Building a Platform

The last few items in this multi-paged blog for your consideration.

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Platform

Point #9

  1. Your Inner Ham. This one might be scary, but if you really want to cut the mustard as a writer, you have to be able to stand up in front of strangers and read your work out loud.

If you haven’t passed out from the mere thought of that, you might think, “Oh, how hard can that be?” Go ahead and try it. Have some friends watch you and honestly critique you. Try reading stories to a children’s group. If they start laughing or fall asleep, maybe you should improve your technique. If you mumble in a monotone with your head down, it’s time to take a Toastmasters course or maybe acting lessons.

Reading to an audience is more than saying the words out loud. You must be able to project to the back of the room. You should use varied tones and moods. Your face should suggest the different characters you are portraying. In other words, you should give a performance.

Sing

Not all authors are good at public readings. Many mumble. Others stumble over their own written words while maintaining a monotone throughout the entire read. That is telling the audience that there is nothing exciting happening on those pages even if the selection would have been interesting if it had been read with the proper emotion and gusto.

Many books are sold at author readings when the author makes his or her book sound like a performance. It can be done, with practice. Read your own work out loud. It will help you discover some great sections to read to an audience.

It’s actually a good strategy in writing to open your book or short story with a bang. It grabs the attention of the reader who might be a potential agent or editor. And the guy in the bookstore might buy your book if the opening grabs his attention. So when you are reading to an audience, starting at the beginning is always a plus. But even if your opening isn’t a grabber, pick an exciting part to read and keep going over it until it sounds like a stage performance.

As a bonus, while still in the editing phase of your writing, try reading your work out loud. You will detect mistakes that you had overlooked while just reading the words off the computer screen. To kill two birds with one stone: record yourself as you read. You will hear your literary errors and you can judge your own presentation.

Remember: It is a performance. Lights. Camera. Action.

 

Point #10

  1. “Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” If you have anything published, even self-published, do TV interviews to get face time and experience. Local TV stations in many areas do segments on local authors. Public access stations do round-tables with authors. Call them up; tell them what you have done. Suggest doing a panel of several of your writer friends for their station. It never hurts to ask.
GenderWritingPanel
Burbank Library Panel

Point #11

  1. Don’t Drop the Ball Now. If you have gotten this far, take time to update your website, keep people informed on your Facebook page, or Twitter your latest event. Let your targeted audience (chefs, lawyers, senior citizen groups) know what you are doing. Visit all those Internet communities you have joined and let them know what you are up to. Leave a comment on a fellow writer’s blog when they have a new book out. Review somebody’s book on Amazon.com. (Wouldn’t you like somebody to do that to your book?)

 

PhotoFunia-1562086112As you learn new skills, like doing a TV interview, let people know about it on your website. Polish old skills. (You can always improve.) You should have learned a hundred great writing techniques and mistakes to avoid in that writing group you joined. (We can all learn from other’s mistakes as well as our own.)

Update your short, one-paragraph biography often, so when someone is doing publicity on you (or you are sending out your own Press Release) you have the latest news on yourself at hand. Something you did in college probably won’t interest anybody ten or fifteen years later, but guest blogging on someone else’s blog is Big News. The fact you wrote poems in high school isn’t very news worthy. The fact you interviewed a fellow writer on your blog is exciting. Read other people’s biographies on their websites. You’ll spot the pro from the novice by what the pro leaves out.

 

Point #12

  1. Go for the Gold. Once you have a book in print, try creating a video book trailer for your website. Windows Movie Maker software can help you turn out a mighty nice one. Hey! If you have done all the previous points, you can do the book trailer. It’s the latest thing out there. Other writers are doing them.

Micraphone Man

 

Tough love segment: Agents and publishers are looking for any excuse to say “no” to you and your manuscript. But if you have most of these twelve bullet points mastered, they are going to find it hard to turn you down. You show initiative and you follow through. That means they won’t have worry about expending time and money on a newcomer. (Let them spend their time and money when your efforts pay off and you have a Best Seller.) Do your homework now and maybe your publisher will spring for the book trailer and book tour later.

 

A Final Thought

You aren’t alone out there. There are plenty of people who are at the same level in their career as you. There are some a little further along, some even more of a newcomer than you are. Writers today are learning that they need to master these same silly skills in order to get themselves noticed. Why not you?

These bullet points are meant to give you a heads up in this business and to urge you learn them, try them, and to get your name plastered all over the Internet along with your terrific face. You have a vested interest in getting a book published and selling those books. You are also the best salesman of your work. Nobody knows you like you.

Use all these “platforms” to climb up to the top of the heap and shout your name from the rooftops. Each one will make you a better writer and more interesting to an agent or publisher.

All the best with your writing career.

If you found these various postings about Building a Platform helpful, you might like to know where they came from. These helpful hints as well as a bunch of other timely tips can be found in a little book called So You Want to be a Writer by Yours Truly. There are also a few short stories for your reading enjoyment in the rather thick book. It’s a companion piece to The Anatomy of a Short Story that came out several years ago. I do love to teach. Write On!

So You Want to be a Writer Amazon cover 2anatomy-book-cover

COMING CLEAN

by Rosemary Lord

 

Office clutter 1

Okay – so I’m all clean. That is, I have a very, very clean home now. I have newly washed the blinds, cleaned window screens and window sills, I have a scrubbed floor, laundry is done and my stove and microwave positively gleam.

Can you tell that I have started writing my next book?

Yes, I know – I am still working on getting the first Lottie Topaz novel published. But this next volume is bursting out of my head just now. So….

Why do we writers have these odd work habits? For me I think it is part avoidance and part ‘my special writing method.’

You see, I recently wrote the key outline of this next book, ‘Seven for a Secret,’ the working title. Then I wrote parts of the first 5 chapters – by hand on legal pads. I typed up a few pages here and there. I know where they’re going and roughly what needs to be said. Next, I have to think it through before I sit down and solidly write from Page One to The End. That daunting – or exhilarating – task takes months.

