Category Archives: Wordsmith

6 Nifty Resources No Indi Author Can Do Without

To paraphrase a famous frog, “It’s not easy being indie.”

Actually, it’s not easy being any kind of writer/author, self-published or traditionally published, but wearing the many hats in every Indie wardrobe–author, marketer, social media manager, designer, newsletter editor … did I miss any?–presents special challenges. We’re talking about the kind of challenges that either drive you to drink, force you to beat your head against the wall, or have you tossing up your hands in defeat.

We can all use a little ….

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Am I right? Of course I am. Which is why, I’m here to offer some in the form of 6 nifty resources no Indie should do without. (Purple headers = links, of course.)

Bublish

How would you feel about a tool that lets you write formatted e-books, market those books in a unique way, build your brand, connect with fans, and track reader engagement? This is no fantasy people, this is the reality of Bublish, which lets you do all of the above and a whole lot more. You can try out some of the features via the free plan or all of them via free trial, but I’m sure you’ll want the full-fledged Authropreneur package for either $9.99/month or $99/year.

Bublish is based on the book bubble, a unique and oh-so-posh marketing strategy that lets you send out an excerpt of your book via Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail. Here’s what your basic book bubble looks like:

Screenshot 2016-05-18 13.19.59

Slick, no? Seriously, what’s not to love? Save yourself a lot of time and effort designing go-nowhere ads, and give Bublish a try.

World Literary Cafe

Whoever said you get what you pay for obviously didn’t know about World Literary Cafe, which you can sign up for, as we say in the trade, absolutely free. Billed as the place “Where authors and readers unite,” WLC offers more bennies than you can shake your proverbial indie stick at. Check out these amazing resources:

  • training classes (some free, some for a fee)
  • a free book-marketing video
  • a Facebook like exchange
  • a Twitter follow exchange
  • a blog follow exchange
  • tweet teams
  • a free author toolbox
  • tips on how to maximize your free days on KDP
  • more, more, more!

Listen, you’d have to be brain dead to miss out on all these goodies!

Canva

Did you know social media content with colored visuals gets 80% more views? Hoo-hah! Is that a valuable tip, or what? And here’s another: You can create eye-catching social media posts for free using Canva. Well, for free unless you decide to use one of their paid graphics, but even those are one $1 each. The templates–Facebook post, Twitter post, Pinterest graphic, and so on–have already been created. All you have to do is point and click!

Oh, and if you’re looking to create a header of some kind, Canva has got you covered there, as well. You can even create your own templates, say, a specifically sized header to use on your website!

Hootsuite

Although some of your social media posts should be organic–marketing speak for posted in real time–you can make life a lot easier on yourself by scheduling other posts ahead of time on Hootsuite, which works for Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, WordPress, Instagram, and YouTube! And get this, you can schedule them weeks in advance!

Conventional wisdom has it that you should post:

  • no more than twice a day on Facebook
  • three times per day (at most) on Google+
  • at least three times a day on Twitter (although followers tend to lose interest after the third tweet)
  • once a day on LinkedIn

Obviously, being able to schedule at least a few of those posts ahead of time will leave you more time to do what you do best: write.

Font Squirrel

Looking for a safe place to download free and/or almost-free fonts? Font Squirrel has got your back! Plus, all their fonts are licensed for commercial use.

MailChimp

The e-mail lists is one of the best promotional tools out there, because it allows you to form personal relationships with your readers. We’re not talking about using your list purely to make sales pitches, but sharing personal news, your own book reviews, special subscriber-only offers, and such, in order to exponentially build your fan base. MailChimp is a terrific tool you can use to create a newsletter, the occasional targeted e-mail campaign–say, to announce a book launch–or a coupon. Membership is free (although you can upgrade), and they offer plenty of themes and templates you can edit to make your own. Built-in analytics track the size of your list and give you an idea how well your campaigns are doing.

Publish & Move On

My launch date (December 23) has no particular rhyme or reason. My marketing “campaign” will no doubt be sporadic, conducted according whim and wild hair. I won’t be tracking sales, will evince only mild interest in reviews.

