Sunday, October 25, 2015

Your Novel Doesn't Sell? You Can Change That. (Part Two)

This is the second batch of ideas for things you can do to change your book into one that sells...

B) Move Life-Or-Death trouble to the first paragraph, or, better yet, the first sentence of your book. Life-or-death being defined as the life or death of all that the character really cares about. If you are writing in most genres, life or death is literal life or death. If you are writing a caper or romance or romantic comedy, life or death is the loss or likely loss of all that your protagonist cares about (i.e., the one true love they desire).

You might say, "But my favorite books in my genre don't do this." That's true for most "favorite books" in most genres. Favorite books are by known authors whose readers believe they will get a good story even if it starts slowly. But new novelists don't have the luxury of starting a book slowly. With the explosion of self publishing, there are approximately one million new novelists each year. Let's say a reader actively pursues discovering a good new novelist each week, reads their books, and post reviews of each of them. That's 50 books out of a million new titles available each year. That means your reader who is exclusively buying new work by new writers like you ends up discovering just half of one percent of one percent of the available books by new authors. What are the chances that your book will be in that group? (0.00005 times 1,000,000 books)

And how many readers out there ignore the deluge of new books by their favorite authors to exclusively search out new authors like you? Almost none. And if, against those odds, you somehow succeed with this imagined reader who doesn't need excitement at the beginning of the book, how many of your books will other readers like her buy? Will you be able to build a career out of those few readers slowly spreading the word?

If you are an unknown author who wants to get a reader to stop reading their favorite famous authors and try yours instead, you need to grab them. You need to get their blood going immediately. If readers don't know your work, they don't know if they can count on you to tell a good story. So you have to prove it by making the first few sentences of your novel gripping/thrilling/exciting.

Stay tuned for Part Three...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Your Novel Doesn't Sell? You Can Change That. (Part One Of Eight)

There are countless writers who have a novel out that hasn't sold. At each of my events, I get lots of questions about this. I've noticed that the questions these authors ask me can be summarized as follows: "I've written and published a novel, but I haven't gotten any traction with it. Advice?"

If you are one of those writers whose book hasn't found an audience, read on. If you are not, you should probably skip this post as you will find it boring.

Before I write this post, I want to stress that I don't have the one true vision. I don't think my knowledge about writing is especially significant. I have no pretensions about being a great writer. And, at 355,000 books (both paper books and ebooks) in circulation, I'm nowhere near as successful as the big names in the business. But I've learned enough about writing entertainment fiction that many authors at an earlier point on the career arc ask me questions. I am making a good living telling stories, so perhaps my perspective is useful. In light of all the questions I get, I realize that I would have liked this kind of information when I was new at this business. So I'm going to write this as if I'm talking to the former me, when I was beginning to write my Tahoe mysteries 20 years ago. Even so, the hubris of giving advice makes me uncomfortable. It may well be that you shouldn't pay any attention to what I think...

Okay, here goes the first of an eight-part series.

If your novel hasn't sold, you can do one of three things.

One, you can decide that you don't care because who needs an audience, anyway? You did it for the satisfaction of seeing if you could do it. If so, congrats, you've succeeded at achieving your goal. (That may sound like I'm being sarcastic, but I'm actually speaking earnestly. Writing a novel is a big achievement in and of itself, and you can sleep with a smile on your face just knowing you completed something significant, something that only the tiniest percentage of people ever accomplish.)

Two, you can decide that you didn't win the author lottery, and that life isn't fair, and that you're not charismatic or beautiful or young enough to be TV talk show material, and you can blame your publisher and/or your agent and/or reviewers who can't recognize genius when it calls out from the page. (Okay, there's some sarcastic snark.)

Three (back to earnestness), you can change the situation and start over, either redoing your current book or starting a new one that fits the recommendations I'll outline in this series. (But please note that if you do all of the following, it won't guarantee your success. However, it will go a very long way in the right direction. After that, your success will get down to how hard you try, how badly you want it. If, instead, you think you are the exception who doesn't need to heed all of the following, then I will submit that whichever of the steps in this series that you didn't do is a part of the reason you haven't found the audience you seek.)

