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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ask the Book Doctor about Radio Promotions


Questions from real writers, just like you; answers from Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas
 
Q: I haven’t a clue about how to promote my book on radio, yet I’ve heard other writers have been successful doing so. What’s the secret?

 A: Because I am a book editor, my expertise usually ends when a book gets published; however, I can tell you what a highly successful client of mine did.

He wrote a touching novel about a soldier in the Civil War, and he based it on information he found in an old family bible. He labeled the book fiction, because he added dialogue and concocted details necessary to pull the story together, but he inserted photographs of the decapitated house where the real family had lived as well as marriage records and other documents to back up his story. After I edited the book and he self-published it, he and his wife loaded up their motor home and took off. They stopped in small towns along the routes mentioned in his book, found bookstores or other venues that would allow him to hold book signings, and then called local radio stations and landed on-air interviews to promote his book and book signings. Perhaps because the towns were small and had few competing events, he managed to get large crowds at most of his events. After he sold out of the first printing, he told me he and his wife had planned to tour the South anyway, and much of his book-promotion journey turned out to be tax deductible, while he and his wife had a delightful trip and sold many books. They planned another tour for the second printing.

Q: I just noticed that you had a radio interview on self-publishing. I missed the interview; however, I would like to contribute some firsthand info about self-publishing. If you are a senior (I am 87), think twice about self-publishing. I self-published a Christmas book for children, and although I had several reliable distributors, I discovered that I still was expected to do signings, make appearances all over the country, and do much of my own marketing. I am too old to be traveling all over the country, and besides, it was Christmas. Who wants to be away from home around Christmas?

A: Thank you for your opinion on self-publishing. In truth, though, even if a traditional publisher buys your book, nowadays you're expected to market it yourself, and unless you're prepared to spend a great deal of time marketing, the book may not sell well. Read some good books or websites about book promotions and find a few tips you can use to promote your book without traveling too much. Sometimes you can get radio interviews or give seminars and events while working from home. Telephone lines and the Internet reach the world over, so personal appearances are not as vital as they used to be.

Q: I'm a stay-at-home mom of a two-year-old, and I have a book that I would like to try to have published, but I keep putting off sending in my manuscript because I'm afraid that if I ever do get published, I'll have to leave my son for a publicity tour. Could you please let me know what, if anything, I can do?

A: I am amazed at the obstacles we writers put in our own way. “I won't try to get my book published, because I don't want to leave my son” is like saying, "I won't buy a new outfit, because I’d have to wash it." Rather than thinking of a negative result, we must think of the positive outcomes from selling our books. In addition, we writers have options open to us that we may not yet know about.

Here's the truth about the publishing business: The chances of selling a manuscript are slim. If you beat those odds and sell your manuscript to a publisher, you may have to attend a book release party, give interviews, or attend a few book signings, but few publishers plan or finance publicity tours anymore. Most promotions are handled over the radio or Internet these days. The books that result in national TV and radio interviews are typically written by celebrities. Every time I see a celebrity on a talk show, I know he or she is pushing a new book or movie, and I'm usually right.

Don't let the fear of success or the reluctance to travel stop your forward movement. Trust that if the book sells, you will work out arrangements that suit you and your family, even if you do help with publicity. When the traditionally published first edition of my book Write In Style was released in 2004, the publicity "whirlwind" included a few newspaper and radio interviews that I handled by telephone. I love to be invited to speak at writers gatherings, where I can also sell the book, but it's my choice to accept those invitations, and it was never a requirement from my publisher.

Every time you think of a reason why you aren't moving forward with your book, study the logic behind your thinking and decide whether it's just another way to block yourself. Writer's block comes in many forms. Don't fall prey to it.

On a personal note, I’m thrilled to announce that the updated and expanded second edition of Write In Style, my book on how to use any computer to improve your writing, just won First Place in the How-To category in the 2016 Florida Book Festival winter competition, won a Bronze IPPY from Independent Publishers in the category of Writing, and was one of only five finalists in the Writing/Publishing Category of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Purchase the book at  http://tinyurl.com/o4trud2 or http://tinyurl.com/pnq5y5s.

Send your questions to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Bobbie Christmas, book editor and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions quickly. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.

 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

About Writing in Venacular versus Dialect

What is the difference between dialect and vernacular? Mostly it is readability, but also the decision to write in dialect versus vernacular can reflect poorly on a writer's skill. Here are some definitions:

Dialect: nonstandard spoken language; a regional variety of a language, with differences in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation

Vernacular: the distinctive vocabulary or language of a profession, group, or class

Conventional wisdom and today’s creative writing instructors discourage the use of dialect, yet creative writing has few absolute rules. Some writers get away with using a little dialect here and there. As writers we must remember, however, that dialect is substandard English. Do we want our writing to be substandard?

