Friday, February 14, 2014

Seven Reasons All Serious (and Not so Serious) Writers Should Link to Randy Ingermanson



Big tip, especially for all you beginning writer/indie publishers out there!

This tip is a person.

His name is Randy Ingermanson.

Randy Ingermanson is a theoretical physicist and the award-winning author of six novels. He has taught at numerous writing conferences over the years and publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the largest electronic magazine in the world on the craft of writing fiction, with over 32,000 readers.

I first met Randy through Camille Eide, another writer friend I'd just met in a shuttle bus on our way to my first Mt. Hermon Writers' Conference in March of 2008. 

I remember the meeting (which is more than I can say about most random events in my past) the way you remember some seemingly insignificant moment in time for no apparent reason. At the time I had no reason to think this guy would matter to me, even though Camille said good things about him and I trusted Camille's judgment.  It was just one of the kind of casual introductions you always get at writers' conferences, which is one of the best reasons for going to them.

But I digress.

Randy just happened to be sauntering by as Camille and I stepped out of our transport. She greeted him, and, gracious person that she is, she introduced us. He said all the right things, and then ducked and ran, like the introverted geeky kind of a person he is. I turned away, thinking no more of the meeting, eager to enter into the conference experience at Mt. Hermon, my favorite writerly place to be.

As it turned out, I would run across this amazing man off and on for the next six years, sometimes in person at conferences, and sometimes online.  He has made an impact on my writing career, and I think you'll find him helpful too.

Here are seven reasons you'd like to be Randy's friend.  They're in descending order, except for number seven, which I think really belongs at the top of the list, but I have to put it at the bottom because it's a whimsical reason, and we writers don't put much store in whimsy, at least about the writing process, even us fiction writers, especially if we're beginners.  (Yes, I know.  That sentence could do with some editing.) Whimsy is kind of fun, and we writers can't afford to have fun.  We're too busy trying to be discovered.  We must be serious.  So here are six serious reasons (and one un-serious, dis-serious, anti-serious whimsical reason) why you should become Randy's online friend:

1)  He knows tons of stuff about the writing business.  As his bio claims, his e-magazine is the largest electronic magazine in the world on the craft of writing fiction.  And 32,000 readers can't be wrong.  (Randy would probably argue with that claim, since he's a statistics expert, among other things.)

2)  He shares what he knows clearly and simply.  He writes so clearly that the publishers of the prolific "For Dummies" series asked him to write their Writing Fiction for Dummies book, which currently ranks #8,720 on the Amazon best seller list.  When you consider that Amazon sells well over 6,000,000 books, that's a pretty high rank.  I checked my Zinovy's Journey rank, which I do now and then, just for fun, and it's a whopping #873,693, almost exactly 100 times less popular than his Dummies book.  I'm sure there's a reason for that.

 3)  He's created the Snowflake method.  It's a template for plot building.  If you're beginning a novel, or even just wanting to go with an idea you have, this tool might be useful to you.  Check it out at the link above.

4)  He answers questions on his blog.  Not every question. He's a busy guy.  But I was fortunate, again through my friend, Camille, to get into one long line-up for his advice, and what I learned helped solve a writing problem that had stumped me for months.
 
5) He knows about other interesting stuff too.  Because he's a science and technology geek, he sometimes analyzes wild and weird issues on topics totally unrelated to writing.  He is a truth seeker.  His research is extensive, his arguments cogent, and his thoroughness is enough to make your eyes cross. But the best thing about his writing on these often controversial topics, the thing that makes them so worth reading, is that he disagrees with his opponents with humility and respect.  What a great internet world it would be if all writers, especially Christian ones, would model this approach. 

6)  He's written some fun novels.  So here we head gently toward the less serious reasons you'll like getting to know this guy.  If you're a fiction reader, you might want to check out some of his novels.  Here's a link to the latest one,  Double Vision.  Another good read is Oxygen, which he wrote with his fellow geeky physics BFF, John Olson. 

And now, last but should be first, is the best reason to connect with Randy:

7)  He's funny.  I was very sad to hear that Sam, the plumber, like his irritating distant cousin, the Wicked Witch of the North, has apparently recently dissolved into a puddle of water on the floor.  There's a rumor he might be resurrected, or reconstituted, whichever the case may be, but for now we'll not be regaled with his exploits any more. 