Broom 1  That’s where the cleaning comes in. I find that as I scrub and clean and polish I run through all the scenes in my mind and have much more clarity away from the computer as I do ‘mindless things’ like cleaning. I get out of my own mental way. Yes, there is a bit of avoiding that commitment to sit down and write for the next however many months it takes to complete a first draft. What if it’s rubbish? What if it’s no good? At least, if I don’t start the typing part I can’t get scolded for writing rubbish or being boring. Well, that’s one of my little avoidance gremlin’s voice at work.

 

Broom 3 During the Covid 19 enforced solitary confinement, my writing methods have changed somewhat. Partly because, after all the Woman’s Club administrative work, I found time to declutter my office, move things around and re-arrange my filing system. (Possibly another unconscious avoidance technique?) Then I re-edited the first Lottie novel with fresh eyes on it, enabling me to take out over 20,000 words. I knew it was far too long and was able to keep most of the edited-out scenes to use in later books.

Computer filesSo now, sitting in my newly arranged office space, with smartly labeled files and clearly focused folders – I can’t find anything. I do a lot of research and have copious folders of notes, print-outs and clippings; now all neatly categorized. Normally, when I sit at my desk in my very small ‘office’ (in reality, a corner of the living room) I can reach my arm out and grab the stack of papers I need. Or reach the other arm out and grab the specific notebook. Everything’s at arms length and very convenient. Except now I have to stop and think “which arm?” “Is it to the left or to the right or behind me? My color-coded files are in upheaval because I have re-arranged them methodically. But my creative mind doesn’t work that way. Now I have to rethink my steps as to why I re-filed things and where my logic was going with the new system.

Or maybe it’s just another avoidance on my part?

My next step is to start my Story Board: a large notice board on which I stick post-its with the outline of each chapter and perhaps characters or incidents that need to fit in somewhere.  But with all my smart de-cluttering, where did I put my board? It’s a bit like shaking your head a lot and then waiting for all the bits of your brain to settle down again so you can see where things are.

Over these last locked-in months I worked really hard on trying to streamline my whole writing system. It’s just my brain hasn’t settled down enough yet to remember the new system. I know it will work much quicker than my old scatter logical system that was emotionally driven.

Readers  I resolved to be super organized, efficient and be a real smarty pants – so I could become a prolific novel writer, like many of my fellow writers.

But my mind hasn’t yet caught up. This is where the cleaning helps. I can see the fruits of my labor as I wash the Canyon grime off my white wood shutters. Yes: they’re white again. I accomplished something. Better than sitting in front of the computer typing and erasing the same sentence again and again as I await the muse to visit once more. But, as I mentioned, it’s often when I am distracted with the dusting, soaping, scrubbing and rinsing that words, sentences, scenes and whole conversations are visited upon me.

I hurriedly grab my writing pad and scribble down the dictated words – often forgetting to first dry my hands. My notepads tend to have water and soap-suds stains all over. Some tear-stains of frustration, too.

I know this is a change for the better. In my decluttering marathons I rediscovered several half-finished books and stories. And I was able to take time to re-evaluate my time and get out of old work-habits that didn’t serve me.

This year we all had the opportunity to re-think what we were doing and how we were doing it. Or to simply do something totally different. So, overall, as we slowly open up our lives again to regular business practices, social visiting, travel and family gatherings it will be a case of “So what did you do during your 2020 Shut-down?”

Me?  I got clean.  What did you do?

Typewriter and desk

Building a Platform… Continued

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Platform

 

We will continue where we left off last time. Here are several more things to consider while you are constructing that platform.

 

 

 

 

Point #5

  1. Acquire the ‘Write’ Type of Friends. Join a hands-on writer’s group in your area. These are groups that critique each others’ work. Knowing people who are trying to make their own work better and who want to help you as well is good for the psyche. You might have to join more than one group before you find one that fits your age group and temperament. (Trust me, there is a difference.) Some writers still appreciate proper grammar and spelling. (Some don’t.) And remember: you aren’t married to these groups, so leave if one doesn’t click. Or start your own group with people sharing your values, temperament, and needs. You want to improve your writing skills, so make sure this is a learning experience. And be very generous with your skills. Sharing your writing knowledge with others is part of the “platform” building. And you will improve all your editing skills by critiquing other people’s work.

 

Join on-line writers groups to keep your finger on the pulse of the business, and to make contacts and maybe get a few readers when your book comes out. This is another way networking pays off.

Writing 41

Point #6

  1. Stand Up and Be Counted. After you have joined a national writers’ organization like Sisters-in-Crime or Mystery Writers of America and you find you like what they offer, ask what you can do to help out. Volunteer. People will learn that they can rely on you. If the board members see that you are a good worker, you might find yourself on a committee or two. Get that face of yours out there. If you are willing to go the extra mile, see if you can get on the board and be one of those deciding what that group of writers can do to help each other as well as the community at large. This shows that you are a mover and shaker.

MicrophonesAfter I joined Sisters-in-Crime/Los Angeles, I was asked to join the board. I started out as Speakers Bureau Director. I set up writers’ panels all over the area. I first went through the roster of members, located websites for those members with one, learned what they wrote, and got an idea what types of panels I could offer local libraries based on the types of books these folks wrote. I did cozy panels, Noir, mysteries with a travel theme. 80 panels later, I pretty well know who wrote what.

While I was doing this, I was learning more and more about what I needed to concentrate on as a writer. I acted as coordinator for these events, not a panelist. Later, when I was asked to be on a panel or two myself, I came prepared because I could see what worked and what didn’t.

But it was still a learning experience for me. I spent a lot of time talking about the characters I had written. I thought they were interesting and talked to the audience about who they were.

Then one time when I was on a panel at a library I just happened to mention that I used to be a private detective. Bam! People wanted to know about that aspect of my life, not about the characters I had created.

