The conference will be virtual this year and the organization has again invited me to speak.
Here’s what I’ll be presenting. I’ll also be participating in The Blue Pencil sessions, 15-min. meetings where authors can ask about anything related to writing.
I hope you join us!
Flaming Good Dialogue: How to Create Unforgettable Characters Through Exchanges That Singe
11 a.m. PST Sat., April 10
You think you’ve got fantastic, unique, bestselling characters? You’ll have to prove that to readers, not only through your characters’ actions, but also by what they say, how and when they speak almost as important as what words they use. In this workshop, you’ll not only learn how to sidestep the most common dialogue pitfalls, including why characters all too often wind up sounding alike, but also how to employ the five techniques that will make your characters unique and eminently believable.
The Little Red Riding Hood Dilemma: What Kind of Publisher to Aim for, Big, Medium/Small, Self
9 a.m. PST Fri., April 9
10 a.m. Sat., April 10
Over 2 million books a year are published annually in the United States alone. That intense competition pushes authors toward three avenues: publication through a big publisher, a medium or small publisher, or self publishing. This workshop will offer the advantages and disadvantages to each, while helping participants form a concrete path for their current project that includes resources for pursuing that route.
Now available via Amazon and all other online booksellers.
I just finished reading Ever Rest, Roz Morris’ new novel due out June 3, 2021 (available for preorder). A fantastic read! Below is my Goodreads review of this literary book club treat.
Roz is the author of two previous novels — My Memories of a Future Life and Life Form Three — as well as the memoir Not Quite Lost and the book for writers Nail Your Novel. Besides being a writing coach and instructor, she’s a ghostwriter for bestselling authors.
Ever Rest by Roz Morris is the kind of book you sink into and emerge from in a state of wonder. This beautifully written story steeped in the majesty of music and mountains is balanced on the riveting concept of a rock star, whose presumed death after an accident while climbing Mt. Everest, casts a years-long pall over the many lives he touched when young and famous.
Twenty years after Ash’s disappearance, his former girlfriend, Elza, a once young and beautiful dancer, is now an artist whose boyfriend has little concept of the celebrity that continues to follow her as fans worldwide keep her former lover’s memory alive. Ash’s bandmate, Hugo, the musical genius behind the duo known as Ashbirds, is the man who talked Ash into climbing Everest. Now he’s a climbing guide who eschews fame and wealth.
Following these people, along with and another five characters on the periphery of Ash’s inner circle, creates a wonderful tension akin to that evoked by Daphne du Maurier “Rebecca,” where the once grand lady of the manor continues to rule with the power of a ghost ever-present in the lives of those who walk beneath her portrait. While not as dark as that classic novel, this story captures that sense of purgatory where each discovery of a corpse on Everest reignites passions about the idol’s death while disrupting the lives of those closest to him.
The question quickly becomes, will the now forever enshrined by tragedy and mystery rock star ever really rest and give the living peace? Hence the brilliant title that creates foreboding as the pressure builds with every new body found on the famous mountain; a threat of avalanche exacerbated by an eccentric investor who wants to draw Hugo back into the rock scene and see the Ashbirds live on.
The story seamlessly moves amongst the viewpoints of the various characters while producing prose that brings the narrative alive with rich, authentic details and sensory descriptions that convince you you’re in the room with these people, whose lives, and demons, are so real.
Now available via Amazon and all other online booksellers.
For me, dialogue makes or breaks a book. Cliche dialogue typically indicates cliche characters. What do you think?
If you’re a writer, help is on the way via the 2-hour online workshop I’m teaching this Saturday in which I’ll combine lessons in character development with dialogue. If you know a writer, pass on the news! I’ll post the description at the bottom.
There’s no way your character can authentically voice a fabulous comeback, desperate plea or brilliant courtroom argument until you know exactly how s/he operates! Through discussion and writing exercises in which you’ll actively work on your own characters and scenes, Martha Engber, author of GROWING GREAT CHARACTERS FROM THE GROUND UP will first explain how to grow your characters, whether for a memoir, novel, screenplay or other project. Then she’ll teach you the secret to fantastic dialogue that leads to exciting, unforgettable scenes where your characters truly speak for themselves!
I had the most pleasant surprise this morning when I opened my email to find a copy of my upcoming novel’s book cover by Jessica Bell, publisher of Vine Leaves Press and a top-notch book designer, as well as author and singer/song-writer.
Now I have the task of building a Book Launch Team. If you’re interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Though I’ve had two previous books published, I’ve never done this particular task.
