Monday, August 26, 2013

An Author Tagline ... ?

In the words of Elizabeth Mueller a tagline is a catchy phrase that sums up what a certain product (person, place or thing you are promoting) is. Here are several examples to help give you an idea:

Got Milk?
Just do it
What's in your Wallet?
The happiest place on earth
Time to make the doughnuts
Thank heaven for 7-11
Shouldn't your baby be a Gerber baby?

Click here to read a fabulous post on 10 companies that totally define their taglines.

Poor Ali Cross, I keep picking on her, but her author tagline is one that I can't get out of my mind, it ROCKS: "Stories that transcend the ordinary"  Admit it, it's awesome, right?

Virginia Lori Jennings, a friend of mine, said over on my FaceBook Timeline, "An author tagline is a saying that embodies your writing subject, why you write, and what you want your stories to achieve.-> sorta like a slogan."

Are you catching a vision for you tagline?
We are discussing author branding, taglines and platforms today at my blog. Please drop by and say hi!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Blog Tours, and How to Screw Them Up, Part 3

Sorry to be so late with this week's installment. It's been a crazy week, in part because I was on a blog tour. So, even though the publicity game in indie publishing continues to change fast enough to make anyone's head spin, the advice in my friend, Ritesh Kala's I'm a Blogger... series is still vital to know. As with my previous two posts in this series (part 1 and part 2), I'm following Ritesh's post, point by point. So go read Ritesh's post here to understand the blogger's perspective, and then come back for me to expound on things from the writer's side. I shall follow him point by point.

11. Twitter: Don't turn your tweet stream into a bunch of auto-tweeted self promo, and don't pounce on every new follower with a direct message asking for stuff. I actually have sold a lot of books via Twitter, and never has it been by asking someone to buy my book. It was always a moment of personal connection, a funny exchange, and then the person looked at my profile, saw I was a writer, and decided to buy one of my books. While a lot of people disregard Twitter as a marketing tool, let me tell you a story:

When I first setup my @emtippetts Twitter account, I wrote a blog post about one of my favorite TV shows, Being Erica, which was produced for Canadian network television and ended up being syndicated in over 70 countries worldwide. I tweeted out links to it and also a hello to the star of the show, Erin Karpluk. Then I went to bed. Come morning, I had a response from Erin with a compliment on my blogpost. The moral of this story? Do not underestimate the power of Twitter. The 140 character format makes your moments of contact very accessible. An actress isn't going to respond to every tweet and will certainly not click on everyone's bio and follow links to their blog, but she can because the 140 character message doesn't demand a lot. For that matter, I have had several ongoing conversations on Twitter that have blossomed into friendships because a tweet is very non-threatening. A tweet is like passing someone in the hall and waving, maybe asking a quick question, your posture showing that you'll move on in a second. It should never come off as the equivalent to cornering them and pelting them with questions.

So don't waste valuable social networking space with rote auto-tweets. That doesn't mean don't schedule tweets. I do that all the time, to have them go out while I'm away from Twitter, but I write each one myself. People know that my feed has a lot of retweets of events my formatting clients are doing, and tweets from me about what's going on in my career at the moment. People even stop to read those. Make your tweets count.

12. No Means No: When a blogger turns you down, accept it. Personally, I'm shocked that Ritesh even had to say this. What does anyone think they have to gain from antagonizing a blogger? Why would you want to be reviewed on a blog that initially turned you down and now feels like they have to do it anyway? Also consider this. By accepting that no means no, you let the blogger focus on the books they want to focus on. Eventually you'll find a blogger who is able to review you because they want to, and because everyone else they turned down accepted their decision, leaving them time to review books like yours.

13. Behave Yourself on a Blog Tour: Ritesh gives a long list of what not to do. Read it, and I hope you have this overwhelming sense of "duh." If you don't, go read it again. Memorize it. Abide by it, always. I'm not going to reiterate what he has to say. I'm going to tell you another story.

This one's about Carey Heywood, an author who's got multiple books out, and who has been hit with some pretty harsh reviews. For a few releases there, before she found her target audience, her ratings were a little low for someone who went on to hit the New York Times Bestseller List last month. Here's my personal experience with Carey. She doesn't know me, but we're Facebook friends. I had a client who wanted to give away keychains as swag, which Carey did once, so I messaged Carey to ask what site she got the keychains from. A minute later I get a response with the link. I test it, see that it's down, and say, "Oh, they're out of business now, but thanks so much." Immediately I get a response that says something to the effect of, "Maybe that's the wrong site. One moment." A minute later she messages me with another site link, and a smartphone picture of the return address label on the package that the keychains had arrived in. This definitely counts as her going out of her way. Even if the box was right next to her, she didn't know me from Adam. Most people wouldn't bother. I thanked her again and we signed off. Now, I don't think sweetness alone made her break through, but it certainly doesn't hurt. Furthermore, it made an impression on me that someone who has had her detractors and one-star reviews didn't come off as the slightest bit bitter or defensive.

