Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Guest author Richard Brawer: What is the most important aspect of a novel?

Richard Brawer
Richard Brawer writes mystery, suspense and historical fiction novels. When not writing, he spends his time exploring local history. He has two married daughters and lives in New Jersey with his wife. Read book jackets, excerpts, reviews and find links to the Amazon for all his books at his website: www.richardbrawer.com






What is the most important aspect of a novel?

To me it is creating conflicted characters. Characters in conflict and how they will resolve their conflicts keep the readers turning the pages.

Conflicts can be anything from mild all the way up to knock-down drag-out fights. They can be scolding, bickering, differences of opinion, veiled threats, hurt feelings, sarcasm, warnings, silently questioning a person’s veracity, loyalty, truthfulness, and inner torment.  Conversations can start congenially and end up in confrontations.

The more the conflicts characters have and how the characters get out of those conflicts, the more depth the characters will have.

For example in my suspense novel a woman is falsely accused of murder and sentenced to death. The outward conflict is obvious. She has to escape prison and prove her innocence. However I also added a highly “flammable” inner conflict. As a teenager she was responsible for her sisters dying in a fire. It is her internal conflict about how she eventually comes to terms with being responsible for their deaths that runs throughout the story.

Conflicts can also change your story. I started writing my latest book, “Love’s Sweet Sorrow” as strictly a conspiracy/suspense novel tentatively titled, The Bishop Committee. The protagonist is a vice president of a large armaments company.  He uncovers evidence his CEO is in league with arms dealers selling weapons to terrorists.

To me that one conflict was not enough. I needed a strong female character who is opposite of the protagonist and therefore the two of them have conflicts they must work out. I made her a Quaker. What could create more conflicts than having the protagonist work for an armaments company and his love interest a pacifist? Their love and her faith are severely tested as they are drawn into kidnappings and killings to expose arms smugglers. As I wrote I realized I had a romantic suspense novel. My publisher and I worked to create a new title. The result was “Love’s Sweet Sorrow.”

How do you know you have created great characters in conflict? The simple answer is in the reviews of your novels. Here are assorted reviews from my eight novels.

“A Sympathetic Character” “A Strong Female Protagonist” “Characters are Uncomfortably Realistic” “Complex Characters”  “Excellent Characters” “A Very Resourceful Character”
“His characters are magnificent.”  “The family was made up of flesh-and-blood characters. They laughed, loved, argued, fought, and had adulterous affairs.”  “I loved this book.  The characters are so real.” “Quaker character adds a unique twist”

Conversely, this is what can happen if your characters are not conflicted: My wife was having a weekly Mah Jongg game at our house. I overheard the ladies talking about a book. One said the characters bored me so I stopped reading after 100 pages.

But reviews come after the book is written. What can you do to create conflicted characters while you are writing?

I think the best thing you can do is read books by major authors. While you read, analyze how the authors create characters and their conflicts.

Find a critique group that will give you honest feedback on character development, dialogue, voice, plot, conflict and setting.  But don’t automatically take anyone’s critique as gospel.  Remember, it’s your story.  Analyze the critiques to see if they have merit.  Say you have a six person group.  If one person criticizes something then it may or may not be valid.  But if three or four in the group say the same thing about a segment then you should take it under serious consideration.

I will give away Mobi format for Kindle or an epub format for Nook and other e-readers to everyone who wishes to read my latest book, “Love’s Sweet Sorrow.” I would hope you would then post a review on Amazon. This book is also available in trade paperback. I can give away the paperback to the first two responders to Liane’s blog. Please contact me at: rich1braw@aol.com. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Social Media: Personal vs. Professional Persona

Folk occasionally ask me about my website. I invariably direct such inquirers to Novel Spaces – adding that I don't have a site of my own. I do this because usually the people asking know me as a writer and are, I think, imagining a site replete with pithy insights into the craft of writing and/or step-by-step instructions on how to become a bestselling author. I explain, if pressed, that though I've been known to pith unexpectedly, I've never been accused of being bestselling and there's little evidence I have clue one on how to go about becoming so. Also, and folk have to be pretty persistent to get to this line of defense, I'm a media tie-in writer and there is no need for yet another site devoted to the various intellectual properties for which I've written.

There's a bit more to my lack of sitefulness – some of which is germane to this month's theme of social media for writers. I once had a Live Journal page. On it I blogged about my writing, my family, my work in education and mental health, and just about everything else that came to mind. There were posts made during my vigil at my father's deathbed. Posts about my youngest daughter overcoming a childhood heart condition to be on her high school's cross country team. A tirade or two on society's treatment of people struggling to overcome mental and emotional handicaps. My racially blended family's encounters with southern culture. The stresses of partnering with Child Protective Services in dealing with a toxic family – with way too many toxic families. Or my soapbox positions on theology, spirituality, philosophy, and politics. Lots of politics. I'm a political junkie. The odd piece about the publishing, gaming, and media tie-in industries. And, yes, every so often I'd wax thoughtfully on the craft of writing, the life of a writer, and lessons I've learned about both over the years.

