I’m Applying for Suite101, Again

I’d like to be part of bringing Suite into the new social media age. I’m active on Twitter, I’m a content curator on Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Scoop.it and Snip.it. I’ve been a web publisher, doing it all myself, since 1998. My oldest, still active blog is now 8 years old. I have a lot of experience to bring to Suite; some of it from Suite itself!

I was accepted as the Writing Community Manager at Suite101 in 2004. I also wrote a regular topic, The Internet Unplugged. At some point I became a copy editor and felt quite pleased to be entrusted with extra responsibility to maintain standards in the Religion topic.

The site is doing some new stuff, making big changes. I’d like to see what they do with it. I used to write there but quit when they put the ad content over all the writer’s content, blocking it from being seen at all. They still run a lot of ads on the front page of the site but, once you get in there they are developing a lot of new areas (it seems to me). It should be an interesting time to be writing there again.

My old profile is still there and yet it comes up 404 if you click the direct link. Interesting in an odd way. All my old content seems to be gone too. I wish I had kept copies of it all at the time.

Making Resolutions for Writers

An old post from BackWash, written by a friend, now deceased. Her blog, Anything Under the Sun, is still up on WordPress.com. She was a teacher and a poet, among other things.

It’s the season for making resolutions. And this is no different for those of us in the writing world.

I don’t know about you, but I have not been writing like I should for a few weeks now. Procrastination has set in with a vengeance. So, it’s time for me to make some resolutions:

1. I will write every day. I don’t care if I have anything I think is worth saying. The physical act of writing will eventually spark some writing that will be worth pursuing.

2. I will read every day. It has been too easy lately to come home, sit down in front of the TV and three hours later I realize I have done nothing. I don’t care if it’s a newspaper, a magazine, or a book of poetry. Wide reading gives me fodder for my writing.

3. I will take a writing class, seminar, weekend, whatever. I need the interaction with other writers to grow and develop. I need their feedback.

4. I will attempt to publish more this year. If very little goes out, very little will be published. And I have a lot to share with others through my writing. All I have to do is find the right publication, the right editor, and hope s/he didn’t have a cucumber sandwich for lunch.

5. I will finally apply for that degree I have always wanted.

So You Think You Can Write

Assignments | So You Think You Can Write. – The event is over for this year, but the assignments are still up.

Day 1 Assignment: The Opening Page

Are you up for the challenge?

You know you have a great story waiting to bust out. The key is getting started. First things first: a great opening line leading into a captivating opening page. How will you get the editor to take notice, put down her coffee and clear her appointments for the rest of the day? What are your characters saying to you? Don’t ask me, write it down.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t get bogged down in eloquence. Just start writing the your story. You can finesse your words later.
  2. Make sure your story starts in an exciting place. Don’t have the heroine thinking about her entire life, where she was born, her first job out of college as she’s brushing her hair or driving her car. The characters should be moving somehow, even if they’re actively grappling with a dilemma.
  3. While your opening page is fabulous, grabbing us in from the start, don’t forget to describe the physical elements of your setting and characters. Immerse us in the story.
  4. Remember that this opening page is a way to hook your reader. Show us what you’ve got! Pull out all the stops! Great opening lines can live forever and this is your chance to show off.
  5. Characterization is key to survival in a romance novel. Since your reader has to live with these characters for hundreds of pages, you should show the hero or heroine through action, dialogue, point of view—or all of the above. Make us have to take their journey with them.

Day 2 Assignment: The Scene

Are you up to the challenge?

You know a memorable scene when you read one. A pivotal event usually occurs in a dynamic scene. In real life, you have many “events” but not all of them are significant: making dinner, brushing teeth, waking up. For a novel, you need to provide scenes that keep the reader obsessively turning pages. The day-to-day scene and events can be a nice slice of life here and there, but for a romance, you need to cut to the chase a bit more: write and show us the most exciting parts of a love story.

What makes a scene great? Drama, tension, setting, characters, conflict and that special “x factor” that makes your fans look for your stories on the rack. A good scene makes hairs on your skin rise up and you’re rooted to the ground/bed/bathtub/plane seat. You think you might implode if you don’t find out what happens next.