The kind of temperament she showed me is one that wins supporters. If you ask me now what I think of her, I'm unreservedly positive. She's great. I'm really, genuinely happy to see her selling so well. She accomplished this in three quick Facebook messages. The impression you make, even in short interactions - or I should say especially in short interactions - matters. Always be on your game. Always behave as if people are on your side. That, in a nutshell, is what professionalism is all about.

14. Commenting on Blogs: I touched on this before. When you're on tour, visit the blogs that post for you and respond to comments. I'll be doing that this evening after I post this post here. Don't ever just let blogs post stuff for you without going to respond to any questions fans ask in that venue.

15. Replying to Negative Reviews: Okay, go read what Ritesh had to say, and then remember this rule of thumb. Don't. Now am I hypocrite here? Yes, because I sometimes do reply to my negative reviews. I had one where the person hated the book and ended with "Sorry," and I said, "You don't have to be sorry about being honest" and I thanked her. I had one that ripped a book of mine to shreds with some factual inaccuracies, and that one caused problems because I started to get messages from people saying they'd never read the book because X and Y happened in it, when in fact, nothing like the person described had happened. The person also made some personal attacks on me. So what did I do? I responded with, "Just to clarify, X and Y didn't happen in this book." But then here's where you have to be careful. Because the person had attacked me personally, I had to make it clear that this didn't bother me, and that's hard to do in print. "Really, it's fine that you think that," will often come off as defensive. So I took some time to craft another paragraph supporting the reviewer in her opinions, because everyone's entitled to their opinions. I just had to intervene before I got more messages reaming me out for writing a book about X, when X literally did not happen anywhere in the pages of that book.

Replying to a negative review is nearly always a bad idea, and I would say don't even attempt it unless you really are fine with bad reviews. I am. Truly. I spent ten years in a high powered writers group getting ripped to shreds by professionals, most of whom made their living from writing. No fan can come anywhere near the impact of George RR Martin telling me what was wrong with my process. I'm also weird. If you are uncomfortable with getting one-starred, you're normal. And don't respond to your negative reviews.

For that matter, don't respond to the positive ones either, or be very careful. People who write reviews would be a lot less likely to continue the practice if it became obvious that the writer read them. Reviews are for readers. Even if the review was positive and you say "thank you," you've changed the dynamic. You've invaded their space. The review was a place for them to talk about you, not to you. A lot of people will stop leaving reviews once this happens. Respect the role of reviews and treat it with respect.

But yes, when someone on Goodreads said they found one of my novels, bought it as an ebook even though they didn't have an ereader, figured out how to read it on their computer, and endured a massive headache as a result, and left 5 stars, I did have to ask, "Why the heck would you go through that kind of trouble for an author you'd never heard of before???" We had a lovely conversation in which I learned the power of the GR recommendations engine (which was useful to know), and then I ducked back behind the curtain, explaining that this was really where I belonged and why.

The End: That's the end of Ritesh's series, and mine on this subject. Hope it's been useful. I've gotta go post links to all the blogs that hosted me on my last tour, check the comments, and compose tweets to direct my followers to go to those blogs. And then I need to write my thank you notes. Because this is how don't screw up a blog tour.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Are We Having Fun Yet?

image from

We've all seen movies where it looks like the actors aren't having any fun. They can't wait to get off the set and go over to the catering truck for a snack break. They look a little embarrassed to be there on camera, actually filming this boring story. Those kind of movies aren't any fun to watch, either.

I've heard that when a writer isn't having any fun writing a story, the readers can tell. A week or so ago I stopped in the middle of a project I was working on and read it from the beginning and realized I didn't seem to be having much fun. I was making myself write because that's what I do. I was doing it on automatic. Like the way I wash dishes.

No one wants to hang around and watch me wash dishes.

So last night I decided to think wa-a-a-y back to what got me hooked on writing in the beginning. What was it, when I wrote that first science fiction story in third grade, or that fantasy novella in junior high, or that graphic novel I never finished in high school, that made me feel like I was taking the first plunge of a giant roller coaster and I wanted to throw up my hands and shout "WHEEEEEE!"