Free Book + Review = Happy Reader and Writer
A Book Launch Team consists of people who volunteer to read a free copy of your book ahead of the book’s publication and then help generate excitement by posting reviews and otherwise promoting the book on social media.
Send out the word via all of your social media avenues and your newsletter subscribers that you’re looking for people interested in reading a free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC).
If you’re self-publishing, wait until you have the copyedited and formatted digital version. If you’re with a traditional publisher, talk to the staff about when the ARC will be created and disseminated.
Once you have the contact information for your volunteers, be sure to send them directions. Specifically:
Let them know the approximate date they’ll receive the ARC: Suggestions of when to distribute the copies range from from 2 – 6 weeks ahead of publication. I’ll send out copies as soon as the publisher makes them available, which will be at least 6 weeks in advance. That will give readers time to read the book and post a review on GoodReads, which can be done in advance of the pub date as soon as the cover and book information are loaded by the publisher.
When the correct ordering links are in place, ask your team members to pre-order the book, which stimulates future sales and a higher Amazon ranking. Since ARC readers are already getting a free copy, they may not feel incentivized to purchase the book. Consider suggesting they buy the book as a gift for a friend. Or let them know the Amazon Kindle prices are often so inexpensive as to be very inviting. I’ve purchased my fellow authors’ books for $2.99!
Suggest the review be 1 – 3 paragraphs: longer than a sentence and less than a treatise.
Provide a short, clear and detailed list of places to post the reviews (more on that below).
Give a few clear deadlines for placing the reviews.
Send them a personal thank you, and maybe a simple gift, in appreciation for their support. A truly personal touch would be to host a short Zoom meeting to thank everyone, or offer to talk with their book clubs if/when they read the book.
Some team members will request a print copy, at which point you’ll have to decide if you can accommodate them.
Where to Place Reviews
Be precise in telling your team members where you’d like them to post and the details, such as website URLs and instructions, about how to do so.
Make sure to put the most important venues at the top of the list. For example, I’m going to ask my team members to post on GoodReads, because that reaches a huge number of readers and the site allows people to post reviews well in advance of publication, typically as soon as the book cover and publishing information are uploaded (1-2 months before publication). Such an early review will encourage readers to click the to-read option that places the book on their “shelf” to buy and read once the story is published.
Be sure to tell your team members they need to have a GoodReads account. The process is simple, but be ready to help your team with the process.
The next place to post will be Amazon:
People can’t post unless they have an Amazon account AND they’ve spent at least $25 on Amazon in the last year. Sorry, but that’s the state of things! If people don’t want to open an account, provide them with other review options.
Let your member know they can’t post until the day of publication. The week before, send them a reminder of the pub date and ask them to have the review ready. Send another reminder on the pub date, because people are busy and will be likely to forget.
Warn your readers that when they post, the review won’t show up until 24-48 hours later. So don’t panic if you don’t see any reviews on the first day.
Once those main venues are covered, you can suggest a variety of other places team members can post if they have a little extra time. For example:
They can post a review on their blog.
They can send a simple message of “I loved this book!” on whatever social media platforms they use.
They can show a photo of themselves reading on their tablet.
They can suggest the book to their book clubs or others they know of.
At every step, make people feel they’re truly part of your team by reiterating their importance and your thanks. If you don’t know some of the readers, take the time to find out where they live and why they love to read. If they’re fellow writers, be willing to return the favor when their books are publications. We humans work together so much better when we feel connected!
Keep everyone updated about the next step and send friendly (non-pushy!) reminders about upcoming deadlines.
And if a member of your team doesn’t care for the book and asks to be excused from writing a review, that’s fair! If I don’t like a book, I don’t assume the book is bad, but instead that I’m not the right reader and that others may enjoy the story more. Besides, it’s better to have a team member withdraw than to have them write a bad or mediocre review.
Lastly, there will be people who, despite your best attempts, simply take the free copy without offering a review. That happens. At least more person in the world has read, and hopefully enjoyed, your story.
In terms of thanks, send one the day of publication. Afterward you can send a simple gift, such as a hand-made card, or even a gift card for coffee/tea.
Again, if you’re interested in being part of the Winter Light Book Launch Team, email me: email@example.com.
Author Byddi Lee has created a dystopian tale in which she’s nailed all three facets of great science fiction:
a flawed, yet highly admirable main character readers care about
a plot that accelerates in intensity and speed toward en exciting conclusion
a deftly-written narrative where facts and descriptions about the world are slipped in around the character’s actions, thus creating a smooth read
Three reasons I loved this book!
