Posts Tagged ‘Deanna Knippling’

The Five Insurmountable Problems of NaNoWriMo

By DeAnna Knippling

So you’re thinking about doing NaNoWriMo this year for the first time. Or you’re thinking about doing better this year. Or you’re partially through NaNo and you’re stuck and you hate life and you’re reading NaNo blogs because you just like to punish yourself for not being good enough as a writer.

Um, yeah.

NaNoWriMo is a kind of hothouse of writing.

NaNoWriMo is a kind of hothouse of writing. It brings up all kinds of ugly things that encapsulate our failures as writers – or at least the failures as we see them.

So let’s get past that, not by treating NaNoWriMo as a kind of writers’ resolution, (”This year, I will write 50,000 words, mostly by…I don’t know, just forcing myself!”) but by looking at the root causes.

Here’s my premise: anything that stops you from writing is a bad writing technique.

1. I don’t know what to write.

Tip: Pick the first memorable person you think of, drop them in a memorable setting (it’s easier if you know the setting reasonably well), and give them a problem they can’t solve using their normal M.O. (that is, don’t give a firefighter a fire to put out–give them a parent with cancer).

It’s not that we don’t know what to write. It’s that we get hung up on finding the perfect thing to write. Why is that? Because we’re secretly convinced that stories aren’t about how the story’s told, but about the idea that sets them off.

And yet. Everybody who’s ever admitted to being a writer in public has heard this: “I have this great idea for a book. Why don’t you write it for me – I’ll even give you a percentage of the profits. Fifty-fifty!” As though the idea was worth half the work in the book. You’d laugh at that person…if it wasn’t you.

If you’re held up on the idea, then coming up with the perfect idea has got to go. Because anything that stops you from writing is a bad writing technique.

2. I have no time to write.

Tip: Give up Facebook and Twitter for November. If you want to get really extreme, give up all non-job reading and entertainment for the month…no reading, no games, no going out, no socializing…but them’s desperate measures.

You have time to write. I’m sorry, you do. It’s not about time, it’s about fear.

I once had a talk with my daughter about math class, which she normally likes and finds easy. She had a math teacher who threw things at her faster than she’s comfortable with. I could have a talk with the teacher about slowing things down for her or helping her somehow. Maybe getting her a tutor (well, other than me). Instead my daughter and I discussed learning and what it feels like, and how easy it is to run away from feeling like that. I told her that part of a good teacher’s job is to unsettle you, to get you used to and over the terror of learning.

I told her it’s okay to take breaks from your homework, but she can’t run away.

You have time to write; it’s just easier to justify cooking healthy meals and spending some extra time with the kids and doing laundry and Dr. Who and even puttering around on Facebook than it is to face learning something new. If you have fifteen minutes, you can have a page of fiction.

Yes. You can. When you’re not screwing around like a kid trying to avoid homework. When you’re not paralyzed by fear.

Telling yourself you have no time to write stops you from writing–it’s a bad writing technique.

3. I write nothing but crap.

Tip: Check all the items on this list:

  • Did I drink enough water?
  • Have I eaten? Have I eaten something other than crap during one of my last two meals?
  • Have I had enough sleep?
  • Have I had enough exercise?
  • Have I journaled/stress relieved lately?

Some people are surprised to find out that mental effort is physically draining, and learning something new is even worse. NaNo is a writing marathon, and it will burn energy and other resources faster than you’re used to. When you feel drained and horrible about your writing, first check that your body (or subconscious) isn’t trying to send you a message: I need fueland/or repairs.

The other part of this issue is the nature of crap.

The bad news is that we all write crap. The good news is that when you know you’re writing crap, it means you’re ahead of the game–seriously. In order to learn something new, you have to be uncomfortable with where you are now. Viscerally. Painfully.

The idea that you have to feel like you’re writing well in order to be a good writer sounds logical but it will keep you from writing and improving. It’s a bad writing technique!

4. I wrote for a while, but now I’m stuck and I don’t know what to do.

Tip: Write the next thing. Or maybe back up a paragraph or two, delete that, and then write the next thing.

A few years ago I took up knitting as a bucket-list kind of thing. I’d failed miserably at it as a kid – my mom’s right-handed to my leftiness, and she’s no good at explaining things from the other direction. I thought I was doomed. However, then I realized I have the Internet. I must have gone through fifty knitting videos on learning how to get started knitting before I found The One That Made Sense. At one point, I could have watched knitting videos all day. Instead of actually, you know, knitting.

You can, and should, and will do research to find out what works for you. But it has to be based on your personal trial and error, not on other people’s advice. No class, no mentor, no co-author can replace Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard. The only way to get comfortable with writing is to write.

But what if you’re stuck? Seriously stuck? And you can’t write another word?

You can. You must.

During any long writing project, you will more than likely get stuck at some point, especially as you realize you have no idea what you’re doing, what you’ve been doing, or what you’re going to do next. I’ve talked to writers at various levels of experience. As far as I can tell, this feeling never goes away.

