Ms. Gigi, copy writer and world traveler, conducted a survey on what makes readers buy a particular book. The 355 respondents gave her some very insightful information regarding book buying habits and reasons. To find out why a reader chooses one book over another, read her article:
I’m going to use my blog to answer some of the questions that I have been getting during my presentations and talks.
Q: Does everything stay the same when you die? Even if you don’t realize that you’re dead?
I have to say yes, sometimes people don’t realize that they’re dead. To them the world has continued, but for reasons unknown (or unwilling to be recognized by them) others no longer respond to them.
We (those of us working as psychopomps or guides) do not let this remain for long. We work with the soul to get them to accept that their physical lives are over and that it’s time to move on. Here’s an example of such an experience:
The book shop had been her life, and no amount of coaxing from me was going to make her leave it. She had been 42 and the mother of one. Married, her husband was at home with their son while she had been busy working at her book store. It had been her life, more so than anything else. Unfortunately, she had had an aneurysm and died almost instantly. In fact, it was so sudden and unexpected that she hadn’t yet registered that she no longer had a physical presence.
At the moment I arrived, she was upset that there was a body on the floor behind the counter of her shop, and she was dithering at me about wanting to call the police. The body was face down, so I sort of understood why she wasn’t recognizing herself. But even so, the clothing, the hair color and style, and even the shape of the body should have been giving her some idea of who the person was. Yet, she still could not, would not, comprehend that it was her.
Instead, we played this game of her demanding that I call the police while she tried to revive the poor woman. Of course, I did not call the police, and she had no way of reviving the poor woman. And once she began to realize that she could not touch the woman, let alone turn her over for resuscitation, the harsh reality of her situation started to come clear to her.
I was almost feeling sorry for her, until she again refused to come with me. I thought perhaps she was concerned about leaving her family with no notice; however, while she did hope that her husband and son wouldn’t be too upset with her, that wasn’t her problem. No, her crisis was in leaving the book store.
She was afraid that if she left with me, her husband would get rid of her dream. She loved that book store. She had sacrificed a lot to buy it, build it up, and keep it going. In her mind, her family had never appreciated it, nor had they appreciated how hard she had worked to make it so profitable. She had struggled against the big, generic book stores that had come to town, and she had won. She had beat out most of the competitors in her little town, but most of all, she just plain loved that book store.
To her, her son and husband were all about sports, NASCAR, and hunting, while she was all about books and reading. So, no matter what I said about it being time to move on, no matter how I tried to explain that she was no longer physical and that what happened to the store was no longer up to her, she refused to go.
This is how hauntings get reported. This is how people start talking about ghosts. She was so attached to that book store, so insistent on making sure that the book shop remain in the family (even though she knew that neither her husband nor son cared for it or for books in general) that she wouldn’t let go.
She so wanted someone to care about that shop as much as she had, as much as she still did. And as long as that connection was so strong, I knew it was going to be very difficult to get her leave.
I finally convinced her to go into the back room to her office. However, when she stepped into the back room, it was one I had created. I don’t like to trick people, but I really needed her to move away from the physical store. So, now she was haunting a replica of her book store, a copy that existed in the transition level. I created a copy so exact that I even included a replica of the body that she wouldn’t acknowledge as hers.
For her to acknowledge that she was dead so she could move on, she needed to go through the whole scenario of the body being found, identified, examined, and buried. However, by doing it in the astral plane, there was more control over the situation, and more help available to her. Leaving her wandering the physical book shop would have only prolonged her agony, and that of her family.
Once she figured out and accepted (more or less) that she had died, she opted to return to the physical plane almost immediately. She had no patience for working through any of her lessons or issues from that life, nor did she care to do much planning for the next one. She’s one of those souls that is very tied to the physical world and what it has to offer, and so that’s where she wanted to be.
“You’re an author, do you really need a business card? ”
That was what my friend asked me the other day when I mentioned that I was in the process of redesigning my business cards. I opened my mouth to respond, thinking of course I need a business card, but then stopped before actually speaking.
Did I really need a business card now that I was concentrating almost fully on my own writing? Before, when I was working full-time as a technical and business writer it was important to be able to network and have people remember me and be able to contact me if they had need of someone with my skills. But now? Now, I was only taking occasional contracts and those were gained via one of my contacts at the few contracting firms that I worked through.
So, what would a business card actually do for me now that I was (basically) a full-time author?
I sipped my tea and finally responded, “You may be right. I guess I need to think about it.”
We finished our beverages before going on to the library where a new author was giving a talk about his recently released book. The author was very entertaining, and at the end of his talk he met one-on-one with those who wanted to speak with him directly or get autographs for their books. As I waited my turn to congratulate him on his talk, I heard one of the other people ask him about his website. He handed her a business card. A business card with his website information, contact information, and his (rather hard to spell) full name.
That’s when I nudged my friend to pay attention. I then shook the author’s name, told him I enjoyed his presentation, and asked him for his website information. He handed me a business card, we chatted a few moments, and then I gave my friend a triumphant look. I had my answer. Authors do need business cards. They make great hand outs at book signings, presentations, conventions, and workshops. They’re also handy sales tools that you can leave in yoga or meditation studios (ask the owners first), libraries, or other places related to your topics.
