February 24th, 2017

Should You Start a Video Blog?

I’ve read so much about how video blogs are the next big thing. I swore I’d never do that. I mean, come on. I’m old, I’m fluffy, I don’t think well on my feet, don’t know anything about the tech involved, and I say ‘anyway’ all the time.  Oh, and I’d have to do my hair and makeup. Other than that, sign me up!

But then a few things happened. I read that in January 2016 Facebook announced there are more than eight billion video views and more than 100 million hours of video watched on the platform daily. 

That’s an amazing stat, but it doesn’t negate even one of my arguments above.

Then I ran across this video: 

Oh my God. I’ll bet I’ve watched that 9 times by now, and she has almost a million hits on it (more, after today, I’ll warrant). Do I judge her for being goofy? Hell no. She’s badass. 

Dammit, this woman just negated all my arguments. 

I eased into this the same way I convinced myself to write my first book – I’d write the book, get it out of my system, then hit delete!  NO one would ever have to see it. Boom.

Well, knowing how that turned out last time, I should have known this strategy wouldn’t work. But I told you I’m a slow learner, right? 

Anyway, I thought if I could be entertaining (always tough, given people’s varying tastes), and offer people something they could use, maybe this could work. Maybe I’d get my name in front of people. Maybe I could even sell a couple of books.  

Maybe being the key word.

I Googled how to do this, and there are a ton of articles out there.

I decided on a few key things:

  • I’d do a craft/writer’s life vlog – I teach workshops and classes – I have something to say!
  • I’m cheap. I’m not buying special equipment. But I own an ipad, and it takes great photos…
  • It has to be entertaining – I’m a bit of a dork, and I live somewhere that, though I think it’s awesome, my friends think I’m crazy for moving from Southern California to Midland, Texas (think flat-ugly-oilwell-arewethereyet kind of country). I could show the awesome and odd about where I live!
  • They can’t be too long – people are too busy for a lecture. The first one, since I had a lot to cover about the set-up, was seven minutes. I’m trying to keep the subsequent ones about four minutes each.
  • I’d have to get over myself. If they’re looking for fashion advice, or runway models, they wouldn’t be clicking on my vlog anyway, right?

I wanted interaction – to be sure I was answering questions that people actually had, I went out on Facebook and asked. Boy did I get questions! Everything from, grammar, how I like my coffee, plotting, how to do descriptions, to wanting to see what I wear in the morning to sit down and write.

Nowadays, if you own an iphone, or an ipad, recording a video is pretty easy. Still, I made mistakes. Here’s a few tips, so you don’t:

  • Exposure. In bright light or shadows, it may not get it right. Tap on the shadowy part to brighten it, tap on the bright part to darken. Who knew?
  • Focus. The regular setting is good – it usually focuses on faces (you can tell, because there’s a yellow box around the focus point). If you want it to focus on something else, tap it until you see the yellow box. But be aware, this will also change the exposure.
  • Shoot in Horizontal mode – now they tell me. You’ll notice in mine, below I didn’t do that. And it screwed up the sign I wanted to show. It showed when I was recording, but the black bars covered it in the recorded version.
  • Trim. Start before you think you need to, and stop after. You can edit it with a simple free software (I used MovieMaker, but there are a bunch out there)
  • A video is too large (usually) to email. Enter the amazing Apple. They’ll do a video drop to an email. But usually, it’s easiest to just upload it to Youtube (or FB) directly from your ipad. Boom.

So, I went for it. Here’s my first posting – technical difficulties, silliness, bystanders and all. I then did two more (you can sign up to get email notification of new installments, either on my website, or on Youtube. 

AND, I just talked to Alpha Dog’s Uncle Bob. He owns 3 longhorns! So expect to see one from a pasture soon. I just hope he wasn’t pulling a Yankee’s leg when he told me they’re docile!

Is this going to work, long term?  Not a clue. Am I having fun with it, so far? Oh hell yes!

So, what do you think?  Would you ever try vlogging? Or are you in camp OhHellNO?

