Author Archives: S.K. Valenzuela

Editing Focus 2: Consistency

Yesterday, we discussed macro (Big Picture) editing, in which we ensure that all the story components do what they’re supposed to do and work harmoniously together.  Today, we’re going to concentrate on another aspect of macro editing: consistency.

Let’s use our same three categories — character, plot, and setting — to see what types of errors we’re looking to catch in this editing focus.

Character Consistency

In yesterday’s focus, we were editing for character depth and function.  Today, we’re editing for detail, voice, and point-of-view.

Detail Editing

Details are things like eye color, hair color, stand-out characteristics like moles or scars, and stature.  So, for example, if Lord Beardsley’s eyes are gray on page 10, then make sure they’re not suddenly blue on page 123.  If Bandit Bob has a scar on his right cheek, make sure it hasn’t moved to the left wrist twenty pages later.  (Reminds me of Young Frankenstein and the shifting hump).

The surest way to avoid this type of consistency trouble is to have written character sketches.  If a detail is important enough to include in your novel, it’s important enough to note in your character sketch.  If you notice that you have trouble keeping one character’s details straight and you don’t have a sketch, then make one as you re-read, jotting down details as you find them.  A running sketch like this will help you to correct problems you find along the way.

Voice Editing

Voice, even more than eye color or tattoos, is what defines your characters.  If your character has a distinctive dialect or way of speaking, then make sure that voice is authentic throughout the story. If you can’t write a certain dialect convincingly, then don’t even attempt it.  Better just to indicate that the character speaks with a heavy brogue than to do a lame job transcribing it.  Don’t start what you can’t make believable.

Voice consistency is also critical for POV, especially if you take up multiple characters’ perspectives throughout the story (as in alternating third-person limited or alternating first person POV).  In these cases, it’s essential that your characters’ voices be distinct and consistent, because otherwise your reader won’t know whose head she’s in.  And, if your characters all sound like carbon copies of each other, then it’s not only confusing to your reader, but boring. (Consider Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury for a stunning example of voice and POV.)

POV Editing

Let’s talk about POV.  If you start out with third-person limited POV, make sure you don’t switch to third-person omniscient in Chapter 10.  And remember, when you’re inside a character’s head, you can’t reveal details that he or she wouldn’t see or know, so you’ll want to be sure that things are revealed appropriately through action and/or dialogue.

Check also for those instances, especially in third limited or first person, where you might be tempted to have your character self-describe.  Most people don’t walk around thinking something like, “I’m five foot two.  I have mousy brown hair and glasses.  Gee, I wonder what’s for breakfast today.”   Instead, if you must have a character describe herself, try to work it into the action:

I stretched on tiptoe to see in the mirror.  Whoever had hung that darn mirror didn’t design it for someone five foot two.  I frowned and shoved my glasses further up on my nose, but there wasn’t a thing I could do with my hair.  Mousy brown and wild, it never would behave.  I fussed with it for a moment, but then my stomach growled.  I wondered absently what was for breakfast.

Make your narrative realistic and keep your perspective consistent.

Plot/Action Consistency

We’ve all read novels where there is a consistency glitch in the action.  Hopefully this isn’t an Epic Glitch — like the author forgot one of the main elements he’s established as necessary to the story’s climax. Make sure that whatever threads you weave into the fabric of your story are carried throughout — deliver what you promise.

Leaving Epic Plot Glitches aside, let’s consider a smaller, but no less annoying, consistency error:

Lord Beardsley gallops through the Dark Forest.  Suddenly, Bandit Bob steps out from behind a tree.

“Avast!” cries Bob. “Hand over yer gold!”

Lord Beardsley dismounts and strides toward Bandit Bob, brandishing his Vorpal Blade. “I will gut you like a fish, and then I will celebrate by laughing maniacally!” vaunts Lord Beardsley.

He gallops toward Bandit Bob on his Battle Horse.

Oops.

He dismounted, remember, and we never see him get back on his horse.

This type of error is easy to commit.  If you get up to get a fourth cup of coffee glass of water between Bob’s challenge and Lord Beardsley’s response, you may well and truly forget that he got off his horse to confront his adversary.