So you look up and realize you’ve painted yourself into a corner. Oh, no – there’s no way to get the characters out of this situation! Clearly, it’s time to completely rewrite the entire book. Or just quit writing. FOREVER.

Except there always is a way out of every fictional situation, no matter how bad, because the characters get to destroy the walls and tramp all over the paint. Nuclear bombs? Alien invasion? Falling in love with someone else entirely? That’s what edits are for: rewriting the opening so the ending fits.

When you get stuck, write the next sentence. It might be weird, ungrammatical, awkward, annoying, offensive, etc., etc. Just plain wrong.

It is also yours in a way that the best-planned, structurally pretty sentences will never be. When you have pushed past everything you can think and plan, then you enter into a territory of naked honesty, which is often ugly and just plain wrong.

This is where the art of writing lies. The rest is craft. You need to know craft. I love craft. But this is where the art is, where you go, “I have nothing. I know nothing. I am writing out on a limb, on a one-sided bridge off a cliff with no opposite bank. I am skydiving without a parachute. I am a fake. I am full of crap and so is this.”

But that’s where the good stuff is.

This idea that you’re stuck because you’re at a dead end – it’s a lie, it’s fear talking. It stops you from writing – so it’s gotta’ go. You’re stuck because you’re at the edge of the cliff. The next sentence you write must be magic. Not because it was good (although it will be, if you let yourself recognize it), but because you were able to write it at all.

5. Now what?

Tip: Continue to be a pain in the butt and do what’s right for you as a writer.

At some point, you’ll decide that you’ve finished your NaNo novel, or that you’re not going to.

In either case, you’re going to hear some negative things about NaNo authors, or people who don’t finish, or people who do, or new writers in general, or whatever. The people who depend on you will be relieved that it’s over. You will be relieved that it’s over.

You’ll be left dangling. Now what?

People will give you advice. A lot of it will sound really logical.

However, if it makes you want to stop writing, it’s a bad writing technique. No matter how logical it is, no matter how long people have been doing it. It’s bad. If you just want to work on something new and not finish your NaNo project – do that. (If you never want to do NaNo again – then don’t!) If you want to keep writing every day despite the fact that people tell or imply that you suck – then write. If the idea of submitting makes you want to never write again – then don’t submit (yet). If the idea of having to perfect your work before you can submit it makes you want to roll up in a ball – then submit before it’s perfect. If getting too many rejections kills you – then take it slow, or wait until you’ve written five other things and you don’t care whether that old thing gets rejected or not.

Work around the problems until they aren’t problems anymore. Learn one thing at a time, not all at once. Be kind to yourself. Keep writing.

Everything else is a bad writing technique.


DeAnna Knippling

DeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America.  Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

ADDING DETAILS ON THE FLY:

Five fast tips to help your worldbuilding.

By: DeAnna Knippling

So, there I was, writing a story but didn’t have time to stop and research a few points.  Just kidding!  I always have time to stop and research.  My problem is taking too much time to stop and research.  I can research literally all day while chasing details down the rabbit hole.

Other people struggle to identify opportunities to do research.  “I’ll just name the character Bob,” they say. “And why would I bother to describe this hallway? It’s just a hallway.” Yet when they get feedback that the story didn’t grab their readers, they’re mystified.

If you’re looking for a) ways to write details that don’t require reading six nonfiction books and a pile of research, or b) ways to stop naming all your characters Bob and putting them in Everytown, USA, then here are five tips to help you find a balance between going down the research rabbit hole and forgetting to add details to your setting.

1. Research character names

Quick mental exercise:  How old is a woman named Evelyn?  How old is a woman named Madison?

Even common names (both of them come from the Social Security Administration’s top names over the last 100 years) can reflect different character backgrounds, ages, and characters.  Does Madison go by Maddy, Mads, or her full name?  Is Evelyn an Eve, a Lynn, or an Evvie?

Here are some quick ways to snag names that will help with your worldbuilding:

  • Look up cemetery records for your settings.  I love Interment.net.
  • Work out the year the character was born and look up popular baby names that year.  I like the Social Security’s website, which can sort by decade, state, and more. 
  • If you have a character in a historical or secondary world (an alien, elf, etc.), try looking up character name generators.  One of my favorites is the Dickens Character Generator.  Today’s name: Virgilius Bummitch. I also like the Fantasy Name Generator site, which covers far more than just fantasy names. 

2. Research interior locations

No character is ever in just a “house,” “office,” “school,” or “hallway.”  The walls aren’t uniformly white, and there isn’t always a picket fence in the front yard.  Do a quick image search and find two things you expect to see, and one you didn’t, or one that really struck you. 

Some good location tips:

  • Real estate websites.  I like Zillow, because it lets me sort by location, price, house size, year built, and other details. Could my character afford it?
  • Image searches.  The trick here is to include words like “interior” and add a location name.  A search for “hospital” will get you a lot of bland white rooms with people in scrubs.  If you see a lot of similar, non-specific results, then you’re probably getting stock photos and not pictures of actual places.  

