The Craft of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘publishing’

How to Drive Readers to Your Blog

In blogging, How-to's on April 12, 2010 at 7:41 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

List to a PODCAST of this article.

With the emergence of self-publishing as a viable form of authorship, it behooves the writer to learn how to market his work for maximum success. One of the initial steps you should consider is blogging. Once that marketing piece is in place, you then need to drive readers to your blog.

Here are some basic steps you can take to do just that.

Publish regularly. You should author articles and post them to your blog as often as possible, but no less than once a week.

Learn how to title your articles. Determine what terms and phrases people use to find information on the Internet and use those to title what you write. I first started with Google Adwords and then began to keep a database of those terms and words people use to find my blog. Can you guess what the number one phrase is?

Populate your blog posts with subscription options. Most of us are aware of the RSS feeds but you might also consider an email subscription service like Feedburner.

Try some article marketing. Think about writing article for sites like EZine or Scribd.com and others. As long as you place a link to your blog in the article, it’ll drive traffic to your blog.

Offer to guest post for other bloggers. Just this past Friday Elizabeth S. Craig was kind enough to allow me to guest post. Of course, she’s posting on my site in just a few days. These reciprocal arrangements encourage people to read both blogs so it builds readers for each party.

Consider if you should place a link under your email signature. Now everyone who sees your emails will be exposed to your blog. And you never know who knows whom.

Link your posts to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and any other social networking sites to which you subscribe. As long as they serve your target market, it’ll help build your blog.

You may wish to add a button that allows your reader to retweet your posts. This encourages their followers to find you. I’m been remiss with this but will pick it up this week.

Read other blogs within your market and comment on them. People do tend to read article comments and everyone who does will see the link to your blog.

Build an email list of people who visit and comment. Send an email announcement to each of these people whenever you have a new article posted.

You might also implement share buttons on your blog posts. If you allow your readers to connect with you on various social networking sites, it’ll generate word of mouth advertising for you. One person did this for me on Stumbleupon and I received more than four thousand hits in one day, by far my largest number of hits from a single site in a day.

If this is a topic that holds interest for you, keep an eye out for this blog as I’ll be doing more on this subject soon.

So, what are your favorite tools to drive readers to your blog?

Until we speak again, you know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


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Why I Will Self-Publish – Probably.

In General Information, Marketing Your Book, The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on April 7, 2010 at 7:04 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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I’m about to finalize my decision as to how I am will sell my emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.” With that in mind, I must soon decide if I am to self-publish and endure all that entails or face the gauntlet of the publishing industry and all the rest that comes with that. (We have not chosen an easy industry, have we folks?

I see advantages with either scenario and I also see drawbacks with both. However, the more educated I become on the subject, the more it seems it is in my best interest is to go it alone. Here’s my train of thought. Please so advise if you disagree. I am open to an honest discussion on the matter.

Agents:

I like the idea of an agent who represents me and feel I have the capability to find a quality agent. That part doesn’t concern me. I really don’t like the process of how they choose the writers they represent. No, I agree with the query process. After all, even writers need a resume. What tweaks my cheeks is their query restrictions. One minor, unintended error that has nothing to do with the quality of your writing, and you’re only opportunity to have them read your resume is lost. Don’t get me wrong, they have to do this. I understand and even agree. I just don’t like it. I also consider how once I find the proper agent for me, will I be the proper author for them? The odds are quite limited. Why hang my future on such low odds when I have other options? However, the real rub? After I’m through with the exhaustive experience of agenting, then I have to deal with the pub houses.

Publishing Houses:

Publishing houses do ease, though not guarantee, entry into the brick and mortars, which are the premier distribution channel for the writing industry – for now. However, distribution is their only remaining asset of any real worth and with the explosion of technology, I see their grip on distribution slip with each day that passes. In fact, I believe the Internet is about to leave them in the dust and take over their monopoly with distribution. Amazon, a technology company, even affects their sales model. That’s not a sign that instills confidence in me relative to their strength or ever their stability within the writing world.

Another major issue I have with pub houses is they’ll hire some salesman who MAY give my book a ten second pitch. If he wants to. Honestly? I want that salesman to answer to me, not some conglomerate who sees me not as a customer but as a product. Again, I understand and have no solution for them, I just don’t like the system.

