Following a character

The more I write about a character (follow them and ask them questions), the more they reveal themselves to me. I have this character called Deo in one of my stories, and thought I knew him well, but I am discovering this man is more mysterious than I thought. He has a story to tell; something he is hiding.

I think I will ask him what it is. Or hope he tells me, at least if he considers me his friend. I just hope I could deal with whatever he reveals.

4 Lessons for Authors About the Current State of Publishing

by Jane Friedman

1. An author’s online presence is more critical than ever to long-term marketing strategy.

Industry analyst Mike Shatzkin opened the conference by discussing what he thinks is the greatest challenge right now in the publishing industry. He said that authors have long been recognized as the consumer-facing brand that most matters (to publishers and readers), and that today every author can build some kind of digital presence. However, he said, while a few authors do that very well, most do it badly.

Shatzkin said the biggest failure of traditional publishers to date is the lack of programmatic help for authors in building their digital footprint.

At the very least, he said every house should do a digital audit for every author they contract, which includes concrete suggestions for improving online engagement. To his knowledge, no publisher does, but he thinks it should be every house’s top marketing priority.

Later on, Rand Fishkin of Moz offered some of the most actionable content of the entire event, focused on how authors (or publishers) could improve that digital footprint. (Review his full presentation here.) Two of the big highlights of his talk and Q&A session:

  • Make sure your website is accessible, mobile-friendly and optimized for search. Fishkin said that using WordPress is a great shortcut to ensure your site is following best practices related to SEO. He encouraged authors and publishers to consistently link to a book landing page (on the author website) rather than to Amazon, to help ensure the author website and book landing page owned by the author will turn up as the first search result. Fishkin believes it’s better to control the message and capture that visitor/reader before sending them onto Amazon.
  • Do not split up your content website and promotional websites. For authors, this means don’t split up your author website and your author blog (don’t house them separately) or create separate websites that serve only to promote or sell your books. Authors should integrate all content, whether promotional or not, under a single online umbrella, usually a website built on author name. If you want, buy a domain that closely matches your book title, and have it redirect to your main author site (or possibly create a microsite). Fishkin says it increases the probability of your site ranking number one for important search terms, such as your name, book titles, and keywords related to your work.

2. Be reluctant to trust mainstream media headlines when it comes to publishing sales and trends.

Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch, arguably the foremost expert in reading the tea leaves of publishing industry data, offered an overview of what we know and how we know it when it comes to print and ebook sales.

He listed the biggest misleading conclusions appearing in news headlines—conclusions that consistently misinterpret the sales data.

  1. Print is back!
  2. E-books are dead!
  3. Bookstores are back!
  4. Amazon’s publishing division failed!
  5. If only we could count self-publishing, ebooks are booming!

What every author should know about the current industry data:

  • The flattening of ebook sales started happening back in 2013. Plus, some of the ebook decline we’re seeing may be attributable to rapidly falling Nook sales.
  • Adult ebook sales have been relatively stable; the big decline is in children’s/YA ebook sales due to the lack of a big franchise hit in 2015.
  • A big question is whether customers may be transitioning from ebook purchases to audiobook purchases—some of the most dramatic industry growth is happening in digital audio.
  • Recent print sales gains can be accounted for by coloring books.

To understand the full picture of industry sales requires triangulation of multiple data sources and an understanding of what sales those sources account for (and how the accounting has changed over the years). No single source offers a complete picture, and historical comparisons are difficult. One thing is for sure, however: most mainstream outlets, such as the New York Times, misunderstand the data and apply misleading headlines.

3. Learn to find your readers, go where they go, and speak their language.

Industry marketing expert Peter McCarthy and Rand Fishkin both discussed how to find your readers online and reach them directly. McCarthy described it as picking up “the lingua franca of the customer” with a variety of tools and techniques. He demonstrated how he rapidly tests out phrases to learn and access “adjacencies”—the key concepts, active people, and communities whose interests are aligned with themes, topics, or points from your work. (View or download McCarthy’s 109 slides, featuring step-by-step information.)

For more:

How To Write and Revise a Novel (From a Newbie’s Perspective)

By: @DianaUrban.