3.  Get a feel for the area with Street View

No two areas are exactly alike.  If your characters tend to end up in “Everytown, USA,” then it’s time to narrow your focus. It’s perfectly okay to pick locations you’re familiar with, even if you change the names to protect people’s privacy.  Please change the names of businesses!

Zoom out to the country you want to use, then start clicking until you zoom in on a town that’s about the right size for your story.  Use Google Street View by dropping the little yellow person icon on a street.  Congratulations! You now have a location.  Some things to look for:

  • Is the area more urban or rural?
  • What kind of climate does the plant life (or lack thereof) imply?
  • What else is nearby? If your character needs certain resources (like a grocery store), are they close?

Describing an area with two elements you expected and one element you didn’t is almost always a good idea.

4. Unimportant characters still deserve their own faces.

Probably you’ve picked out the identities of your main characters before you start writing. But what about everyone else?

  • Do an image search for the person’s location and job title, then pick the first face that “grabs” you. 
  • Search Wikipedia for “[location name] demographics.” Pull up a random number generator like Number Generator for the numbers 1-100, and start playing the odds to determine the character’s gender, race, age, relationship status, and more.

My advice is not to give more than three distinct elements to a background character, or to use the same three elements every time. 

5. YouTube = sounds and movement.

What does your character sound like?  Take a moment to search YouTube for “[location name] accent,” “accent challenge,” or “accent tag.”

Most of the time when writing an accent, you want to focus on word choice and rhythm—not using apostrophes or misspellings to indicate sounds. You may notice that people slip deeper into an accent when they’re around people with the same accent, or try to use a more “neutral” accent if they want to sound smart!

What does the setting feel like?  Look on YouTube for your location name to see if you can find YouTubers in local settings, not talking but just recording what’s going on around them. 

Often you can search for “[location name] driving” and get a video of people driving through different neighborhoods.  Another good search is “[location name] wilderness.” Videos without music are best. Another good search term is “tour of [location name].”

And yes, you can do this for non-real locations.  NASA has the first video that pops up for “tour of spaceship.” It’s pretty cool. And often the game Assassin’s Creed has amazingly detailed locations with a lot of historical accuracy, which players will record and post on YouTube for you.

These are simple, no-brainer tips; often when we’re writing, it’s just a matter of remembering to use them.  Every place outside of a Twilight Zone episode is a real place—or at least real to itself—and it’s filled with people with distinct identities, accents, and attitudes. 

If you leave your settings on “default” or “who cares, it’s not important to the plot” all the time, you’re missing a major chance to make the reader feel like you’ve built them a real world to play around in—whether it’s in space, the past, a fictional location, or a fantasy one.


DeAnna Knippling

DeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Sweet Success for DeAnna Knippling

Congratulations to DeAnna Knippling on the release of her new book, Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Knight of Shattered Dreams from Wonderland Press on May 28, 2019 (ASIN: B07SFYQS45, 192 pages, for older teens and up). This finishes the story from book 1, Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts.  

Alice's Adventures in Underland: The Knight of Shattered Dreams by [Knippling, DeAnna]

One thing was certain, that the zombies had everything to do with it…

Almost nine years have passed since that golden afternoon when gentleman zombie Charles Dodgson told Alice Liddell and her two sisters the story of Alice’s Adventures in Underland, the story of how Alice goes to the land of the zombies and what she finds there–and how she escapes.

The real Alice is no longer a little girl, but a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, troubled by the restricted life ahead of her as an upper-class woman in Victorian Britain.  Soon she will have to look for a husband…whom she hopes to find in a younger son of Queen Victoria, her old friend and playmate, Prince Leopold.

Queen Victoria has other ideas.

Then another, more virulent outbreak of the zombie virus spreads across Britain, leaving nowhere untouched…with Alice’s only hope being, once again, Mr. Dodgson and one of his wonderful stories, this time on the other side of a looking glass…

DeAnna Knippling

DeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America.  Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com

Book Appraisals: Picking Comps – Part 2

Note: This is Part 2 of a two part series. See yesterday’s post for Part 1. We pick up where we left off yesterday….

Your First Comp

To find your first comp book, first find out what you’re selling (genre and subgenre), then look at the bestseller list for that genre.  Don’t pick anything that hasn’t been released yet.  Click on a book, then note the name of the publisher and whether they’re traditional, small press, or indie; the publication date; the number of reviews; and the sales rank.