Here's the first step in re-shaping your novel and its presentation to the world with the goal of finding readers.

A) Get multiple critiques of your book from other writers in your genre, writers who are not your friends or relatives. Then consider carefully all of their comments as you rewrite. You might say, "Yeah, but I really know this genre because I read voraciously, and, besides, I asked my best buddy, who has a Masters in English, to be my beta reader, and he told me the honest truth about what he thought."

First, you might be a voracious and super intelligent reader, but that won't help you solve the problems in your novel. And your Best Bud Beta Readers won't tell you the truth. Worse, they'll bring an agenda - pro or con or something else - to their critique. Simply knowing you renders them incapable of telling you what they really think. Join a critique group/writer's group made up of people you don't know and trade critique. "I'll critique yours if you critique mine." Then do it multiple times. If you can't find a critique group in your town, join an online one.

You might say, "I got it critiqued once, and it was good, and I'm sure that is enough to make my book sufficiently better." I believe that one critique is not enough. (My books certainly need more than one critique.) As with the following points, if your book isn't selling, maybe that alone is indication that you didn't get enough critique.

Nothing about this business works unless you have a good novel, a gripping story, a flawed sympathetic hero, a rising plot curve that can't be ignored, fascinating side characters, impeccable prose mechanics, and all the other aspects of a good book. Multiple critiques are the way to get there.

Stay tuned for Part Two...

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Starting A New Novel? Fun, But...

In my previous post, I wrote about completing one's first novel. The whole Done Is Better Than Perfect mantra. You might think that those issues I wrote about don't apply to me because, for better or worse, I've published 13 novels and completed 4 more that remain in a drawer.

But the truth is that it does apply to me. Not so much on my Tahoe Mystery series, in which I've found a kind of groove. But it applies to a non-Tahoe thriller I've been writing but haven't made much progress on (i.e., a completed first draft). Although I've been working on this new novel for some time, I haven't settled even the most basic questions. Will it be part of a trilogy? Or will the eventual result be two or three related stand-alones? Or - the ideal goal - another series?

You see, Done Beats Perfect applies to every kind of project you can think of, including writing in a new direction. In a sense, it restates the Nike phrase, "Just Do It."

I've got a good concept for this second writing gig. I've got a hundred-some pages of the first book done. I've got a character I'm pretty sure will fly. I've sketched out a plot that appears to have lots of possibilities.

But many times, when I think about working on it, I just, you know, think. Sit and think. Walk and think. Drive and think. Often, I don't open up the laptop and start writing a scene. Why? Because I'm not sure I'm heading the right direction. I'm not sure that my character has proper motivation. I'm not confident I've figured out the foreshadowing necessary for the critical plot revelations. I can't seem to fix this problem I found with the villain's character. I'm not certain the reader will suspend his or her disbelief.

Oh, wait. I'm doing that thing again that I wrote about two weeks ago. Dragging my feet over desires of perfection before I even finish the first draft. I need to remind myself that Done Beats Perfection.

Get the first draft done, Todd.

When I begin a new Owen-and-Spot adventure, I always have problems of structure, character, motivation. Scene settings, timing, staging. Sometimes the problems seem to never end. But I go ahead and write that first draft anyway. Once I have that to work from, I can start fixing the big problems in my first rewrite. The slightly smaller problems may have to wait until my second rewrite. Details and continuity and prose mechanics issues can be dealt with in future rewrites. The key is to get the first draft done.

Check back in five years or so to see if I followed my own advice.

Done Beats Perfect.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Best Hikes In Tahoe - Hawley Grade - South Shore

Category - Moderate
View Rating - 6 out of 10
Distance - 3.8 miles round trip
Elevation Gain - 900 feet
Highest Point - 7400 feet
Special note: This trail crosses a waterfall, so it is often impassible in the spring and early summer. The trail is best hiked in late summer or fall.

Hawley Grade is a relatively easy hike that combines some nice views with great history of miners as well as the Pony Express crossing the Sierra.

