Must Haves for the Indie Author, Part Four: The Office

Some writers build a free-standing office in their backyard.

Every writer needs a dedicated space for writing. I have an author friend who converted her walk-in closet to a writing space. Another one partitioned off the corner of her bedroom. Some writers build free-standing offices in their back yards. Writing spaces can be, and are, as individual as the artist in residence. So, what are the mandatory elements of a good writing space?

At its most basic, your office must have a door, adequate heating/cooling/ventilation, and electricity. Everything else is negotiable. I can hear your wheels turning. “The heating/cooling/ventilation and electricity are pretty self-explanatory,” you might say. “But why a door?”

A door is non-negotiable…

A door is non-negotiable because it can be used to stop future negotiations before they start, hence freeing up writing time. A closed door should indicate to others in the household that work is being conducted and the author should not be interrupted for anything short of an emergency. A door provides a visible, physical boundary that, when closed, signals your need for solitude without you having to say it. Doors also block auditory and visual distractions far better than say, a curtain, or a Chinese folding screen. Such items will do in a pinch, but they don’t provide the level of barrier that a closed door affords.

So, we’ve covered the non-negotiables. What are the “it would really help a LOT but I won’t die if I don’t have it. Probably,” items?

A desk that is only used for writing and writing-related business.

Delete distractions by separating your writing space…

It is all too easy, especially in a busy family, for the author’s desk to become the catch-all for everything the author does on a daily basis. Bill paying, list making, calendar filling, mail receiving… the possible additions are endless. And not only do these things take up physical space, they absorb one’s time and attention as well. Their presence in your writing space is a major distraction.

Delete the distraction by separating your writing space from your personal space. I know this may sound counter-intuitive, given the intimate nature of writing. But if you see writing as a business rather than a hobby, it becomes easier to draw that line. As much as possible, keep your writing space exclusive to writing, and you will find it easier to drop into “the zone,” when you sit down there.

A computer

It is true that many people write out their first drafts longhand. No worries there. But unless you are willing to pay for transcription, you’ll need to type up your work at some point. Most, if not all, editors and agents require electronic files rather than printed manuscripts these days. Indie authors use electronic files to send to beta readers, formatters, and to upload to their distribution channels.

Internet access that can be blocked at will.

…that nefarious beast…

Research is made easy by Google and other online search engines and resources. Advertising and other online activities can provide a big boost to your sales. But the internet also houses that nefarious beast, Social Media.

This includes platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which many writer’s use for their business, but these outlets also possess the power to consume mass quantities of time without one being aware of its passing. “I’m just going to answer this one post,” you might say, and three hours later you look up with your coffee cold and the light gone, and your spouse tapping at the door saying it’s dinner time. And don’t get me started on online games.

There are a number of apps and programs out there that will cheerfully block your access to online distractions for set periods of time. I don’t use any of them, and so I won’t try to recommend any to you. I simply turn off my internet when I don’t want to be disturbed and then turn it back on again when I need it. It’s a cumbersome process but it works for me.

A comfortable chair.

Granted, this is not the chair you are looking for. But it’s still super cool, right?

Writing is a sedentary activity. My best advice is to take frequent stretch breaks and vary your posture regularly. You can encourage yourself in this habit with a walking or standing desk, but this is only a partial solution since standing all the time is just as exhausting as sitting all the time. Mixing it up by allowing for both options is a good practice for anyone who spends a lot of time behind a desk.

However, for the time that you do spend sitting, it really helps to have a chair that doesn’t contribute to the problem by being uncomfortable or ergonomically untenable. Get a chair that is comfortably padded and built with proper posture in mind, and save yourself the aching back, shoulders and hips.

Storage space

Records need to be kept. Supplies need to be stocked. Coffee needs to be brewed. All of this requires storage space. Only you can decide what level of storage is needed for your office, but it is important to have the things you use most close at hand. Having to leave your workspace to acquire paper or printer ink or – heaven help us all – coffee, is distracting and quickly becomes annoying.

These are the five things that leaped to mind when I thought about must-haves for my office. But everyone is different. Did I leave anything out? Are any of the five something you could totally do without? Let me know in the comments.

