Monday, October 26, 2009
Sunday, October 11, 2009
When I self-published my first novel, Shadows in the Mist, back in 2006, I formed my own publishing company and switched from being novel writer to being publisher and art director of a product I was bringing to the market. My novel is a supernatural thriller set during World War II. I was an unknown author at that time. So I decided the cover had to be good enough to compete with all the other novel covers out there grabbing people's attention. I also wanted bookstores and readers to take my self-published book seriously. More than anything I wanted a book I was proud to share with the world, so I invested most of my publishing money into the cover design. The investment paid off. My book not only won a gold medal in an international contest, within one year it got bought by Berkley/Penguin for a small paperback deal and also by a German publisher to be translated in German. For any writer considering self-publishing, my advice is hire the best in the business to design and illustrate the cover. Below you will see the various stages my covers went through from initial sketches to final products.
When I self-published the trade paperback version, I had the great privilege to work with two talented, award-winning artists--cover designer, Kathi Dunn, and illustrator and painter, Les Edwards. Kathi Dunn was awesome to work with as she designed the layout of the cover and offered professional guidance throughout the process. She and her associates not only know how to design an eye-catching cover, they also understand the publishing business and what makes a cover sell books. It was Kathi who recommended that I hire an illustrator to paint a cover that would bring out the story. To see more of her award-winning covers, check out Kathi Dunn's website.
Shadows in the Mist's cover was an author's dream come true. To see many samples of his book covers, check out Les Edwards' website.
Shadows in the Mist as a small paperback. They assigned the book an art director to give the cover a whole new look. Illustrator Eric Williams was hired to paint the cover. He's an award-winning artist who has an impressive body of work. Eric, along with my art director, made the cover even scarier, bringing out the horror elements of the novel. I was ecstatic to see how Eric applied his unique style to my story. He first sketched it by hand.
Eric then painted the final piece in Photoshop. I love his brush strokes and the layers of texture he applied to give the cover a mystical feeling.
After the painting was complete, Berkley's design department added the title accented with black phoenixes to reference the Nazi occult element to the story.http://www.ewillustration.com/
Thursday, October 8, 2009
An ISBN is the International Standard Book Number that electronically differentiates your book from other products selling at retail stores and online. The 13-digit number identifies the book internationally which allows your book to be sold in the global market. Look on the back of any book, and you'll see this number. It's also embedded in the bar code. The bar code, which you order separate from the ISBN, is also necessary. The ISBN is also printed inside the book on the page that lists the publisher's info and copyright.
How do you obtain and ISBN and bar code?
Each country has an agency that sells the ISBN and bar code. Authors and publishers in the U.S. can order them through R.R. Bowker. Here's the price list. http://isbn.org/standards/home/isbn/us/isbn-fees.asp
ISBN numbers are sold in blocks of 10 or more. When I originally self-published my novel SHADOWS IN THE MIST, I bought one block of 10 ISBN's for $275. That's enough to publish 10 book titles, but I only needed one, since my publishing company was only putting out one title that year. Bar codes run about $25 each. Any one who has a book can order them. In fact, once you have a block of ISBN's, you can officially call yourself a publisher.
Here is R.R. Bowker's home page: http://www.bowker.com/index.php/home
For more questions about ISBN#'s, here is the F.A.Q. link:
An author friend of mine asked: If I sell my self-published book to a publisher (like you did) does a new publisher just pick up that ISBN?
My answer: Chances are a publisher will treat their version of the book as an entirely different version with new cover and ISBN. The only real benefit of them using your existing ISBN is if they paid you for it and you got your money back. Otherwise, that book and ISBN discontinues and they launch a new version. They might even change the size of the book. Or it might change from soft cover to hard cover. Once you sell your self-pub book it typically gets a complete makeover.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Both vanity and subsidy publishers print and bind books at the author's expense and offer packages of services that include editing, cover design, interior design, distribution, and marketing. Authors maintain all rights to the books. They are essentially clients to the publishers and that's how they make their money. The main difference between the vanity and subsidy publishers is vanity publishers will publish most anything and subsidy publishers are more selective.
Self publishing is more for authors who do everything themselves. When I first self-published my novel, that's the approach I took. I formed my own publishing company. I hired my editor, cover designer, illustrator, interior designer, publicist, and set up my book with a P.O.D. printer. I also ordered the ISBN number and bar code, which your book needs in order to sell it in the market place.
As a self-publisher, you will eventually come to that moment where you have to make a decision between offset printing and Print on Demand.