Finding your first comp is the hardest. Make sure it is the best.
  • If you’re not sure whether the publisher is traditional, small press, or indie, copy the publisher name and search for them in Google.
  • Look for a publication date of 2-3 years at most.  If you’re not sure whether the date is the original publication date or just the date the book was uploaded to Amazon (or whatever site you’re using), look up the same book on Goodreads, which should list the original publication date (“first published XXXX”).
  • The number of reviews should be at least a dozen, although more is better.
  • Indies can select books of any bestselling rank; I would say that for people doing traditional or small press, don’t go above the 2,000 ranking on Amazon.com (the US site)—some agents and editors get a bajillion queries for “the next Harry Potter” and may be turned off by that, where “the next Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris” might be perfect.
  • I would not pick anything under a 50,000 ranking on Amazon.com for a comp.
  • I would not pick any book that is clearly on sale; the sales rank will be temporarily skewed.
  • If you’re struggling, pick a bestselling book that is somewhat close to your own and look at the “also boughts” or “sponsored products” that are related to that book.  Anything that Amazon thinks will sell because you came to the Harry Potter sales page may be a good comp for a book like Harry Potter.  Looking at Goodreads lists with that bestselling book in them can be helpful as well.
  • I would not pick anything related to a media franchise.  The marketing will be skewed toward the movie, TV show, or video game; likewise, the sales rankings will be artificially lifted by fans of the other media checking out the book. 

Subgenres

Some subgenres, especially down in nonfiction book rankings, can have lower sales ranks in general.  If your subgenre’s sales ranks don’t match the numbers I gave, I would say that, roughly, don’t pick anything in the top 10 or under the top 50, if possible.

Finding your first comp is the hardest!  After that, you can leapfrog to other comp books by searching for books like your first comp.  Make sure your first comp is as good as you can get it!

Example Comps

In our domestic suspense example, I skimmed through the bestseller list and checked the following books:

  • Room by Emma Donoghue is a traditionally published book.  The publisher is Back Bay Books, which I googled and found was part of the Hachette Book Group (a large traditional publisher).  It has a movie out, and it is more than 3 years old.  The rank is in the 8500s (which is fine).  5000+ reviews.  Not on sale.  Cannot use due to movie and age.
  • Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney is a traditionally published book.  The publisher is Flatiron Books, which I googled and found was part of Macmillan Publishers (a large traditional publisher).  A TV series is in production (which makes it multimedia).  It was published in 2018.  The rank is in the 9500s.  722 reviews.  Not on sale.  Cannot use due to TV series.
  • It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell is a traditionally published book, published by a subdivision of Macmillan.  I can’t find any related multimedia. It was originally published in 2017.  The rank is in the 10,000s.  527 reviews.  Not on sale.  We can use this!

Also Bought

Scrolling down to the “also bought” section of the It’s Always the Husband page, I can see several other titles that might work.  With some effort, I picked out:

  • White Lies by Lucy Dawson. (Small press, no multimedia, 14,000s sales rank, not on sale, 253 reviews, published 2018.)
  • The Ex-Wife by Jess Rider. (Small press, no multimedia, 31,000s sales rank, not on sale, 380 reviews, published 2018).
  • Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown. (Trad press, movie options sold but no movie in the works [this is okay for our purposes], 22,000s sales rank, not on sale, 402 reviews, published 2017.)
  • The Liar’s Wife by Samantha Hayes.  (Small press, no multimedia, 9000s sales rank, not on sale, 125 reviews, published 2018.)

Some notes:  The sales ranking between print and ebook will vary.  If you’re aiming for traditional publishing, look for print sales ranks; if you’re aiming for indie, go with ebook.  But, really, if a book hits a decent ranking on either print or ebook, it’s probably fine.

Some websites, Amazon especially, tries to make everything look like it’s on sale when it’s not.  If it’s $3.99 US or over on the ebook, just assume it’s not on sale—although traditional publishers’ ebooks will usually be $9.99 to $12.99 US. 

We now have our five comps!

What to Do with Your Comps

Now that you have comps, you have a wealth of options:

  • Pick out similarities between titles to use when titling your book.
  • Pick out similarities between covers and use them for your book cover, especially when sending instructions to a cover artist/designer.
  • Study their book descriptions for hints and tricks.  (But, beware: book descriptions are often terrible, even on successful books.  Consult The Copywriter’s Handbook for copywriting tips.)
  • See what categories the books are in and use for additional sales categories for your book.
  • Use alternate categories as keywords.
  • Use comps to find ad keywords.
  • Look up the authors online and see how they are marketing themselves via their websites, newsletters, and social media accounts. (Again, caution; sometimes authors are terrible at this.)
  • Find out (on Goodreads, for example) who is reading those books so you can start working out your audience.

And more.

Comps in a Query

In a query letter, you may want to only mention the top one or two comps that you’ve chosen; however, if you are including a book marketing plan for your book (which is beyond the scope of this article), you can include all of your comps as data points.

Marketing is a separate skill from writing an actual book, but it can still play into your writing.  Understanding your audience is never a bad thing. 

But let me stress that you don’t need to start with your marketing before you start writing.  It is perfectly okay to write that one weird book that doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere.  You will find comps.  They won’t be perfect, but they’ll help you get away with writing what you really want to write.

On the other hand, if you’re stuck for ideas, starting with a book you enjoyed is not a bad way to start brainstorming…


DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Book Appraisals: Picking Comps – Part 1

Most of us, as writers, are not that skilled at the beginning-to-end process of selling things.  We aren’t trained marketers or promoters; most of us haven’t gone door-to-door selling encyclopedias (although some of us have sold Girl Scout Cookies and other items, back in the day). 