Further, there’s almost no chance for an advance, which means I work on commission – a commission based not on my productivity but some unknown salesman’s capability. Now, I’ve worked on commission before and made a bunch of money doing it. But I either held the salesman’s position or the salesman worked directly for me. Under their arrangement, I’ll most likely never even meet this person, let alone develop a relationship with him. And yet, my career hinges on his efforts. It’s a scary thought to someone like me who has always pulled up his own boots.

The pub houses will not assist with marketing, so that effort and expense lies with me regardless.

The pub houses sometimes offer editing services, but even that benefit is dying. Plus, I can purchase that service on the open market and have a say in whom I hire. They do have book cover design services and that’s nice, but I give up all control over how they present what, in the final analysis, is my work. Further, I can purchase that service on the outside at a reasonable price and maintain total control.

Something else of which I do not approve? The publishing industry is absolutely subjective and good novels are lost all the time to this limiting aspect. Again, I do understand and it can be no other way, but that also dilutes my potential to a great degree. Again, I could lose not on my abilities, but on a stranger’s tastes or even their emotions of the moment.

This whole process just does not send that proverbial tingle up my leg.

So as I see it, to work with a major pub house, I give up a huge portion of my potential profits in exchange for little more than a diminished distribution system based primarily upon old technology? Hum…

Self-Publishing:

I do have one advantage most writers do not. I’ve owned and operated my own businesses since the days of paper boys with bicycles. I’m experienced with going it alone and I’m comfortable with the idea. I will admit this aspect of who I am influences me a great deal.

The major drawback to self-publishing? All the issues rest with me. I don’t worry too much as I’ve been a business decision maker my entire adult life, so making these kind of judgments are sort of par for the course.

Cost. It’s a big issue. However, it won’t break the bank, so it’s not too large of an issue. Besides, my wife is on board, so the real hurdle is already crossed.

Marketing. This is a major issue with those who self-publish and beyond the well-written novel itself, it’s the meat and potatoes of success. However, I’ve been self-employed and marketing since I my tenth birthday. Though the cost of it is a consideration, the Internet has supplanted much of that cost. I can work up copy, build web sites, use social networking and all the rest. I’ve even got contacts.

Product: I do believe I’ve got my breakout novel in hand and am convinced my novel will sell with correct marketing. It’s a great story and the narrative is well written and well edited. In fact, I dare say it’s better than most books the pub houses crank out. I know… I know… we all feel that way about our babies, but I’ve written two stinkers, so I’ve got somewhat of a handle on good vs. bad. This one is good.

Publishers: I’m not too worried about that. I’m good enough at research and I’ll find a good print shop with benefits, which is really all they are. I used to own a wholesale print shop, so I have a feel for what to look for.

Editing: I’ve got a relationship with an excellent editor who is reasonably priced and brutally honest with me. Besides, I’ve grown into a pretty good editor myself over the years.

Book Cover Design: Graphic artists are everywhere and some are even reasonably priced. Besides, I’ve got some great ideas and I’d like to see them fleshed out.

Distribution. Now here’s the other of the three big issues which also included cost and marketing. Again, I’ll forgo the brick and mortars for the Internet any day. The B & M’s are a dying breed and the Internet allows me to get my marketing message into almost every home in the English-speaking world. I’ll have a worldwide market, which includes their customers. So again, marketing is the secret to distribution. By the way, have you noticed the B & M’s now sell the very products that will either kill their business model or force them to become something other than a book store? “Here’s yer sign.”

Profit potential? I’ve worked up a business plan and feel I’m actually ahead with self-publishing. Especially when you consider the digital end of things. I’ll not have the overhead the pub houses do so my business plan gives me an huge edge when I keep all the profits rather than some small percentage. I retired from the business of coaching other businesspeople and did so for many years. I have confidence in my plan.

So, that’s my way of thinking on this important writing decision. I challenge you to show me where I’m wrong.

In the mean time, how ‘bout some referrals to self-pub houses that have impressed you?

Thanks for your help.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


There are no rules! Really?

In The Craft of Writing on March 29, 2010 at 7:48 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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I may be missing something here, but I wonder why people in the industry say there are no rules in writing. Of course there are rules. Lot’s of ‘em. Everywhere you turn.

Here’s a thought. Isn’t, “There are no rules” a rule in its own right? Thus, it would appear the statement is false on its face. So, have I’ve already made my point? Regardless, let’s journey forward.