Sam's demise is documented here.  I'm trying to find a link to the whole series of blog posts about Sam, Randy's infamous plumber/nemesis/friend, because they are so much fun to read, but I've gotten lost in the complex maze of internet addresses available on Randy's website and can't find a link.  

If you're afraid you might be beginning to take this writing thing a little too seriously, I recommend you check out the Sam story.  It might help you reevaluate your priorities and refocus your writing. 

Which is the whole point of this blog, after all: Your Writing.  Any of the links I've given above will help you get on with the writing task.  So check them out, connect with my friend, Randy, and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Chocolate and Amazon Reader Reviews


Amazon reader reviews are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you'll get when you bite into one of the tasty morsels in that box, but, hey, it's chocolate! How can you lose!

You'll never really lose with reader reviews either, but you may end up preferring some over others. Both readers and authors love the taste of the very best ones.  But what makes one reader review better than another?  

I'd like to answer that question in this post, but first I want to clear up one GIANT question about Amazon reader reviews that had me confused for a long time.  

WHO CAN WRITE AN AMAZON REVIEW?

My first confusion was about who could write Amazon reviews. I wondered if Amazon reviews could only be written by people who bought the book on Amazon. 

Makes sense, in a way. Amazon would want the business, for sure. 

But the truth is, Amazon benefits from reader reviews whether or not the reviewers have bought the books from them. Reader reviews are what other potential buyers use to decide on their Amazon purchases, which makes those reviews a boost to all Amazon sales. 

So the happy fact is, ANYONE can write a book review on Amazon, about ANY book Amazon SELLS, whether the person bought the book from Amazon or got it somewhere else! 

Now a word or two about the KIND of review that's helpful. It's not what you might think.   

ARE ONLY 5-STAR REVIEWS GOOD ONES?

Of course authors love the five-star rankings. They're wonderful. But if readers don't feel they can give a book five stars, that's okay. It's much more important that reviews be obviously HONEST than that they be totally COMPLIMENTARY. Honest reviews are more helpful to readers, get more attention on Amazon, and good authors will appreciate the honesty every bit as much as they do the 5-stars.

DO REVIEWS HAVE TO BE LONG?

Reader reviews do not have to be long. They do not need to include a synopsis of the story, or cover every aspect of the book. Long synopses can, in fact, be harmful. They might give away too much of the story, or emphasize something that will misrepresent the author's message. In this case, less is much better than more. 

And readers don't need a complete rundown of every element of the story either. They only need a taste to help them decide if they want a bigger bite. All a good review needs to do is make a recommendation of the book to other readers, either good or bad.  

WHAT MAKES A REVIEW A GOOD ONE?  

The most important element of a good review, as stated above, is honesty. The next most important ingredient is probably specificity. It is good if reviews give readers at least one reason WHY they might, or might not, like the book. 

General statements such as, "I love this book," or "I don't like it at all," make good introductory statements in reviews, but they don't really say anything useful to readers, and they won't have the impact that a clearly stated specific example of what the reviewer likes or doesn't like will have. The best reviews give readers a clear taste of what they'll be getting when they bite in. 

WHO BENEFITS FROM AMAZON REVIEWS?

EVERYONE benefits from short, honest, specific reader reviews on Amazon.  

Authors love them. I so appreciate the twelve reviews of Zinovy's Journey that readers have posted on Amazon! They are heart-warming and encouraging to me! They prove that the book is doing what it was created to do.  Thank you, so much, if you are one of those reader reviewers!  

And reviews also contribute to the success of the book. I've heard a rumor (unjustified so far by research, but interesting all the same) that when any book gets as many as 20 reviews on Amazon, it will become more accessible to buyers. Amazon considers the magic number of "20" a milestone, for some reason, and will bump the visibility of the book when the reviews reach that number.

Readers benefit as well, of course. "So many books, and so little time!" Readers like information that will help them wade through all the options to get to books they'll actually want to read. So if you're a reader, you have a chance to promote your favorite books, or save other readers from wasting their time on books they won't enjoy. 