An attentive read-through of your novel should allow you to catch these types of mistakes.  I hear you laughing to yourself, thinking that you’re not so inattentive as to commit such an egregious and ridiculous error.  Don’t consider yourself immune.  I’ve seen these glitches in professionally published (and presumably, therefore, professionally edited) books, where both the author and the editor should know better.  Be better.   Check for consistency!

Setting Consistency

Much like consistency in character detail, editing for setting consistency requires you to have a strong grasp of your world.  If  your culture doesn’t use electric lights, then you can’t have them turning on the lamp in Chapter 3.  And, on a “set design” level, if you place a fireplace on the west wall of the room, then it can’t be on the north wall in the next scene.

Sometimes we don’t completely think through the consequences of a setting choice.  They can be far-reaching.  For instance, if you place your characters in a world where they don’t have horses and have never even heard of horses, then you can’t have your characters use horse-y metaphors, similes, or turns of phrase.  Hamish can’t say, “You’re as wild as an unbroken mustang.”  He can’t say, “You can lead a horse to water…”  Be sure that if you limit your world like this, you think through the consequences.  Make your figurative language authentic to your setting.  It’s actually fun – it makes you stretch as a writer.  But it can also trip you up, so put this on your editing checklist as well.

Final Word

We’ve now finished our brief look at the process of macro-editing!  J. Leigh will take up Focus 3 and 4 (micro-editing) later this week.  (Remember, you don’t have to do these steps in the order we’re discussing them, and sometimes you have to do them more than once.)

Happy editing!!!

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Editing Focus 1: The Big Picture

J. Leigh laid out our editing map very nicely last week.  Today, we’re going to consider Focus 1, what I call the “big picture” edit.  There are three levels present in Focus 1 — character, plot, and setting.

Character Editing

As we step back and look at the Big Picture, we need to consider how well each character performs his or her role in the story.  We’re looking here at character function and depth.

Character Function

Your characters are the doers and receivers of the action of the plot.  Main characters will be changed the most dramatically by the events of the plot, and they will also have the most impact on the plot direction — character development and plot arc are truly inseparable and interdependent.  So, when we edit for character function, we’re looking to make sure that a character’s arc tracks with the plot arc.  In order to check this, you might ask the following questions:

Is/Are your main character(s) the main character(s) throughout the novel?  In other words, do we follow Mr. X’s actions, thoughts, and emotions primarily throughout the novel, and does he have the greatest impact on the plot?

Do your secondary characters have clear purpose?  Secondary characters function in a novel by impacting the main character’s arc and/or by impacting the plot arc.  We care about them because they are important to our main character(s), not so much because they are important on their own.  Consider, for instance, Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.  We care about him first because Elizabeth cares for him and because he is tied to Mr. Darcy’s past, and then because his dastardly behavior (running off with Elizabeth’s sister) and Mr. Darcy’s role in its resolution crystallizes Elizabeth’s true feelings for Mr. Darcy.  Wickham isn’t really important on his own, but he is integrally important for the plot and for the development of our two main characters.

Character Depth

A character’s depth is very much tied to his or her function in the story.  Obviously, we spend the most time and energy on our main characters.  We explore not just their actions, but their motives for action, their responses to action.  We care about them as a “whole person,” you might say.  When we edit for character depth, we need to make sure that we have created a compelling main character.  The reader has to have strong feelings about him or her — love or hate.  You can’t have a successful main character if the reader could care less what happens to him.  We also need to make sure that the detail we give to our secondary characters is proportional to their role — they need to be detailed enough to perform their function in the story, but not so much that they start to rival the main character.

Plot Editing

When we edit for plot on the Big Picture level, we are looking for a tight, streamlined story arc.  Everything that is in the story needs to propel it forward, either by revealing your main characters or by advancing the plot.  A scene may be exquisitely written, but if it’s not doing one of those two things, it needs to go.  Remember, we don’t write in a vacuum.  You’re writing for your reader.  Your novel is like a train, taking your reader on a journey.  Your reader doesn’t want to get dropped off at the train station to wait for your plot to resume in twenty pages or so.  He’ll walk to the next track and pick up a new train.

Most of us start writing with at least a vague blueprint of our story in mind, and hopefully this blueprint becomes more like a detailed architectural plan as we dive into the world and the characters and the action.  Architects don’t add useless doors or windows to their plans; likewise, writers should make sure that their scenes lead somewhere.  