That was when I learned that people were interested in the writer, the writer’s life, and how as a writer we came up with characters and plot, not necessarily about the book the writer had written. Sure the audience wanted some information about the book since that was what we were selling, but they really wanted to know about the writer, in this case: me. And I had something to tell them.

If you have a talent for teaching, you might try your hand at giving a class about writing or the business of writing. Pamela Samuels-Young teaches a terrific class on “How to Write a Novel and Still Keep Your Day Job.” She also does a presentation on marketing your book.

I have known writers who have taught classes on “How to Read Out Loud in Front of a Crowd” and “How to Get and Keep an Agent.” Their expertise led them to sharing their knowledge with others.

As for me, after turning out a collection of short stories of my own and the Johnny Casino Casebook series which consists of seven to ten stories per book, I was asked to teach a class on the short story. Since Sisters-in-Crime put out an anthology every other year, my class would fit right in.

Deciding that a game plan was in order, I went over the files for every one of those stories I had written up to that time and realized there was a method to this madness that I loved. I wrote down the steps I used in writing every story and turned out a fairly organized handout for the class. The class was a lot of fun and I got to teach it several different places.

Then another thought hit me. Why couldn’t I turn those class handouts into a book, a workbook? It wouldn’t be a lot of words, but rather a blueprint of how I actually wrote a story. Since I was using the same game plan for all my work, I used that as my road map.

So I wrote down the plan, provided numerous examples, and even put a few of my favorite stories in the back of the workbook. Since I basically dissected the short story I called the book The Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook.

 

Keep notes of your writing progress, experiences, and things you have learned. If you have a method in your own writing madness, that just might be the basis of a class you can give at a local library or at the next writers’ conference. It’s another presentation where your skills will come into play.

 

Your leadership skills are being polished and you didn’t even know it. It’s another “platform” to add to your collection.

 

Point #7

  1. Paddle Your Own Canoe. Submit articles to on-line writers’ magazines or write for your local weekly newspaper. You can submit book reviews or articles on local writers like yourself, or maybe cover community news or write special interest articles. Write newsletter articles for the groups to which you belong whether it’s your kid’s school or your church. You will be writing and people will be seeing your name in print.

As a freelance reporter, you can get out there and talk to people, the very people who just might show up at your first book launch. You will be somebody who is doing something in your community rather than sitting back and waiting for things to float your way. Paddle your own boat and you will get to your goal a lot faster.

Magazines Newspapers 

Point #8

  1. Planning Ahead. Okay, you have honed a few skills now. Maybe you have even sold a short story or two. You are contemplating the time when that brilliant publisher realizes that you have a publishable book and snaps you up. You will finally have something in print with your name on it. Hooray.

 

Question: What will you do then?

 

Answer: Find people who want to read it.

 

Problem: You hadn’t thought about this part earlier.

 

Solution: Let’s think about it now.

Friendly Mic

Selling one book at a time at a local bookstore might be a little slow. How about finding a group of people who might be interested in your particular subject matter? Sue Ann Jaffarian’s protagonist, Odellia Grey in Booby Trap, is a pleasantly plump paralegal. Sue Ann is a trained paralegal. She speaks at paralegal conventions. And lawyer conventions. She parlayed her real life job skills into a series of novels and then doubled down to promote herself and her books at conferences featuring the very same people. That’s a good marketing technique.

 

Say you wrote about a “super chef/sleuth.” You might try asking a cooking utensil convention to let you come and speak. Or a food convention. Or a cruise line that caters to foodies. Find groups of people with whom you have a connection. If your protagonist is over forty (or maybe even in their sixties), try senior citizen groups. If your plot centers on the aerospace industry, ask NASA if you can speak at their next get-together. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

Planning ahead sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? You might even rearrange your plot to put some big business entity in it (in a good light, of course) just so you can be invited to their next convention.

Market your book and yourself. Examine your skills, talents, interests, previous or current job and see how they can be used to promote that book of yours. Remember: You want to sell books, but mostly, you want to sell yourself.

…. Hang in there. There is one more posting to come later this summer. You can do this.

Building a Platform

Platformby Gayle Bartos-Pool

………… As we continue the Points from a previous posting.

 

Point #2

  1. What makes you so special? Okay, you have taken inventory of yourself. You know the types of books you like to read and you know what types of books you want to write, (if you haven’t already penned your first or even second book.) You have some special skills that give you credibility or you have done a great deal of research into certain areas that you will be covering in your book. You feel fairly confident your research will interest an audience down the line. So what makes you different from every other author out there who writes a similarly themed book?

Costume 1

Say you like mysteries with a food theme: chef/sleuth, caterer/sleuth, food critic/sleuth. There are other books out there with those characters. Jerrilyn Farmer (Killer Wedding) writes a mystery series about a caterer who gets caught up in crime. Mysteries are notorious for having food-related themes. Amateur sleuths are constantly eating in their books. (They should all be fifty pounds overweight.) What makes your Ginsu knife-wielding sleuth more interesting than any of the others?

 

Knowing the answer to “What makes your character special?” can be the biggest selling point for your work. While you are building your platform, you will be building a platform for your main character.

 

When an agent says, “Yeah, you write well, but there are a hundred chef/sleuths out there.” What are you going to tell him or her that makes your guy or gal sleuth unique? If you are Oprah’s personal chef, boy do you have an in. If you cooked twenty years in the army, you just might have an edge. If your sleuth is a Martian with the best quiche recipe in the Solar System…You get the idea.

Writing 41

So, what makes your sleuth different? Have that answer at your fingertips before you submit your first manuscript.

Consider using the same simple technique screenwriters use to sell a script: the high concept idea. Have a short, pithy term to describe your main character. Maybe you have a blind chef, or a wisecracking Yenta chef, or a bi-polar chef. Make it memorable and you just might have a winner.

 

The main character in one of my mystery series is Johnny Casino. I bill him thusly:

Johnny Casino is a retired P.I. with a past. He just hopes it doesn’t catch up with him.