Must-Haves for the Indie Author, Part Three: Marketing

…marketing is a multi-headed beast.

For many authors, marketing is a multi-headed beast. A necessary, bewildering, ever-changing and confusing evil providing cascades of frustration and angst on a daily basis.

Wait. That might be just me.

In any case, it cannot be denied that marketing is complex and multi-faceted. Anyone lacking several extra pairs of hands is probably going to need assistance. Or at least some books on how to grow them. To make matters worse, the publishing world is changing so fast that what worked this morning may fade in effectiveness by this afternoon.

Ok, maybe not THAT fast, but you get my point.

However, there are some things that are fairly stable, and there are some resources to help you navigate the wicked marketing seas.

…building a fan base…

Social Media: Whatever the platform, the purpose of social media is garnering and engaging with new followers. In general, outside of ads, your goal here is not immediate sales. Instead, you are building a fan base, getting to know them as you allow them to get to know you.

And by you, I mean your best version of yourself. Choose carefully what you say and how you engage on social media. More than one career has gone down in flames for authors who didn’t. A good rule of thumb is to refrain from saying anything that you wouldn’t say as a guest in someone else’s living room. That someone is not your best friend. They are a person whom you have met several times, but whose views on politics, religion, child-rearing etc., may not line up with your own. Courtesy and respect are their own form of currency.

Facebook is everchanging, but it is still a great platform for hosting fans and reaching people. Having an author page and/or a reader group is a great start for any author’s platform.

Building and maintaining a website has been seen by some as a time wasteland, but that may be changing. With the increasing ease of adding a shopping cart to your site, personal online stores may be on the rise, allowing for an increase in profit from individual sales, as well as a platform for increased visibility. It also provides a home for your blog, which can be used to increase reader engagement through comments.

Twitter: Not a great venue for sales, but it can be a good way to raise your visibility as an author. Twitter is a great place for engagement, but the inhabitants get testy if they start to see your profile as a sales venue. Be careful.

Instagram is also on the rise for authors. Creative graphics, ads, etc. can all be used here. Unfortunately, you can’t put links in an Instagram post. So, consider putting a landing page link in your bio for ease of update and versatility. You can build a link list on your website, or use one of the apps like Link Tree, specifically tailored for that purpose.

Ads: Pardon me for a moment while I fight the urge to run away. Ads are hard. I have not mastered them yet. However, there are folks who have, and I urge you to read them, take their advice and take the plunge. Because Amazon, Facebook, and other ad venues are an effective way to market your work. Before you buy a book, do a little research. Be certain that the author has found success in his or her fiction (if that’s what you write) work, and check the publication date. A book written as recently as 2017 is likely out of date unless it has been updated to reflect current market conditions.

Here’s a short list to get you started:

Chris Fox has several books that are helpful. Visit his author page and take your pick. Mal Cooper is getting ready to release an updated version of her Facebook ads instructional, and will be releasing a new marketing book soon. Penny Sansivieri is a bit of an Amazon ads guru and has just updated her Amazon ads instructional as well. Whatever you decide to do, keep in mind that ads require a time investment as well as a monetary investment. You cannot just “set it and forget it,” and expect to succeed. Sure, it could happen by accident, but the odds are against it.

In addition, you may consider Bookbub, The Fussy Librarian, ENT, and other subscription-based reader newsletters. But again, do your homework. Some reader newsletters can provide a wonderful boost to sales, others none at all. A great deal depends on their reach in your particular genre. They may, for instance, have sixty thousand readers, but only ten thousand of those are interested in sci-fi. Avid readers tend to gravitate to one or two genres, so marketing a fantasy novel to a sweet romance reader, for example, may be an exercise in futility.

…raise your profile.

Networking: One of the key factors in marketing is visibility. Networking is a great, and usually free, way to raise your profile. Most authors have a blog, a podcast and/or a reader group to which they are only too happy to invite you for a guest spot. One of the biggest challenges in these venues is filling available slots. When you are willing to host other authors in turn, it is a win/win for all involved. Readers get to meet new-to-them authors, hosts get more traffic, you get more readers.