The Summary of My Novel Writing Process

  • Step 1: The Outline
  • Step 2: The Vomit Draft
  • Step 3: The 2nd Draft – Editing for Story
  • Step 4: The 3rd Draft – Editing the Copy
  • Step 5: The 4th Draft – Close Beta Feedback
  • Step 6: The 5th Draft – All Beta Feedback

The Details of My Novel Writing Process

Step 1: The Outline

The outline is imperative. Some writers like to free-flow their writing and let the story form as they go. However, a solid outline lets you:

  • Understand how your story ends. How will your character get from page one to the finish line? Your characters should have some major obstacles to overcome starting from chapter one. Your outline is a map to their “survival.”
  • Keep track of your characters. My favorite novels have more than just a couple characters (think Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games, etc.), and my novel has quite a few as well. It’s important to keep everyone straight and what their role will be throughout the novel.
  • Keep your characters on course. Your protagonist will need to change in some way, for better or worse. An outline lets you plan their progression.
  • Ensures you don’t forget anyone. Don’t forget about any of your characters that should have a presence throughout the whole book. You don’t want your main supporting character to go missing for six chapters (unless, of course, that’s part of the plot).
  • Keep the facts straight. As you progress through your novel, it will be easier to remember the events of earlier chapters, so you don’t have to sift through thousands of words to remember where/when something happened.

Even though I highly recommend creating an outline, there are a few points I kept in mind to keep myself from going crazy:

  • An outline is more of a guideline than rules.
  • Your novel will adapt as your characters adapt to the situations their in. And that’s ok.
  • Your ending may be completely different from the one in your outline. Again, that’s ok.
  • It’s ok to add scenes to your outline after you get started. Create your outline on your computer, rather than using pen and paper, to make it easier to insert stuff.

I did not write detailed character sheets, scene/location descriptions, etc. That’s a little too much planning for my taste, but that’s just me! I did, however, list out all the characters’ names (first and last) for easy reference, even if I never mentioned a character’s last name in the story.

Step 2: The Vomit Draft

WRITE WRITE WRITE. Get your novel out. Let your characters tell the story through your fingertips as you type away. Many authors find the blank page intimidating. IT IS. But it’s also exhilarating. Your story is yours to craft. You’re in control of this whole world and what happens to your characters.

Some helpful tips for the vomit draft:

  • Set a character target but don’t obsess over it. I set my target at 80K words. I ended up at almost 85K words by the end of the 4th draft, but my vomit draft only ended up at 74K words. In your later drafts you can add detail and color to your world while cutting a lot (we’ll get into that later).
  • You don’t have to write every day. Some authors like to set 1K or 2K word count targets per day. I didn’t. I was on a mission to write the vomit draft within one month, which I did. But I got through it with marathons and days off. Every writer is different, but after a long and stressful day at work, there were some days I couldn’t muster up the strength to keep looking at a computer monitor (and I’m not a morning person). I did most of my writing on the weekend; I wrote something like 30K words in one weekend — it was the last 3rd of the book, including the climax, so it was easy to just keep going.
  • Don’t believe in writer’s block. Staring at a blank screen is the worst. So don’t let the blank screen happen. How? Don’t skip step #1. Your outline is your first line of defense against writer’s block. If you don’t know how to start one scene, skip to the next until you get inspired. Never use writer’s block as an excuse for not writing one day. There are plenty other things in life that will get in the way

Quick note about Steps 3-5: they can happen simultaneously. For example, I did not complete draft #2 of the entire novel before proceeding to draft #3. Sometimes I did #2 and #3 of the same chapter back-to-back. Sometimes I’d do #2 of five chapters, then #3 of those five chapters. Other times I’d do #2, #3, and #4 of the same chapter at once.

Step 3: The Second Draft – Editing for Story

Some writers advise you to put down your novel for six weeks before proceeding to the second draft. I did not do this, and I personally wouldn’t recommend it. I wanted to continue while draft one was fresh in my brain, and I could remember all the changes I knew I wanted to make by the time I reached the end.

This draft is all about fixing the story, eliminating plot holes, adding detail to characters and scenes, and deepening dialogue. It’s not about perfecting sentences or fixing your typos. During draft two, I often rewrote entire chapters, or entire action sequences, or entire conversations. My writing had improved by the last third of my vomit draft, so I rewrote a lot of the first half of the novel.

The second draft is also where you can “show, don’t tell.” If you find a paragraph (or five) explaining something that happened between now and your last chapter, nix those paragraphs and craft a scene or dialogue where you make that thing happen.

