I’ve often heard people say they have trouble navigating Goodreads. This is a shame because there are many good things to find, not least of which is the opportunity to promote one of your books by holding a giveaway.
Now, right off the bat, I should say that Goodreads is only set up to do giveaways for print books, so if your book is an e-book, it is not possible to hold a giveaway at this point, though Goodreads is working toward that goal.
But before I talk about how to hold a giveaway, the question you might raise is, Why should I give away something I’ve worked so hard on?
At first it may sound a little counterintuitive, giving away something for free that has cost so much in resources—time, money, emotional commitment, etc. But think of the reasons why you might choose to do this.
First, a giveaway is good publicity. You can gain exposure for your book by holding a contest. You can advertise this on Facebook, Twitter, and your blog, the fact that you are actually giving something away for free, because let’s face it: people love free stuff, especially in these troubled economic times. Also, giving a book away makes you look less cheap than you might be, which never hurts. Generosity is a good thing. Say it with me now: generosity is a good thing.
Second, giving your book away might attract new readers, readers who wouldn’t ordinarily consider reading your work if they had to shell out their hard earned cash. Gaining new readers should be one of our primary goals as writers, at least those of us interested in having people read what we write.
Third, the giveaway may just help you garner a review. The person who wins your book is encouraged to write a review to be shared on Goodreads. Of course the possibility exists that they might decide to share the review on other sites.
Finally, Goodreads has a feature that allows people to put your book on their to-read shelves. Approximately half of the people who have entered my giveaway have added my book, Conversations Among Ruins, to their shelves.
The first three benefits also accrue to authors who choose to offer their e-books for free on Amazon. More and more I’m convinced that offering books free for a period of time is a very good idea, and is a great way of gaining exposure, reaching new readers, and increasing the possibility of securing reviews.
That is all well and good you say, but how do I actually hold a giveaway contest on Goodreads? Isn’t Goodreads inordinately difficult to navigate? The great news is that while some features of Goodreads may take a little while to master, the giveaway feature is not one of them.
Here in a nutshell is what you do to hold a giveaway contest:
- Go to your Goodreads homepage.
- Click on Explore
- Under explore click on Giveaways
- Click on List a Giveaway
- Fill in the answers to the questions
- Click Save
It’s that easy! All you have to do is wait until your giveaway is approved, which can take a couple of days, and you are good to go. Goodreads does all the rest, including keeping track of the entrants to the contest, recording the people who have put your book on their to-read shelves, picking the winner of the contest, and sending you his/her address. Be sure to have a book on hand that you can send to the winner once the contest ends.
If you decide to go this route and host a giveaway please let me know how it goes.
All the best,
This post is a little different.
Over the past several months I’ve had what can only be called an aversion to reading. Reading causes me a great deal of anxiety. It is hard for me to sit and read more than a few pages at a time, when once I could read for hours on end.
I think my anxiety in part stems from the feeling I get, when I read other people’s stuff, that I should be writing.
But it’s not like I’ve been slacking off on writing. I’ve had two books published this year and recently finished the first draft of the next novel in the Nicholas Branson series.
Reading is usually my go to method for inspiration to write. But for a while now that just hasn’t been the case.
I don’t think there is an easy fix to this situation, such as taking a break from reading. The anxiety has lasted too long for that.
I think it’s important to talk about such things. Usually what’s shared about reading on Facebook and blogs is all positive, which makes you think that every reading session takes place in some golden-tinted haze of orgasmic pleasure.
If anyone else has experienced reading anxiety, what did you do to get past it?
Has this ever happened to you? You’re writing along just fine, thank you very much. The words are coming, maybe not at a breakneck pace, but you’re putting sentences down and thoughts are forming, taking shape on paper.
Then it happens.
Not so much writer’s block as an inability to know what to write next. You don’t feel tapped out. You are still inspired, or at least making a herculean effort to be, but you honestly don’t know what to focus on. You are at sea without a rudder.
What do you do now?
