Tag Archives: writing

Therapy For Fictional Characters

Therapy For Fictional Characters (1)

The personalities that carry out your plot have lives. They have inner monologues that nag their waking moments. They suffer headaches making it hard to concentrate. They have fears.

As complex as we all are, so are your characters.

Convincing fiction comes from convincing characters. When you know what your character knows, describing their reactions becomes natural and your characters comes to life.

What do you suppose this fellow is feeling?

There he is, sitting on a wooden bench outside the hardware store with a stripp

Is he afraid, anxious, expectant, or excited?

Knowing helps you create believable characters, and put readers in the front seat to watch the story unfold.

6 Things Every Character (And Writer) Should Know

1 book numbersWhat’s their baggage?

We all have childhood stories that linger into our daily lives. The fear of spiders because your older sister was intent on torturing you, or perhaps a fear of heights because you fell out of a tree. Think about the micro-moments that make up your personal history. Your characters have similar tales. You don’t have to write a term paper on their background, but knowing a few key turning points in their life will add purpose to their role in your plot.

2 book numbersWhat do they like about themselves?

Even the worst villains have redeeming qualities, something that gives them confidence. Your hero also has something about themselves that gives them pride, or even shame. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Defining this for your main characters could make for an interesting twist in your story as either a heroic save or an epic fail.What if a minor character had a fallible trait that affected your main character? Does that create a ripple effect of events?

3 book numbersWhat frightens them?

Periodically, I have a dream about being swallowed up by the ocean… only the ocean is lapping at my house 120 miles from the coast. Pretty unsettling. I’ve learned to turn it around and go for a swim. But how does your main character overcome fear? How does it limit them or manifest itself in other parts of their lives? The raw emotion that spills out is too intense for an inner critic to stop or censor. Everybody is afraid of something, so are the people populating your novel. Thanks to my sister, I’m afraid of spiders….. even the tiny ones. (Thanks Lynn.) Write your fears into the character’s lives and let them go about finding a way to cope or react. You may be surprised by what they do.

4 book numbersHow far are your characters willing to go to get what they want?

Steal? Lie? Murder? How badly to they want this thing they think they need? The more tense your story and the more intense your character, the further they will push to reach their goal. Everyone has a line they won’t cross, where does your character draw the line? Is it at a crucial point that keeps them from what they’re seeking?

5 book numbersAre they hiding something?

Everybody has a secret. Something in their past they want to forget. Perhaps it’s their true motive they are hiding. Sometimes a small thing can have huge ramifications as it rolls through the plot gathering lies and subterfuge.

6 book numbersWho are their people?

Where did this character come from? What is the culture of their upbringing? Family life? Friends? What are the personality dynamics at play that shape how they interact with everyone whom they come into contact? I think we’re all shaped by our families and extended friends and experiences. Characters have family sidebars that either push them in one direction or pull them into another. That could be a full novel all by itself.

I think this is why series are so much fun. You have multiple books to show the tiny bits that make up a character and begin to build a history through their story. Characters then become familiar to the reader making them feel like friends that are safe and entertaining to spend time with.Jade Weekes

In Wired, Jade Weekes is an art thief, but she never crosses the line of violence – that is,
until she is pushed just enough. Her father’s murder provided a tipping point that makes her rethink the deceptions she weaves so easily. Her past created a plot line for Wired, and the plot of Wired provided a turning point for her character to continue into another story.

A well written book leaves you in a different place than where you started, and characters should grow in a way that allows the reader to feel they’ve taken the journey too.

Making your characters and their actions realistic taps into the readers emotions and keeps them hooked to the last page.

So go on, dig in and see what therapy your characters need to really let readers get to know them.

Thanks for reading,


Wired Judith GainesWired by Judith Gaines

Jade Weekes emerged from the oily wash of the Seine five years ago with no memory of her life, but an uncanny knowledge of fine art, museum security, and a knack for walking away with priceless treasures. Now she’s tracking an elusive Van Gogh with ties to an underworld struggle that will reveal her forgotten past. 

Words, Wisdom & Ghosts: Writing Advice From The Saturday Club

The Saturday ClubImagine  a gathering of authors who meet merely to exchange ideas, discuss their work, enjoy food, and share a drink.

Imagine these purveyors of words are Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and that’s just a few of the casual guests at the table.

The Saturday Club was formed in 1855 and held regular meetings at the Parker House Hotel in Boston the last Saturday of each month. The intent was to discuss literature, politics, science and share artistic insights.

Seating Chart for The Saturday Club
Seating Chart for The Saturday Club

When we planned our spring vacation, the Parker House Hotel appealed to us for it’s proximity to Boston’s Freedom Trail and historic sites. My writer indulgent activity was a planned trip to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for a bit of research. It wasn’t until that evening, that I discovered a framed document and the name Emerson caught my eye, followed by a tally of literary icons. A quick online search of the hotel’s history revealed details of the Saturday Club, a cheeky interview with Mark Twain during a stay at the hotel.

Knock Knock
The door to Charles Dickens’ room is on display in a small basement gallery.

