We just can’t stay put, it seems. After 1.5 years in beautiful Pittsburgh, we’re off to Burlington, Iowa. This gadding about the US is exciting, but I wish we could bypass the whole “move” part. The Rescues seem to have weathered it all, and love the fact that they have a big house and a yard with which to hide bones and bodies.
The hubs had told me ‘way back, “Stick with me, kid, and you’ll see the world.” Not sure he had Iowa in mind, but it’s very cool being a Mid-Westie in a small town where people only lock their doors at night, and no one’s in a rush and stop to welcome the new-comers.
So please excuse the boxes and packing paper. I’m getting organized as fast as I can!
Book events are enough to give the heartiest of writers the heebie jeebies, and it’s because few know the mixin’s of a successful event, so I thought I’d share some of the foolproof goodies.
But before I get into that, it’s vital to decide whether you can pull off a book signing. This isn’t a case of “If you schedule it, they will come.” This is about showcasing you and your book, so an event will only be successful if a lot of people know you, or you have a compelling reason for people to attend. For example, when I wrote The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box, I alerted writers groups in the cities where I was planning a book event. I sent out a TIP sheet that talked about the book, and what I’d be talking about at the event. I never had an audience under 50 people.
In another example, my bud, Annette Dashofy – author of the wonderful CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE – knows everyone in Pittsburgh. Or it just seems that way…and they all came to her author event at Mystery Lover’s Bookshop. We were crammed in like little sardines, and we had a blast. Since so many people know her – and adore her – they were eager to come support her on her big day. Predictably, the store sold out, and Annette had to fork over two cartons of her own stash. Huzzah!
Now, you could be like my friend Jim Misko, who is the most outgoing, I-love-ya-man author I’ve ever seen. He goes into Costco and sells a ton of books to total strangers because he’s just so damned friendly and fun to hang around.
Wherever you fit, you need to plan your book event thoughtfully.
- Be a big mouth. I’ve gone to book events where 3 people showed up. It’s painful and depressing. They won’t come if they don’t know about it.
- Give ‘em a compelling reason for coming to your signing. Whether they’ll learn how to cure cancer or make really good homemade wine, capturing someone’s imagination is a powerful tool. When I did events for my novel, DONOVAN’S PARADIGM, I tossed out the whole, “Have you ever considered if your doctor’s belief system can impact the way he/she treats you?” Hmm.
- Read from your book. You want to give the audience a sense of your story, but keep it short and sweet. Audiences can doze off fairly fast, so choose a scene that sparks controversy or demonstrates an emotional impact—this gets the audience slobbery for more. Be sure to set up the scene.
- Talk about how you came to write the book. It’s fun to hear the “story behind the story.” Was there a particular person or incident that inspired your book?
- Do a Q&A. I know this can be scary…”What if no one asks a question?” Pah, don’t worry about it. Mix this in when you’re talking about how you came to write your story. And be sure to repeat the question before you answer it. Not everyone will hear it, so repeating it is good manners.
- Figure out how and when to end the Q&A. It sounds simple, but this can go on for too long, and you won’t have time to sign books. Most events last about 2 hours, so plan accordingly. Decide who’ll be the bad guy – you or the bookstore.
- Always thank the bookstore! They worked hard on your event, setting up chairs, advertising, ordering books, so be sure to thank them in front of your audience. And bring them something yummy. Back when I was doing personal book events, I always brought goodies for the bookstore workers – cookies or cupcakes. They loved it.
- Bring food and drinks for your audience. Food is a great ice-breaker. People attending your event may not know each other, but munching on a few pretzels or cookies, while sipping a pouty white wine or mineral water relaxes your audience. For example, I always do a book cover cake for our authors’ first book events. If you enlist some good buds to cut up the cake and pass plates out while you’re busy signing books, your audience will stick around…and invariably buy more books, which makes the bookstore love you.
- Bring extra books. This is key. If you have a big turnout, you’ll sell out because attendees tend to buy more than one book to give as gifts and such. If you have an extra box or two of books in your trunk, you’ll satisfy all your readers and make the bookstore very happy. WARNING: It’s common for bookstores to order around 30 books because they don’t want to have any extra stock that they may have to return. Be a good Girl Scout and be prepared!
- Relax, breathe, and have fun. Book signings can be a lot of fun if you’re prepared.
How ’bout you book signing event veterans? Do you have anything to add to the list?
The packers come in two days to pack up our stuff for our move to the cow-tipping capital of the world – Burlington, Iowa – so I’ve dedicated this week to tossing stuff out. Today was tackling the fridge and freezer.
