Sunday, September 24, 2017



Manuscript Organization and the Independent Writer




I wish I could tell you that I have some amazing and simple organization skills that I can pass on to you.
I don’t.
What I can tell you is what NOT to do.
I’ve learned everything the hard way, even making some mistakes more than once. The problem is I write long books, therefore only using things like editing, proofing, Mail Chimp, uploads to Amazon, and Author Central, as infrequently as once a year. It is difficult to establish a learning curve for those things that doesn’t dip into nothingness in between uses.

Here are a few hints on how to avoid costly errors.

1.     Slow down.  I know, I know, everyone tells you to crank out your books as fast as possible and get them uploaded immediately. But having once uploaded the wrong manuscript, one with errors still in place, I can assure you that taking time to double check your manuscript every time you get one back, and before you upload it, will pay off.

2.     Delete early versions. Develop a system that works for you. Date or number every version of your work, and get rid of the old ones as soon as possible. Again, number and/or date them to avoid confusion.

3.     Keep a writing journal. Devote a notebook just to keep track of your promotions, your proofing, editing, formatting, reminders, etc. Date entries and list tips on using things that come up only once in a while. A large planner works great for this and is worth the investment to keep everything in one place.

4.     Post a weekly goal list in front of your computer.  I use a small index card every week and list about five things that I’d like to get done that week, then post it in front of my computer. One of the items is always the number of pages I want to get done that week in the latest book. Change the list weekly and check off what you’ve accomplished.



Dear readers,
We are having a very warm weekend here in northwest Wisconsin as I write this. I’m one of those weird people who love fall and winter, and I’m eagerly waiting for some cool, crisp days!
I’ve just added my latest book to Amazon, and as usual, made some serious errors in the process, which inspired this blog. Hopefully, you will find it helpful.
Have a happy autumn,
Marla




Friday, August 18, 2017

Discouragement and the Older Writer






Is discouragement with writing any different for the older writer?
The older writer has the same pitfalls as any author, in addition to a whole other field of sinkholes.

A lot has been written by and for writers about not giving up. Advice pours forth like rain in April and nervous writers drink it up.

For the older writer, many of our distractions, problems, setbacks, have their own unique characteristics. A different group of life events causes us to have serious setbacks. Some of the most troublesome for our writing careers are not things like school starting, getting married, a new career, or a demanding job. They are painful interferences, like the death of a friend or loved one, being diagnosed with a serious illness, caring for a sick parent or loved one, or even taking the grandkids in for a week. These things can cause an author to set their writing aside and even give up on it entirely.

How to keep writing no matter what

1.    Find ways to stay positive.

Life is too precious to waste days being anxious or depressed. Find a good book on how to stay positive. If you’re pressed for time, keep it in the bathroom and never sit down without reading a page.
Being happy and being positive are decisions we make.
Choose to be happy.

2.    Keep in touch with friends.

Relatives are wonderful, but it’s friends who listen to you vent and cheer you up when all is grim. Take time out for lunch with a friend, see a movie, or just chat over tea and coffee.

3.    Establish ties with other authors.

This one not only got me to be a writer, but my author friends have kept me writing over and over again every time I was ready to give up. Find other authors in your area; your local library is a good place to do this. If that doesn’t work, they are easy to find online.

4.    Keep writing every day despite what life throws at you.

Joe Konrath, (if you aren’t familiar with him, check out his blog) one of the most successful eBook authors, writes 3.000 words a day, every day, and he will stay up into the wee hours to maintain that word rate on days that he is busy with other activities. His favorite advice? BIC – butt in chair!
You don’t have to write 3,000 words a day like Joe, but try to dedicate even 30 minutes a day for writing.
Every week I write a list of about five, to-dos for my writing. The first one on the list is the number of pages I will write that week. Rather than a daily amount, I keep it weekly, to about 14 or more pages a week.
Find a method that works for you.

5.    Explore helpful tools.

Try a mini recorder, carry a small laptop, an iPad, even a small notebook to take advantage of any downtime when you’re away from home. I have a friend (much more technically advanced than myself!) who uses a voice activation tool to record her writing directly to her computer. Don’t let an opportunity to write pass you by.