In fact, Charles Dickens is reputed to haunt the the hallways. The elevators have a habit of stopping on the 3rd level, where he stayed, but when the polished bronze doors open no one is there.

As a rational adult, I have to say ghosts are not real. As a writer, I believe in the power of stories which you can also argue are not real.

Did we meet a ghost? My rational mind says, “Coincidence.”

My writer’s minds says, “Holy cow, did you hear that?”

Charles Dickens' Door at the Parker House HotelEncounters

I forced my 10-year to go on a ghost hunt with me. Let’s say she was not very excited at the prospect, but didn’t want to miss the possibility of meeting a real ghost. We started on the 3rd floor, all quiet and normal in every way. We walked to the ends of each hall before returning to the elevators. As we discussed heading to the 12th floor, the most haunted part of the hotel according to the desk clerk, the elevator door opened. It was empty.

“Did you push the button?” she asked.

I had not.

She pushed me towards the stairs., “We have to get out of here, now!”

After some coaxing, I persuaded her to take another elevator car up to the 12th floor. That excursion lasted only a few minutes as she was firmly done with ghost hunting.

A few nights later, I awoke around 5am to the sound of what can only be described as a howl traveling down the hallway and past our door. My first thought was that it was the elevators. We were on the opposite end of the hallway from the elevators. My next thought was that it was a delivery truck outside and I strained to hear the engines idling below. Only we were on the 5th floor and the street traffic was barely audible…. and the street was on the other side of the room.

I’d like to think creativity spews its own kind of energy that lingers in a place. Maybe voices can travel through time. I know I’d like to hear what they would say.

Here’s a free writing excerpt from my journal during our stay. It may be divinely inspired or just too much Boston Cream Pie. You decide.

If there are literary ghosts in this hotel, what would they say?

  • Learn where to put a comma.
  • Put your time to the page.
  • Follow your thoughts.
  • Drink with friends.
  • Have deep conversations.
  • Make light of life, it shouldn’t be heavy.
  • Gather.
  • Let your characters live their own life.
  • Live in the pages.
  • Words have flavors, make your story a full meal.
  • People see what they want to see. Readers read what they expect to read. Try to surprise them.
  • Why are you using long words for short meanings?
  • Can you record intent?

Thanks for hanging out with me. If you’re in Boston, stop by the Parker House for the Boston Cream Pie – they invented the treat and it’s worth the visit. If you’re wondering about the rolls, they invented those too.

And if you see gentle man in a morning coat with a top hat, let the desk clerk know the Mr. Parker is back.


Wired Judith GainesWired by Judith Gaines

Jade Weekes emerged from the oily wash of the Seine five years ago with no memory of her life, but an uncanny knowledge of fine art, museum security, and a knack for walking away with priceless treasures. Now she’s tracking an elusive Van Gogh with ties to an underworld struggle that will reveal her forgotten past. 

Getting Inside Your Characters

Character ResearchAll writing projects come with some form of research and fiction navigates this pursuit to some interesting destinations. Recently, I spent the day as Jade Weekes, the main character of my art mystery series, crisscrossing The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Becoming your character and looking at the world from their point of view is an easy way to get inside their minds and explore how they think and most importantly, how they react.

How Jade Views Art

Every work of art has multiple layers of history, emotion and humanity. Each artist brings their personal experiences to the canvas, building up layers of paint to capture their thoughts or painstakingly scraping into wood or stone to unveil what only they can see. The next layer is the life of the art work. It passes from creator to patron, to buyer, to museums and thieves – each individual imbuing it with their personal history, continuing a journey of thought as well as emotion.

This is the connection Jade has with Dalì, Mìro and van Gogh. She identifies with their stories as she struggles to paint the picture of her own identity. She looks at a Degas sketch and sees the man not the dancer.

Jade’s Gallery Review

Jumping into Jade’s mindset begins with walking through security. She’s a security expert as well as a thief, and she notices much more than docent wandering galleries or nylon queue barriers organizing visitors.

Jade pays attention to the people around her and looks for groups that offer distraction so she can slip through these barriers unnoticed. She’s aware of the behaviors that attract attention. She knows how to hide her intent. She knows how to look innocent.

Roses, Vincent van Gogh 1890 Once red, the pigment used for these roses faded to a tinged white over time.
Roses, Vincent van Gogh 1890
Once red, the pigment used for these roses faded to a tinged white over time.

A short list of what she looks for?

  • Psychological barriers meant to keep visitors a pre-determined distance from the art. This includes ropes, toe molding, and carpet borders that create a subconscious line not to be crossed.
  • Cameras – specifically, missing cameras. Next she has to verify the void in surveillance or identify if another measure is in place such as sensors attached to paintings. It’s no surprise to her that some galleries are tightly quarantined within small spaces with multiples cameras covering every angle and foot traffic herded in a predetermined pattern. This is where her favorite acquisitions reside.
  • She counts docents and notes how many alcoves and galleries each covers. Jade is a master at body language and knows which are experienced and who can be distracted.