Getting your marketing in place before you start selling your books means you can promote very quickly.

Selling things isn’t just banging on someone’s door with a fundraising form for a band trip.  Someone has to figure out what to sell, who they’re selling it to, and what that thing will do for the customer, then translate that into packaging, ads, marketing text, and even the forms the customer fills out to make their orders.

Books are no different, either for traditionally published or indie authors.  Roughly speaking, here’s the process:

  • You decide to be an author.
  • You write books.
  • You sell, or help sell, those books.
Let’s say you’ve completed a book. 
What next?

You need to figure out what story you’re selling, who you’re selling it to, what that story will do for the reader, and translate all that into covers, ads, book descriptions, newsletters, and so on.

If you are an indie writer, this process is essential; no marketing means no sales! 

If you are a traditionally published writer, this process seems like it’s not your problem, but it really is—you will be expected to help sell your book, once it’s published.  Even before it’s published, you will need to understand what you’re selling in order to write a query letter and synopsis. 

Why are query letters and synopses so hard? 

Because they involved understanding how to market your book.

In other words, whether you’re an indie or are traditionally published, understanding marketing will help you sell books.

Marketing vs. Promotion

Marketing is the invisible process of getting your book ready to sell.  Once your book goes on sale, the efforts that you put toward selling your book are no longer marketing, but promotion.  Marketing = finding your market.  Promotion = making people within that market aware of your book.

Getting your marketing in place before you start selling your books means you can promote very quickly.  You will be able to respond quickly to opportunities as they arise.  Marketing is like having your house in good repair and staged and ready to show for possible buyers, and listed for sale.

Promotion is showing your house, or holding an open house.  That open house may look like what sells your house—but without the hours of repair work, cleaning, and staging, your house isn’t as likely to sell as quickly or for as much, if at all.

First the marketing.  Then the promoting.

(Unless you discover from your promoting that your marketing is flawed.  Then you can switch back to marketing mode.)

Where to Start with Marketing

You’ve decided to do some marketing. 

Now what?

Some people start with the marketing research.  Other people write the book first and then do the marketing research.  I recommend the latter; markets change in popularity but passion gives a project legs (in other words, the ability to build an audience over time).

But, in either case, the first step remains the same:  find out what you’re selling.

How do you find out what you’re selling?

The same way a real estate appraiser finds out the value of a house: they find multiple comps, or comparable examples of houses in your neighborhood that have been sold recently.

To sell a house, find several other houses nearby that sold well.  To sell a book, find more books.

Your story has a genre.  That is the “city” that your story lives in.  Your story has a subgenre.  That is the “neighborhood” that your story lives in.  Your genre and subgenre are where you should start to look.

Finding Your Story’s Neighborhood

Let’s say that your story is a domestic suspense novel.  Your “city” is mystery/crime/suspense; your “neighborhood” is domestic suspense.

As an example, let’s look on the Amazon bestseller lists and find their term for a domestic suspense novel.  (It might not be the same term across distributors, and you might have multiple options.)

Let’s start out with the Amazon Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense list. 

The subcategories (on the left side) are:  Mystery; Thrillers & Suspense; and Writing.  Our domestic suspense example probably “lives” in Thrillers & Suspense rather than Mystery or Writing, so let’s go there.

If we look down the list of subcategories under Thrillers & Suspense, we find one called Domestic.  Let’s click that.  We are now in a good “neighborhood” for a domestic suspense story.

A note for indie publishers:  make sure you’re looking through the Kindle/ebook lists, rather than print (print often has separate lists).  Print skews toward traditional and small-press publishers, and may not give you a full range of good comps.

Finding Your Story’s Comp Books

What makes a good comp book?

This will be affected by whether you’re selling an indie book or are putting together a query letter for a traditionally published project.  Indie books should draw from a mix of indie, small press, and traditional sources; traditionally published projects should go for just traditional sources.  Small press books should lean toward a mix of small-press books and traditionally published books.

In general:

  • Comp books should have been published within the last 2-3 years.
  • Comp books should at least be in the same subgenre.  If they have the same type of plot or setting, even better!
  • Comp books must have the same overall audience:  children’s, middle-grade, YA, adult, etc.  Don’t use a YA domestic suspense title as a comp for an adult domestic suspense book!
  • Comp books should have a reasonable amount of success, but not be flops or bestsellers for traditional and small-press publishers.  Indie publishers can go after the bestsellers as comps, if they like. Agents and editors are often annoyed by a comparison to a really famous book.

A note: don’t worry about name recognition on your comps.  Book pitches should feature books that people recognize easily; comps should be books that sell reasonably well (name recognition not necessary).

Part 2 posts tomorrow.

DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Letter from the Editor – March & April

Dear Readers,

My letter to you this month is coming a few days late. Sorry, but I have a really good reason. Writing from the Peak is jam packed with such an amazing batch of posts that I am having a few problems getting them all scheduled. It is so packed that I am going to skip my letter in April.