So, as you reread your story, do you feel the push?  Do you feel the plot moving you forward?  Do you feel like you can’t put your book down?  Like you have to read just one more chapter?  Like you can’t wait to find out more about your main character?  If there are spots where you get bogged down and bored, then take a good, hard look at those scenes.  Improve them or cut them.  Be ruthless.

Setting Editing

In my post Dressing the Set(ting),  I made the point that the setting details you include should be functional, not just beautiful.  When you’re looking at setting editing on the macro level, you’re considering your world-building.  The reader needs a certain amount of detail in order to enter the construct you’ve created.  But too much detail all at once will make your novel a snoozer.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe the ripple effect that one good detail can have, and I’ve finally come up with one (and it’s a bit skewed, I admit).  If you’ve ever played Minesweeper, you know how you sometimes click on a square and it opens up a whole field?  Setting details should work a little like that.  They should unlock your reader’s imagination.

This is one of those points, frankly, where a beta reader can be supremely helpful.  After all, you know this world.  You’ve been living in it for months.  You can fill in the blanks without even realizing that there are blanks.  But if you don’t have anyone to help with this stage, then take a breather from it and come back to it after a week or so.

Big Picture Editing

So, now you’ve reread your novel with an eye on character, plot, and setting.  You’ve seen how these layers are fundamentally interconnected, you’ve eliminated throwaway scenes (thus making your more detailed editing easier) and you’ve conveyed your world with powerful details.  You’re now satisfied that your story hums on a macro level.

Congratulations!!!

You’re now ready to embark on Focus 2: Consistency Editing.


September Blog Fest: Preparing to Publish

J. Leigh got us started with a bang yesterday with her fantastically funny (but sadly all-too-accurate) post on creating a YA cover for your novel.  If you haven’t read it yet, do.  Hopefully it will make you smile!

All this month, J. Leigh and I will be writing about the process of getting your manuscript ready for publication.  If you’re planning to self-publish, you won’t want to miss this series! And even if you’re planning to work with a traditional publisher, you’ll find lots of useful tidbits here on finalizing, editing, and reviewing your manuscript.

This week, we’ll talk about putting those finishing touches on your manuscript: editing techniques that will save you time and sanity, avoiding common editing pitfalls, and perfecting your prose.

Next week, we’ll focus on the pesky but necessary process of formatting your manuscript for both print and ebook editions.  Choosing a font type, setting the margins, and placing your page numbers may seem like insignificant details, but managing the visual appeal of your book is hugely important, especially for print.  We’ll also offer helpful tips for navigating the KDP and Smashwords formatting processes, which can be frustrating in the extreme the first time through.  Finally, we’ll address the review process: how to ensure that your print proof copy is gorgeous and error-free and that your ebook is digital perfection.

And then the grand finale…J. Leigh’s real post on book cover design!  We’ll also talk strategies for writing great back copy and for putting your best face forward (literally) with your author bio and photo.

Editing, formatting, and packaging…it’s the nitty-gritty of our writing profession, but that doesn’t mean it has to be  drudgery!  We’re planning some fun contests to liven up each week’s focus…can’t wait!

And last but not least…  We love all our readers, and we’re hoping to hit 200 blog followers this month!  So exciting!!!  You can help us by spreading the word and bringing a friend!  🙂

Happy writing!

SK


Mirror, Mirror…

A month ago or so, I finished reading all the entries I had received to judge for a writing contest.  I read both children’s lit and YA fiction this year, and it’s been fascinating.  I have so many things on my mind to say about what I observed, but I wanted to take a step back today and reflect on the big picture.

When you look in a mirror, why do you look in the mirror?

I’ll bet that if you look in a mirror — even if you just happen upon a mirror and pause to glance at your reflection — you don’t just stand there and stare at yourself.  You probably find something to fix — hair out of place, lipstick needs refreshing, and hope no one noticed that piece of spinach in my teeth.  Or you consider that you really should head to the gym today even though you don’t feel like it, or you notice that the baby spit up on the back of your shirt, or you realize that your tie is crooked.  And you proceed to fix whatever needs fixing.

Literature, in so many ways, functions like a mirror.