You can get 14×12 inch magnetic signs from places like VistaPrint for the side of your car with your book’s cover and your website on it along with your catchy phrase. You will be a driving bulletin board. People can see the sign when you’re driving down the freeway or across town. It’s (almost) free advertising. The sign costs around $10, plus shipping. And it’s fun.

 

Point #3

  1. Get yourself plastered… all over the Internet. Create a Web presence with a website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin – so people can find you. Even before you send out your first manuscript, create a website, preferably with your name in the title. You can even Photoshop a fun picture like this one.

PhotoFunia-1562086112

www.agathapenwrite.com will draw more people to you than www.im-a-greatwriter.com. Whether you use a pen name or your real name, remember: You are selling “you” out there. You are the product. And you want people to buy “you.” You want people to pick up a book with your name on it, recognize your name, and pay real money for that book. You want people to say, “Oh, Agatha Penwrite wrote this. This must be good.” And the next time they check out Amazon or the local bookstore, they will be looking for Agatha Penwrite, not some obscure domain name that could fit anybody. And frankly, those silly website names say that you aren’t quite a professional yet.

Sign on to Twitter, find people you know, other writers, old classmates, old boyfriends, ask them to follow you. Then document your writing journey. Using those 140 characters, let people know that you finished the first draft of your new book, you joined a writer’s group, you sent query letters to agents and publishers, and that you got some bites. Put a few notes on Facebook about who you are. Remember you already discovered the “real you” in the first bullet point in this series. Now it’s time to get your name out there.

While you are signing up for all these Internet presences, get someone to take a good picture of you to post on these sites. People want to know what you look like. If you settle for the generic silhouette people use when they have “no picture available” it says you don’t know who you are yet. If you are nervous about having a picture taken, rent a nice looking dog and hold him up next to you.

You are putting your name and face out there so people will know who you are. And they’ll love the dog. (The picture on some of my books is me with my dog Sherlock. I didn’t have to rent a pup.)

Get that new picture of you on your website and all those other sites. No time for being shy. And your publisher will love the fact that you are advertising the product (you) out there in cyberspace.

 

Point #4

  1. Is anybody out there? Now you are thinking, “OMG, this writing stuff is harder than I thought it was going to be. Do other people really do all this?” Find out by joining several writers’ organizations in your chosen writing genre. (Mystery writers have groups like Sisters-in-Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Romance Writers of America covers the more passionate side of writing. Check the Internet for your genre and see what’s out there.) After you join one of these groups, talk to other members and ask if they are as nervous as you are. (The answer is yes, but still ask.)

people group

Go to events sponsored by these groups. Meet other people who are going through the same things you are, and be sure to talk to those who have progressed a little further and learn more of the ropes from them, and share your experiences with others. There will actually come a time when you will be considered an old hand at this stuff and someone new to the business will be asking you questions. Learn as you go so you can pass along that knowledge to others. Say hello to the featured speakers at events. Make contacts. Remember, when you are out there selling your book at an event, you will want people sitting in the audience listening to you. Be there for others and maybe they will return the favor and be there for you.

We will have more in the upcoming weeks…

Building a Platform

    by Gayle Bartos-Pool

 

PlatformPlatform: 1. a raised flooring  2. the flat area next to a railroad track  3. a set of principles

 

Now is the time to add another definition to your Webster’s. If you are a writer, or you would like to be a writer someday, definition #4 is essential.

 

Platform: 4. an accumulation of skills and accomplishments along with various methods of broadcasting that information to the publishing world and the reading public; Your goal is to drive people to you and your book.

 

Learn what type of tools to use to build that platform: website, Internet, writers’ groups, other social networking  

 

Building a Platform in the 21st Century

 

It isn’t enough for today’s writer to merely write the novel or short story, or for that matter a non-fiction piece, newspaper article, or screenplay. Today’s writer needs to get noticed. Does that mean be a flaming exhibitionist? Yeah. Sort of.

 

As described in definition #4: a “platform” is an accumulation of skills along with various methods of broadcasting that information to the publishing world and the reading public. And this can be started before you have a book in print. In fact, it should have been started before you are knee deep in trying to promote a published book.

 

If you have visions of your future publisher footing the bill for your world-wide book tour or arranging your multi-city American book tour, wake up, sweetheart. More than likely, you will be doing this yourself.

 

But, if you have developed certain skills and have laid a foundation (a.k.a. platform) for getting your name out in front of the public, you are ahead of the game. But a “platform” isn’t just a website or a blog. It’s a lot of things.

 

If people (agents, publishers, booksellers, librarians) know they can count on you to get a job done, you build your credibility. Sometimes that means just showing up at a literary event and helping out. If you exhibit this type of capability, your agent and publisher will consider you a professional, especially if you have this part of your budding career taken care of before you drop your first manuscript in their laps. And let’s face it, when you sell your book, you won’t have time to learn these new skills. Take the time now, while you are still polishing that second or third draft, to get yourself up to speed.

 

Now you might say, “But, hey, I just want to be a writer.” (Boy have you got a lot to learn.) Unless you actually have the next Harry Potter book, or Twilight series stacked up around your computer, you have things you need to do now. Both Ms. Rowling and Ms. Meyer have people to handle this. Unless you have “people,” you will have to do this part yourself.

 

This will be a Bullet Point Presentation of many of the ways you can build your own platform. This will include creating a web presence, getting your face out there (short of on the Ten Most Wanted list), and discovering who you really are in the first place.

 

Jewel 5Roll up your sleeves and join me as we polish the gems that we are inside.

 

 

Please note: I am primarily a mystery writer, so I will use examples based on writing mysteries. But a writer is a writer. These skills fit all shapes and sizes.

