select and weed. Now that you’ve identified your focus, reread your draft or list. Which of the details or your list relate directly to your main idea? Which digress? Be precise. Muddy thinking produces muddy writing. Retain only those details that have a strong, concrete connection to your focal point. Cut all loosely connected ideas. I know, you can’t bear to throw your lovely words
away. Don’t. Use them in a different piece.

8. Revise. Be sure each scene–every detail–relates directly to, or in some way clarifies or develops your theme. Emphasize the most important scenes or points – in other words, emphasize those sections that crystallize your meaning. In a story, develop key scenes or important details or
descriptions. In essays, emphasize, or spend the most time developing, key points. Emphasis provides direction, tells the reader when to pay close attention. These signals clarify focus and pull your meaning to the forefront.

What strategies do you use to focus your ideas?

Terri Giuliano Long’s debut novel, In Leah’s Wake, hit the Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestseller liststhis summer. (You can also visit IndieBound and order for pick up or delivery through your local bookstore.) She teaches writing at Boston College and blogs about writing and the writing life here.

Fiction Writing: 7 Elements of the First Page

June 23, 2011 by  

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First pages are like first dates. No, worse. First pages are more like the ten seconds it takes your blind date to come into sight and walk toward your table. It’s often a make-or-break deal, and in many cases, a delusive representation of what follows in chapters behind.

Or am I jaded? More often than I care to admit, a book’s finel- crafted opening pages evoke lovestruck stars in my eyes, much as one too many nervous cocktails over tentative introductions. But when I dig deeper, get to Chapter Two–or the second date, as it were–the luster of those brilliant opening lines fades to a dull incompatibility. But, we can discuss second dates/chapters in another post!

The dating world and the publishing world share a urgent requirement to hook the bait from that first glance. Below, a guest post from  Linda R. Young’s W.I.P. It blog shows us the seven elements a first page should include. (I’m tempted to share seven first date tips, but then you’d have to “red-mark” me for digression.)

1. A distinctive voice. A unique voice is essential to capture the imaginations of the readers and pull them into the story. Voice will make your novel stand out above the rest.

2. A strong character. Readers will engage with strong and interesting characters.

3. A sense of time and place. This grounds the reader into the story. They should
be able to recognise the story’s genre in the first page. These should be markers only. Avoid wads of descriptions.

4. Questions. Don’t answer all the reader’s questions at once. Don’t give them everything they need to know about the characters, the history, the setting. They don’t need paragraphs of backstory. They don’t need–or want–everything explained too soon.

5. Intrigue. More than simply holding the cards to your chest, tease the reader into wanting to know more.

6. The point of change. The story should start at the point of change. This
change should reflect conflict. Note: the conflict doesn’t have to be explosive.

7. No wasted words or throw-away lines. Keep it tight. Every word should have a reason for being. Try to avoid redundancies.

Can you think of other essential elements in the first page?
How many times have you rewritten your first page?

Guest Post: Lynda R. Young writes fantasy and science fiction short stories, and is working on two Young Adult novels. One is an Adventure Fantasy set on the High Seas and the

other is a Steampunk Fantasy.

Feel the Heat: Sex and Fiction. 8 Tips for Building Tension

June 12, 2011 by  

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Will your fictional characters, at some point, hit the sheets?

As most of us creative types enjoy a delicious romp in the sack in real life, it shouldn’t be too difficult to apply our trusty, book-enhancing observational skills to break down, scene by scene, moment by smokin’-hot moment, the escalating tension between our first horny thought and the ultimate coupling of bodies. Right?

Wait, should we depend on our own experiences, and are we willing to “expose” our own life experiences on the page for everyone (hi Mom) to see?

Dallas romance writer (and bewitching Twitterati) Roni Loren posted some effective advice for ramping up the sexual tension on her blog, fictiongroupie.blogspot.com. “From YA all the way to the steamiest of romances, this is a vital ingredient if you have any kind of romance thread whatsoever,” says Loren. “Even if a kiss never happens, you can have your reader sweating through a scintillating ‘will they/won’t they’ tension so that even if the characters grab one other’s hands, your reader will hold her breath.”

So how do we create this tension so that when you finally give your reader the big payoff–the kiss, the “I love you,” the boom-chicka-wah-wah?