So, writing guest posts, appearing on podcasts or youtube videos, and taking over a slot on a Facebook reader party helps both of you. Just have a clear idea of your goal for the individual activity and tailor your interaction to suit the audience, venue, and purpose.

What is the blog/podcast/reader group’s audience? Are you after book sales, new fans, or networking? What is your call to action? Join my newsletter or reader group? Buy my newly launched book? Visit my signing? All these are legitimate and have their place. Being clear on where you are headed with them will help get you there.

A beast indeed.

Marketing is a huge subject – a beast indeed. This covers SOME of what you need to think about. What other marketing opportunities have you found? How do you make them work for you?

Must Haves for the Indie Author, Part Two: The Graphic Artist

“I paint pictures with words – so I don’t need someone who does it with pictures. Right?”

I’m not going to push the buzzer and shout “Wrong!” But I do think you might want to reconsider.

A good graphic artist can make a number of significant contributions to your book sales. Let’s count some of the ways.

Covers:

Most readers trace their initial attraction to a book to the cover. A good cover accomplishes a number of necessary tasks.

  1. Genre placement: Sci-fi usually has a spaceship, Romance tends to display a couple, fantasy almost always has a hint of magic. These tropes let a reader know they are in the desired territory. A romance cover with a scary building on the front probably won’t sell well because it doesn’t speak to the correct audience.
  2. Enticement: A successful cover draws the reader in. The image, whatever it might be, makes them want to read the blurb, which is the vital next step on the way to the cash register or buy button. If the cover doesn’t attract the reader, the purchase will not happen.

Teasers

These usually contain an interesting/enticing/spicy/ or otherwise attractive image and a quote. They are intended to get your reader to click that buy button and can be used in a variety of promotional venues, such as ads and FB parties.

Headers/Social Media Banners

Whether it’s your website banner or your reader group cover, you need an attractive graphic here. This banner could be just your book cover, but if you have several books, that doesn’t work well. Instead, the banner should reflect your brand, and by doing so, promote all you as an author and, by extension, all your books.

These are just a few of the things a good graphic artist can create for you. But you might be thinking, hey, I’ve done my own covers and stuff for a while now and they are fine. Maybe they are. But maybe they aren’t. Perhaps an example will help:

My cover isn’t horrible, but as you can see, it doesn’t hold a candle to the work of Bridgette O’Hare, of Dark Unicorn Designs.

Creating useful graphics requires a huge chunk of expertise, and I’m not just talking about the ability and effort involved in developing an appealing image. A good graphic artist knows the trends, the tropes and the current no-nos in the industry. You can learn these, but doing so requires you to spend the one commodity you cannot get more of: Time.

As any fellow author will tell you, time is precious. Any non-writing work you can afford to delegate to talented professionals enables you to spend more time doing the thing that is going be the largest contribution to your success – writing.

So, when you are budgeting for expenses this quarter, consider adding professionally created covers and other graphics to your list. They draw the reader in, assist in branding and make your writing look good.

Must Haves for the Indie Author, Part One: A Good Editor

I’ve been an indie author for six years now. I’m looking at that number thinking, dang, it has to be longer than that. But it isn’t. I launched Descent, first novel in my Outcast Angels series in August of 2013, and a lot has happened since then.

I’ve launched more books. The industry has changed significantly and continues to do so rapidly. Still, there are certain basics that Indies still need, regardless of what else may be changing.

With that in mind, this is the first in a short series of articles on what today’s indie author must have to put them on the road to success.

An Editor

You still need an editor. I know I’ve mentioned this a time or two already, but there is NO bigger turn off to a reader than a poorly edited story. There are a couple of ways to go about obtaining professional editing, and a few things to avoid.

Show Me the Ways:

If you have editing skills yourself, consider trading editing with a fellow author whose writing you respect. A lot of us come from editing or educational backgrounds, which gives us a leg up in that department.

Ask for referrals. Any fairly successful indie author in your circle should be able to point you in the right direction. Alternately, do a shout in the dark on your favorite FB author group (one for authors, not readers) and you’ll likely get some recommendations, as well as hints on who to avoid.