In short, it was a personal journal, not the journal of a writer. And, on rare occasion, someone who came looking for me because of my writing, was very disappointed with what I had to say about the education and public health industries, or things they found about my family or my faith or my politics (usually my politics).

When I went full-time as a freelancer, I killed my Live Journal. It was too easy to find, and eliminating it was easier than restructuring it to be reassuring and attractive to potential clients and publishers who might Google me prior to doing business with me. (Yes, I know there are privacy settings, but excising the thing entire was easier than going through and deciding what should be available to whom on a post-by-post basis. It's not like I don't know my own opinions or can't articulate them on demand if the situation requires.)

I do have a Facebook page, but it's a pale shadow of my former Live Journal. Those of you who aren't among my Facebook friends will only be able to see are pictures of my granddaughter, human interest stories, personal anecdotes, and humor. The closest thing to political opinion pieces you'll find are posts reaffirming my unbridled support of teachers.

Could I create a site that's all about writing, particularly my writing, that's filled with articles about the life of a writer, how to build a writing career, the tricks of the craft, and analyses of great works? Could I create a site that presents me as a professional writer, that showcases my talents without being pushy while providing interesting and useful content for readers, fellow writers, and potential clients? Of course. I'm a writer, that's what I do. And when my career goals move me in a direction where such a site will serve my needs, I'll do it. Already have the domain name for it. But right now it's not a tool I'm focused on developing.

Besides, if you're interested in reading up on what I know about writing, all you have to do is click on "Kevin Killiany" here at Novel Spaces to see an archive of 80+ columns.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Finding the Happy Medium With Social Media

This entry originally was posted in April 2013, and is reposted here as part of our continuing "theme month" discussions about social media.
Ah, social media. So much fun. So much danger.

In April 2012, I wrote about the potential traps and other hazards which await you when you decide to wade into the social media pool. However, that piece focused on the more obvious pitfalls: privacy, how not to let time spent in these venues eat up your writing schedule, how to acquit yourself when in the midst of self-promotion, reacting to reviews from readers and/or critics, and so on. One thing I didn’t touch on the first time around but which I think deserves its own bit of attention is the tightrope we walk when advertising ourselves and our wares. It can be hard to find the right balance between “hanging out” on social media sites and using these venues as promotional tools.

Everybody’s always going on and on about how we as writers need to be “out there,” building a “platform” and all that. Websites, blogs, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube...all these are viewed as prime territory for attracting readers and attention to our work. X number of Twitter followers, Y number of Facebook “friends” or “likes,” Z number of subscribers to our blogs, all of these—supposedly—have weight when a publisher is considering an author’s book. Some of the “advice” I’ve read almost makes it seem as though we need to be beating our drum with every Tweet and Facebook status update, or else we’re just not working hard enough to promote ourselves.

Of course, the people who are the targets of these marketing efforts may just end up thinking we’re a bunch of annoying prats. So, my attitude with this stuff is to tread carefully.

I've spent...let’s see...an inordinate amount of time in the trenches of social media over the past several years, and I’ve seen what happens when that balance isn’t achieved. You know what? It ain’t pretty folks. In fact, I’ve unfollowed writers and other creative types who do nothing but promote themselves and their latest book, or who only post links to their books for sale or articles they’ve written for web sites or crowd-sourcing efforts they’re championing. The constant barrage devolves into an irritating drone after a while, which can really harsh my net-surfing mellow when all I really want is to see a picture of a cat who can’t spell, or a video of a guy skateboarding into a fence.

The point of social media is to socialize; to communicate with other denizens of these virtual realms, whether you’re chatting about shared interests or commenting on issues of the day or simply commiserating because Life chose an inopportune moment to kick you in the gut. When readers follow authors in these venues, they’re not interested in seeing the “sales pitch” 24/7; they want to interact with the people who write those books they love so much. They want to get to know the person, not the brand.

Now, me? I blog throughout the week, and I try to keep my choice of topics varied and (hopefully) entertaining. I tend to have more fun on Facebook and Twitter than normal people might consider healthy. Most of the followers I’ve attracted have found me after reading my books and checking out my website or blog. Others follow me because we have mutual friends, and we’ve found that we have common interests. I engage in the usual sorts of behavior you see everyday on Facebook and Twitter, such as sharing funny pictures or links to news articles, or commenting on other people’s links and updates.

