Guest Post: Jeff Bennington ~ Building a Book from Scratch

Reena’s Blog

Thanks for having me Reena! Before I write about how to create a novel from scratch, I’d like to tell your followers that I’m giving away a FREE Kindle on May 15th. For details about the book and the Kindle giveaway rules, go to jeffbennington.com. Good luck!

 

Building a Book from Scratch

I’ve always taken pride in knowing that I can explain things clearly. In 1989, I was a junior high cross-country coach, and I coached that group of boys to a county championship. A few years later, I advanced to a crew leader at the heating and cooling company I worked for and trained the guys on how to install furnaces and air conditioning units. Those were both occupations that required good communication. But when it comes to teaching someone how to write a novel, I am absolutely clueless!

Writing a novel, to me, seems impossible. It’s unexplainable. It’s beyond words. To be honest with you, I don’t really know how I do it. To think that I could adequately educate someone on the process is simply unrealistic. That is to say, I know what I do, but I don’t know how it works.

Some people say that in order to be a good writer, you have to be well read. I agree with that because the more I read, the better my writing is. But I don’t think that’s the key to creating a fully engaging and captivating story. Some people believe one must be trained through a bachelor or master’s degree in creative writing, but I don’t think that’s true either. You can learn style and grammar and how to plot and all the technical rules until you’re blue in the face, but no one can teach you how to dream up a plot, a twist, or a cleverly sketched character. That is pure imagination, pure creativity, and if you want to make your characters believable, it takes an understanding of human nature, which is hardly quantifiable.

Now that I’ve told you what I think is not the key to creating a book from scratch, I’ll tell you what I do, a process guaranteed not to work for anyone else. I say that because I think creating literature out of an eight-pound ball of cells inside a brain is just too magical and too mysterious, fused into the blood of the writer like strands of DNA.

When I think of an idea, or when an idea picks me to be the writer, it usually springs to life out of thin air. In fact, I’d say that I have never sat down and tried to think of a book idea. I don’t think that would work for me, because I’m more of a live in the moment kind of guy. Once the idea hits me, I write a brief summary much like what you’d find on the back of a book, on anything I can find. Later, I’ll transpose that idea into my black book of ideas, not to be confused with my black book of spells, primarily because I don’t have one, but also because if I did, I’d screw things up so badly that I’d probably be a frog by now!

Later, when I’m ready to start a new book, I sit down with a cup of coffee and just think, as if I were running the scenes of a good movie through my head. I think about my protagonist, what he wants, what problems he might have and how I can disrupt his life. Now that’s a tricky concept because that is usually the crux of the initial idea, but at this point I take it further. I begin to jot down ideas from one scene to the next, making quick notes of the general action that takes place, no major details, just a sentence or two to get me started. I’ll do this over and over, staring into space as the theatrical trailer plays in my mind’s eye, forming the characters, motivations, conflicts and resolution. I don’t really know how it happens, but I’ll have a basic list of scenes, enough to start writing, in about an hour. Of course many scenes get added, and the thousands of details build up as I go along.

After I’ve written the scenes down, I make a detailed list of the cast, like I’m copying down the credits from the movie I just watched. I spend more time on the main character, thinking about what is buried in his or her soul than any other. I think of their past and what they want for their future, but spend lots of time creating a really good way to keep them from getting it. This is the phase when the twists and turns usually smack me across the head. I’ll try to pencil in any extra ideas and twisty-turnys as I go, but my plot outline and character sketches are pretty crowded and messy at this point. That’s when I know I’m ready to write. All in all, if I can’t get a book idea out of my mind, I’ll spend about two hours preparing to write and then start at it hard and heavy. Research comes later, or as needed.

Will Smith, the popular film star said, “You don’t build a wall; you lay one brick at a time, and after laying each brick as perfectly as you can, you will have a wall.” And that’s pretty much what writing a book is like to me. I don’t think about the ending or middle as I write. I use my outline as a guide as I progress, leaving lots of room for changes and surprises, and just write what I see, word by word. It’s not as easy as transposing a pre-recorded message. For me, writing a scene at a time, is like mining for gold. I spend one hour writing and ten minutes cleaning up the mess, and then I move forward another hour and repeat the clean up process over and over until I eventually come to the end. That’s where the real work begins, one brick at a time, lifting, setting, tapping, mortaring, lifting, setting, tapping, mortaring, lifting……

Well that’s my writing process. Feel free to share yours! Don’t forget to follow Reena’s blog and then go out and get your copy of REUNION, my supernatural thriller. Peace.

