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In Praise of . . .by Jenny Jensen

April 19, 2021 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , , , ,
In Praise of . . . | Jenny Jensen | A Slice of Orange

A simple Internet search can become a journey down the rabbit hole. A phrase or a word catches my eye, I click and find myself wondering down a path light years from the original intent. I was looking for info on clay pot cooking and got entranced by all the entries about things people are in praise of. Not sure how I got there, it’s a Google thing, but I couldn’t look away; all those heart felt testimonials extolling an incredible array of individual passions.

I was delighted by a man’s elegant praise of Velcro (who could argue with that?), an oratory on the simplicity of the ten penny nail (it really is an elegant and useful item), a poetic discourse on the play of sunlight on soap bubbles in the kitchen sink (I’ll take her word for it). The essays in praise of the rubber band, the sound of a child’s heartbeat in a quiet moment, the meditative smell of a crackling fire on a cold night all touched a universal human note—and I asked what I am in praise of.

Answer: writers. I write in praise of writers. I work with authors. I know something of the blood, sweat and tears invested in the books that are my passion to read. Writers are people with such a strong drive to tell stories they dive into unchartered waters and do it—despite the requirements of life. Writing is a full time occupation for a rare few. For most, the act of putting pen to paper is precious time carved out between client conferences, parenting, shift schedules, basic survival—the business of life. Amazing, praiseworthy.

Every book began as a spark in the mind of a writer. Might be an event, or a word overheard or grandmother’s lace collar that ignited the spark. With trial and error that spark becomes a premise to be populated with characters and action and goals. With more trial and error a burgeoning universe grows into a draft. More trial and error—okay, call it what it is—revisions and rewrites. Then more of same. Finally, a deep breath and first cautious preview. Writers group, spouse, beta reader, editor; it doesn’t matter who, the writer bears their soul. Feedback is absorbed (emotionally, technically, inspirationally), and it’s back to revise and rewrite, until the whole tough process results in the best effort of the writer.

That journey from idea to finished book is praiseworthy enough. That it’s just the beginning of a new sweaty effort is a fact. A book isn’t alive without readers. Reaching those readers is the next act. Even with a traditional publisher every writer has to promote their work — a fact even more vital for Indie authors. How else can the reader find your book among the 1100 new postings per day? Nothing makes me sadder than to have a client hang up their keyboard after publishing because sales are few to none. These are wonderful books, I know they are, but the author made no effort to promote. No one found the work. That wonderful book never stood a chance.

The investment of writing a book is a labor of love. Promoting and selling the book is just hard work. The effort begins with well-chosen genre categories and killer key words. An educated approach to pricing techniques, a website, blog and social media are promotional gold. Reviews are essential; consistency is key. Every author must invest the sweat equity needed to allow people to find their book. Fortunately, hundreds of Indie pros share promotional know-how, experiences and techniques on line, a lot of it free.

When I have found that ‘just right’ book I can snug up the Velcro on my slippers, hang my troubles on the ten penny nail, drain the supper dish soap and with the kid sit before the fire and travel wherever those pages take me. I am in praise of writers.


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Writing The Dreaded Book Blurb by Jenny Jensen

March 19, 2021 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , , ,
The Dreaded Book Blurb | Jenny Jensen | A Slice of Orange

Cartoons by John Atkinson, www.wronghands1.com

Writing The Dreaded Book Blurb

Every author faces this last crucial challenge. You’ve already spent untold hours researching, writing and editing your book. Your title hits just the right poetic note. You’ve gone several tense rounds to find the perfect cover. All that remains is the book blurb, the opening salvo in the promotional war.  This is the first (and sometimes only) chance to grab a reader and compel them to buy the book. And so, like click bait, you need to lure your reader with an honest but irresistible snap shot.

It’s an art, this writing of a synopsis that isn’t a synopsis, this sell copy that isn’t an ad. And for something that isn’t a science there are strict rules: you have to be honest – no misleading the reader. No spoilers or why bother to read it – which can be tough since the spoiler is often the most exciting part of the story.  Keep it at 200 words or less and don’t make it one run-on paragraph. Use the proper keywords for your genre. Reveal something about the antagonist – readers like to know if they can root for the hero. This isn’t the place to relate the entire plot but you have to provide the zeitgeist, the feel of the tale. No easy task.