It shows us the best and worst of human nature, revealing the struggles of  man against some force internal or external.  But we don’t just read books to gawk at ourselves (collectively) in some voyeuristic fashion.  We read books because they can teach us something — they change us somehow, whether we mean them to or not.  Books encourage us to grow, to adjust, to become better human beings.  We identify with a character and his or her struggles, we watch him or her confront and (hopefully) overcome, and then we see how we can apply his or her experiences to our own lives.  And the goal is one of improvement, not just of recognition.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed a trend — and perhaps you’ve noticed it too.  There are some books where the characters just seem to develop…sideways, if that’s possible.  They change, but not in a positive (or even a negative) direction.  Something seems to push them sideways for a bit, and then they snap back and continue on.  There’s no indication that their decisions in the future will be affected by what’s happened to them over the course of the novel…no indication that they’ve become better people – or even different people — for what’s happened to them.

Reading a book like this is like looking in a mirror and saying, “Yep.  That’s me.  Yep.  Spinach in my teeth.  Tie crooked. Yep.  Guess that’s just how I am.  Oh, well.”

And in YA fiction, there’s often a follow-up to this admission of imperfection with no desire of amendment: “And if they don’t like it, well, screw them, because I won’t change.”

It’s not a question of whether or not literature will teach.  So, there’s a choice we face as writers.  Will our writing inspire our readers to be better people?

Or will we just teach them how to scuttle sideways?


Dressing the Set(ting)

I happened to catch a fascinating show the other day on the DIY Network – Hollywood Builders.  They were following the construction of the sets for the new Total Recall movie, and I found it riveting (pun intended).  Watching the set electricians wire up the set for futuristic lighting, watching CGI transform a “green screen” backdrop…it’s stunning.  Really stunning.  But I found the segment on set dressing most fascinating.  The set dressers are responsible for making a set look like real by their attention to every conceivable visual detail.  In this case, they were dressing the marketplace set – using everything from swimming goggles to a martini shaker to baskets of some kind of dried fruit.  Will Douglas Quaid (the main character, played by Colin Farrell) interact with these tiny details?  No.  Most of these details simply form a backdrop – something the eye will catch in a glimpse as the characters interact in the foreground.  But, were these details lacking, there would be a hiccup in our suspension of disbelief, jeopardizing our engagement in and enjoyment of the film.

How does the idea of “set dressing” play out in a novel or short story?  It goes without saying that a story with ineffective or insufficient description will be drab and lifeless.  So how do we write successful, incredible, imagination-filling settings without using pages and pages and pages of description?

First, we have to remember that the written word is actually a visual medium, though not in the direct way that film is a visual medium.  The reader has to translate the words on the page into an image in his or her head.  When I say the word “tree”, for example, you form a picture of a tree in your head.  Now, the writer’s job is to try to ensure that this translation is as accurate as possible, so that whatever the writer is transcribing out of his or her own head makes it intact into the reader’s head.  So, to return to my example, if I write “tree” and want to evoke the image of a birch, but you see the word “tree” and imagine an aspen, I haven’t conveyed things precisely enough.  If I want you to imagine a birch tree, I need to write “birch tree”.

This brings us to our second consideration.  The writer also has to follow the principle of economy in description.  If I were to describe the Total Recall marketplace set in the sort of painstaking detail that the set dressers used in creating it, I would lose all of my readers within minutes.  They would be snoring with their noses in the pages (or snotting up the screen of their e-reader of choice).  No one wants to read ten pages of pure description – or even ten paragraphs, for that matter.  As an author, though, I desperately want the reader to see what I see when I imagine a scene, so the temptation to over-describe is intense.  How can I convey a setting in all its rich detail without boring my readers to death?

Choose setting details like you’d choose antiques: keep them few in number, but make each one priceless.  

Consider what you notice first when you walk into a room.  Is it the lighting, the flooring material, the way sound echoes (or doesn’t), what adorns the walls?  Then consider how you could make each of these details count.  Remember, no matter what you’re writing, you are constructing a world.   Be vivid.  Use a few chosen aspects of your setting to illuminate the rest.

So, if you’re going to mention the lighting, be precise: is it an oil lamp, an LED panel, or a torch?  If you’re going to mention that your character has a lot of books, give us a sense of the predominant type: does he have cookbooks, or the complete works of Jane Austen, or mathematics texts? The precision of these details reveals or enhances your setting and your characters.  Choose details that do more than just look pretty – for really power-packed, punchy fiction, make your setting details do some heavy lifting.