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About Laura

Author Headshot SmallLaura Drake is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She writes both Women’s Fiction and Romance.

She sold her Sweet on a Cowboy series, romances set in the world of professional bull riding, to Grand Central.  The Sweet Spot won the 2014 Romance Writers of America®   RITA® award in the Best First Book category.

Her ‘biker-chick’ novel, Her Road Home, sold to Harlequin’s Superomance line (August, 2013) and has expanded to three more stories set in the same small town.

In January, Laura released her first Women’s Fiction, Days Made of Glass.

In 2014, Laura realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She’s a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.

Twitter  Facebook

 

February 22nd, 2017

Writing Success: There Are No Shortcuts

Jamie Raintree

When I first started writing, I wanted to know all the answers. I consumed craft books, writing blogs, and the suggestions of writers further ahead in the publishing journey than I. I thought being a successful writer was just a matter of getting the right information. I thought if I could just learn everything there was to know, writing and a career in publishing would suddenly become easy.

You’re laughing now, aren’t you? But it was an obsession, and you know what? It actually kind of worked. I made great progress in my writing and career relatively quickly, but it certainly wasn’t easy, and it was never as fast as I wanted it to be.

Over time, with all that knowledge I gained, I’ve been grateful to pass on my experiences through my blogs, workshops, and mentoring writers in my various writers groups. I often get questions from those who are in the phase I once was in–writers looking for THE ANSWER to eliminating the discomfort of…well, growth. Many of the questions I received have taken different forms, but the underlying sentiment has been this: how do I get through this frustrating phase as quickly and painfully as possible?

It’s true that the writing life is full of times that feel hopeless and seem to drag on forever. One particular time for me was right after I signed with my agent three years ago. Up until then, I had it in my head that once I got an agent, life would be smooth sailing from there. No doubt I would land a book contract in no time and all the pieces of my dream would fall into place from there. (You’re laughing again. I hear you.)

Instead, what happened was that I went into revisions with my agent. I was anxious to go on submission but even though I’d learned so much about writing already, it quickly became clear that I had so much more to learn. My agent taught me the importance of digging deeper into my characters’ motivation, pacing, and organizing my scenes to create maximum impact. It was a time of great growth but also a time of great doubt. For as much as we tore the manuscript apart, I became sure I never knew anything about writing, and how did I get an agent anyway? That was a heartbreaking question I would have given anything to not have to face every day for a year–yes, an entire year of the revisions, and don’t get me started about the year of being on submission.

As much growing as I did in my craft during this time, it was really the growing I did as a person that changed me and prepared me to humbly transition into the title of published author. It was probably the growth I needed to experience the most. Did all the advice I’d received leading up to and during this period help me? Absolutely. Did it point me in the right direction and save me from some wheel spinning and silly mistakes? Without a doubt.

But the more I experience of life, the more I come to understand that there’s only so much one can learn secondhand. As much as our parents would love to pass on their 50, 60, 70-year plus experience and save us the trouble of figuring it out on our own, every generation starts fresh with their own challenges. As much as we wish the writers who have come before us could hand us the secret handbook, we are all on our own unique journeys, learning our own personal lessons, on our own specific time.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…

There are no shortcuts.

And as much as it sucks, it’s probably a good thing. One thing that we tend to undercut is the necessity of building our metaphorical muscles that prepare us for each new stage of the writing journey. Whether it be learning the writing craft rules so we know how to break them, or thickening our skin with those initial critiques so we can handle editorial notes and reader reviews later, every uncomfortable period we grow through is teaching us how to handle the next phase. If we were to skip past any of these phases, we wouldn’t have the mental or emotional fortitude to cope with the challenges that arise.

It’s the same with the writing itself. Trying to understand the concepts of story pacing before we’ve even written our first drafts is likely to lead to more frustration than simply working through it, one phase at a time. Even now, as I’m writing and editing the second book in my contract, it’s a whole new phase. I’ve never written a book that has to “live up to” another piece of my work, which comes with all new challenges. If you’re moving forward in your writing career, the new phases never stop coming so rather than trying to skip past them, our time and energy would be better spent learning how to move through them with grace and patience.