Offset printing is when you hire a book printer to print and bind a large volume of books, usually 2500 or more. Offset produces the highest quality, however it can be expensive, because not only are you paying for the costs of printing and binding, you also have to cover shipping and warehousing, which usually requires renting a pallet in a distributor's warehouse. You can store the books at your house, but boxes of 2500 or more books takes up a lot of room. A friend of mine went this route and spent over $10,000 up front just for printing and binding. Offset printing has a higher financial risk, because you have to sell all these books to recoup your investment.
P.O.D seems to be the more cost-efficient way to go these days. I highly recommend Lightning Source. They are owned by Ingram, the wholesaler that Borders and Barnes and Noble, and most small book stores order through. When I was using them for my first book, LS had an incentive for P.O.D. publishers: any books set up with Lightning Source would go into Ingram's library. This means readers can go to Borders and Barnes and Noble and order books. Most self-publishing companies have difficulty getting their books into the system of book stores. LS gives the self-publisher an extra advantage. LS also puts your book on Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. And you decide the retail price. The setup fee is relatively cheap. I paid $100. And the last I checked the fee for keeping your book stored in the LS library is $12 a year. They keep two digital files of your book in their library: the cover and a PDF of the interior. You have your own account and you can order copies of your book to be printed and shipped to you any time. If someone orders the book off Amazon, Lightning Source sends the book to Amazon, and you don't have to do anything except collect royalty checks that are profits from each Amazon sale.
With P.O.D, instead of ordering 2500 books at once, you can order any number you choose. This is perfect for authors who just want to print 50 or 100 copies to sell to friends and family or for a one-time event. This year I am using Lightning Source to print a memoir that my grandmother wrote. We're going to print about 50 copies and hand them out as Christmas gifts to family members. You can even order just one copy at a time, if that's all you need. Or 5 or 10, however many you need. For my novel, I often ordered 40 books at a time. I'd take them to book signings, and when I sold out, order another 40.
The quality of P.O.D. has gotten so much better, and Lightning Source is one of the best. I was very pleased with the ink and binding of my novel. The illustrations on the cover and inside came out perfect. Borders and Barnes and Noble carried my book, and managers I spoke with told me they thought the quality stood up to books coming out of NY publishing houses. Lightning Source now has the capability of printing books with color art, such as children's books.
So if you've reached that point where you are deciding between offset and P.O.D., I recommend considering P.O.D. as a fast and inexpensive way to get your book into print. I was completely satisfied with my experience with Lightning Source. Their staff was friendly and the quality of the finished product met my high standards.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Thursday, September 3, 2009
If you're a beginning writer, I wouldn't seek professional advice just yet. I would write a full draft and revise it a couple of times before getting feedback from anyone. If you receive too much criticism early on, it might discourage you from finishing the book. I made this mistake early on in my career and abandoned some stories that I should have spent more time with before having a critic point out the flaws. There are usually quite a few flaws in the early stages of a book, and it's better to just get the story down on the page first. You can always make it better when you revise the next several drafts.
Even today, when I start writing a new novel, my first draft is always rough. Some of the characters are still underdeveloped and there are many holes in the plot and questions left unanswered. My short stories and novels all go through several drafts before I let anyone read them.
For the first draft, I write purely from the heart. I write for the joy of creating the story, the characters, and the fictional world in which they live. I'm not concerned yet whether the book is polished or good enough for anyone to read. It's just a rough draft. A blue print to the story. After the first draft is complete, I read through it several times and revise it. The revision stage is where the magic happens. Some chapters I may revise 30 times, adding more details each time and improving the description and dialogue. That's just me, though, because I'm a perfectionist. Other writers can finish a book in fewer drafts. With each revision, I add new chapters and subtract chapters that no longer fit. I change character names and introduce new characters. The novel evolves over the course of several drafts. I continue to add depth to my main characters so they come to life on the page. I also write a synopsis, the outline to my story, where each paragraph represents a summary of each chapter. With my 400-page novel condensed down to 40 pages, I observe the pacing of the story, noticing where it may have gone on too long or places where I need to bridge holes in the plot. I can write for months on a novel before anyone reads a single word of it.
Only after I feel like the story is written to the best of my ability, do I seek feedback from others. I belong to a writer's group who I read chapters to each month and get constructive feedback. I also do focus groups, where I'll print out and bind the entire manuscript and have 5-10 people read it (usually friends and colleagues who are avid readers). I include a questionnaire asking what they liked and didn't like about my book. Then with this new feedback, I go back to revising. Once I have a polished manuscript that I feel absolutely wonderful about, I will submit it to an agent or editor. If self-publishing, then I would I hire an editor and proofreaders to give me professional feedback. The book then goes through a final polishing stage so that it's ready to go to print.
