The Center for Writing Excellence is going to be going through a transformation over the next several months. First, I want to thank all of you for the tremendous support you have provided over the past three years. I have had emails and letters from writers thanking me for offering the uniquely challenging Fiction in Five contest and for the encouragement the Center has given to writers who needed an extra push to ‘get out there’ and write.
While the contests have been very enjoyable, I believe it is time for a change. For that reason I have already put the Genre Contest on Hiatus and once the June Fiction in Five contest is over it, too will go on Hiatus. I will then work on them over the next several months and introduce a new contest in January that will be fun, challenging, offer exciting prizes and provide opportunities to writers to do something a bit different.
The Third Annual Fiction Anthology will come out in July or August and it will feature all the winners from both contests over the past year. The cover design will be an original piece of artwork from one of you. I am offering a contest right now to see whose art will be picked for the cover. For a $5 entry fee, you can submit your 4″x4″ writing related art and have your friends vote on it. The winner will receive 90% of the entry fees. The winning art will be featured on the cover of the Anthology and the artist’s bio will be included inside the book. For more information click this link: Cover Image Contest. Everyone who votes will be entered into a drawing for a free copy of the Anthology.
Another new feature to watch for is the launching of our Online Workshop Series: Writing Excellent Fiction. The series is scheduled to start in late summer with the first three courses:
Plot and Structure
Characters, POV, and Emotion
Each course will be 6-8 weeks long, with at least two live sessions (via Webinar), weekly reading and writing assignments, and a discussion board for students to share their work with the instructor and each other.
I am looking forward to the new year, and the upcoming summer planning for the new year. As always, your encouragement, ideas, and support are appreciated as the Center for Writing Excellence moves forward.
OK, here is the excerpt from the novel I am working on in CampNaNoWriMo:
The people were becoming more agitated as the day progressed, acting more like a mob than a crowd. They were shoving and pushing each other, trying to get to the front. The scaffold loomed ominously over the jostling people. It was a double scaffold – with two ropes swinging from the cross beam, whipped by the wind and rain. Everyone strained to get a glimpse of the accused as they were lead from the Gaol toward the creaking scaffold.
“Look! She’s wearing black satin! The strumpet! The nerve of her – satin! Who does she think she is?” A Cockney accent thickly described the dress worn by Marie Manning, the woman accused of murder along with her husband, Frederick. The body of one Patrick O’Conner had been found buried beneath the kitchen flagstones of the Mannings’ home on August 17, 1849, just eight days after the Irish money-lender dined with the couple he thought were his friends.
Another outrageous cry rang out at the appearance of Frederick Manning at the Gaol door. It was taken up by the crowd, who surged as if one mass toward the scaffold. “Hang ‘im! Hang ‘im!” they shouted pushing against the row of uniformed bobbies trying to keep the crowd back.
“Easy there, mate!” One of the coppers pushed back an overly enthusiastic citizen who was trying to throw a wad of mud at the prisoners. “Back off now, they’re going to get their due punishment. They don’t need the likes of you adding to their misery.”
“Aye, copper, but I’m just having a little fun, ya know. A good hanging always serves to lighten our otherwise miserable lives. ” The citizen moved on down the line, looking for a weak spot to push against with his wad of mud. The bobbie shook his head in disgust, muttering to himself about the things that served as entertainment for some people.
And here is the question: I am trying to tie the above event (a fictionalized version of a hanging that occurred in London in 1849) to the birth of a girl 100 years later. I’m toying with witchcraft, possession, etc. The girl is now 18 and ready to strike out on her own. What do you think? Would you pursue the witchcraft angle or is there another angle that would work for you? I’m at a crossroads in the story now and looking for some help. Thank you all in advance!
What an odd title for a blog post. One might surmise that I am going back to Sesame Street to expound on the letter E; however that is not the case. (There are about 30 videos and games about the Letter E at Sesame Street.com, but that will be another post on another day. Maybe.) Anyhow, the reason I decided to write about the letter E today is simple: Look at this picture of my keyboard.
You can see that the letter E is all worn off. In the case of this particular keyboard, the covering on the key is broken and chipped away, presumably by the fingernail on the middle finger of my left hand – the finger that usually strikes the letter E. (The finger also known as tall one – remember, thumbkin, pointer, tall one, ringo and pinky — from the nursery rhyme? Listen here if you have forgotten: Where is Thumbkin?
