There are many writers who seek inspiration in different areas and a question I am asked occasionally is do I write with music? It got me thinking on how music inspires my writing and I wanted to start a discussion around that. I have to be able to hear my own thoughts so it is difficult for me to write with any music going on, however, I absolutely need music to inspire my writing.  Here is a trick I learned that may help those out there with similar challenges.

I psyche myself up before writing by listening to music that is relevant to what I am writing. For example, if I am writing a huge action scene with heroic efforts, maybe I will listen to the theme song for Superman.  If it is a touching moment between a father and child, maybe Butterfly Kisses, and my go to for most everything else is a hit from the 80’s.  I am a huge fan of 80’s music and I find that many songs pull on the original emotions to when I heard the tune.  If I was sad and heard Losing my Religion, then when I need to write about sadness, I will put on that song.

For every emotion, you have or want to write about, there is a song that can be used to put you in the mood.  Music is wonderful in this way.  The challenge is to find that. I have a friend who writes and his emotions are ties to rap songs.  You would not think that listening to a rap song could put you in the mood for love, but it does for him.  I have another friend that has to listen to heavy metal before writing a love scene.  It is bizarre to me, but works for them.  The key is to find the tune that is your muse.  If you have not used music to inspire your writing, give it a shot, it might just help you pour more emotion into your craft.

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I recently read an article that discussed the notion of “Luck” and what role it plays in getting a book published.  It stated that 90% of getting a book published in luck.  I thought on that a while.

As a writer, I do believe luck plays a role in many things we do.  Luck to me is more right place, right time, and right opportunity than some magical force that made it happen for me.  With this definition in mind, when I look at being published, I see luck as a major part of it.  So do you sit around and wait for luck to bring the opportunity to your door?  NO!  Development of my own personal knowledge allows me to make my own luck.  I continue to strive to educate myself so when the opportunity does arrive (right place, time, and opportunity) then I am at my very best to grab it with both hands.   Therefore, luck is huge, again by my definition.

How to you prepare for luck?  Answer:  educate yourself.  Read books to see how others do it, train, practice writing, learn the proper use of pronouns, eliminate that, just and very from your work, and most importantly, expect high performance out of yourself.  However, when you fail, and you will, pick yourself right back up and start again.

How do you find luck?   Answer:  You have to make your own.  No one ever made a contact by sitting alone in his or her basement.  You need to get out to conventions, attend readings and signing, join a local writers group, and most importantly, talk to people in the field.  To find luck, you need to seek it.

Where to start?  Answer:  At the beginning.  Close your eyes.  Picture yourself five years from now.  What are you doing?  How many books do you have published?  What does it feel like?  From this, you will come up with a vision.  Hold onto that vision and keep it in your mind.  Do not let doubting words or belief that you can’t do it.  You can do anything

This is a bit longer than my other posts, but trust me, there is needed information here.

Recently, I read an article on publishing a book in today’s world.  As a writer, you probably know all of the ways to be published such as self-publish, e-book only, print on demand, through a brick and mortar publisher, and several others.  By the  way, e-books  own  20% of the market today. With so many ways to be published, how can you expect to compete?  The answers today are the same as in 1950, good writing and tell a good story.  Don’t get depressed by the brutal facts of the industry, write well.  Stay away from words like really, very, just, and that.  Write well!

To put this in perspective from a publisher point of view, there are currently close to 90,000 registered publishers.  In 1947 it was 357, in 1973 it was 3000, in 1980 it was 12,000, and  in 1994 it was 53,000.  Amazing growth means more books.