Another point I'd like to make is when I was a beginning writer, I was still learning how to write a novel. I spent some time developing my craft before asking a professional if my book was any good. The most encouraging advice they could probably give at this stage is your writing shows promise, keeping writing, keep fleshing out the story.
For any beginning fiction writers who are writing their first novel, I'd read books on the novel writing process and learn about all the elements of a novel: plot, characterization, dialogue, point of view, theme, pacing, setting, tone, etc. Here are some books I recommend:
How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey
Plot (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Ansen Dibell
The Art And Craft Of Storytelling by Nancy Lamb
On Writing by Stephen King
Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella
Dialogue (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Lewis Turco
Creating Unforgettable Characters by Linda Seger
Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints by Nancy Kress
Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Orson Scott Card
Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood
Special thanks to Marlon from Facebook for writing me with this question. I'm always looking for blog topics, so if anyone has a question about writing, publishing, or book marketing, contact Author Brian Moreland on Facebook or email Brian@BrianMoreland.com
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
An aspiring writer asked if I had any hints at approaching an agent.
Yes, I have a few routes I've taken on the path to eventually landing a literary agent.
Plan A: The best way I would approach agents is send them a one-page query letter, synopsis, and the first twenty pages of your manuscript. When I was first trying to publish my novel, SHADOWS IN THE MIST, I submitted to several agents. I offer a sample template of one of my query letters at this link:
Essentially, a query letter should briefly describe your book, why you have chosen this particular agency, describe you as a writer, and any publishing accomplishments you have. Or if you have a good marketing platform--like you are a TV personality or have a blog with 5,000 readers. Or if you are an expert in a niche field that relates to your book include that information.
If you are where I started, which was totally unknown with no platform, then your book has to be good enough to grab an agent's interest. So, first write the best damn book you can, and get lots of feedback on it from friends, a writer's group, and even hire a professional editor to clean up the grammar and work out any kinks in the book's structure. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, the book needs to flow nicely and engage the reader. It used to be that you had to mail query letters through snail mail. These days many agencies accept email. If that's the case, take check out the sample query template letter I included at the link above.
Do your research. Not all agents represent the same types of books. Every year Literary Market Place publishes a book (LMP) that lists all current information about agents, their contact info, and details about what types of books they represent. You can also search for agents at Literary Marketplace online.
In my case, I searched for every agency that represented horror fiction. I narrowed several hundred agents down to about twenty. Then I went to each of their websites to gain more insight into what they are looking for. This helped me narrow down the list to around fifteen. I wrote each of them and played the waiting game. Expect anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks for a response. If you haven't heard back in 6 weeks, send a brief, polite email saying you are just following up to see if they received your query letter.
Expect a good number of your submissions to be answered back with rejection letters. Any rejections only mean you've eliminated the agents who are not a good fit for your book and you've narrowed down your search. So what happens if every agent on your list rejects your manuscript? This actually happened to me! First, don't panic. Take a few deep breaths. Once calm, ask yourself this question: "Where's the opportunity?"
Plan B: Another alternative to querying an agent is to go to a writer's convention and pitch your story to one. Every year, agents attend conferences in hopes of finding fresh talent. The Hawaii Writers conference (Every Labor Day weekend) is a perfect venue for this. https://www.hawaiiwriters.org/ They have a set up there that's kind of like speed dating with agents and editors. You sit down with the agent/editor face to face, and you have 15 minutes to pitch your story. If they like the idea, they'll tell you to mail them the manuscript. That's how I got an agent to finally read a copy of SHADOWS IN THE MIST. If you can find a way to afford the trip, I highly recommend the Hawaii Writers Conference. You get to meet other aspiring writers, celebrity authors, attend workshops about writing, publishing, and promoting, and pitch your stories to agents. It's well worth the investment.
Plan C: Enter your manuscript or self-published book into a contest and win an award. This is a long shot, but I've met writers who won awards and landed a book deal afterwards. Self-published books can enter into the Independent Book Publishers Awards (http://www.independentpublisher.com/ipland/LearnMore.php). For unpublished writers, there are countless contests. Just Google writing contests. If you win an award, resubmit to agents and tell them the good news. They may take more interest this time.
