Writer’s Lift Wednesday #2

Instead of re-blogging individual blogs (like last Wednesday) I will copy/past the blog directly into an original posting. I believe this delivery will be tidier and a little more fitting.

This is a writersliftwednesday blog, sharing the works of fellow writers, poets and persons random. All re-blogs will be linked appropriately to their authors.

Writing is no easy calling and nothing easy was ever worth doing.

Support each other. Share and reshare.

Cheers,
Christina Schmidt, MA
armedwithcoffee.com


1. The Good, the Bad and the Cringey: Re-Reading What You’ve Written

by Vesna Kurilic

Ready for some of the worst writing experience I’ve ever had the privilege of going through? I’m not.

THE GOOD

You might catch something you’ve forgotten to put down in the original draft, and now you get to fix it! See? Easy. (You just have to be able to remember what it was you wanted to write in the first place.)

You might end up discovering it’s really not that bad altogether. Hey, it does happen.

You might remember follow-up detail to add in a latter story. If you’re writing sequels, that is. But even inside a single novel, there might be loose ends hanging out there in the copy, and re-reading will help.

It’ll make it easier to talk to readers about your work. (Because I’m already at that point where my partner remembers my own characters’ backgrounds better than me). Readers are notorious for remembering more than a lot of writers ever could, and they’ll probably appreciate if you actually knew what they were talking about when they told you about a section or a detail or an idea they loved. Sometimes, it’s not even the ‘big’ ideas, but little snippets of everyday life you’ve somehow managed to include in your copy, and they’ll notice it, and they’ll appreciate it—even though, oftentimes, you have no idea what the hell they’re talking about.

(Almost) everybody needs to edit. Wait, why’s this listed under the good stuff? It’s the absolute worst! But, it’s basically impossible to avoid, so we might as well accept it etc. etc.

THE BAD

You’ll have to face your own bad writing. You might not even remember why you wrote that complete shit, but you’ll have to stare it in the face and keep your cool. Yes, you could’ve been having a bad day when you wrote it. Yes, you might’ve been running on too little sleep and too much enthusiasm. Yes, your dog might’ve kept you up all night before you woke up to write that awful, awful scene. And you call that a dialogue? Raise your head up high, loosen up your shoulders and keep. on. working. Fix it if it’s broken, have a friend read it and tell you their honest judgement about it if you think it’s beyond broken. Hopefully, it’ll only be a short fragment—and everybody’s entitled to a little bit of bad writing in their copy.

There’s nobody else to yell at (when it’s your copy and your mistakes), unlike when you’re reading other people’s drafts. I do try not to yell at the possible other writers, too—I don’t always manage. Some people are more critical of their own writing, some, on the other hand, of other people’s prose. Either way, accept the fact that you’ve screwed up and write on. There’s no need to put yourself down—the rest of the world will usually be more than obliging.

It might be so bad you need to push yourself through to let it go out there. I’m quite aware that there are people who think letting novels simmer for a little while longer (how long, exactly?) is acceptable, but, having waited years already, I’m not that sure I have it in me to wait anymore. When I read something of mine, sometimes I literally have to stop myself from giving up on the text altogether. (That’s why I don’t read my stuff, unles revising or following up with important detail. You know, whether someone’s a born or a bitten werewolf etc. Nope, couldn’t be bothered to remember, for some of the characters.) Giving up, in my humble experience, hurts way more than letting something ‘imperfect’ out there. Let it go. Write another novel.

You won’t neccessarily have the stamina to fix evertything. Sentences you’ve left hanging mid-line might be easy to finish off (if, of course, you can divine what you wanted to say), but broken and missing plotlines are the absolute worst. Practice—years of practice—does make it easier to carry all the sub-plots to the end, and make some sense of it all in general, but still… ungh.

THE CRINGY

We better face it: the cringe factor is real, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Deal with it. Write on. Everybody learns as we go.