KICKING OFF MARCH

We kick off these two months with a two part series from DeAnna Knippling who will guide you through Book Appraisals: Picking Comps. Margena Holmes introduces us to a non-PPW event, Camp NaNo, which takes place during the month of April. Jason Diaz, faculty member for PPWC2019, also has a two part series post on Why diversify our characters? Don’t miss this one.

INTO APRIL

As we go into April, award winning author and keynote speaker Susan Wiggs shares her writing process in Stuff you need to Know about Writing. Next up is Rebecca Davis, a long time attendee of PPWC, who has her top 5 lists of the Peevie Jeevies of editors and agents.

Mid-month, New York Times best selling author John Gilstrap will get you up to speed on Networking at Conference. Be ready to shake some hands and pass around business cards at PPWC2019.

Wrapping up April, Gabrielle Brown will give you the scoop on What to Expect at Conference followed by Margena Holmes who is in the know about Marketing on a Budget.

Never fear…your favorites are still here. Lit-Quotes will celebrate a few birthday anniversaries, and the wrap up from Writers Night will stop by in March and April.

Whew!! That’s a lot! Be sure to BOOKMARK this blog so you don’t miss anything. Come back often to keep up with all the news from Writing from the Peak.

See You at Conference! ~Kathie~

CONFERENCE!

What’s in store for early May? CONFERENCE!!

The Prequel is May 2nd and PPWC2019 gets in full swing on May 3rd. Take a look at the workshops that are scheduled and the Who’s Who of PPWC2019. Hope to see you there!!

REGISTER TODAY!

EARLY REGISTRATION CLOSES APRIL 7TH

Regular registration runs April 8 – April 28


KJ Scrim, Profile ImageManaging Editor, Kathie “KJ” Scrim, is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Colorado walking, hiking, or rock climbing at the local gym.

Red Herrings

The topic of red herrings is a big one.  There are a million ways to distract or mislead a reader.

But…

There’s really only one strategy to building a red herring: figure out the reader’s expectations and feed them information relating to that expectation, then sent the plot careening off in another direction.

Reader Expectations

The story you didn't write has to be as interesting as the one you actually wrote.

The real trick is discovering what readers expect.  Part of the reason that it’s so important to keep up with your reading (and watching TV/film, and playing video games…) is that expectations change.  The expectations of someone who watches forensics shows on TV are going to be different than those of a longtime Agatha Christie reader.

But once you’re in front of a blank page, how can you work red herrings into your story? (And do you have to plot it all out ahead of time in order to pull it off?)

Your main weapon, whether you plot as you go or plot ahead of time, is going to be something called Wilhelm’s Law, after science fiction and mystery author Kate Wilhelm:

Throw away your first three ideas.

Now, using Wilhelm’s Law while writing fiction is a good idea in most cases anyway; instead of writing predictable stories, you’ll usually end up with a story that reflects you personally as a writer.  But a side effect of taking in a lot of stories is that those first three ideas will pop out as being what most readers would expect.

Let’s say you’re writing a murder mystery and we want to test Wilhelm’s Law.  Who done it?

  • The butler.
  • The significant other.
  • Whoever profits by the crime.

Those first three ideas are something that anyone could come up with, right?

Those first three ideas might make really good red herrings.

Let’s say that the real killer was someone recently humiliated by the victim and “accidentally” didn’t save the victim when the victim fell into a lake while tangled in a rope.  Oops, can’t swim! 

Your job, as a writer, might be to make sure that your story has a butler character who might have done it, a significant other who might have done it, and a scuzzy niece who just happened to have been seen near the scene of the crime (and who is now blackmailing the real “killer” and will get murdered in the last 50 pages of the novel).

You can do this on the fly, editing to make sure that your red herrings actually fit the bill, or you can plan it out ahead of time: whatever suits.

However, you must keep up with your intake of stories!  Otherwise, you may not know that the red herrings and plot twist that you just planned out have already been discovered by other writers and done to death! 

Fool Me Once, Fool Me Twice…

There are two ways to deceive the reader using Wilhelm’s Law.  One depends on deceiving the characters within the story, which means the reader will also be deceived (as in our example above). 

The other depends on deceiving the reader without necessarily deceiving the characters.

In the first type of red herring, the POV character might think the killer is one person, but it’s really another.  Characters might lie, leave out details, or shade the truth. The bad guy might not be the real bad guy, but someone else’s puppet.  You can set up red herrings within the plot in lots of ways. 

In the second type of red herring, the way the book itself is written is what deceives the readers.  One example is the misleading title.  One of my favorite books is called John Dies at the End.  Hint:  John does not die at the end!

You might also:

  • Start a story with a prologue featuring events that happen toward the end of the book, but do not happen in the way the reader might expect.
  • Start a story with a POV character who gets killed off right away, or in the middle of the book (George R.R. Martin does both in A Game of Thrones).
  • Set up a cliché, then overturn it (the bumbling housewife in The Long Kiss Goodnight is set up to be rescued by the world-savvy spy Samuel L. Jackson, which is not the case).
  • End a scene by hinting at some event, and starting the next scene with something that seems like that event but isn’t (The Princess Bride, when Buttercup has her nightmare of having already married Humperdink).