So to recap:
1. Write a damn good book or have a unique idea that's marketable
2. Get friends, writers, and hire an editor to provide constructive feedback - polish the manuscript until it's the best you can deliver
3. Read up on how to write a great query letter or book proposal. Feel free to use my sample query letter as a template. http://brianmoreland.com/coachingforwriters/samplequeryletters.html
4. Research literary agencies on the web or in the Literary Market Book and see who's publishing your kind of book
5. Contact them with a query letter. Check their guidelines on their site to see if they prefer email or snail mail submissions
6. Submit to several agents at once, unless one specifically asks you to give them the first chance to look at your work
7. Wait patiently. It may take a few weeks or months for them to get back with you.
8. When you receive rejection letters - and you may get a few - keep having faith - not every agent is right for you. You want to cherry pick the agent that has the most passion for your book. Remember, they are your rep. They are selling your book. You want an agent who's fired up about pitching your story to publishing houses. So be willing to see rejection letters as only a sign that they aren't the right fit for you. It's nothing personal.
9. If the agents provide any constructive feedback, seriously consider it and get second opinions from any writers you know. Your manuscript may need a little tweeking. Some of my earlier manuscripts weren't good enough to be published yet, and some agents gave me so valuable advice on how to improve my manuscript and as a writer.
10. Attend the Hawaii Writers Conference or one closer to home - there's nothing like getting face to face with an agent and getting instant feedback. It might be what saves you from months of waiting in the slush pile. I know people who have signed with agents on the spot. It can be very exciting.
11. Shop for a literary agent for a year or so. Finding the right one takes time. While you wait, keep writing on your next manuscript. Keep churning out manuscripts. An agent may like your writing, but not the story you submitted. They might ask if you have anything else you can read.
12. If after a couple years pass without landing an agent, explore self-publishing. That's the route I took and finally landed my literary agent and first book deal a year after I self-published.
Dream big and make it happen!
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Several writers have written me asking how to overcome writer's block.
If you're struggling with writer's block, don't get discouraged. I get stuck many times in the middle of a book and don't feel like writing. I'm not always in the creative flow, but I make myself write anyway. Here are a few ways I get back into the creative flow of writing:
1.) Do anything that's creative. Paint pictures, write poetry, work in Photoshop, make a scrapbook, edit a video. Then go back to writing. When I'm stuck, I paint paintings on canvass. It really activates my creativity. The key is to keep exercising the creative part of your brain.
2). Do freewriting. This is where you spend 15 minutes or more a day writing whatever comes off the top of your head. Ignore punctuation. Just write freely. Allow it to be totally random. You might change subjects many times. You might mix fiction with journalling or vent frustrations. The process trains your brain to tap into the words inside your head and gives them a place to live on your computer screen.
3.) Get your body into flow. Dance or do yoga. This may sound funny, but when you get your body into flow, your mind follows. Meditate and take long, deep breaths. A relaxed mind is more open. An open mind is more imaginative. And you can focus longer when you are in a peaceful state.
4.) Carve out some time in your schedule just for writing. At least 3 to 4 hours. Turn off the phone. Tell your loved ones to honor your space so you can write without distractions. Clean up your work space. A cluttered desk puts the mind in a state of confusion.
5.) Write really early in the morning. When you first wake up, your brain is still in Theta mode, the brainwave pattern that you are in when you have dreams. Some of my best writing happens at 4 or 5 a.m. when I'm still half asleep.
6.) The Glass-of-Water Technique. This is my best technique for overcoming writer's block. Before bed, fill up a glass of water. Hold it up and speak an intention. (Example: My intent is to tap into my creative source and write brilliantly tomorrow). Then drink half the water and set the other half on your nightstand. Go to sleep. When you wake up the next morning drink the rest of the water immediately. Then go straight to your computer and write at least an hour without distraction. This may seem a bit woo-woo, but give it a try. Do this technique for three nights straight. It gets me out of my writer's block every time.
I offer coaching and consulting to writers. To see my coaching packages visit: http://brianmoreland.com/coachingforwriters/coachingpackages.html:
Monday, August 17, 2009
An aspiring writer wrote: Dear Mr. Moreland, For the longest time I enjoyed writing short stories. I found it fun. But now it seems as if I can't produce anything. For many months now I have been at a loss for words, nothing seems to come to me. And there is no more energy in my writing. I think maybe I'm starting to give up, but yet the other part of me doesn't want me to. I was wondering if you could give me any advice.
First question I would ask is what's important to you about writing? Are you doing it just for fun? An emotional outlet like a journal or blog? Or are you wanting to publish and be a career author?
List the top 10 reasons why you are driven to write. This will remind you why you chose to become a writer in the first place and give you a greater sense of purpose.