For a successful romance, those juicy scenes are a must. Readers need to see the characters, sympathize with them (or at least feel something about them), and want to continue. By the end, the reader should wonder how the hero/heroine is going to make it through this journey. You, the reader, may be crying or laughing hysterically because you can’t believe that character could do such a thing. And you never forget that moment in a story.

Remember these scenes?

  • Hugh Grant can’t go through the wedding in Four Weddings and a Funeral and has to communicate through his hearing impaired brother.
  • Lizzie tells Darcy that he’s the last man she could ever marry.
  • In the deli, Sally does something a little outrageous to prove a point to Harry.
  • All the instances where Jane Rizzoli happens upon a clue that solves the crime.
  • Bridget Jones realizes that she can’t go back to Daniel Cleaver even when he offers himself up to her for the second time.
  • How mortifying it must have been for Julianna Margulies’s character to stand by her philandering husband at the opening of The Good Wife.

Think of the scenes that affected you. What made them resonate for you? Why was this scene important for the story? How did it change the characters? Your scene could be as simple as a trip to the store—where something crucial occurs (and not a discount on canned peas, even though this can be exciting). A useful exercise would be to think of jarring scenes from your own life, the ones that flash through your mind at odd moments and those that have shaped you into the person you are today. Scenes are vital. They don’t have to involve a burning building, gunfights and car chases. They could show an exchange of some kind, but this exchange has to move the story forward in a major way.

Here are some tips:

  1. Show us the characters. What are they doing? What are they feeling?
  2. Introduce the conflict in the scene. What are they fighting for?
  3. Provide atmosphere. Where are they?
  4. Move things along. Excite your reader!

So, now that you’ve done some pondering, it’s time for you to show us your scenes. Make us—the editors—burn to know what comes next for your characters. You may have the scene in your head—a good starting point. Next you need to describe it to us. Take us on a journey—a succinct one you can encapsulate beautifully in 3-5 pages (or 750-1250 words).

Day 3 Assignment: The Synopsis

Are you up for today’s challenge?

No one really likes to read or write a synopsis, but it is a useful tool for editors. We tend to refer to them throughout the publishing process: writing memos to recommend the stories to senior editors; filling out the cover art forms; and writing the back cover copy. We need an organized synopsis that summarizes the story.

We all have different opinions on how long a synopsis should be. Some like 1-2 pages single-spaced, some like 10 pages double-spaced. This can be maddening to a writer, but it’s one of those tasks you have to grit your teeth and do. If you’re not sure what an editor wants in a synopsis, just ask. For our purposes, how about we compromise with 5 pages, double spaced synopsis, using 12-point size font? Sound good? Good.

In the writing/submission process, you may have faced the blank page and thought, Why in blazes do I have to do this? Why can’t I just write the story and let the editor figure out the synopsis? Because it doesn’t work that way. Writing a synopsis guides us so that months after we read your book, we can refer to the synopsis instead of rereading the entire book. Remember how your parents told you to eat your vegetables? Writing a synopsis is a bit like that and will benefit you/us in the long run. It might even help you organize your story.

Here are a few tips for creating your synopsis:

  • Make a list of all the events that happen. Hero and heroine meet. They both have major issues. He takes her out to breakfast. They fight. She reveals secret baby. He stomps off, she thinks, because he doesn’t love her. He comes back and tells her he just started trust fund for their child. They live happily ever after.
  • Those are the main points of the story. Now you can string these sentences together, fill out the main points with a fuller picture of the setting, the characters, and the conflict. While you don’t want to write: This happened, then this, then this, then this little thing, you can provide more minor details to add spice. Bear in mind that the editor wants the highlights. You can also pretend you’re telling an editor the story and just record your words on paper. Before you know it, you’ll be done with those five pages. In fact, it might be much easier than you thought.
  • One last item to consider: Make your synopsis readable. A synopsis can be dry. While it doesn’t have to be edge-of-your-seat gripping, you are allowed to write a synopsis we will enjoy reading. But mostly, make sure you include the highlights.

So, now that you’ve done some pondering, it’s time for you to send us your synopsis. Make us—the editors—excited about your story and the directions it takes. Take us on a journey—a succinct, well-written one you can tell in 5 pages (or approximately 1250 words).