“There are no rules” is considered by many just the Real Rule among the multitude of maxims they know exist. Here’s one example that proves the invalidity of the Real Rule.

Don’t query fiction before you have a completed novel.

Of course, another rule says you don’t have to follow this rule if you’re already a successful novelist, or a celebrity, or a politician or this or that. But, that doesn’t make the Real Rule not a regulation for us mere mortals, does it?

Here’s more proof the Real Rule is incorrect.

Don’t query unless your novel is well-written.

That’s definitely a rule.

Ah, I can hear the arguments now. “You’re talking about publishing! You must understand there are no rules when writing.”

Well, they are often interdependent, but let’s check that one out, too.

If there are no rules in writing, I guess you can write a novel that contains no conflict, right? Conflict in fiction is a rule, isn’t it? Maybe not if you believe the “no rules” rule.

Care for another example? When writing your novel, everyone says you need a sympathetic hero. How many novels would you sell if nobody cared for or identified with your protagonist? I guess we’ve found another rule that does exist.

Here’s another I guess you can ignore when writing; point of view. Just write from any and every viewpoint at any time. Right? I doubt even your mother would care to read that novel. Hum. Yet another rule.

One more, if you’ll bear with me. There is a rule when writing grammar that says you should eliminate most of your “-ly” words. Here again, another rule.

In addition to the many binding rules of writing, there are any number of ideas that are passed off as rules when they are not. One that comes to mind says fifty percent of your novel should be dialogue. That’s more a “guideline” as our pirate friends of the Caribbean might say. These sort of pseudo-maxims are a bit more difficult to address and beyond the scope of this article.

It’s probably time to stop and get to the point. My point is, there are rules, many and all kinds of them, and as writers we need to know and employ them.
With that said, I believe “there are no rules” is much like the rules of society. That is, rules do exist and people in power expect you to follow them, but it’s a lot more fun when you know how to break them. If fact, as Katherine Hepburn once gave words to my personal mantra, “If you obey all the rules, you’ll miss all the fun.”

In general, rules are made to be broken, but for the majority of us we must be circumspect when we do so. Some, such as conflict in fiction or the sympathetic hero really should not be broken if we wish to sell our novels. Others, like the use of semicolons, can be manipulated.

I recommend we think of the rules in writing as techniques or skill sets, if you will. Early in our writing careers we should first learn these various skills and methodologies. We should then adapt to them and become proficient with them. After we’ve reached that level of success that satisfies us, then figure out how to bend and even break the rules.

In the mean time, if we wish to sell our novels, we should jump through the hoops the industry requires of us and don’t give those people who say there are no rules too much sway over our writer’s life.

Okay, I’m done. Now I want to hear your arguments to the contrary.

Until we speak again, know I wish for you, only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


Interview with Elizabeth Chadwick, 2/2

In The Craft of Writing on November 16, 2009 at 11:12 am

This is the second and final installment of my interview with the ever-gracious Elizabeth Chadwick. Please take the time to read the first posting of this interview as she has a great deal to teach us. When you read the initial post you’ll see I tried to focus on any lessons Elizabeth Chadwick may have for aspiring writers as they learn The Craft of Writing. Today we finish with the sixth through the tenth questions.

Please note there are spelling and punctuation differences between her home of England and mine of the United States. If you see something that feels odd to you, trust the way Elizabeth Chadwick writes it.

Now, on to the interview.

My sixth question was:

You and I write are in the same genre, historical fiction. A question I’ve had asked of me a number of times is how does an author find the correct phraseology to adequately portray the language of his novel’s time and still appeal to today’s readers. Can you assist us with this?

“Just use good, standard English as the basics. If you go in for ‘gadzookery’ you have to be very sure of what you are doing and you are likely to alienate a lot of your readers.  If you go the other way and write modern phrases into your dialogue, you are likely to put off many readers of historical fiction who don’t want a Tudor personality saying ‘So what do you think of the King’s teenage girlfriend? Geez, she’s hot to trot isn’t she?’  Keep it on a level and perhaps insert the occasional historical word or phrase to give a flavour – although if it’s an item, make sure that the context tells you what it is.”

In her respond Elizabeth Chadwick gives us the technique for portraying a native dialect, a Southern accent, or even an Irish, “Top o’ th’ mornin’ to ya, laddie,” without the need for those many odd contractions and endless apostrophes. We simply use contemporary language and toss in the occasional historical word for authenticity.