Here are the answers I came up with:
  • FEELING:  The words, words alone, could make me feel like something exciting, important, terrible, and wonderful was happening, even though I was only sitting there, scribbling in a notebook. I could tell myself stories in my head that would charge up my emotions, and then I could write them down, read them later, and get the same emotional buzz.
  • CHARACTERS: I liked to hang out with my imaginary friends. What can I say? It was almost as fun as hanging out with my real friends. Sometimes it was more fun, since my imaginary friends had space ships and could do magic.
  • PLACES: I never had to be where I was. Working on a story transported me. It felt like exploring, traveling, going on an adventure.
  • PUZZLES: Figuring out how to get my characters in and out of totally awesomely horrible situations without breaking any rules of the game always kept my brain very, very happy.
  • TIME: The hours flew by when I wrote. My internal clock is usually merciless, always driving me to get things done on schedule. When I wrote, the gears would slip, and I'd be totally free.
So what makes writing fun for you?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ch 3.4 How to Be Brave

(This is part of a book I'm blogging, Indie Author Survival Guide. If you want to know when it releases, please subscribe to my newsletter.)

Ch 3.4 How to Be Brave

Writing is an emotionally risky thing to do.

You discover things about your characters. You discover things about yourself.

(You fear, perhaps, those things should remain undiscovered. This is never true.)

When I posted an article on FB by Brene Brown about Why Vulnerability is Courage, the talented and fabulous Angela Ackerman pointed me toward another of Brown's TED videos about Shame. It was held up in a forum as a way to write complex characters, but I think it speaks not only to our characters, but to ourselves (as these things often do). 

In short:
People need connection - it's the most important thing in our lives. Shame is the fear of losing that connection over something we've done or something we are. Being vulnerable means taking action that allows people to see the things we fear will be shameful.

Here's the key: Being vulnerable is a measure of courage.

“Vulnerability is courage in you and weakness in me.”

It is precisely when we are feeling vulnerable that we are being courageous.

Part of me knew this intuitively from very early on; part of me is just now getting it in full.

A lot of people tell me I'm brave. This isn't something that's happened since I've started writing or self-publishing. This has been going on my entire life, and on a fundamental level, it perplexes me. My own mother was telling me this ever since I was 18 months old, climbing out of the crib and heading for the 6 foot chain-link fence that separated our apartment complex from the freeway.

My mom: You had no fear! Fearless, I tell you! You would have climbed right out onto that freeway if we hadn't stopped you!

Me: You nearly let me crawl out into traffic?? Well... that explains a lot.

Growing up, I dreamed big (wanted to be an astronaut) and went after things that seemed to make other people cringe. It wasn't that I was tremendously brave, I just never let my fears and anxieties stop me from the things I wanted to do. It perplexed me that not everyone did this, and I figured that maybe other people didn't experience fear in the same way. As I grew up, I explained my apparent bravery as "not letting fear stop you," but I knew that was an incomplete understanding of it. Because there were times that the fear stopped me. However, most times not, and I began to see the ability to be afraid and keep going as a strength.  

I remember very clearly telling my husband (before he was my husband) that, "Being able to be emotionally vulnerable is strength." What I meant was that "not letting the fear stop you" was a strength, not a sign of severe mental illness masquerading as reckless abandon in decision-making (which was how he described many of my actions).

He clearly thought I was nuts, but he married me anyway. (A topic for deeper analysis, to be sure.)

An aha moment for me came when I read Brown's article about vulnerability being courage: I realized that all along, all that fear that I had - about not being a good enough writer, about failing as an author, about writing things that were too dark, or too sexy, or too emotionally raw - all of it was me feeling vulnerable while doing something brave

I've known for some time that being brave isn't about being fearless. The fear is always there. But the aha came in realizing that the fear wasn't weakness, something you overcame by not letting it stop you, but that...

Fear is part of courage itself.

Fear is the sign that you're letting yourself be vulnerable.

You're taking the chance of exposing your weaknesses to the world. Brown found in her research that it was precisely these people - the ones who risked being vulnerable to the world - who were the most connected and had the strongest sense of worthiness and belonging in their lives.

"The courage to be imperfect. To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart." - BrenĂ© Brown

Thank you, Brene Brown, for being brave enough to point that out.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Writing Wasteland

I finally got a work laptop a few months ago -- I named him Ziggy. I got it so I could make better use of the spaces between things I have to do, like waiting to pick up kids and also so I can close myself away in my only non-toileted lockable room (my bedroom), a la Virginia Wolfe.

I think it's a wonderful setup, and I keep imagining that I'm in a wonderful writing groove. The only giveaway that all may not be wonderful in Oz is Ziggy himself. Whenever I open the lid and wake Ziggy, he tells me he needs to restart to finish installing important updates.

I'm starting to think he says this just to keep me from writing.

Apparently, the reality is that I write so rarely that teams of Windows update programmers have time to come up with important fixes while I can't seem to get a complete scene written.

I suppose this post is a friendly reminder that anything can be a Ziggy... and that we must never ever get derailed, deflected or distracted from our writing dreams.

How? How do we keep going when it feels like we are making no real progress? I think perspective is key here. I read a book recently called The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson, and it describes the journey you take when you pursue a dream. It begins with a parable, a story where the main character, Ordinary, lives in a familiar place doing all the familiar things you'd expect. He begins to pursue a big dream, which takes him on a journey that has several stages, including traveling through a wasteland and fighting overwhelming giants.

