Wednesday, May 11, 2016

My Guest: Barb Taub

My Guest this week caused people throughout the World to succumb to attacks of hysterical laughter when last on this blog. Today she's going to reveal the secret... No wait, I'll let her tell you. Ladies and Gentlemen...


Barb Taub

Want to write that next Young
Adult Dystopian Paranormal Urban
Fantasy Romance blockbuster?

Who doesn’t?  Of course you might be worried about all the YA tropes that have become cliches. Or not. (Certainly the writers who have been flooding my inbox with their latest YA opus are not the least bit concerned with cliches…)
But that gave me an idea. Why shouldn’t I be the one to pen that next best-seller and get the TV and licensing deals? I already know most of the tropes involved. I’d just have to be careful to avoid a couple (okay, a lot) of YA cliches.
I’ve totally got this one!
My de-Clich├ęd YA Paranormal Urban 
Fantasy Novel – Draft 1

Susie Smith is a sixteen-year-old girl whose family disappears for two months. Nobody notices because it’s summer and school is out and she isn’t really all that popular.
Tragically, her parents don’t die and leave her an orphan compelled to excel at martial arts while concealing her dark secret identity. (Heartlessly, her parents even make their mortgage payments, hold down normal jobs, and contribute regularly to her college fund, making it impossible for her to take on the adult role of paying bills and taking care of the house and her younger siblings.) Instead they all go on vacation together to her grandparents’ house, where Susie does not meet a sexy boy with a devastating secret and bizarrely pale skin. She has a good time, and comes back at the end of the summer with her virginity and all her blood volume intact. Oh, and she still has her soul. Plus she is not secretly revealed to be the love child of a powerful member of the fey domain. Or a princess.
She catches sight of herself in the mirror and instead of spending the next few minutes cataloging the ways she is a totally and completely normal girl (who happens to have long red hair, big green eyes, pouty lips, and black hole of darkness within her very soul), she leans in to plop some Clearasil on a couple of pimples, pulls her shoulder-length brown hair into a ponytail, and then heads off to school, surreptitiously humming Abba songs along with her phone.
There is a sexy new guy with a devastating secret sitting behind her in class. They pay no attention to each other, and she sits with her best friend, who is gay, but isn’t a fashion expert or a good cook. Neither one of them flips their hair. That night, Susie wakes up to find the sexy guy watching her from the rocking chair in the corner of her bedroom. He whispers that he’s been in love with her all his life, or at least since he saw her in third period history class. She screams, and her father runs in and beats the hell out of him.
At school, the head cheerleader and sexy captain of the football team break up because of his devastating secret. He tells Susie he’s always noticed her and thinks she would be stunningly beautiful if she let her hair down, stopped wearing baggy jeans, and took off her glasses. But since Susie is not preternaturally intelligent and thus has to work hard for her grades, she doesn’t want to be late for biology class. She leaves, and they never speak again. In class, she practices her DNA testing and discovers that she is, in fact, the biological child of both her parents and not the offspring of a god or paranormal creature.
In calculus class, a sexy boy with a devastating secret tells Susie that she has been chosen to help him save the universe and that she’s going to get some secret powers any time now, so she must reject the advances of his rival, the sexy captain of the football team. Further, he tells her their last calculus test was really The Test and they are now the Chosen Ones and must forever more wear only their team’s Chosen Colors (him: purple and red, her: blue and silver). She tells him that her only secret powers are a double-jointed right thumb that allows her to scoop ice cream really quickly, and the scary ability to memorize Abba lyrics. She’s late for her part-time job at the ice cream store, so she takes a raincheck on universe-saving. He decides that it doesn’t make sense for the universe to depend on a couple of teenagers (plus the thought of a lifetime of wearing purple and red makes him slightly nauseous), so he joins Susie’s study group instead.
They get into the same University and occasionally share a ride home for the holidays. She heads back east for graduate school, and he ends up taking over his family’s business, a small group of painting & decorating stores, which he sees as a brave stand against a gloomy dystopian future, plus it’s free. She gets tenure. He gets a boat. The Universe doesn’t end.
They meet again at their tenth high school reunion, and she introduces him to her partner, a woman from the Classics department. He’s married to the former head cheerleader from their high school, and they have three daughters, the youngest of whom occasionally turns into an owl and flies around the house. Someone else saves the universe. Probably.
The end? Oh, please. This is just Book One. Of at least a 28-book series… We haven’t mentioned sexy vampires with a devastating secret. Or alien mind-control. Or even were-badgers.