As I’ve noted on earlier postings, not only do I follow Elizabeth Chadwick’s advice, but also look also to the flow, the music, within the language you’re emulating. I watched the wonderful movie “Stardust” the other night and the dialect of some rather ancient witches followed these rules. In one scene, a crone is heard saying, “What hardship a few more days?” In this simple phrase you can see the entire concept of what Elizabeth Chadwick recommends. The sentences use contemporary English terms, but with the lilt of the time.

Question Seven:

What might you recommend as the best method or methods for an aspiring writer to learn The Craft of Writing?

“As aforementioned.  Sit down and do it; that’s the only way. Read as much as you can too and across all genres.  Don’t just stick to reading what you want to write.  Try everything and get to know different authors’ voices and what each genre requires.  Watch films and TV dramas.  Watch film trailers.  Observe how they are put together.  You can learn a lot about structure from these as well as reading the written word.  I think visual media allied to reading and writing, helps a writer form images in their head.”

How many among us aspiring authors have heard the old saw extolling us to put our backside in the chair and write? I’ll bet you’ve also heard the recommendation to read widely, haven’t you? Well, Elizabeth’s Chadwick’s words contain the proof in the porridge as this is the primary method to improve your writing skills. Sit down and write is about as clear a recommendation as you might receive. To write better, write more.

My Eighth question was:

Please tell our readers how you see the art of storytelling as linked to The Craft of Writing.

“I suppose The Craft of Writing can get in the way of the story telling if you get too hung up on the rules.  I would say the story telling is all about putting the first draft down on the page, and the craft comes in at the editing stage once you’ve written or told the story.”

I have learned two important lessons from Elizabeth Chadwick, one of which is the “rules” in writing are, as she quotes from The Pirates of the Caribbean, “more like guidelines”. I truly appreciate her counsel in this regard. The other major lesson I’ve learned from her is the power of setting. Read her books and you’ll understand what I mean.

She emphasizes we should, first and foremost, write a good story. Worry about the rules after the story is penned to the page. This also answers a personal question as to why many successful writers don’t always follow the rules and still have stunning novels. It’s always about the story, guys.

Question Nine:

In historical fiction, as with many other forms of the art, research is an integral part of writing. Would you share with us how your research affects your application of The Craft of Writing?

“My in depth research means that I can walk through the medieval period with confidence and know that my characters are of their time and not modern day people in fancy dress. It means that I can imagine them and their world clearly and being clued up means that I am aware of all sorts of details and scenarios that I can fit in to enliven the narrative or save for a scene in the next novel as appropriate.  A writer should do the research but only feed it into the novel on a need to know basis. The material that doesn’t go in is not wasted.  It supports the writer’s ability to get under the skin of people long gone.”

I loved Elizabeth Chadwick’s response here. It seems The Craft of Writing isn’t directly affected by the research an author performs. Research, instead, enlivens the narrative so as to immerse your reader in your story.

And finally, question number ten:

Are there any other suggestions you might recommend for aspiring authors relative to The Craft of Writing?

“Enjoy what you do first and foremost. Don’t get hung up on what you should and shouldn’t be doing.  For example, rules about how much dialogue you should have to prose just get in the way in the early stages.  Find your voice first and then begin looking at craft issues, but treat them as guidelines and don’t get in a state about them, because they can totally mess up your creative muse.  I know they do mine if I start poking about. I would also say write something every day. Set yourself a target that is easily doable even on a fraught day.  That way you’ll always achieve your goal and often go beyond it, which keeps it enjoyable and is a confidence booster.”

Elizabeth Chadwick’s advice for improving your mastery over The Craft of Writing includes writing what you enjoy. I doubt there is better advice available. If you try to shoehorn yourself into a genre which does not call to you, like any aspect of life, your muse will not participate in the endeavor as she might have had you let her speak through you.

Elizabeth Chadwick also suggests you find your voice early in the process. This, too, is excellent guidance. If you pay attention to people in this industry, you’ll find almost every successful person peppers their advice with this specific requirement. Agents, those who land us those elusive contracts, specifically and often recommend finding your voice and developing it. In my opinion, this is second in importance to writing the good story. I’ve written an earlier post on this and you may wish to review it.