 

Check out Reunion by Jeff Bennington at the following places:

Amazon

Nook

Smashwords

Also available in Apple ibook and print. For more information, head over to Jeff Bennington’s blog. 🙂

 

 

Guest Post: Selena Blake on Being Willing to Change

A few weeks ago, Selena Blake offered to do a guest post on the Authors Helping Authors series. With everything going on with Shadow Cat, I fell in love with her rule #7. Yay! for me when she offered to expand on it. And Yay! for you too. haha So here we have it:

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Rule #7 of my Ten Commandments of Indie Publishing is be willing to change.

I think that just like in life, those who are willing to change and adapt in the publishing industry are those who will flourish. Admittedly, change can be scary and sometimes even hard. But it’s worth it.

For me, change came when I got the rights back to five books from a previous publisher. I turned around and began publishing those backlist books myself and I’ve done really well, I think.

I’m certainly not the only one embracing change in the publishing industry. Readers are embracing digital books as well.

According to Yahoo News (January 2011), Amazon stated “since January 1, U.S. customers have bought 115 Kindle editions for every 100 paperbacks sold.”

How’s that for change?

I’ve watched the ebook industry pretty much since inception. I’ve waited for it to grow. And I’ve seen how large traditionally print publishers have reacted to this new wave of technology.

The key here is traditional publishers are reactionary. I’ll admit it’s pretty hard to turn an ocean liner (otherwise the Titanic might not be lying on the bottom of the ocean after half a voyage.) But the people who are thriving these days are those who are willing to take risks.

With the digital wave, it’s time to swim or sink.

While big publishers resist change, we indie authors can use change to our advantage. We can shift faster than big companies can. We can take risks that their board of directors would scream at. We can move between digital releases and print when it makes sense for our business. We can adapt to changes in the market, within our genre or distribution method.

Becoming an indie author is a lot like being tossed into a pool for the first time — without your water wings. Honestly, it can be a little scary with no one there to cover your back. Everything falls to you: cover art, blurbs, promotion, revisions and editing, book keeping.

But that’s also the beauty of indie publishing. With you at the helm, you can steer your ship. You can change course. You can even keep on your water wings if you want.

You have the benefit of being able to tweak your blurb/description over the course of the book’s (very long) life. And if you discover your cover isn’t selling, you can change that. You can surround yourself with a team of your choice to edit, design, layout, and promote your books.

Over the course of my career, I’ve changed publishers. I’ve embraced ebooks as the media of choice for my career and all my personal reading. I’ve changed titles; I’ve tweaked blurbs. I’ve revised how I construct descriptions. I have all new covers for my indie releases. I’ve expanded previously released books. And I’ve changed and expanded my focus as an author. I’m targeting new publishers and writing longer, more complex books. I think it’s going pretty well.

In short, I’m embracing change. I’m embracing diversity.

A few final thoughts:

1.       Take advantage of your flexibility as an indie author.

2.       Be willing to change and adapt your writing. This doesn’t mean stifle your voice, but embrace a different path.

3.       Try a new genre.

4.       Write a short story or a novella if you traditionally write novels.

5.       Get a new cover if you think it would improve sales.

6.       Update your blurb. I’ve done this several times, even as a book is on sale.

7.       Be willing to change your title.

8.       Don’t be married to your words. You may have to cut them.

9.       Try a new type of promotion. Join an author co-op. Try advertising. Experiment with a soft launch.1

10.   Try new methods of distribution. You don’t have to stick with them forever. Try things until you find something that works.

How are you embracing change within your writing life?

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About Selena Blake

An action movie buff with a penchant for all things supernatural and sexy, Selena Blake combines her love for adventure, travel and romance into steamy paranormal romance. Selena’s books have been called “a steamy escape” and  have appeared on bestseller lists,  been nominated for awards, and won contests.  When she’s not writing you can find her by the pool soaking up some sun, day dreaming about new characters, and watching the cabana boy (aka her muse), Derek. Fan mail keeps her going when the diet soda wears off so write to her at selenablake@gmail.com.

Want to know more about Selena Blake? Check out her website!

Guest Post: Traci Hohenstein on Goodreads Promos ~ Part I

Last week turned into a huge fiasco for me. I’d lined up some things in advance but failed to follow up, while double booking in other areas. Case in point, the missing Authors Helping Authors post last week. Then week rolled around, and I found more mishaps, like a post in this week Authors Helping Authors post which wasn’t really a post at all… just a title and a blank. In fact, it wasn’t even a Authors Helping Authors post. I decided to pretend like the problems weren’t happening. Then Wednesday rolled around and Traci Hohenstein, author of Burn Out, offered to do a last minute guest post today. I wish I had an ethereal light to shine on her, cause she really saved the day. Without further ado:

Goodreads Promos

by

Traci Hohenstein

 

Goodreads has over four million readers on their site. Where else can you get the attention of that many readers in one place?