Day 4 Assignment: The Query Letter

Now it’s your turn!

The ideal query has three paragraphs. While you want to convey your personality, remember that editors read many cover letters and submissions. A gimmicky query letter tends to bomb and put you at the bottom of the pile. Why is this? Because most of all, editors want just the facts about your story. You can put all your wit and sparkling prose into your writing, but the query letter should go something like this:

Opening paragraph:

What is this submission and what line were you targeting? It only needs to be about three sentences, a brief overview and introduction of your story. You should also mention if the book is complete or not. Consider, as well, that we keep track of our submissions, so if you have previously sent this manuscript to us, we will have records of this.

Example:

In Deadly Waters is my 55,000 word story which features a couple white-water rafting in Colorado. Danger strikes as an enemy sabotages their romantic trip. This romantic suspense would be ideal for the Romantic Suspense line. If you’ve met the editor in person, you can include that here: I enjoyed meeting you during our editor appointment at RWA in New York City.

There. Wasn’t that easy? On to the next paragraph.

Middle paragraph:

What is your story about? In about five sentences, you should describe your novel more thoroughly, focusing on the most important aspects. What is the major theme? Who are the key characters? What do they learn at the end? If you have a romance, what is the big conflict between the hero and heroine? You’ll want to use enticing language to make the editor want to read the story. Also, bear in mind that the editor wants to know how the story fits into her line.

Example:

To try to mend their relationship, Jesse Smith and Martha Brown take a vacation in Colorado. No sooner do they begin than they encounter bad luck on their trail. The further from civilization they go, the more dangerous their trip becomes. They have to band together to fight a vicious threat from the past. You can add a few sentences from here and just remember to write the most exciting parts of the story. Leave out that it took Martha Brown two hours to pack her suitcase. We just want the juiciest parts of this tale.

Concluding paragraph:

What is your background? Do you have any writing credits? Day job? Night job? Do you belong to RWA and/or a chapter of RWA? This is the part where you get to brag about what you’ve done or how much you love the romance genre. After this, remember to thank the editor for her/his consideration.

And you’re done! With this foolproof formula, you can crank out a winning query letter in no time.

Day 5 Assignment: Submit Your Manuscript and Synopsis

Show us what you’ve got!

We’re put on our thick reading glasses and are ready to read your work. It’s time for you to fine-tune your prose and synopsis. Here are some last-minute pointers:

The Opening Chapter & Beyond:

Begin your story in an exciting place. Does your story open with the heroine picking out yarn to use for her next sweater? Or maybe the hero can’t decide if he should put skim or whole milk in his coffee. These more mundane activities can be woven into the main story, but for the opening chapter, you should work on luring the editor/reader into your tale. Stay away from: gimmicks and clichés. For example: SEX! Now that I have your attention (that’s a gimmick). Cliché: the heroine is rushing out the door and runs smack into the hero.

Strong points of view win the day. You could have a character doing a mundane action if the point of view is fun to read. The heroine could be brushing her hair, if she’s planning something devious, something exciting. This is often the exception to the rule, but if you have a strong voice, you can get away with a lot more.

Beyond that first exciting chapter, try to end as many chapters with a bang. Keep us wanting to turn the pages. How do you do that? If I could capture this secret, I would sell it for millions. But for now, just keep putting as much momentum as you can into your story. Make sure your story stays fresh, captivating and does right by the characters. Keep up the excitement, the fun, and, of course, the romance.

Be aware of the word count and the line you want to target. You’ve heard a lot about the different series lines and doing research.

Oh, and please double-space your prose, using one-inch margins.

The Synopsis:

Ah, yes, the dreaded synopsis. We know they’re not fun to write, but they can help keep you on track and they help editors in a variety of ways. The ideal synopsis is between 5-7 pages, showing a clear vision of the story’s arcs and characters. As editors, we want to see how the characters develop and how they’re tested. In addition, we need to gauge if your story builds in momentum to the end. If not, we can help you find ways to strengthen your plot. Often, if a synopsis is too short, the writer isn’t quite sure what he/she is writing. If the synopsis is too long, the writer might be bogging down her/his story with too much detail and not enough romance. You want to get to that just right synopsis-length that gives a clear overview.

