The pie that is chocolate is missing a piece. The pie, which is chocolate, is missing a piece. Besides making you hungry, the two sentences have a lot in common; however, they also have some… More
Do you know the difference between a novel and a non-fiction book? A non-fiction book is based in truth. However, the biggest mistake that non-fiction authors make is equating truth with a dry recitation of facts rather than the telling of a story. Despite your history teacher’s attempts to bore you with lists of dates and tables of facts, history can (and is) actually interesting. People want to know why something happened or why someone acted or reacted as they did. They want to understand the reason for events, and that’s where your story telling ability comes in. You need to show them why; you need to give them the story surrounding the event.
All stories, both fiction and non-fiction, are just that—stories. When writing a memoir, biography, or other bit of non-fiction, you still need to follow the same guidelines as an author writing a novel; however, you have a major advantage. Your story is already loosely defined for you. You have the timeline, timeframe, characters, major conflicts, and key dramatic elements, all you need to do is add the story components.
You need to develop your characters so that your readers can see them the way you do—are they shy, dynamic, geeky, or ne’er do well? The characters need depth, life, purpose, and motivation to go along with that dramatic moment. Does the moment you’re recording have to do with star-crossed lovers, a robbery gone wrong, a heroic deed, or just a crazy moment that changed the character’s life? You also need to build up the environment. What was the time period like, the culture, and the society? Help your readers understand your character’s perspectives, actions, and reactions. (For instance, the American culture and societal mores are much different today than they were in the 1970’s and understanding that can help the reader connect with the character and their plight.)
Also, just as a fictional character has wants, needs, fears, and motivations, so do your non-fictional characters. By using a first- or third-person point of view, action verbs, and a show-not-tell writing style you can catapult your readers into the story and help them appreciate the little slice of true life that you are sharing with them.
Here’s an example of a memoir that, while historically accurate, is rather dry:
In 1973, Terry got a job for the local newspaper. She did many jobs while there, such as typesetting, layout and design, and bundling (which is the bundling of flyers, ads, and other inserts with the paper). However, her favorite job was junior reporter.
Her first really major story involved the murder of a local schoolteacher. When the body was discovered, Terry was at the school to cover the latest protests.
Here is that same example, but written in a more story-like way:
1973 was a tumultuous year. It was the time of flower power, (Viet Nam) war protests, hippies dropping out, dropping in, and dropping acid, flag and bra burnings, and it was the year that Terry saw her first murder victim.
As a junior reporter for the local paper, she was at the school covering the latest protest when the screams ripped through the air.
Now, which memoir would you rather read?
“Don’t be your own roadblock to generating more sales.” That has become my new motto.
When I published my very first ebook—a dream dictionary called “On Dreams and Dream Symbols.” I couldn’t wait for the public to see it, so I put it out using KDP Select and CreateSpace (the biggest and most recognizable distributors, at least at that time). From another independent author, I heard of a distributor called, Smashwords, so I also put my book out through them, too.
However, the formatting and submitting process via Smashwords was such a dismal experience that once I finally got the book out there, I did little to follow through. I spent my time writing, editing, and getting subsequent books ready for publication. And when those books (“Escorting the Dead,” “More From the Masters,” “The Starstone,” and “The Globe of Souls”) were ready, I went right to Amazon and their simple-to-use formats and templates.
Now, several years later, I’ve taken a break to update some of my earlier books, including the dream dictionary and I was faced with a decision: What to do with the Smashwords version of the book? I could leave it as it was, but it would be out of sync with the Amazon version. I could update it and spend hours (or days) frustrated with their formatting demands; or I could just pull it from their site. To help decide, I did some research, and what I found shocked me.
The distribution through Smashwords accounted for 83% of the sales of that single book. I knew I was getting sales from places like Barnes and Noble, Overdrive, and Apple, but I hadn’t really paid much attention. I simply accepted the checks from Smashwords and continued with my writing. At least, until now. Now, I’m paying attention.
While Amazon is a big name and readily recognized as one of the top vendors, it isn’t the only vendor…and Kindle isn’t the only venue for viewing ebooks. By limiting myself to only Amazon with my other three books, I was creating my own roadblock to potential sales. In fact, there are several other sites that are worthy of your attention as an independent author and can help your books get the attention they deserve and need.
While Amazon is the largest name out there, and they do have relatively easy-to-use templates and formats, they do have a rather limited distribution. Smashwords distributes to a more varied audience (including users of Book Nook, Google Books, Baker and Taylor, Overdrive, Open Library, and iBooks)—and, incidentally, their formatting for fiction books has vastly improved and is probably as easy to use as the KDP for Kindle formats on Amazon. Also, like Amazon, Smashwords lets you offer samples of your books, which I have always found useful.
However, there are two other sites worth mentioning: Bookbaby and Booksmango, both of which do paperback and ebooks (Smashwords only does ebooks). All three of these other distributors cover channels outside of Amazon, and each of them have good and bad points.