To offer an example of the brilliant use of this technique (again from film), consider how Holmes cracks Moriarty’s code in Game of Shadows by observing the contradiction of the dying plants in the window with the prominence of the horticulture book in Moriarty’s office.  These two details and their correlation reveal something about both Holmes and Moriarty and advance the plot, all at the same time.  Not every setting detail is going to be this powerful, but it’s a good reminder of the enormous potential that precise, vivid setting description carries.

So, as you dress your settings, focus on details that can reveal your characters, advance your plot, or capture your world, and then let the reader color in the rest of the picture on his own.


When the Going Gets Tough….

Bother.

It’s hard to write about not following your own advice, isn’t it?

In the last post, I made very true remarks about the importance and necessity of daily writing.  Slogging ahead.  No matter what.  Right?

Well…I got off my routine.  I realized that my July 4 deadline for Lords of Askalon was incompatible with producing a quality product.  Could I get it written?  Yes.  Would it be worth much? Probably not.  Leaving myself no time to work it over, to edit, to mull, to contemplate, to tweak…not good.  I think this really hit me when Brandon Sanderson tweeted that he planned 9 revisions for his new book.  Nine.  And he’s Brandon Sanderson.  And I wasn’t going to give myself time for one?

So there’s the reason for the new release date.  But on to the inevitable, awful consequence of this decision: I stopped writing.  I got caught up in other things.  Meaningful and necessary things, to be sure, but not writing things.  I let myself get caught, too, by the self-criticism monster that paralyzes all it touches.

The horror.

Today, for example, when I opened up my manuscript and got ready to write, I caught sight of the last scene I had written.  I promptly closed the window and wrote a journal entry instead.

One could make the argument that any writing is better than no writing, and I think there’s something to that.  But I don’t particularly have writer’s block…my huge and beautiful butcher-paper outline of this novel is pinned to the wall right beside me.  I know where I need to go, what I need to write.  But that last scene is so…flat.  Ugh.

Having a clear plot outline isn’t the same as having a strong sense of the characters, of their purpose, of the dynamics that guide their interaction.

Before I can come back to the story, I need to establish those things clearly for myself.  And work out nagging details like timeline issues.  For me, simply pushing through won’t do the job.  Will that method get the plot written?  Yes, probably.  But it will be as lifeless and sketchy as the outline on my wall.

So sometimes, when the going gets tough and your narrative feels flat, it pays to take a step back and consider a few things about the deeper structure of your story in general, and the characters inhabiting your world in particular.  Ask yourself:

  • Do you really know your characters?
  • What are their personal conflicts? (A character’s personal conflict is not necessarily the overarching conflict of the book.)
  • What drives your characters in their interactions with other major/minor characters?
  • How do these interactions meaningfully reveal their character arc?
  • How does each character arc intersect with the plot?  What events need to happen for that character to develop?

Once you find the answers to these questions and have a clear sense of each character’s purpose and role, you’ll see the life flowing back into your bloodless plot structure.

So…I’m off to reacquaint myself with my characters.  How will you move your story forward today?


The Daily Grind

I’ve been working diligently on The Lords of Askalon this past week, and I’ve learned something that I suppose I should have learned a long time ago…or perhaps I’d just forgotten it since my frantic dissertation writing days.

There’s just no replacement for honest hard work when it comes to writing.

I’ve called this post “the daily grind” for a couple of reasons:

  1. Sometimes writing is a grind.  It doesn’t come easily.  Every word has to be squeezed out, like giving blood when you’re dehydrated.  But daily is the operative word: it doesn’t matter whether it’s easy or not.  It must be done.  Must.  Daily.
  2. I don’t know about you, but the phrase “daily grind” also conjures up the lovely image, experience, and smell of freshly ground and brewed coffee.  And so take this meaning away as well: the daily grind of writing may be hard, but there’s reward at the end of it.  A completed page…ten pages…a chapter.  A step that much closer to your goal.  And that is a sweet thing indeed.

How can you make your daily grind resemble #2 more than #1?  Here are a few of my favorite tricks to force motivation and enthusiasm when you’re running on writerly fumes.

Assemble an awesome writing mix of music.  I am seriously contemplating putting together a “soundtrack” for The Lords of Askalon – songs that inspire me to work on this story, right now.  Just like every movie has its own score and soundtrack, every novel does too.  Find music that inspires you.  (I’ll have to explore this idea further!)

