Posted in Fiction Writing, Misc Topic

Flashback Scenes

Admittedly, I am not a fan of the flashback scene, generally, because these tend to be written poorly and (mostly because I am in a snarky mood), end up being a huge information dump of weighed down cumbersome luggage. They wallow in or lean toward boring, and usually, the information contained in a flashback scene can be spooned into the prose where necessary.

Sometimes flashbacks are done well. And since we are talking about writing in scenes, and I want you to write your flashback scene well, in spite of my snarky temperament, it’s time to highlight the flashback.

What is a flashback scene?

A flashback scene is a scene that shows your character’s backstory to the reader. Backstory is your character’s history prior to the beginning of your novel and it is backstory that runs the risk of sucking your reader out of the present moment in your book.

A flashback scene should still contain all of the necessary elements of a good scene: setting, characters, movement, conflict, and tension etc.

A good flashback scene should be used infrequently, should be short, and be as quickly paced as possible. Most importantly, the flashback scene needs to be there for a reason. If it is just there to tell your reader about your character’s past, think about other ways to portray this information to your reader.

Flashback requirements:

  • Create a clear transition so your reader knows that they are reading a flashback.
  • Use past tense
  • Show a specific incident or use memories of specific incidents.
  • Make sure the flashback scene is tied to the current plot point.

At the end of your flashback, provide your reader with a clear transition back to the present plot. If you don’t provide a clear transition, you risk confusing your reader.

Next time: less snark. More scene writing.

Posted in Fiction Writing, Misc Topic

Scene Writing

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Scene Writing

It’s been a while. We last discussed writing in scenes in April, which seems a very long time ago. So let’s refresh.

Writing in scenes is the idea that if you plot out your novel in scenes, and you focus on writing the best possible scene, one scene at a time, including all the necessary elements to ensure that your reader is grounded in your story world, learns something about your character(s), discovers something about your plot, and ends the scene still wanting to read your novel you will end up with a successful, well-written book.

And it will take you a lot less time than just writing by the seat of your pants without any kind of outline.

I have harped (It’s true. I do occasionally harp) that there should be some kind of conflict on every or nearly every page. Conflict and movement are what move your story forward. So today, let’s jump back into it with…

Action Scenes

What is an action scene?

An action scene is a scene that depends on some form of movement, physical movement, through the setting of that particular scene. The movement can be large or small, but there must be movement.

How do you make movement happen?

Tell the events that happen in your scene in real time, which will allow the reader to feel that they are participating in the events. Think of your favorite action movie. Think of the car chase. Things move. Things happen. And the viewer discovers all the action at the same time as the character.

Action scenes move with some intensity. The pace of the story is much faster than other parts of the book. Your character doesn’t have time to ruminate on the events as they occur. They just occur. If your character needs time to reflect, let this happen later when things have slowed down.

Your characters must be fast on the draw during action scenes. They act first. They think later. Decisions are fast. Reactions are faster. It’s about intuition and instinct.

You can open your action scene in the middle of the action, or in medias res, where events and movement are already in motion.

If the action will begin later in the scene, be sure to set up the action for your reader. Use foreshadowing by the spoon full to indicate the coming action. In other words, give your reader hints. The hints will entice further reading.

One thing to keep in mind in the action scene is that the action and movement of your character, while they are in the midst of intense action, will reveal their true nature. Is your character a coward? They will freeze when they shouldn’t. Are they a hero? They might put themselves in danger to save someone else. See what I mean? And all of their behavior will be action without words or thoughts on your character’s part.

At the end of your action scene, your character should be changed in some way. It could be a small change or a significant one. Your character will also have to deal with all the ramifications of the things that happened in the action scene. Think karma. The decisions your character made will come back later.

Cliffhangers are great at the end of action scenes since they keep your reader guessing. Keep your reading hanging so they have to turn the page.

You can also end the action scene with some form of discovery. Your character can learn some important information that changes something for the character, or the character’s motivation. Or they learn something about their rival, or enemy, or lover, or what have you.

Just remember that the purpose of the scene is to move the story forward, so the action scene should be there for a purpose. If it’s just action, but it doesn’t reveal anything about your character or they don’t learn anything, then it could end up being a gratuitous scene with no purpose.

Next time: More scene writing

Posted in Fiction Writing, Misc Topic

Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 9

We’ve been talking about the various paths to publishing over the last several weeks. I hope that you have found this information helpful. Here are some final thoughts:

There are generally three ways to get your book published. You can publish your book yourself (self-publish), you can contract with an independent publisher (not affiliated with the Big 5), or you can contract with one of the Big 5 publishers (and you will need to get an agent first). Your choice of which path should be based on a business decision of how you want your business to run.

Do your due diligence and decide which publishing path is the best for you and then take the necessary steps to follow that path. Include Plan B, Plan C, Plan Z to get there. There will be time and work involved in each path. Accept it.

Regardless of the path you choose, there are some things that you should remember:

You are the brand. Your books are the product. This means that you should be professional at all times. You should present your products to your readers as best you can. Think in terms of longevity. This is not a fly-by-night gig. This is your legacy.