Gayle Bartos-Pool, aka: GB Pool, mystery writer

 

Target 2

 

Bullet Points for Building a Successful Platform

Point #1 –

  1. Who are You? Before you can really start building a platform of skills to promote yourself and your work, you need to know who you are and what you do best. In other words, what is your niche? If you were a book, where would you be in the bookstore? Mystery section, Short Story collections, Mystery plays. When you meet people, do you say, “Hi, I’m Agatha Penwrite. I’m a mystery writer.” Or are you still not sure what you want to be or write? If you can’t figure out who it is you are, you won’t be the only one.

 

Look back over the things you have already written and take inventory. At the California Crime Writers Conference in Los Angeles (June 2009), Gayle Lynds (The Book of Spies) said that you will probably have five novels under your belt before you sell your first one.

Ladies StudySo, what do you primarily write?

The other half of knowing who you are is this: What other skills do you bring to the party? Were you once a cop, a private detective, a chef, a hooker? Hey, all of these are the basis of a good storytelling. What skills do you already have that will add credibility to your writing?

 

When I first started to write seriously, I wrote three long spy novels. The length alone said they wouldn’t be selling anytime soon. My dear husband said to me, “You were a private detective once. Why don’t you write a detective novel?” Duh. Boy, was he right.

 

So ask yourself, “What actual expertise am I bringing to this novel?” If you are a great cook or professional chef, you might center your stories around cooking. (Jerilynn Farmer’s Perfect Sax). If you are good at research, you might tackle an historical novel. (Jeri Westerson’s Veil of Lies) If you are a doctor, lawyer, or police officer, you have case studies by the score from which to draw stories. (Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Joseph Wambaugh.)

 

All the people with the above job descriptions have something to talk about when speaking to an audience besides their great new novel. They have real life experience in the subject matter. They bring credibility and great insight to their latest book. Sue Ann Jaffarian (Booby Trap) is a paralegal writing about paralegals. Sheila Lowe (Dead Write) is a real life handwriting expert. Her protagonist has the same job. Doug Lyle (Forensics for Dummies) is a heart doctor. They each write about what they know best.

 

Not only does Sue Ann have actual knowledge of her subject matter, but she can also go speak at a paralegal convention or a lawyer conference. Her expertise carries weight. It’s a great draw.

 

Switch2So, what is your biggest asset?

Not a doctor or lawyer? You still have resources. Mari Sloan (Beaufort Falls) comes from a long line of Southern eccentrics and visionaries. Her storytelling skills made her book fascinating, but her ability to tell those stories out loud made her book events unforgettable. Did you hear some good family tales growing up? Bruce Cook (writing as Brant Randall) wrote a novel that incorporates some of his family’s stories in a knock-out book, Blood Harvest. But not only did he have the interesting stories, but Bruce is also a movie director and he knows how to stage a story for the most impact. And his eye for detail shows up on the page.

 

Now ask yourself again: “What am I bringing to the party? What else can I talk about that shows I just might have credibility in the subject matter of my book?”

 

Write a one-paragraph biography about yourself listing pertinent accomplishments and skills. You’ll need this when an agent asks: “Give me a brief bio about yourself that I can send along to the publisher when I submit your manuscript.”

 

Are you getting the idea what a platform is? Good. There’s more coming up the next time it’s my turn on the blog. Watch for it.

 

 

A Lesson in Character Building

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

 

PeopleWhen I first moved to Sunny Southern California in the early Seventies, I decided I should take acting lessons. Not that I thought of taking Hollywood by storm, after all, I was no glamour girl or even thought I had any latent acting ability.

 

Trish StewartMy only claim to fame by that time was playing Girl Number Two in a high school production of Sabrina Fair. I had maybe two lines, but I did get a few laughs when my character had to feign a headache to make another character think that was why me and the Boyfriend, another minor character, were out on the patio getting some fresh air. I guess I did the funny bit of business well enough to get a chuckle from the audience. As for the girl who played Sabrina, Trish Stewart went on to an acting career in Hollywood. She was in the short-lived TV show with Andy Griffith called Salvage 1 and a recurring role on The Young and the Restless.

But a television career wasn’t why I wanted to take acting lessons. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to know what writers needed to learn about writing dialogue and thought acting lessons would give me an insight into all those words actors should be saying on stage and on the screen.

I got an agent, a job… and a life lesson. I saw an ad in the newspaper about an exclusive acting class being taught by a couple of people from Hollywood. I use the term “exclusive” because the class cost money. It was several hundred dollars, so I thought it was going to be really good. Well, one of the guys who was to run this class ran off with the money. Many people were screwed. The other partner who was as surprised, if not as screwed, as the rest of us, took pity on little ol’ me and asked if I would like to be the nanny cum housekeeper for him, his wife, and his four kids. I needed a job, so I said yes.

This guy was a talent agent. A real one. One of his clients had been Agnes Moorehead. Another client was James MacArthur. I actually met James when he flew into Hollywood from his gig in Hawaii doing Hawaii 5-0. James kept his little sports car in my boss’s barn on their property in Encino. His battery was dead, so he asked if he could borrow my little VW and go get one. I tossed him the keys and went back to my nanny/housekeeper duties. Their house was always a mess, so the three days a week I worked over there I tidied up and played with the young kids, all of whom were pre-school or in elementary school.

Bruce GloverDuring the nine months I worked for him, he got me into an acting class. The first class was taught by Bruce Glover. Old Bruce has been in a bunch of movies like Diamonds Are Forever and Chinatown and just about every TV series during his forty-year plus career. Something you might notice when he is in a movie is the fact that he makes sure he is either somewhere in the background of any scene even if he isn’t the guy doing the talking or while doing his scene he makes the most of it. In that I mean he is always doing some bit of business to capture the attention of the viewer. Sometimes the director will yell “Cut” and stop the attention grabbing, but many times that little extra shtick is the cherry on top of a scene.

And what does this have to do with writing, you may ask? It’s just this: Sometimes the writer needs to make a minor character more interesting by giving him or her a quirk, a trait, a personality. They don’t have to stay on the page or the screen all that long, but isn’t it fun to read or see a character who isn’t cardboard?