My freezer represents my good intentions. Those siu gau wrappers I bought several months ago represented my aspiration to become more proficient in the kitchen. I have a fabulous recipe for siu gau, and thought it’d be a hoot to surprise the hubs.
Well, make that I had a great recipe for siu gau. Last time I made it was about thirty years ago, so it’s possible it got lost. I’d spent about an hour online looking for a suitable replacement recipe, but gave up. Who am I kidding? Me and grease? Really? We do have two fire extinguishers, but I don’t think I could survive the humiliation.
Out they went.
The sausages were a sentimental favorite, and much harder to toss. The hubs bought them at this great little shop in the Strip District in downtown Pittsburgh that makes the best designer sausages. I don’t know why we never got around to making them. I suppose life just got in the way. We’ve stuffed in a lot of happy memories of The Strip and its eclectic shops and street food vendors.
Out they went. Sadly.
Same goes for the pasta. Pennsylvania Macaroni Company in The Strip has the best homemade pasta – in every flavor imaginable – and we bought all kinds. And didn’t finish them in time.
Out they went…with a tear.
Other stuff was much easier to toss. The frozen bananas weren’t an emotional dilemma. Neither was the half-full bag of peas.
I’ll miss the chocolate wine because, well, it’s chocolate and wine. Need I say more?
Out it went.
Letting go is what we do during the writing process. We have scenes we adore – they’re our “Strip District” goodies that are filled with love and gooey fabulosity. But as delicious as they are, they simply won’t survive the move to finished product because they may derail the plot or be completely irrelevant.
These freezer/fridge items only have specialness to us because they represent something from our heart…which is why it’s hard for us to let go and toss ‘em out. It’s why black-hearted, soulless editors are your best friend. They don’t have the sweet memories of buying those marvelous Italian pastries while waltzing down the Strip District streets, stopping in at Rolands for a quick drinkie on the upstairs patio, where I’ve watched more than one person lose his drink overboard and land on someone’s parked car. Editors weren’t with you on your trip, so they will rip the guts out of anything that doesn’t support the plot.
Many of my authors have wept croc tears when I’ve red-lined a scene or three. “Really? THAT one? But I love that scene.” I can almost see the collective chin quiver and thoughts of hiring a hit team.
I’ll share here what I share with my authors. Ask yourself why that scene needs to be in the story. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best writing you’ve ever done, it has to make sense to the plot. If you take it out, will the story still stand and be just as rich? If you can justify that scene, then perhaps it needs to be tweaked in order to make it relevant.
During your editing process, there will be things that will be easy to let go, like butter. Can’t pack butter. Others, you’ll moan and groan, like my chocolate wine – because I’m cheap and hate to waste good choccie wine. The idea is to stand one or two degrees away from your story – where you can be the objective observer who can clinically agree that as much as you love a scene, it doesn’t belong in the book.
As for me, it’s back to the freezer. Frozen string beans? I hate string beans…what the hell was I thinking?
As a So Cal gal, Spring came with my having never really paid much attention because all the seasons are pretty much the same. Oh, we may have the occasional rain or wind, but for the most part, our seasons pass without fanfare. “
“Duuude, the waves are gnarly, wanna hit the beach?” That’s when we know it’s Summer. Or Fall. Or Spring.
“Duuude, had to put on a hoodie over my t-shirt and shorts.” That’s when we know it’s Winter.
My trial by fire in Pittsburgh has been a delicious ride. Snow! Rain! Weather! Hell yes, baby! No more getting away with a hoodie over my t-shirt and shorts. No, siree. I’m thinking in layers these days. Sweatshirt, jacket, scarf, hat, hood, mittens…in between mutters of “holy grits and weenies, it’s cold outside!” Takes me a half hour to get dressed, only to remember that I need to go pee.
So the arrival of Spring yesterday brought promise of warmer weather. Tossing off the coats. Skipping through the yard with sandals. Um. Yeah. Got 1.5 inches of snow, instead.
Looking outside, the snow has all but melted, and replaced it with a sense of renewal. I know those little flower buds are eager to belt their bad selves out of the ground and make the world all gorgeous. Even the Rescue Beagles seem more eager to sing the song of their people by baying at every moving particle that floats past their window.
So it’s with that sense of renewal that we bid adieu to our beloved Pittsburgh and head for our next adventure in…Burlington, Iowa. Where, you say, scratching your head as you google Mapquest. Yah, it’s right on the Mississippi River. In the middle of nowhere. It’s a quaint little town that’s home to some burgeoning new projects, one of which the hubs is on for the next couple of years. Wow. We’ve been Westies, then Easties. Now we’re going to be Mid-Westies. There’s symmetry in being a part of all the major food groups.