How else do you get people to remember, notice, and visit? If you’re going to get personal, then give people a way to remember you. Business cards are an inexpensive, platform for advertising:
- Who you are
- What types of books you write
- Where they can contact you
- What you have to say (outside of your books
I’ve handed out bookmarks and raffle tickets (to win copies of my books), posters (of my book covers), and even copies of my books. But handing a potential editor, marketing person, publisher, blogger, or agent a business card just seems a bit more professional. And just because I’m currently working with a small, independent publisher, it doesn’t mean that I don’t look for other opportunities.
So, I went ahead and got my business cards:
What do you think?
Do you love reading horror stories? Or are you finding them no longer frightening? Are those scary tales leaving you less frightened and more frustrated?
In Zombie Salmon (the Horror Continues) blog, KC Redding-Gonzalez tells us how one horror story critic is finding himself less frightened and more bored by today’s scary stories. You can read more about this, here…
I spent the holidays doing something I really love—binge reading. I had accumulated a gazillion romance novels (both in paper and online), but had never really seemed to find the time to read them all.
Now, most of the time I rarely read more than one (maybe two) books in the same genre back-to-back. I’m usually much more eclectic in my tastes. However, I had the books and I had the time, so I dove in.
Some were good, some were so-so, and some were so bad I barely got through the first page. But one thing I did notice about all of them was the subtle differences to the story arcs. There have been a few discussions lately in my writer’s group regarding romance stories. Several of the new writers (those who are just starting to write or who have yet to publish anything) have been questioning what makes a sweet romance different from a steamy one. There were a lot of opinions, but oddly enough, it seemed that most of the writer’s in our little group write in the fantasy and mystery genre rather than romance. (In fact, I’m the only one who has a romance novel published—The Past Rekindled).
But now, having done my binge reading, I finally have an answer for the questioners: the common thread in all the romance genres is miscommunication and lack of communication between the lead characters. But there are some subtle differences that make a romance Sweet or Sweet and Steamy.
Sweet romances: Two people, who don’t like each other, are thrown together through circumstances and grow to love each other. First there is mutual dislike; then there is pity or empathy on the part of one (or both) for the other. Next, we have growing sexual attraction (demonstrated by a desire to kiss), but it is always interrupted by someone or something. Later, he misunderstands an action she takes; she misunderstands something he does. They reconcile and finally kiss—ta-da, true love.
Sweet and steamy romances: Two people, who don’t like each other, are thrown together through circumstances and grow to love each other. First there is mutual dislike; then there is pity or empathy on the part of one (or both) for the other. Next, we have growing sexual attraction (demonstrated by a desire to kiss), which they do. Ooooh, eyes widen, pulses races, and hands start to misbehave. Later, he misunderstands an action she takes; she misunderstands something he does. They part; they reconcile, and finally he proposes.
While I didn’t read too many of the Racy Romances during my binge, They were exactly what the genre implies.
Racy Romances: Two people, who don’t like each other, are thrown together through circumstances. At first, they lust after each other. (Sex is directly implied and the lead up is described in flowery and steamy prose hot enough to get the reader’s glasses steamed up.) As the story progresses, the characters grow to love each other, so overcome all circumstances to be together.
When the books are written does affect the circumstances in the book. For instance, when I was younger (teen years), I read an overabundance of romances. Most were the Sweet Romance, but there were a few Sweet and Steamy Romances thrown in. At that time, the circumstances of the story (although still based on miscommunication) also contained dramatic shades of naughtiness: He and she have an affair (either of them can be married or single and one of them is usually rich, while the other is poor). They separate, and she has his baby but doesn’t tell him. Years later, they meet again, and reignite the fire. He finds out he’s the father and is hurt. He starts to leave, but she convinces him to stay. They get married.
So, while sweet may not change much over the years, the sweet and steamy obviously changes to accommodate the changing mores of the times. After all, what’s naughty now, may be quite acceptable in five, ten, or twenty years, which might turn your Sweet and Steamy into just Sweet.
Do you remember the old tagline: You can’t eat just one. Well, that’s the new trend in writing. Short chapters, otherwise known as potato chip chapters, get to the point (of the story), yet leave your reader craving more.
It seems that readers no longer want the long rambling chapters of the past. Nowadays, shorter is better at accommodating the short attention spans engendered by our new technological society.
Writer August Birch explains how to create short and engaging chapters that keep your readers reading, but also cater to their need for brevity. Read his article: Why Chapter Length Matters More than You Think.
And if you crave a little romance with your potato chips, try my paranormal romance, The Past Rekindled.
Do you want to know what’s wrong with your story’s opening line or opening paragraph? Probably nothing.
So many times authors are told that their opening line or their opening paragraph just isn’t killer enough. It doesn’t seize the reader and yank them into the story. But what does that really mean?
For almost a decade, new authors thought that meant dropping the reader right into the middle of some physical struggle or verbal argument with no introduction as to who the characters were, what they were fighting about, or even where and when they were. Instead of pulling the reader into the story, it simply left them wondering why they should care enough to figure it out.