I still use that little trick I learned from Bruce about instilling a few minor characters with some unique trait just to make them more interesting and memorable. In fact, there are several characters that started out in a minor role who ended up with a much bigger part. Bruce would get a kick out of that fact, because he often said that “extra bit of business” might lead to an expanded role.

In the opening of my novel Caverns, the policeman who discovers the first body mauled by large rats in underground Chicago was to be a minor character if not just a “walk-on,” but I liked him so much he became one of the leads. In Hedge Bet I had originally picked one character to be the guilty party, but then I thought her character had only limited depth. This other character had far more opportunity for mayhem because he kept turning up in all the right places, so his part was expanded and he even had the original suspect bumped off.

In my Johnny Casino Series, I introduced an aging actress in one of the first short stories in the first book. I liked her so much, she kept coming back along with her butler who had a past to die for, so he turned into a charming regular, too. See, there are no small parts. Those little traits we write into our characters end up with a life of their own.

Rudy SolariThat brings me to the second acting class I took. The talent agent I was working for thought I might like to try another class taught by a couple of guys he admired. The guys were Rudy Solari and Guy Stockwell. Rudy starred in Garrison’s Gorillas. As for Guy Stockwell, he guested in just about every TV series there was for decades.

I have mentioned in other articles how Rudy had us actors write a biography of the character we were playing so we had an idea who our character was before we stepped onto the stage. You would have to make this stuff up, but the script gave you a lot of information and the genre of the piece would give you more parameters. To this day I write a biography of my main character and sketches of other people in a story. This will help you remember who everybody is, how they look, their age, and important details that you might need later. You don’t want “John” twenty-five years old on page 34 with blue eyes to turn into “John” forty-five years old on page 76 with brown eyes. It keeps you on track and if you bring the character back in a sequel you don’t have to read your first book to acquaint yourself with those facts.

But something else was gleaned from Rudy’s class. Improv. There is nothing like your acting teacher asking you to get up on that stage and do a scene with another actor with only a few words describing the scene. The one scene I remember doing was when another actor and I were to be an abusive husband and the long-suffering wife having a conversation. “She could kill him” was my prompt.

I started out playing the meek wife taking his abuse, but I kept countering his jibes with subtle remarks. When the scene was over and Rudy said “Stop,” he walked over to me and asked what I had in my hand. I had taken a piece of paper with me to the stage. It was probably what I wrote notes on, but it was in my hand, but as Rudy noted it had been folded and folded until it looked a bit like a knife. I hadn’t realized exactly doing it, but my character sure did. Scary? Maybe. But characters do have a life of their own. Give them free reign and see what they come up with.

The other interesting time in acting class was when my good friend and fellow actor, Karen Markham, and I were doing a scene from The Odd Couple. Let me digress for just a second and tell you a story or two. It’s relevant.

Rudy thought it might be interesting to have women play the lead in that play and later movie and even later a fabulous TV series written originally by Neil Simon. Rudy asked Karen and I to do a scene from the play. We christened Karen’s role as Esther (Oscar) and I played Felicia (Felix). We did one of the earlier scenes in the play. We rehearsed quite a bit and thought we had the roles down, but you know actors. Digging deeper into a role is always better.

We decided we should take the act “on the road.” That meant that we would go someplace “in character” and see how we did. There was a bar fairly close to where the acting class was, so we went there after class one night. It was a hangout for actors and stuntmen called The Drawing Board. We went in, Karen as the men-loving gal who always had a smart remark and me as the meek, penny-pinching woman who found dirt everywhere.

Harvey WallbangerI ordered a Harvey Wallbanger. (You aren’t the only one who liked them, Paul D. Marks.) Before the bartender set it down, I cleaned the spot in front of me. I complained openly about Esther making a spectacle of herself and Karen gave it back to me in spades. When the bartender told me how much my drink was, I gasped at the high price and said that I wasn’t buying drinks for the entire bar. Karen told me I was a penny-pinching old maid. The bartender laughed and then said, “Talk about the odd couple.”

Well, I broke character and laughed. Several of the guys around us took notice and I confessed that we were actors rehearsing our characters for Rudy Solari’s acting class. They got a kick out of it. Oh, and I didn’t have to pay for the drink. Don Stroud, the actor who starred in The New Mike Hammer and a million other TV shows, picked up the tab for Karen, and stuntman Paul Nuckles bought mine. We never had to pay for a drink in the place after that. Nice guys.

Guy StockwellSo back to my original point. Karen and I knew our roles. We knew the characters. We did the scene for Guy Stockwell one evening at the acting studio and he liked it, then he asked how well we knew the scene and did we know each other’s part? Yes. Next he said, “Switch roles.” We did. Karen played the fastidious Felicia and I played the ballsy Esther.

We did it without a hitch and to tell you the truth, it was exhilarating. We were totally free. No constraints. Exactly what your characters in your stories should be when you give them free reign to be themselves. You know who they are. You wrote a biography for most of those main characters. Now let them take you where they want to go. That’s the point I am trying to make in this article.

You will be surprised when you free a character to speak his own mind or let her go where she really wants to go. Trust them. And maybe take an acting class to let you see what dialogue and character on the hoof is like. You’re out there on a stage and the words are alive. Make your characters come alive as well. They will love you for it. And so will your readers.

Polishing the Gem

Jewel 6by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Part Five – Finding the Right Word

 

Stephen King said “Any word you have to hunt for in a Thesaurus is the wrong word.”

I beg to differ, Mr. King. Here’s why. If I have used the same word ad nauseam in several close paragraphs, I just gotta find another word. Your computer writing software usually has a few suggestions when you Right Click on Synonyms. And I have a really nice Thesaurus that I will turn to if the computer doesn’t come through.

But, come on, guys. We’re writers, authors, novelists, playwrights, wordsmiths for crying out loud. Words are our life. Personally, I like adding a few new words to my vocabulary every so often. And I definitely want to use some fresh, innovative, new-fangled words when writing just to shake things up a bit.