Sometimes (oftentimes) you’ll catch mistakes after something’s already in print. And what the hell do you do then? Well, for starters, you accept that life is short. If you’re lucky enough to be able to re-publish the story in question, by all means, go for it! And if it’s a reader out there who points out a mistake to you, gently or not, accept it with a healthy dose of humor, thank them, and note what you’ve done wrong so you don’t, say, invent brand new geographical regions again like (khm) some of us have done, in futher stories.

You’ll realize that years gone by sometimes do matter. A lot of us wrote through their teens (and earlier!) and still have the copy to cringe over. A lot of us have put personal stuff into our writing, stuff we might not include if we were writing at this point in time, with a healthy dose of distance. Sometimes I try to comfort myself by simply stating that I was young. Well, I was. Doesn’t stop me from wishing I’d written things differently…

You’ll realize you’re only human. The same as absolutely every writer—and reader—out there on the planet. And humans make mistakes, so…

Write on. Your readers will thank you.


2. Metafiction

by Cristian Mihai

“We’re all searching for something in our art. There are questions, and we always feel close to finding the answers, but we never do.

Artists never create art for what they might find. Some want to free themselves from nightmares, others want to inspire, or raise questions, or make people understand the world around them. Some want to entertain, others want to get rich, but it seems to me that no matter our reason for choosing to become artists, we all find more happiness in the stories or paintings or songs we create than we find in the real world. This is the sad truth: artists choose to live with one eye always closed to the world, the here and the now, and use that awareness to see what others can’t.

Inside the artist’s soul there is always a part that feels no remorse or fear when it comes to all that is dark in human nature. It seems to me that a part of the artist’s soul gets damaged to such an extent that it grows impervious to pain, heat, or cold. Like a scar.”

Every writer has the tendency to tackle a certain theme more than once in his stories. Solitude, unrequited love, the role of the artist. Some of them are pretty simple, like John Irving’s use of bears. This use of symbolism adds emphasis to a writer’s stories as a whole — like pieces in a puzzle.

I have a number of themes I like to write about. One of my favorite might be a bit more ambitious than it sounds. I like to write what some might call Metafiction, especially a story about a writer creating a story.

Ever since I first read The Garden of Eden by Hemingway I’ve been writing stories about writers. It’s not just that writers are a human type that I can emphasize with. I just love it when one of my characters decides to sit down at a desk and write some stuff. And it never gets boring. Maybe there’s something introspective about writing a scene like this, maybe I’m finding out more about myself as a writer. Or maybe I’m simply eager to understand how the process works — there’s nothing logical about a moment of rare inspiration, when a story starts to form out of nothing and grows and grows until in turns into a story, but I keep trying to figure out how my mind works.

Even though with Jazz I’ve just played around the edges of this (there are few scenes in which my character is actually writing), there is one scene I had a lot of fun writing. And, to be honest, the fact that Chris Sommers was a writer did come in handy on one occasion.

I’m curious to know if any of you can recognize recurring themes in your stories. Or a certain element, object, a scene layout perhaps. Even a specific setting that you used in more than one story.


3. How to Write a Blurb for Your Book

by Sean Platt via Sterling & Stone

So, you finished your book. Congratulations! A little more than half of your work is done.

Now that all the writing and editing are behind you, it’s time to take off your writer’s hat and put on your marketing hat so you can package and prepare your “product” (no, it’s no longer your baby) for sale.

It’s time for you to do everything possible to find those readers who are ravenously waiting for exactly what you’ve created, like a pack of hungry hyenas on the outskirts of Prideland in The Lion King.

What’s the first thing your new biggest fans are going to encounter when they find out about your book? First, it’s your cover. Yes, that’s true — probably as a tiny thumbnail nestled in among many others on a page they are scrolling through. So make sure it pops and looks amazing, even when (or especially when) it’s at a thumbnail size so that when it can still do its job when it appears on the screen of your readers’ mobile app.

Your potential reader will likely decide whether or not to click based on your book’s cover art and title. But after that, the most important thing you can do to send a signal to your ideal reader that the book is absolutely for them, is to write the very best book blurb possible.