When the Gold Rush began in 1849, thousands of would-be miners headed west across the country with dreams of striking gold. Their goal was Hangtown, the center of the Gold Rush area and what is now known as Placerville. The problem was getting over the Sierra. The best route to Hangtown had been to go from the south end of Carson Valley in Western Nevada, up the canyon past what is now known as Woodfords and up into Hope Valley at 7000 feet. From there, they followed a difficult route up and over Carson Pass at 8600 feet before heading down to the foothills.

Looking for alternatives, explorers wondered if they could get to Hangtown from the Tahoe Basin. They soon found two routes from Hope Valley into the Tahoe. One was Armstrong Pass, also high at 8400 feet, and Luther Pass at a mere 7800 feet. The problem was getting out of the Tahoe Basin. Echo Summit was the logical destination because it sits at a relatively low 7400 feet. Unfortunately, getting from Tahoe up to Echo Summit meant climbing steep rocky slopes with many cliffs.

Private parties financed and built Hawley Grade in 1857, and named it for Asa Hawley, owner of a nearby trading post. The trail was the first one gentle enough for horse-drawn wagons to get up and down the slope. (Although when you hike the grade, you will find it hard to imagine a wagon of any size on the trail. Any wagon would have to be small and narrow!)

For several years, Hawley Grade became the choice of travelers heading west to Hangtown and their dreams of gold. In 1860 - 1861, the short-lived Pony Express riders also used the grade before the telegraph put them out of business. After the Gold Rush waned and silver and gold were discovered in the Comstock Lode beneath Virginia City, many of those Hangtown miners reversed their earlier travel and headed east back up to Echo Summit and then down Hawley Grade on their trek to Virginia City. Several years later, Hawley Grade was itself eclipsed by the construction of Meyer's Grade, an even gentler route down from Echo Summit.

To get to the Hawley Grade trailhead, drive Highway 50 to the base of Echo Summit and turn south on South Upper Truckee Road. Drive about 3.5 miles south down a valley that locals call Christmas Valley. Look for a smallish sign on the right announcing Hawley Grade. It is at a green Forest Service gate that may be locked during the snow season, so be aware of weather if you are going late in the year. Take a pass if it is snowing. If you get to a point on South Upper Truckee Road where the road veers to the left and crosses a bridge over the Upper Truckee River, you went too far and missed the turnoff.

If the gate is unlocked, turn right off South Upper Truckee Road at this sign. If the gate should be locked, you can park off the main road and hike in. As you can see in the picture, the short road to the trailhead is numbered 1110. A short distance in is a small parking area. (See below.)

This is the beginning of the hike. A short distance in, you may hear the Upper Truckee River on your left. You can take a short detour through the trees and brush to see it.
In the spring and early summer, this is a gorgeous rushing rapids.
(But this is not the waterfall path that Hawley Grade crosses.)

Back on Hawley Grade, the path does an about face from south to north, and you begin climbing up a long gentle incline toward Echo Summit.

As you climb, you begin to get some nice views across Christmas Valley.

The trail goes by some gorgeous Incense Cedars.

This one has a Hobbit hole. A narrow, rickety, circular stairway wound down three flights, and, peeking down, we could just make out the edge of a rocking chair lit by a flickering lantern. The smell of baking biscuits mixed with a strong, crisp hoppy scent. I guess they like beer as much as we do.

Eventually, the path crosses a waterfall. Although gorgeous in the early summer, it's a heck of a lot easier to navigate when the water isn't flowing.

As we climbed higher, we got our first view of Tahoe in the distance to the north.

Although the valley drops away to the side, it doesn't feel dangerous. But as with all hikes, BE CAREFUL. There are a few places where one could slip and slide a long way.

Higher still, Tahoe gets closer. If you look close on the upper left, you can see the ledge where Highway 50 climbs around the cliff below Echo Summit. Our end destination is not far from that point.

Near the end of the trail, the path switchbacks up a steeper slope with some large steps to help you hike. You will hear the traffic of Highway 50, which is just past the upper edge of this photo. The path brings you out on one of the side roads that lead to Forest Service cabins. The view is fine, but I wouldn't walk out onto the highway as there is no shoulder to walk on and the traffic is moving fast. It is best to turn around and head back down.

Be sure and pack a picnic lunch and pick a nice spot with a view to relax. Enjoy!