This may seem disheartening. It’s not THE ANSWER. And it certainly doesn’t make our lives any easier. But I also think you already know this to be true deep down in your gut. I also hope it will take off a little of the pressure you’re putting on yourself to hurry up and be “there” already. (Preaching to the choir, I promise you!) Mostly, though, I think if you can learn to simply BE in each step of the writing process, you’ll enjoy the journey more and feel more like a successful writer every step of the way.

 

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About Jamie

Jamie Raintree is an author and a writing business teacher. She is also a mother of two girls, a wife, a businesswoman, a nature-lover, and a wannabe yogi. Her debut novel, PERFECTLY UNDONE, will be released on October 3, 2017 by Graydon House. Subscribe to her newsletter for more writing tips, workshops, and book news. To find out more, visit her website.

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads

February 20th, 2017

Bad Review Blues – Some Perspective from the Trenches

Kate Moretti

From the moment you hit send on those final pass pages or click submit to upload all your hard work to Amazon, the novel you lovingly poured your heart into for the past two, five, ten years now belongs to everyone but you. It belongs to every reader, critic, reviewer, blogger, and consumer. This is both exhilarating and terrifying and sometimes you just have to drink vodka and that’s okay.

So you drink and wait for feedback. And maybe you hit refresh a few thousand times but who’s counting. Eventually, the reviews start dribbling in, day by day, little by little, and some are great and you are happy. Relaxed. Maybe you can even start book #2.

Then it happens. The meanest, nastiest review you ever read. The characters are ridiculous. The plot doesn’t make sense. Nothing was believable. The reader wants their $5 ($10) back and hopes you are surrounded by hellfire for eternity. Or maybe it’s a scathing professional review.

Either way, you guys. This is hard. And we all know the golden rule: Do not respond.

So, how do you cope? How do you keep writing when you clearly suck at this, people HATE YOU (Everyone hates you *sob*)? How, HOW, HOW?? <shakes the collar of the nearest stranger>.

Because you don’t suck at this.

Because even though it feels like everyone hates your book, if you do the math, like three people hated your book.

Take a deep breath. Let’s look at the different kinds of negative reviews and how to deal with them:

1. The blatant hate.

These kinds of reviews are the best kind of bad review, in my opinion. A review that is mean, crass, vulgar, nasty says more about the reviewer than about your book.

This sounds like hokey lip-service but think about it. Would you, as a high functioning member of society, ever walk into an art gallery or ballet or any kind of artistic endeavor and rail on the performer where they might hear you or see it? No. No you wouldn’t because you are a decent person.

My theory here is that readers don’t believe that writers read their reviews. The get validation from how clever they can be, either on Goodreads or Amazon. Amazon has set up a system where particularly cunning reviewers, whose reviews are marked “helpful” can then, in turn, be rewarded with free books and products. Sometimes people who are downright cruel enjoy the “likes” they get from this. This is why I skim my Amazon reviews periodically, and rarely look at my Goodreads reviews.

But I do have my weak moments. Anonymity on the internet makes this phenomenon particularly contagious. TRY to not let it get to you. This is weak advice, I know. I have nothing else, except for me, it helps to understand the motivation of the reviewer.

2. The 3-star meh.

Oh, these hurt me. Mostly because they’re logical, smart, and at least half the time, the reviewer is right. The characterization was thin here, or the plot hole didn’t totally make sense. You’ll never write a perfect book. NEVER. EVER.

For me, I read these with one eye shut. I digest them. I take them to heart. I figure out if it resonates with me. If it does, I learn from it. I keep it in mind when I’m writing from here on out. If I get a handful of these that touch on the same theme, I know that I dropped the ball. That’s okay. We’re only human, we’re going to drop at least one ball. There are eighty-five thousand words, a few of them will be not perfect.