The key to successfully promoting on Goodreads is to meet and mingle with other readers in your genre. Think of Goodreads as one big party. Don’t be a wallflower and sit in the corner. In other words, do more than just put up a nice photo and profile. Meet other members by joining book clubs that read the type of book that you write…and enjoying reading.

The first thing that I did (after making my profile) was join book clubs that enjoy reading mystery/suspense books. Most groups have an “Introduce Yourself” thread. This is a great place to tell them a little bit of about yourself, the authors you enjoy reading as well as any projects you are working on.  I also participate in monthly book reads. Most groups have two books that you can choose from to read each month.  I found that most times I have either already read the book or it’s on my TBR list. After reading the book, participate in discussions about the book. There are other topics to visit and comment on as well. For example, on Women of Mysteries group, there is a thread called “What do you like to read”. I interact with other readers on books that I enjoy. Here is an opportunity to mention for example, “I really like reading Sue Grafton. I feel like we have the same writing style.” If a member of the group likes Sue Grafton and reads that, they will probably click on your member profile and see what books you have to offer. Look for other opportunities to interact such as Pen Pals, Monthly Challenges, Favorite Author Discussions and Games.

Another way to interact is to send friend requests to other members in the group. I try to “friend” about 10 new people a day within my book club groups. I also like to “friend” other authors that I know or enjoy reading.

I do all this before I promote my book to the group. I spent at least an hour a day on Goodreads participating in the forums. I believe in the philosophy that you what you give, you get back.

When it comes time to promote your book, always ask permission from the group’s moderator.  I send a simple email introducing myself and ask if it is okay to post a topic about my book. Whether you are looking for beta readers, sending out ARC’s, or doing a book giveaway – always read the group rules first and ask the moderator before posting. I find that the moderator appreciates the fact that I asked and is more likely to help me spread the word.

Once you have built up a substantial friend list, invite those people to visit your website or blog. Run contests and other fun things on your blog to keep them coming back for more.

Also, remember to spread the love. Recommend other indie authors to your book club members. They will appreciate it and return the favor!

Just remember, don’t overdo it! Be friendly, casual, and most importantly, be yourself. It takes time to build up a following, but with patience, you will get there!

 

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Traci Hohenstein lives in NW Florida with her husband and three kids. When not writing she spends her time at the beach with her kids building sandcastles and paddleboarding. Her first suspense novel, Burn Out, is now available at:

Amazon

Barnes & Nobles

Authors Helping Authors: Self-Editing

We didn’t get a Friday Authors Helping Authors post. So how about a Sunday extra by yours truly. 🙂

I have a confession to make. Despite the pressure to hire an editor, I forwent one with Shadow Cat. Yes, it’s true. Shadow Cat has never visited a professional editor. I’m still waiting for someone to tell me to run it through a proofer. My mother told me last week she found one error in the first 100 pages. Another writer mentioned I’d spelled “entrée” as “entree” in chapter 2.

I cringed when those errors were pointed out. Were there more? Most likely. After all, I’m not perfect.

“Have you found any more errors?” I couldn’t help but probe from time to time.

One or a couple was the typical response after finishing Shadow Cat. Of course they could have overlooked some. They’re not perfect either. 🙂

So I told myself, three or four errors wasn’t bad. Please let it only be three or four errors. [crosses fingers] A traditionally published book gets looked over by several people and still has errors in it. Doesn’t justify shoddy work, of course, but it does allow for the human factor to come into play (within reason).

So why you ask did I forgo an editor? The simple reason is I’m not in the position to shell out that kind of money. For a 90K+ piece of work, we’re easily talking in the thousands of $$$. The salary of a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) doesn’t quite cover that. And let’s face it, kickass editing doesn’t guarantee a financial return.

HOWEVER, I still value presenting the best foot forward. I don’t want people to look at my work and label me as unprofessional, sloppy, or any other unpleasant adjective. So I do the best I can, and now I’m going to share with you the tools I use to do it.

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I do my writing through a program called StoryBox, which includes a spell check feature. I typically use it to spot check while writing, but for the big editing, I still prefer MS Word. The red underlines really catch my attention. Plus it includes a grammar check. I export my work into an rtf file, do a quick spelling/grammar check in MS Word, then I import my work back into StoryBox.