While you’re waiting for me to finish my YA opus, why not take a look at my other books?
Null City Series—Urban Fantasy with humor, romance, a sentient train, a great dog, and a seriously big cat
In the world of Null City ‑
Superpowers suck. If you just want to live a normal life, Null City is only a Metro ride away. After one day there, imps become baristas, and hellhounds become poodles. Demons settle down, become parents, join the PTA, and worry about their taxes. In a dangerous game that pits heaven against hell, the three Parker siblings each hold a key to Null City’s survival. And outside of Null City, an uneasy peace is policed by Wardens under the command of the Accords Agency.
Click for preview, reviews &
a free copy from Amazon!


One Way FareGaby Parker and Leila Rice: two young women confronting cataclysmic forces waging an unseen war between Heaven and Hell. Someone should have told them the angels were all on the other side.












NEW! Round Trip FareWarden Carey Parker’s to-do list is already long enough: find her brother and sister, rescue her roommate, save Null City, and castrate her ex-boyfriend. Preferably with a dull-edged garden tool. A rusty one.






Click for preview, reviews &
buy links from Amazon








Don’t TouchHope flares each morning in the tiny flash of a second before Lette touches that first thing. And destroys it.








Click for preview, reviews &
buy links from Amazon
Tales from Null CityTwo novellas from the Null City world. Now that the century-long secret Nonwars between Gifts and Haven are over and the Accords Treaty is signed, an uneasy peace is policed by Wardens under the command of the Accords Agency.

§  Just for the Spell of It: They’ve worked cases for the Accords Agency before, but with war between realms looming and her baby sister as bargaining chip, partnering just got personal.

§  Payback is a Witch: Claire Danielsen is a young witch whose goddess is house cat of unusual size. Peter Oshiro is a Warden policing a delicate truce between those who are human and those who… aren’t.




Bio:

In halcyon days BC (before children), Barb Taub wrote a humor column for several Midwest newspapers. With the arrival of Child #4, she veered toward the dark side and an HR career. Following a daring daytime escape to England, she’s lived in a medieval castle and a hobbit house with her prince-of-a-guy and the World’s Most Spoiled Aussie Dog. Now all her days are Saturdays, and she spends them traveling around the world, plus consulting with her daughter on Marvel heroes, Null City, and translating from British to American.

Here is where she hangs out, and she’d love to hear from you!


Thank you, Barb, for a wonderful post. It's so motivated me, I'm going to start my own YA dystopian whatnot immediately. Watch out world... By the way, you win the prize for the longest Guest post title since I created this blog!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Readers – the Bane or the Bountiful?

There’s an old British sitcom TV series I never get tired of watching. It’s pure genius. I refer to ‘Fawlty Towers’ of course. John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) created and played the character of Basil Fawlty, owner and manager of a small seaside hotel in Torquay, Devon. He considers himself the epitome of flawless hotel management, a consummate professional in every aspect of running his hotel. Everything would be perfect, for Basil …if it weren't for the Guests!


Now at this juncture you may be wondering why I’m rambling on about a comedy show on a writing blog… and with good reason too. ‘Patience, and shuffle the cards’ as my mate Sancho Panza once uttered. You see, in the years I’ve been running this blog, inviting writers of all genres to expound upon some aspect of their craft for the delight and instruction of many, I have contacted many a scribe far and wide. If you glance at my Bio, not the pithy two-liner on Twitter (but while you’re there, don’t forget to follow too), but the one on, say, Amazon, or my website, you might suspect me of being rather an analytical animal. And something has fired up my little grey cells.

Major revelation! (Drumroll).

There are two distinct camps out there when it comes to the relationship between authors and readers!
(No this is not a rant – you may continue reading, rant-free.)

Let me explain. It would appear, in my humble brain, as though the more successful (definition please, someone) you are as an author, the less ‘available’ you have to become to your readers. Now I’m not talking about book-signings or other marketing in-person promotions, rather the mundane day-to-day.