Do I promote myself and my work to this audience? Of course, but as with all things, I believe moderation in this context is the key to success. Sure, I alert people that a new book is coming or has been published, but I also tell them when I take on a new gig. I give teases about the chapter I’m writing that day. Sometimes I solicit input, like what to name a character or if I need help researching some bit of trivia. Chatter usually results from these sorts of postings, and we have fun with it. Once, I even had a contest calling for readers to post photos of them holding one of my books while on their summer vacations. I got responses from Disney World, beaches, cruise ships, and other locales around the world. I turned it into a contest and readers voted for their favorite pictures and the winners received signed books. Sure, I’m promoting myself, but my goal is to seamlessly weave it in and around the rest of my online blatherings.

How do you approach social media? Do you love it or loathe it? Is it fun or frustrating? What tricks do you have for integrating promotion into the mix?

Monday, October 13, 2014

What Do You Bring to the Table?

Independent presses have a lot to offer today's aspiring authors. The slush pile is smaller and the chance for an unknown, untried author to get a contract is greater. Unlike large publishing houses, there's still very personal interaction between editors and writers. Unlike self-pubbed books, the publishing house takes care of cover art, lay-out, printing and distribution. Authors are nurtured and a bond builds between the author and publisher.

What most authors fail to realize is that they are expected to don the hat of promoter once the ink has dried on the paper. The job's not finished when THE END is typed on the last page of the novel. In fact, the hard work has just begun.

Anyone aspiring to a career in publishing cannot be blind to all the posts and forums talking about book marketing. It's the #1 topic discussed today. Yet, when the long-awaited novel is finally on the shelf, there it sits. Why? Because authors are unprepared or unwilling to dirty their hands in selling the book to the public. Isn't that someone else's responsibility?

Depending upon the contract, the average amount a publishing house gets is less than $2 profit per book sold. It takes the sale of approximately 200 books before a small outfit sees any profit on a title. That covers production cost, plus Amazon gets their cut and the author gets royalties. Industry stats say the average book will sell about 500 copies. Nobody is out to get rich, but in order to keep producing more books, money has to come from somewhere.


Independent houses exist only when authors and publishers work side by side to do book promotion.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Help! Social Media Isn’t Working For Me

It's Social Media month on NovelSpaces. (Wait ... isn't that every month? Every day?) Anyway, I get many subtle hints and nudges from my dear friend and media expert, Nerissa Golden about my lack of a strong social media presence. So, I figured that you all would be much better off hearing from her on this topic than from me. Here are a few of her tips on making social media work for you. Check out her most recent publication Like. Follow. Lead. Mastering Social Media for Small Business for more, simple but very useful tips on how to get the best experience and results from your social spaces.

Here's Nerissa:

With all of the attention social media gets, the message seems to have spread that it would be easy to get results and customers loaded with cash would roll right up and spend, spend, spend.

For every guru telling you they can teach you how to make a million a month using Facebook, there are a million people wishing they knew the secret for free. Here are a few tried and true ways to increase your level of exposure and gain those all-important fans and followers.

First off, social media will only work if you work it. So post frequently. You won’t get any traction and build an audience if you only log on periodically to browse or retweet someone else’s work. As an author these platforms are ideal to let your audience see how creative and quirky you are. They may not become fans overnight but as they watch your continued engagement they will become a follower and hopefully a loyal customer. Use your electronic calendar to remind you to post at specific times. You can also schedule posts on some of the social spaces so no need to feel attached to your phone or computer.

Step outside of your comfort zone. All of the authors you know say Facebook has been the missing link in making those all-important sales. You’ve tried what they’ve tried without the same results. Why not step over to Twitter or Instagram and create a new space all your own? Research the various social media and find one that appeals to you and which can help you connect with your audience in a more entertaining and meaningful way.

Spend a little to get a little. You will only get out what you put in. While setting up an account on social platforms is free, it will cost you time and money to build and position your brand. Costs can include taking ads targeted at specific audiences, having professional photos taken so you can display an impressive profile image and graphics to promote your books and products. If you don't have the time to manage your social spaces, you may need to hire someone to do it for you.

Know where your audience hangs out. Ladies tend to hang out on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter more than men do, so if your potential customers are most likely male then find the platforms where they spend most of their time. Most popular are Google Plus and LinkedIn but check out Vine and Instagram as well. There are thousands of others so do your research.