If writing really isn't that important to you, let it go and find another hobby. It takes a lot of discipline to churn out short stories and manuscripts on a regular basis. If, on the other hand, writing is an inner calling, a voice that won't quit, keep looking for ways to motivate yourself. You may just have something brilliant in you that will inspire a lot of people once you sit down and write it.
Your challenge could be that you are locked into one mode of thinking. I use two types of writing modes:
1.) Right Brain Writing - When you are in this mode, you are highly creative and your imagination is very active. It's easy to invent fictional characters, stories, or essays that come from the heart. All emotional writing happens in "Right Brain" mode. In this mode, I can write non-stop for hours. It's the best time to write new chapters and have the most fun.
2.) Left Brain Writing - When I'm not in the creative flow, my mind is typically more left-brained. I do not feel connected to my muse. However, I am very organized and can work on other aspects of my book, like outlining and editing. This is a good time to look at your manuscript from the big picture. When I'm outlining, I catch problems with the story flow that I don't catch when I'm in my creative writing mode.
If you're a published author, "Left-Brain" mode is also a great time to handle the business side of writing. Schedule book signings and market books. Surf the net for book reviewers and blogs that interview authors. Deposit royalty checks in the bank and negotiate movie deals with Hollywood producers. So it's great to be left-brained part of the time. You just don't want to stay in this mode or it's difficult to feel inspired to create anything from your imagination.
Writing is a discipline. If you are a serious writer, you will make time to write something even when it's not flowing so well. Explore training your right brain to be more creative and discover at what time of day you write the best. If writing is truly your calling, never give up.
In the next post I'll offer some tips for overcoming writer's block ...
I offer coaching and consulting to writers. To see my coaching packages visit: http://brianmoreland.com/coachingforwriters/coachingpackages.html:
Monday, August 3, 2009
First, read a lot of books from various authors. When you come across a descriptive passage you really like, read it again, study it. Notice what verbs and adjectives they used. Write that passage in a journal or type it. I've written passages from other books, from Stephen King to Dean Koontz, and that helped put me in the mindset of that author. It impacted my writing.
Learn to write poetry. Even if it's bad poetry. It teaches you about the rhythm of language. I spent some time writing a number of poems, some good, some not so good, but I trained my brain to write more descriptively. When you write flowery poetry for awhile and then go back to writing prose, you'll discover your writing has become naturally more descriptive.
Learn a plethora of new vocabulary. Play some vocabulary games. Challenge yourself to use words you don't normally use. I keep a Thesaurus handy, and when I'm revising a draft, I swap out plain words for more descriptive words.
Learn to use figurative language such as hyperbole, simile, metaphor, symbolism and personification. Knowing these gives you a great foundation for descriptive writing. And for the most part it is better to show than tell. Rather than narrate what's happening from the author's point of view, play the scene out from the character's point of view.
And remember that descriptions are also visual details of what's happening in your scene. I'll often write a first draft that doesn't have a lot of description. Just some basic action and dialogue. But then I'll re-read the chapter over and over, visualizing what's happening, and that's when I add more visual details.
I describe in ways that invoke the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. My goal is for the reader to feel like they are in the scene, experiencing it through multiple senses. For instance, in the war scenes in my novel I described what my character Lt. Jack Chambers is seeing--the battlefield, the fog seeping through the war-torn forest, enemy soldiers charging between the trees. Then I added in some sound effects, like gunshots and explosions, soldiers yelling, the metallic crunch of tank tracks rolling over rubble. Then touch: the heat of the blast scorching the soldier's skin. Then taste: his mouth filling with dust and grit. And smell: the stench of death all around him. When you combine descriptions of all five senses, you create a visceral experience for your readers.
Keep challenging yourself to improve your craft and your descriptions will get better over time.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Another misstep I made was I came across a marketing company advertising they had a program called "The Bestseller Program." They offered consulting on how to make your book a "Bestseller." I paid a $1,000 for a couple of phone consultations that didn't really offer me much. First thing they told me was they couldn't guarantee my book would become a bestseller, so the program was misleading. Now that I've been in the publishing business awhile, I know that no one can predict if a book by a first-time author is going to be a bestseller. I ended up wasting $1,000 I could have put into advertising or bought a nice suit and some new shoes. So, authors beware of book marketing companies that promise you're book will be a bestseller.
