Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Power of a Good Verb

Verbs are my favorite parts of speech. (Is it weird to have a favorite part of speech?) Adjectives and adverbs are fun, too, but sometimes they can be unwieldy. It’s easy to go overboard, and too many adjectives and adverbs can really clutter your writing. Verbs, on the other hand, are nice and streamlined. After all, unless you’re using a fragment or incomplete sentence for artistic purposes, your sentence has to contain a verb—and a well-chosen verb can easily take the place of an adverb.

In my opinion, “She stormed to the door,” is not only more streamlined but also more visual and packs more punch than something like, “She marched angrily to the door.” “Stormed” conveys such a definite sense of anger that you don’t need the adverb to tell your readers how your character is feeling. You could argue that “marched” gives off a bit of angry tone too, of course, but I just don’t think it’s as powerful.

But probably my favorite aspect of verbs is their ability to completely alter the tone of a sentence. Compare the following:

Waves tickled the shore.

Waves slammed the shore.

Waves caressed the shore.

This sentence can convey a playful, threatening, or gentle tone simply by changing one word—the all-powerful verb.

There’s a reason job-hunting experts always recommend using “power verbs” on your resume. Words like “engineered,” “developed,” “overhauled,” and “designed” have much more impact than boring old standbys like “organized” and “managed.” In fact, many job-seeking websites compile lists of power verbs as resources for resume writers. Likewise, I think it’s a good idea for fiction writers to compile their own lists of handy power verbs. You can save this in a separate document, one you can easily keep open and refer to when you’re working on your manuscript. You can even categorize your power verbs by the tone you're trying to convey. In scenes of intensity, for example, you’d be better off using vivid, dramatic, attention-grabbing verbs. Instead of following the stranger in the dark trench coat down the street, your main character should stalk him. Instead of her heart pounding when a gunshot goes off, it should throb or hammer. It’s okay if a power verb is a little unusual, too. One of my personal favorite power verbs is “spike.” Sure, it conjures up somewhat violent images, but it’s just so gosh-darn visceral. I love it: “Fear spiked her like a bolt of lightning.”

I also think it makes an impression when a word that isn’t typically a verb is used as one:

With the battlemented towers,

Crimsoning in the morning hours,

Girdled by their southern clime,

Stand a group of olden time.

from “The Vow of the Peacock” by Letitia Elizabeth Landon

“Crimsoning”—awesome! So colorful and visual. Of course, I wouldn’t go overboard with this technique. Personally, I don’t think I’d use it more than once or twice in a manuscript. It’s kind of unusual, and I think it would get distracting if used often. But when you really need to make an impact—what a great tool! Just another example of how powerful verbs can be.

Okay, weird question of the day—do you have a favorite part of speech? Favorite power verb? Please share.

-Dawn Lairamore

photo credit: Lightning 9-9-2011 via photopin (license)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Scary Debut Author Social Media Mistakes

When you're marketing your debut, your excitement level (and anxiety level) are going to be through the roof. It doesn't matter if you're traditionally published or you did it all on your own, you need to get the word out there at all costs, but are you doing right?? Here's some simple tips that will help you along the way and hopefully save some authors from themselves. 

Social Media Overkill: We've all seen it. The author that won't shut up about their upcoming or newly released book. Whether you are on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or the like, the message is always the same and it gets, well, annoying! It's totally fine to publicize your new book on social media sites, just be thoughtful about it. Make sure your tweets, posts, etc, aren't just the same message over and over again and you put up posts about your book sparingly. We want to know about you as well as you book. Marketing overkill will cause your friends and followers, to either ignore you or even block you altogether. Show that you're a real person and then will want to know about your book!

Friend me and then immediately ask me to buy your book: I cannot stand this. You send me a friend request on Facebook or you follow me on twitter, I return the favor assuming you're a fellow writer who's just trying to connect, and then, BOOM, seconds later I'm hit with a timeline post or a direct message asking me to buy your book, complete with a link to make it easier on me. Gee, thanks. Please don't do this. This is not the way to garner more book sales. I don't know what others opinions are on this, but I find it very presumptuous and generally I unfriend the person ASAP or just ignore the request. Instead of trying to get instant sales gratification, build a Facebook or Twitter audience well before your book hits the market. This will give you time to build relationships with potential buyers and actually make some valuable connections. Writers aren't dumb, don't treat them as such.

Admonishing the Critics: Yes, book critics can be scary, but please, for the love of all that's good and holy in the world, never ever do this! I can't tell you how many new authors (and even some well published ones) think that it's okay to go after a bad reviewer online. There is no quicker way to burn your career to the ground. Whoever said there is no such thing as bad publicity was a total idiot! Once you start this, it's like a car crash. Everyone will come and watch to see the show and anyone you're connected to will start spreading the word, until it's so out of control, even if you delete all your bad critic bashing juju, it'll still be out there and the sharing of your notorious meltdown will continue. If you start bashing people who gave you a bad review, you lose all credibility as an author, not to mention you look plain crazy! If you get a bad review, even a scathing one, that's okay. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and even if they aren't kind with their words, just ignore it and move on. Even the most celebrated authors get horrible reviews once in a while and if they went after those reviewers online, publicly trying to "bring them down" that would only lead to very bad things for their career. Think about it, it's kind of creepy that an author would take the time to call out a critic, making them way more scarier than the critic. 