Author Roni Loren’s advice for building sexual tension:

1. Make the attraction that each feels for the other obvious to the reader.

The characters are hyper-aware of all the little details of the person when he/she is around. Use all the senses, not just sight. (Note: this is an opportunity to illustrate aspects of your characters, whether those  are physical traits, or emotional: her Daddy issues, his preference for redheads thanks to an unexpected overture by a cherry-haired vixen in his youth, her need to learn to trust again, his tendency to rescue, etc.

2. No conflict = no tension

Make sure there are good reasons why these two can’t be together–internal and external.

3. Use internal dialogue

The hero may be clenching his hands at his sides, but tell us why: the urge to reach out and touch the heroine’s hair is overwhelming him.

4. Always on each other’s mind

If your hero and heroine aren’t together in a scene, then have their thoughts go to the other so that we know he/she can’t get the other off his/her mind.

5. Patience, grasshopper

Don’t relieve the tension too quickly. Frustration must build and build. There’s a reason why the first love scene doesn’t usually happen until 2/3 the way through a book. (Note: be true to your characters. Maybe it
has been a pattern of your character to hop into bed right out of the gate, but the reader must walk the long road with them as they uncover feelings of real love.

6. Here we go, wait, not so fast

Give you characters a taste of what they could have, then make them stop. This is the famous device on sitcoms where they start to kiss, but then someone bursts in to interrupt. It doesn’t have to be that obvious. One of the characters could be the one to stop (usually for some internal reason related to the conflict between them.)

7. It’s addictive

Once you do let the two get together the first time (be that a kiss or full-out lovin’), leave them wanting more. Instead of satisfying their need/curiosity/etc., they want each other even more. Now they know what they could have if not for all that pesky conflict. Damn those mean authors who put so much in their way.

8. When all looks like it’s going to work out, pull them apart again.

Romantic comedy movies do this all the time: The characters seem to resolve some conflict and get together. Oh but wait, there’s more! Some conflict wedges between them again.

Don’t resolve the relationship until very near the end. Otherwise, the reader will lose interest.

So how about you? Does your novel have a romance or undercurrent of one?

What author do you read that is a master at creating sexual tension?

10 Simple Ways to Support Authors You Love, and Love the Readers Who Support You

June 9, 2011 by  

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I’ll admit it, I’m a fangirl. Not the standard sci-fi-ish kind, but a fangirl of authors–and literary agents (specifically those with hearts willing share knowledge gleaned from publishing experiences). When an author’s amazing book inspires awe, when an agent teaches a class with the intention of improving and inspiring our burgeoning manuscripts, or writes a blogpost containing encouragement and advice for other writers–well, I want to return the favor of their generosity and give them a (virtual) hug.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t read JodyHedlund‘s book, The Preacher’s Bride. For my tastes, a period romance with (I’m assuming) religious themes is not something I would select at the bookstore. But I can’t get enough of her blog, a vast compendium of rational, well-thought-out, organized and helpful advice on the craft of fiction writing. (She MUST teach a writing class. She must.)

Her advice is so thorough, so intelligent, and in many cases so refreshing, that I’ve grown curious about reading The Preacher’s Bride–I’d like to witness the application of Hedlund’s fascinating writing theories. (And maybe I’ll love the story! Who am I to judge a book by its cover? Once, on a long flight, someone left behind a Nora Roberts paperback. Out of sheer boredom I picked it up… and read it cover to cover, greatly impressed by Roberts’ seamless story-telling prowess. I think I cried at end.)

It is in the spirit of gratitude that today’s guest-post features excerpts from Jody Hedlund’s 10 Simple Ways to Support Authors You Love. ”Before I was published,” says Hedlund, “I didn’t realize how much authors appreciated readers taking the time to publicly support them. In fact, I didn’t know my support was important. And even if I had known, I wouldn’t have had a clue what kinds of things would help my favorite authors the most.”

What kinds of action can we fans take to lend support? “Yes, THE best support is actually reading the author’s book,” contends Hedlund, “But, if you enjoyed the book, you’ll do the author a big favor by taking the support one step further. That one step can make a huge difference.”