It’s funny in a way. Most of my friends are looking at retirement in the somewhat-near future, settling down, looking at ocean cruises to Mexico and Alaska, yet the hubs and I feel like we’re just getting warmed up. Oh, we’ll return to California when we retire, and the kids start sprouting grandkids. But for now, it’s fun to see new things, and meet new people. So I guess you could say my life is stuck in Spring mode – even in the dead of December…or end of March.
Spring is about newness and getting all twitterpated about wonderful possibilities. So it’s no small wonder that I’m editing two fabulous new books that are scheduled to come out in the Fall. Hoo boy, talk about excited.
Amy Biancolli’s sense of humor is so deliciously dry and witty, that I find myself routinely gasping for air in between gusts of laughter. FIGURING SHIT OUT: Love, Laughter, Suicide, and Survival is destined to be one of those books that people talk about in the grocery line, or the bank (does anyone go to the bank anymore?), where someone is guffawing, “I’m telling you, this book is hysterical.”
The inciting moment is anything but funny, but Amy looks at life through a different lens, and it’s refreshing and honest. We aren’t issued a set of Life Instructions when we’re born. The Cosmic Muffin sits back and pats us on the head and says, “Sorry, but you’re gonna have to figure Life out on your own.” Amy’s take on life is like putting a sprig of mint in my tea.
Connecticut is lucky because they have Kara Sundlun as their morning wake-up call on her show Better Connecticut. But we’re all lucky because in November, we’ll have her fascinating book FINDING DAD: Love Child to Daughter. Kara discovered she was the love child of her mother and Rhode Island’s governor, Bruce Sundlun, and made the tough decision to meet him…even though he didn’t want to. And it all played out in the media. And you thought you had it tough?
In so many ways, Kara had to be the bigger person and meet her father nearly 80% of the way. But what happened because of her decisions is what makes me believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Leprechauns, and unicorns. Human nature is a funny thing, and where I would have tossed in my towel and punched out, Kara hung in there, and ended up with exactly what she’d always dreamed of.
So happy Spring to y’all. Hope it doesn’t snow on your parade. But if it does, go read a good book. A Behler book. I guarantee that you’ll walk away muttering, “I wish it’d snow, so I can read more.”
Negative Nancys…who needs ‘em? Bah. And let’s face it, no one can have too many Behler books. They enrich lives, provoke thought…they’re literary brain hugs.
Race to your bookstore or online store and load up. Word on the street is that they create world peace, too. Check out our amazing lineup.
I love a good note. I write them to myself all the time. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t remember to buy chicken tenders and toothpaste. I even leave myself little notes in my writing. When penning Donovan’s Paradigm, I left myself love notes that were almost as long as the manuscript itself…”Insert heart attack scene here.” or “Ask about drugs used for patient allergic to morphine.” or “Insert screaming match here.”
I totally get love notes – you’re either creating a chapter foundation and don’t want to interrupt the flow, or needed to go back and research a bit more. But it might be a better idea to insert these love notes in the margin so it stands out. It’s too easy to miss a love note that’s in the manuscript. Even if it’s another color. I know because I see them in submissions. [Insert chess scene here], or [Change names of everyone in this scene]. This is like seeing a manuscript’s lacy Victoria Secrets. I don’t wanna see this. I want a finished manuscript.
Same thing goes for the Track Changes feature. Authors forget to Accept or Reject Changes and turn the Track Changes feature off. So I’ll see all the little love notes between the author and their beta readers or indie editor. “This part is really rough, you need to beef this up.” “An editor will skewer you if you leave this in.” Ouch. Talk about seeing lacy Vickie Secrets.
Don’t be in such a hurry to bang a manuscript out to an editor’s desk if she asks to read your full. Do yourself a favor and insert all your editorial notes in the margin…which is hideously easy. In Word, there is a Track Changes feature, which allows you to do all sorts of things, and inserting a comment is one of them. In later versions, you’ll find this feature in the Review tab.
Love notes and Track Changes are great, but they’re meant to be private. Oh, and that reminds me that I’m almost out of designer doggeh chewies…
Have you ever read a book and thought a chapter or three went on for too long? Or not long enough? Or worse, they seemed to be a confusing mish mash of information all piled on much like the old college prank of stuffing a VW bug? This aberration comes from a lack of proper organization. Sounds simple, no?
The answer? Re-organize, and you have great chapters. Okay, if it were that easy, we wouldn’t have this problem of wonky chapters, right? Here are some of the things I look for when I edit.