Jade plays scenarios through her mind, timing how long it would take to reach an interior gallery and what obstacles lie between it and a door. The door would not be the main entrance, but a service access, perhaps even the cafeteria. After all, she became good at her job by thinking beyond the moment. Her imagination takes the art all the way to a safe house. If she were setting up the security, the process would be the same – looking for the cracks in the shield.

The Art

I must say, I began to feel a bit paranoid after a while. Eyeing wall hangings and surreptitiously locating security cameras had me playing the “what if” game, constructing micro-plots. Writers see plots and red herrings at every turn.

Animated Landscape, Joan Mìro 1927

Joan Mìro is among my favorites at the MET and I spent a great deal of time working out how to get in or close to the gallery with his work. Due to bad timing, the adjoining galleries on both sides were closed off. I managed to get this view from a distance. His dreamscapes are something Jade can understand, as her dreams – filled with grotesque images and mutilated art – play a backdrop to her inner character.

This is the Color of My Dreams, Joan Miro 1925
This is the Color of My Dreams, Joan Miro 1925

If blue is the color of Mìro’s dreams, Jade’s would be the complex hue of the Seine.




Bouquet of Sunflowers, Claude Monet 1881

It was Monet’s opinion that his sunflowers were the lesser of van Gogh’s. Jade can visualize how each brings its own qualities of light and color to the flowers. Looking at the ridges of paint building up from a base shade to ever more vibrant hues makes it easy to imagine a hand holding the brush, a frown, and bristles molding the paint like clay to give life and texture to the image.

Detail – Bouquet of Sunflowers, Claude Monet 1881

She expresses her emotion through art. Her passion is mirrored in what she pursues. Being in Jade’s thoughts for the day and regarding these works with her perspective launched new ideas for Enigma and more stories beyond that. She sees Gauguin’s passion in the rounded, sensual curves of his work and the frailty of van Gogh’s tree boughs against an open field and senses his unrest.

What are your characters doing? What are their interests? Taking on their viewpoint during a research excursion can bring you closer to their motivations and give you insights on their personality and logical reactions to the events in your story.

Click to enlarge:

The Flowering Orchard, Vincent van Gogh 1888
Detail – The Flowering Orchard, Vincent van Gogh 1888
The Siesta, Paul Gauguin 1892-94
Still Life with Teapot and Fruit, Paul Gauguin 1896

What Rush Can Teach Writers About Relevance

I posted the article below a little over four years ago. It still rings true, even more so for me, after seeing Rush perform last week in Greensboro NC. The show covered 40 Years of music by three talented musicians who are also writers, composers and artists among their many passions.

What lessons can writers learn from Geddy, Alex and Neil?

  1. Always sound like yourself – then you’ll never sound dated.
  2. Life experiences hold a common thread that crosses generations.
  3. Your audience is smarter than you think – they’ll get the big ideas you’re trying to share. Give them something to think about.
  4. Explore your interests and collect experiences – this fills your creative well.
Rush R40, Greensboro NC
Lessons writers can learn from Rush. R40, Greensboro NC







Thank you for the music.



Be OriginalLast week, as I was driving home from my day job, I set my iPod to shuffle and settled into the flow of traffic. The Moody Blues “Forever Afternoon” was perfect for unwinding, a melodic story within the context of the album and still fresh after 43 years. The next song was BU2B by Rush, a song so new it’s not even on a disk yet by a band that’s been around since I was a kid. Wow.

I had one of those moments where a snatch of conversation from earlier in the day, the two songs playing adjacent and my own quest to find a place for my writing exploded into one word: relevance. What is the magic elixir that made classic musicians like the Moody Blues, Zeppelin and the Beatles survive the wearing away cynicism of time? How about Rush? Their music catalog is full of timeless songs and still their new music is fresh and well…  relevant. Trust me, I too feel some days “I’m ahead of the wheel and the next it’s rolling over me”. Really, “It’s just the kind of day to leave myself behind”.

See what I mean?

Certain emotions and human experiences remain the same no matter the year or generation. Tapping into that crosses time. Being original, being a leader at what you do will set you apart and make it hard to date your work. Techno pop had its day, but it sure sounds retro these days when I hear A Flock of Seagulls on the radio. The best compliment you get is how great your writing is, not how much your book is like so and so the famous author.

Keep in mind this is hard work. You have to dig deep to be original. However, as you pull in collective human experience, your plot and characters are becoming real, breathing elements for your readers. Your story will take on new turns and layered dimensions. Relevance cements the connection between you and your reader and in ten or twenty years you will still have a connection.

I’m now looking at my current work and thinking about how well I’ve layered my themes and character motivations. Will it be relevant in ten years? Have I created a unique voice for them?

I’m not sure if I could name one book that has stood the test of time for me, but there are many that I love to go back to on occasion to reread a passage. My favorite? That’s easy.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately...."

How to Look Like a Pro Day One on Twitter

DIY Book Mktg

Don’t be an egg.Look Like A Twitter Pro

  • Customize your header, add a profile picture and make your bio relevant to your audience. Studies show that using your face as your profile image increases followers & engagement.