Danger Signals:

Avoid anyone who refuses to give you an editing sample on request. A sample should be 1-3 pages in length and can be an evaluation of your work or a sample the editor has on file. I prefer the former since it’s easier to tell how they will interact with your particular genre and style. Either way, the sample should be long enough to give you an idea of their level of expertise and editing style.

Avoid anyone who demands changes to your manuscript instead of suggesting them. Look at the tone of their comments in the sample. An editor who insists on overriding your author voice isn’t someone you want handling your work.

Editors generally give you a total cost upfront. They will usually ask for half in advance with the balance due upon completion. They should also be able to tell you how long it will take them to complete the job. If they waffle on either point, consider finding someone else.

A reasonable charge for editing is anywhere from .1¢ to .3¢ per word, depending on the editor’s level of experience and workload. However, for highly experienced, in-demand editors, the cost can be upwards of .5¢ to .6¢ a word. Some may charge even more, but at that point, I would shop around. More expensive doesn’t always mean better, and editing is no exception.

For works of 100K words or less, two weeks should be sufficient time for completion. Longer manuscripts will take more time, shorter ones often take less. An editor who can’t give you a firm completion date or who says they will need a month or more to complete your manuscript might be someone to avoid.

Editors who miss the deadline they’ve given you by more than a day or two should be avoided in the future. If they miss it by more than a week, you may want to consider cutting your losses and moving on. Ask for the work they’ve done so far. They may give it to you as a show of good faith. If they don’t, or they become argumentative or non-communicative, take it as a learning experience and move on rather than throw good money after bad. Never pay the balance before the edits are complete. Never pay “additional costs,” that weren’t in the contract.

A Word On That Final Payment:

When paying that balance, use Paypal or another service where you can cancel the payment if the edits are not delivered as promised. Most editors are honest, hardworking and want your return business. But, as with any profession, there are scam artists out there. If something seems off, it probably is. Trust your intuition.

A Word on Reasonable Practices:

Example: When I edit for someone, I provide an estimate before receiving the manuscript. Once I receive the manuscript, I send a contract with the exact amount based on the actual word count. Once that is signed, and the deposit is paid, I begin work. When I finish, I send an email notifying my client that their manuscript is ready, and an invoice requesting the final payment. When that payment comes in, I send the completed manuscript the same day.

Not everyone works the way I do, and there may be nothing wrong with their process. But a good editor is open to communication with the client, offers a reasonable price and time frame, understands that they are the editor, not the author, and keeps their word.

What do you look for in an editor? Let me know in the comments.

Decisions, Decisions

An MFA in creative writing. Doesn’t that sound fabulous? Actually, it sounds like what it is – a lot of hard work. However, that isn’t my question. My question is this; is it worth it?

I know that “honing your craft” is vital. No one is as good as they could be at writing. Aside from authors who are already dead, that is, because seriously, once you’re dead, you’ve pretty much reached your limit. No amount of education is going to help.  In the meantime, a professional writer does everything they can to keep getting better. Notice I said “better,” not “perfect.” Since perfection probably isn’t attainable, the goal must instead be consistent improvement.

Conferences, workshops, and seminars provide great information and training in a convenient, cost-effective package, but they don’t confer a degree. At university, one can earn a degree, but the best programs generally require an enormous amount of money and, the real sticking point, TIME. I’m sure it would be beneficial. I’m just not sure it’s necessary.

I’ve dabbled in writing for most of my life and I’ve gotten progressively more serious about the profession over the last decade, to the point that now, it’s the only thing I really want to do with the rest of my life. Teaching, I’ve retired from and was satisfied to do so. But I can’t imagine a life without writing.

Or rather, I can. It’s just an exceedingly grim picture. (shudders.)

I’m sure I’ll probably pass away with a computer keyboard on one screen and a K-lytics report on the other. It’s because I’m serious that I take every opportunity to work with and learn from a variety of authors. Each week I read as much about the craft and business of writing as I can cram into my schedule. I attend signings and conferences as often as possible.

 And I write.

And isn’t the actual practice of writing the thing that builds a good writer into a great one?

Higher learning is a great thing. I would give (insert proverbially large sacrifice here) for an opportunity to pursue my passion while I worked on my Masters. But if pursuing an MFA took me away from actual writing – if it stole that time from me…

Would it be worth it?