I’ll stumble over a boring, colorless, lackluster word when doing one of the many edits I complete before sending out a book for publication. The troublesome word will be sitting there like a wilted piece of lettuce, limp and begging to be tossed into the garbage…. (And, yes, I did use the Thesaurus on a few of the words in this recent paragraph just to make the point.)

So why not use the sources available and pick another word so you don’t sound tedious, uninteresting or just plain _____________. (You fill in the blank.)

 

Jewel 7Polishing the Gem

Part SixPicky Picky

 

Last, but not least, be picky about your work. Agonize over a word or sentence or paragraph until you think (or even feel) that it’s the right choice. Feeling’s okay, too. Your name is going to be on the work, so why not do your best?

Something I have mentioned before might be of help when doing that last slog through those thousands of words you have put on paper. Ask yourself three things:

 

Does it Advance the story?

Does it Enhance the story?

Is it Redundant?

 

These questions make you re-think aspects of your work. If you have a long section of dialogue that doesn’t add anything to the plot and it doesn’t get your characters any closer to their goals, cut it or rework it.

Idle chatter between characters about the weather or their latest boyfriend over tea or yet another lunch at the local tearoom can become stale especially if the weather doesn’t change, no storm is brewing, and the boyfriend’s body isn’t buried in their backyard. Make sure most of what your characters talk about actually has something to do with the story.

As for enhancing the plot or even who your characters are, take note: If a long section of great descriptive passages doesn’t set the stage, but rather clutters it up, trim it or make sure you don’t keep piling on more and more of the same thing every few pages. You might like all your great descriptions of period furniture or sweeping landscapes, but after a while it stops the action. When it’s done well, it is a joy. Too much detail starts sounding like a boring college lecture course. You know, the class you fell asleep in when the teacher droned on for an hour about one more Roman army siege of yet another small village in ZZZZZZZZZ.

Wake up!

Here’s another point: Enhancing your characters personality or description or painting a beautiful picture of the scenery in your story is great as long as you don’t keep putting too much makeup on the characters or clutter the scenery with too many trees so you can’t see the forest. You want a stunning image, not layers of paint.

As for the redundancy part, during your final read-through as you are editing your work, check to see if you have said the same thing twice. During your final read-through as you are editing your work, check to see if you have said the same thing twice. (See how redundancy gets to be a problem? That sentence was in there twice.) Whether you repeat yourself in the same paragraph or page or chapter or throughout the book, it gets old and your reader will think you are either padding your word count or not paying attention.

As you polish your gem, remember another thing: if you file off the rough edges, sharpen the angles, and buff out the dull areas, the reader will come back for more. Everybody admires a beautiful jewel. Write On!  (And Read On Below)

Jewel 8

Let me add one more little tidbit. Several years ago I published The Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook. It was to accompany a class I taught by the same name. It is a quick reference to writers as to how to get those few chosen words on a page in a short story as well as a novel, screenplay, or even an article you might be writing. As a member of The Writers-in-Residence group, I have also written many blogs on the art of writing. Many times I just expanded on the points I made in the Anatomy book. Recently I compiled those many blogs into a new book: So You Want to be a Writer. It gives some history to my own career and some expanded thoughts on writing. You might find it helpful in your writing journey.

So You Want to be a Writer Amazon cover 2  anatomy-book-cover

Polishing the Gem

Jewel 5by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Part FourContinuity

 

This is a very tough area to polish. Think of a road map to a destination. You know where you want your characters to go. You pick several roads. Some are clear-sailing, some bumpy, some are really rough going, but you think they will eventually get your characters to their goal. But what if one of those streets is a dead end? Or what if you end up on a street that circles back in another direction, but it doesn’t and won’t get your characters to where they were supposed to be going?

This is what a continuity editor does. He looks to see if there are holes in the plot, missing descriptions that might clarify a point you are trying to make, or if you just can’t get there from here.

This is what your beta readers just might point out, if you have a few, or what a continuity editor will discover, if you have the means to hire one. But if either of those possibilities is not available, you will have to do the work yourself. Is it hard? You bet. Is it impossible? Heck no.

There are actually a few ways to look at your work through different eyes… at least sort of different eyes or maybe ears. What do I mean? If your computer has a WORD program that has a Text to Speech feature, use it. Have the little voice read your manuscript back to you. The voice feature isn’t bad at all and it can even give inflection if you have a question mark or exclamation point. Have it read slow enough so that you can follow along like the member of an audience. It’s the actor reciting lines. You just listen. If that mechanical voice says something that you don’t understand, stop the program and go back over what you had written. Remember: that little voice reads only what’s on the page. It adds or takes away nothing. If the voice says something you don’t understand, and you wrote it, you better go back and rewrite it until you understand what the voice is saying to you.

It’s best to do this read-through a few days or even weeks after you finish your last draft. You want to distance yourself from the project and come at it as if it were all new to you. You might know the plot, but having the mechanical voice read it out loud after some days away from the project does make it seem fresher.

As the voice is reading you will be listening to the plot and character development from a different perspective. It’s really like fresh eyes, or in this case, ears, reviewing your work. Try to “stay in the moment” as the story is unfolding and listen for incongruities. Again, if it doesn’t make sense to you, the writer, it won’t make sense to the reader either.

If you don’t have a Text to Speech feature on your computer, ask a friend to read the book out loud to you. They can enjoy your book while you listen for things that don’t work. Your friend might even point out a few things that don’t quite hold together, too.

If you don’t have Text to Speech or a willing reader or a continuity editor, run off a copy of your book and sit down in another room and go through the book yourself. You can check for spelling and punctuation errors, change one word for another word, discover holes in the plot, and even rewrite portions because you thought of a better plot twist while re-reading your story. I usually go through my novels four separate times finding errors as well as picking a better word here and there. I have discovered goofy mistakes and few big errors that I fixed before the book saw the light of day.

