Sunday, September 25, 2011

Be Like Rick Steves…Go Where the Action Is

By Kimberly Johnson

For those who don’t have the Travel Channel, but watch a healthy dose of PBS-- Rick Steves is the King of Backpack Trekking. And I am his servant—in a gotta-watch-it-because-one-day-I’m-gonna- go-there type of way. I’ve logged a lot of frequent flyer miles with Rick. I trekked through the ancient streets in Seville; marveled at the Byzantine wonders of Istanbul and enjoyed a sleigh ride during Christmas in the Swiss Alps. What’s my takeaway from these television escapades? You gotta go where the action is--if you want to learn.

The same can be said about going to conferences. Finding the action in Myrtle Beach on October 21 – 23 is definitely is an opportunity to learn. The writing faithful will converge on the Grand Strand for the SCWW annual conference. Unfortunately, I will not be one of them. So, I took my misfortune to the SCWW website ( and navigated through what I could have learned.

What I could have learned is from Matthew Fredrick’s The Four Ps of Non Fiction: Platform, Proposal, Prose and Purpose. Destination: Platform. So, I jumped on the Orient Express (the Internet, of course) and made the following stops along the way…

Destination 1: Cultivate an identity before selling your book to an agent. Organize a personalize media kit that includes: a press release, a fact sheet about your book, and a DVD of your media clips.

Destination 2: Develop a relationship with an audience – public readings, social media, writing groups. Increased attention or buzz about your work sell an agent on your marketability.

Destination 3: Provide information on your ups and downs. Blog about how you were rejected. Tweet about your acceptance to a local or national publication.

Destination 4: Generate an email tagline or signature that is memorable.

Destination 5: Go old school—create business cards and pass them out.

Destination 6: Make audios and videos. Take advantage of YouTube and the like. Sell yourself on podcasts and videos.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Writer's Platform

By Michelle Gwynn Jones

Much has been said about the need to have a Writer’s Platform. For those who have missed the buzz, a writer’s platform is a way to make yourself known in the industry and to the readers, hopefully before your book is published. Often it consists of a website and/or other presence in the virtual land of cyberspace combined with the real life experiences of speaking engagements, professional awareness and physical networking.

Building a website and launching it on the net is a good place to start. I have spent a lot of time reading the websites maintained by new or unpublished authors. It is often the case a writer takes the first step to developing their platform and never takes the second. Unfortunately so many of these websites are placed on the net by the author who never comes back to work on them again.

This is a missed opportunity. A writer will never develop an audience if the reader stops returning because there is nothing new to read. A website must offer new information in order to keep the attention of the viewer. That does not mean that every page must change every day. What it does mean is that you must find something new to say about once a week. It doesn’t have to be long, just a short blurb such as: Review a recent book that you read or give your opinion on a classic. Discuss a blog that caught your eye on a subject related to writing. Post a short section of your work in progress.

Whatever you choose to write, keep it on point. Remember the reason for a writer’s platform is to present yourself as a professional in the field. Unfortunately sometimes the author of a website forgets that the reason they developed it was to promote themselves as a writer and to showcase their written work. It is fine to have an “About the Author” page where you tell a little of your history, a bit about your significant other and display a picture of your four legged friends. It is not the website to blog about the obnoxious barista behind the counter, the mysterious water gathering in your basement or the constant battle between your cats Montague and Capulet. If you really feel the need to purge your mind of such non-related information then you should start a personal blog.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Memoir Treasure Trove

By Laura P. Valtorta

As I write my memoir, I find there is no lack of subject matter, especially when I want to make things comical. I study the people around me and ask, “Who’s funny?” The answer: everybody.

My husband, Marco – we call him “Ocram” when he’s flapping his arms in disgust over some picayune problem. My son’s band director, who thinks that Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the United States. My friend, Cathy, who is in-your-face competitive and -- surprise –- an attorney. Not to mention the priest who calls Polish people “PO-loks” during a homily, the “Christians” who hate Obama because he’s African-American, and my son who brushes his teeth obsessively because of some apparent competition among 11th-graders over who has the whitest teeth.

Hilarious. All of them. And this isn’t even including my legal clients. They keep me rolling in the aisles. The hip-hop clothes. The “we hate all federal benefits” toothlessness. The colloquial expressions. The inability to pronounce my last name. When someone’s first name is “Kwajelyn,” she should be able to pronounce “Valtorta.” Is this some kind of an onomastic face-off? I am not “Ms. Victoria,” not “Mrs. Ventura.” I’ve never been the Queen of England nor married to a wrestling politiican. It’s Val-TOR-ta. All phonetic. It means “twisted valley,” just like the landscape of my life.

I don’t know where to begin with the “comedy jokes.” I do know that when I begin writing about my wonderful, beloved Writers’ Group – the funniest ones of all -- I’ll have to figure out whether to read the stuff aloud and how to change the names.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

My was-were-had-as-ing-ly Edit, Part II

By John May

In this continuation, we’ll look at some other words and word types often worthy of slaughter.

As and ing: Two problems. One, hack writers love ‘em and sprinkle ‘em out with abandon—not exactly great company. Two, they weaken action. In Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, another widely acclaimed book on craft, Renni Browne and Dave King state, “…both of these constructions take a bit of action (She pulled off her gloves) and tuck it away in a dependent clause (Pulling off her gloves…). This tends to place your action at one remove from your reader, to make the action seem incidental, unimportant. And so if you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.” They admit that some usage of ing and as are occasionally necessary to allow more structure variety and, sometimes, to avoid overly complex constructs but say, “… avoid the hack’s favorite construction unless you have a good reason for using them.”

While I sparingly use as and ing for variety or reduced complexity, I try to make sure they relate to the less important action in the sentence and use an active construct for the more important action. Example: As they made their way back to the helicopter, she ignored the deputy’s calls. The fact that she was ignoring the deputy is much more important and revealing of her state of mind than the simple act of returning somewhere.

Ly adverbs: The worst of the adverbs—as in: he said grimly. Again, from Browne and King, “Ly adverbs almost always catch the author in the act of explaining dialogue—smuggling emotions into speaker attributions that belong in the dialogue itself. If your dialogue doesn’t need props, putting the props in will make it seem weak even though it isn’t. There are a few exceptions to the principle—almost all of them adverbs that modify the verb 'said' such as he said softly or she said clearly. After all, you don’t say something grimly in the same sense as you say something softly. The grimness comes across by what you say and do—through word choice, body language, context—not by how you say it.”

I try to avoid as many adverbs (not just ly) and adjectives as possible. A noun that has a needed adjective built in is more vivid and reads faster than an adjective-noun combo (e.g., hovel vs. small, wretched home). This holds true for verbs with built-in adverbs (e.g., hurled vs. threw it hard). A wonderful tool for finding vivid words is Choose the Right Word by S.I. Hayakawa. A thesaurus on steroids. It doesn’t just provide a list of synonyms, it discusses in some depth the connotations and emotional and/or physical implications of each synonym—in essence, what are the built-in adverbs or adjectives?

Summary: It’s easier to write using lots of was-were-had-as-ing-ly words. Replacing them requires better writing—which is harder—and a larger vocabulary. Personally, I feel the edit is worth the effort.