This has happened to every keyboard I have ever had. I either wear off the letter E or chip it off within a few months after I start using it. I have always thought it was a bit odd that only the letter E is affected by my typing – I type around 80 words a minute, not terribly fast, and I keep my nails fairly short. Today I had a few minutes between projects and decided to do a little investigating. I found some interesting statistics on Wikipedia about the Letter E.
Of all the letters in the English alphabet, the letter E is used about 12.7% of the time – in fact, the letter E has the highest frequency of use – quite a bit ahead of the letter A, which comes in at only 8.2%. The least used letter in the alphabet is Z at .074%, no surprise there. Of course, all this is pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but it is interesting; to me at least. After all, words are my business and words are made up of letters. Without the letter E I would not be able to work.
Is the reason the letter E is the only one ever decimated on my keyboards because it is used the most? Or is it that I have some odd way of striking that key? Do you wear out your letter E? Am I the only person who has this problem? (I have even been known to use the worn-out E as an excuse to buy a new laptop!) Are there other things I should be worried about on a fine Monday afternoon in Arizona? Of course. But then again, it is Monday. Happy Writing Everyone!
I am doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month, along with the NYC short story challenge. I just discovered that if the story I co-wrote for the first round of the NYC short story challenge is chosen as one of the top five out of the 25 entries in our heat, we will move on to the next heat (we will know on April 9) which means we will have from the evening of Thursday, April 11 to Sunday evening, April 14 to write the next story.
That normally would not be a problem, but I also signed up for the Writing Marathon at Camp NaNoWriMo on April 13 – which is an all-day, virtual, writing marathon. OK, that leaves Sunday for NYC, right? No, I found out late today that I will be flying to Chicago on Sunday morning for a one-day training session on Monday.
A few years ago I would have run screaming into the woods at just the thought of the pressure coming up that weekend. Instead, I find myself strangely exhilarated about the challenge! Granted, I won’t know for about a week if I even need to worry about NYC, but I do have a 1,000-word a day commitment at Camp NaNoWriMo to think about. I think I know how I will deal with this.
I will let my characters do the work for me. My main character in my novel for camp keeps poking her head in while I am trying to set the stage for her ultimate possession by the ghost of a long-ago hanged murderess. She wants to tell the story her way, so I think I will just let her. I have been blocking her and trying to keep her out of it so far, but it is not working. Tonight when I sit down to hammer out my 1,000 words, I am going to let Twila do most of the work. She will probably get mad at me, but hey, she is the one who keeps butting in!
So, how do you handle your deadline/writing/pressure situations? What do you do when your characters misbehave?
I have recently had several questions about blogging. When one person said she did not see why she needed a blog, it took me a few minutes to be able to form an answer that made sense. It got me thinking, why DO we blog? I came up with the following reasons:
- As a writer, blogging is an excellent way of establishing oneself as an expert. The more I blog about writing, the more people will think I know about writing.
- Connecting in in our virtual world is much easier through blogging. Since I started this blog three years ago, I have connected with writers all over the world. Something that would not have happened without the blog.
- Helping other writers by blogging about my experiences as a writer also not only connects me to like-minded people, but it also gives me a sense of satisfaction about making a difference.
- Learning something new. Sometimes I am at a loss for a topic to write about so I do some research on it, learn about it, then blog about it.
- And yes, blogging is a great way to promote yourself, your products (whatever they may be) and your services.
If you blog, why do you blog? If you don’t blog, would you like to?
Speaking of promoting your services, I have a workshop coming up: Build a Blog, on April 20. It is a hands-on, live, face-to-face workshop where I will be teaching participants how to build a blog in WordPress. Bring your laptop and come out of the three-hour workshop with a personalized blog all your own!
In this final post about Crowdsourcing I want to talk about marketing. As you are probably aware, if you self publish your book, you are responsible for the marketing of it. The time to market for a self-published book is a matter of days versus months if you go the traditional route. What that means is, once the book is ‘finished’ and you send it through the self-publishing house (like LuLu Press, Create Space, Outskirts Press, etc.) it will be on a virtual shelf somewhere within a day or two.
The key is to drive traffic to that virtual shelf. You can list your book on Amazon, arguably the biggest virtual shelf in the world, through your self-publishing house. In fact, Create Space is an Amazon affiliate. I will talk about self-publishing houses in a different post.