She continues with encouraging writers to write everyday with an attainable goal in mind. This couples nicely with Elizabeth Chadwick’s earlier recommendation to sit down and put finger to keyboard. There is no better way to achieve a goal than to practice.

This concludes the interview with Elizabeth Chadwick. I hope you’ve garnered from this as much from this as have I.

Again I’d like to thank Elizabeth Chadwick, author of “The Greatest Knight” and many other good works, for her kind assistance in helping me offer this to you.

Now, I ask if Elizabeth Chadwick can take her time to support aspiring writers, shouldn’t aspiring writers take the time to support her?

You may pick up any of Elizabeth Chadwick’s many fine words from The Book Depository: www.bookdepository.com. (They do not charge for worldwide shipping.)

Elizabeth Chadwick’s web site is www.elizabethchadwick.com.

Her blog can be found at http://www.elizabethchadwick.com/Blogs/blogs_livingthehistory.html

Her Twitter name is @ChadwickAuthor.

If you have any questions or comments, please direct them to me at this blog.

Thank you for your time and attention. I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Authors’ Positioning in the Emerging Publishing Paradigm

In Marketing Your Book on November 1, 2009 at 8:26 am

A a number of aspiring authors have spoken to me relative to their fears concerning the current price wars in the marketplace, and their concerns authors will be the ones to absorb the price reductions spreading over the publishing landscape. If you are fortunate enough to already have an established position in the industry, you’re fine for now, but you still should look to the future and how best to put it to your advantage.

My advice to aspiring authors? Fear not.

Yes, the authors’ landscape is changing in an unprecedented manor, fueled by price wars and technology for the most part. It is these price wars that seem to have everyone in the greatest state of furor.

First, let’s consider the changing publishing topography. In the past, publishers have had domain over three major aspects of the writer’s life. They controlled distribution, payouts and production. Their powers are under dramatic assault by authors with business sense, the Internet and POD. Technology is changing everything in its path.

Let’s focus on authors getting paid. How is that going to happen in the future?

In one word, “eBooks.”

Here’s what I see happening.

Wally World and others are now selling first run, major names well below the wholesale price. For now they are absorbing the financial disparity and using books as a loss leader. So far, so good. But mark my word on this, Wally will soon knock on a publisher’s door and demand, not request, deep discounting at the wholesale level. How is the publisher going to make money? He cuts his expenses or increases his sales. He has already relinquished his hold over marketing to individual authors and so does not control sales. Therefore, the publisher’s only avenue is to cuts expenses. What part of the P&L is going to take that bite? Since he’s already cut marketing expenses, he’ll slash payout to authors. He has little choice but to do so.

What do authors do to protect their paycheck? They sell their books elsewhere. It’s all fundamental action vs. reaction. Everybody in this chain protects their paycheck.

At some point, the publisher starts to lose his best authors and faces the peril of going out of business. In response, he’ll move toward selling via the web where his costs more rationally match his pricing structure. What is it the publisher will sell on the web? EBooks.

In the mean time, the author has had his payouts cut to the bone, so he either stops writing or moves somewhere else. Where does he go to make the most money? EBooks and the Internet.

Why do I say this? Let’s look at two comparatives. Let’s say a publishing house pays you three dollars for each of your books it sells. He soon cuts this to $.50 per book to cover his discounts to Wally. You’re already a self-marketer, and as self-publisher, you might make $2.50 per book sold. Would you rather sell a book for $.50 and do your own marketing or $2.50 and do your own marketing and production? To each his own, of course, but many of the best and brightest among writers will go for the bucks.

So, with the changing paradigm and price wars, an author under contract to a publishing house moves toward eBooks where the publisher can reduce his costs and payout more to attract first rate writers. If he’s self-published, he moves toward eBooks, for cost, marketing and distribution reasons.

Fear not, kind readers, embrace the future and you’ll be fine.

May all your books be best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

12 Ways an Agent Considers Your Query

In Marketing Your Book on October 29, 2009 at 9:55 am

I am not an agent, I’ve never had an agent, nor have I ever personally known an agent. Why then, am I the one to write this article? Well, I’m probably not. Still, I’ve been walking this path for a while now and I have learned to use those senses located around my face. This article is what I’ve learned as I’ve traversed my chosen trail.