Here are a couple of passages I’ve come across in my reading that help me get unstuck:
The first, by Brenda Ueland in her book If You Want to Write, has to do with centering yourself to write:
“Sometimes say to yourself: ‘Now … now. What is happening to me now? This is now. What is coming into me now? this moment?’ Then suddenly you begin to see the world as you had not seen it before, to hear people’s voices and not only what they are saying but what they are trying to say and you sense the whole truth about them. And you sense existence, not piecemeal—not this object and that–, but as a translucent whole.”
The second is by Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction. Here we are urged to consider things from the perspective of the character from whose point of view we are writing:
“Each time you write a scene from the viewpoint of one of your characters, imagine yourself inside that person’s head. What is her motive for behaving as she does? Exactly what is that person seeing right now—what is she hearing? What other sensations is she aware of? What is she thinking? Remembering? What impulses does she suppress? What does she notice while another person is speaking? What is her mood? Is she elated, depressed, or what?”
Both of these passages help me stay in the moment, and that is when the best writing often occurs: in the moment.
All the best,
Most of us are familiar with the adage, “Show, don’t tell.” But what exactly does that mean when it comes to emotion? How do you show emotion? What does it look like? And is there an underlying pattern to a character’s emotional response to a given stimuli?
As Dwight Swain argues in his book Techniques of the Selling Writer, there are general guidelines to showing emotion. What I am going to present here is basically Swain’s model but with one added component (thought).
Say you are walking through the jungle. The thick underbrush limits your visibility. You chop with your machete but still are only able to see a few feet at a time. Finally you whack through a particularly dense patch of growth and emerge in a clearing. In the center of the clearing is a lion.
How do you portray what happens next?
Undoubtedly, the first response is a feeling. What is the feeling here? You guessed it, fear.
The next thing that happens is the action. In this instance it boils down to one of three things: flight, fight, or freeze. Let’s say in this case you opt for flight and climb the nearest tree, to try to get out of the lion’s reach.
Feeling and action precede thought, the third element. The thought might be, I’m going to die.
The final component of the model is speech. You are finally able to verbalize an expression, which might be something like “Holy crap!” or some variant thereof. At this point speech might also come in the form of a prayer.
Is it necessary to express all four components of emotion? No. But be sure the elements you choose to show come in the order sketched above. You may, for instance, show the action, and express the speech, leaving out feeling and thought, but you shouldn’t express the speech before the action.
So the next time you go to show emotion in your story, just start humming “Blueberry Hill,” and think of FATS. I hope this helps just a little.
All the best,
Some might call this a miracle and part of me tends to agree. But at the end of the day, my rational scientific mind tells me it is less a miracle than a product of conscious choices I’ve made over time.
For members of the only-God-can-keep-you-sober school it may sound like I am taking credit where credit is not due me, but my higher power. For the agnostics and atheists among us, it sounds like a truism.
To a large extent, though, this is neither here nor there. I don’t think this issue can ever be settled one way or the other. All I can do is share my experiences and tell you what has worked for me in terms of staying sober.
Here are some things that have helped me keep sober over the years:
- Having clearly defined goals that are challenging, yet achievable
- Not associating with people who drink too much
- Seeing a counselor on a regular basis
- Since I am dual diagnosed, dealing with my mood disorder, which in my case is depression, and taking the medication I know I need to stay healthy
- Partaking in healthy relationships
- Not visiting places I used to go when I drank
- Recognizing that whether I take that first drink is completely under my control—indeed, if it were not, then I’d be truly hopeless and helpless
I could add more to this list, but these are the most important weapons in my arsenal.
If you’ve ever been addicted to something, what helps keep you away from it?
All the best,
How do you frame a story idea in such a way that it lends itself to writing a whole story, or even a novel?
In Anne Lamott’s wonderful book Bird by Bird, she mentions an interview with Carolyn Chute, the author of The Beans of Egypt, Maine. In the interview Chute says, “I feel like a lot of time my writing is like having about twenty boxes of Christmas decorations. But no tree. You’re going, Where do I put this? Then they go, Okay, you can have a tree, but we’ll blindfold you and you gotta cut it down with a spoon.” Ann Lamott goes on to say that, “This is how I’ve arrived at my plots a number of times.”
Are there other ways to frame a story and develop a plot?