What we want do learn about here is how to use your Crowdsourcing to help drive that traffic to the virtual bookshelf where ever it is. Key words are important here as are reviews. The more your book title is mentioned, the better. It stands to reason, then, that you want a lot of reviews. Here is how you use Crowdsourcing to do that.
Look over your list of participants so far in your Crowdsourcing efforts – and pick out a core group that you think will want a free .pdf version of your final manuscript and will provide a great review. The key here is to help them understand that they cannot post the reviews until the book is on the shelf – so once you know the date the book will appear on the shelf you send out the free .pdf versions of the manuscript a week or two in advance.
Ask your sources to read and review the manuscript but let them know the review must be posted AFTER the book is live on the virtual bookshelf. Guy Kawasaki did this with his latest book. He sent the .pdf to 600 potential reviewers and gave them the ‘go live’ date for posting the reviews. Five hours before the time the book was scheduled to appear on Amazon’s shelf (midnight on April 10) he sent a quick reminder, asking the reviewers to post their reviews on the Amazon site after midnight.
The next morning at 8:00am he had 64 reviews for a book that just went live at midnight the previous night. Within a week, he had over 300 reviews. That is 300 times the title of the book was mentioned, along with keywords that appeared in the reviews. It did not take long for the book to become a best seller and the good news is, because it was self-published, the royalty checks were much larger because he did not have to pay an agent, editor, or publisher anything. Just the fees charged by Amazon and Create Space, which are minimal when compared to traditional publishing fees.
So, that is Crowdsourcing in a nutshell. Think about how you can do something like this, on a smaller scale than Guy Kawasaki, of course. Find out who your audience is, who your ‘followers’ are, your FB friends, your Twitter followers, your LinkedIn sources, all the people out there who could help you edit and market your book.
Yesterday I talked about Crowdsourcing as a way to get help, information, and feedback on your outline for a self-published book. This concept comes from Guy Kawasaki, author of APE, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. Today’s discussion will cover the second of three parts to this innovative concept for Indie writers.
Once you have digested all the feedback, suggestions, and comments on the outline and written your first draft of the manuscript, it is time to Crowdsource it again. This time you will look at the list of people who contributed to the Crowdsource the first time. They will be your first group to work with in this step. If you want feedback from others, you can add them in later.
The manuscript you will use here is the draft you are comfortable with, maybe not the first draft, but still a draft. Put it in Google Docs as an EDITABLE Word document and invite the first 10-12 people in your list to access it, download it and add their comments, edits, etc. right to the document. If you are writing a non-fiction book, this is where you would ask for examples to include in the book, along with citations. For a fiction book, examples won’t work, but watch for ideas from the crowd that can be incorporated into the manuscript or set aside for your next book.
Once you get that first set of edited manuscripts back place them alongside your master copy one at a time and make the copy editing and proofreading changes, incorporate whichever of the review comments that you deem appropriate and then send the revised manuscript out to your next round of 10-12 reviewers. Repeat as often as you have groups of reviewers.
This could take some time, but by the time you have finished this process, you will have a very well put-together manuscript, edited, proofed, and content reviewed. It sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but remember, this is for a self-published book, or Artisanal Publishing, according to Guy Kawasaki. Without the advantage of an editor, many artisanal published books often are published with errors, typos, and other problems. Using the Crowdsourcing process, those problems are greatly minimized.
Tomorrow, in the third installment of this discussion on Crowdsourcing, I will go over Guy’s recommendations for publishing, getting reviews, and marketing.
Until then . . . .
According to Wikipedia, the definition of Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.
I attended a Webinar yesterday where Guy Kawasaki, co-author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur spoke about his success in turning a self-published book into a best seller using Crowdsourcing as one of his marketing methods. I thought the concept was intriguing, and although he was talking about a non-fiction book, I can see where this would work with a fiction book.
Let’s break Guy’s theory down for fiction writing. He has three steps to the process; one of which I will discuss today. I will tell you about the second and third steps tomorrow and Saturday.
The first thing he talked about was creating an OUTLINE for the book. This is something that I have heard different opinions on for fiction writing, but for the sake of today’s discussion, let’s say we have outlines – either structured, formal outlines or more loosely defined ideas that have been fleshed out a bit giving a direction for the fiction story.