If we must, we can sprinkle one dialectical word here and there in dialogue, but I have a better suggestion. Instead of writing in dialect, the wiser choice is to write in vernacular. Vernacular uses word choices and word order to show that a speaker is not speaking standard English. When we write dialogue in vernacular, readers clearly see the shift and understand when someone is speaking with a foreign accent or a regional twist. 

As an example of vernacular rather than dialect, you might write this: "She wasn't no angel, if you ask me." Write in vernacular, and readers know the speaker is not speaking in standard English. In contrast, the same sentence written as "Sha warn't no anjel, iffen you ass me" would make readers stop and reread, to understand the sentence. We never want readers to have to back up and reread something, to understand it. When I read dialect, I often have to stop and read it aloud to understand it, and I'm therefore not a happy reader immersed in a story. Dialect loses readers, and we don't want to lose our readers.

If writers feel the urge to write a character’s dialogue in dialect, here’s the one immutable rule they absolutely must follow. They must not misspell words that would be pronounced the same if spelled correctly. In a one manuscript I edited, among some somewhat acceptable dialect, I also saw several misspelled words. For example, and I'm changing this entire sentence, so the author's work is protected, I might have seen a sentence that went like this: "I ain't cleer on whut choo want frum de sto, cos I cain't remember nothin'." As an editor, I repaired the incorrect spelling, but I left the use of the word "ain't," because that word is considered vernacular. The corrected sentence then went like this: "I ain't clear on what you want from the store, 'cause I can't remember nothing." As a reader, don't you still get the complete idea of how the reader spoke? Of course you did, and without a bunch of misspelled words.

Incorrect spelling does not equal dialect; it equals incorrect spelling. Period.

If you decide to use dialect, which is difficult to write well and even harder to read, at least remember to spell words correctly that have the same pronunciation whether spelled either correctly or incorrectly.

When we write in vernacular, however, readers have an easier time reading our books while still hearing the dialect in our heads.

How do you feel about writing in dialect? Do you like to read books with dialogue written in dialect? Do you have tips for other writers about dialect versus vernacular? Let me know. I may share them with other readers.

For more editing and creative writing tips, order Purge Your Prose of Problems here: http://tinyurl.com/4ptjnr.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

'Twas the Day after Christmas

After I moved to metro Atlanta in 1992, I started a new tradition in my family: Christmas Day at the Christmas House. For days in advance I cooked and prepared for an onslaught of friends and relatives who often numbered as high as twenty-five. Time marches on, though, and friends have passed away, family members have other obligations, and children have grown up and lost interest. Last year I changed my party to the day after Christmas, rather than Christmas Day, hoping to earn back some of the people who were unavailable Christmas Day. I did the same this year.

 Regardless of my plans, the universe takes its own path. By the end of the evening about twelve friends and family members had dropped in. On the bright side, because the group was small, we all fit in one room, all had seats, and we could have group discussions that are impossible in larger crowds. Even more than usual, my heart swelled with love and pride as I glanced around at the people who took the time to come by for a few hours. I might add that my house is a little out of the way; none of those folks live closer than a half hour, and most live much farther away. Three cousins live in Columbia, but still drove to Atlanta for the day. That’s love. That’s family commitment. Of course I felt love and pride and joy.

 Joy. I’ve had discussions with friends about the difference between joy and happiness. My opinion is that happiness is long term, because it dwells within us. We can decide whether to be happy or not, based on our reactions to life. Even the sickest of people can still feel happy for things, events, and people separate from their sickness.

 Okay, so happiness is long-term and internal, in my opinion. Joy, however, is caused by external factors, and joy is short-lived, which makes joy an even greater delight. I felt joy most of the day, yesterday, and then when two friends who had said they probably couldn’t make it called to say they were on their way, I experienced joy again. Certainly Christmas can bring joy to children who receive gifts they want. In our family and among my friends, we no longer exchange gifts, but we still give the gift of joy by sharing our time, space, and love.

 I hope you felt joy this holiday season, and I hope you always feel happy.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Loglines are Essential to Novelists


“Logline” was a term thrown around a great deal at the Florida Writers Association conference this past October. I’ve been editing books for decades, yet I’d never heard the term. Finally I found this description from the Raindance Film Festival website: “A logline is a one (or occasionally two) sentence description that boils the script down to its essential dramatic narrative in as succinct a manner as possible.”