And here's AN ADDED BONUS! When you write a reader review on Amazon, you get to see YOUR OWN WRITING IN PRINT, out there for ALL THE WORLD to read! Instant publication! Any author will tell you that's an exhilarating experience.  

If that idea scares you, you can give yourself a mysterious pen name and enjoy the thrill from the safety of your own favorite easy chair!

But be careful. Seeing your words in print is addictive. You might end up starting a reader's blog of your own, or even writing a new best seller yourself!

Now why don't you go looking for that box of chocolate you got for Christmas, and curl up in your reading chair with a good book.

I do so appreciate all the encouragement my readers have given me about Zinovy's Journey.  Thank you!  Readers are essential.  No book is worth anything if it's not being read, and the more readers the better! 

If you are a Zinovy reader who has not yet posted a review, would you consider doing so? I'd love for many more people to experience Zinovy's Journey, and I appreciate any help you can give me in spreading the word.  It would be great if I could reach that magic milestone number of 20 reviews this year. 

Here's a direct link to the Zinovy's Journey Amazon reader review page. It's easy to do. Simply click on the button that says, "Create Your Own Review" and follow the directions. Then sit back and admire your own delicious words in print!


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Bright, Shining Light from the Little Dark Study





As the New Year dawns, here's a thought to encourage all writers who belong to Jesus, those who toil away in the "little dark study" day after day and night after night.

The little dark study is often cold and lonely.  Sometimes we feel we're wasting our time there.  We'd rather be anywhere else.

But there's a calling into the darkness we can't ignore.  So we sit, hunched over, fingers curled above the keys, praying for words that will communicate the beauty of the One we serve.  Words that will fill hearts with His glory and the wonder of His great grace.

We are not alone.  We follow in the humble footsteps of other sinners who've gone before us. Sinners like this one:

Amazing Grace.

May God bless you during the New Year, and bless the world through your faithful response to His calling on your life.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Those Pesky, Unwanted Black Lines in Your Manuscript


Do you suffer from those pesky* black lines that appear in your manuscript for no apparent reason and will not delete under any circumstance?

I had this problem, literally for years, when I was working on Zinovy's Journey.  I was super frustrated, because I could not submit a manuscript to an editor in that condition.  

I finally asked a workshop presenter at a Mt. Hermon Writers' conference what to do about the problem.  She couldn't help me, but a couple of young techie guys sitting behind me heard my question and solved the problem in less than three minutes.

First, the problem:  

It happens with Word, when you use a repeated series of symbols without spaces between them in your text, as you might do when you're creating scene breaks.  Word "auto format," in its great wisdom, thinks you're trying to create a border, so it gives you part of one, across the page, at whimsically selected places throughout your text.

Here's the simple solution:

1)  Highlight the text on either side of the black line.  Word won't let you highlight the black line, itself, but if you select the text above and below it, continuously, the black line will be highlighted invisibly.

2) Go to "format" in the menu bar at the top of the document, then select "borders and shading," and click on "none." The black line will disappear as mysteriously as it has appeared.

3)  Ever after, if you want to use symbols for scene breaks, just put a space between each character and it won't happen again.

When you do get a manuscript in front of an editor, they will likely take out all your fancy-dancy scene breaks anyway, but in the meantime you can enjoy them all by yourself.

Hope this helps!  Happy un-formatting!
____________
* (Randy Ingermannson's favorite word)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Mystery of Marketing


Since the debut of Zinovy's Journey in October, 2011 (Has the book really been out that long?) I notice that all my posts on this blog have veered over toward the marketing department, either directly or indirectly. 

The Authorial Process

When the authorial process begins, all the action takes place in the writing department.  But it very quickly (don't ever use either of those two adverbs, especially right next to each other) moves over into the editing department, and the two department heads (or the two-headed monster, whichever analogy seems appropriate to you) wrestle back and forth with each other until both are exhausted and left, sweating and panting, on the editorial floor.  

At this point the publishing department (in my case the self-publishing department) picks up the manuscript, wipes away the blood, sweat and tears, whips the product into a more-or-less presentable condition, and puts it on Amazon.com.   

From there, the product moves into the marketing department, and it stays there forever. 