So. I’ve either gone completely loony tunes, or I’ve found an approach–okay, a non-approach–that works for me. Or both.

Probably both.

I won’t sing “The Marketing Blues” again in this space. But I hope you’ll allow me to sing a few verses of “The Hallelujah, I’m Writing Again Chorus.”

I found the joy again. All I had to do was forget about earning any kind of a living, exorcise the numbers demon, and remember why I started writing in the first place: Because I love it. Because it’s what I do.

So, on December 23, I’ll publish Hunter’s Shadow, book 2 in my Golden State Hearts Trilogy. And then I’ll move on. Move on to the sequel to Amanda’s Eyes. Move on to book 3 in the trilogy, Not Far Enough. Hunter’s poor shadow will have to navigate that cold, cruel self-publishing world without much help or attention from me. (Unless I get hit on the head and forget how much I hate marketing and how joyless it leaves me as an author.)

Any living to be earned will spring from Social Security, such as it is, and my pension, such as it is. (Not to mention the occasional freelance gig on motorcycle tool kits, National Prime Rib Day, or drug testing in Idaho.)

“Why publish at all if you don’t want to make money?”

Well, I wouldn’t mind making money, of course. And in the (so far) unlikely event money happens, just let me say, the party’s on me.

I publish, because that’s what you do with a book. I publish, because not publishing strikes me as a cop out. I publish, because if even one person reads my books, my characters have come alive for someone besides me. I publish, because you just never know.

So, bon voyage, Hunter’s Shadow.

I’m moving on.

P.S. That link thing, up there? Where I linked to my books? That’s what you call on-a-whim, why-not, wild-hair marketing. In case you were wondering.

Growing Up Indie, Part VIII: As Time Goes By

The fundamental things apply
As time goes by

I don’t know about you, but as time goes by I forget.  Between writing (or fretting because I’m not) and marketing (what little I do) and keeping an eye on sales (it only takes one eye at this point) and the occasional obsession with reviews, I lose sight of fundamentals every author should remember.  Maybe I need to print them out and post them on the giant bulletin board above my monitor, alongside the next novel’s murder map and my train ticket to Bordeaux and the yellow button that says, “I may be over the hill, but I can still get back on top when I want to.”

Today, I thought I would post them here, because maybe you’ve forgotten, too.  That way, I can remind both of us.  So here, for our collective edification, are 5 fundamentals every writer should keep in mind.

  1. Write for Yourself First.  Don’t start out thinking about sales or gold stars or even the reader.  Stay true to your story; it’s a world only you can offer. Writing at its best is like giving birth. Your imagination is pregnant with a cast of characters and everything that happens to them.  You don’t want to deliver a clone, simply because the kid might be more marketable and people will like you better.
  2. Improve Your Art.  Call me a cockeyed idealist, but I consider writing an art, and frankly, I don’t care whether we’re talking literary coming-of-age novels, romances, or zombie apocalypses.  You’re a wordsmith, and practice should make perfect—or as nearly perfect as we can get in this crazy world.  Get feedback from fellow authors and editors and proofreaders.  Pay attention to what you like about your favorite authors.  Go back and (oh, God!) look at your earlier work and pinpoint what you could have done differently (read:  better).  Always, always be on the lookout for ways to grow as a writer.  Which brings us to our next point ….
  3. Keep It Simple, Silly.  In the past few months, I’ve come close to banging my head against the wall any number of times.  Why?  Because authors who should know better—talking best-sellers here—have suddenly decided more words trump fewer, and the more highfaluting the adjective, the better.  WRONG doesn’t quite cover this phenomenon.  Imagine your next sentence is your hand.  You want your words to deliver a slap or a punch?  Keep your writing compact.  This advice goes hand in hand with fundamental #4.
  4. Write Like You Talk.  Tattoo this Robertson Davies quote on your forehead (backwards, so you can read it in the mirror): “I think of an author as somebody who goes into the marketplace and puts down his rug and says, ‘I will tell you a story’ ….” When you write, tell the story the way you would tell it to a group of friends sitting around a campfire (S’mores optional).  This is what we call your “voice.”  This voice is as unique as your DNA,  flowing directly from who you are and setting you apart from every other author who ever has or ever will write a word.  (This is a good thing.)
  5. Leave Some Gaps.  Want to draw your reader in?  Leave room for his/her imagination.  By that I mean, give just enough detail.  No need to describe every wart, whisker, or button on the armchair.  Let your audience fill in the lesser blanks and get on with the action.  Instead of getting bored, your reader will unconsciously invest a bit of him- or herself in your story.  Plus, you let the reader do some of the work!  What’s not to like about that?