There are several dreams I've had in life that feel like this kind of journey, and in several parts of my life I feel like I am conquering giants and coming through victorious.

But with writing, wow, writing really feels like a wasteland. A wasteland -- ever feel like that? A huge, vast, dry, desert wasteland. A graveyard with no end and no life. I can't seem to cross it, it goes on forever. That could be pretty depressing and I think we writers do sometimes feel depressed by the wastelands we experience on the way to the writing land of promise.

So, like I said, keeping perspective is key. I have to remind myself that every word I type counts toward my proverbial million words I need to accumulate before I am a master Jedi writer. Until then it's all Padawan training. Okay, it's late so my metaphors are all mixed.

Please, if you feel like you're in a writing wasteland, just remember that it will end if you keep pressing on, and that in so doing you are in fact becoming the person that can accomplish great writerly things. You don't have to -- you could just give up. But if you give up, some very important stories won't happen. It is BECAUSE of the writing wasteland that you'll be prepared to live the writing dream, with all its giants and challenges... and hard-won joys.

Truly, the "joy" is in the "journey".

Write on!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Character Motivation and Desire Lines

Several years ago, I took a class by the brilliant and wonderful Martine Leavitt (writer of many amazing books such as:  Keturah and Lord Death, and My Book of Life By Angel; winner of many prestigious awards; teacher extraordinaire – she has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Vermont College, where she’s also an instructor; and she’s just an all-around nice person who knows how to teach writing.

The biggest thing I took away from her class was learning to address my characters’ motivations and make them real. I’d like to share her wisdom.

Some of the questions she had us ask ourselves were:

What does your Main Character want? This is their desire line that will pull them through the story

Why does your MC want it?

What will happen if they don’t get it?

Why should I care?

Let’s talk about Desire Lines (DL).

From the moment of birth we want something. Desperately. Air. Warmth. Love. Nourishment. Nurturing. Comfort.

Those needs never stop. As we grow older, yearning at its deepest level reflects our desires - which tend to get more complicated, based on our experiences and unique needs. And it's a very individual thing as to what we want the most. The one solid truth is, no matter who you are: everyone yearns. Everyone wants. Everyone needs. That’s part of being alive. That’s what makes us feel. It's also what makes us unique.

This needs to be carried over to our fictional characters.

Good fiction is all about connecting on an emotional level with your readers. If you make them feel something you make them care.

But how do you do that?

For starters, you need to understand your characters, and know exactly what their deepest, most secret desire lines are. Those desires must drive their every decision.

Let’s start with the basics, your MC’s Concrete and Internal desire lines.

Concrete: What does your MC want to physically accomplish or gain by the end of this story (or series)?

Internal: What does your MC want emotionally? What is his/her emotional arc? How will the events of the book change him/her? We need a sense of who he/she is on the inside. Eventually that should come out. And this desire should be reflected in the concrete desire as well.

Knowing what your character wants is how you create true suspense. False suspense, where the writer withholds vital information through gimmicks, is used way too often. Wondering if your MC will obtain their desire line is the real thing. Here are some examples of desire lines:

Lord of the Rings
Concrete: To throw the ring in the fire.
Internal: Frodo just wants to go home.

Concrete: Stanley doesn’t want to his family to suffer from being poor anymore.  
Internal: Stanley wants friends.

Harry Potter
Concrete: Harry needs to stop Voldemort in order to survive and save his friends.
Internal: Harry wants a family.

Hunger Games
Concrete: Katniss has to survive in order to protect her sister.
Internal: Katniss wants to be worthy of love.

Here are some more questions to help you flesh out your MC and find their DL’s: (You can use this on other characters in your story as well.)
What does your character want?
What do they want emotionally/internally?
What do they want physically/concretely?
Why does he/she want it?
What will happen if they don’t get it?
How does your MC struggle to get what he/she wants?
What additional hardships does the MC face?
What is their weakness?
What is their strength?
Who is the most important person in your character’s life?
Best memory?
First memory?
Worst memory?
What sets this character apart from other people?
What one thing would the character change about himself/herself?
Character’s flaw?
Biggest fear?
What they are afraid to lose and why?
What happened in the past to make him/her who she is today?
Why has this character come out to tell this story?
When is it hopeless?
How does the story end?
How is your character changed?
What is surprising about the ending?

Here are some exercises to help develop desire lines:
1)      Have your character write a letter telling you his/her darkest secret, things he/she hasn’t told anyone.
2)      Write a scene showing your MC’s desire line – showing him/her wanting it. This DL has to be strong enough to carry him/her through the whole story/series.

I wish you the best and look forward to reading your very real stories!