Never ever act like a diva. Seriously. Publishing is a small world and word gets around. I have met and worked with some fabulously famous authors who were amazingly kind and generous with their time. I recommend them to conferences and readers alike.

I will only interact with a diva author once.

Do your research and make a realistic marketing plan. Include things that will work for your personality and temperament and follow that plan on a regular basis. Consistency is important.

Make a realistic budget for your marketing plan. Yes, some marketing tasks are free but some marketing tasks are free for a reason (Read that last sentence again). Will you need to purchase author copies to give away? How many review copies will you send out? What about the cost of postage? What about bookmarks or postcards? None of these things are free. Research the cost of goods and services that you want or dream about doing, and include those in your marketing plan. Remember that EVERYBODY MARKETS. If you don’t want to market, then hire someone to market for you, but put that in your budget.

While you pursue publication:

  • Keep learning writing craft. You can always be better.
  • Read everything. And then read everything else.
  • Keep writing. Every day. Write to practice writing.
  • You have to write a lot to get good.

Next time: Back to writing your novel in scenes.

Posted in Fiction Writing, Misc Topic

Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 8

Continuing on with our discussion of the paths to publishing your novel, this week we are going to look at self-publishing, sometimes called independent publishing (but not to be confused with an independent publisher which is a small press). People use different terms and so it can be confusing. There are some who look down upon self-published authors as if self-published authors are not good enough to go the traditional route, but self-publishing can be the best decision for some authors. Self-publishing is a valid publishing path. Don’t let anyone tell you something different.

What you MUST know about self-publishing if you are considering taking this path:

Self-publishing is a lot of work. You, the author, are responsible for every aspect of your project. You will wear many hats:

  • Writer
  • Production Manager / Project Manager
  • Marketing Manager
  • Budget Manager / Accountant
  • Developmental Editor
  • Line Editor ***
  • Proofer
  • Cover Designer ***
  • Interior Layout Designer for print
  • Digital Layout Designer – knowledge of HTML and CSS
  • Public Relations Manager (crisis management, social media management, publicity management, event management)
  • Distribution Manager – where is your book available for sale?
  • Personnel Manager (manage outsourced talent?)
  • Public Speaker (book signings, appearances)
  • Quality Control Manager

***Note that each of these tasks requires specialized skills and no matter how amazing and fabulous you are, it’s probable that you are not a master of all of them and you will have to hire some of these tasks out. At a minimum, I recommend that you budget for, and hire an editor and a cover designer. Minimum, mind you. Minimum. You may need to hire out more than these positions.

There are many reasons to self-publish your book:

  • You want a bigger chunk of the retail dollar of your sales
  • You want to explore pricing models, new vendors and book marketing opportunities
  • You have a time-sensitive book and want to publish it fast (traditional publishing can take up to two years)
  • You want full control of your book inside and out, from your hands to your readers
  • You’ve written a book that falls outside the bounds of typical publishing—either because of its niche audience, it is specific to a particular region, you are using an experimentation of language, category, theme, etc.
  • You are a go-to person with a lot of time to do all the tasks

There are also reasons not to Self-Publish

  • It’s not as easy to be as successful as the few successful self-publishers make it seem
  • You will have much less time to write since you are doing all the work (or following up with others you’ve hired)
  • All of the promo/marketing efforts are solely yours
  • You have full creative control which means you, you alone, are responsible for bad decisions

Remember that publishing is a business and each and every decision you make will affect your writing career for good or bad. Make sure you are well-versed in the paths to publishing and then make a business decision on which is the best path for you. Remember that your path is your path, not your writer friend’s path. Choose wisely based upon a realistic inventory of what you can and can’t do, and what you will or won’t do.

Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 9

Posted in Fiction Writing, Misc Topic

Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 7

We continue on with our discussion of the three paths to publishing your novel. This week we will examine Independent Presses.

The first thing you should note when considering indie presses is that each and every one of them is different, operates differently, has a different contract, produces products of differing quality, and has different ethics. Indie presses are called small presses but they can be tiny one-person operations or huge organizations. What makes a publisher a small press/indie press is that they are not affiliated with the Big 5 Publishers, and they generate revenue of less than $50 million dollars a year.

Is any of this important to you?

It should be.

Are there bad indie presses you should be wary of?

Yes.

There are indie presses who will contract your book without reading it, do not edit or proof it, throw on a shitty cover, only do ebook, and call it published. This is not good for you, the author. If readers buy your book and put it down because it hasn’t been edited or proofed, and write bad reviews on Amazon or Goodreads this is bad for your writing career.

Don’t get me wrong. There are indie presses that ONLY do ebook and do a great job of it. But make sure this is what you want.

The point is you have to do your research. All indie presses are different. Each has their own process, and you need to know what those are.