Character counts.

  • Keep tweets under 110 characters.
  • This increases the likelihood it will be re-shared. RT’s tack on up to 20 additional characters to a tweet. Keeping the original content short means users do not have to edit your content to get the RT under 140. Obstacles = No Sharing. Editing is an obstacle, plus you have no control over how your content is changed.

Use #hashtags appropriately.

  • Don’t hijack a trending hashtag just to get impressions. This can get you into serious trouble if you don’t know the meaning or origin of the #.
  • If a word in your content is a high search term, give that word a hashtag as it appears in the tweet. i.e. “#SocialMedia is a high search term on #Twitter.”
  • If you are participating in a conversation or event that has an official hashtag, USE IT. This helps others find your content.

Use search to find your audience.

  • Looking to converse with Maserati lovers? Search #Maserati, or one of their models, to find folks talking about this topic. #Hashtags in their tweets will clue you in on where their conversation is and lead you to more followers like them.
  • Your Twitter Analytics will show you if your followers are the same folks you set out to find.
  • Follow to be followed.

Make content actionable.

  • Tweets need a call to action too. What action do you want followers to take? Click a link, watch your business’ video, follow you, download your content from a site, sign up for service? Links, images and video are all ways to get followers to engage with you.
  • Twitter Analytics will tell you in great detail what actions happened that are viewable to everyone on Twitter as well as the Follows, profile expands and url clicks only you can see.
  • FYI – the lifespan of an average Tweet is 1 hour. That is why quality content is so important it increases your chance of getting a re-tweet and extending your social reach.

    What is the average lifespan of a Tweet?
    Click image to Tweet.

Sound like you.

  • Be yourself. Followers like humans, not marketing robots.
  • Be helpful, never spammy
  • If you want another person’s followers to see your comment or reply, add . before the @ in their Twitter handle. i.e. “.@Cool_Dude51 Thanks for the advice on social etiquette.”
  • Lurk on #TwitterChats until you feel comfortable joining in. Twitter chats are a fun way to meet people passionate about a particular topic. #FlipboardChat #BrandChat #IndieChat #NostalgiaChat #etc.
  • Say Thank You for Retweets, acknowledge those that favorite your content, then go and do the same for them.

Use Twitter Ads to schedule embedded media content.

  • Even if you don’t pay to promote content or find new followers, you can use this section of Twitter to schedule native media posts. Native images and video are displayed more prominently in feeds, which gets your content noticed.
  • If you decide to pay for Twitter promotion, match your campaign to what you’re trying to accomplish to ensure the quality of the engagement is aligned to your long-term goals.

Understand theJpgWriter-Twitter-Analytics-2 reality of followers vs. impressions.

  • Your tweet has the potential to be seen by all of your followers.
  • Your tweet is actually seen only by the followers actively looking at their twitter stream when your content publishes. Out of 500 followers, your tweet may be seen by as little as 15 people. Some days I get great impressions and engagement, other days I get goose eggs. That’s why it’s important to repeat tweets and tweet often to reach your followers and to help new people find you.

 Use 3rd party apps to maintain your sanity.

  • Do not try to keep up with live tweeting all day everyday. This is a sure-fire way to make you hate Twitter and wish you never jumped into social media.
  • 3rd Party apps like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Socialoomph, Klout, Buffer, etc (you get the idea) allow you to schedule the tweets you want to share so when you go onto Twitter later, you have time for replying to comments and engaging in conversation.
  • This is the best way to take a weekend off from social or take a vacation without going dark online. There’s always time to catch up on thanking others for RT’s and comments when you return. After all, they’re human too and also take breaks – you just don’t notice because they scheduled their tweets.

Before jumping into conversations or trending hashtags, keep this in mind:

Are you adding value to the conversation or are you adding noise? Is your comment relevant or intrusive?

Social media is experienced through mobile phones, tablets and computers, but there are still real people on the receiving end. (Yes, I’m sure there are more real people than bots.) Behave the same as you would at any live gathering, with the same good manners, helpfulness and tweet unto others as you would have them tweet unto you. Find your comfort zone and be yourself.

If you found this list helpful, please consider sharing.



Book Marketing: How to Take Readers on a Guided Tour of Your Work

imageLast year I viewed a webinar hosted by a leading professional advertising organization about the neuroscience of marketing. I’ve also spent some time reading up on studies by behavioral psychologist about what makes us do the things we do … and how to use this basic nature to guide marketing.

Over and over, the same messages emerged:


This should sound familiar. This is what writing and art instructors have been teaching since the beginnings of communication. Cave paintings draw your eyes from the charging warriors to the doomed buffalo; Juliet’s pain staggers us to her doomed fate with Romeo.

Communication is a journey. We take our readers from the beginning to the end. We plot the connections that draw their attention to our main characters faults that will eventually lead them to trouble. We use descriptions of color and setting to evoke emotions and focus what we want our readers to see and feel.

Take a moment to pick up a favorite book and read a paragraph or  two. Do you see the intentional direction the author takes you?