I grabbed his arm before his hand could connect with my already bruised face. His leg reached out and swept my feet out from under me. I landed hard on my hip. With a hiss of pain, I tried to roll out of the way of his swinging boot. The toe of his large work boot clipped my shoulder, and my arm grew numb. Footsteps pattered along the hallway to my left, and my heart wrenched. Mikey was awake.
Who is I? And who is I fighting with? And who is Mikey and why should we care about any of this? Is this a domestic dispute of some kind, or is it two men fighting? There is little in this example for the reader to go on. So, unless the reader loves solving unintended mysteries (who are the combatants and why are they fighting), then your potential readers will simply move on to something less confusing.
However, the next example isn’t much better. The only thing happening is description. If this is an action/adventure story, you’ve probably lost your audience at the first paragraph.
It was hot and sticky. The air felt thick and refused to move. The rattling table fan sitting on the desk next to the open window did little to cool things off. Noise from the city street fell through the window and filled Sam’s fourth floor flat with more life than it had probably ever known.
Sam sat in the desk chair staring at the open check book. The neat precise numbers marched down the columns showing him just exactly how little of his inheritance remained. He rubbed a damp hand through his thinning brown hair. The material of his stained white T-shirt clung to his perspiring back, and he wondered just what he was going to do now.
Writers are now finally realizing that confusing the reader right from the start is nearly as bad as boring them. So, how do you grab your reader’s attention, and how do you write that epic opening line?
Use Your Skills
You grab the reader by using your skill and understanding with words and language to craft the best story you can. By focusing too much of your attention on the opening of the story, you can block the story from growing the way it should. Each story and each writer has their own rhythm . The words flow in a certain way, following an innate path, and when you force the opening into an unnatural rhythm—unnatural to the overall story and unnatural to your writing style—it can sound stilted, stiff, and uninteresting.
A great opening isn’t in the opening sentence as much as it is in the author’s ability to craft a story. For instance, our writing group does a twice-a-month writing prompt. We are all given the same opening sentence, which we then have to use to create a short story, poem, or first chapter of a book (not that we have to write the whole book, but for some writers, the writing prompt stirs something more than a short story in them).
Here are some examples of how one sentence can pull you into a story or push you away from it.
“Stop or I’ll shoot,” a gruff male voice shouted at me between grunts of exertion.
I zipped along the sidewalk trying to put as much distance between me and my pursuer as I could. I couldn’t get caught now. Not before I had a chance to set things straight.
I stayed to the deeper shadows, avoiding the streetlights as best I could. The gloves and mask should make it hard for him to determine my skin and hair color. If I could get away, the only description he’d have would be medium height, dark clothes, wearing a dark hoodie.
Something smashed into the sidewalk near my foot and I heard the report of a gunshot.
Geez, I couldn’t believe he was actually shooting.
I started to zig-zag my way toward the maze of alleyways ahead when there was another gunshot. At nearly the same moment, something sharp sliced across my upper arm. Damn, I hissed. That really hurt. I ducked around the corner into the alley and immediately hooked my good arm over the pipe that I used as a ladder to the second-floor window of the abandoned warehouse.
“Stop or I’m gonna shoot!” the gunman shouted as he waved his weapon toward the hostages.
Our hoped-for take down of the hostage-taker aborted, my partner and I stopped and raised our arms. My partner’s face was drawn as she whispered, “What do we do now?”
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.
“Stop or I’ll shoot,” yelled the tall, handsome, dark-haired man as he held his revolver pointed at Jane. The night air was warm, yet Jane—a statuesque blonde with figure that would make Mattel’s Barbie envious—could feel the goosebumps rise all along her arms. She had no idea how she was going to get out of this predicament.
Graceful and elegant in her midnight blue, designer sheath-style dress, she turned so that her four-inch-heeled Louboutan’s were now pointed toward Rick. Oh, it wasn’t the first time she had faced Rick, but it was the first time that she’d faced him when he’d held a gun on her. What was he thinking, anyway?
“I’m gonna start shooting!” The threat echoed down the hallway as Suze fumbled with the door.
She twisted the knob again while yanking at the door. The hinges squealed as the door crashed open. Suze 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, she 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, she wouldn’t mind cozying up to that body. A warm shiver raced down her spine, but soon turned cold when his steely gaze pierced her, his impatience plainly visible.
Suze used one hand to stop the swaying of the hoop skirt on the period gown she was wearing and adjusted the low-cut bodice. They 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 Suze was selling Real Nature products, maple syrup and hot dogs. What maple syrup had to do with a fancy, dress ball, she had no idea.
Even the given writing prompt is subjective, as each writer changed it to fit the story he or she was creating. It’s still the same basic premise, but the writers changed the words to suit the circumstances of their stories. And that’s why an opening line or paragraph has more to do with the author’s ability to craft a good story using just the right cadence and words than it is has to do with a single sentence or a single paragraph. After all, not every reader is going to be moved by the opening line to your novel, just as you (as a reader) aren’t moved by every first line or paragraph you read.
So, don’t overthink the opening to your story, but do craft it well enough that it invites the reader into your story.