No matter who you hire or the people you know who are willing to help you out with your editing, the ultimate responsibility is yours. Your name is on the book, not the copy editor or line editor, or college professor who said he would read your book or Aunt Mabel who loves to read and who said she would go over your manuscript for you. It’s your baby. Do the very best editing you can do. Go over it one more time after you think you’re finished, and then send it out to the world.

And even if an error slips past you, remember this: Only God is perfect. Do your best.

 

Parts Five & Six – Finding the Right Word & Picky Picky will be coming up in a few weeks.

When the curtain falls, the story begins…

No Curtain Call cover

Our good friend Alice Zogg has a new book out. Her stand-alones are amazing with suspects galore and clues hidden in plain sight if you look close enough. But waiting until the bad guy is revealed at the end is even better… then think back over those clues and you will say, “Ah. There they were.” Here’s the book’s blurb:

Nick Fox, a retired sheriff’s department lieutenant, is trying to get his act together after nearly being blown up in a targeted explosion that resulted in the loss of part of his leg, a kidney, and his subsequent retirement. His wife had already left him years earlier saying she didn’t like the kind of life he led.

Then a friend asks him to investigate the death of the man’s son who died from an opioid overdose after the opening night performance at the local high school three and a half years earlier. Fox knows the trail is cold, but his friend said his kid would never do drugs or kill himself, after all, young Jim Hoang was brilliant, had just gotten accepted to a great college, and was liked by everybody, but sometimes parents don’t know everything about their kids. Fox could attest to that. His own son, now living with his ex, is having troubles.

Fox starts asking questions and gets answers, but as someone close mentions, not everybody tells the truth. Fox raises the curtain on those around the young thespian that fateful Opening Night to see who had motive and opportunity to slip him those pills. The search widens as stories match up and some conflict. Can Fox finally raise the curtain on the killer?

 

A wrap up: Suspects abound in this fast-paced mystery set among theater people who each have a really good reason to eliminate the victim when the curtain falls. A retired Sheriff, Nick Fox, is asked to lend his expertise to this three-year old case, but Nick has some baggage of his own to deal with. That doesn’t stop this guy in sorting out who could have had not only motive, but opportunity.

A terrific read with suspects galore. Follow those clues Zogg places so masterfully right to the satisfying ending.

The book is available on Amazon in paperback as well as e-book.

 

Polishing the Gem

Jewel 3by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Part Two: Keeping Track of Time

Along with the biographies of the various characters, I also compile a Chronology Chart that records each character’s date of birth and other significant episodes in the principal characters’ lives. You ask: Why should I do this? Here’s why. If a character is twenty years old in 1997 when she is at the Police Academy, she will be thirty-one when she has a run-in with her superiors in the LAPD. She will be thirty-three when she transfers to the small city of Santa Isabel up the California Coast. And she will be forty when the body of a police captain’s wife turns up on the pier in her city. Keeping track of her age during twenty years will also tell you when other incidents impacted her life.

Keeping the same running chronology on other principle characters will show when they had a chance to interact with other characters and when major incidents happened in their lives. If you are covering many years in these peoples’ lives, the chronology is a godsend.

If one of my stories takes place over a week or two, I use a calendar. Usually I mark off the few weeks involved on a piece of paper and jot down what major events happened on those days. This keeps me organized and I can make sure I don’t have one character in New York when he should have been in Los Angeles.

When the story gets down to the nitty gritty, by that I mean the final chase scene where and when all the characters collide, I actually mark off a sheet of lined paper by the hour or even fifteen minute intervals so I can plot various characters going to and from various places so the times fit reality. How many times have you watched a TV show where the good guys can get across say Los Angels in a car in about two minutes when in reality it would take the better part of an hour? I know TV gets away with it, but I prefer a little more reality in my fiction. I plot air travel times as well as automobile driving times between places down to something that is fairly close to the actual time frame. You can look up airline flight schedules on the Internet as well as driving distances in hours and minutes on Google maps. My time sheet keeps the story honest.

Even if your story takes place over a twenty-four hour period or an evening in the haunted house, it serves you well to keep track of the time. It also allows you to watch where the bad guy is. Remember, he or she is the reason you are writing a mystery, if in fact that is what you are writing. But even if you are writing a memoir, you still can’t have 32 hours in a twenty-four hour day.

 

Jewel 4Polishing the Gem

Part Three – Line by Line

 

A Line Editor, as the phrase implies, goes line by line checking for errors. She is looking for misspelled words, missing words, redundant words, redundant words (I wrote the last one twice just to see if you were paying attention.) She is also looking for words used incorrectly like when you use “effect” when you should be using “affect.”

I actually keep a long list of troublesome words on my computer for quick reference. Of course there is always the dictionary. Mine is ragged from constant use. Remember: Spell-Check is only good if you actually misspelled a word. If you mistakenly typed in an actual word for the one you wanted, it will not know the difference. And sometimes the Grammar feature on your WORD program will be wrong. Get out your Chicago Manual of Style and verify your usage if Spell-Check tries to tell you that your grammar is incorrect. Often the computer will insist that “It’s” should be “its.” It’s wrong when you want “It is” and it wants “its.” Have patience. It’s a machine.

There are a lot of words that writers get wrong. Maybe your readers won’t know the difference, but work at getting the word right. You do need to know when to use “laying” verses “lying.” Laid and laying always take an object. Lie, lain, and lying don’t take an object. There are also a bunch of words that are used incorrectly such as dead-end verses dead end. Dead-end is the adjective. Dead end is the noun. Deadend isn’t a word. Some word groups are written with a hyphen. Some are one word. Some are two separate words. Some words are just hard to spell correctly. My list is long, but I know to check that list when I am editing and come across a familiar nemesis. We all make mistakes, but it’s nice when we catch a few before the book goes to print.

 

Part Four – Continuity – Coming up in another few weeks.