Here are Hedlund’s ideas for choosing which “one step” feels right for you:

1. Write a book review and post it on Amazon. If you’ve ever ordered on Amazon then you’re eligible to post a review. It’s very simple to do and incredibly helpful (if it’s a good review!). The Preacher’s Bride has garnered several #1 slots on Amazon’s Kindle store due to the positive ratings readers have taken the time to write. (so THANK YOU to those who’ve done that already!) [Side Note: If you’re a writer, use your author name when writing reviews. This can give your name extra exposure. For example, Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont, put the first review for The Preacher’s Bride on Amazon (and she did a fantastic job with the review!). Now her name and book are the first that people see when they visit the Amazon page for The Preacher's Bride.]

2. Copy and paste your review onto other online bookstores. There’s nothing wrong with copying your Amazon review and using it on other sites, like GoodReads, Shelfari, Barnes&Noble.com or CBD.com.

3. Click the “Like” button on a book’s Amazon page. (You’ll find it near the top of your fave book’s page.)

4. Click on the “Tags People Associate With This Product” on Amazon. If you scroll down on The Preacher’s Bride Amazon page, you’ll see approximately 32 tags. The more tags and the more clicks, the better a book will come up in search results.

5. Tweet about the book. Recently Pamela Trawick tweeted a noteworthy tweet about The Preacher’s Bride. In 140 characters she managed to capture the essence of her reading experience: The Preacher’s Bride is outstanding. Great tension, good pace, fabulous plot. Read it. (Thanks, Pamela, for a fantastic shout-out about the book!)

6. Make a short comment of praise about the book on Facebook (or copy the one from Twitter). Twitter streams move quickly, and so tweets come and go. But on Facebook, news has the ability to stick around a bit longer. Be sure to include the author’s name (when you use an @ in front of any name, it will make the comment show up your Facebook wall and theirs).

7. Pass along the book to a friend or to family. And ask them to pass it along when they’re done.

8. Buy the book as a gift for friends and family. Publishing houses keep track of every book sale. And each purchase is important to an author. [Side note: If you win a book or get a free ‘influencer’ copy, you can still buy a copy of the book and give away one copy as a blog prize or gift to someone.

9. Ask your local library to carry the book. First check if they have the book (you can usually look it up online). And if they don’t, next time you’re at your library, personally request the book.

10. Make an effort to pass on your love of the book. Somehow, someway tell someone how much you liked the book. Word-of-mouth is the best way to help support an author! The more times a person hears about or sees a book, the greater the chances that they’ll pick it up and read it.

What other practical ideas have you done to help support authors? Have you taken the time to publicly support a book or author you’ve liked? Or haven’t you given it much thought before now?

Marketing is part of the job description of the modern author. Whether we’ve gone with self-publishing, small indie press, or the traditional route, all authors must market. However, writers tend to be happier working quietly, alone. There aren’t many gleefully self-promoting writers , eager to talk endlessly about him/herself and his/her book.

How can we avoid turning our marketing and promotion efforts into a litany to ourselves? Here are Jody Hedlund’s three ways:

1. Connect With Readers: Pay attention to what they’re saying on our blogs, facebook, and twitter. Be available. Make sure do the best we can to answer personal emails and messages.

2. Engage Readers: Don’t stand on the sidelines. Instead jump into social media conversations. Ask questions on Facebook or Twitter. Discover what people think or how they feel about issues.

3. Care For Readers: Find ways to let them know we appreciate them. Offer encouragement. Be real and open so they feel comfortable sharing their concerns and problems with us. In one word: LOVE. Yes, love your readers.

I was recently having a phone conversation with Founder/Senior Designer, Kelli Standish of PulsePoint Design. We were brainstorming website marketing ideas for The Doctor’s Lady (Jody Hedlund’s second book, releasing Sept. 1, 2011). She gave me a number of fantastic ideas—strategies I plan to implement in the days leading up to my book’s release.

However, in the middle of all our planning she said something profound and very key: “If you love your readers, they’ll promote the heck out of you.”

I’m sure we can all think of an author we’ve met online (or in person), one we’ve grown to admire and respect because of how personable and kind they are. I know it makes a huge impact on me when an author is down-to-earth, chats with me, retweets something I say, leaves a comment on my blog, etc.

I may have already liked that particular author. But my admiration rises even higher when they take the extra effort to connect with me. In fact, I recently wanted to help James Scott Bell get the news out about his newest e-book, Writing Fiction For All Your Worth, simply because he’s connected with me online in such a genuine way.