3. The 1-2 star “not for me.”

These hurt less than the 3-star meh for me, but they still kind of grab me. I could have had them. Something was missed. Sometimes, they weren’t my reader. And that has to be okay.

Sometimes the reviewer is wrong. “How can a child have blue eyes when both parents have brown eyes? DO YOUR RESEARCH!” And the answer is simply, genetically this is possible. They’re one-starring you for their ignorance. Your fingers itch, you want to type back (with sources, dagnabbit!). Step away from your computer!

4. The harsh professional.

I’ll be honest here. I didn’t *love* my New York Times book review. YES. I GOT ONE. YES. That’s amazing. I should be grateful. This is literally what every person I’ve ever told has said. I did buy the paper and save the review in print, for this reason. I won’t link to it, but you can look it up. It had some great parts. It had some petty swipes. My editor said, “You haven’t made it until you’ve been ripped, just a little, in the New York Times Book Review.”

Eventually, this is the balm that did it. Eventually. But it took some time. I spent a lot of time reading other people’s terrible NYT reviews and that helped.

Remember this: Kirkus is called Cranky Kirkus for a reason. Almost everyone in the business gets a not-so-stellar professional review at some point. When the new reviews come out, read them. There’s a camaraderie that develops here. If you ever happen to be in a room with other writers who have gotten less-than professional reviews, the topic can come up, especially after some wine. Revel in being one of the gang.

Remember, everyone who writes has been there.

Think of your favorite contemporary book in recent memory. I picked BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by SJ Watson. I thought this book was basically brilliant and a total mind mess and yet someone said this about it (read this review only if you’ve read the book because it contains spoilers). That’s like almost 500 words, a numerated list of all the things wrong with it. 124 people found it helpful. It has sixteen comments (lots of cheerleading).

Here’s the kicker, it’s the reviewer’s only review. Nothing about this review rang true to me. AT ALL. I’ve done this for some of my favorite suspense authors: Gillian Flynn, Megan Abbott, Caroline Kepnes. I’ve read their 1-star and 2-star reviews and I’ve vehemently disagreed with every word of them. Sometimes I find myself getting madder at my favorite book’s low reviews than my own!

The world is made up of a weird mix of people. Your opinions, as a person, will jive with only a small fraction of them. Expect your books to be similar. It’s a hard little pill to swallow, and sometimes the only thing that heals it is time. But just know, we’ve all been there. We’re with you.

What do you do when you get bad reviews? If you feel up to it, share a few choice phrases in the comments.

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About Kate

2347337.jpgKate Moretti is the New York Times Bestselling author of the women’s fiction novel, Thought I Knew You. Her second novel Binds That Tie  was released in March 2014. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and a dog. She’s worked in the pharmaceutical industry for ten years as a scientist, and has been an avid fiction reader her entire life. Her latest book, The Vanishing Year is available for pre-order and will be out September 27.

She enjoys traveling and cooking, although with two kids, a day job, and writing, she doesn’t get to do those things as much as she’d like. Her lifelong dream is to buy an old house with a secret passageway.

www.facebook.com/katemorettiwriter
Www.twitter.com/katemoretti1

 

Top photo credit: Thad Zajdowicz (@thadz, Flickr)

February 17th, 2017

Drive On, Writers – Reasons to Keep Plugging

James Preston
I want to tell you a story. No, not one I wrote, one I lived. This story is an illustration of a lifetime of reading, and a story that I bet you read and say, “Why, yes, I remember a book like that.” This story illustrates the seismic changes that we have witnessed. And at the end, there are two messages of hope, one that you may not have thought of.

I want to tell you the story of this shirt. Guaranteed, if you follow this tale you will come out with hope for your chances of finding an audience.