I look for chapters that are clear about what they’re saying. I want them to have a clear direction. It’s like the time when we first moved to Pittsburgh. We were trying to find a particular furniture store, and Zelda (what I’ve named my phone’s navigation app) took us on the wildest goose chase that I’m still shocked we didn’t end up in Ohio. Bitch. If she had just gotten rid of all the ups and downs, turns and twists, we would have gotten to the store in fifteen minutes, instead of forty-five.
It’s the same with chapters. If a chapter introduces a character, then zaps over to backstory, then teleports over to the history of the setting, I’m going to request the author’s bloodletting, because there’s no sense of direction.
A lot of us just sit down at the computer and barf out our chapters. It isn’t until subsequent drafts that we begin to refine and define. This is why an outline can be helpful at some point in the revision process. It forces you to stay on task and prevents you from wandering off the railroad tracks…or from going on and on and on and on…
A chapter should have a beginning, middle, and an end…which leads me to…
The Middle Stuff
If you’re clear on your chapter intent – example: “This chapter explains why I have Rescue Beagles in my employ, and why I won’t allow them to answer the phone anymore” – then the middle stuff needs to support that intent. If you keep it clear, then it makes it easier to know how and where to end your chapters.
There have been times when I’ve reached the end of the chapter and turned the page looking for the rest, because I didn’t realize I’d reached the end. Instead, the chapter left me hanging and had zero impact. I call that Endus Abruptus. To me, abrupt is only effective when the Rescue Beagles of Questionable Breeding breeze into my airspace to polish off my margarita. The only solution is to shout out an abrupt, “Get your own damn drink!”
Endus Abruptus shouldn’t be confused with a cliffhanger, which is equally abrupt. Oh nay nay. These offending chapter endings leave a scene unfinished. It’s like a punchline that makes no sense, and you need further explanation in order to get its meaning.
Conversely, I’ve read plenty chapters that actually ended two pages ago, and the authors seemed unaware of that fact. Instead, they rambled on and on until the ending sort of faded away – in much the same fashion as my imbibing one too many Fireballs.
There are all kinds of ways to end a chapter, but they have one thing in common; they make sense. Where and How to end a chapter is as intentional as the plot and character development.They satisfy whatever transpired in that chapter by giving enough information to keep you turning the pages. They have a Mini-Me version of rising action, climax, and falling action.
I’m big on transitions because I can be thick between the ears. You gotta lead me from Point A to Point B in a logical fashion. If one paragraph is about a character’s thoughts on the weather, and the next one goes into firing one of his employees, then you need a transitional sentence that leads into that next paragraph because, without it, there is nothing remotely linking those two paragraphs together.
Think of transitional sentences as couplers between railroad cars. They’re the magic that keeps the entire train together. Take out a coupler, and the train falls apart. Same goes for transitions between paragraphs of differing topics.
Being a native Southern Californian, I had no idea about the dangers of snow and freezing rain when I moved to Pittsburgh. I’m an idiot that way. Most I ever had to worry about was whether to put on short sleeves and bring a sweater, or just wear long sleeves and ditch the sweater. Weather meant looking at the surf report, not ice skating on my driveway in my best shoes. Though today, it looked like ice skating would be the main course of my work banquet, since I finally decided to fire the Rescue Beagles – their antics were taking a toll on my last shred of sanity.
“Rescue Beagles, you’re fired. You can’t type, you refuse to file, and your phone manners are dismal. I give you points on your margarita-making skills, but you can’t continue biting the pizza delivery guy and expect to collect a paycheck.”
The sentence in red is the transitional sentence. Without it, the reader would do the blink blink thing before hurling the book across the room. Avoid the book hurl.
This is where I go all feng shui and call people “Grasshopper.” Balance is a delicate internal gauge that ensures the information in each chapter has the proper weight. For example, if your chapter exposes how your main character discovers pygmy yaks have been eating all her Coach purses while she’s at work, then you need to put the proper amount of literary weight behind which element you feel is most important. Is it the discovery behind who’s eating the purses, or is it how your main character caught them?
It’s easy to throw off an entire book by giving more weight to inconsequential things, while paying less attention to the really important stuff that needs explanation. Recently, I read a manuscript where one chapter talked about meeting her long lost aunt, whom she thought was dead. It was quite pivotal. But instead of talking about that, the author chose to go into backstory, and paid scant attention to actually meeting the aunt. Grasshopper wrote that chapter completely out of balance.
So, dear Grasshopper, chapters are the building blocks of your book. If they’re filled with a clear intent, are well-balanced, have effective transitions, and come to a logical conclusion, then this makes it easier to edit (which makes me deliriously happy) into a bright package of fabulosity. Go forth and rocketh your world.