The setting is some twenty years after aliens attack the earth, causing billions to die and ice sheets to melt so high there’s little arable land left. Most people live in subscrapers embedded in the ocean floor and that rise high above the surface. To control the population, no one can have a child until someone within the family dies, typically an older person, who feel pressured to die and make room for the younger generation.
Dr. Bobbie Chan is a doctor who works in a subscraper off the coast of Ireland with the ultra-elderly, 110 or older, whom she loves. Every day she tells her patients they have value and should live to the fullest until the very end, a passion that makes Bobbie extremely admirable. What she doesn’t divulge is that the death of her twin sister when they were young so traumatized Bobbie she fights the very existence of death.
When a strange disease spreads among her patients and the elderly elsewhere in the world, causing them to seemingly get younger, Bobbie at first sees the heightened quality of life potential. But when enough disturbing symptoms emerge, Bobbie begins to suspect foul play on the part of the Belus Corporation that runs the world. Bobbie’s diehard commitment to her patients’ wellbeing pushes her to investigate.
The author does such a fine job of slipping in descriptions of this new world and its advanced technology that there’s never a feeling of being overwhelmed. Instead, the story stays riveted on Bobbie’s changing emotional state and her fight for truth based on her belief that no one should be made to feel like a burden.
Often books and conferences for writers focus on the big parts of stories, such as plot, characters, pace, dialogue, etc.
I tend to approach writing in the opposite manner. Specifically, that the best writers are those who start from the smallest of details and build upward. My logic is that if they’ve taken the time to imagine a single, spot-on gesture, they’ve thought through the characters and story with equal care.
In the short story collection titled Cheers, Somebody, author Katie Lewis consistently nails the minute details that make the characters and their interactions real. Often simply admirably precise, other details are appropriately blunt and crass, while others are painfully truthful. Together the constant and consistent attention to the smallest parts of each story quickly create the mini-universe that is a short story, while also providing that necessary spin of uniqueness on common themes of love, loss, conflict and culture.
Choosing an example from the multitude is difficult, but here’s one from the first story for which the book is titled:
Collins danced his empty cup on the table, making a pock-pock-pock noise with the indented bottom’s echo until Stew placed his hand on top of the cup to make it stop.
The author continues that careful attention to detail throughout the story’s dialogue. Here’s an example from Ink J, the story I found most powerful.
“I, uh, I don’t know how to bring this up,” Bilson after several silent minutes of chewing rubbery licorice. “Not ‘I got news today’ or ‘Here’s something,’ but, well, I suppose. Anyway. I found out today that my college roommate died.”
While I’d term most of the stories accessible literary, a few stretch the mind, including a dystopian love story and a tale that uses brief and highly intimate scenes to portray the narrator’s relationship, seemingly with one man.
The teen age of the protagonist is obviously not a deciding factor. My upcoming novel, Winter Light, for example, has a 15-year-old protagonist, but is not a YA novel. And think of Scout, the protagonist who ages from 6 to 8 over the course of To Kill a Mockingbird, which is not YA, either.
The current definition of YA is a category of books for readers age 12 to 18. Interestingly enough, the YA Wikipedia page notes that almost half of YA audiences consist of adults. The page also mentions that in 1802, a young writer named Sarah Trimmer for the first time differentiated between books for adults and for those in “young adulthood” between the ages of 14 and 21.
The following decades produced a variety of classics featuring young adult protagonists, including Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Then in 1967, 15-year-old S. E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders about the troubled kids at her school. That was the first book specifically marketed to young adults.
And there you have it, the obvious answer to the initial question: marketing. YA has since branched out in the same categories that apply to adult books: mystery, romance, sci-fi, cyberpunk, Christian, etc.
Yet the more subtle answer seems to lie in the treatment of subject matter. While many YA novels deal with adult themes — sexuality, abuse, love — the language is typically softer and cursing is at a minimum. That and the stories often revolve around what’s important to young adults, such as working through the transition to growing up, establishing independence and developing principles to live by.
Literary works, which appeal to people who like to puzzle about human nature, tend to focus more on the underlying themes of humanity. Think of Lord of the Flies where the shipwrecked boys quickly establish a power structure based on the physical prowess necessary to survive along with the ability to charm and persuade, which mirrors the power struggle in most societies.
Similarly, in my novel, the underlying premise is how some people are born under a tremendous burden simply by virtue of who they’re born to.
If you have anything to add, please do! I live for literary discussion.