As you write your first draft of fiction, you’re already layering in some of these subliminal impressions. It’s such an inherent part of our nature and how humans have evolved, we hardly notice we’re doing it. I think storytellers, writers like you, have a stronger ability to do this than most. By paying attention to these elements of emotion, description and creating the reader’s empathy with the character, you are enriching their experience and taking them exactly where you want them to go.

You see, if you control the story you control the perception.

The aforementioned study shared that 99% of brain processing happens below the conscious level of awareness. This is the reader’s sweet spot.


Details. Every bit of skill you use to engage readers with your novel you’ll also need to use to engage them with the promotional copy that sells it.

Prime the subconscious to help that 1% of their consciousness regard your book favorably and nudge the buying decision in your favor.

These are the guideposts you need to help readers navigate as they decide if they want to buy your book.

book iconBook Cover: Quality matters. Books are judged by their cover, and this is not the place to skimp if you want to be taken seriously as a professional author. Book covers can range from $50 to several hundred depending on who you work with and their skill level as a graphic designer. If your budget is tight, try Canva.com where you can choose a well designed e-book cover template to customize. The layout should compliment viewing as a thumbnail with the title prominent and easy to read, and your name clear and easy to read. The composition should pull the eye from the title to your name either by the layout of the type or the color choices. There should be sufficient contrast so the type does not disappear into the background image. If you’re planning to do it yourself, there are dozens of great articles online that explain the basics of book cover design.

Short Product Description: Simply sum up your book in 5 sentences. Then tighten it up to one really solid line that has a hook, gives a sense of what the book is about (genre), and what experience the reader can expect. Memorize this line – you now have the perfect elevator pitch.

Long Product Description: Your full product description will begin with the sharply written short form and then add on to expand on what’s exciting about your story. Build a sense of what your main character will face (remember empathy – you want the reader to empathize with the protagonist), and add a few enticing details. Product descriptions are not plot summaries. Their job is to build anticipation. Just as you cut the short version down, do the same here. Extra words get in-between the reader and the message. Ad copy is concise. Watch a TV commercial and see how much the advertiser has to convey in 30-seconds. You bet there was a copywriter hacking words with the delete key to make it fit without sounding rushed.

eye iconVisibility: You’re being smart about how you market your book so of course you have it on your blog, maybe even have a separate page dedicated to your books. Your book cover images need to be on every page. Make them part of your template set up in the side bar so it’s visible on every page view. The image should be linked to your Amazon or B&N page for impulse buying, and give helpful suggestions like “Download Sample & Read Now”. Every so often, recheck that your links are valid. Changes you make to your point of purchase page may alter the link leading to the dreaded 404 Missing Page error.

Just like your book cover, the layout of your blog page should pull the reader’s eyes through the information you want them to notice. They may not buy, but at least they are aware of the opportunity. It’s also a great way to tell them you are an author without constantly telling them you’re an author.

See, marketing isn’t evil. It’s just connecting a need or desire (for books) with a solution or product (your book).


Share Follow Tip

Now it’s time to “Doctor, heal thyself”. I recently tweaked my blog theme and layout, but I’m not done. I know my product descriptions could be better, so I’ll be working on those this week.

Thanks for hanging out with me, and if you found this information helpful, please consider sharing via the handy icons below:)

Write On Target


Writers seem to have a natural ability to beat themselves up when they are slow to show progress on a story or novel.

There’s a lot to overcome along the way:

  • Finding time
  • Fighting doubts that make you hesitate with each word
  • Discouragement when it seems to be taking too long and your other writer friends are turning out book after book

Last week’s #IndieChat, moderated by BiblioCrunch, talked about motivation. It took awhile, but I finally figured out that the best way for me to stick with something was to track it. When confronted with the evidence of my efforts, or lack there of, I found myself more motivated to make time to write.

There’s science to this approach. Eric Barker talks about this in his blog post How To Motivate Yourself: 3 Steps Backed By Science. Writing down a goal makes it real, and once it’s real we’re more likely to follow through.

When I began writing fiction, I started with a simple spreadsheet. I tracked every day, not just the days I wrote. This showed the progress I lost due to not showing up to the page. I tracked morning pages, as well as word count toward my manuscript. It doesn’t matter how you choose to track progress, whether it’s days written, time spent (minutes writing), or word count. Each can be measured towards a goal.

Here’s a sample of what it looked like.Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 5.37.14 PM


Writing Progress Tracker

Click to download this spreadsheet. It’s yours to customize.


Make your goals realistic.

Not everyone will be able to write a novel in 30 days, otherwise everyone would win NANOWRIMO badges. If your life is busy, as it is for most of us, set a time length. 30-Minutes 4-5 times a week will give you big leaps in page and word totals. This approach will also work for those intimidated by word count.

If  word count is your thing, set it low — say 500. You’ll find that’s just enough to get you started and often you’ll write much more. If writing is tough for the day, you then have permission to stop at 500 without feeling like you gave up.

Since I adopted Scrivener a few years ago, I gave up my spreadsheet and now use the Project Target and Session Target tools. You even get to set a deadline to hitting your overall project goal. Subtle pressure there, but one I can live with.