Marketing--The Great Mystery

How does marketing work?  Is it magic? Miracle? Or just more blood, sweat and tears?  

I asked my friend and mentor, Jeff Gerke, for advice on this mystery.  He's young, bright, excited about writing, imaginative and experienced in all aspects of the writing process, so I figured if anyone could solve this mystery it would be him. 

Here is. . .

Jeff Gerke's Marketing Formula:

I'm a believer in what I call the 30-to-1 Marketing Plan.  You have to do 30 things to market your book before 1 of them works. 

The problem is that you don't know which one it was, and if you did it again, it wouldn't work again.  So you have to keep doing those and 30 [other] new things to get a new 1.  Do that enough times and your 1's will finally begin to add up. 

There really is a correlation between elbow grease and results, when it comes to marketing fiction.  My authors who do less to market their books tend to sell fewer copies than my authors who work longer and harder to promote their books.

So there it is.  Jeff would be the first to say that magic plays a part.  He is, after all, a fantasy writer.  And he believes in miracles as well.  But bottom line, like any other great achievement in life, it's the well-greased elbow that gets the job done.

I'm pushing up my sleeves as we speak.

P.S.  If you're a writer of faith-friendly books who is considering self-publishing, I highly recommend Jeff Gerke's services.  He is a well-respected fiction-writing jack-of-all-trades, with experience in all aspects of publishing. He was invaluable in my process, as a consultant, an editor, a typesetter, a cover designer and, through it all, an encourager. 





Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Five Ways To Discover the "Social" in Social Media


I'm lonesome.  This morning I woke up to thirty messages in my e-mail inbox and not one of them was from a real person.  At least not directly. 

It's my fault.  In some kind of a crazed feeding frenzy, I signed up for each of those messages at one time or another.  But instead of appeasing my appetite, they've just made me hungrier. Why? Maybe it's because they don't have what I'm really hungry for. 

I'm hungry for the social, but I'm only finding the media. 

I'm beginning to realize that social media only provides the kind of interaction I might find by myself at a bar in a strange town.  The bar is full of interesting people, for sure, but the noise level is so high, and the smell of stale alcohol so strong, that I can't really focus on any one person and get to know them in a meaningful way.

When I do start a conversation, I often discover the person at the other end of the interaction is only there to hook up with someone for the evening.  Their immediate, baser personal hungers are driving the relationship. 

Whoa.  Wait a minute.  I'm there for the same reason.  No wonder I'm not finding my hunger satisfied in this place.

So where do I go from here?  How do I extract myself from this stinky bar and find real relationships with real people?  

Here's a plan, a quick "to do" list.  I'm not promising anyone, including myself, that it's going to work any better than my New Year's resolutions do.  But at least it's a start.

I will:

1.  Unsubscribe from impersonal sites.  Leave only connections directly related to people I have met face-to-face or at least communicated personally with via some kind of electronic avenue.

2.  Communicate personally with those I leave on my subscription list.  Comment on their posts, or tweet to them, or e-mail, always with something significant and specific to say about their messages.

3.  Tweet meaningfully. I will send a personal tweet message to everyone who "follows" me on Twitter, asking them to explain why they followed and and give me some personal information. I've actually already begun doing this and it's revealing.  The responses I get are fascinating, and if I don't get a personal response, with a tidbit of personal information in it, I don't follow back.  

4.  Forget about Marketing.  Yes, I mean that.  I need to give up the idea of promoting my book on social media.  If people discover Zinovy's Journey through my social media connections, it will have to be a natural and unpremeditated occurrence.

5.  Pray that God will direct my steps.  I will trust the Holy Spirit to be my social secretary.  I will make sure my spirit is in tune with the Spirit of Jesus, and then I will interact, personally and honestly, only with connections I feel drawn to.

Already I'm struggling with this process.  I just went to my inbox and successfully unsubscribed from three connections, but then I got to my daily Twitter message, telling me who I might like to follow, and ended up signing on to yet another irresistible blog. 

Sigh.  Three steps forward and one backward.  But I did comment on that blog post, and it felt a lot more satisfying than simply signing up. And I'm not giving up on this idea. I'm going to plug away at the process, living and learning, looking for meaningful relationships in the maze of social media.