What is a book blurb?

A book blurb is a brief (usually 150-200 word) description that lets a reader know what they can expect from your book. Once upon a time, such blurbs were printed on the inside cover flap for hardbacks, and directly onto the back of a paperback. Now with ebook and audiobook options as well as hard and paperback, this description can usually be found on the online sales page for the book, in addition to the flap and cover if the book also exists in those forms.

So now that you know what a book blurb is, are you ready to write one for your book? Does it feel daunting, to sum up all that you want to say in just 150-200 words? Does that feel impossible after you probably spent months or even years writing anywhere between 40k-100k words to tell the entire story?

You’re not alone. Many authors have a difficult time condensing their entire book into a couple hundred words.

Fear not! This handy guide will help you write the best possible blurb — the kind that will help you sell your book to those readers who will love it most!

Why do we want to use your blurb to only attract your most loving and devoted fans? Because, although clickbait titles or bait and switch covers might work once to earn a few extra downloads and sales, a burned book lover won’t ever buy from you again, and might even “strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy” their kindle queues!

Dedicated book lovers have big mouths. Bigger than you might imagine. Some have a lot of reach. They tell their friends when they love something, which is one of the things storytellers want more than anything else in the world. But the reverse is also true. When they hate something, those same readers will not only tell all their friends, they’ll also mouth off to their mothers, teachers, pastors, neighbors, and the guy who bags groceries at Friendly Dollar down the street.

Seriously. Book lovers are the best and most dedicated book reviewers on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, and every other platform where credible reviews can be found. Some even have their own blogs on sites like Medium where they enjoy talking about books they adore, but absolutely love ripping other books to shreds for the entertainment of other bibliophiles.

Trust me, you don’t want a tsunami of well-written 1-star reviews dragging your brilliant book baby down into the depths of ebook obscurity just because you tried some scammy marketing tactic to mine a few more upfront buys.

Don’t mess with the book-buying public by trying to describe your book as anything other than exactly what it is. Tease and entice them? Absolutely. Make a promise you can fulfill and dare them to prove you wrong? If you can back it up, go for it. You can even give them the kind of cliffhanger ending that leaves them begging, sobbing, pleading for more!

But never, ever, mislead your readers.

With that out of the way, here are some things to consider before you start writing your blurb. Get out a pad or pull up a fresh page and take some notes on the following points:

Perspective 

This may seem obvious, but many authors get it wrong, anyway: Make sure to write your blurb in third person.

If your book is an autobiography, a fictional autobiography, or a memoir told in the first person, you might have an exception. But even then, writing the blurb in first person is iffy. It’s nice to have that third person authoritative voice telling potential readers about the main character instead of them jumping in telling all about themselves from the start. It isn’t usually done and can feel like a gimmick fast.

If your book is a non-fictional how-to and you want to write your blurb in second person to talk directly to the reader — as in Are you tired of feeling tired and want to jump out of bed energized and feeling younger every day for the rest of your life?, here’s the thing: Your blurb is definitely sales copy, but it shouldn’t read that way.

If you don’t want your blurb to sound like sales copy (even though it is), then you want to write it in third person.

Overused phrases and clichés

Don’t try to be too cute or fall back on clichés. Look, you’ve only got around 150 words to differentiate yourself from all the other books on the digital shelves around you. Make every one of them count. You’re a writer, so use this space to show your skills.

Don’t waste valuable space on tired old phrases or easy clichés. Don’t try to be too cute with confusing turns of phrase. Clarity over cleverness, always.

Pay attention to your genre 

Non-fiction books can get away with short bullet-point lists and a few pain-point-soothing promises of solutions in waiting, but that rarely works for fiction of any sort. Advice varies based on the kind of book you wrote.

Look up a few top-ranking books in the particular genre (and sub-genre) you’re writing in and read their blurbs. Don’t copy any of them, but pay attention to the ways in which those authors describe their book and try to identify patterns. How do they help the reader spot the genre and establish their expectations for the book?