Dear Readers,

The months after the holidays can be a good time to write, and this year I had a three-month recovery period after hip surgery in late January. I was wheelchair bound and had figured on getting a lot of writing done—I didn’t.
I did read a lot of books, though, and made some progress on my newest novel, but nothing like I’d hoped.
Criticizing myself for that indulgence got me nowhere. It took time, but I finally got back on track. The best way not to get into that state is to stay on track in the first place. That thought inspired me to repeat this blog.

Hope you find it helpful,

Marla


Some suggested reading:
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, by Martin E.P. Seligman

Happy for No Reason, by Marci Shimoff

Friday, April 28, 2017


How Many Characters Are Too Many?

  



  
Will using too many make readers lose interest?


Some critics complained that my first novel had too many characters. Even a good friend, who loved the story, told me she had to take character notes as she was reading to keep all of them straight. So when I wrote my next book, I used a lot fewer characters to make sure that particular complaint wouldn’t happen again. Guess what? There were reviewers who said even that book had too many. Every reader has his own tolerance level.
How important is it for authors to worry about having too many characters?
I write and read suspense. As a reader, I have to agree that sometimes the use of large numbers of characters gets confusing. But it’s  hard to write good suspense or a good thriller with just a few characters. Remember The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy? Yikes! If there were ever books requiring the reader to take notes, those were the ones. A few of the names were even spelled very similarly. And that series was on the NYT bestseller list for years.
            So what makes a tolerable character list for readers? And why will readers accept dozens from some authors yet complain about too many from authors with 10 or twelve? Readers—we want to hear from you!
            Here are some ways to keep your reader abreast of your characters:
1.     Do keep characters’ names different. Avoid names that sound alike, look alike or even begin with the same letter.
2.     If possible, introduce characters one at a time, with scenes in between the introductions. There’s nothing harder to follow than getting hit with an entire team of law personnel, for example, at the same time.
3.     Try not to switch points-of-view within a scene. This is a basic “rule” of writing style, however, I’ve seen some famous writers breaking it when doing dialogue between two main characters. Unless you’re in their league, stay away from it. It’s difficult to do it effectively without confusing the reader.
4.     Find creative ways to remind the reader of who a character is and how he fits into the story when he hasn’t been mentioned for a while. Keep in mind every reader won’t be reading the book straight through and will need to have his or her memory refreshed.
5.     Always be sure each character is necessary to your story. Characters, like words, need to be cut if not relevant to the plot line.


Dear Readers,
I hope you are enjoying our early spring. The ice went out early here in NW Wisconsin and the temperature has been above normal. The boats are out on the lake, the trees are budding, and the eagles are circling. Summer will be here soon.
For the last three months I’ve been recovering from hip surgery and have been doing a lot of reading, which has inspired me to repeat this blog on numbers of characters in a book, so my apologies to anyone who remembers it. But, of course, most valuable advice bears repeating.
Have a wonderful week,
Marla


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

WHAT’S LUCK GOT TO DO WITH IT?

FIVE TRAITS OF LUCKY PEOPLE

 
  
March is the month of four-leaf clovers, little green leprechauns, green beer, and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We are all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and we all hope to be showered with that famous luck of the Irish.
         The word luck, beaten and bastardized, gets tossed around like a day-old doughnut whenever Indie authors discuss success (or lack thereof) of their book sales.
         The first time I ran a KDP free book promotion, and placed my suspense eBook, She’s Not There, free on Amazon.com, I only had 8,202 downloads at the end of my two days. This result was disappointing compared to those of an friend, who had 26,000 for her book using the same promotion.
When I asked her about it, she said that her success was a matter of luck, due the fact that a popular eBook site noticed her promotion and highlighted it for their readers. I know firsthand that her success is not all due to luck. She is a devoted marketer and spends every available moment working to maintain her books’ sales momentum. Me, I’m addicted to things like playing bridge, reading, and watching soap operas; my marketing ethic is not nearly as fierce!
         Here is a universal truth:
Luck is more likely to happen to those who go after it.
No one wants to hear that. We would all prefer to cling to magical thinking: I’ll get rich when I win the lottery, the perfect man will come knocking at my door, a stroke of fate will send my book sales through the roof.
         It ain’t gonna happen!