A lot of the writers I work with find this daunting and ask for help, which I am happy to provide. I think it’s difficult for the writer to step far enough away from their work to pick out the enticing, salient points and present them with the tension and intrigue that make for a successful blurb. To the author, all story points are important. I get that, but as an avid reader I know what works for me in a blurb. It’s not how much is said, but how compellingly it’s said.

I start with a deconstruction approach. It’s possible to distill any story down to bare bones. In his book Hit Lit – Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers James W. Hall provided the most distilled example I’ve ever seen. This is a beloved tale that we all know intimately: “A young girl wakes in a surreal landscape and murders the first woman she sees. She teams with three strangers and does it again.”  It’s short, accurate and intriguing but would it sell the book?

I wouldn’t distill it down that far but it makes a great beginning. What if we knew something about the young girl – an orphan, a princess, a refugee? And what about the surreal landscape – gaping desert, oozing swamp, forbidding mountains? Then the three strangers – female, male, older, menacing, kindly?  Is all this murdering spurred by necessity, thrills, defense, the three strangers or is it unintended manslaughter? And finally, what is the young girl up to – revenge, enlightenment, finding a way out of the surreal landscape? Flesh out those points, add some genre keywords, reference any kudos and you could turn those original 24 spartan words into a 160 – 200 word blurb that would peak curiosity and entice the shopper to buy.

If you can step away from the totality of your story and deconstruct the plot to the primary elements, then present those elements in a provocative way you can create an effective selling tool with your book blurb. BTW, that book Hall described? The Wizard of Oz.

Jenny

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Criticism: Big Girl Panties for Ruth by Jenny Jensen

February 19, 2021 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , , , ,

Or How to Take It on the Chin and Grow

(From our archives. We hope you enjoy this rerun from Jenny Jensen)

 

I attended an author’s chat the other day at our local library. It’s always fun to hear an author talk about their craft— especially if you like their books. The bonus is mingling with other attendees. Who among us doesn’t enjoy chatting with fellow book lovers? I found myself in conversation with two women, each funny, gracious and interesting. When talk got to the inevitable “so what do you do?” I learned Kit was a nurse and Ruth, a writer. I added that I’m an editor and while Kit smiled acknowledgment, Ruth scowled.

Ten minutes later—after Kit had smiled apologetically and bowed out—I’d learned all about Ruth’s experience with editors. “They call themselves editors, but they’re really just critics. They couldn’t even follow the story, let alone the subtext. They’re just mean, simple-minded wannabe writers” and so forth. Yowza! I’d never encountered that before.  I know a lot of editors, and none of them fit that bill. Best to just nod and try to look sympathetic while keeping an eye peeled for a graceful escape.  Ruth had either met the world’s worst editors, or she’s simply unable to handle criticism. I suspect the latter.

Writing is hard, solitary work. It’s just you creating in a vacuum. Writing requires hours of reading, writing and revising, searching for just the right words to make a character live and breathe, the perfect plot twist, the right feel. Writing writing writing, and then hours of revision. The whole blood, sweat and tears combo.  Then there’s the criticism; every writer has to face it if they want to share their work outside that creative vacuum.

It can be a hard pill to swallow. I know. I’ve been singed by some very savvy, very critical edits. Hard to have your heart and soul — not to mention all that BS&T—picked to pieces by others. But like mammograms, taxes and dirty diapers, it has to be faced.

As an editor, I’m really loath to offer a ‘critique’. That word has such baggage. If words have color, then criticism is a red-tinged pulsating mash-up of bruised blue and black. I prefer to think of what I do as editorial assessment, or an overview. (Words really are powerful, aren’t they?!) But no matter how I spin it, it comes down to criticism.