- Smashwords is only for ebooks, but they do have a broad range of channels and they let you create samples.
- Bookbaby is for paperbacks and ebooks, but they charge extra for you to make changes to your already published books. (So, get it right the first time.)
- Booksmango is for paperbacks and ebooks, but if creating a non-fiction book with tables, graphics, or charts, you need to turn those items into images.
I’m sure there are other sites out there, but these are the top three that I noted. Just make sure that you check out one or more of them for yourself. Don’t block your sales by limiting yourself to just Amazon. Remember my 83%, and just think how many more sales you could be making.
Mindspeak/Heartspeak by Sandy Nathan
Summary: Dr. Clarisse Hull is a brilliant theoretical physicist living in a world of schemes and hidden peril. Her revolutionary research manages to prove the existence of alternative universes, and she uses Quantum Physics to create portals in time space, which lead to other worlds. Unfortunately, she can’t present the core of her work, which is classified as Top Secret and owned by the government, just like herself. This is because Clarisse is a secret black ops agent, and has been one all of her adult life.
Clarisse’s university doesn’t believe her claims and ends up denying her tenure and firing her. However, the denizens of the alternate reality she reached do recognize her achievement, and they grab her up faster than you can say, “lead our army and take over planet Earth.”
Now Clarisse finds herself captive in an alternative universe, desperately searching for her way home from a sadistic empire across sub-molecular frontiers. She must save herself, in order to save everyone on Earth. Along the way she will encounter breathtaking adventure and hideous betrayal, but also find the love of her life.
Recommend: Yes, but with a caveat (see review below)
Review: The writing is crisp, brilliant, and…blunt. There is nothing soft, warm, or fuzzy about Ms. Nathan’s writing or her characters, and hence, my problem. The author’s writing was well-paced, clear and easy-to-read; the topic was something I always enjoy (alternate realities and time travel are my favorites, especially when the author uses current scientific theories to create a bridge from the world of here-and-now to their world of what-if). However, the problem (for me) was that I was unable to relate to any of her characters. And they are excellently developed, well-thought out, and absolutely believable characters. But therein lies the problem.
Her characters were more prone to use violence to resolve issues, while I’m more comfortable using persuasion and dialogue. Her characters were rather cold and shut off (think Spock from Star Trek), which made it hard for me to empathize with their predicament.
I do not find this a flaw in the book, the writing, or of the author. I find this to be my issue…The characters in this book were great representations of a particular type of person; unfortunately, these are also the type of people I would probably avoid in the real world, simply because we have little to nothing in common.
So, while I do recommend this book for its excellent writing, exceptional concept, and very real characters, do be aware that these characters are not the warm and fuzzy-type of characters that most authors create. Also, understand that these characters primarily tend to use violence in dealing with their situations.
(1st chapter of a romance by Anne Obert)
“I’m gonna count to three, and then I start shooting!” The threat echoed down the hallway as I fumbled with the door.
I twisted the knob again while yanking at the door. The hinges squealed as the door crashed open. I dashed onto the set just as the photographer raised his camera. Pete was probably one of the best commercial photographers around, but he was impatient, demanding, and cold…in a hot kind of way.
If it weren’t for his personality, I might have actually found Pete attractive. He had sapphire eyes and midnight hair, with a face that was more interesting than handsome. As for the body, well…let’s just say, I wouldn’t mind cozying up to that body. A warm shiver raced down my spine, but soon turned cold when his steely gaze pierced me, his impatience plainly visible.
I used one hand to stop the swaying of the hoop skirt on the period gown I was wearing and adjusted the low-cut bodice. We were in some museum-quality ballroom with bright filigree everywhere, and parquet floors. Several other models in satin britches or lace and satin gowns were also positioned in small groups and pairings throughout the room. This week I was selling Real Nature products, maple syrup and hot dogs. What maple syrup had to do with a fancy dress ball, I had no idea.
“Positions! Let’s go, everyone!”
I picked up the plastic bottle of maple syrup and held it out as if I were offering it to the Queen herself; then I plastered a smile on my face and began to twirl, dip, twist, and dance to Pete’s commands.
“Can you move any less gracefully? You look like a pregnant moose on roller skates…”
“No, not over there…I need you to look this way.”
“Are you always so clumsy?”
Yeah, the world of modeling was just so glamorous. If I didn’t need the money to help with my mom’s medical bills, I’d tell Pete exactly what I thought of him, I mused as I tried to contort my body into the positions he demanded. It was as if I was nothing more than another prop to him. He tugged at the dress, swatted my hand when my fingers encroached on the vendor’s label, and groused when I needed to grab a drink from my water bottle.
Four hours and two costume changes later, he said we had enough for that product. Now it was time to work on the photos for Real Nature hot dogs. Another costume change, another wig, and now we were seated around an elaborate dining room table being served Real Nature hot dogs. I tried to look enthusiastic, but truthfully, I just wanted it to be over with. The wig itched, the dress felt as if it was three sizes too small, and I really wanted to get over to the hospital and check on my mom.