Secrets of Lucky People

1.    They believe they will be successful. Research shows that if you believer you’ll succeed, your odds of hitting a lucky streak go up. There is no magic involved—expectancy is a real driver of results. Expecting something as opposed to wanting or hoping for it, will affect your decision–making and you’ll put in more of an effort than you normally would have. Find ways to stay positive and expect success—it works!

2.    They Notice What Others Miss.
a.    Lucky people are more open to random opportunities. They notice chance situations and act on them. They are flexible in their thinking, and it’s that relaxed, open attitude that allows them to see what others don’t.
b.    Keep your eyes open for opportunities—they’re out there!

3.    They Say “Yes”
a.    Lucky people do not remain passive. Instead, they seize opportunities as they come without endless second-guessing.
b.    When chance encounters occur, don’t over-think them, act on them!

4.    They Switch Things Up
a.     Lucky people increase their chances of getting opportunities by meeting new people and trying new things. Luck won’t come looking for you or call you on your Smartphone.
b.    The more you put yourself out there, and try new things, the more likely it is you will find luck.

5.    They Practice Bouncing Back 
a.     Lucky people don’t let one failure sidetrack their road to success. When you let a bad break get you down, you close the door on new situations that could lead to a lucky break. Closely linked to the first trait, expecting the best, bouncing back means you will have a greater chance of success with each failure, because you’ll be trying more often.
b.    Regard every bad break as an opportunity to find the right course for you!

Dear Readers,
         So many of us, myself included, wait for that magical break that will mean success for our writing. But magical thinking delays success. Practice these habits of lucky people and reap the rewards.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day,
Marla
Note: I seldom repeat a blog, but this one on luck has been so popular that I repeat it every March when everyone's thinking bout the luck of the Irish.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Don't Turn Out the Lights - A review










When I was working on my first novel, one of my earliest bits of writing advice was never kill off or injure a pet because most people were pet lovers and doing so would put them off.

This advice came back to me in the very opening pages of Don’t Turn Out the Lights.

The prologue, which the author termed an Overture, was such an extreme example of this, that the scene haunted me for days. A man out in a severe snowstorm, aided by his devoted dog, comes across a cabin where (an extremely gory scene) he finds a mutilated woman’s body, still warm. He decides he has to take her corpse to his car and leaves the cabin with her body. Back in the storm he discovers that a pack of wolves are waiting to devour him. He believes that the only way to make it to the car with the body, is to sacrifice his dog to the wolves and he commands the dog to attack the wolf pack. If that isn’t bad enough, the author describes the sounds.

I would have stopped reading right then, but the author quickly covered up the scene by telling the reader it was a dream. Too late. The disgust was already stuck in my mind.

After that opening, the book became quite interesting, so I kept reading, foolishly, as it turned out. In a later scene, an intruder injures a woman’s dog so badly that his leg has a bone sticking out. Rather than take him to a vet, Christine calls her boyfriend, who she no longer trusts, and asks him to call his friend who is a vet. When he refuses and hangs up on her, she forgets all about the injured dog and goes to work the next day without pursuing the poor thing’s injuries. Hard to believe, since she lives in a big city, that there wouldn’t have been an emergency vet service available.

I rarely do reviews on books I don’t finish, but these two scenes took me so far out of the story—which could have been good without them—that I put the book aside for something better that didn’t describe cruelty to animals. Unfortunate, because otherwise the book had an interesting plot.

My advice to other readers is to avoid this book unless you don’t care for animals or can tolerate reading about their abuse

Saturday, November 12, 2016

THE KEPT WOMAN
BY
KARiN SLAUGHTER







Much as I enjoy Slaughter’s Will Trent, a detective with a complex past and an even more complex relationship with a woman from that past, I found this latest episode of Trent’s life frustrating to read.
            Trent’s new involvement with Sara Linton is crippled by Trent’s inability to let go of Angie, the woman from his childhood whom he both grew up with and married. A lot of series do this, keep the main character from moving on from an old relationship that forever pops up when he or she has a new person in their life. I think most of us readers get weary of ongoing triangles and would appreciate new obstacles for the main character.
            Not only does Slaughter bring Angie back in this novel, but also, despite several attempts on her life, she manages to survive to come back in the next one!
            As a whole, the book was rather long. It might have been easier to read if it had been tighter, especially a long episode of Angie’s life and an endless survival scene near the end.