Well, there you (we) have them.  I’m sure you could name other fundamentals, and I’d be obliged if you would share.  Seriously.  Post a comment here, or on my Facebook page or just shoot me an e-mail, and I’ll share.  I’ll be waiting to hear from you ….

Waiting

Growing Up Indie, Part VII: Priorities

Writing is not about the money.  Self-publishing is not about royalties.

There.  I said it.

Now, before you file me under “get real”—or call out the guys in the white coats—let me say this:  Getting paid for what you write is not a bad thing.  I like getting paid.  Royalties make me feel more like a “real author.”  (Whatever that may be, and as sad as that may be.)  Someday, said royalties may event amount to enough to help put gluten-free bread on my table and kibble in the dog dishes.

And lest you think I’ve always taken the high road on money, I freely admit to a darned-near (artistically) fatal case of “gonna make me a bundle” early on in the game.  Yes, as much as it pains me to admit it, I believed the self-publishing-as-the-road-to-riches hype.  Put my books out there, kicked back on the dock, and waited for the Queen Mary to cruise in.

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I’m still waiting.

Fortunately, the wait hasn’t been wasted.  While peering hopefully at the horizon, I learned what is probably the most important lesson self-publishing had to teach me:  It’s not about the money.  Actually, I think I knew part of this before I started, but the Gold Bug bit me and I forgot.  So, in case you’ve forgotten, too—or maybe never figured it out to begin with ….

“I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.”
~John Cheever

That’s the part I already knew but forgot.  Writing is about relationships—the intimate meeting of hearts and minds.  When I write, I invite the reader to join his/her imagination with mine.  (Think Vulcan Mind Meld, only a lot less creepy.)  Together, we can open portals to new worlds and fantastic adventures.  Go it alone, and I’m just talking to myself on paper.

The part of the lesson that caught me by surprise is this:  Self-publishing is also about relationships.

Say what?

Well, it’s like this:  I never connected with as many kind, helpful people in my life, as I have since going indie.  Reader/reviewers.  Marketing mentors.  Altruistic promoters.  Emotional support groups.  (I was going to say “emotional supporters,” but sounded too much like men’s underwear.)  General helper-outers and cheerleaders.  You simply would not believe how many terrific folks are out there, waiting to join hands.  I mean, hokey smokes, it’s enough to restore your faith in mankind!

So allow this junior senior citizen, this student in the continuing-education school of knocks for those hard of head, offer you a few modicums of advice:

  • If you measure social media success by the number of followers you have on Twitter, or the number of likes you have on Facebook, you lose.
  • If you live for retweets but stay a stranger to the folks who help you out—forget to banter with them, encourage them, and/or support them—you lose.
  • If you’re all about self-promotion and never about paying it forward or lending a helping hand, you lose.
  • If you’re so busy courting reviews and counting stars, you don’t have time to toss a few stars into someone else’s galaxy, you lose.
  • And if royalties, not relationships, are your yardstick for success, you definitely lose.
“Regardless of whether a relationship brings us joy or sorrow, each relationship gives us the opportunity to grow stronger, nobler, and more compassionate with ourselves and others.” ~Tamela Rich
Just my opinion, mind you, but that’s what writing and self-publishing are all about.  So, let’s keep our priorities straight, shall we?
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Growing Up Indie, Part V: Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

“I’m looking forward to the next installment!”  What greater compliment can a reviewer pay an author?  I mean, I ask you!  Feedback like that makes me want to chain myself to the keyboard and pound out the next novel in a week.  (Okay, maybe two weeks, on account of I have that pesky day job.)  And why not?  The next installment is a already full-blown tale in my head, just begging to be told.  And, brother, it’s a corker!