An agent is in the business of selling books to publishers. They are business people like every other business person out there. They contend with P&L’s, customers, contacts, inventory control, and all the rest. They are looking for authors, even aspiring authors, for without us they are unemployed.

We, the authors clacking away at our keyboards until the dawn lights the morning sky, are their inventory. It is their job and profession to see their inventory put into the hands of their clients, the publishers. The secret, as with any business, is to choose the correct inventory to sell to the correct client. The query letter is one method they use to locate that inventory.

Though not necessarily presented in the order of their thought processes, this is my understanding of  when they receive your query, how they look at it.

Is the story within one they can sell? If their contacts weigh heavily toward romance publishers, sending a query touting a nonfiction book on the weaknesses in the Theory of Relativity is wasted on them. They may have no background in selling this type of book and they’ll most likely pass.

If they’ve just sold a similar book, they’ll probably not try to do it again as they’ve already pitched their contacts on the storyline.

If the story within is not interesting, they’ll pass. If this is your storyline is dull, overused, out of date, etc., the agent knows none of their contacts will buy the book from them.

If the story within is not unique. If your hero is named Luke and he’s an orphan living on a farm in some far, far away galaxy and he will soon discover he has the power to summon the forces of nature to his aid and… Well, it’s been done. You may have a slight chance if your work has a unique aspect to it, but save yourself the trouble and write a new story.

If your query is not professional in nature, it tells them you are not a professional. These guys are pros, and they want to surround themselves with like-minded individuals. Learn what each agents wishes to receive and give them that.

Their time is valuable and limited. Assuming your query even reaches their desk, you have maybe twenty seconds of their time available to you. If your query starts with, “I am so important to you,” or some such nonsense, you don’t even get the twenty. However, if you start with a good hook that catches their interest, you’ll get the extra ten seconds that previous blowhard squandered.

They look to the quality of your writing. They consider your query a sample of your writing skills and seek those who are well versed in the craft. Why would they try to sell inferior inventory? That is what you are if you have yet to learn how to write.

They do consider your provenance, if you will. Why are you the one to write this work? If you’ve not stepped into a classroom since you quit school in the seventh grade, they will not consider you the best source for recommending how to alter the educational landscape. If you write spy novels but have never seen the thin end of a pair of binoculars, you’ve probably chosen an incorrect genre. Write what you know. No, you need not have a writer’s pedigree, but you do need to exhibit knowledge of your subject matter, be it fiction or nonfiction.

They want to know why you chose them. If you’re querying every agent in the known universe, that’s fine from your perspective, but to them it’s a sure sign of your lack of professionalism. Query them for a reason and tell them why you did.

They do respect the recommendations from within their sphere. Wouldn’t you? They have clients and contacts they trust to know their desires and markets, and a confidant is their most efficient method of finding a new author. Try to get a recommendation. As difficult as that may be, it is your truest path to publication.

They want to know you’re in this as a career. They don’t earn as much money off a single book as they do a number of books. If they have your book published and twenty thousand copies are sold, how man dollars get into their pocket? How much do they earn if they sell twenty of your books at twenty thousand copies per? This is a business for them, even if it is not for you.

This is a subjective business and they will often pass on a manuscript for a reason as simple as it does not “call” to them. Sorry, guys, but life is unfair and so is the publishing world. That is why you query multiple agents.

If your query does not exemplify these qualities, I recommend you keep trying to improve your writing and querying skills.

I’d love for an agent to comment on this as to any errors in my thinking or omission in the list.

Until my next posting, kind readers, may all your books be best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

THE Cardinal Rule of Writing

In The Craft of Writing on October 27, 2009 at 9:12 am

We all know the cardinal rule in writing is “Show. Don’t tell.” It sounds simple, but what does it really signify? It can be defined in two words, “action” and “dialogue.”

To build this article I did a bit of Internet research and everything I found could have been condensed into those two words. I was also truly surprised at the lack of definitions or explanations for this most important of rules. Then, when I attempted to put this article on paper, I found how difficult it was to explain. So, I thought I ‘d give you a couple of examples as a way to “show” you what it means.

Consider this “telling.”

Jackson rode into town with the top down on his convertible, waving to his many friends as he passed. He acknowledged his neighbor, the grocer, the post master, his teacher and the police officer who had threatened a youthful Jackson with arrest when he was caught pilfering apples.

I’ll bet you can see this happening. However, in contrast, let’s “show” this same scene with action and dialogue.