(1st chapter of a mystery by TA Sullivan)
“I’m gonna count to three, and then I start shooting!” the gunman shouted as he pointed his weapon at the hostages.
Hunkered behind a desk about four cubes away, my partner and I exchanged worried looks.
My partner’s face was drawn as she whispered, “What do we do?”
I opened my mouth to answer, and burst out laughing. A moment later, my partner, joined in.
“Cut…cut,” the director turned to us. “Really?”
“I’m sorry,” I muttered as we continued laughing. “But you have to admit, it’s a bit cliché.” The writing for this show had been getting so insipid lately; not that the show had ever been more than your basic cop drama. I played the rugged, rumpled, and slightly jaded cop, whose instincts were nearly always right; while up-and-coming actress, Pam Brewer, played my over-eager, naïve, rookie partner. As I said, very typical. Still, the writing had never been this hackneyed.
The director gave us several minutes to pull ourselves together, and we set up to do the scene again.
“I’m gonna count to three, and then I start shooting!” The actor playing this week’s crook waved his gun menacingly at the cowering hostages.
I exchanged looks with Pam and we managed to hold it together this time. However, when she opened her mouth to utter her line, it was drowned out by the crack of gun fire. This time when we looked at each other, the confusion and worry were genuine. We were definitely not acting.
I heard a scream echo from across the sound stage, and I jumped to my feet. A moment later, Pam and I joined the rest of cast and crew as they rushed toward the apartment set. At least a dozen members of the cast and crew of “Police Beat” were ringed around the bloody body. I could hear the pounding of racing feet coming up behind me as the rest of the staff came to see what had happened. Pam gagged and turned away, and somewhere behind the apartment set wall I heard someone getting sick. At least they hadn’t vomited all over the crime scene, I thought. Yeah, call me Mr. Sensitive.
The Shooter (a short story by DL Sullivan)
“I’m gonna count to 3, and then I start shooting!” I said. The man’s grin widened with confidence as though he knew a secret that would ultimately save him.
I was determined to right the wrong he had committed on the little blond-haired girl standing behind me. The look of sadness that suffused her small face had nearly broken my heart.
My face felt flushed from the anger I felt inside. I couldn’t stand by and let this happen to this precious little girl without reprisal for the man’s callous actions.
I had checked the gun I grabbed from the top of the short wall separating us. I smirked as I saw that he had changed the sight on the gun to shoot a little to the left of center. My experience years earlier in the Special Forces came in very handy now. I could have stripped this gun down to its individual parts and reassembled it with my eyes blindfolded.
His smile faltered as I counted, “One.”
The man’s seemingly calm, smug smile couldn’t hide the hint of worry on his face. The corners of his mouth twitched ever so slightly in a nervous tick. Sweat was beading on his upper lip despite the cool evening air.
I stared directly into his gray eyes as I counted, “Two.”
He straightened from his casual slouch. His eyes darted from side to side looking for a way to escape his fate.
“Three,” I said with finality. I quickly raised the gun, aimed a little to the right of center, and fired.
The man jerked violently when the gun went off. The look of surprise on his face was a joy to see as the bell rang loudly, indicating I had hit the target square in the middle of the bullseye.
“We’ll take that giant teddy bear, now,” I said with a satisfied smile.
The carney looked dumbfounded as he reached for the bear sitting behind him. I swear, I think the bear was smiling, too. With a look of defeat on his face, he took the bear in both hands and slowly handed the bear to me over the short wall of the booth.
I turned around and held the bear out to the little girl. The look of delight on her face as she took possession of the bear filled me with joy.
I would remember this day for a very. long. time.
Twice a month a member of my writing group comes up with a sentence, piece of dialogue, phrase, or concept and challenges us to use it to create a short story, poem, or opening chapter to a book in any genre.
It’s a fun way to push ourselves and stretch our writing talents. It’s also a fun way to give ourselves permission to try out genres that we might otherwise shy away from. For instance, I primarily write fantasy and paranormal books, but I love to read mysteries and thrillers. This little game gives me a chance to try writing the opening for a mystery, thriller, western, or any other type of book without the pressure. After all, it’s a game…it’s all in fun. And if it happens to lead to another book or a publishable short story, then all the better.
What I also love about this game is how many ideas can spring from a simple sentence, phrase, or piece of dialogue. We each get about a week to come up with an idea and rough it out before presenting our results to the group. Some writers may have a single idea; others, two or three ideas; and still others, may come up blank. It’s okay, though, because it’s not a contest, just a helpful exercise to get your brain thinking in different ways.
“I’m gonna count to 3, and then I start shooting!”
That was the prompt for the game we got at our last meeting. What can you come up with using that? What story or images does that bit of dialogue spark in your mind?
In a couple of days I will present three of the results based on this bit of dialogue. In the meantime, see what you can come up with, and feel free to post them as part of the comments, or on your own blog…
I always love to see what ideas people can find in something so simple as the sentence above.