Tell me what you think. What are the pros and cons, for you, of getting an MFA vs. the less formal route of conferences and writing workshops?

Misperceptions

Conversations I used to have when I taught high school English often went something like this:

Me: “I’ve been working so hard on this project that I haven’t had time to write my lesson plans for next week.”

My friend: “Just wing it. All you guys do is read, right?”

Me: gives friend the side-eye and suffers a mental picture of stuffing said friend’s mouth with multiple copies of Proust or Dante. I resist the urge and simply reply,  “Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.”

I continue to be surprised when I trip over someone who thinks this way about “English.” What surprises me even more is that so many people lump everything: reading, analyzing literature, and writing, under the same dismissive heading.

“…they think it’s EASY.”

The kicker is, an awful lot of people think the same way about writing. For some unfathomable reason, the tendency of non-writers is to reduce the hours of painstaking plot construction, character development, conflict building and resolution, sub-plot tuning, editing,  and research to just “writing.” And they think it’s EASY.

Given my (admittedly type A, slightly insane) work ethic when it comes to both teaching and writing, you might think I would get a bit tetchy about such a description. But I don’t. I just smile and turn my attention to more winnable fights. Because the truth is, they honestly don’t understand. And I shouldn’t expect them to.

Nurturing ideas into stories takes work. What a concept.

Most people who have not nurtured an idea into a fully realized story have no way of conceptualizing the amount of work involved. It isn’t that they aren’t empathetic or that they don’t believe you about the months of eye strain and paper cuts that went into the research. They may even murmur in honest sympathy when you describe the back burning necessity of multiple, not to say interminable, revisions or the searing frustration of working a less than fulfilling day job to fund your writing career. They simply have no frame of reference.

And that’s ok. I don’t understand how mathematicians get such a charge out of all that number stuff. I just accept that they do. Their fire doesn’t use the same fuel as mine, but it still burns. And hey, if they don’t understand the same about me in reverse, that’s ok too. After all, it’s not like they’re writers or anything.  

What frustrates you about the non-writer’s reaction to your craft?

Invisible

Don’t be the invisible writer.

The signing was great fun. I met some wonderful readers, networked with fellow authors, and learned a lot.

And I didn’t sell a single book.

This is unusual. Admittedly, my signing sales don’t usually compare to a sale on Amazon or Kobo, but I’ve never sold none. So, I started looking at why. What was different for me at this signing? And then it hit me.

My visibility this time was almost nill.

Most signings I attend have a significant Facebook presence. I make it a point to post in those groups multiple times. I put up funny memes and teasers, post book links, reply to other people’s posts and basically act as I might at a cocktail party with friends. I do this over a course of at least two weeks prior to the signing. I also post in my own reader group, reminding friends of the signing and encouraging them to attend if they are in the area.

If I have a new book coming out, I post about that. If I am not sure how many books to take with me, or how many readers will be in attendance, I post a preorder link. Not only does this give me a better idea of how many books to bring, but it also raises my visibility and increases reader appetite for my books.

I send reader SWAG ahead to be included in the VIP bags. I create SWAG to hand out to everyone I meet once I get there.

In other words, I do everything I can to raise my profile for those who will attend the signing. I’ve mentioned before that it generally takes seven touches to move a reader from their first encounter to purchase. This is true for all products, but it may be especially true for books.

So, why didn’t I do most of these things this time?

First off, I didn’t know I was going to be able to attend until quite late in the game. I usually register for a signing and put a deposit (at least) on my table up to a year in advance. This time, I only had about a month, and I didn’t realize I would have a table until about two weeks prior. (To be clear, this was my fault, not the organizer’s. I simply missed the memo.) My goal this time was to raise my editor visibility, rather than my author visibility.

So, my lesson for future events is: if readers will be there, prepare as if it is a signing, even if the hat you plan to wear says Editor. That way, you won’t end up invisible.

Book Signing Basics

August 1-4, 2019

Next weekend I will be privileged to attend Indie Book Fest. There will be parties, readers, events, a knowledge-packed industry day and — Ta Ta Daaah — a signing!