I guess my key point in all this is be thoughtful. Think about how all of your actions cause a reaction. Put yourself in your would-be readers' shoes and ask yourself how you would react to all of the above as a reader--not the author.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Building a Writer's Support Network by Donna Galanti

We can write alone but we can’t get published alone.
I have found that while writing is a solitary job, to truly succeed you need to be in a room alone – and surrounded by a crowd.

By Marjory Collins [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The young adult author John Green wrote, “Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don't want to make eye contact while doing it."

This is true in your creative space, but today authors are called on to live uncomfortable public lives which can be hard for us introverts. It IS hard to put yourself out there as a writer when mostly we just want to hideaway in our fiction dream worlds (note to me: give yourself a pep talk for that first school assembly coming up!).

But we are also SO lucky to be writers in an age where the writing community is wonderfully accessible. We can meet authors in person and online and get to know them as mentors. We can engage with our peers and share resources. Yes, it takes away from writing time but it also opens up so many more doors for opportunities to improve our writing and get published.

I’ve found no other job like writing that involves constant change…and constant rejection. You need a positive support buoy to keep swimming in this career or you will sink. Wherever you are in the writing journey, look to elevate yourself now with people that can help you finish that first book and get it to market.  

Where to start? Here’s the crowd that filled my space (and still does) when I was working toward getting published.  

Hundreds of people
I was surrounded by writers of all levels at writer’s conferences like The Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, Push to Publish, and SCBWI. Scared stiff, I went to my first writer’s conference four years ago, The Write Stuff, and met other writers for the first time. From this one event my entire life changed and my network of peers expanded into an amazing circle today. This spring I went back to that conference – as a presenter. I grew into my role as an author, and putting ourselves out there enables us to do this.

Dozens of people
I’ve surrounded myself with dozens of people as an attendee of the Philadelphia Liars Club Writer’s Coffeehouse and at local author readings and book signings. As writers we need to do this! Get out there on a regular basis in small groups and mingle with writers and readers. It’s the human contact we need to keep our spirits up. Sometimes I didn’t always feel like going out of the house, but I’m always glad I did because every time I met a new person or learned something new. I still am.

The same goes for connecting with dozens of folks by joining writer organizations like SCBWI and International Thriller Writers (ITW). Over the past three years I’ve volunteered for ITW doing social media for the debut authors and as a contributing editor to their magazine the Big Thrill. I’m working right now with a volunteer group to propose a children’s thriller track within this organization. Having mentors and peers to boost you up within your genre is gold. Authors like to pay-it-forward, and someday you will too. I was just honored to have given my first book endorsement.

A Dozen People
I fell in love with writing for children on a challenge to myself. I heard of a class called “How To Write A Children’s Novel in 9 Months” and thought – wouldn’t that be different from my writing thrillers for adults? I signed up right away. It was hard. I knew nothing about writing for kids. I hadn’t read children’s books in years. So I read and I wrote, and I learned from my teachers and my peers. And along the way I fell in love with writing for kids. You never know what road you will go down in thinking outside the box, and taking a risk. I’m glad I did.

A Handful of People
For a few years now I’ve been meeting weekly at Wegmans Café with a wonderful group of women writers. We call ourselves the Weggie Writers (sounds like Peggy not wedgie!). This informal group has grown over time to be eight of us. We don’t all come each week, but when we do we sit and write side-by-side. We give advice, share resources, and offer shoulders to cry on. We are a giant brain collective that elevates each other! Since getting together we’ve celebrated getting agents and book deals and MFA graduations. We are awesome. I hope you have your awesome handful.

Me with some of my super-talented and generous Weggie Writers!

This involves the nitty gritty hauling-water-uphill-barefoot-and-both-ways-in-a-storm work. I hired an amazing developmental editor who went three punchy rounds of edits with Joshua and the Lightning Road over the course of two years. Working with her was also like getting a mini-MFA in writing as I applied what I learned from her in my writing going forward. This was all in-between the rounds of rejections one-by-one from agents, many who provided insightful feedback to make my story stronger. And in-between that was one-on-one feedback gathered from my first-readers who knew how to deconstruct a story for its strengths and weaknesses.
Once you get a book deal there are more people in your room of course! An agent, a publisher, a publicist, and more editors – and more editing. Check out my articles on the 8 steps to an agent, a publisher, and a two-book deal and how to get your manuscript past the gatekeeper, based on my experience as a literary agency intern.

And once your book comes out, you can chuckle over the many ways folks can butcher the title. Because they will – and it will be funny!