If your title is a mind-bending Steampunk Space Opera with a splash of Vampire Erotica, see what other books you can find that are anywhere close to what you’re trying to do. The world is a weird and wonderful place. Chances are, someone else out there has tried to do something similar at some point in time. Instead of reinventing the wheel, see what those authors did to signal their ideal readers.

Start with a hook

The first sentence should be fantastic if you want to keep your reader moving through even the shortest passage. Make your first sentence POP! It’s worth spending as much or even more time on that first sentence than you do on the rest of your blurb.

Sometimes, it’s even worth writing the blurb, taking the final sentence, copying that onto a new page and starting the blurb over again from there. My last phrase is usually the best one, and the same might be true for you. A blurb’s job is to sell your book, so you should never shortchange the process. By the time you reach the end, you’ll have a clearer idea of what you’re wanting to say. It’s only 150-200 words, so don’t be afraid to give your blurb a few drafts.

From two drafts to ten, keep sanding your blurb down until that first sentence feels like a hook.

Who and Why should they care?

For fiction: Include the name of your main character or a couple of main characters then let the reader know why they are going to care about this person right away. Is your story about a poor orphaned Harry Potter like child living with his negligent aunt and uncle who heap ridiculous amounts of attention on his undeserving cousin who delights in making his life miserable?

Or is your story closer to the tale of lovely Elizabeth, who has the kind of life most women would envy with a seemingly stable marriage she unexpectedly blows up to travel the world and “find herself” through eating, praying and loving in exotic locations around the globe?

Maybe your story is about a reluctant vampire who tries to live on rats and dogs so they can avoid feeding on humans? Or about a fat vampire who instead of gaining inhuman strength, speed, and beauty like the other vampires in their transformation, he gains inhuman mental abilities and can suddenly break all codes and hack through all mental and computer-based barriers known to man?

Your reader wants to know what they’re getting into, and who they’re getting into it with. It’s your blurb’s job to tell them.

For Non-fiction: If you are positioning yourself as an expert, then you need to offer your potential reader some credentials. Why should anyone listen to you?

If you’re positioning yourself as someone the reader gets to learn along with as you explore a topic or take an adventure, briefly explain who you are so they understand why you deserve their time and attention.

Are you a former Navy Seal teaching people about discipline and self-control in the face of fear? A hostage negotiator for the FBI teaching business executives how to negotiate raises and business deals? A sumo wrestler who went vegan, started doing yoga, and lost 280 pounds?

In non-fiction, you must always leave your reader with a reason to trust you.

What happens?

You don’t have to answer that question by revealing the surprise twist ending you worked so hard on. But you do need to give your potential reader some idea of what to expect. This can be done right along with the, Why do we care about this person? bit. Follow the who and why with a quick sentence about Harry Potter getting the letter from Hogwarts, discovering the world of wizards, then heading off to magical year at wizard school.

Again, for non-fiction, this will be slightly different, but not much.

What happens in your book?

Are we following your personal journey?

The journey of a fictional composite patient of your psychology practice as they overcome trauma and learn to love again?

What kind of story are you telling us, even if the purpose is to learn?

There should still be some sort of arc to the narrative even as you’re teaching. No, you don’t have to give the book away in your blurb, and you absolutely should leave something to be discovered after they invest the money and time to read what you’ve written, but you should at least signal to your potential reader what kind of journey they are agreeing to go on.

Triumphant, tragic, or by the book science and logic full of facts, figures, graphs, and pie charts to back up your points; maybe a bit of mysticism and magic mixed in to your work. The only wrong way to do it is keeping your reader in the dark.

Conflict

What is the major conflict in your book? Most books have multiple conflicts to build tension and rising action as the plot moves along. Pick the major or one of the primary conflicts to whet the imagination of your reader and let her know what to expect.

You can go back to your high school English class for this. Remember your teacher asking you to identify if an assigned book was man vs nature (Moby Dick, Old Man and The Sea), higher man vs base, animalistic human nature (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Lord of The Flies), man vs supernatural (Stranger Things,  Internal Conflict (Crime and Punishment), External Conflict (War and Peace), etc.