If you’ve discovered a good workflow for tracking your writing goals, whether it’s an app or a function within Word or Pages, please share in the comments.

One Last Tip

Back up your work & your goal tracking.

Nothing makes your heart sink like losing a doc that you’ve spent months crafting. It happens. Hard drives and computers fail, a sync between your iPad and app glitches. I’ve had that panicked dash to log into Dropbox when I realized I accidentally deleted a file with over 30k hard written words inside. My best hack is linking my work to a Cloud based server. The file I found in Dropbox was intact and quickly copied back to my computer.

Scrivener also has behind the scenes backups with Dropbox so you always have a copy of your work on your computer and online. Dropbox’s mobile app gives you on the go access to your files. Box is another cloud storage services that works in a very similar way, with free accounts offering a decent amount of free storage before you have to pay.

Online Resources for Writers

#IndieChat is a live Twitter chat that takes place every Tuesday 9pm-10pm EST. Follow @BiblioCrunch to stay updated on each week’s topic & time changes.

About Eric Barker: His blog, Barking Up The Wrong Tree, is a great resource of inspiration and psychology that applies to many different aspects of daily living and getting the best out of life. It’s one of my favorite emails to open each week.

Have a great week!

Rewarding Readers

DIY Book Marketing

DIY Book Mktg_RewardingReadersThe landscape of selling and promoting books is littered with advice, often in conflict with itself and often with strong opinions. Frankly, there’s a lot of ways of doing things right, but keep in mind that what works for one author or book may not work for you and your books.

So how the heck do you know what to do to get your work discovered and, just maybe, make a living with as an author?

Experiment. Be flexible. Be curious. Be willing to work at it.

DIY Book Marketing is all about giving you ideas to help grow your readership. Some may work and some will show no traction at all. But I’ll let you in on a secret. If you try out a strategy that doesn’t work, you’ve just gotten smarter on how to market YOUR work. The process of elimination helps your focus on what’s working and cut out the time-wasting tactics that just aren’t for you.

It’s going to be hard work. It’s a job for writers who are too stubborn to give up.

Added Value

Previous posts have covered:

Now let’s discuss Added Value. This is when you give readers something extra, at no charge or obligation. Doesn’t even have to come bundled with the book. Added value gives your readers and fans something of value to them beyond the product itself.

Here are a few ideas in relation to books:

  • Did you have character bios for your novel? Sketches? Fans love to see how you created the people and locations depicted in your work.
  • Did you have a list of websites you frequented for research on your novel’s subject or locations? Imagine if you had this coveted list from your favorite author from their latest book.
  • Mystery novel? Have fun and give readers a clue tally sheet. Let them know how many clues they should identify per chapter and see if they can find them. Can they solve the crime before your hero?
  • Some authors create social media accounts or websites for their characters. Fans love getting tweets from their favorite characters or reading blog posts set in your novel’s world. A  great example plays out in the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes. In the show, John Watson writes a popular blog outlining the events of each case. The smart producers of this show have the blog – in character – online for fans to read and comment, extending the enjoyment of the show. Harry Potter fans will be familiar with Pottermore which lets you feel you are part of the magical world which didn’t end with book 7, but is a story still playing out in real-time.
  • Writing journals or plot outlines are also great content to share with fans. The messier the better, because it shows the thought and effort you put into your work. Fans get to see how the threads of the plot came together and how you overcame plot shifts and writing blocks. Here’s a sample from Sue Grafton.

Your website or blog, and point of sales program features like Shelfari are natural sites to share and promote this content. If you want to bundle the goods, consider creating a free ebook with easy download from a self publishing site or as a PDF on your website.

256px-Fingerprint_pictureBook marketing is as individual as your fingerprint.

If  you find an obstacle or the task proves impossible, learn from it, adjust the path, and move on. That sounds a little like a plot twist, doesn’t it?

You have to look at the interests of your readers, take note of the content they like and adjust. Don’t keep pounding away at the same type of content or tactic if no one is responding.

Here are the results of a few of my own experiments:


  • Looking at Twitter Analytics, I noted the times when I had the most engagement, then sent all of my scheduled tweets the next day at the exact same time. I got a positive hit on about 70% of the tweets. Then I looked at the content that followers liked and did more of that. It was about 50%. Then I refocused the best content at the best time (based on analytics) and got engagement on every one. At the same time I connected with new folks who I wouldn’t have met otherwise and I really enjoy what they have to say with their content. I’ve also discovered that I have more than one audience. Some love books, some want to know more about writing and selling books, some love social media tips, and the last group are art lovers. Networking and conversation is how readers find you.
  • Giving away free copies does not work for my books. Also, having played with various price points I have discovered the “what the market will bear” pricing for my specific novels. If you adjust price points as I did, be willing to live with that price for 3+ months. You have to establish a buying pattern before you know if the price is working or not. Plus, you don’t want to appear fickle by your future fans by having a different price every time they look back to consider buying.
  • Activity = book sales. When I’m active on social media my brand and my writing is being actively discovered. My social media mix is this Blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. I have a page on Goodreads, but it seems to have a life of its own so I pretty much leave it alone.