I am even more excited than usual about this signing because I didn’t think I was going to get to go. Scheduling conflicts and the demon money had conspired to keep me home that weekend, but somehow, the signing gods smiled upon me and I GET. TO. GO!

This has resulted in a flurry of last-minute preparation including swag creation and multiple boxes hitting the mail. What kind of preparation and why is it so important, you may ask.

Books: This seems like a no-brainer, but they do take time and money to order. In addition, how many to take with you is an important question. Many events have a reader group where you can place a pre-order list. Do it. Having people sign up to purchase a book guarantees them a copy, and it brings them to your table. Take the opportunity to get to know them a little — this is, after all, what they came for. There’s also the possibility that they will see another book they’d like to purchase while they are with you.

If you are an author who only does e-books, going to a signing should provide an incentive to create paperbacks. You could – and likely should – create cards with QR codes for those who prefer e-books, but I advise against making this the only option at your table.

Most readers come to signings specifically to get a signed book…

Most readers come to signings specifically to get a signed book in their hand. Disappointing them is not a good idea. IngramSpark, Amazon, Draft2Digital and a number of other resources such as Vellum, can help with providing print copies, but you need to give yourself plenty of time. (I used to use Createspace, but it has been subsumed by Amazon, and I have yet to check out their new service, so I can’t advise you here. I would love to hear about your experience with creating print books in the comments.)

SWAG: I always send swag ahead for readers. This time, because I get to facilitate a workshop on writing action scenes, and sit on an editing panel, I also sent swag for my author peeps. All of this took time and money to create.

Brand recognition is the name of the game.

Why do it?

Because name recognition is the name of the game. It has been said that it takes seven touches – seven times that the client sees your product or name in a favorable light – to move them from awareness to purchase. Useful SWAG keeps your name in front of them longer, and every time they see it or use it is a touch. Just make sure that every piece of SWAG has your contact info on it.

Signage: Banners will get you noticed by new readers while telling your devoted fans where to find you. Don’t leave home without yours. Small signs for the table are important too. Price lists and sale signs give the reader an excuse to linger while providing necessary information without them having to ask. Don’t hesitate to engage them in conversation while they read the signs! Meeting you and other authors is why they are there in the first place.

Cash box and card reader: You will have a lot harder time making sales without these. The more convenient you can make things for the reader, the better, and while many bring cash, others don’t. Being able to provide change and take credit cards can be make-or-break points for your sale.

The signing is a week away, but I’ve already started going down my checklist, making sure I have everything I need. I usually take the same things, so you would think packing would become routine after a while. However, it never fails but that I forget something, hence the checklist.

Making your table welcoming and engaging is key to signing success. There are a lot of ways to do it. But having the right materials in place is a key component.

So, when is your next signing and what are you taking?

The Write Place

One of the interesting challenges to being an author has to do with working at home.

On the one hand, YAY for no commute. And being able to work in one’s pajamas when the mood strikes is no small perk either.

On the other hand, your home is, well, your home. People tend to live there. This generally translates to frequent interruptions and a high level of frustration for the writer. And probably for the family members, but let’s be honest. This post isn’t about them. Or, ok, maybe it is, but only marginally.

The point is, most writers I know manage to create some sort of writing cave. Methods and locations vary, but the necessity of having a dedicated space to practice the craft is indisputable. Writers who don’t have a designated writing area tend not to write much, nor for very long.

For some, it’s the corner of their bedroom, tricked out with a small desk and a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Others utilize various partitioning devices such as a Japanese room divider or a tall bureau to cordon off space.

Still others commandeer the rare and elusive “spare-bedroom.” Of course, this requires a good bit of moxy and determination to hold on to. Spare rooms tend to double as guest rooms, subject to random and unavoidable occupation by person or persons unknown. Even when they aren’t occupied, these rooms are nearly always catch-alls for things no one can find a place for but are inexplicably reluctant to get rid of.

Ok, probably not this tiny, but you get the idea.

For the very lucky few, there is the home office. This too can be a room in your home, the difference being that it is a room specifically for your business. No bed. No dresser – unless said dresser holds crafting supplies for the creation of signing swag.