My last misstep was I waited till six months after my book's release to get involved with social media groups such as Redroom and other popular sites like Facebook and Twitter. I wasn't much of a social networker and saw them as a waste of time. After hearing numerous success stories from other people marketing through social media, I finally jumped on the bandwagon. And saw a huge spike in book sales. Now, I've connected with hundreds of book lovers, writers, and book reviewers through social networking and I'm having a blast doing it. Had I known the benefits of social media marketing a year before my book's release, I could have built up some buzz and had readers ready to buy my book the day it released. When I release my next novel, DEAD OF WINTER, I'll be able to email a few thousand people prior to the book launch. Live and learn.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Dear Mr. Moreland, I am curious about being a published author and what my chances are at being successful. My teacher says, "Do what you love and the money will come." Would you as a writer agree with that statement and say it is true?
I agree with your teacher, "do what you love and the money will come," eventually. Just know that being an author is a lot more than just writing fiction or non-fiction books. There's a whole business to it. I spend several hours each week focused on marketing, blogging, and writing the next book. It's a job where you do a lot of work up front and the rewards pay off later, in dividends. But I love being an author and that's why I'm willing to do the work.
Most book writers I know, including myself, have a backup career that pays the bills while we write books. Bestselling author James Rollins, for instance, was veterinarian. Stephen King started out as a high school teacher. David Morrell and Gary Braver are writing professors at universities. My "day job" is working as a freelance video editor, editing documentaries and corporate videos. I write in between video projects or early in the morning, (5:00 a.m. - 8:00 a.m). If you write enough books, and one or more of them become bestsellers or made into movies, then authors can earn enough to write full time and be paid millions for the books they put out. Just ask Stephanie Meyer of the Twilight series if her royalty checks cover her living expenses. Authors such as Stephen King, Nora Roberts, James Patterson, and Jim Butcher have achieved the ultimate dream of turning their writing into financial success. Not every writer who publishes a book achieves this, but it's certainly possible. I'm willing to guess that every successful author has two things in common: persistence and belief in their writing. They never give up and they keep believing what they are writing adds value to people's lives.
I also know a lot of writers who build a solid career around being a writer, like public speaking, publishing blogs, teaching seminars, teaching at universities, technical writing, copy writing, script writing, editing manuscripts, proofreading, journalism, writing magazine articles, etc. There are countless ways you can make money as a writer. All you have to do is find your niche--what you love to write most--and see if there is a career you can build around that.
So, again I say, if you love writing, if you have a strong enough passion to put in all the hours it takes to be successful, then definitely follow your dream. You don't have to be a celebrity author to make a steady living in this business. Just keep believing and keep writing. And keep your "day job" until those royalty checks finally start arriving in the mail.
Special thanks to Tyler K. from Facebook. I love receiving questions from aspiring writers and posting answers here on my blog. If you have a question about writing, publishing, or marketing, feel free to email Brian@BrianMoreland.com. I receive a lot of these, so I'll get to it as quick as I can. Brian
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Sunday, May 10, 2009
First you have to build conflict. And conflict always starts light and builds over multiple scenes. For instance, in SHADOWS IN THE MIST, my main character Lt. Jack Chambers has an antagonist named Lt. Fallon. They have a bad history, so I use their past falling out to create some immediate tension. From the moment they get assigned to work on the same mission, they don't like each other. I create tension in their dialogue as they take a few verbal jabs at one another. Every scene that follows, Chambers and Fallon argue more and more. Later their hatred builds to the point that they're slugging each other. All this builds up to them battling in a climatic scene with weapons. So, the key is your protagonist (hero) must always have an antagonist (villain) who oppose one another. No matter how much they dislike each other from the beginning, start building conflict slowly, light to heavy.
Another thing is your protagonist and antagonist have to have a reason they hate each other that's believable. A common reason is two men are in love with the same woman or are competing for the same job or are on opposite sides of a war. They are enemies competing for the same prize. The opposing characters can be between two women (as in the movie BRIDE WARS) and also between a man and a woman (ROMANCING THE STONE or FOOL'S GOLD). The tension builds as they go from bickering at one another scene after scene until it builds into a heated screaming match. This also builds sexual tension, which is why the man and woman end up tearing each other's clothes off. That's the formula for a great romance novel. They dislike each other from the start, have opposite viewpoints, bicker, argue, fight, have passionate sex, and then fall in love.
The next time you read a book or watch a movie, notice how the conflict builds over time. Notice by the time two people are screaming at each other or fighting with fists or weapons, you the viewer are ready for that action, because it's been building in every scene prior. When you build conflict scene by scene in your novel, then the actual fight scene happens naturally. Your characters will take over the story and let you know when they're ready to duke it out.