Step 4: The Third Draft – Editing the Copy

Now that your story is set, it’s time to add detail, but more importantly, CUT words. This is pretty time-consuming and takes several hours per chapter. I will get into more detail in future posts, but here are the basics:

  • Eliminate needless elements. Cut sentences or paragraphs that don’t further the story, provide extra detail, or make sense.
  • Make your verbs stronger. Did your character walk into the room? Or did they stride into the room? Or amble into the room? Or tripped into the room? Making your verbs stronger will help you eliminate pesky adverbs that slow down your writing.
  • Cut the he said she said. The context of the dialogue should let the reader know who’s speaking. You can also add action between the dialogue.
  • Cut weak words: just, probably, that, definitely, literally, certainly, absolutely, etc. etc.
  • Cut character points of view that slow down the story. Don’t say, “Bob looked in the window and saw that Mary was watering her plants.” Instead, say, “Mary watered her plants.”
  • Cut passive voice. Most of your sentences should have a subject followed by a verb. Don’t say, “The apple was picked up the girl in the yellow frock.” Instead, say, “The girl in the yellow frock picked up an apple.” Or better yet, “The girl picked up an apple, her yellow frock whipping in the wind.”

These are cheesy examples, but you get the point. More details to come in later posts! In this draft, you should also fix any typos and grammar mistakes you find.

Again, my target length was 80K words, my 1st draft was 74K words, and my 3rd draft was 85K words. I cut a LOT from the 1st draft during the 3rd draft, but I added detail and conversations (“show, don’t tell”) in the 2nd draft, which is why my 3rd draft ended up being 11K longer than the first.

Step 5: The Fourth Draft – Close Beta Reader

Find someone you trust to be your first beta reader. This person should:

  • Be willing to invest some serious time in reading your chapters as you finish the third draft within a short timeframe.
  • Be accessible to you. Ideally, live nearby, or be available by phone on a regular basis.
  • Be good at giving critical, honest feedback.
  • Have a solid grasp of the English language and/or English literature.
  • Be a good writer themselves (not required, but helpful)

In my case, my first beta reader was my husband Bryan. Here was our process:

  • I sent him each chapter as I finished the 3rd draft in a Word doc.
  • He used track changes to provide comments, make typo edits, etc.
  • He emailed each chapter back to me and sat with me as I read through his notes, asked questions, etc. We’d talk about plot points and whether things the characters said made sense, how to make the scene stronger, etc. Having someone to bounce ideas off of made my story so much stronger.
  • I manually made all edits in Scrivener (so I never used the track changes “Accept Change” feature).

Step 6: The Fifth Draft – All Beta Readers

Yesterday, I sent the novel to eight beta readers (including my parents, in-laws, a couple friends, and a fellow writer). They will help me find typos and give me any other feedback they come up with so I can make my novel as strong as possible before sending it off to the agents.

Next up will be agent research and writing the queries, and then I’ll complete the fifth and final draft based on my beta readers’ feedback. I’m all about efficiency. I hope this helped someone out there! Please feel free to leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.



I had written a short story some months back, called, “THE BELOVED QUEEN”.  For a little while now, I was thinking that, maybe I should follow the characters around a little bit more.  And so, I began doing just that.

Well, anytime you plan on following your characters, strange things can happen.  They can take you anywhere they want, believe me.

So, want to follow them as well?

Yes, no, yes, no, yes!

Well, if you’re up for the ride, why not.

What I will do, is release, under the flash fiction category parts of the story as it goes along.

You will see the name Annmarie Deen.  This is a pen name I just like having next to mine for this story (saw it in a telephone directory; I guess it gives me motivation to write).

One more thing, the story is no longer called “The Beloved Queen” but now called “DESERTING THIS DAY OF HURT”.  My wife asked me, to rethink the title.  So after much thought, I gave in.  As I started expanding on the story, it was evident the name had to change—she’s good.

The 1000 Words a Day Challenge: Writer’s block cure for freelancers?

Writer’s block: grand psychological and mental barrier that obstructs the thoughts and creativity of a writer. It can happen to a novelist or even someone who needs to write an essay as an assignment. For those of us who depend on writing for an income, what can we do about it? There are many suggested methods to ‘cure’ writer’s block. What about a writing challenge? Can writing 1000 words a day really help with writer’s block, or will it only cause it?

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A Screenwriter Gets Schooled in Novel Writing (A Guest Post by Heather Jackson of WriteOnSisters)

Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

Screenwriting Heather J bannerToday is the second half of a guest-post swap I’m doing with WriteOnSisters. My article on high fantasy vs epic fantasy is already live at WOS. Now, it’s one of the “Sister’s” turns to post here! Heather Jackson lives in Canada and writes YA novels as well as television and video game screenplays. In fact, she began with screenplays before tackling novel-writing. Here’s what Heather learned during that transition.

I started my writing career as a television screenwriter, but my first love has always been books. So, after screenwriting for what seemed like an eternity to my young self (though I’d only been making a living at it for five years), I decided it was time to write a novel. Being a “seasoned professional,” I estimated I could develop a book idea and write a first draft in one year. After all, I already knew how to craft great stories. Novels simply used more words…

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