I’ve been playing around with new search engines, and after a few disappointing trials, I discovered that DuckDuckGo is the best possible search engine for authors, readers, and writers.
I am pretty much searching for books 24/7, whether I’m checking prices or summaries, or just looking for something new to read : ) This means tons of searches on all the book retailer pages. I feel like I’m searching for the same books over and over and over again, and with my decrepit laptop, that is both slow and frustrating going.
If I want to see Aileen’s books on Kindle, I Google “amazon aileen erin” to get a boring page of this:
A scrolling carousel of books at the top of the results?!
And it gets better. DuckDuckGo uses shortcut codes called bangs. The bang for Amazon is !a, so if I search “!a aileen erin” I bypass the search engine interface and go straight to the Amazon search results, which are exactly what I wanted to see:
This is SO SO SO convenient! And there are bangs for every book site you could possibly want.
The most important DuckDuckGo bangs for readers and writers are:
!a – Amazon
!bn – Barnes & Noble
!itunes – iBooks
!kobo – Kobo
!gb – Google Books
!gr – Goodreads
So instead of going to Goodreads to look up my books, I can use “!gr lola dodge” and go straight to this magic:
It is a wonderful thing.
I basically can’t recommend DuckDuckGo enough and I hope you’ll start using it as your default search engine because it makes browsing for books SO. MUCH. EASIER. #cometotheduckside
Also, not a sponsored post ; ) I just love to share things I love.
Writing the synopsis is a dreaded part of the publishing process, and it can be super difficult to condense all the juicy bits of your story into one coherent nugget. As a former crit partner of mine used to say—if I could tell the story in one page, it would be one page.
No matter how far you go in your writing career, synopses stick around. These puppies become your blurbs, which play a key role in your sales, and at some point, you start selling books with a synopsis and chapters.
Getting it right is kind of a big deal.
First, keep it simple. When I start writing a synopsis, I jot down a few key points (usually 4-6) that I need to get across. This step might require some soul-searching, but it’s critical to condense here, or you’ll never get the length right. Introduce the main conflicts and characters, but go light on the subplots—when I’m reading I want to get the essence of the story—the synopsis shouldn’t be a substitute for the entire book.
Second (especially for you fantasy writers), minimize the number of made-up words and concepts you’re introducing—you might be able to get away with one if it’s critical, but don’t waste space defining your terms. And if they’re wacky, you’d better define them. I’ve seen a good few synopses where the neologisms are tossed in like sprinkles, and if I don’t know what it means, I can’t understand why I should read the story.
Third, have multiple readers look over your drafts. We’re all blind to certain problems, and you need a reliable reader or seven to point out the confusing bits.
Fourth, watch the rhetorical questions. They can be fun if they’re asked the right way, but 90% of the time, you just told the readers exactly what happens. Can Cindy fight her attraction to the handsome vampire? Will they ever be together? No she can’t, yes they will. Boom. Now I don’t have to read it to find out the ending.
Fourth, write early, read late. Get a synopsis done early on in the writing process so you can let it marinate before you edit. You’ll pick up on the problems you couldn’t see last time.
Last, (and worth repeating) keep it simple. Even if you have an awesome world, I don’t need to know every character/city/language’s name. This is the time to show off your character’s voice and suck us into the relevant conflicts, not drown us in details. We’ll care about these things later if you do your job now—distilling everything into a bite-sized morsel that makes us salivate for the full course.
A long, long time ago (I can still remember) I wrote about the joy of writing novellas. I’ve done a lot more novella writing since then, and now seems like a good time to share a few tips specific to the romance novella (it’s a tricksy beast!).
First, ask yourself why you’re writing a novella. I like them because they’re short and relatively easy to plot (although they’re incredibly challenging in their own compact way), but they’re not for everyone to read or write. They can easily become episodic or unsatisfying. Romance creates specific concerns and you might need more than 30,000 words to spin out a fulfilling relationship. If you’re up to the challenge, know that not all bloggers review novellas, and the short format knocks you out of some types of promo, particularly assuming you’re doing an e-novella. No Goodreads giveaways for you!
Stand-alone novellas are a bit different from the kind of novellas you publish between long works, or use to tell a different POV in an old story. Your characters and settings need to be just as deep as they’d be in a category length work, but you have a fraction of the page space to get the details out. When your novella is part of a pre-established world, you can save yourself some work, but when it’s stand alone, you have to jam everything into place and get your characters together.
I have a sadistic streak, so clearly I write the stand-alone kind of novellas—the good news is that it gets easier as the series goes along. Mind you, I’m not the paragon of perfection here. I wrote the Manhattan Ten Out of Order because I had a vague idea of my series instead of a concrete plan. Learn from my mistake: if your novella is going to turn into a series, KNOW THAT AHEAD OF TIME. Even if you drop the story after one volume, you’ll know you started at the right place, and if it takes off, you’ll save yourself so much backtracking.