  • The number of books being published in the U.S. has exploded. Bowker reports that over one million (1,052,803) books were published in the U.S. in 2009, which is more than triple the number of books published four years earlier (2005) in the U.S. (April 14, 2010 Bowker Report). More than two thirds of these books are self-published books, reprints of public domain works, and other print-on-demand books, which is where most of the growth in recent years has taken place. In addition, hundreds of thousands of English-language books are published each year in other countries.
  • Book industry sales are declining, despite the explosion of books published. Book sales in the U.S. peaked in 2007 and then fell by nearly five percent between 2007 and 2009, according to the Association of American Publishers (April 7, 2010 AAP Report). Similarly, bookstore sales peaked in 2007 and have fallen since, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (Publishers Weekly, February 22, 2010). The major bookstore chains have been especially hard hit, with a 12 percent sales decline between 2007 and 2009 (Publishers Weekly, April 12, 2010).
  • Average book sales are shockingly small and falling fast. Combine the explosion of books published with the declining total sales and you get shrinking sales of each new title. According to Nielsen BookScan – which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books (including Amazon.com) – only 282 million books were sold in 2009 in the U.S. in all adult nonfiction categories combined (Publishers Weekly, January 11, 2010). The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.
  • A book has less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore. For every available bookstore shelf space, there are 100 to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space. For example, the number of business titles stocked ranges from less than 100 (smaller bookstores) to approximately 1,500 (superstores). Yet there are 250,000-plus business books in print that are fighting for that limited shelf space.
  • It is getting harder and harder every year to sell books. Many book categories have become entirely saturated, with many books on every topic. It is increasingly difficult to make any book stand out. New titles are not just competing with a million recently published books; they are also competing with more than seven million other books available for sale. And other media are claiming more and more of people’s time. Result: investing the same amount of effort today to market a book as was invested a few years ago will yield a fraction of the sales previously experienced.
  • Most books today are selling only to the authors and publishers’ communities. Everyone in the potential audiences for a book already knows of hundreds of interesting and useful books to read but has little time to read any. Therefore, people are reading only books that their communities make important or even mandatory to read. There is no general audience for most nonfiction books and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one’s communities.
  • Most book marketing today is done by authors, not by publishers. Publishers have managed to stay afloat in this worsening marketplace only by shifting more and more marketing responsibility to authors, to cut costs and prop up sales. In recognition of this reality, most book proposals from agents and experienced authors now have an extensive (usually many pages) section on the author’s marketing platform and what the author will do to market the book. Publishers still fulfill important roles in helping craft books to succeed and making books available in sales channels, but whether the books move in those channels depends primarily on the authors.
  • No other industry has so many new product introductions. Every new book is a new product, needing to be acquired, developed, reworked, designed, produced, named, manufactured, packaged, priced, introduced, marketed, warehoused, and sold. Yet the average new book generates only $100,000 to $200,000 in sales, which needs to cover all of these expenses, leaving only small amounts available for each area of expense. This more than anything limits how much publishers can invest in any one new book and in its marketing campaign.
  • The digital revolution is expanding the number of products and sales channels but not increasing book sales. We are in the early stages of an explosion in digital versions of books and digital sales channels for books and portions of books. However, early indications are that the digital revenues are replacing traditional book revenues rather than adding to overall book revenues. The total book publishing pie is not growing, but it is now being divided among even more products and markets, thus further crowding and saturating the marketplace. And although some digital costs are lower, other costs are higher while price points are lower – making digital profits even slimmer than print profits thus far.
  • The book-publishing world is in a never-ending state of turmoil. The thin margins in the industry, high complexities of the business, intense competition in a small industry, rapid growth of new technologies, and expanding competition from other media lead to constant turmoil in book publishing. Translation: expect even more changes and challenges in coming months and years.

STRATEGIES FOR RESPONDING TO THE BRUTAL FACTS

    1. The game is now pass-along sales.
    2. Events/immersion experiences replace traditional publicity in moving the needle.
    3. Leverage the authors and publishers’ communities.
    4. In a crowded market, brands stand out.
    5. Master new sales and marketing channels.
    6. Build books around a big new idea.
    7. Front-load the main ideas in books and keep books short.
    8. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, WRITE WELL!

It is still very possible to be successful.  Knowing the challenge is the first step in overcoming it.