Set a time of day when writing rules.  For me, this has to be the littles’ afternoon nap time, and my older kids are (thankfully) enthusiastically supportive of my escape to the office – partly because they want me to hurry up and finish the book so they can read it.  No matter when it is, make sure that your backside is in front of the computer at the designated time and write.  Do your best to eliminate distractions (read: social media or that search for writing music) and crank out as much as you can.

Don’t worry about quality control right now (or, don’t listen to your gut).  Unless you’re in the finishing stages of your project and editing is your new daily grind, just write and worry about smoothing things out later.  It can be hard, especially when your gut tells you that this isn’t your best work.  But I’ve found that sometimes my gut does a great job of killing my writing enthusiasm and dragging me down into the maelstrom of self-criticism and self-pity.  Tell your gut to take a hike, and listen to your music instead.

Find a writing buddy and set some goals together.  I am so thankful all the time to have J. Leigh Bralick for my writing buddy – she keeps me on track, and we inspire each other to work harder and write better.  If you don’t have a SisterMuse or writing buddy already, check out Camp NaNoWriMo (the summer version of the official NaNoWriMo in November), which is going on right now.  If that’s not what you need, there are many online boards devoted to writing.  Local writers’ groups are also an option, if you prefer warm bodies and live conversation to messaging and virtual comradeship.  When you putter out, call or message your buddies and let them help you get up and running again.

Bottom line: Writers write. We don’t just talk about writing or whine about writing or dream about writing (though we may do this too).  If you want to be a writer, then write!

(This post is also up on my personal author website – head over to skvalenzuela.com and check it out!)


Inspiration…or Insanity?

First of all, it’s been too long.  Life happens…and this time it pretty much swallowed me up.  Well, at least as far as blogging is concerned.  But here I am again…and glad to be back.

I have written before about diversifying your writing portfolio, and I’ve been in the midst of doing just that over the past few months, working to establish myself as a freelance writer.  (Progress report: one article accepted so far and several more out there…waiting…).  It’s a grueling struggle in some respects: doing this right, just like doing a novel right, takes persistence, patience, and a solid knowledge of the craft and business of writing.  It doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without a lot of work.

So, with that bit of background out of the way, let me move to my topic for this morning.  In his sonnet, “When I Have Fears”, John Keats beautifully expressed in fourteen lines the fear that must lie in every writer’s heart: that he or she will never be able to write out everything in his or her “teeming brain”.  It’s the “teeming” part that always catches me.  It’s a good word.  It doesn’t presume that all your ideas lie along one trajectory: that, if you write sci-fi/fantasy novels, this is all you think about, or that, if you write historical romance, you don’t dream of freelancing as a food critic.  Teeming is…well, teeming.  Brimming over.  A superabundance.  The difficulty is this: in a culture that specializes in specializing, and where every marketing guru will tell you to make a name for yourself in a particular genre (at least at first), is there a path to success for writers whose teeming brains refuse to be pigeon-holed?

To put it another way, there are two sides to the coin: write what you love and what inspires you, and write what you can sell.  Those two aren’t always compatible, it seems.  So this is the dilemma for all you writerly folk to consider as you build your own careers.  When you are hit with an inspiring idea that seems completely outside your current modus scribendi, do you jump for it?  Or do you dismiss it as practically impossible for platform and identity reasons and therefore toss it in the “insane” bin?

I was hit with an idea this morning, as I’ve been contemplating markets and avenues and audiences, that could certainly qualify as insane for a number of reasons.  But I see a niche, an opportunity, a void to fill, and I am inspired to say, “Why not?  Others have done it…why not I?”  And yet, I hesitate.  Am I losing focus?  I have a novel to write — The Lords of Askalon is still in the works, behind my self-imposed schedule and deadlines.  I’m writing an article under deadline…and am hoping earnestly to have this problem for a long time to come.  I have books to review.  I do not lack for projects…there is plenty to occupy my teeming brain for quite some time.  Writing, I remind myself, is a discipline, and success (which is usually defined by completed projects, not half-baked ideas and half-cooked plots) depends in large part on focused energy.

And yet…

It bears contemplation and reflection.  And perhaps, a few months from now, I’ll have an announcement to make.  But at the moment? I’m off to teach the kids their math lessons, run some errands, hash out the rest of Chapter 10 of The Lords of Askalon, and finish roughing out this article.