Jackson backed his antique convertible from the garage, taking time to lower the top. Entering the vehicle again, he paused to savor the warmth of the sun as it kissed the back of his neck.

Pulling out of the driveway, his waved to Bill, his poker buddy who lived in the house beside his.

“Hey, Bill. How they hanging?”

Bill throttled down his mower and returned Jackson’s gesture with a single toss of his hand. “Uptight, as always. Love that car, Jack.”

“Especially on days like today.” Jackson flourished his hand in a wide arc to encompass the cerulean sky overhead. With a parting nod in Bill’s direction, Jackson pointed his cherry-apple ’57 Chevy into the emerald overhand of the tree-lined road.

As Jackson rounded the corner, Michael, the town’s only postman, tossed a greeting in his direction. “What’s up, Jack?”

Jak responded in his normal fashion. “Same ol’, same ol’.” He then added, “Great day to have your job!”

Michael nodded and smiled. “Beautiful day, it is.”

Jak continued down the road until he was forced to break at the elementary school crosswalk. Miss Jenkins, the town spinster and his long-past kindergarten teacher, waddled past in front of his car.

“Good day, young Jackson. You still minding your manners?”

“Of course, Miss Jenkins.” Jackson waved over his windshield. “You taught me well.”

She nodded as if she was proud of her accomplishments in his regard, then passed from sight.

As Jackson reached his office and parked his vehicle, he raised the black fabric top for the local news warned of a coming weather front.

Just then, a burly officer dressed all in blue called out. “Hey, Jackson! Straight and narrow, are we?”

Jackson laughed at the running joke and answered in his habitual way. “Yeah, Sam, until I’m caught!”

Officer Samson O’Rilley chuckled as he bounded up the police station steps two at a time to cram his large body behind the too-small desk in the office he shared with Jackson.

You should notice these two scenes tell the exact same tale. Yet, which of them pulls you, as a reader, into the story? Which introduces you to the characters in such a way as to make them come alive?

I think it’s obvious. In the first scene, there were only five verbs and zero dialogue. In the second there were so many I didn’t bother to count.

In the first we met six characters, none of whom showed any personality or life. The second, in contrast, introduce those same six and we learned something about each of them. That is what draws people into your work.

The lesson here? I hate to say it, but it’s “Show. Don’t tell.”

I hope this helps a bit and may all your books are best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Tips from the Masters

In The Craft of Writing on October 24, 2009 at 9:13 am

We’ve all heard to emulate the successful should we seek success. Well, here’s what the successful say of writing.

One of my favorite writing tips comes from Mark Twain. He said, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Can you say, “Find Feature?”

Mr. Twain also spoke to me with this one, “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay.” Amen to that! Or, as my wife says, “Follow your muse, Patrick. Write for the love of it.”

We’ve all heard authors are supposed to prune their writing to say more with less. Elmore Leonard found a way to say this in such a way as to eliminate all possibility of argument. “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” To that end, William Strunk Jr. told us, “Vigorous writing is concise.”

Another maxim with which authors are familiar is to write with emotion. It’s a simple idea put into great words by William Wordsworth. I like this one. “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” Sounds like there’s a good title for a blog or romance novel hidden in those words, doesn’t it?

Anton Chekhov, I think he was on Star Trek, spoke of how we should paint pictures with our words when he said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Have you read articles about how to accept and learn from whatever criticism you receive? Ray Bradbury, advises us to, “…accept rejection and reject acceptance.” Tough, but good advice.

Mr. Bradbury also tells us we should write as much as we can for, “If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.” Clever guy, Ray is.

As authors we write about what we have experienced within our own lives. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said it best. “If any man wish to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul.”

How much of our lives should we put into our craft? John Irving suggests, The way you define yourself as a writer is that you write every time you have a free minute. If you didn’t behave that way you would never do anything.”

Something I learned from my mother and apply to my writing is to trust my instincts. (Smart woman that Margaret!) AS G. K. Chesterton put it, “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.” A related quote I found is again from our friend, Ray Bradbury. “Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.”

Has a writing mentor ever told you to write in a fashion the rest of the world has not? Try Oscar Wilde’s though on for size. “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

Whew! That’s a lot to master. If you’re successful what do you reap? (Besides that elusive book deal?)  One will, “Learn as much by writing as by reading.” So says Lord Acton.