Each instance of deception is crafted in the same way: identify what the reader expects, give them a hint to confirm their expectations, and let them deceive themselves.  (Letting readers do most of the work to fool themselves is usually a pretty good strategy.)  But instead of using Wilhelm’s Law on the plot itself, you’re using it on the story structure and other elements.

As an example, let’s say you’re writing a domestic suspense novel.  Readers expect the titles of that kind of novel (Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, The Wife Between Us, Lie to Me,etc.) should:

  • Have a pronoun in the title.
  • Have “girl,” “woman,” or “wife” in the title.
  • Have a one-syllable negative word, like “Lie” “Die” “Sharp” or “Last.”

Those are reader expectations.  If you wanted to play on those expectations, you might name your book “My Daughter’s Last Lie” and imply that she’s dead and the mom is searching for her killer, but instead have the daughter on the run because she told the truth about her (KGB sleeper agent) mother.

Often, what works best is using both techniques at the same time.  There’s a lie within the plot, and you use elements of the story itself to reinforce the expectations related to that lie.              

Warning:  Beginning writers often write stories where the narrator withholds information from readers in a disappointing, cheesy, ill-considered manner.  This is not a proper red herring technique! 

Oh, so the evil invaders from outer space were really humans all along, were they?  Yawn.

Oh, so the first-person narrator dies at the end?  Never seen that before!  Yawn.

But being forewarned is forearmed, because now you know that plot twists and red herrings don’t come from completely reversing reader expectations, but knowing them so well that you can one-up them.

A good rule of thumb for red herring success: 

The story that you didn’t write has to be as interesting as the one you actually wrote.

I know, it sounds weird.  But think of any story with a letdown plot twist.  Personally, I hate the movie Bridge to Terabithia.*  It starts out as a pair of kids imagining a cool fantasy world.  Then (spoiler alert) it turns into a book about death.  The red herring story is much more interesting than the story about coping with death.  The red herring needs to be as interesting as the actual story, too.  You’re not fooling anyone with a stereotyped butler character! 

The thing about red herrings is that they play with reader expectations—but you can’t just overturn reader expectations with a sneer.  Readers need to know that you respect the stories that they love and not just being mean.  What readers love is when you surprise them—not when you show them contempt.

*It feels like the story punishes people who like fantasy over realism in their fiction.  Pooh, I say. 


DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Letter from the Editor

Dear Readers,

With all the new developments here at Pikes Peak Writers I’m not sure if I can contain my excitement. PPW started as a writing conference and has grown to so much more. They continue to spread their wings and soar to new heights. Read on for more.

It’s a NEWSLETTER!

Did you receive the first PPW Newsletter? What a fantastic job Kim Olgren did to bring this to fruition. If you missed the debut issue go to the membership page to join PPW. It’s FREE, and so is the newsletter.

Can you say, ANTHOLOGY?

I am excited to announce another addition to the Pikes Peak Writers toolbox. Can you say, ANTHOLOGY? The planning is still in the early stages, but PPW is publishing an anthology! The editorial team is being assembled along with the theme and publication details. Watch the website, social media, and this blog for information to come.

This Month in Writing from the Peak

To kick off PPW’s anthology announcement, Jamie Ferguson has written two posts on writing for an anthology. If you are interested in submitting to PPW’s, or if you have your eye on one of the many wonderful publications out there, you need to read both articles. DeAnna Knippling throws a Red Herring your way, and Leilah Wright has Advice for the Beginning Writer. Get A K.I.S.S. of Comedy from Rebekka R.J. Rowley then wrap it with inspiration found in Gabrielle Brown’s bi-monthly Lit-Quotes.

#PPWC2019

It will be another amazing year at conference. Will you be there? This a great place to meet new people (It Takes a Tribe!), and the workshops will be phenomenal. Registration is open. Don’t miss this fantastic conference. You’ll find all the details here. Find your Tribe at #PPWC2019!

Spread Your Wings!

How are you spreading your wings this month? Are you starting a new project, or pruning the feathers on your WIP? Whatever you are working on, do it with purpose. Write with conviction. Make every word soar on the wind. Be the best you can be. WRITE!


KJ Scrim, Profile ImageManaging Editor, Kathie “KJ” Scrim, is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Colorado walking, hiking, or rock climbing at the local gym.

Silencing Your Inner Critic

Every writer seems to want to shut up the little voice that says, “That thing you’re writing? It’s no good.” Just like we want the magic secret to writing a good story, we want to know the secret switch that turns off every negative thing we ever think about our work.

Like a lot of things in writing, the solution is pretty simple…but not easy.

First, let’s define what’s not a problem. If your inner critic doesn’t keep you from writing what you want to write, it’s not a problem.
Louder, for those in the back: Your inner critic isn’t the problem. Not writing is the problem.