Yes, there are authors who strive to better their craft, improve their skills, and are consummate professionals in every aspect of writing their novels. Everything would be perfect, for them …if it weren't for the Readers!

It’s easy to see what I mean. Choose your favourite big-name author. Now try to find a means of contacting them directly (i.e. not via their publishers, agents, marketing staff etc). Just to send a simple email saying how much you love their work, perhaps, or invite them to Guest post on your writer blog. Yes, it’s the proverbial blood from a stone analogy.

(Oh, you might have noticed something else too.)

Now, repeat the exercise with your favourite Indie author. Whoa! Not only was there a direct email, but they wrote back too! (And not a standard auto-response at that!).

Now, you might argue the sheer volume of fans precludes the big-names from spending time listening to their readers – yet, if it were not for them, the big-names wouldn't be … well… big.


Is it bad to be in contact with the readers of your books?

I can only speak for myself with any authority on this subject. What has my contact with my readers brought to my writing life?

First and foremost, I've made numerous friends and acquaintances through corresponding with those readers who take the time to drop me an email. No, I don’t respond for ‘marketing’ reasons (ugly word that; covers all manner of sins), nor do I need the ego-trip associated with talking about my novels (I am far too confident an author for that). No, it’s simply the enjoyment of listening to these people and taking note of what they have to say.

Amazon Link - it's FREE
A number of years ago I wrote a stand-alone novel entitled ‘the CULL’ as a birthday gift for a relative. When it hit the Amazon shelves, it created quite a stir. It was different; a vampire novel that broke with the memes of the genre. It had female (how dare he?) protagonists, and not dumb chicks waiting for the male hulk to rescue them, but mature, self-reliant women capable of kicking-butt whenever needed and exceptionally good at what they did (Federal Agents). My inbox exploded with missives. Almost all said “more please”. Fortunately for me most also told me why they liked the books, and particularly the protagonists, so much. Result: a series (currently four books) was born. A series which has remained faithful to what the readers want from these characters without being mere templates that repeat a pattern.



Amazon Link

Then a couple of years ago I wrote ‘Outsourced’, an idea that’s been germinating since forever, and intended it to be a stand-alone too. Guess what happened? Now ‘Primed’, the sequel, has popped onto Amazon where the protagonists (one female DIA agent, two male writers), who generated so much email, have another mystery (again based on fact) to solve. This time instead of scouring the dark corners of preternatural Tibetan folklore, it’s a modern meme, just for a change.

Amazon Link











In both cases, if it hadn't been for the readers, these books might never have happened. Now try provoking a similar response from J. P., L. C., S. K. etc. Oh, sure, if the sales numbers are good, they will do a sequel or seven (this is known by the technical term ‘cashing-in’), but where is the contact with their readers other than through filthy lucre? (Not that I'm averse to earning money from my craft, but there are much more important rewards for me too).


Then there is the Source.

You can’t imagine how many of my readers recount snippets from their own experiences, some of which easily inspire a tale or two. And no, should I decide to write these, I will always seek permission first AND credit the source in the novel, often with a character named after them too. Having had ‘certain people who shall remain unnamed’ steal from me, I would never contemplate doing that to anyone.

Is my emailing with readers just one-sided? I’d like to think it isn't. I often email them with complimentary copies of my novels, a small thank you for their interest, and have consulted many who have expertise in myriad exotic topics when I'm crafting new thrillers, (always with the appropriate acknowledgement in the books). I may have even help a few become writers themselves with comments and advice when they ask for it.


Now I've gone as far as to include the readers in my latest novel, 'Primed'.


Eh?

When you read the sequel to 'Outsourced' you will see the three protagonists trying to resolve a couple of puzzles. So far nothing out of the ordinary, right? But I don't let them do this on the pages of the novel!!! That's for the readers to do! And there's a PRIZE too!!! (instructions follow the ending of the story in both the paperback and e-book editions. No, it isn't a competition - if you get the answers right you win - one person or one million people! Everyone wins!!!)

Am I special in doing these things for my readers?

Good Heavens, no!

