Thursday, 22 May 2014

Increase Your Twitter Following by Sharing Peer Posts

So you’re a self-published author, and you want to get noticed. How do you do that? How do you spread the word that you’ve got a book, and that people are going to want to read it?

An Author Platform Is a Necessity

One of the most important things an author can have is a platform, an audience that’s listening. And one of the most effective - and certainly one of the most popular - platforms is Twitter. Another is to host an author blog, and conveniently, these two platforms go hand in hand. You write a blog post, then take to Twitter to share what you’ve written. Hopefully, if people like what you’re sharing, they’ll follow you on Twitter so that they get updates about your blog.

Makes sense … except for one rather inconvenient drawback: where in the heck are you supposed to find the time to blog regularly? You’re an author. That means you need to spend your time authoring your books. And without blog posts to share on Twitter, how are you supposed to gain a following?

I Tweet, Therefore I Share

Twitter is all about sharing. You can favourite and retweet things you see and like to whoever is out there paying attention. And you can also tweet links to other people’s articles and blog posts that you’ve read and found informative (or funny, or interesting, or whatever) directly. Just shorten the link and add a caption.

Sharing helpful posts that are not yours is a great way to increase your activity on Twitter, and to gain followers - and before you raise a cry of protest, no, this is not cheating. What you are doing is providing your followers, and other Twitter users who happen to notice your tweet, with valuable information. And if you’re providing valuable information, people are going to want to follow you to get valuable information regularly.

A note, though, if you are going to take this route make sure you do two things:

1. It’s imperative that you use hashtags. Hashtags are how people find your tweets. By properly hashtagging your tweets, you increase the chance of being found, and followed.

2. CREDIT the author of what you are sharing by adding their twitter handle, as well as the twitter handle of the host site (if the author is a contributor to a third-party site). It's just good manners.

Supplement Your Tweeting Efforts

You don’t have all the time in the world to blog. You are busy writing your book. If you want to build that all-important platform, try supplementing your tweeting efforts by sharing the great work of your fellow bloggers and writers.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Writing Tip: Avoid the "Long-Ass" Sentence

One of the tips that literary agents and writing gurus tend to repeat is keep your sentences short and snappy. Or, as editor Cate Baum says in her blog post Eight Most Common Editing Errors In Self-Published Books, break up those “long-ass sentences.”

We’re writers. We love words; it goes with the trade. Not only do we love words, but we love to arrange words, too. And rearrange them. And turn those words into sentences and even paragraphs worthy of literary worship.

Unfortunately, the result is often the classic, run-on sentence.

The danger of the long-ass sentence

Everyone knows that run-on sentences are a big no-no. At least theoretically. Yet so many novice writers do it. Comma after comma separates thoughts and ideas which should be effectively ended with periods and semicolons.

Apart from being grammatically incorrect, long-ass sentences are also hard on your readers. It means they need to work in order to read your story. And making them work at reading is counterproductive to what you want for them: to escape into your story and actually live it.

Here is an example of a run-on-sentence from a fiction novel that has actually been published:

I look back toward my brother, waiting for the popping [of Pop Rocks] to stop in my mouth so I could give him some attitude about the shitty look on his face when my world suddenly stopped turning, it stuttered for a few seconds, then restarted, erratically matching the rhythm of the candy exploding inside me but when I swallowed, the explosions didn’t stop, they went down into my chest and on into my stomach, settling uncomfortably down low in my belly, for some reason the sensation was causing my brain to cease its connection to my mouth, leaving me devoid of speech.

Hard to read, huh?

Now, compare that to my edited version, with much shorter sentences:

I was about to give my brother attitude for the shitty look he had on his face, when my world suddenly stopped turning. It stuttered for a few seconds, then restarted. My heart thumped erratically, matching the rhythm of the candy exploding inside my mouth. But when I swallowed, the explosions didn’t stop. They went down into my chest and settled uncomfortably low in my belly. For some reason the sensation was causing my brain to cease its connection to my mouth. I was left utterly devoid of speech.

KISS: Keep It Short And Snappy

The key to writing fiction that pulls people into your story is to write sentences that move. Whether your literary sensibility likes it or not, short, snappy sentences move. Each thought should be separated by a period or a semicolon, not a comma.

By writing paragraphs that are composed of five or six succinct, individual sentences, you won’t be asking your reader to work at reading. And when they don’t have to work, it’s easier for them to enjoy your story.

That is, after all, why you write. Isn’t it?

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Why your romance novel does not need a villain

The days of the flat, dimensionless villain are over. Readers expect more from their stories than the classic good-vs-evil that characterized fairytales of old – think Disney in the 50s.

A while ago I wrote a post called Love Your Villain. In it, I talked about the need for creating a villain that your readers care about on some level. This is what makes the savvy reader of today care about your novel as a whole, about your characters and what will happen to them.

It’s true, some stories simply require villains. What would Titanic be without Cal Hockley? Or Harry Potter without Vold—whoops, I mean, He Who Must Not Be Named?

But if you’re in the outlining stage of your novel, and you’re struggling with how to fit in a villain that you can add depth and character to, try omitting the villain entirely. You don’t need him. Or her. Believe it or not, your story can get from start to finish without that classic hate-their-guts antagonist.

Creating conflict without a “villain”

If you don’t have a set, identifiable villain, you might ask, then how do you create that conflict that makes a novel—especially a romance novel—a page-turner?

Well, here are three suggestions:

1. Struggle against societal expectations

Think Pride and Prejudice. There is no real villain keeping Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy apart. It’s Mr. Darcy’s societal standing, really, that is the source of conflict here. It is everyone in Mr. Darcy’s upper-crust sphere, and the expectations they’ve put on Mr. Darcy his whole life, that is keeping them apart. Throw in a bit of stubbornness on both sides, and an insipid mother, and you’ve got a great, villainless story.

Try having your hero and heroine come from two different classes. Perhaps he’s a tavern owner and she a debutante. Perhaps she’s a London pickpocket and he’s head of Scotland Yard. With society against your protagonist lovers, you don’t need to introduce a villain to keep them apart.

2. Struggle against external conflict

Ah, external conflict. The bread and butter of historical romances. Who needs a classic villain when you’ve got the Wars of Scottish Independence to keep your lovers apart? Or maybe your hero and heroine are fighting for their love in the upheaval of Revolutionary France.

Many authors try to introduce a classic villain into historical circumstances when one isn’t necessary. Let the history create the conflict. Or if not history, then write your romance around external events that are beyond your protagonists’ control.

3. Struggle against internal conflict

If you don’t have historical or societal pressures to work with, try introducing internal conflict. For example, your hero might not think he’s not good enough for his lady love because of his poor upbringing. If you want a real example, then consider the first book and a half of the Twilight series, where Edward is struggling against his love for Bella because of his … er … nasty little habit of sucking things dry.

A word of caution, though, on internal conflict. You have to be smart about it. There is a fine line between great internal conflict, and stupidity. Your readers won’t thank you for a masochist protagonist, who constantly sabotages his or her own happiness because they’ve got all kinds of ridiculous hold-ups.

We all love a good villain. Keyword here is good villain. Don’t feel you need to introduce one just because. If you can’t write a villain that readers can at least identify with on some level, or at some point in your story, you’d probably be better to downsize your cast by one evil dude or dudette.