On the reverse side, our admiration for authors diminishes when they act too busy for us, don’t respond to something we say, or only chat within a certain circle of author friends.

My point is that if we as writers grow to appreciate other writers/authors who connect with us, imagine how much that means to our readers when we make an effort to relate to them.

Marketing 101: Start by loving the readers we already have (including followers on social media sites). We may want more. But first we have learn to take care of those that are already sitting in our stadium. We need to figure out ways to bless and encourage the audience that’s before us.

When we’re loving and taking care of the readers and followers we have, they’ll WANT to support us. They may even go out of their way to help us and shout out the news about our books. They’ll be excited to promote for us, essentially taking a large part of “self” out of self-promotion.

We won’t need to toot our own horns so loudly because our readers will do the tooting for us.

What do you think? Have you supported authors because you’ve learned to like and appreciate them? Is “loving your readers” a good strategy? Or do you think it’s lame? If so, what do you think can work better?

 

Publishing with Kindle Single For Not Quite Full Length Books

March 26, 2011 by  

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I stumbled upon Debbie Weil’s thoughtful take on publishing through Amazon’s fabulous “new” concept, Kindle Singles. Weil is the author of one of the first and most definitive books about business blogging: THE CORPORATE BLOGGING BOOK.

Her article intros with perception I’ve wrestled with myself: your book is your platform. In Weil’s case, she is intrigued by her research about Baby Boomers and social media, but she knows all too well that when an author releases and speaks about her book, it becomes accepted as her area of expertise; young at heart, Weil is reticent about becoming the “old person” expert. I get it, too. I have a collection of published nonfiction materials on the topic of family and spirituality, and the makings of a nonfiction book outlining (what I believe could be) an entirely fresh take on making every part of your life more enriching. On the flipside, my novel in progress is decidedly more edgy, not always “pretty,” and my characters are not necessarily interested in thinking about spiritual or religious ideas.

Debbie Weil explains, “Amazon was clever enough several months ago to identify a new publishing space in the age of short attention spans. It’s called the Kindle Single and it’s for almost-book ideas, 10,000 to 30,000 words in length. For those who’ve written a book, a typical chapter is 5,000 words. Amazon calls a Kindle Single ‘a compelling idea – well researched, well argued, and well illustrated – expressed at its natural length.’”

“This is brilliant,” Weil adds. “It combines the possibilities of rapid self-publishing with the natural appetite of readers for less – quick, compelling and digestible.”

I couldn’t agree more. Like most writers with a variety of niches, this digital format gives the opportunity to cast a wider net to a variety of audiences.

Weil also included a solid list of Kindle Single related links:

Named one of the Most Influential Women in Technology in 2010 by Fast Company, Debbie Weil is a rare species – a Baby Boomer who is a digital native. She launched her first website in 1995, she has been blogging since 2003 at debbieweil.com/blog.

Thoughts on Plots….and whatnot…with James Thayer

March 15, 2011 by  

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When people ask what your book is about, they are really asking about the plot. A response: “It’s about two German Shepherds sniffing for buried treasure,” only scrapes the surface. Why dogs? Why that breed? What kind of treasure? Where? When? What must they overcome in order to sniff it out? What will they do with it once they find it? Why should I care?

At the risk of digressing, the author and tweeter @NathanBransford pointed out that a pitch formula should read: When OPENING CONFLICT happens to CHARACTER, they have OVERCOME CONFLICT to COMPLETE QUEST.

Master Storyteller Jim Thayer, author of 13 books and new manual for novelists, The Essential Guide to Writing a Novel: A Complete and Concise Manual for Fiction Writers offers his take on novel plots. The following are excerpts from his post on authormagazine.org:

What is a plot? According to E.M. Forster in Aspects of the Novel, a plot is an organization of events according to a “sense of causality.”  Encyclopedia Britannica says a plot is “the structure of interrelated actions, consciously selected and arranged by the author.”

What isn’t a plot? Forster says this isn’t a plot:  The king died and then the queen died. But this is a plot: The king died, and then the queen died of grief, because of the causality.

Christopher Booker says there are only seven plots: overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy and rebirth.  Others think there are only five plots: man against man, man against himself, man against nature, man against society, and man against God.