I’m an Indie who cares… about my writing and my Readers!
(Yes, YOU can write to me here: eric@ericjgates.com)



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

My Guest: Scott Thompson

My Guest this week touches upon an element that populates our novels and can often make or break them. Ladies and Gentlemen...



Scott Thompson


Creating Believable Characters
for Your Stories and Novels



Creating characters for your short stories and novels seems simple enough at first. There are characters that are easy for us to create because are like us, generally, but the difficult characters may not be obvious until we start writing them, or until the reader experiences a flat story. For example, men have a terrible time creating believable female characters, but I haven’t seen the same problem for women writers who often create perfect male characters. This may be because women are more in tune with what’s going on around them, and men are oblivious.

Amazon Link
Do you see what just happened in the paragraph above? I made an assumption about women and men. While the two sexes are generally different, they are not always different. There are plenty of men who are well tuned into women. There are plenty of men who want what was once considered something only a woman might want in life, and vice versa. And there are plenty of women who don’t understand men, as I stated boldly in the first paragraph. At first, this might make you want to give up on figuring out characters, but it shouldn’t. This only shows how complex people are, and the more complex your characters the more interesting they’ll be to your readers.

Stereotypes can help us create a character, but if you want to create a character that is as complex as a real person, you’ll have to go beyond the stereotypes and figure out what makes them different. What is their history? We all have a history full of great times and difficulties. So does everyone you know in real life. If anyone has lived long enough they’ve seen their dreams crushed, seen people they love deeply die, and experienced success and failure professionally. These are the things that make an adult who they are, and cause them to evolve from who they were as a child. These are the things that make us unique. Even if your characters never mention their past, you must know that they had one. Why is a particular character a womanizer? It’s not just because he’s a dog. There’s a reason. Maybe the only woman he ever loved cheated on him when he was in his early twenties. Maybe she died, and he’s never been able to let himself fall for someone again.

Amazon Link
Using real people in your life to begin the creation of a character is fine, but you must let that character evolve into who they need to be. Just like a child, you can teach them and guide them, but the child will become who they are despite their parents. You must let your characters evolve as well. Maybe a character starts with someone you know. That’s okay. But after you have them established change their physical appearance. Give them a past that is different from what you know about the real person. Then let the character evolve. If you don’t do this, if you keep the character too close to someone you know, you’ll never let that character do the things needed that make him or her human.

If I base a character on my wife, someone I think is near perfect, I’ll never let that character do something wrong. Humans, no matter how morally focused, make big mistakes and hurt other people. Even the best people lie, cheat, and steal at some point in their lives. We all struggle with the light and the dark. With right and wrong. If you love your character too much, you won’t let them experience these struggles. You won’t let them fail. You won’t let them make bad decisions. The same goes for basing a character on someone you hate. If you hate the real person too much, you won’t let the character struggle with good. You won’t let that character experience redemption.

If I can leave you with anything, it’s to make your characters complex. Know their back-stories. Even if you never mention a character’s history – and often you shouldn’t – you’ll know their history and that will make for better characters. That will make them believable, and that will make your story more intriguing.


Bio:   

Award winning author, Scott Thompson, grew up in Georgia, and it is the South that has inspired his stories. Through fiction he explores love, friendship, and family, and how tragedy and life events affect these relationships.
Thompson’s favorite poem is “A Rolling Stone” by Robert W. Service. In this poem of freedom and exploration Service writes “I want to see it all,” and that sums of Scott’s life: He wants to see and do everything.
This seeking has brought him to more than a few adventures that find their way into his fiction. What he’s discovered through his exploration is that there is more magic in the universe than we can imagine. But he truly believes that we’re offered glimpses into heaven almost daily if we’ll take the time to look, and through his book, Eight Days, he explores some of the glimpses that make it worth living.
Thompson lives outside of Atlanta with his family. His work can be read in regional magazines, in his short stories, and in his first novel, Young Men Shall See. Thompson is a founding editor at Grand Central Review. His latest novel, Eight Days, follows a man after death into eternity.

Links:


Thanks, Scott, for your interesting comments on character development. I'm sure many will be bookmarking this for the future.