If you are starting to write a new book or maybe in the middle of it, you may be struggling with determining what perspective to use, first person, third person, second person, or maybe a hybrid.  The challenge we have as writers is the most popular fiction out there does not follow the rules.  If you look at Stephen King, Dean Koontz, or even James Patterson you will see perspective changes throughout their stories, mixing peoples point of view, and trying new story telling techniques because they can.  Most of us are not at that level and need to be concerned about our perspective.  More importantly, concerned with what editors are looking for.

Here is a quick cheat list to help you. Things to keep in mind when it comes to the perspective of your story:

  • First person is very personal and keep in mind that if you use this, you will be limited in your ability to show information you may want to convey. The bonus you get is to show your character at a very personal level. For example, if you want the reader to know that John’s Dad is watching him and John does not know. If you are telling from John’s perspective and he does not know he is being watched, then your reader won’t.
  • Second Person. Just don’t do this.   It is not popular, hard to follow, and the acceptance from an editor is very tough unless you are already famous.
  • Third person is the best way to not paint yourself in a corner in conveying information to your reader. The challenge here is to ensure you can convey and show your character in a way that the reader can identify and feel they know them without being in their head as you would in the first person.
  • Combining the different styles is okay and done often in storytelling. It is important to make the transition clear as to not confuse a reader.  Typically, you would want to break it at the chapter levels.  If you break within the chapter, it will get very confusing.  Just don’t do this to yourself.

Hope this helps.

 

A few authors have reached out to me about all the negatively they feel towards their writing and not believing in their work.  It then translates into not trusting their skill.  Whether they have the skill or not, you have to practice it to improve, but if you stop developing it, then you will never get better.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is an absolute fact that the human brain is designed to believe whatever we put into it. The brain does not care whether the information be fact or fiction, it will still accept it. The brain is like a huge computer-programming database that will take in whatever we feed it, be it positive or negative. Our brains are a mental computer. A computer programmer creates, writes, tests and debugs software so that the computer can perform specific operations or designated tasks. Our mind works the same way. We are our own computer programmer, the computer being our mind and the mental programming we allow to affix to our minds are our mental software. Whatever you store into your mental computer, the brain saves it’s permanently. Also, whatsoever you tell your mind the most, the brain will automatically accept it as a truth.

If you think your writing sucks or that you will never be successful as an author, then your mind will believe it and eventually it will become true.  You may have heard this in sayings like “Perception is reality” or “Eventually you believe your own lies.”  “Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet.”  This may seem a bit new age for you, but please focus on the positive side of your writing.  Recently, at DragonCon, I asked an author how were they successful.  Their answer, “Failing a lot and learning from them, not letting them consume me.”  Stay positive on your skill.

Our minds may not accept something that is heard consciously at first but our mental data-bank is still taking it in. This is mental programming. What we think, feel, believe and accept as truths are the byproducts of the programs we have. This just simply means that all the negative and positive messages that we have when we were children up until now were programs that are still stored in our minds. A lot of us adults still wrestle with some of the old programming that was instilled in us as a child. If you are having issues struggling with challenges, patterns of negative self-talk and messages that you received in your youth or adult life, it is time for you to debug and repair your mental software.  At one point of time or another, we have all been subjected to negative messages whether they were verbal or non-verbal. Sadly, it leaves many good folks with scars they carry along with them throughout their adult lives.

Think about how many times you can recall someone around you or maybe even yourself being told that they were not smart enough, they were no-gooders, they could not achieve certain goals that they had set in their minds to accomplish and etc. I can guarantee you have heard more negative messages in your lifetime than positive. This is just the way the average human being conducts themselves through words, deeds and body language. Negative thoughts and messages have been ingrained in us so long that our minds end up getting the message and accepting it as a truth although, it is not. We do not even have to recognize that we received the message to internalize it. This is how the human brain works. Our brains just program it into our mental data-bank and goes about its business.

Next post, we will dive into the skill of point of view.