            Despite those criticisms, The Kept Woman is an enjoyable suspense read, worthy of a weekend spent on the couch.



Dear Readers,
I am sure that many, if not most of Slaughter's fans will not mind Angie's perpetual returns to Will's life. I do love her writing, but found the above mentioned criticisms rather slowed down my enthusiasm as I read The Kept Woman. It could be just a personal like, but at some point in a series, I want the main character to move on and learn from past experience.
Have a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving,
Marla

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Review of ISIDIOUS, by Catherine Coulter



INSIDIOUS

By

Catherine Coulter





Insidious runs two parallel plots. One is about a serial killer in LA who targets starlets. The other takes place in D. C. when a wealthy woman who is a family friend of Savich is poisoned, and every member of her immediate family becomes a suspect. The plot of the latter is so clich├ęd that we've all read something similar over and over again, beginning with Agatha Christie. I found myself skipping through those sections to get to the other plot, which was more interesting.
Overall, the book was disappointing. Coulter’s books should be described as romantic suspense since nearly everyone in the story ends up connected with someone else or is already in an idyllic relationship.
Coulter’s fans are loyal, and she definitely has a huge market following, based on how frequently her books hit the top ten on the NYT bestseller list. Insidious, however, drew a lot of unhappy reviews from her fans.

What authors can learn from Insidious:

1.    Be true to your genre. Don’t describe your book as something it is not.
2.    A dash of romance is enjoyable to most readers. If your book is not advertised as romance/thriller or romantic suspense, then keep it to a minimum.
3.    If you’re going to use a plot that’s been used a LOT, be sure you have a creative twist to it. You may not be accused of plagiarism but you will bore your readers to death with a hackneyed plot.


Dear Readers,
I hope you are enjoying a lovely autumn. Here in the upper Midwest we are having warmer-than-normal weather and mostly sunny days. Make time for reading, and remember to leave a review for every book that you read, even if you didn’t enjoy it. Authors appreciate each review!
Till next time,
Marla
Bottom of Form


Friday, September 16, 2016

I LET YOU GO

By
Clare Mackintosh



  
I Let You Go, was for me, a 5 Star read. Psychological suspense at its best, the story kept me eagerly reading until the end.
The book is divided into Part one and Part two. Part one, especially at the beginning, moved rather slow, but picked up quickly as the story moved on. The character of Jenna was extremely well developed and I found myself living through the story with her.
It is difficult to review the book without giving away the plot, but I’ll do my best:
Jacob, a 5 year old boy who lets go of his mother's hand for a brief moment is killed in a hit and run accident when he rushes across a dark street in the rain. His mother’s life is forever changed and she flees town immediately following the accident.
Two police officers are assigned to find the hit and run driver. After months of frustration with no new leads they are forced to move on to other crimes. On the anniversary of the accident, a surprising new lead brings it back to the forefront with an exciting twist.
I think my only real complaint was the final scene, which for me, went on too long. The ending, however, was excellent.

Three things Mackintosh did well that other authors can learn from:
1.     Make your main characters sympathetic. Show them in their best light often (especially in the beginning) to keep the reader interested in what happens to them. This doesn’t mean they don’t have flaws!

2.     The beginning is the most important part of your novel. Keep the reader engaged by making it exciting. Don’t overload it with back-story or over describe scenes.


3.     The final action scene. This may be a personal taste thing, but I really hate one that goes on too long, with a protagonist who seemingly keeps rising from the dead to attack over and over again like a cat with nine lives. Keep it believable.


Dear Readers,
I love reading. So much so, that at times my own writing slows down as a result. That said, I will never give up my favorite pastime! Hope your reading stack is close by, even if you are an author like me, or maybe, especially if you are an author like me. Stephen King’s number one point of advice to other authors is, “Read.”
So keep reading and don’t forget to add your reviews on Amazon. Authors love them.
Have a wonderful fall season,

Marla