Eric @ www.ericjgates.com

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

My Guest: Ronel Van Tonder

This week's Guest is an outstanding writer of Sci-fi novels. She also knows her way around one of the biggest issues for many writers - social media marketing and is going to share some very practical tips today. Ladies and Gentlemen...


Ronel Van Tonder

Accelerate your Social Media



Unless you're earning 5 figures or more with your writing, every writer has to have a day job to keep the lights on. This makes finding the time to write difficult, and we often have to give up luxuries like watching television, playing with our kids, or sleeping to put out a novel in any decent time span. 

Amazon Link
And, since we're 100% responsible for our own marketing, we still have to find the time to nurture a social media presence. This becomes increasingly difficult, and even if you do manage to find a few hours on a weekend to tweet or troll Facebook, all that happens is that you end up looking like a spammer and people quickly unfriend/unfollow you. 

If you do find a more regular social media schedule, keeping track of those people that do reach out to you becomes near impossible, and you quickly lose important contacts or chances to interact with potential readers. I've discovered a few ways to keep sane during this constant struggle, and have grown my social media following steadily over the past two years. Here are some of the tips and techniques I use, and hopefully some of them will work for you too. 

1: Be Picky

Times have changed. It is no longer feasible or even possible to be on every social network all the time. I tried this and, even with a system in place that made the task of posting to all these places possible, I found that only a few of the networks produced any results. 

Amazon Link
So, when starting out (an especially when you have limited time), try and stick with 2-3 networks that you feel comfortable using, that you might have been using before you became a writer, and where you find people are responding well to your posts. If you're brand new to the social media scene I recommend that you only use Twitter and Facebook until you've found your footing. 

Limiting your social media presence to only a few networks initially also makes it easier to find an audience, and to engage with your potential readers. Also, use the tools at your disposal to save time when trying to connect on social media, without appearing phony or autonomous. There are tons of great apps out there, but there are five tools which I recommend you use to ease the burden of social media. 

2: Curation made Easy

One of the things I really struggled with when I first started out on my social media adventure was finding stuff to share. I mean, I'm not an expert in anything. I could talk someone's ears off about computer games, but then the conversation would dwindle out and I'd have to make up some excuse to go home before I embarrass myself. 

Amazon Link
To overcome this, you need to find valuable content for your target audience, and share this religiously until people start paying attention to what you have to say. But roaming around on the internet, getting sidetracked by stuff I really don't have any interest in but that's been created specifically just to detour me, is frustrating. And it steals away time I could be spending working on my latest novel. 

Instead, I use two apps in conjunction – Feedly (http://feedly.com) and Pocket (https://getpocket.com). 

Feedly can find and aggregate content for you from any blog that has an RSS feed - and most blogs do, even if they don't advertise it. To start, sign up for a free account and simply start typing in topics that your target audience would be interested in. For instance, if you're a science fiction author:
  • Technology
  • Computer Games
  • Anything happening in space

Once you start getting some articles in, it's a simple process to share the most valuable, and get rid of the rest. 

Also, if you happen to be browsing and find a good article but you don't have time to read and share it straight away, use the Pocket app it to store it for later consumption. This app also has a browser extension, which means it's just a click away whenever you're browsing the internet. And, with its handy mobile app, you can even add stuff to your pocket when browsing on your phone. 
3: Work Smarter, not Harder

If your idea of using social media is logging into Facebook every day for an hour or two and randomly scrolling through your timeline to share relevant stuff... well, this might work if you have time at your disposal. I don't. So this doesn't. 

Instead, I use the productivity technique of bulking to save tons of time, while providing invaluable content to my social media followers, all in one fell swoop. Firstly, I don't post from Facebook or Twitter - I use a third party app to do that. It's called Hootsuite (http://hootsuite.com), and it's changed my life. 

Using Hootsuite (which is free for up to 3 social networks), you can add a post to all your social networks at once, and schedule them automatically so that all your content doesn't appear within a 2 hour period every Saturday.

What does this mean for you?
  • Get tons of engagement by posting when your followers are most active, not when you manage to find five minutes to tweet
  • Less unfollows because you're no longer spamming people by adding all your content in a short period of time
  • Provide a more natural social media presence while providing top-notch content
  • By using a broader schedule, you can reach people from across the world, not just those that are active when you are

4: Keep Track

Don't go blindly into a social network - use a link tracker to see what works and doesn't. You can do this by setting up a free Bit.ly (https://bitly.com) account that you can use to keep track of how many times your links are clicked. Remember, people retweeting a tweet doesn't mean much unless they're clicking on that link too.