Independent Press Information

  • The publisher contracts with you for the right to publish your work for a specific period of time. There should be an end date on your contract. Make sure there is.
  • The publisher assumes all costs of production of the book. You should not be charged for production, or marketing or anything else except author copies if you want additional copies of the book to give away or sell. If they want you to pay for your cover or production costs, they are a vanity press, not an indie press. Don’t do vanity press, unless you have a specific business reason for doing so.
  • There may or may not be an advance.
  • They may or may not accept unsolicited manuscripts, or they may only accept unsolicited manuscripts. You will need to research what the particular press’ policy is.

Not all Indie Presses are the same. Questions you need to ask:

  • Do they publish in print and digital? Digital only?
  • Where do they distribute? Amazon only? Ingram? Baker Taylor?
  • Do they do print runs or only Print on Demand (POD)?
  • What is their submission process? Each house will have a unique process and you will need to submit according to their rules. Some will want ten pages of your manuscript. Some will want three chapters and a synopsis. Give them what they require.
  • Contracts will be different at each house. If you are offered a contract, I highly recommend that you use a literary attorney to review your contract. There are contracts out there that are bad for authors. Really.
  • What are their royalty rates? They (probably) offer higher royalty rates and more flexible contract terms than the Big Five. But this is not always so. Do your homework.

What are the benefits of publishing with an indie press?

  • Small presses can kickstart your marketing efforts and aren’t afraid to think outside the box. The profit margins for indie presses are small in general, so they do tend to find ways to market on the cheap. But, there are indie presses who do no marketing at all. Ask.
  • Small presses may give you more editorial control. They may allow you to discuss requested edits to your manuscript. But they may not. This will be outlined in your contract, which you should read in detail.
  • You may have more accessible interactions with your editor. These interactions can translate into a more rewarding writer-editor relationship. You also may have the option of changing editors if you are unhappy with the editor you have. But, some presses only have one editor, so you should do your homework before you sign a contract with them.
  • Small presses offer unknown and emerging authors a place to get a foothold in their pursuit of success by publishing those early works upon which a career is built. You may never get a Big 5 contract, or you may get one later in your career. Either way, you will have time to grow your readership over time, and that is good for everyone.
  • Most indie presses have limited resources, so don’t expect the diva treatment. By the way, if you do the diva routine, you also could get your contract canceled for being a pain in the ass. Yes, this is possible. Remember that publishing is a business and you should be as professional as possible at all times.
  • The packaging of your book may not look as professional as a Big 5 package, but it might. Take a look at their website, ask to see a media kit. Do their covers look good? Do they even create media kits?
  • Ask if they have a marketing plan for their authors. Do they assist authors by sending out review copies? Do they advertise? Do they offer suggestions to their authors on what marketing they should be doing? Remember that every author markets regardless of the publishing path, but it’s always good to get help if it is available.

Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 8

 

Posted in Misc Topic

Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 6

Continuing our discussion of the three potential paths to publishing your novel, today we will talk about the difference between those paths, specifically focusing on contracting with one of the Big 5 publishers. See earlier posts for the similarities. Later posts will focus on contracting with independent presses, and self-publishing.

When you sign a contract with one of the Big 5 publishers:

  • The publisher contracts with you for the right to publish your work for a specific period of time.
  • You may or may not get an advance
  • The publisher assumes all costs of production of the book.
  • The Big 5 typically offers Lower royalty rates.
  • Better distribution than some independent presses.
  • Higher potential for bookstore placement.
  • Slow—can take up to two years to release.
  • They may have sales expectations. Keep in mind that there are many mid-list authors who make a good living by selling an expected number of books, and so you may be expected to meet a sales quota. This means it is possible that an author could get dropped if sales expectations are not met.

There are advantages to publishing with a major, traditional book publisher.

  • You’ll get multiple rounds —and different types —of book editing
  • You’ll get expert packaging and production
  • You probably will get a baseline amount of book marketing and book publicity
  • Your book has a better chance of getting bookstore shelf space
  • You will have a better chance of being reviewed.

But how do you submit your book to the Big 5 so you can get a contract?

Here is an example submission text at Hachette (website)

Publishers in the Hachette Book Group are not able to consider unsolicited manuscript submissions and unsolicited queries. Many major publishers have a similar policy. Unsolicited manuscripts, submissions, and queries will not be answered and the publisher will have the right to destroy any unsolicited material or mail without returning to the sender.

If you are interested in having a manuscript considered for publication, we recommend that you first enlist the services of an established literary agent.

What all this means is that you must have an agent. This means that you must submit to, and contract with an agent before you contract with one of the Big 5.

What makes a good agent?

  • Good communicators who are well-informed and organized
  • Assertive but not aggressive and advocate for the author, or the publisher
  • Maintain professional relationships with editors and publishers to get their projects read (by only shopping high-quality projects that are polished)
  • Are good negotiators who get higher royalties and advances

Realize that there are bad agents, just like there are bad independent publishers. Do your research and make sure the agent offering to represent you is who you want to represent you. You will ideally have a very long relationship with them over the entirety of your publishing career, so think about that before you sign.

Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 7