Writing After DarkConsider how using Added Value & experimenting can help you market your books more effectively.

If you found this post helpful, please consider sharing and by all means share your thoughts and insights.

Thanks for hanging out with me.

Time Stand Still

“Freeze this moment a little bit longer. Make each impression a little bit stronger.” ~ Rush

I love traveling and any place I visit is open game as a story setting. The tricky part is holding onto the details that once positioned into your story bring it to life for readers. Studies show that when you read sensory detail, the same part of your brain fires as though you are actually experiencing it. I think good writers have known this intuitively since storytelling began.

I use photos to jog my memory of the smells, sounds and feelings that add realism to my settings and characters. This first photo was taken from Notre Dame in Paris. In case you’re wondering, the buses and trailers belonged to the production crew for the TV series Highlander. Looking at this, I remember how incredibly cold it was. The wind blew along the river seeping through my coat and several layers of sweaters. The water smelled moins de frais as it swelled along the wall. I’m not sure if I realized at the time I would have a protagonist nearly drown in those waters, but I do recall wondering how long it would take to get hypothermia. Mystery writers just think that way.

The images and memories formed the basis for the setting of WIRED which begins and ends in Paris. I mentally returned to this location as I wrote the final scene which takes place on the bridge in the distance. Darker scenes descended into the catacombs and introduces another side of Paris usually not mentioned in the tour guides. For those locations, an article about a French police unit that patrols the underground provided the imagery.

The second photo is a church yard in England, but my memory is faulty on the exact location.  I’m thinking it may be in Suffolk. I do recall the church was well over 1,000 years old and was marred by medieval graffiti on the ancient floor tiles.  This will be in Enigma, the follow-up to WIRED.

These days I snap photos constantly with my phone. Many museums allow photos sans flash, although they don’t like when I take snaps of the security layout. My star character is an art thief and security expert; I’m only fictionally casing the art.

Photos freeze the moment long enough to share it with my characters. Build your setting and mood as an immersive experience that allows your readers to escape into the story.

DIY Book Marketing – Editorial Calendars

DIYBookMktg_ EditorialCalender_JudithGaines

Calendars have been around for thousands of years. We’ve used them since before kindergarten to track holidays and count birthdays, then graduated to day planners and mobile phones with pop-up reminders. We have no excuse for not knowing the day of the week and month and what we need to do. Calendars help us make order out of our busy lives.

This is what a Social Media Editorial Calendar can do for your DIY Book Marketing. It doesn’t have to be fancy or use special software – it just needs to be visual.

The visual nature of a calendar will help you see the bigger story build on each channel. It also takes the pressure off figuring out what to do next.

Slide1I’ve taken my editorial calendar a little further and added a few reference pages:

  • First, a quick reminder of what type of content works best on each channel, and image sizes and formats so I don’t have to keep looking them up.
  • And added some of the audience research so I’m always reminded of who I’m writing for and keep their interests in mind when planning topics. I’ve created Personas to help me put a face and personality to each Slide2audience segment. It’s easier to write to someone you know rather than a list of data.

Step One

Use your audience research to brainstorm topics and start a list. Free style it – no censoring – and let the craziest ideas have a place, because you never know which one will turn out to be brilliant. This is where I usually get excited and add something vague like “blue vs. yellow buttons” – I strongly recommend writing a few words so you know what it means six weeks later.

Once you have an idea of what you want to share, begin ranking them in a logical order. What would your reader need to know first for the next three topics to make sense? You see, as much as a single post is a story, the collection of posts become a larger story. Think episode, with each post building upon the next.

This example shows the weeks at the top and the channels to the side to give a weekly snapshot. A traditional calendar layout works well too.
This example shows the weeks at the top and the channels to the side to give a weekly snapshot. A traditional calendar layout works well too.

Step Two

Now you’re ready to add them to your calendar. Decide how frequently you want to post and on what channels and begin filling in a few weeks worth of content. Begin with the big stuff first – the articles and blog posts, putting them on the day you plan the content to publish.

Being able to see where you’re putting your content will help you spread out what you want to say and put it in the form that best fits a specific channel.

Should There Be a Post Every Day?

When you have a wonderful list of ideas, it’s easy to want to post a new topic every day. Slow down. You don’t need to talk to everyone on every channel everyday. As long as you post on a somewhat regular basis, readers will come, and you’ll have current blog followers stopping back in to see what’s new. Twitter is the only social channel that needs an every day feed, everything else gets its own schedule.


  • Avoid using the same content across all of your social media channels. Make variations that fit the audience and personality of each. The content should complement across channels, not be a copy. (1 topic = many short tweets or several Google+/Facebook updates)
  • Keep a consistent naming convention as you add content to your calendar so at a glance you know what’s coming up. For example: Blog-How to outline a short story; G+ meme on story plots. (Color coding works well too.)
  • Consider where you can use curated content so you’re not spending all of your writing time making social media content. Even Twitter, an admittedly a time-consuming channel, can be made manageable by using curated content tweets and a few pre-scheduled tweets to give you a 24-hour presence. Then when you are perusing your Twitter stream you can actually engage with friends and fans and not worry that the tweets promoting your blog posts and books are neglected.
  • Use themes to tie content together and help you generate ideas.