So I sit down, rub my hands together like Van Cliburn warming up for “Moonlight Sonata,” lay my fingers on the home row, and … nothing happens.  Not.  One.  Damn.  Thing.  For months.

Writer’s block, you say?  Nah.  Writer’s block would be a step up.

I’ve tried all the usual remedies—leisurely walks with my dog, Molly; ice cream; red wine; ice cream; free writing; ice cream; wearing my jersey inside out.  Fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, and, oh yeah, I don’t have a jersey.  Meanwhile, the “agent” perched on my shoulder harps on the dire consequences of “failure to publish in a consistent, timely manner” and points to fellow authors on Facebook—Ten thousand words today!—sneering, “Why can’t you be like her?”

Have I been tense and unhappy?  Do I feel pressured bordering on desperate?  You could say that.  You could also call Katrina a stiff breeze.

Now, as we all know, there are no atheists in foxholes.  That being the case, I decided to discuss my verbal constipation with the Man Upstairs.  And we were chatting, by which I mean I was whining about how I would probably never be able to write again, and how that would just about kill me, and oh, by the way, what am I supposed to do with these two (no, make that three) books in my head?

And I said, with great consternation, “How come writing was more fun before I self-published?”

And He said, “Bingo!”

And I said, “Huh?”

But, you know, I finally got it—well, maybe—one of the biggest dangers of self-publishing, at least for me:  Writing starts to become business and stops being fun.  I lose the sheer delight of my art, the joy of painting with words, as in ….

The tseet-tseet of the blood-red cardinal in my back yard.  Molly’s liquid-brown eyes.  The hollow ache of loss, rain drumming on a tin roof, the way the air tastes in that blue hour before dawn.

Know what’s really funny?  I’ll probably never use those phrases in a novel.  Can’t say for sure, of course, but chances are.  Still ….

I do love to paint.  Love, as Michener said, “the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotion.”

So I’m putting the novel on the shelf for a while … maybe a long while.  Gonna taste some words, paint small, and rediscover the joy.

I’m gonna dance like nobody’s watching.

Then, we’ll see.

The Essential Thing

I love this quote from Marc Chagall.  Could just as easily be said about the writer’s art.  Am I right?

The essential thing is art, painting, a painting different from the painting everyone does.

But what sort?  Will God, or somebody else, give me the power to breathe into my canvases my sigh, the sigh of prayer and of sadness, the sigh of salvation, of re-birth?  ~Marc Chagall, My Life

I Promise

“I think of an author as somebody who goes into the marketplace and puts down his rug and says, ‘I will tell you a story’, and then he passes the hat.”
~Robertson Davies

To My Readers (or Prospective Readers)

  • I promise to write you the truest story I have in me.  I can’t guarantee it will knock your socks off, but I can promise to craft it with care.  No shortcuts or going for the cheap thrill.  I’ll always give you my best.
  • I promise telling the story will always be more important than passing the hat.
  • I promise to learn from my mistakes, avoid stagnancy, and grow in my art.
  • I promise to remember a story is only half a story until someone reads it.  You, the reader, are my partner in the creative process.
  • Finally, I promise gratitude for your reviews, whether you give my books five stars or one.  You took the time to read and review, and I appreciate it.

Thank you for stopping by!

Kathy DiSanto

Tag, You Are SO Not It!

You know what the problem is with the world today?  Too many tags.

Think about it.