Your inner critic is still part of you, a part that sounds like the parent who never believed in you or the English teacher who hated your writing. That awful voice that’s tearing your work to pieces…

…it’s just you.

To be a good writer, you have to pour yourself into your writing, including the parts you don’t like. Where does a good villain come from? Do happy-go-lucky people write good dark nights of the soul?

A good long-term strategy for writing books embraces your inner critic. You can push yourself through a few books while ignoring that voice. (People push through a lot of things.) But you can’t push yourself through a career.

So how do you get your inner critic to work with you, rather than against you?

Thinking FictionGive your inner critic permission to be heard.

You can’t think your way through fiction. Thinking is part of writing fiction, true, but it isn’t the essence.

Fiction is a simulation, either of this world or of a world of your own creation. You establish the world, characters, and initial problem, and set some guidelines on how the story works.

You know what else is like that? A game.

You can’t play a game by deciding that you already won…and how. We say, “And in the end, this happens and that happens and this is how the reader will feel, and now I will write my book.”

But you have to play the game by playing it: set up the board, the rules, and all the pieces, and…see who wins.

Some writers play that part of the game by outlining first, then writing; others write first, then step back and make sure they didn’t cheat too badly. You can nudge the board a little, but not too much—readers notice.

Set up your story and then trust yourself to work it out. It won’t be easy. But it’s a lot easier than saying, “Everything I write is stupid.”
Different people will find different techniques. It won’t always feel safe—your best techniques might feel almost physically uncomfortable.
But they’ll be the ones that put the words on the page.

Studying Fiction

You can’t both improve as a writer and already be so good that you never need to improve.

Part of your inner critic is right: You’re not as good as you want to be.

But, like all criticism on writing, take it with a grain of salt: your inner critic may not know what is actually wrong. Like a bad critique group, it can start jumping to conclusions.

MORE COMMAS! FEWER COMMAS! WOODEN DIALOG! TOO MUCH EXPOSITION! TOO LITTLE!!!

The rules of fiction don’t matter, if they don’t work for you. What you need to learn is what works for you. And your inner critic can actually help with that.

Study other writers’ works. Chew their gristle in your teeth. Your inner critic may say, “I love that!” and start stealing techniques. It may also say, “I hate that!” and come up with creative ways to avoid whatever “that” is. And if you let your inner critic tear up other writers’ works, it won’t spend so much time on yours.

Don’t just read books about writing, though: the chewing has already been done for you.

Feeling Fiction

At some point, life gets to be too much and you can’t get the words done. It happens. Let’s talk about the gray area where you might or might not get words done, and how to get more words done.

You can do that by allowing your deepest feelings move into your fiction.

In some of us, this will result in darker fiction; in others, paradoxically, it will result in lighter fiction. It varies from story to story. When we open the door between fiction and reality, the results can be unpredictable.

These are the stories that allow us as writers to move forward with our lives, to grieve, to heal, to apologize, to regret, to celebrate, to embrace. Stories are how humans make life make sense. Writing a story can be how you make sense of right here, right now.

But how?

Stop and listen to your inner critic.

“This is stupid” might mean “I can’t pretend anymore that I’m not hurting.”

“I don’t know what to write next” might mean “I don’t know what to do next, either.”

“My character doesn’t want to do what the outline says” might mean “I can’t make myself fit into my own plans either.”

And then respond to how you really feel in your characters’ actions. Just acknowledging what you’re trying to tell yourself can open a magical door that makes everything you write richer.

It comes down to…

What this all comes down to is giving your inner critic permission to be heard. You don’t have to listen uncritically. But please do listen. Your inner critic isn’t there to hurt you, but to warn you that you’re not on the right path. It may not always be accurate, especially if you’ve been ignoring it or if you haven’t done a lot of studying. Your inner critic might be too mad to be fair…and it might be too ignorant to be right.

It can take a while to lower the alarm levels on your inner critic to useful levels. But once you do, your writing will probably feel less like work you have to push through, and more like the enjoyable—and exciting!—game that it really is.

 


DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Sweet Success for DeAnna Knippling

Congratulations to DeAnna Knippling and the release of the multi-authored Dawn of the Monsters. Other featured authors are: Dean Wesley Smith, Ron Collins, P. D. Cacek, Mark Leslie, Steve Vernon , Annie Reed, Sèphera Girón, Rebecca M. Senese, Marcelle Dubé, and Jamie Ferguson.

DeAnna Knippling, Dawn of MonstersThis volume, DAWN OF THE MONSTERS, features trolls, goblins, creeps, mad scientists, vampires, aliens, Frankenstein, a very nasty ex-girlfriend, a mysterious egg, a bargain you can’t refuse, something dark and mysterious that lives underground, and a disgusting, evil beast straight out of the swamp!

We can’t promise that these tales won’t make you think…but they’ll grab you by your sense of adventure and take you for a ride!

DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

 


Do you have a Sweet Success you would like to share? Click here to get started, or send an email to: SweetSuccess@pikespeakwriters.com

Sweet Success is coordinated by Managing Editor, Kathie “KJ” Scrim.