How Social Media Works

Have you ever been in the mall where you were constantly approached by someone with a sales pitch? How about that Sunday afternoon movie that was great until the 10-minute block of commercials? Not a good feeling. The reason the experience feels annoying is because you don’t have a relationship with the person pitching their products. Does this mean you build a social media relationship and then ask your new friends to buy your book?


Building your audience on social media is about talking to people about common interests. Bring them something of value in exchange for their time. If they like your social posts, then they may click your profile and discover that you’re also a writer. If they like the type of books you write, then they may buy it.

Social Media doesn’t sell books directly. It’s getting to know people and creating opportunities for discoverability.

Last Word (I promise)

Editorial calendars can also be used to track your traditional book marketing.

  • Set a schedule of how many and how often you send queries to agents and publishers.
  • Schedule time for book signings and author events.
  • The best part — reward yourself with a day off just to write or attend a conference.

Your calendar is a visual of your writing life. Writing it down makes it easier to make it happen.


Content Curation

DIY Book Marketing

DIY Book Mktg _ Content Curation _ Judith GainesNow that you’ve gotten to know your audience by looking at their interests in your Twitter Analytics and chatting via social media, it’s time to give the relationship more value. This is where curating content to share is a win-win proposition.

Blogs and social media posts demand a lot of content and if you don’t plan ahead they also demand a lot of time. Everyone is short on time, including your followers.

By finding online content that feeds their interests you…

  • Save them time by giving them what they want
  • Save yourself time by sharing great content that compliments what you already post
  • Makes you a source for great content – thus your posts get noticed and appreciated

5 Destinations For Sharable Content

Online Search

  1. Type in keywords that match your blog topic or writing genre.
  2. Narrow the scope of your results by adding more words to the search string. These are known as long tail searches.

For example, type “mystery writing” and you get this About 126,000,000 results (0.37 seconds) There’s bound to be something here of interest to you and your followers.

Google Alerts

Harness the power of Google’s search engine to do the work for you. Setup a simple 1-time search and have your topics delivered to your inbox. I have several set up to monitor news on art theft and WWII art crimes using variations on search terms. You get to decide how frequently you want these delivered – daily, weekly, or monthly.

Note: This is also a good way to “listen” for online mentions of your name (pen names) & titles.


Search a wide range of topics and get a list of top websites and blogs with the latest articles. (Thank you to Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick for this suggestion from their new book The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users.

Not only will you find great content, this is a good resource for researching current topics relevant to your writing.

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 9.38.45 PM

Recommended Blogs

Check your blog host’s main page for trending and top blogs. WordPress shares recommended blogs based on tags used on your own site. Their Press This feature also allows you to easily share posts to your page.

StumbleUpon, Reddit, etc.

These services are social networking for websites. You tag what you like and share it, and then others do the same. What forms is a resource of recommended links already vetted by a discerning  audience.

What’s the point?

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned book promotion. Everything in these last few posts have covered discovering and understanding your audience, and then giving them great content.

Spam is bad. Lately I’ve noticed an uptick in authors pitching their book links on Twitter. It seems like a constant stream with no conversation or relationship building. If people like your content they’ll naturally want to know who you are, click on your profile, and see that you’re an author. That’s the funnel that leads them to your point of sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

By posting interesting content that feeds your audience’s interests you increase traffic and are discovered by new readers who may love your titles. Think of content marketing as an introduction, “Hi, my name is ___ .”

What’s next?

SharingI’ll take you through the steps to set up an Editorial Calendar and explain how to figure out what to do when. Having a plan means you’ll spend less time thinking and more time doing. That’s time given back to you to write your novel while still managing to work a day job, fold laundry, and cook a meal (or at least order a pizza).

Your Turn

Share your favorite methods of finding and sharing content. How are you breaking through the discoverability barrier?

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5 Common Mistakes Editors Make

This guest post comes curtesy of Cuaderno Inedito, Notes & advice for writers & editors by Julie Schwietert Collazo.


Cuaderno Inédito

[Note: This piece was originally published on Matador, where I was managing editor and lead faculty member of the travel writing course. Over the next few months, I’ll dust off some other articles from my Matador days that I’ll be updating and republishing here.]

A FEW WEEKS back, I was reading the latest issue of Oxford American, which excerpted this badass letter writer Eudora Welty sent to the editors of The New Yorker.

Welty wanted a job at The New Yorker and she didn’t seem the least bit reluctant to pull out all the stops to get the editors’ attention.

There aren’t a whole lot of writers–then or now–who could pull off that type of letter, much less use it to develop a long and satisfying personal and professional relationship with an editor.

If you’re as much of a self-possessed badass as Welty, then you won’t need these…

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