Tags on mattresses, threatening you with Alcatraz if you tear them off.  Tags on shirt collars, sanding the fine hairs off the back of your neck.  The tags on your dog’s collar that sound like the chimes on Big Ben every time she shakes her head.  The tags on your car that cost you an arm and a leg.  Facebook tags:  “Hey, Bob, was that really you with a can of Bud in one hand and a can of whipped cream in the other?”

See what I mean?

Tags are seditious, that’s what they are.  Especially when you’re writing dialogue.  (Slick transition, yes?)

Okay, let’s stop here a second, so I can make one fact very clear:  I AM NOT AGAINST ALL TAGS, ALL THE TIME.  But IMHO, the only good tag is a vital tag, i.e., one that serves a definite purpose.  What, you want examples?  Fair enough.  Vital tags ….

  • identify the speaker, when the flow of dialogue may be confusing without them (e.g., there are more than two speakers or when a block of narrative has interrupted the dialogue),
  • contribute emotional data (e.g., reveal excitement, joy, anger, desperation, sadness, etc.),
  • help control the rhythm of a conversation,
  • add humor,
  • and do other stuff I probably can’t think of right now.

When it comes to tags, my first personal rule of thumb is this:  If you can avoid using a tag, do it.  If there’s any other way to identify the speaker, use it.  (This is what we wordsmiths call a Compound Rule.)

My second personal rule of thumb is this:  If you decide to use a tag, don’t get silly with it.

Now lest you think I’m just overly picky, I’m not the only author with strong feelings on the subject.  In his book, On Writing, Stephen King comes down hard on excessive tagging.  He also claims said is the only tag you need, but I beg to differ.  (Pretty gutsy, huh?  Arguing with one of the most prolific, best-selling authors of our time?)  There’s nothing wrong with a said here or there, but too many saids make me want to beat my head against the wall.  Robert B. Parker, one of my favorite authors, is a famous example of what I like to call the Said Syndrome.  If saids were pepper, his otherwise marvelous dialogue would give me heartburn.  (And that’s not counting the passages where he bounced said around intentionally to evoke humor.  Believe it or not, said can be funny, but you want to make sure you’re funny with it on purpose.)

So how can you identify the speaker without resorting to tags?  Well, one way is to sandwich some identifying action into the conversation.

I shook my head.  “I don’t like it.”

“Neither do I.”  Hank washed a hand down his face.  “But damn it, I can’t think of any other way.”

If only two people are talking, you can get away without tags and/or description for a long time.  Probably not indefinitely, but for a page or two.  Straight, unadorned dialogue is a great way to pick up the pace or deliver a lot of back-story/facts in a hurry.  Of course, as with any writing technique, too much is too much.  Pages and pages of dialogue stripped of tags and/or description can become tedious.

Dialogue involving more than two speakers needs tags.  Only way I know of to help the reader keep everybody straight.  Okay, I might need tags in this case, but I still like to be stingy with them.  Say three people are in the room and two are going back and forth.  Maybe I can dispense with a few tags there.  Soon as the third guy jumps in with his two cents, I gotta have ’em.  (Tags, not his two cents.)

Unlike Brother King, I like to vary tags, but in a natural way.  Meaning, I don’t turn contortionist or wear out my thesaurus trying to come up with unusual tags.  I always pay attention to context when I pick a tag, making it do as much work as possible.  Here are a few I use:

  • insisted
  • mused
  • murmured
  • interjected (I don’t use this often, but I like it when it fits.)
  • prodded
  • snapped
  • rasped
  • pointed out
  • offered (as a suggestion)
  • suggested

Here are a few tags I have seen in best-selling novels that, to my ear at least, sound stilted and silly:

  • lectured
  • declared
  • pronounced
  • proclaimed (unless used humorously)
  • cried (I admit, this one seems very popular.  Different strokes, as they say.)
  • declaimed
  • drolled (Really?)
  • demanded (I always figure this should be understood from the context.)
  • postulated
  • any tag that calls to mind waistcoats and bustles (Unless the characters in question are actually wearing waistcoats or bustles.  Period pieces have a voice all their own.)