Yes. And I’d like to talk about one of them.
But first you may think that what I’m about to say applies only to outliners and not to pantsers. That only outliners need to concern themselves, right off the bat, at least, with plot. But I believe pantsers will benefit from this discussion too, because oftentimes we have to start somewhere: we all need a tree on which to hang our ornaments. And what I’m going to talk about is essentially growing the tree.
I’m not going to talk about where ideas come from. But I will mention one place that’s worked for me. And truly I can’t think of a better place to get story ideas. And that’s from reading.
In conjunction with reading, you may benefit from playing the what-if game. As I’ll mention a little later I eventually developed the story-line for one of my novels, The Brothers’ Keepers, by playing this game—well, by playing the game and also by doing a boatload of research.
So let’s say you’ve come up with a basic idea for a story. One of the things I like to do next is to make sure the idea hasn’t been done to death. How do you do this? I suggest plugging a few key words of your topic into Amazon with the tag “fiction” added and see what comes up. Of course, if you want to find books for research, of the non-fiction variety, leave the fiction tag off. I can’t tell you how many important books I’ve found this way.
Once I’ve come up with a basic idea for a story, and thought a little about the main characters, I try to frame the story in two sentences. This framing of the story in two sentences is one of the most important things I’ve learned after writing two novels and reading a boatload of books on writing. I learned the technique from Dwight v. Swain, who lays it out in his book Techniques of the Selling Writer. If you don’t have this book, I strongly recommend you get a copy. It is my favorite book on writing.
Okay, so what is this two-sentence method of framing a story?
The first sentence is a statement that deals with character, situation, and objective, and the second is a question that deals with opponent and disaster. That’s all well and good, but what does this look like in practice?
It is hard to improve on Swain’s examples so I’ll start by simply relating one of his. Say you are writing a science-fiction story.
Your basic idea is that humans start growing very tall and the main character’s objective is to find out why. So your first sentence that deals with character, situation, and objective looks something like this:
Sentence 1: When humans suddenly sprout to twelve-feet tall, John Storm tries to find out why.
The first sentence of story structure is posited in the form of a statement. In it, we have the situation (humans suddenly growing tall), the character (John Storm) and the objective (trying to find out why this is happening).
The second sentence that frames the story deals with opponent and disaster and is cast in the form of a question:
Sentence 2: But can he (John Storm) defeat the traitors in high places who want to kill him in order to make the change appear to be the result of an extraterrestrial plot?
Here we have the opponent and the disaster that threatens our protagonist—namely, death.
Sentence 1: Sick of the conformity and hypocrisy that go with his high-paid job, and with a modest life income assured, Dale Boulton decides to retire ten years early, to go live on a shanty boat and poke through crumbling river ghost-towns, in fulfillment of a boyhood dream.
Sentence 2: Can he make the break successfully, when his wife, Sandra, fights him all the way and finally, threatens to have him declared incompetent?
Let’s take an example everyone is probably familiar with: The Wizard of Oz.
What would sentence one look like for this story?
Sentence 1: When a cyclone drops Dorothy into a strange new world, she seeks to return home to her farm in Kansas.
Sentence 2: Can she get the great Wizard of Oz to assist her in her efforts to return home before the Wicked Witch of the East kills her?
This may sound simple, but framing story structure in such a way, really helps.
For my novel The Brother Keepers, I started off with a fascination for the Jesuits. After a good deal of reading and research I eventually formulated and honed the two sentence story structure into something like the following:
Sentence 1: Nicholas Branson, a renegade Jesuit, is brought into an investigation to help solve the mystery of a Senator’s murder.
Sentence 2: Can he discover the truth before he’s killed by religious and political officials hell-bent on keeping the mystery a secret?
Eventually, The Brothers’ Keepers grew into a story with the following mini-synopsis:
Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, and Jesus’ purported spouse, Mary Magdalene. But what about Jesus’ siblings? What role did they play in early Christianity?
Contemporary Jesuit and renowned religious historian Nicholas Branson is about to find out…and the answer will shake the foundations of the Judeo-Christian world.