 
Ah, so the word referred to scripts, yet FWA kept using it to refer to books. Yes, it has spread from the film industry to the book industry. Authors used to call our brief summaries elevator speeches, because each summary had to be short enough to be given in an elevator before floors. Today a logline can be part of an elevator speech, sometimes called an elevator pitch, but the logline must be able to stand on its own, as well. In simple terms, loglines tell what a story is about.

 
Loglines give the following information:

 
The main character—the protagonist

What he or she wants—the problem or goal

The villain or obstacle standing in the way of the protagonist —the conflict

The twist or unusual circumstance that makes the story unique

 
Some loglines include the setting, especially if it is essential to the story, as it might in in a science fiction novel that takes place on another planet, for example.

 
Here’s what a logline might look like for The Wizard of Oz:


In the 1950s a young girl on a drab Kansas farm from dreams of reaching a more colorful place, but when a tornado takes her to a mysterious new land, she has to fight evil witches, flying monkeys, and deceptive leaders, in her attempt to find her way back home.

 
Having a logline, a super-short summary, or elevator speech that describes your book helps you promote the book after it is written, keeps you on track while you are writing the book, and can help you come up with endless exciting ideas for new stories, before you even start writing. It can even help you discover the essence of your story, if you’re struggling to find it. In other words, loglines help before, during, and after you write a book.

 
For more information on loglines, sample loglines, and ways to create loglines for your own books (but ignore the many ads), see https://www.writersstore.com/writing-loglines-that-sell/ and here: http://www.literaryrambles.com/2010/02/log-lines-book-summaries.html. For what a simple formula that can help you create your own logline, see this page: http://graemeshimmin.com/writing-a-logline-for-a-novel/

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Conference Recap


Last week, October 15 through October 18, 2015, I attended and presented at the annual Florida Writers Association conference. As usual it was one of the best and biggest conferences I attended all year, topping out with more than 800 people in attendance. FWA goes a few things that others conferences don’t, and I’m surprised no one else has thought to mimic this conference. The biggest difference is that speakers have the opportunity to send in their handout sheets in advance, and FWA prints and binds them into a notebook that every attendee receives. No one can attend every seminar—four or more seminars take place simultaneously—but everyone gets all the handouts. In this way attendees still obtain valuable information in the handout books, regardless of whether they attend a seminar. In addition, attendees can take notes in the handouts notebook, so all their notes are in one place. 

This year the Royal Palm Literary Award banquet had two new features. In the past presenters read the loglines—the quick summary—of each winning entry before announcing the title of the winning entry, but often attendees could not quite hear or understand what was being read. This year the loglines also appeared on two huge screens, so all in attendance could read along and understand the concept of each winning entry. In addition, the awards presentations were greatly speeded up, so that despite the long list of categories and winners, the awards portion of the evening went by quickly and maintained its excitement throughout. Way to go, FWA! 

With my twenty-five or more years of experience attending seminars, classes, and conferences for writers, and with my forty-plus years of experience writing and editing, it would be easy to think I know it all and having nothing more to learn. Not so. I attended new and informative seminars on subjects such as how real-life bodies and buildings react to bullets and explosions as well as how the human brain reacts to stimuli. Every seminar I attended taught me something new or inspired me to write new and better things.  

I also gave four presentations. One focused on how to avoid pitfalls when hiring an editor. One challenged attendees to a short editing test, and I followed it up with a thorough explanation and discussion of all the flaws intentionally built into the test. I read some funny errors I’ve found in manuscripts and then explained ways to avoid making the same or similar mistakes. One seminar revealed information on how writers can beat the competition and increase their chances of selling their work. What an honor it is to impart helpful information to fellow writers! 

One of my favorite events was a Gong Show-style pitch fest, where writers were given three minutes to pitch their novels to a panel of six agents. If any agent lost interest in the pitch or spotted a big flaw in the pitch, he or she could hit a gong. Presenters who received three gongs had to stop presenting, but regardless, all presenters got great feedback from the agents after each pitch. Best of all, at least one woman’s pitch had agents vying over who would get to see her manuscript first. How delightful! 

In the end I left the conference inspired to dust off an old manuscript of a novel I started writing more than twenty years ago. I want to apply all the knowledge I’ve learned since then and see if I can improve it to the point that perhaps I might be one of the writers who gets to pitch her novel to an agent or a panel of agents at a future writers conference. 