Do you Have a Secret Desire to be a Fashion Blogger?

Glamorous, exciting and stylish… isn’t that how a good fashion blog feels when you open it? Those high heels, the just-right dress you wish you could fit into (some of you may, not me). I never wanted to be a model, a clothes horse. But… I have a secret lust to be a fashion blogger. Posting photos of clothes I’d love to wear. Having an excuse to buy that extra pair of boots you really don’t need but they would look so great with that coat you saw in the store window. Maybe even dropping in on the fashion world itself, attending a fashion show as if I belonged there.

I won’t be a fashion writer, blogger or editor. For a few reasons: age, weight, interest, I just don’t suit the world of the fashionable.

What about other fashion? It’s not all clothes. Think jewelry… how nice to photograph designer lockets, charming bracelets and sparkling diamonds, emeralds, rubies and assorted costume jewelry and other creations meant to be worn. Consider blogging about something other than women’s fashion, how about fashion for kids? Fashion for men? Or, pets, I haven’t seen that done yet. Also, I know of at least one lingerie fashion blogger. If you really want to create a fashion blog find your own way, create your own niche and then be prepared to push your way into it.

Meanwhile, I indulge my inner fashionista by posting clothes I will never actually wear to my Pinterest account. I can visit them there when I need a boost.

Audit Your Blog

I once worked in the circulation department for a business magazine publisher. When the auditors came in we had organized chaos for awhile. But, things were set up well and it wasn’t hard to justify the subscription lists to show the statistics we had promised the advertisers. Later, I worked for a department store. Once a year there was an audit of all the inventory, tracked against what was sold versus what should still be in stock. That was a little more chaotic.

Anyway, I think it would be a good plan to audit your blog. Think of your content as the inventory. Take stock of what you have, plan for what you need and make sure it’s displayed correctly. This is what we did when we had inventory in the retail stores.

ProBlogger has written Content Strategy 101. I wrote about content strategy in 2009. An audit would be along those lines with more focus on tracking what you have done and comparing it to your original goals for the blog’s focus.

First, if you never really set out a focus/ plan for your blog you really should. Keep it as a note you can see somewhere while you are working. Think of yourself as the editor of your blog. The editor works for the publisher and part of the editor’s job is to keep the publication on track with the publisher’s needs and the focus and quality which was established by the publisher. You are the publisher and the editor of your blog. But, for a moment, just become the editor. Are you living up to the publisher’s guidelines?

Second, look at the tags and categories as you have created them so far. Which of them are really in focus and which show signs of being sidetracked and which are only used once. (Being sidetracked is not always a bad thing, in moderation). Make a list of everything not included in your original plan for the blog. Some of these could be new directions you could head into. They could even turn up a great new niche you should develop.

Of the tags and categories which have been used most? Could some of them be over used? Is it possible you could split them up into smaller ideas/ subcategories?  Give them a clearer focus and make it easier for readers to find some of the great posts you have made which ended up being grouped into an over-wide category or tag.

Think of your tags and categories as an index to your blog. What gaps can you see as you look at them? What type of content might be overlooked? Brainstorm a bit and see what else you come up with. Find other blogs and sites in your niche and read their list of tags and categories to compare to your own. They may have some you are not interested in at all or you could become inspired with something fresh for your own site.

Be aware of where you started going off track with tags and categories and the blog posts written for them. Consider another site for these topics (could there be a theme including all of them?) or just leave them in your archives and don’t worry about them. From now on you will have your plan to keep you on track.

Now, check your original keywords which you have in meta tags up in the header of the HTML (find out more and get them up there if you don’t already have them). Rewrite your meta tags for the site description. Keep it short. While it’s good to use keywords you want to keep it simple, clear and quick for readers to understand in one glance. In your list of keywords knock it down to just ten.

Don’t pick keywords that are too dead on and exact, those are over used. Instead look at your tags and categories and pick out the words from interesting niche topics you have written about a dozen times. For instance, instead of ‘writing’ you might use ‘copy writing’ or ‘creative writing’ or even better ‘niche writing’. Your site is more likely to be found by someone looking for something specific than someone looking up ‘writing’ and getting the huge list of related sites. If you focus on a smaller scale you have a better chance. Like a small fish in a big pond.