In answer to your second question, the way to keep your reader interested is you create believable characters that are human and passionate about opposite ideals. The protagonist and antagonist are so headstrong that they'll do whatever it takes to get their way, and they are righteous about their viewpoint. Watch the movie DOUBT. It's classic conflict that builds into a brilliant verbal match between Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. When two of my characters get into a fight, I always ask myself, what's the worst thing that could happen that could come out of this? What would be the worst outcome for each character in the fight? And that's usually the way I write it.
Monday, May 4, 2009
When writing horror, don't hold back. Tap into your deepest, darkest imagination and write whatever your imagination gives you. Avoid censoring yourself. I've written some pretty twisted scenes and thought: I can't let anybody read this. The violence is just too brutal. But then people would read it and say they loved the scene.
I enjoy writing and reading fiction that originates from truth. When I say “truth” I mean that the scene was written from the writer’s heart. There’s a great distinction between stories written from an idea and those written from an author’s heart. The way to tell the difference is a story written from a writer’s heart evokes feelings in you when you read it. So in the case of writing horror, which explores darker themes, the genre attracts readers who want the writer to give us everything he or she has within her. As you type words across your computer screen, unleash whatever's clawing to get out. At the core of good protagonists and evil villains is a darkness driven by fear. Readers of horror can relate to fear, because we all have inner demons that we battle from time to time.
Suspense is putting a character into a situation where the reader knows danger is present. Example: a cop enters a house where a serial killer is hiding. All the lights are out. The cop finds a mutilated body, and it’s his partner. The dead man’s face has been skinned off. We might already know the killer likes to peal off the faces of his victims and wear them as masks. Now the cop has tracked down the killer to his lair. Every second the cop is exploring that house, we're on the edge of our seats, wondering when the killer is going to leap out of the shadows. We can ratchet up the suspense as our hero discovers a basement where shelves are lined with mannequin heads, each one draped with shrivled skin masks staring at our hero with hollow eyes and twisted grimaces. The more we learn how dangerous the killer is, the more suspenseful the scene gets.
Describing violence and gore: As far as gore goes, that's a matter of taste. Horror includes a whole spectrum from psychological horror (with very little gore) to splatter punk (graphic gore and violence - Brian Keene's zombie novels are great examples). So write gore according to your taste. Extremely gory novels attract a certain group of readers and tend to repel others. So, again, write horror the way you love to read it.
Writing descriptions: If you're writing suspense, keep descriptions to a minimum so you can keep the action driving at a fast pace. I describe settings in short paragraphs, then I start the action or dialogue. I generally interweave descriptions with the action. In SHADOWS IN THE MIST, I have a platoon take refuge in an abandoned Catholic church that's suffered a lot of war damage. I don't describe the church all at once. I give a brief description when the soldiers first reach the church. Then I describe a little more and a little more, as the soldiers explore the church with their flashlights. At some point the reader puts it all together and sees the big picture. When describing a setting, feed the reader a little at a time, so the setting becomes its own mystery--a place full of wonderful discoveries and hidden darkness.
We don't have to describe every detail. I like to allow the reader's imagination to fill in the gaps. Buildings like churches, castles, mansions, hospitals create their own image. If it's a minor scene, I'll just say my character entered a Catholic church. I describe more the action happening within the scene rather than paint the setting. When you allow the reader to use his imagination, in a sense you and the reader are co-creating the scene together in the reader's mind.
Writing emotions: Your ultimate goal is to evoke emotions in your readers and have them fall in love with your characters. But you can't contrive emotions or the scene will feel flat or trite. I first create characters that I, myself, fall in love with and care about. Then whatever happens to them evokes emotions in me. When I write dramatic scenes or scary scenes or action scenes where my protagonist is running for his life, I have to feel what's happening. I drum up those feelings of anger, fear, sadness, love, lust, and then write what my character is feeling. This happens naturally when I get into the story and I'm in tune with my character. The love scenes between my leading man and lady are by far the most fun to write. :) Again, don't hold anything back. Write about people you love and then write whatever you're feeling as they face conflicts with antagonists who will do everything in their power to stop the protagonists from achieving what they most desire.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Since beginning my path as a novelist, I faced a lot of hurdles. It took eighteen years before I began earning money as a fiction author. I could have been successful much earlier, but several times I gave up on myself. I took advice from people who only looked at the practical side of life. They didn’t strive beyond their comfort zones. They didn't see the point of me writing manuscript after manuscript and not getting paid for all the hours I spent typing at a computer, alone by myself. So those people became voices in my head that slowly, over time sapped my passion to continue. I quit climbing the mountain to my dream. I focused on working other jobs that actually paid a salary. I was making money, but inside a part of me felt empty, and it was only when I got back into writing in my mid thirties and pursuing my real dream--being a published author--that I was happy again. My dream stood before me like a giant mountain, so daunting I feared I could never reach the summit, but I started climbing anyway.