Don’t worry about finding a truly fresh plot: Donald Maass says, “There are certainly no new plots.  Not a one.”  The legendary Simon & Schuster editor Michael Korda says, “In books, as in other things, there is nothing new under the sun.”  The fear of imitation is immature, according to Edith Wharton.

Make sure the plot is big and bold. Most of us are happy if our lives have a nice equilibrium.  We don’t want a life that’s a county fair ride. Not so for our plot, though.  Novelist and writing teacher Sol Stein says a reader “is primarily seeking an experience different from and greater than his or her everyday experience in life.”  Stein compares readers to sports fans: “The spectator seeks the excitement that does not usually occur in daily life.”  Erica Jong says a novel “must make my so-called real world seem flimsy.”  Kurt Vonnegut agrees: “I don’t praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways to keep readers reading.’’

How do we know if we have a workable plot? If we can reduce our story to one or two sentences—called the pitch in the movie industry and often called the handle in publishing—we may have a successful plot.  And if we can’t, something may be missing.

The pitch will force us to trim our idea to its essentials, to a plot.  David Morrell points out, “There’s a huge difference between having an ‘idea’ and elaborating it into a plot.”  Publishers don’t want an idea.  They want a plot.  As Gerald Petievich says, “If you can’t tell yourself what your story is in one or two sentences, you’re already running into trouble.”  A story has certain elements, and if your pitch doesn’t have those elements, you don’t yet have a story.  Petievich adds, “As complex as your novel might turn out to be, it’s essential you be able to state clearly what your basic story is and where it’s going.

What are the elements of a pitch?  Donald Maass sets them out: “1. Where is your story set?  2. Who is your hero or heroine?  3. What is the main problem they must overcome?  4. Where do you think this novel fits in the marketplace?”  If our novel can’t be pitched in one or two sentences, we haven’t thought about it sufficiently.  We may be missing some ingredients in our plot, or your story may be too rambling.

James Thayer’s thirteenth novel, The Boxer and the Poet; Something of a Romance, was published by Black Lyon Publishing in March 2008.  He teaches novel writing at the University of Washington Extension School, and he runs a freelance editing service called Thayer Editing.

Author Teddy Wayne’s Tips for Book Publishing Publicity

March 7, 2011 by  

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I’ll be honest with you. I just wrote an entirely new scene in a different POV and tense for my novel RADIO HEAD, inspired by the phenomenal workshop I attended at UCLA with instructor Lisa Cron. She has graciously agreed to critique it for me, and so here I am, with breath held. I’m stymied because I can’t write another word of my novel until I hear from her–I want to know whether the new point of view, and the fresh tense, really work. I loved writing the scene, and would like to continue, but can’t help but wrestle with the doubts clinging fearfully to such a wildy different approach the story. If it works–please work!!–then I will begin rewrites on existing scenes, to match the intimacy and immediacy of the experimental style. Until then, I’d like to obsess further on the fine points of publicizing your about-to-be-published novel. (Think I’m not obsessing? I also posted Inara Scott’s top five publicity tips here.) An author must work just as hard on a book’s success after the deal is won, and preparing this info helps me proactively keep my eye on the prize while I await what will hopefully be a green light.

Complementing my last post on Agent Laurie Abkemeier’s tips for connection with your readers, I’m pleased to share author Teddy Wayne’s clever publicity tips learned after publishing his debut novel, Kapitoil,
last April, for both before and after your book comes out.


BEFORE YOUR BOOK IS PUBLISHED
:

  • Make a Web site, preferably from your name (not your book’s title—it’s a long career you’re trying to build). Author pages on publishers’ sites rarely do a good job. A decent site costs $500-1,500, depending on the designer and the complexity, or you can make one on the simple-to-use weebly.com that’s either free or low-cost (pay to use your own domain name, not one with weebly at the front). Use your book cover as the graphical theme. Teddy Wayne’s site displays review excerpts on the homepage, and has separate pages for additional press coverage, a summary of the book, events, news, my freelance articles, my biography, and contact information; you shouldn’t need much else except a blog link, if you maintain one.  Simple is fine; unprofessional-looking is not.
  • Tactfully prevail upon any media friends and acquaintances. Ask politely if they’d like a galley, and if they accept, let them know you’re available to contribute something to their publication or do an interview down the road.
  • Likewise, cold-email people you don’t know at media outlets with the same (tactful) offer.
  • Pitch your hometown newspaper and alumni magazine; they’re more likely to run a profile on you.
  • Diversify. This is common sense, but print plus online exposure remains far more influential than solely online.
  • Pay attention to the publication where you’ll be hawking your book. Do the people who read the publication also buy this type of book? A small literary website may be a better bet for promoting an avant-garde novel than a national gossip magazine.
  • Publish an excerpt of your book. If you’re lucky enough to land a well-known print publication, then doing so in advance can build up buzz. Otherwise, it’s probably best to wait until the publication day so readers can buy it immediately.
  • Similarly, try to score a couple of other publicity mentions elsewhere a month or two before publication—but don’t burn them up before the book is available.
  • Set up a Twitter account under your name. Since my book is set in 1999, I created a gimmicky Twitter feed for the name @TeddyWayne1999 and, for the first couple of weeks, satirically unearthed my supposedly archived Tweets from 1999 (such as “7/13/99: Stepping out for a night of swing-dance lessons in my new Hawaiian shirt.” I eventually started using it to dispense regular news about the book. Create a Facebook fan page under your name, too, but Twitter is superior at disseminating information to people who don’t already know you.
  • Make a video trailer only if you can do so cheaply. Keep it under a minute. Be creative and, if appropriate, funny—don’t make one where it’s just you talking about your book. I put mine on my website, YouTube, and my Amazon author page, and it’s been embedded in a few other places.


AFTER THE BOOK IS PUBLISHED:

  • This is easier for nonfiction, but publish essays and anything else relevant to your book after it has come out (which means pitching editors the ideas beforehand, and months beforehand for print publications).
  • Get your friends to buy from a bookstore. (Generous) friends may ask you what the best way for them to purchase your book is. Although authors like seeing their rankings shoot up, buying books on Amazon doesn’t help nearly as much as in a bookstore, since the store is more likely to reorder it and prominently place it if the book is selling. Amazon doesn’t care. And you’ll be supporting a bookstore.
  • For Amazon, however, sign up for and use your individualized link for the Amazon Associates program, which gives you a small percentage of money back for every book ordered through it—and every other item ordered alongside the book.
  • After you’ve reached out to mainstream media, focus on independent book bloggers who have sizable followings. Your publisher should have relationships with some. Send them finished copies; bloggers don’t care about timeliness the way mainstream publications do.  There are also places that arrange book-blog-review tours, such as TLC Book Tours. Note that most book blogs lean heavily on female readerships.
  • Offer to go to friends’ book clubs if they read your book—and, if you’re willing, visit or speakerphone-call with strangers’ book clubs.
  • Don’t waste money on an extensive book tour unless it’s something you want to do for fun. Traveling to a place where you don’t know anyone will result in few sales. Instead, give multiple readings in your current city and anywhere else you know a lot of people. Try to set up an event at your alma mater; they may provide an honorarium and spring for your flight, which you can use for a reading in another city. Get in on group reading series, especially in other cities. Turn your first reading into a launch party—a few bottles of wine help bring people in.
  • Media attention begets further media attention. Overall, image, sadly, counts more than substance when it comes to publicity. Few people read books, but they do read capsule reviews and interviews and browse Web sites.
  • Lastly, just because you have to turn into a one-person self-promoting machine doesn’t exempt you from gratefulness and humility. Profusely thank everyone who has helped you; they didn’t need to. Spread word of your achievements in the hopes that others will spread it further, but unself-conscious boasting about your success on Facebook turns people off. Karma has a way of popping up—if not for this book, then the next one, and if not for your career, then for your life. Promoting your book can be a stressful experience, but keep in mind that no one else cares as much as you do, so don’t jabber about it incessantly. Try to enjoy it, do the best you can, and remember that the point, ultimately, is to connect with readers; everything else that’s mercenary and businesslike is a means to reaching that rare moment of intimacy.

Teddy Wayne is the author of the novel Kapitoil (Harper Perennial, 2010),  which was named one of Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels of 2010 and The
Huffington Post’s 10 Best Books of the Year. He lives in New York.

Check out my recommendations for books writers should read on the topic of–what else?–writing.

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