Criticism is like cholesterol; there’s the good kind and the bad kind. The LDL kind, the bad kind, is empty criticism. “ I don’t like it”, “Flimsy and transparent” or “I don’t get it”.  My favorite being, “yeah, I read it. Interesting”. Ouch! Then there is the polite, painless approach: “Very nice!” What could that possibly mean?

Constructive criticism is HDL cholesterol, good for every writer’s circulation. Good criticism points out pitfalls and weaknesses, but it also explains why they are pitfalls and weaknesses. It sheds light on why it doesn’t work. Really good, healthy criticism offers solutions. I never expect an author to accept a solution I offer (and most don’t, they find their own). I offer it as a straw man—something to consider, breakdown, reject and replace with a better approach because suggesting a substitute shows the author the problem needing a solution.  It’s because a writer creates in isolation that they can’t always hear a misstep. I’m guessing Ruth’s missed subtext was so sub it wasn’t there. Point this out to a writer and the light bulb goes on; they revise, and the story is stronger.

How should you, as a writer, react to criticism? You wrote it, you shared it—you must learn to account for it. How do your words strike people? Did the reader see nothing where you intended a scene to be revealing or suggestive, and so the story is confusing? You can’t dismiss the reader as thick, dense or stupid. You have to look at your words and consider improvement because clearly, those words didn’t do the job you had intended.  Whether it’s a missed plot point or character motivation that can’t be seen, maybe it isn’t on the page; it’s still in your head. Revise, rewrite. Listen to the audience your words are intended for. The best writers respect their readers. Your work will only get better.

A good editing critique helps you identify weaknesses. Don’t take it personally. Constructive criticism is useful precisely because it isn’t personal. Your BFF is unwilling to risk a response that might be hurtful, but is that what a writer needs?

Writing’s about kicking doubt in the ass and shoving him out the door. Editing’s about inviting him back in for tea and scrutiny. *

I wish Ruth had invited her editor back in.

*from @novelicious, that magical twitter feed that is double chocolate for every writer’s sweet tooth.

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Writing The Dreaded Book Blurb by Jenny Jensen

January 19, 2021 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , , , ,

From our Archives

The Dreaded Book Blurb | Jenny Jensen | A Slice of Orange

Cartoons by John Atkinson, www.wronghands1.com

 

Writing The Dreaded Book Blurb

 

Every author faces this last crucial challenge. You’ve already spent untold hours researching, writing and editing your book. Your title hits just the right poetic note. You’ve gone several tense rounds to find the perfect cover. All that remains is the book blurb, the opening salvo in the promotional war.  This is the first (and sometimes only) chance to grab a reader and compel them to buy the book. And so, like click bait, you need to lure your reader with an honest but irresistible snap shot.

 

It’s an Art

 

It’s an art, this writing of a synopsis that isn’t a synopsis, this sell copy that isn’t an ad. And for something that isn’t a science there are strict rules: you have to be honest – no misleading the reader. No spoilers or why bother to read it – which can be tough since the spoiler is often the most exciting part of the story.  Keep it at 200 words or less and don’t make it one run-on paragraph. Use the proper keywords for your genre. Reveal something about the antagonist – readers like to know if they can root for the hero. This isn’t the place to relate the entire plot but you have to provide the zeitgeist, the feel of the tale. No easy task.

 

A lot of the writers I work with find this daunting and ask for help, which I am happy to provide. I think it’s difficult for the writer to step far enough away from their work to pick out the enticing, salient points and present them with the tension and intrigue that make for a successful blurb. To the author, all story points are important. I get that, but as an avid reader I know what works for me in a blurb. It’s not how much is said, but how compellingly it’s said.

 

Bare Bones

 

I start with a deconstruction approach. It’s possible to distill any story down to bare bones. In his book Hit Lit – Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers James W. Hall provided the most distilled example I’ve ever seen. This is a beloved tale that we all know intimately: “A young girl wakes in a surreal landscape and murders the first woman she sees. She teams with three strangers and does it again.”  It’s short, accurate and intriguing but would it sell the book?