Don’t actually write man vs anything in your blurb, but you should know what kind of conflict your story has and be able to tease the reader in just the right way.

To find the conflict in your nonfiction, ask yourself what kind of obstacle you are helping your reader to overcome, then focus on that.

Resolution

This doesn’t mean giving away your ending. You still want to be as intriguing and mysterious as possible. But giving your prospective reader a hint about the type of resolution your book promises to provide will go a long way toward helping them identify whether or not the title is for them. Some readers love painful, horrific, tragic endings with babies lying dead in the snow on Christmas morning. That same ending is a horror show for others, and they want to avoid subjecting themselves to that type of emotional trauma no different than they would stay away from the plague.

Some readers turn to their virtual bookshelf when what they want is a good cry, but they can’t let go enough in real life to be able to do it. They don’t just want books that will make them cry, they need them, because they’re using books as therapy.

Will your book make them cry?

Is it deeply tragic? Romantic?

Will love conquer all?

Or will the reader get hit in the face by a cold bucket of reality to knock off those rose-colored glasses and teach them just how harsh and icy life actually is?

Is this the kind of book where the dog dies at the end?

Never tell your reader that you’ve written a book where the dog dies at the end, but if it does, then you should hint at the nobility and self-sacrifice displayed by man’s best friend. If you’re writing romance, this is where you can gently let the reader know if you’ve written the kind of book where the star-crossed lovers finally kiss at the end, or are getting it on by the end of chapter one.

Your blurbs job is to effectively signal to your reader that yes, this is exactly the book she is looking for in that moment and it will deliver on all of your promises to give your reader the breed of intellectual and/or emotional experience they’ve been looking for.

Don’t be afraid of the “for fans of”

Some authors hate being compared to other authors and want no part in doing it to themselves. But let’s be clear, the blurb isn’t for you. At all. It’s for your readers. If there is a more popular author out there who writes the kind of stories your loyal fans love, then it doesn’t hurt to mention them.

Does this mean you love them or are copying their style in any way? Absolutely not. It just means that people who like one thing are more apt to appreciate your work. It’s shorthand, yet another signal to your ideal reader.

But please, be sure to do this well. If you write irreverent humor novels about a fat vampire who can’t even run fast enough to catch human prey, you probably shouldn’t say it’s for “fans of Anne Rice.”

Let’s do a quick recap so you can get to writing your blurb!

1. Be honest: Don’t try to trick readers into buying your book by describing it as anything other than exactly what it is.

2. Length: Keep your blurb somewhere between 150-200 words.

3. Perspective: Write in third person. Ignore this advice at your peril.

4. Pay attention to genre: What did you notice from reading other blurbs in your genre?

5. Who and Why should your reader care: Give your reader a character or two and get them invested in their lives before they’ve even cracked the book. What is it that makes you care about your own characters? Be concise.

6. What happens in your story: This can be a hint, but your reader wants to know what kind of ride they’re buying a ticket for. Incredibly Journey? Comedy? Tragedy? Mystery? What?

7. Conflict: No, you don’t have to write man v nature or anything like that, but giving a hint about the central conflict of the book gives your reader important information about whether or not this is the kind of book they’re looking to read.

8. Resolution: Never give the ending away. But if you’re going to kill a dog or expose some kind of deep state conspiracy, your reader needs a heads up to know what they’re getting into. Readers want to be surprised, not blindsided with the kind of book they never meant to read.

9. For fans of. Strictly speaking, you don’t have to do this. But this tactic can definitely help if you don’t yet have a lot of books under your belt. This lets readers know what kind of story you’ve written, and potentially the type of author you are. Not that any two storytellers will ever be exactly the same. Don’t try to stretch this to make it fit with an author you like if that other writer’s fans wouldn’t actually like your book.

There you have it. Keep these nine points in mind while writing and you’ll have an excellent blurb that will help you to sell your books.

Now get out there and change the world with your story!