I had the fortune of meeting bestselling author Robert Crais at a book signing. He had just landed a huge Hollywood movie deal for his novel Hostage which stars Bruce Willis. I told Robert Crais that I was writing a novel and I wanted to be sitting where he was one day. He looked up from autographing a book and told me, “Then I’ll give you some advice. Never give up.” Those words stuck with me. I have since rephrased the motto to: “Never give up. Keep taking steps until you reach your goal. No matter what, stay persistent.” We can spend our whole lives making excuses, or we can start taking action now and just make it happen.
So I had a dream fueled by plenty of desire, but I still needed direction. I first listed my values. I asked myself, “What do I want most? What’s most important to me about my dream career?” I listed my values in simple words like: achievement, fun, seeing my books on bookstore shelves, sharing my writing with readers, receiving advances and royalty checks, hanging out with other writers, writing a bestselling novel, etc. And then I listed those values in order of importance. Prioritizing your values is key, because it causes your mind to focus on what’s most important to you. You feel an emotional boost. It empowers you and stokes your inner fire. Then as you begin taking steps toward doing what you love, you take the most important steps first.
Once I had my values listed, I had a new sense of purpose. A vision I could work toward. It was like filling my engine with rocket fuel. I was ready to blast off to a career that was more aligned with my truth. I posted my values on a wall so I’d see them every day. Then I wrote out specific goals, and chunked them down into small daily “action steps” I could accomplish easily. I continued writing, pushing myself daily, weekly, monthly to complete my manuscript. I read books on my craft and took classes so I could get better at it. I read books about other people’s success stories so I could believe that I could accomplish my goals, too. And I read about the publishing business. As a writer seeking to publish my novel with a major NY publisher, I needed a literary agent. I submitted query letters to countless agents over the span of ten years and received only rejection letters. At the time I felt like a failure, but I wasn’t. “Rejection,” as I later learned, is just a guiding post. Rejection guided me away from the wrong paths—the wrong people to do business with. In my vision, my literary agent was passionate about representing me and my books. Rejection is where a lot of people give up. I say, “Never give up. Keep taking steps until you reach your goal. No matter what, stay persistent.”
I eventually self-published my first novel, just to get it out there on the market. More important, to make being an author more real for me. Being your own publisher can be a very time-consuming venture. It was also a huge financial investment. It’s not necessarily the path for all writers, because it requires a business sense and entrepreneurial spirit. It’s also a very high risk of ever seeing a profit. If you don’t mind taking risks and hard work, then I recommend self-publishing as an alternative to getting a book to the market. For me, self-publishing is how I jump-started my career.
Within nine months my novel went from polished manuscript to a soft-cover book I could hold in my hands. Through great marketing efforts in tandem with a publicist I hired, the book sold relatively well. I began to do book signings and realized I had achieved one of my goals: to be like Robert Crais, the author autographing books. It was an awesome feeling.
When you pursue your dream 100%, there can be wonderful surprises that happen along the way. My WWII novel Shadows in the Mist hit number one on Amazon.com’s Bestselling Mystery and Thrillers list, stayed there a couple hours, beating out Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code. That was very surreal, let me tell you, and a victory I would have never experienced had I given up.
We all have a calling. A life purpose. A reason we came onto this planet. What brings you joy? What do you dream of doing as your career? We can spend our days living mundane lives or we can do what gives us joy. My calling is novel writing and inspiring others to pursue their dreams. Life can be so joyful when you are doing what you love.
So if you're pursuing a dream that isn't paying you the big bucks just yet, keep going for it. Even if it’s just a hobby on the side. You may not see the top of the mountain right now, but keep climbing, one step at a time. Little by little. Focus a few hours each week on your dream career. Commit your weekends to it. You can accomplish anything with time and persistence. And when you reach the summit you can just smile to yourself and say, "I went for it, and I made it happen, and now I can do anything." Whatever your dream is, start taking steps toward it now and make it happen.
I also coach writers to be successful, and I'm available for one-on-one personal coaching. Contact me at Brian@BrianMoreland.com. On Facebook look up “Author Brian Moreland” and feel free to join my two groups, “Horror Shadows in the Mist” and “Coaching for Writers.”