When I was between the 6th and 7th grades my parents moved from Fullerton to El Segundo, CA. For those of you who are non-California readers, that’s right next door to LAX. It could have been an awful summer — shy kid who knows nobody, no school to provide classmates — but it was saved by the El Segundo Public Library, a city institution that was then and is now nothing less than wonderful. I devoured the YA (Children’s back then) science fiction (and I have to give a shout out to the librarian who did that book selection — Heinlein, Asimov, Alice May Norton writing as Andre Norton, all great stories). Anyway, after that was done one of the librarians said, “Here, try this. You might like it,” and handed me Hot Rod by Henry Gregor Felsen. I loved it and it started a lifelong love of hot cars. And parts of it stuck with me.

Fast forward to 1981.

I was reading Stephen King’s masterpiece It. In the part of the story set in the 1950’s, during a summer vacation, one of the kids who is new in town goes to the library in Derry, Maine. One of the librarians says, “Here, try this, you might like it,” and hands him Hot Rod by Henry Gregor Felsen. While reading King’s novel, absorbed in the story, it didn’t click at first, but a couple of pages later a chill ran up my spine and it hit me. Hot Rod?!? I flipped back and, yeah, same title. Could it be the same book? Now, for you younger readers the Internet was only a gleam in DARPA’s eye, so there was no easy way to check, so I basically forgot it until . . .

Fast forward to 1984.

In an interview King tells the story and, yeah, it’s the same book. When I read the interview I thought “That’s interesting,” which, while true, certainly misses the larger implications. 

One more fast forward, this time all the way.

The Internet has burst upon an unsuspecting world.

And the Net changes everything. As a bona fide car guy I’m on email lists and one day there it is, Hot Rod, by Henry Gregor Felsen. I show my wife, saying, “I remember this book!” And on my birthday, the book and the shirt show up. She went to the web site and ordered them for me. Hot Rod was reborn because publishing no longer requires a 100,000-copy press run and a huge advertising budget, and because Felsen’s daughter loved the book and is a talented artist who gave it a new cover.

So what does this mean to you? You who may be struggling with a novel that you sweated over but cannot find a home for. You who are thinking about a novel but wonder if it will sell.

It means two things, one that you probably know, and one that may not have occurred to you.

First, you can get your book published. It may be a very small, electronic-only press, but it can be done.

It’s possible to publish a book with a small budget. The gatekeepers of the Big Six publishing houses are not gone, but like Bud Crayne in Hot Rod, you can skip them, speed past on the highway. You pays your money and you take your chances. That’s the cliché of modern publishing.

Okay, that’s common knowledge but here’s the other part, which I think is at least equally important and which may not have occurred to you.

Your book never goes away. Once that electronic edition is done it can live on the cloud, on servers, on tablets, and on smartphones forever.

In case the importance of that hasn’t sunk in, I did some research on just how bookstores handle paperback originals by unknown writers. For starters, keep in mind that shelf space is like gold, so unknowns won’t get face-out so people can see the cover. And depending on sales, after a few weeks, the unsold books are stripped and the covers returned to the publisher. I clearly remember visiting the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore and seeing a large trash can full of paperbacks, all without covers, sitting outside. In the rain. I still feel the horror, the horror.

So here’s the other message. That won’t happen to your Kindle edition. 

It should be a message of hope. It’s not easy, but if you work at it you will find an audience. Felsen’s daughter correctly believed in Hot Rod and with its new, improved cover it found a new generation of readers. And the shirt helped promote the book.

Along with everything else, the digital revolution has changed publishing. It is possible to do it yourself or with a very small organization, and find an audience. And once it’s out there, your book will live, almost certainly longer than it would on the shelves of a bookstore.

“Okay, okay, I get it. There’s a path, there’s hope, my electronic edition will live forever. But what do I do next?”

Well, for starters you’re on the right track reading this blog. Part of this seismic change is the development of communities of folks with common interests, like writing fiction. You’re in the right place.

Look up Robert A. Heinlein’s Five Rules for Writing. They are as true now as they were in 1947.

Want to read more thoughts on libraries? See the Writers In the Storm entry, For Love of a Library by Ella Joy Olsen.