Best of luck in making these ideas a part of your writing life.

May all your books be best-sellers.

Patrick

Ten Tips to Remain Unpublished

In Editing Your Manuscript on October 22, 2009 at 9:13 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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We all wish to see our books and novels on the shelves while throngs of people race to the store to grab a copy for themselves. Few of us will ever realize this dream if we lack those skills necessary to master the craft of writing. So, I’m offering a short list of novice errors the accomplished writer has learned not to make.

Your manuscript is full of synonyms for the word, “said.”

“Save me!” she pleaded.

“I’ll save you!” the hero responded.

The villain cried out, “I won’t let you save her!”

“Never mind, I’ve saved myself,” she complained.

If you feel you must use a tag line, put it in sentence form.

She pleaded for someone to help.  “Save me!”

Her hero called out to her. ‘”‘ll save you!”

The villain yelled to her hero. “I won’t let you save her!”

After freeing herself, she stood behind them with a scowl. “Can’t you two do anything right?”

(If your dialogue sounds like this, you’ll remain unpublished, but this works as an example.)

You Use Too Many “ly” Words.

Adverbs are badly overused by writers today. Oops, I mean, Adverbs are overused by writers today.

Adverbs are the lazy author’s method of working. This writer has the tendency to use the first thought that comes to mind and put it on  his paper. This is no problem in your first draft, but by your fourth or fifth, they should mostly be gone, uh, they should generally be gone, oh, jeez, I mean there should be few, if any, of them left in your manuscript. There are two traditional ways to overcome this error. The first is to use your Find Feature within your word processor and locate those evil “ly” words. Replace them with stronger verbs or reword them. The classic example is to replace “softly crying” with “whimpering.” You can also drop the “ly” word entirely, or rather in its entirety,  if it doesn’t make a difference to the meaning. Consider the phrase, “utterly alone.” If you’re alone, you’re by yourself and if you are “utterly alone” you are still by yourself.

You Have a Tendency to Overuse Adjectives.

Our classic example in this case is, “the dark night.” We all know night is dark and by adding the word, you’ve not embellished the concept of night at all. James Thurber explains with this sentence. “The building is pretty ugly and a little big for its surroundings.” “Pretty ugly” is still ugly and “a little big” is still big. There is a place for adverbs in writing, but use them sparingly and only if you’ve attempted to replace them with verbs and nouns.

You Use Wimpy Words.

Wimpy words tend to cheapen your writing. They include such things as almost, probably, seems, appears, about and “ish-words”, among others. Did your character almost yell out or did they fume? Did the boss seem upset or were his eyes flaming with anger? Use your words with boldness and confidence.

Clichés are a Dime a Dozen.

Now and then your readers feel it in their bones that your writing has feet of clay. (Hey, Cut me some slack. I’m improvising on the fly here.) Cliché’s bore your readers and an author’s worst sin is to writing boringly, uh, without feeling.

Your Writing Contains Dialect.

It be too diff’cult t’ red dose dam woids. Ya cotton t’ ma meanin’? With some characters, you must show a distinction between their dialect and that of others, but aim for the flow of their speech patterns rather than their actual words.

You Repeat Your Best Words Over and Over and Over and Over Again.

If you truly use the same words too often, your writing will truly be, uh, truly bad. Keep your eyes open for those words that repeat themselves too often. It bores your readers to repeat the same word or words repetitively. Look for those words that are similar in wording, too. Reword them.

Miscellaneous Errors.

“He looked over the escarpment between childhood and manhood.” If your writing sounds like poetry, reword it. Just use expressive, interesting words and put them on the paper.

You use altogether too much alienating alliteration.

Sure, it can be effective if used with correct comportment, but its effectiveness is fast fleeting if you employ it as a tentative tool too many memorable times. Alliteration can work, but its strategic use makes for more effective writing.

Your Writing is Coy or Uses Gimmicks.

Starting too many sentences with, “and” or “but.”

You pull lines from movies or television shows.

Your exciting sentences end with multiply punctuation marks!!!!

You use CAPITAL LETTERS instead of italics to indicate emphasis . (“DO WHAT I SAY!” vs. “Do what I say!”)

Perform a triple-check of your manuscript and see if it can be improved. It may well make the difference between a form rejection and an offer.

(And you thought you were done with your editing.)

I hope you know by now I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”