What Guy did with the outline was post it in Google Docs (you can use any readily-accessible file sharing application) as a .pdf file or a locked Word file so it could not be edited or changed. He then sent out a notice to his 4 MILLION (yes, MILLION) followers that the outline was in Google Docs for their review, input, and comments.
OK, I don’t have 4 MILLION followers, and I suspect you don’t either. Which is a good thing for this activity because who would want to filter through that many responses? (He did say that only about 650 people actually took him up on his offer.)
This is not unlike posting a note on Facebook asking for some help on a particular research topic or description, so why not? Put your ideas, outlines, etc. out there and ask for help. Guy set it up so the people who wanted to respond could go look at the notes in Google Docs and then go back to the post in Google+ (or Facebook, Twitter, etc.) that asked for the feedback. They could then post their comments in the thread, giving Guy some real good ideas and completing a lot of the research for him.
Of course, not all the feedback one might get by doing this is going to be valuable, but there will certainly be some nuggets there to explore. I would leave it out there for a couple weeks, then gather it all up and start working on the manuscript. The second phase of the Crowdsourcing deals with the manuscript, which I will cover tomorrow.
Does this sound, so far, like an interesting concept? Wait until I tell you what he does with his manuscript tomorrow!
“If you are MEANT to be a writer, you would write a minimum of 10 hours a week.”
“If you are serious about being a writer, you would write EVERY day.”
“Writers ALWAYS carry a notebook with them.”
I am sure there are other statements like those above out there, and we have all probably heard most of them in one version or another. I don’t know about you, but I have some real issues with those absolute words like MEANT, EVERY, and ALWAYS.
I consider myself a writer and have done so since I was about 16. I do not write every day, and there are certainly weeks that go by that the 10-hour writing requirement is not met. I don’t even carry a notebook with me, although I suspect that most of you will gasp in shock at that one.
When I worked as a reporter I tried to use a tape-recorder for my interviews, but found that a notebook and pen worked much more efficiently (for me). I quit carrying the notebook after my reporter days ended, however.
My head is always full of ideas, and I find myself saying things like, “There is a story in there somewhere” when people tell me things. They sometimes look at me like there might be a crayon missing from the box. Or they say, “Everything is NOT a story, Janie!” (They are wrong –)
Ideas come to me in my dreams, when I am teaching a Webinar, just talking to someone, or sitting around the house wondering what I should do next. Sometimes I act on those ideas, sometimes I don’t.
What about you? How do you define being a writer? How do you know you are a writer?
One of the questions I keep getting when I mention the face-to-face writing workshops that the Center for Writing Excellence is now offering is:
I already am a writer, why should I take a workshop?”
OK, that is a very legitimate question. I did some research and I found several Websites that provide a multitude of answers. Some were answers I expected, like this one:
To hone your writing skills.
This makes sense, we all can always use reminders of what we already know but perhaps have not been practicing. And, believe it or not, there is always the possibility of learning something new.
Here is another answer I found while researching this topic:
Meeting other writers.
I like this idea. This is not referring just to the workshop leaders, but it includes the students. The opportunity to meet others with like interests, challenges, and, yes, even neurosis is an intriguing idea. Writing can be a solitary endeavor, and we can isolate ourselves without even realizing we are doing so. Getting together with other writers is good for the psyche in so many ways.
How about this reason:
Writing can, and should be, fun. It is frustrating to sit at the desk hour after hour, writing, editing, writing some more. Break the pattern, get out and meet some new writers, have some fun, and learn something you might not have known before. Or polish up those skills and share them with others.
I even ran into one website that advocated a writing course instead of therapy!
Hmmm. Are we all in need of therapy? Maybe . . .
A writer’s workshop can give you ideas, provide networking opportunities, and be a good mental break (speaking of therapy).
And, if you live in the Phoenix area, you can attend all or any of a series of writer’s workshops that we are offering over the next few months!
- Story Starters (March 23, 2013 9:00am – Noon)
- Character Development for Fiction Stories (April 20, 2013 9:00am – Noon)
- Novel Writing with a Partner (May 25, 2013 9:00am – Noon)
- Blogging Your Writing (June 29, 2013 9:00am – Noon)
We are offering a $5 discount if you register before March 15, a 10% discount to all former contestants, newsletter subscribers, and editing clients.
Small classes, lots of course materials, and camaraderie with other writers, it doesn’t get better than this! Here’s the link to more information: Writers’ Workshops.