As writers we should never become so tainted, self-confident, arrogant, or defeated that we stop attending gatherings of writers. Writers are the greatest folks, not only because they have such a big interest in all things, but also because they warmly and willingly share their knowledge with others. I strongly recommend that everyone look for meetings, seminars, and conferences in their area and then attend.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Peace versus Conflict

Today I saw the following lines excerpted from John Lennon's song, "Imagine," a song I deeply love:

"Imagine there's no countries, / It isn't hard to do. / Nothing to kill or die for, / And no religion, too. / Imagine all the people / Living life in peace."

While Lennon's concept strikes me as ideal, it would be far from perfect in a novel. Instead, novels thrive on conflict. If all the countries and characters in the book coexist in peace and harmony, readers have no reason to read the book, because they have no curiosity about how things will turn out. Obviously everything would turn out fine; nothing would change.

Unless...

Aha! What if things began peacefully, as Lennon wished things could be, but something shifted. Perhaps one character discovers a reason not to trust another. Perhaps one country suspects another country wants to steal its land, people, or natural resources. Maybe one character becomes motivated to dupe, mislead, or even murder another. When things change, readers become interested.

Conventional wisdom says that the best novels start in the middle of conflict, when things are already going wrong, but creative writing knows no rules. I can think of at least one good novel that starts out with everything moving along swimmingly, but things slowly go awry. As a result I found myself captive by the book Scarlett Feather by Mauve Binchy.

A warning to fellow writers: imagine all you want, but be sure you imagine conflict in your novels, or you will be writing a saga, memoir, or biography, instead.

Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas, owner of Zebra Communications, a book-editing firm, is the author of an award-winning book on creative writing titled Write In Style. Order your copy today at http://tinyurl.com/o4trud2 or http://tinyurl.com/pnq5y5s, or order a signed copy at http://tinyurl.com/nm84p3k.  

Bobbie Christmas also writes a funny, sometimes creepy, but always interesting and true blog about her encounters with the opposite sex. To read and follow her blog titled "Neurotica: Stories of  Lust, Love, and Letting Go," see www.NeuroticaStories.blogspot.com

Friday, September 25, 2015

My Most Memorable Childhood Book

 

Earlier this month I reported on the book that changed my life, Wayne Dyer’s first book, Your Erroneous Zones. Today I will tell of the book that made me enjoy a bit of history when I attended grammar school. I wish I could say that I continued to enjoy history after reading that memorable book, but few teachers taught it the way Robert Lawson did in the 1951 edition of Ben and Me: A New and Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin as written by his Good Mouse Amos.

When I was in the fourth grade back in the 1950s, the building predated me by some thirty or more years. The wood in the steps, paneling, and floors emitted a specific scent. When I smell old lumber today, I’m transported back to my first years in school. I can almost hear and smell the hiss of the old radiators under the large windows that sported wavy glass.

Let me digress and discuss wavy glass, sometimes called cylinder glass, a typical glass manufactured and used in buildings in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To make cylinder glass, a glassworker blew a large tube of glass. After cracking the glass off the blowpipe, the glassworker cut off the ends and slit the tube down one side. From there the sheets of glass were put into an oven, where they wilted and unfolded into a flat sheet. The result was glass with imperfections and bubbles, and if you looked through the glass and shook your head a little, objects in the distance jiggled and bobbed.

As a child I did not like school. History lessons struck me as the worst of the bunch. During lectures I distanced myself, gazed through the wavy-glass windows, nodded my head, and made trees in the distance dance and quiver.

I might not have learned a thing, if not for the school library.

Once a week the teacher released us from the classroom and gave us an hour to spend in the old library downstairs, where the aroma of wood mingled with the bouquet of paper and glue emitted from hundreds of hardback books. My sister Sandi, two years older than I was, had read and recommended Ben and Me, so I searched for it in the musty library, found it, and checked it out.

That book changed my perspective. First, I loved animals, so a book written from the point of view of a mouse appealed to me. Next, it opened history to me in a way I had never before experienced it. For the rest of my educational experience, though, I hoped to find something that would make history come alive as much as that book did. Only as an adult, when I travel to places I studied in school, do I feel history finally come alive again the way it came alive to me when I read Ben and Me.

When I talk to people born after me, Baby Boomers and others, I hear their favorite childhood books were fantasy or horror stories that entertained them but did nothing to teach them anything. What a shame! When I read Ben and Me, instead of going into some fantasyland that could never happen in real life, I learned about an important man in history and an era in America that actually took place.

I looked on Amazon today and was not surprised to see that Ben and Me has been re-released many more times since 1951 and is still in print. Way to go, Robert Lawson, Benjamin Franklin, and Amos!