 

This week I attended Dragoncon and specifically, the panels set up for writers. I had the opportunity to meet some very famous authors and found some very helpful tips that I will continue to share in my future posts here.  We will talk about voice, living life, perspectives, and a myriad of other topics. I took copious notes.

TIP: ABOUT AUTHORS

Starting at the bigger picture, the thing I learned is that not all authors are created equally.  Everyone does things just a little different for themselves.  Several of the authors were NY Times Best Sellers and you would think that they all had access to some secret sauce that you just need to acquire to be good at it.  But not so much.

The big message was every person had to find what worked for him or her.  Whether it be your voice, your perspective (first or third person), and how you start a sentence.  Everyone is different.  The message for today’s post is, don’t pretend to be someone you are not and do not emulate what you think you should be as a writer.  If it does not feel right, then don’t do it.

On an interesting side note, several of the Best Selling writers, still do not write for their job 100% of the time.  They each had a different position, hell one was a lawyer.  Those who dream of someday writing as their only job just know that it may take a bit to get there.  Especially, if Best Selling authors are still working their day job.  J

Have you ever read a book and just felt you knew the characters as if they were your best friends and then other books where the characters appear to just be one more part of the story and very two-dimensional and you could care less whether they live or die.  This comes from making you feel what you are reading.  Some authors are really good and using their writing to convey a feeling as opposed to just get a story out there.  One of the key differences between bestsellers and ones that are not is simply the readers caring about the life of the people they are reading about.

So how do you do this?  Well, it can be tough. Once your characters are believable as living, breathing individuals, the next step is to make readers care about them. When readers are invested in the characters’ struggles and personal stories, they are much more likely to keep reading.  I have collected the best of the best tips to help here.  I use them myself.

Here are five ways to make readers care about your characters:

  • Make Your Characters Need Something. One of the easiest ways to make your character more empathetic is to expose a vulnerability andestablish a need to: save a dying mother, fall in love, crack the code, etc. The needcan be as simple as “get to work on time” or as complicated as “save the world.” But it will encourage readers to empathize with the character and root for his or her success.
    • Example: Joe struggles through failed relationship after failed relationship in an attempt to find his soul mate.
  • Make Your Characters Take A Stand On Important Issues. A character with strong convictions and a causeto be passionate about will intrigue readers and earn their respect. If your audienceis interested in your character’s goals and respects your character’s convictions, they’ll be more inclined to follow the story line to its conclusion.
    • Example: Leslie stands up for women’s equality in the workplace at a local public forum.
  • Make Your Character The Underdog. Nothing piques the interest of the reader more than the inspirational story of a hero battling against seemingly impossible odds, struggling to find success under the bleakest of circumstances. Who wouldn’t cheer for the little guy? Think David vs. Goliath.
    • Example: Despite being an amateur boxer, Andrew is nervous but optimistic before his match against the world champion.
  • Give Your Characters Idealistic Qualities. Readers love characters that embody qualities and ideals they also aspire to. Even if your character is a scoundrel, make him or her a soft-hearted scoundrel. Characters thatexemplify the best of humanity entice the reader to stay engaged and keep reading.
    • Example: Dan may be a pirate, but he will use his ship to run the blockade and bring food to the starving orphans.
  • Give Your Characters Formidable Foes. Heroes are only as good as the villains who oppose them. Giving your main character adversaries who present challenging obstacles will bring out the best (and sometimes the worst) in your characters. As daunting as that sounds, the journey to overcome these obstacles will further endear your characters to the reader.
    • Example: Iago has created a web of lies designed to test Othello’s resolve.

Empathetic Characters Don’t Always Have To Be Good Guys.  Creating characters that evoke empathy in the reader can be challenging, but these five methods will ensure that your efforts are successful. And keep in mind that empathetic characters don’t always have to be likable. Try your hand at writing an unlikable (or even villainous) character that exudes empathetic qualities. Think Patrick Bateman in American Psycho or Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series.