For detailed tips on dealing with this changed landscape, see 7 Things Authors Must Do Differently in 2017, by Penny Sansevieri also in this blog. (And while you’re at it, stop a moment and marvel at just how effortless it is to find those sources.)

And . . . Write. That’s all there is to it.

As the hero of Hot Rod, Bud Crayne says, “Forget your brakes. The way out of almost any tight spot is power.” Just write.

And that shy kid who read Hot Rod? Why, his Surf City Mysteries are on the shelves of the same library.

I wanted to tell you a story. Now it’s your turn. 

We all have books that were important to us when we were starting this writing adventure, stories that we read that made us say, “I want to do that.” For Stephen King, Felsen’s tale of teenage speed influenced him. What was it for you? There’s somebody out there who will read what you say and go find the book and, just like Hot Rod, it will live.

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About James

 Sailor Home from SeaJames R. Preston is the author of the award-winning Surf City Mysteries. The most recent is Sailor Home From Sea. He is finishing the second of a projected trilogy of novellas set at Cal State Long Beach in the 1960s. The next Surf City Mystery is called Remains To Be Seen and will be available in 2017. His work has been selected for the UC Berkeley Special Collection, California Detective Fiction. And when he needs inspiration for a great opening, he looks at a Jayne Ann Krentz.

February 15th, 2017

#WITS1000 Millenium Celebration at Writers In The Storm!

We have a surprise for you today – our 1000th post happened this week and we’re celebrating big time. That means we’re celebrating you, our amazing readers. We’re more than a little bit misty over this, as we never expected to get this far when we started our little blog back in 2010.

Thank you, Amazing Readers!
Thank you, Wonderful Contributors!

We appreciate all of you who have taken this journey with us, even when we were a mostly-unknown pixel on the map of  the blogosphere. We hope y’all keep bringing new friends to visit so we can continue to grow.

Click on our Resources page to see who helps keep this blog running.

*drum roll, please*

Let’s move on to the giveaways!!

There’s a Rafflecopter you’ll want to enter for the most chances to win. Winners, except for those detailed at the end of this post will be announced on our Facebook page.  If you haven’t Liked us on Facebook yet, click here or just complete the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

The giveaways will start in the morning (Eastern Time)
and go all day on our Facebook page.

Read on for some of today’s giveaways, and please share on social media with the hashtag #WITS1000. We’ll be combing the internet for cool tweets and updates and share them on for you.

Laura and Orly are giving away copies of their books.

 

 

We’re a crafty bunch, so you’ll get fun in between all the useful, just like you do with all our posts.

Orly’s Crochet Horse – The Distance Home (Giveaway horse will be different colors/size but still snuggly cute)

 

Fae Rowen makes handmade cards

 

Jenny knits hats during reading & TV time

 

Laura has opted to give away several of her most useful craft books (gently used), along with several new copies of her own wonderful works.

 

Additionally, Laura has offered up two query letter critiques. Considering she teaches entire classes on query letters, that’s a stellar prize!

There are some research books coming to you from Jenny and Fae, and a few fun favorites as well.

 

All of the above will be given away on our Facebook page, but the prizes below will ONLY go to one of our readers who comment on this blog.

(We lo-o-o-ove to spoil y’all.) 

$20 Amazon Card

#WITS1000

 

A Craft Book from Janice Hardy at Fiction University.

Janice Hardy

 

Winners choice of one e-book from Angela Ackerman’s Thesaurus series.

Giveaway caveat: If it can be emailed (i.e. gift card codes or e-books), we will send it to you wherever you live. If it must be shipped, we ship to U.S. residents only.

To visit our homes away from WITS, click the links below. We’d love to see you at our other sites too!

Fae Rowen – Website
Jenny Hansen – More Cowbell (blog), Pinterest
Laura Drake – Website, Mailing List, Pinterest
Orly Konig – Website, Mailing List

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Come chat with us in the comments! Tell us what you like most here at Writers In the Storm, and what you’d like to see more of in the future.

~ Fae, Jenny, Laura and Orly