Of course, the more times your tweet is retweeted, the more chance you have of someone clicking on it, but you'll have no idea of how successful your social media posts are until you start using a link tracker like Bit.ly. 

You can also use apps like Statusbrew (https://app.statusbrew.com) or Crowdfire (https://www.crowdfireapp.com) to get detailed reports of your Twitter activity, and Facebook's "Insights" for details on how your page is performing. This is another reason why it's always better to set up a Facebook page rather than just using your normal Facebook profile. 

If you don't have Google Analytics (https://www.google.com/analytics/) or a similar tracking service on your website yet... well, it's time you bite the bullet and set it up. It's not difficult at all, and if you're running a self-hosted Wordpress website then it's as easy as installing Yoast's Google Analytics plugin (https://wordpress.org/plugins/google-analytics-for-wordpress/) and signing into Google Analytics with your Gmail email account. 

5: Schedule, Schedule, Schedule

The sad thing about social media is that the minute you stop posting, people stop caring. So make sure that you're always feeding that voracious beast of a reader by scheduling interesting articles or links a week or two in advance. This way, when the apocalypse happens, you'll still have your tweets and Facebook posts going out, even if only the zombies are going to read them. Do #zombies retweet?

I usually browse Feed.ly 2-3 times a week, adding interesting articles to my Pocket. Then, for about an hour on a weekend, I will go into Pocket and schedule out these posts using Hootsuite and adding in promotional posts as I go.

You can also use Hootsuite to keep track of mentions and responses, so that even if someone mentions you in a tweet in a different time zone, you can be sure you'll know about it and can respond. 
  

Bonus: Social Media Tips

Here are a few tips that I've discovered on the way that have really helped beef up my social engagement: 

  • Always install browser extensions for easier use of your apps (Pocket, Hootsuite, Tailwind, etc)
  • The perfect amount of hashtags to use on Twitter is three
  • Always add an image to your tweet or facebook post
  • Facebook-hosted videos receive much more engagement than any other post
  • Try pinning a promotional tweet to your Twitter timeline for new followers to easily spot and share
  • Mention other Twitter followers in relevant posts as a way to start conversations
  • Instagram loves hashtags: the more the merrier! I've seen dozens of hashtags on most posts.
  • Use Canva or similar apps to create stunning instagram-style quotes or images
  • Use Pinterest to create inspiration boards for your books as a way to gain new followers while promoting in a non-sleazy way
  • Pinterest also accepts hashtags, so use up to three to increase your pin's relevancy

I hope you'll find some of the apps and techniques I listed here helpful in accelerating your social media. As writers, finding our audience is vitally important, but not at the risk of eating away at our precious writing time. If you use some of the apps available to save time and become a better social media presence all-round, your new fans will thank you. 


Let me know which of these methods worked for you, or if you're using another tool or app that's garnered success. 

Bio:

Ronel van Tonder is a science fiction author from South Africa, currently residing in Johannesburg. Her works include a dark, dystopian sci-fi trilogy, 'The Corrupted SUN Script', and a standalone cyberpunk novel, 'The Seventh Glitch'. When she's not writing, Ronel spends her free time slaying rendered baddies in the form of robots, gangsters and aliens - with any weapon that happens to be at hand. She also runs her own website design company, and loves dabbling in graphic design, 3D modelling and animation.

Ronel can also be found here:

Website:  http://ronelvantonder.co.za

Goodreads Author Page:  https://www.goodreads.com/ronelvantonder

Amazon Author Page: 

http://www.amazon.com/Ronel-van-Tonder/e/B00O8XAJVU

Social Media:


Thank you, Ronel, for a great article that demystifies the Social Media Marketing jungle. I'm sure many authors will be bookmarking this post for future reference.

If you like original, quality sci-fi novels, check out 'The Seventh Glitch'. I was privileged to read an Advanced Reader Copy and it's awesome!

Check out Ronel's Rafflecopter Competition too before it's too late!!!