 

I wouldn’t distill it down that far but it makes a great beginning. What if we knew something about the young girl – an orphan, a princess, a refugee? And what about the surreal landscape – gaping desert, oozing swamp, forbidding mountains? Then the three strangers – female, male, older, menacing, kindly?  Is all this murdering spurred by necessity, thrills, defense, the three strangers or is it unintended manslaughter? And finally, what is the young girl up to – revenge, enlightenment, finding a way out of the surreal landscape? Flesh out those points, add some genre keywords, reference any kudos and you could turn those original 24 spartan words into a 160 – 200 word blurb that would peak curiosity and entice the shopper to buy.

 

Primary Elements in a Provocative Way

 

If you can step away from the totality of your story and deconstruct the plot to the primary elements, then present those elements in a provocative way you can create an effective selling tool with your book blurb. BTW, that book Hall described? The Wizard of Oz.

~Jenny

 


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Cross Words by Jenny Jensen

December 19, 2020 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , , , , ,
a woman sitting in the middle of a pile of books with  a crossword puzzle behind her.

In these times of pandemic lock down we’re all searching for something that will absorb us, entertain, teach–challenge us.  I’ve dabbled in baking (very mixed results), sewing (mended everything mendable), crafty things (be glad you’re not on my Christmas list), knitting (have you seen the price of good wool?). They all passed the time between books, but none inspired a passion and I didn’t feel particularly challenged.

My grandmother and my mother were both avid cruciverbalists. Not only does that sound exotic, it felt like I’d be carrying on a tradition. Those esteemed women fearlessly challenged their brains daily. I bought a puzzle book with 99 crosswords claiming to “be enjoyable at all solving levels”. Perfect! I could limber up and go on to the hard stuff.

I felt I had gotten the knack with the first 30 puzzles. Sharp flavor, four letters–TANG. This is a breeze. The next 56 began to take some effort: Central parts, six letters, fifth being ‘e’.  Hmmm.  I consider all things central and am not arriving at those 6 letters, the fifth of which is ‘e’. Then I crossed words with Tile problem and MILDEW gives me ‘L’ for the fourth letter. I hit on nuclei. I got it! Central parts: NUCLEI pl.  I am strutting like a peacock, never mind that it isn’t a commonly used word. “The nuclei of the garden are the tulips and the erotic statue.” Naw. Clearly this is a new language.

I like to think I am an honest sort, so I keep count of how many times I peek at the answers page. Eight times over 86 puzzles; a mere misdemeanor. Many of the clues involve rather esoteric and antiquated knowledge. I feel I can be forgiven for not knowing every letter of the Greek alphabet or the lessor characters of 19th century French drama. I now include recent pop music titles among esoteric knowledge. I do not know a single Abba song title. (This leaves me feeling hopelessly uncool, but never mind.)

Still, I’m getting better–that is, until number 87. I feel like I’m taking an exam in advanced astrophysics–and it’s in Brail. Philanthropy source, 11 letters. I get there finally with the help of crossed words: BILLIONAIRE. It’s so obvious, so clear and so disheartening that I’d agonized over this. Then a light bulb goes on and I realize crosswords do not involve a new language. It’s still English (except for those pesky Greek letters). What is needed here is an entirely different thought process, a less rigid way of considering words.

I need to be flexible, more elastic than Silly String, more malleable than Play Dough. How else can you arrive at ROLE as the answer to Office? It’s all those English words with multiple meanings, all the nuances of our language that makes for rich, lyrical writing. It’s the forgiving nature of our language that allows us to get by with radical interpretation, lets us stretch the truth, so to speak. I’d been ignoring what I already know and what I love so much about writing.

Puzzle 88 is next and it looks daunting. It’s a giant grid with one and a half pages of clues. I’m going to be like water and with each clue let my mind flow over and under, through and past pedestrian definition until I arrive at the clever stretch, the humorous bent, the deceptively simple answer. It’s poetic.

I’m determined to join the ranks of my foremothers and become a cruciverbalist. I may pull out all my hair, but I intend to get there. I am definitely Faced off, 10 letters.


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