I reserve final judgment on my tags (or lack of them) until I read the dialogue out loud.  If I can hear the give and take, and if I don’t stumble over any of the tags, I figure I’m on the right track.  Last test is to let somebody else read it and see if they can follow along.

Writing dialogue can be a real challenge, but it’s also fun.  Just keep it natural and don’t start playing tag.

River Dance

I’m in the throes of my two-day Amazon free book promo, even as we speak—check out Amazon’s KDP Select program for the skinny on free promos—and I decided to share a few thoughts on the experience so far.

Amanda’s Eyes got off to a slow start.  How slow?  Well, picture me, driving home from work yesterday, one hand on the wheel, one fist waving in heaven’s face.

“Hey!  How about some help down here?  I can’t even give away my book!”

God only knows what my fellow motorists thought.  Loco seems likely.  Then again, this is Texas.  Everybody’s crazy.

I guess He hears snarky prayers, too, because by early evening, Amanda was hitting her stride.  By mid-morning today, she was running like Secretariat.  As of this writing, the book is in Amazon’s Top 100 in the Kindle Free Store (up from 180,000-something), #15 among Mysteries/Thrillers.  All this with 9 hours to go.

Am I happy?  Does my dog, Molly, have cute lil’ pig ears?  You bet!

I mean … YOWZA!

I’m living in the moment, and the moment is sah-weet.  But I’m also looking ahead.  Trying to be realistic.  No easy task for a novelist, but overblown expectations are wax wings, and I don’t aspire to be the next Icarus.

For once in my life, I’m paying attention.  I get it.  Amazon is as fluid as the river it may or may not be named after.  Tributaries up the wazoo.  Hundreds, maybe thousands, of books flood in every day.  Promoting your own book is like trying to dance on that river—it’s hard to keep your head above water.

In the past 36 hours, thousands of readers downloaded Amanda’s Eyes.  No way that’s a bad thing.  That is, in fact, an amazingly terrific, stupendously awesome, squeal-producing wonderment!

But how do I know the folks who got the book will read actually it?  If they do read it, will they like it?  If they like it, will they take the time to review it?

Aye, there’s the rub.

Because reviews are key.  They’re my life jacket.  Without them, the mighty Amazon will swallow me up and roll on.

So I’m crossing my fingers, saying my prayers, waiting to see if hope really does float.

Meanwhile …. YOWZA!

The Stuck Stops Here

Okay, I admit it.  I’m stuck.

Worse yet, I’m stuck at the beginning.

Stuck after 1,000 words.

And I have to throw out two or three hundred of those.

Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to have an entire novel log-jam in your head?  Of course you do.  Do you ever get stuck and think, “Oh.  My.  God.  It’s all over.  My life is over!  I will never write again!”?  (Or wonder if you got the punctuation right when you typed that out?)

At this rate, Mind Games should hit Amazon somewhere around March 31, 2021.  I’ll be a big celebrity at the home.

Well, I’m not putting up with it.  The stuck stops here.  I’m breaking out all my patented block-busters.

  • Free writing.  We’re talking colored markers, people.  (“Made with Recycled Plastic and Preferred by Teachers!”)  Stream-of-consciousness word doodles scattered randomly across cheap drawing paper.  NO LINES.  Think technicolor word cloud.  Think word association.  Word play.  Word up.  My word!

This is how I turn off the editor.  Tell the perfectionist nag-ette, the critic on my shoulder, to put a sock in it.  Abandon linear thinking all ye who enter here!  IMAGINATION UNCHAINED!

Or, as I like to say, “Laissez les bon mots rouler!”

Other block-busters include:

  • Walks with my dog, Molly
  • Hot baths with good reads
  • A few minutes of yoga (or what passes for yoga around here)
  • A glass (or three) of Llano Sweet Red
  • Writing blog posts

Might take a couple days, but inspiration, here I come!  At least, that’s how it usually works.

Better than beating my head against the wall like I’ve been doing.

So, to quote Daffy Duck, “Yoiks, and away!”

Onward through the fog!

Excelsior!

And thank God for caffeine.