What’s in a name? Everything. Make it easy for readers to find you on any social platform by using the same handle. Here’s an example using the handle #1author. Facebook.com/#1author, Twitter.com/#1author, Instagram.com/#1author and your website then should be www.#1author.com. If you already have a popular handle on one platform but it’s already been taken on other social sites, then find a version of the handle, which will be memorable and ensure it is visible on business cards and other promotional products. Use www.namechk.com to see which social spaces your handle is available on.

With focus and lots of perseverance you can build a social media audience which can have the long term results you are after. Grab my new book, Like. Follow. Lead. Mastering Social Media for Small Business, for more, simple but very useful tips on how to get the best experience and results from your social spaces.

Nerissa Golden is an award-winning media strategist, business coach, and author who helps her clients accelerate their business growth by leveraging high impact communications solutions and income generating strategies. She is the author of four books: Like. Follow. Lead. Mastering Social Media for Small Business, Island Days, a collection of illustrated poems about growing up in the Caribbean; The Making of a Caribbeanpreneur: Strategies for Overcoming Fear and Building Wealth as well as Truly Caribbean Woman’s Guide to Good Love.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tumblr 101 (What is it and should I want one?)

It's social media month! So if you'll pardon the interruption in "How to Not to Write a Novel" I would like to share with you a little a Tumblr 101.

I stayed away from Tublr for the longest time. Despite having a mouth like a sailor in real life I was put off by the fact that every single Tublr seemed to be name F*ckyeah (insert noun here). So there was F*ckyeahbjds, F*yeah Illustarions, etc. But when Facebook started getting cluttered with ads and autoplay videos a friend of mine encouraged me to get one.

Tumblr is very much it's own animal. It is unlike any other social media I've ever been on. An author I know once said that Tumblr, like Pinterest, is more about curating content then a necessarily useful tool for self promotion, and I would have to agree. Unless you have some sort of stunningly original content to offer, are already a well established author it's probably not going to serve you as well as another format. However, the crowd on Tumblr is young. If you write YA, diversity of any kind, or want to try connecting with a younger audience, it might be worth your time to sign up and join the madness.

Unlike Pinterest it is politically charged as well. If you don't know what a privileged able-bodied cisgender white male is it might not be the place for you. If you are a cisgendered white male then I wish you luck... Tumblr is a place of diversity and politics. There are Tumblrs like Medieval PoC, Cosplaying While Black,  Black Fangirls Unite ,  and Writing with Color . There are a lot of resources for white people who want to write characters of greater diversity. Tumblr is not always a comfortable place, but if you can bear with your discomfort you will learn a lot about race relations, what the I and A are in LGBTQIA, and most importantly, yourself.

Now, it's not all serious political discourse and angst. I follow a TON of fashion blogs, illustration blogs, and illustrators to find inspiration for my own work. I follow my friends, and a number of literary agencies which regularly post. 

Best of all, if you (like me) don't LOVE updating your Facebook every five minutes, you can post your Tumblr activity on FB and Twitter- so it looks like you're updating more than you really are. I also have my Wordpress site send all my Wordpress posts to Tumblr and I can update Tumblr from my Deviant Art Gallery!

So, how does Tumblr work? After you sign up for an account- which is free, you can pick a theme, leave it as is, or customize your page if you have the know how. Then you find other Tumblrs pf interest to follow. Their content shows up on your "home" indicated by a house icon. If you see a photo or post you like you can 'heart it' which will add it to a list of posts you have hearted. If you want to share the content on your Tumblr- the one everyone sees (which is separate from your 'home') you can 'reblog' the post. Reblogging the post will share it on your Facebook and Twitter. You don't HAVE to share them, but they are options you can turn on in the settings, and then use or not as you choose. Unlike Pinterest the posts you heart are just kept in one long list by date. So you may end up scrolling awhile to find what you want.

At the same time you are reblogging content you like, other people can reblog posts that you make, sharing said post with their followers. There is also an option for "Asks" which you can turn on or off. Asks allow anyone looking over your blog to ask questions- either under their username or anonymously. But there are also plenty of trolls looking to Ask really insulting things. But it can be a good way to answer questions from fans. Just beware. Personally I leave the Ask off on my Tumblr because I don't want to get trolled. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

SORMAG interviews Novel Spaces members

Our regular Day 4 poster, the lovely Marissa Monteilh, is recovering from surgery and won't be able to blog today. Get well soon, Marissa!

Last month, LaShaunda Hoffman of Shades of Romance Magazine (SORMAG) interviewed Novel Spaces members Jewel Amethyst, Kevin Killiany, Marissa Monteilh and Liane Spicer. Here is the full podcast of the interview in which we discuss the running of a group blog--how we got started, why we do it, how we do it, what's behind our longevity, and more.

Enjoy!