What will you do to glean your teeming brain today?


Virtual Book Signing!

It’s December.  I don’t know about you, but I am, as always, woefully behind on my holiday shopping.

If you’d like a quick, easy gift for those special readers in your life, I am doing a virtual book signing!  From now until December 15, signed copies of Silesia: The Outworlder are available for just $10, but only through this website!  Click over to the SisterMuses Bookstore and fill out the form to order your copies today!

Happy Holidays, everyone!


Identity Crisis and Target Audiences

Well, I suppose it was bound to happen eventually.

As a writer, I often feel like I belong on the Island of Misfit Toys.  Yes, I can say (and mean completely) that I write the stories that are in my heart.  BUT…where do I belong?  More importantly than that, almost, where do my books belong?

I asked J. Leigh the other day as we were doing unromantic, unwriterly things like going to the grocery store: “So…what exactly is Young Adult Lit?”  And after a Significant Pause, I added, “Do you think I’ve miscategorized Silesia: The Outworlder as a YA novel?”

It’s a critical question, I realize, and it’s plaguing me. I have yet to find a satisfactory answer.  I’ve been thinking about this again today because I had the chance to attend a webinar on marketing — specifically, building web-based buzz.  Useful information – it was a fantastic webinar.  But there was one thing that absolutely stood out from everything else, and it really served as the basis for all of the rest of the information the instructor gave.  It’s that one piece that I want to consider today.

That piece is the target audience.

In a webinar I attended a few months back on self-publishing, the instructor noted that identifying the target audience for your book(s) is key to being successful.  (Actually, this is true regardless of how you get your book out there.  If you send your manuscript to a romance publisher when you’ve written a crime novel with zero love interest, you’ve set yourself up for failure.)

Let’s pause and think for just a minute.  Target audience determines your market.  But it also determines your style, your tone, your voice, the complexity of the story, the content….   So, if you don’t know who will read your book, you’re writing for just one person.

You.

Oh, horrors.

Now, before I we completely freak out about the fact that we put the cart before the horse and wrote our story before we considered our target audience, leaving us now completely lost in terms placing our book, let’s consider the delineations between YA and adult fiction and see if we can’t make ourselves feel better find some answers.

There are many readers who enjoy YA literature who are not in the “target” age bracket of, say, 12-18 or 19 years old.  And there are many teens who skip YA lit altogether and dive straight into “adult” fiction.  I think Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy would be a fabulous example of a broadly-appealing “adult” novel, and the Harry Potter series could serve as an excellent example of “YA” literature that appealed to many adults.  So, the lines dividing the two are blurred in some respects.  But there are other novels, like the Sweet Valley High series, that would never be seen in the hands of anyone other than a tween-teen girl.  And, I would argue, there are some adult novels that aren’t appropriate for teens, but that is a more fluid distinction.

There’s a good deal of bleed-over in readership of adult and YA literature, then.  Sometimes.  Depending on the story.

Readers expect certain things from the author and the story depending on how it is categorized.  Readers choosing a YA novel will expect to find, for example, a main character who is either a teenager or very close to it.  They may expect faster action, a plot that is more straightforward, and dialogue and diction that is pitched to a teen audience.  Page length may also be a consideration.  Similarly, readers of adult fiction may expect more complexity in characters and in plot, a higher level of diction, and may have a higher tolerance for a longer page count.  But is all this written in stone?  No.

For that reason, it pays, I think, to stop thinking in such general terms.  Consider your story.  If you could walk into a little coffee shop and see someone sitting there reading your book, who would they be (ideally)?  Is she a Ren Faire gal who never leaves the Ren Faire behind?  Is he a busy executive?  Is she a college student majoring in biochemistry?  Is he a graduate student studying literature at the local college?  Is she a stay-at-home soccer mom with three kids and two dogs?  Is he a grandfather who enjoys fishing and telling war stories?  Is she a young teen who is struggling to make sense of life?  Try to be as specific as you can as you define your Ideal Reader.

It’s okay to have a niche.  It’s even okay to have a pretty small niche.  The key is to know what your niche is, and then write for that audience.  Will you have crossovers – those readers who usually only read crime novels but yours was the only thing available at the dentist’s office?  Sure.  But that’s not your target audience.

Focus on your target audience.  Write to please them, and chances are, you’ll find success.