It all starts with the murder of a United States Senator in a confessional, and the discovery of a strange religious document among his possessions. At the urging of his FBI friend, Branson joins the investigation. His effort to uncover the truth behind the murder draws him into the search for an eight-hundred-year-old treasure and into a web of ecclesiastical and political intrigue.
Accompanied by a beautiful, sharp-tongued research librarian, Jessica Jones, Branson follows a trail of clues, from the peaks of the awe inspiring French Pyrenees to the caves of war-torn Afghanistan. Along the way, shadowy powerful forces trail the pair, determined to keep safe a secret buried for centuries.
How will it end? Read The Brothers’ Keepers … if you dare.
This book is largely genre fiction. Does the two-sentence farming method work in the case of literary fiction?
I have found it useful. For Conversations Among Ruins, the two sentences started out something like the following:
Sentence 1: While in detox, Daniel Stavros, a young, dual diagnosed lecturer, meets and falls in love with the cryptic Mimi Dexter, a woman who has a tattoo identical to a pendant Daniel’s mother gave him right before she died.
Sentence 2: Can Daniel maintain his job and his sanity in the face of an increasingly tempestuous and mysterious romance?
This story evolved into the following:
Conversations Among Ruins is a portrait of a descent into madness, and the potential of finding salvation there.
While in detox, Daniel Stavros, a young, dual diagnosed* professor meets and falls in love with the cryptic Mimi Dexter. But Mimi has secrets and, strangely, a tattoo identical to a pendant Daniel’s mother gave him right before she died.
Drawn together by broken pasts, they pursue a twisted, tempestuous romance. When it ends, a deteriorating Stavros seeks refuge at a mountain cabin where a series of surreal experiences brings him face to face with something he’s avoided all his life: himself.
Though miles away, Mimi’s actions run oddly parallel to Daniel’s. Will either be redeemed, or will both careen toward self-destruction?
*The term dual diagnosed refers to someone suffering from a mood disorder (e.g., depression) and chemical dependency.
Can you take your work in progress and frame it using the two sentence structure?
I’d love to hear what you come up with.
All the best,
First, the narrative voice is crisp and fresh. Susan Wade, the twenty-nine year old protagonist and narrator is not just your average power-hungry career woman, hell-bent on climbing to the top of the ladder in her cutthroat computer company. She is someone who is incredibly funny, snarky, and flawed. For despite the wall that she’s constructed between herself and the world, this young woman soon captures the readers’ heart from her unique, yet skewed conception of the world.
Admittedly, Susan is not a completely likeable character at the beginning. She seems cold, ruthless, and incapable of human feelings and emotions. But we soon discover that is simply the front she shows to the world. Beneath her brash exterior is someone who has been hurt and is seeking to find meaning in the heartless world of her hi-tech company. We soon start to care for Susan, and we become willing to follow her life as she goes through the various travails of being sent back to her home state of North Carolina, from which she desperately sought escape several years earlier, after having her heart broken by a southern boy.
What makes this book truly remarkable is the quality of Gray’s writing. The reader is treated to gorgeous lyrical descriptions seldom seen in genre fiction. Here is one of my favorites:
Without the least warning, the heavens breached wide and the sun exploded, streaming fantastical ribbons of color in all directions. The clouds bloomed amazing shades of orange and fiery pink, and I gawked in wonder as if I’d never seen such a sight before. As quickly as it appeared, the sunset in all its magnificent perfection was gone, the light eclipsed as if a Cyclops, disturbed from slumber, closed its droopy lid once more.
This is merely one example of dozens that demonstrate Gray’s literary abilities. And she maps not only physical terrain with great skill and precision, but emotional territory as well.
Beyond the beautiful writing is a story that grabs us and won’t let go. The characters jump off the page, and we follow them willingly and whole-heartedly through a tale that is truly epic in proportions. Despite the length of this book, one keeps plowing through it as if caught up in a whirlwind romance. Each chapter ends on a perfect, lyrical note that propels the reader forward.
It is difficult to say enough good things about this book. It is truly a treat to read the work of such a gifted storyteller. Remarkably, this is Gray’s first book. One can only imagine what she has in store for the future.