I edit my work in sections (usually a scene). For me, it’s just easier to work in pieces. And since I use StoryBox, I can set the status to First Draft, Second Draft, Final, or Done for each scene depending on the stage I’m in. By the way, StoryBox is inexpensive—$35 last I checked. You can try before you buy, so it’s virtually risk free. I have to say, I’m quite satisfied with the program. I wish I’d know programs like that were available when I first started writing, because MS Word definitely isn’t designed with the novelist in mind.

My most important tool when editing is text-to-speech. It’s easy to overlook errors. Often our minds read what we expect to see rather than what’s really there. Some folks say to read the work aloud, but even then I sometimes read what I expect. Not with text-to-speech software. The program reads exactly what’s there (with a few oddities). Not only does it help me pick up silly errors the spelling/grammar checks miss, but also ensure the sentences and paragraphs flow well.

 

Bryan added with a winked.

 

Why in the world spelling/grammar check doesn’t catch that, I don’t know. My eyes might miss it, but my ears give me another chance.

If you’re using Windows, you likely have a feature called Narrator. It’s rather computer sounding, but it’s free. SAHM, remember? Free is good. The way Narrator runs is so flakey, it’s almost worthless as it is. So why in the heck am I mentioning it? When implemented in a program, it’s effective.

StoryBox has text-to-speech which uses the Narrator program. Ctrl + Shift + s toggles the feature on and off. If you don’t have StoryBox, shame on you. That’s okay though, you can create a macro for MS Word which also uses Narrator. Before Mark Fassett added text-to-speech to StoryBox, I relied on the Word macro and still do from time to time. Here is an online tutorial that shows how to set up your own macro in Word.

Autocrit is the next tool I use. Usually I sandwich Autocrit between two sessions of text-to-speech. Why? Because after I make corrections, I want to make sure what I’ve done still sounds right.

So what is Autocrit? You know how you send a work to some critters and they highlight EVERY SINGLE “was” or cross out EACH and EVERY adverb? The list goes on, but if you’re like me, you probably chafe under those kinds of critiques. “To be” verbs, adverbs, “that,” and other overused words have their place in writing. The key is not to overdo it. That’s where Autocrit comes into play. It ferrets out those overused words and gives suggestions to eliminate some when you’ve gone overboard. YOU get to choose which ones to keep and which ones to ditch.

Since I’ve started using Autocrit, I’ve become more aware of the weaknesses in my writing. Autocrit offers a whole list of features that I’m not going to go into. Depending on your strengths and weaknesses, you might use some more than others. For me, Overused Words is my big thing, but lately, I’ve been visiting the Pacing feature. If you have a problem with putting too much back story in your work, that’s a great tool. There’s a free membership for Autocrit if you want to check it out. It’s very limited, but it’d give you a chance to decide if it’s for you. Paid membership ranges from $47-117. For me, it’s worth every penny. Have a look see at my opinion, if you’re looking for Autocrit reviews.

So I’ve done all I can do to make my work shine—spelling/grammar check, text-to-speech, and Autocrit. I’m done, right? Uhm… no.

Next, you need the people factor. That’s right, critters. Those extra pairs of eyes make a world of difference. Do your sentences make sense? Is your plot unfolding nicely? Oops, you missed a typo or misused a word. Plus critters can tell you what works and doesn’t work. And trust me, YOU are not the best judge for this stage. No matter how great you are at editing, you cannot possibly know how others will view your writing unless you’ve got some kind of supernatural insight.

I prefer at least three different people to view my projects. The more the merrier. But remember, you are the author, so it’s up to you to decide which advice to heed. You DO NOT have to implement EVERY change or suggestion. Chances are, if you let critters take over your work THEY WILL DESTROY IT. Why? Because much of the opinions are subjective, but if several are saying the same thing, it might indicate a problem.

I top everything off with another text-to-speech round. So that’s that.

Even if you have the funds to pay an editor, using these tools can save you money. Some editors pay according to the time spent on your work. The crappier the draft you send, the more it’s going to cost you. Others charge by the level of editing. A basic proofreading is going to be a lot less expensive than a line-by-line copyedit, and the cost for a deep edit or rewrite is enough to cause my mind to reboot.

Also, if you use the self-editing tools before sending your work to critters, I guarantee your helpers will appreciate the effort. Critiquing can be very time consuming. The critters I work with are writers and have their own projects. If they’re like me, critiquing isn’t the highlight of their day. It’s not a pleasure read; it’s work. We do it to help one another and because we need help ourselves. It’s a cost-saving tradeoff which works to everyone’s benefit… or so it should. 🙂

So a quick rundown of the tools:

  • Spelling/grammar check
  • Text-to-Speech (available in StoryBox or create a MS Word macro)
  • Autocrit
  • Critters (please don’t tell them I called them tools) 🙂

What tools do you use which are invaluable to your editing process?