Look at your site navigation now. Log out of your blog so you can see it as a general reader who comes to your site for the first time. If you can, get someone else to look at your site while you watch (don’t help them find anything!). How does your navigation work? Can readers search your site by typing in a word in a search bar? Can they look into your archives and see how long you’ve been posting or pick something to read by date? Can the reader use your categories (or labels/ tags) like the table of contents or index in a book?

Maybe you have given them even more options. How about a list of most popular posts? How about a list of old posts from other years? How about links to posts other people read after reading the current post they have clicked on? There are some nice options. Although you don’t want to create a cluttered mess, it is a good idea to bring attention to your older posts in some way. Don’t let them gather dust bunnies in the archives.

Last of all, don’t have just one content audit. The stores and publishers have an audit every year. You could do the same, part of your regular site maintenance.

BlackBerry Resources

I chose a  BlackBerry for my first mobile phone. But, after a week I changed my mind. Not about the BlackBerry, just the whole mobile phone thing itself. I’ve just never been the phone type. I also didn’t want to spend an extra $50 a month for something I hadn’t even used once in the week I had it.

In the meantime I looked up the BlackBerry. I wanted to find out how to use it and what could be done with it. Also, any groups for BlackBerry users. I found quite a bit, most of it useful and interesting. Here they are for your viewing pleasure.

Flickr:

Are you Your Own Grammar Nazi?

How tough are you on your own spelling, grammar, punctuation and typos? I think everyone should be watching for mistakes. Whether English is your first language or not, if you are using English you should be able to have basic skills. At the very least you should not be letting stuff get by that spellcheck would have caught. Spellcheck isn’t perfect but it does know quite a bit. Why would anyone choose to ignore it or not use it at all?

I do think we are all going to have mistakes at some point, however. Unless you are an English major in university or a paid editor somewhere, we are all going to miss something somewhere. Do your best, use the tools at hand and proofread, self edit and get a friend to check it over now and then. Another person might catch something you don’t realize you are missing.

How are you on proofreading your own writing? Are you your worst grammar Nazi nightmare or do you tend to be pretty casual about it all?

Quoted from Darice de Cuba posting to the 9Rules Blog:

I would like to note that I don’t like what they call grammar nazi’s. Mistakes happens all the time and unless you have an editor or two going over your posts you should not be too hard on yourself.

Article Directories for Your Own Writing?

I’ve been working on my web directory, for links. Today I wandered into a WordPress plugin which lets you create an article directory. Not sure yet if it is part of your blog, a separate page, or a blog on it’s own. Perhaps it could be either way as both would make sense depending on your purpose in creating the article directory.

I’m not interested in becoming a mutated zine editor and being publishing articles by others again. I did that, formatting them was the most niggling and annoying part. However, that is in my past. I did start to wonder about an article directory for my own articles.

First, there is debate about how well tags work in directing anyone to your articles, past blog posts. Does anyone click on them? Do they pull up your best work? (Not likely in that case as they pull up the most recent first, not the best).

Second, if you want a collection of clips online isn’t an article directory a lovely, polished way to set that up? Rather than give links to several articles you can send the link to the directory of your best articles. One link, one click. If you were an editor or employer wouldn’t one link look nice? Of course, you would add an explanation about the directory so no one would think you just had one article to send as your sample of work.

Third, can you really pass up a new project? Something unusual and unique and completely self centred. Who doesn’t need a new self-obsession every now and then?

Writer Heal Thyself

We all make little mistakes. It seems the longer and the more you write the more mistakes you make – and take for granted. I think we just get used to thinking we know what we are doing.

Being your own editor can only get you so far. Every now and then have someone else look over something you have written. Get them to spot check your grammar, your over use of any certain word(s), your punctuation and spelling.

Of course, pick a day when you are able to listen to their critique. You can’t ask for help and then argue with them or defend yourself as if you have just been personally attacked. When you ask for help accept it graciously. You can be sure you will need help again.

Make note of everything they tell you and keep it all in mind when you write again. You might notice how right they are once it has been pointed out to you.