Funniest Blooper Titles of Joshua and the Lightning Road:
Joshua and the Lightning Tree
Joshua and the Lightning Rod
Joshua and the Lightening Road
Joshua and the Lightening Rod
The Joshua Tree (one of my favorite U2 albums ever!)
I’d like to see the cover design for these, wouldn’t you? I'm waiting for Joshua and the Lightning Pee to show up...

But it’s not all hard work. There are lots of fun rewards like the week your book releases, talking with readers, getting great reviews, and creating fun book trailers. Check out mine!

Oh, and check out
Joshua and the Lightning Road
It’s real and it’s here - out today!
The crowd in my room helped.
Do you surround yourself with people as a writer? 
Do you recommend any other ways to build yourself a strong writer’s network?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Revising? Well, now, let's see. Revising is like..... by Anne Nesbet

So as I mentioned here a while ago, 'tis the season of revisions, here in Nesbetland; I have been whipping my middle-grade spy-vs-spy novel set in East Berlin, Cloud & Wallfish, into better and better shape. Remember the 17-page editorial letter I got from the very insightful Kaylan Adair at Candlewick? That revision!

With the aid of my trusty revision notebook (pictured here),
in which I outlined the existing version on the left-hand pages and added revision-letter questions, fixes, ideas and descriptions of new stuff on the right-hand pages, I worked through the list, and then added to the list and did it all again, and and and . . .

. . . and what you have to understand is that the past couple of weeks have been extraordinarily busy ones, even without taking revisions into account. Three other very different tasks have also been demanding my time and attention, and it occurs to me that each of these activities reminds me of revision, in one way or another. So let's explore some revision similes today!

1. Revising is like . . . correcting papers.

It's the end of the semester, so I have been grading papers and exams. Lots and lots and lots of papers and exams. Here are some of the 55 final papers I have to correct (over on the other table: a great big pile of final exams). 
When I read student papers, I can't help but think like an editor. What that means, essentially, is that I read students' work as if they were going to write another draft sometime soon. Most of the time, of course, that isn't the case. It's the end of the semester, not the beginning! But I can't help it: I want that mythical future draft to be wonderful, and I feel as though if I could only figure out exactly what questions to ask, I could help that mythical future draft come to life. So that's how correcting papers and revision are alike, apart from the obvious red-pen similarities: they both tear apart an existing work in order to create something new in the (possible) future.

2. Revising is like . . . cooking.

This time of year we have guests over reasonably often, guests who really want to be fed. Just the other day, I tried a recipe I'd never tried before: braised chicken thighs with green olives and preserved lemon. Oh, my! It was delicious! But while I was cooking, I kept thinking about how oddly like revisions cooking can be.

When you cook something for the first time, you have to do quite a bit of planning. Just to start with, you have to make lists of ingredients. (Similarly, I had to turn the editor's long letter into a list, in order to be able to begin to work with those comments.) You thought you already had ground ginger in the spice cupboard, but it turns out you have three bottles of ground cardamom, and no ginger, so off you go to the supermarket at the last minute. (In the revision notebook, the lists of comments and questions demand answers; sometimes an explanation you THOUGHT you had all worked out turns out still to be lacking something--so off you go to hunt that missing ingredient down.) But once you have all the ingredients, even the ground ginger and that pesky expensive saffron, you can follow the recipe, and miraculously something delicious appears. (That's the point in revisions when you start shifting the "fixes" on the right-hand pages in the revision notebook into the actual manuscript file.) Yes, revising can be like cooking; with luck, the end result will make a very tasty story.

3. Revising is like . . . conducting.

Didn't see that one coming, did you? But I did something yesterday that I've never done before: I conducted a symphony orchestra. Just for one piece--Manuel de Falla's "Ritual Fire Dance"--but it was a thrill, and a lot of work, and . . . it reminded me of revisions!

Before you perform, you have to rehearse. You rehearse and rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. Lots of that rehearsing is done by you alone, in front of a mirror.
The Lonely Practice Mirror
But every time you rehearse with the actual orchestra, something new goes wrong or doesn't quite work. And then you have to figure out how to fix it! I spent a lot of time over the last few weeks worrying about how to cue the clarinet and the violas at the same time when I only have two hands and they sit in very different parts of the orchestra. Or how to get the tempo moving when everyone comes in together. Or how to explain what the ticking pizzicato should sound like, beneath the flute solo. Or how to get the quiet places really, really quiet, so that when the brass comes in, it's like an explosion!

The part of my brain that spent all these weeks thinking obsessively about what I would do differently at the next rehearsal--is pretty much exactly the same part of my brain that picks apart plotting and pacing. Problem solving, problem solving, problem solving. I'll be at the supermarket, shopping for ground ginger, and suddenly I've got it! I know what has to happen in Chapter 17!

The end result of all this thinking and planning and rehearsing is a good performance. A book is not that unlike a concert, really. It's just slightly smaller in size and easier to tote around.

So those are some of my recent favorite revision similes! What do you think revising is like?