When you’re ready to hit the keyboard, keep the following in mind:
1. Get your hero and heroine together as soon as possible. A standard novella should range about 25,000-35,000 words, and if you want to avoid getting panned for instalove, you need to get the romance simmering.
2. Trim the minor characters. These guys and gals are necessary for extending your romance series, but you can’t let them clog up the real business. Find the balance between making them realistic and losing your mind juggling subplots that won’t fit.
3. The main conflict MUST be manageable. At this length, the romance is a big part of the story conflict, but it shouldn’t be the only thing going on. Whatever else is happening, make sure it’s fully resolved without going all deus ex machina at the end.
4. Pick your POV carefully. I like reading (and writing) the perspectives of both parties in a relationship, but doing this halves your pages per person. It gets the reader into both characters’ heads, but you need to plan the plot that much more carefully to to avoid head-swappy headaches. Writing only one POV eliminates the problem, but doesn’t take you as deep into the relationship.
5. Have fun! This shouldn’t be a multi-year slog that makes you feel like writing an epic fantasy. If you can write 1k per day, you can be done in a month. Try something new and enjoy the process. If you struggle with 1-5 (I still do), at least you’re only revising 30k!
I resisted Scrivener for a LONG TIME, even as my writer friends began to swear by it. I don’t like changing my workflow, and I don’t want to spend time fiddling with software instead of writing. When I finally gave it an honest try, I found that the features were easy to use and the learning curve wasn’t as steep as I imagined. If you’re wondering why convert to Scrivener? here are thee big reasons:
1. Great organization. I can put all my scrap docs into one project file, so I don’t have several thousand documents per project (as usual) and it’s much easier to click between these than it is to dig the info out of my hard drive.
2. Progress bar! I love seeing the meter go from red to green as I type. Write or Die stresses me out, so Scrivener provides a comfortable level of motivation.
3. Blog logic. I’m now keeping all of my blog posts + relevant files/links in one blog doc. This makes me so much more organized and explains why I’m actually blogging of late.
I continue to prefer Word for editing, and it’s much easier to format text in the standard word processor, but not worrying about that at first draft is definitely helping my productivity. If you’re not sure, at least give the 30 day trial a go—and start a new project rather than importing one. Backtracking will annoy you rather than giving you a sense of what the software can do.
I recently finished a short story for my Manhattan Ten series (FREE SOON…details later!). You would think writing a short story would be easier than a novella or novel, but not necessarily.
It made me really bored.
Boredom is never a good sign when you’re writing. Why will anyone else think the story’s interesting if you don’t? After soul-searching, chocolate, and possibly some rum & colas, I figured out the problem.
Too many super powers.
Poor Ivory was skating through the woods, freezing trees and kicking ass and everything was WAY too easy. The problem with super powers it that they’re super fun to write, but a powerful hero doesn’t have much trouble dispatching the average baddie.
The trick is taking away the hero/heroine’s advantage and challenging him/her in a way that their powers can’t help. As soon as I figured out how to do that to Ivory, BAM. Story finished.
I do know better. I really, really do, but every first draft, it’s too tempting to play with the powers. I’ll have some cool deleted scenes to post someday…but they’ll only be scenes, and not part of a meaningful story.
Back in the day I had ambitions of blogging lots of craft tips. I had so many ideas and so many things to say.
Obviously, that hasn’t panned out.
There’s so much writing advice out there already that I don’t want to add to the pile. Half of it’s from writers who are a lot better than I am…and the other half is nonsense.
With the pressure to blog, writers who have no idea what they’re talking about drift toward craft topics. It inevitably echoes advice repeated so often it makes us stabby. Show, don’t tell! No adverbs! We’ve already heard it a million times along with a litany of writing “rules” stated as if they’re given. These types of articles seldom explain WHY we’re not supposed to use adverbs or what we’re supposed to show. They don’t tell us that rules can be broken.
I used to participate in critiques on different sites, but got disillusioned fast. Too many writers don’t actually want feedback. They put up their work to be told how amazing it is, and anyone that doesn’t agree is overcritical.
Bottom line, it’s a waste to give advice to someone that doesn’t care.
These days writers have to write and market and every minute is precious. Some people are great at both, while others write well and never get discovered because they don’t know how the system works. We’ve also got a fringe of authors who are great marketers and not so great writers. If you’re selling books, then good for you! Selling books is great. Every time someone puts your book in their cart, there’s a chance they’ll buy mine too.
The industry has room for all kinds of writers and I’m not going hate on anyone who’s selling. My point is that you shouldn’t take writing advice from amateurs who are still learning the ropes. You definitely shouldn’t take it from people who care more about marketing than craft (ask them for marketing advice). Don’t take it from me, either.
Look to established writers that you read and respect. I take my advice from Neil Gaiman, and his Eight Rules of Writing (via The Guardian) are the best I can offer you:
Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
Laugh at your own jokes.
The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.