Of course, such an interior location is still easily accessible to other family members, thus providing opportunities for continual interruptions the likes of which are never seen in conventional (that is to say, not at home) offices. Therefore, the most important element of the designated room is the door. Equip it with a sturdy lock and a sign outside that reads, “If there isn’t blood before you knock, there may be after.” If that doesn’t do the trick, consider propping a lightly bloodied axe outside the door. That ought to get the message across.

Aw, come on. I’m just kidding.

Mostly.

Ahem. Even better, IMHO, is the detached office, colloquially known as the tiny house. It is more expensive than other options but provides a dedicated space with fewer distractions. At least, that is the goal. You may still need the sign.

And that is the point of my blog post. In a few short weeks, my new writer’s cottage will be a reality. I am, understandably, enchanted with this idea.

My hope is that it will give me a bit of separation between my business and personal lives, providing a hideaway where there is quiet, and enough peace to write for more than fifteen minutes at a stretch.

Right now it’s just a large pile of lumber, but this is what it is intended to look like when finished.

I did have my office set up in our Florida room. However, as summer marches on, the heat out there negated the benefits of the view and the occasional quiet. So, at the moment, my office is located in what is supposed to be our dining room. It doesn’t have a door, but it is air-conditioned. (A must in Florida, for obvious reasons.) Here is where the magic happens until such time as my writer’s cottage is complete. And I’m ok with that.

So, writer friend, where do you write? Tell me about it in the comments.

While you’re doing that, I’ll go look for my sign. I know I have it here somewhere…

And so it begins…

Show vs. Tell

“They don’t write ‘em like that anymore.” I don’t know who said that, but they are right. And they are wrong too, but not the way you might think.

Writers are constantly told, “show, don’t tell,” nowadays, but it wasn’t always that way. Some of the most popular books of previous eras were nearly all tell. Look at Pride and Prejudice (Austin) or Frankenstein (The Modern Prometheus) by Shelley. Both stories are handily “told” and both are great stories, now considered classics. In fact, in that day and age, the structure of nearly all novels was that of a tale well told. The only place a reader was shown a story was on the stage. And people liked it that way.

However, I would venture to guess that, were they submitted to a publisher today, these classics might never make it to publication.  There is no doubt that time and tastes have changed. Modern readers tend to want to be dumped into the story en medias res as they say. We want instant gratification. Show us someone jumping out of a plane, THEN tell us why he’s doing it.

With that in mind, what are some ways to show the story rather than telling it?

  • Dialogue: Having once character mention/explain/inform another of something is showing what is happening, despite the fact that someone is getting told. Not only can dialogue move the plot along, it provides opportunities for character building, revealing motivation, foreshadowing, exposition and a host of other things. Consider using voice and action tags to convey emotion. For instance:
  • “You don’t have to tell me.” Sara blew a jet of air into her bangs, sending them floating.

Or

  • “You don’t have to tell me.” Sara grinned at him and laid a possessive hand on his arm.

Setting: Location, time, weather, etc. are all important elements in a story. But how you use them can be vital to building mood and tone, as well as providing opportunities for world building.

  • It was noon on the fourth of July. The weather was hot and humid in the city park.

Or

  • The clock in its tower chimed twelve times, heat rippling off the pale brick church-front in waves. Sara tugged the pink t-shirt away from her damp skin and swiped a hand along her hairline. It came away as wet as if she’d been standing in a downpour, even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Action: Telling gets all the information out there quickly and succinctly, but showing action adds color and emotional dimension in ways that telling can’t. Especially when used with rich imagery, showing connects the reader to the character.

  • He walked toward the building, turning left along the concrete pathway. He felt irritated that he had to come here, but resigned. He snagged his pants on a rosebush. The fabric tore, making him even angrier.

Or

  • He slouched along the concrete path that led to the building, muttering protestations under his breath. A tug on his pants leg turned his attention down. He’d caught the cuff on a rose brier. Swearing darkly, he jerked the material free, ripping it in the process.

Don’t get me wrong. Telling has its place. It provides a method of quickly giving information and sometimes, that’s just what’s needed. For deeper engagement and a breathtaking scene, an author’s best bet is show, however.

Both show and tell are tools in the author’s chest. The trick is deciding which is best for the needs of the scene.