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Everyday People by Veronica Jorge

February 22, 2020 by in category Write From the Heart by Veronica Jorge tagged as , , ,

While there is so much concern and controversy over climate change, I am more fearful about the future of our own environment: that of words, writing and speaking.


Nowadays, it seems that one must be a meteorologist; able to gauge and predict social climatic conditions, because you never know who you might offend if your views run contrary to the prevailing winds. A particular topic might heat things up. A storm rages. The dissenting voice is silenced.


It seems we are still living the lyrics to the popular 1968 song by Sly and the Family Stone, Everyday People:


“…There is a blue one who can’t accept the green one
For living with a fat one, trying to be a skinny one…

The news, social media, college campuses, and politics will most likely continue their tug of war. But I hope that the writing community will elevate itself above that fray and be able to provide a safe haven where every voice lifts up on the wings of freedom, and where every voice is welcomed and heard.


See you next time on March 22nd.
Veronica Jorge


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Writing The Dreaded Book Blurb by Jenny Jensen

February 19, 2020 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, 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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Happy (St.) Valentine’s Day! by Carol L. Wright

February 13, 2020 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , ,

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day—the day for lovers—and the least popular day of the year for single folks whose lack of a partner becomes acutely apparent.

For a mystery writer, the day offers all sorts of inspiration. Love or lost love is, after all, one of the prime motivators for murder-most-foul. What mystery writer hasn’t used it a time or two—at least as a red herring?

But even more interesting to this mystery writer is the origin of St. Valentine’s Day. While it is ostensibly the feast day for a Roman Catholic saint named Valentine who died on February 14th, the record is not so clear on exactly who, why, or even when a man named Valentine became the patron saint of love, young people, and happy marriages.

Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland
By blackfish – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Legend holds that St. Valentine died around 269 CE. This was well before the Edict of Milan legalized the Christian church in 313, so records from that time are spotty at best. The Christian church was still being persecuted by Rome and much of what we know of its early history comes from oral tradition rather than contemporaneous records. So, in mystery writers’ terms, we don’t really know for sure whodunnit!

According to history.com, there are at least two viable candidates for the honor of being the mortal who became St. Valentine. They lived around the same time—the reign of Emperor Claudius II of Rome (214-270 CE). One was a simple priest. The other was the Bishop of Terni, Narnia, and Amelia. Even the church isn’t 100% sure which it was.

Stories abound about the saint and are accepted as truth—or truth adjacent—for the purposes of celebrating the feast day.

The official St. Valentine, according to the Vatican (catholic.org), died in 269 CE. He was an Italian priest (or bishop?) who, according to legend, proved the power of Christ by restoring the sight of the blind daughter of a judge (or jailer?) who had imprisoned him. As a result, Valentine was awarded his freedom. But it wasn’t long before Valentine was again arrested. His crime? Converting people, marrying couples (starting to see the connection to love and happy marriages?), and assisting Christians being persecuted by Rome. His motive for marrying couples might have been less about romance and more about pragmatism. Apparently, once married, men were excused from going to war. That’s a pretty big incentive.

He went too far when he tried to convert Emperor Claudius II, who ordered Valentine to renounce his faith or be put to death. He chose the latter and the death sentence was carried out in 269 CE (or perhaps 270, or 273, or 280 . . .) He is believed to have been buried on the Via Flaminia north of Rome, perhaps leaving a note behind for the girl whose blindness he cured, signed “Your Valentine.” Hmmm. Sound familiar?

Both the bishop and the priest are said to have performed similar miracles, met similar fates, died at a similar time, and buried at a similar place. No wonder we’re confused. Some speculate that the priest and the bishop were, in fact, one and the same.

But wait. Wikipedia tells us that there is at least one more candidate—another martyr who died on the same day in Africa. Not much else is known about this Valentine, but since they all are recorded as dying on February 14, who’s to say which is the St. Valentine?

But if we can’t be certain of which Valentine it was, or what year he died, how can we know that he died on February 14th?

As with other Christian holidays, St. Valentine’s day might have been placed in mid-February to help ease pagans’ transition to Christianity, supplanting the Roman Festival of Lupercalia which, according to thoughtco, was celebrated on February 13-15, and was said to purify the City of Rome and usher in a time of health and fertility.

Another theory is that since birds mate in mid-February, the patron saint of lovers feast day was placed then. Tennyson said it best in “Locksley Hall”: In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

The truth about Valentine will never be settled. When, in 496 CE, Pope Gelasius I first included Valentine’s name among those of other saints, he admitted the list was of people whose acts (miracles? good works? martyrdom?) were “known only to God.” No new evidence has turned up since to settle the question.

Relic of St. Valentine in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, Italy
By Dnalor 01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1969, the Roman Catholic church, perhaps due to this ambiguity, ceased requiring celebration of Valentine’s feast day, but it still counts him among the saints.

Whoever he was in life, St. Valentine is known, not only as the patron saint of love, happy marriages, and young people, but also of engaged couples, beekeepers, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, travelers, and plague (yikes!). Only a few of these mesh with our current, secular view of Valentine’s Day, but with selective editing, florists, card companies, and chocolatiers have ample excuse to make the most of this bright spot in the winter calendar.

So, who will be your Valentine? Let’s hope they are not shrouded in as much mystery as St. Valentine!


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Dear Extra Squeeze Team, How Do I Price My Novel?

February 7, 2020 by in category Featured Author of the Month, The Extra Squeeze by The Extra Squeeze Team tagged as , , , ,

Each Saturday in February we’ll be featuring The Extra Squeeze Team.

Ever wonder what industry professionals think about the issues that can really impact our careers? Each month The Extra Squeeze features a fresh topic related to books and publishing.

Amazon mover and shaker Rebecca Forster and her handpicked team of book professionals offer frank responses from the POV of each of their specialties — Writing, Editing, PR/Biz Development, and Cover Design.

Have you a question for The Extra Squeeze Team? Send them to us by using this handy link.

How Much | The Extra Squeeze | A Slice of Orange

Dear Extra Squeeze Team, I’m ready to self-publish my first novel as both an ebook and a paperback. It’s a romantic suspense novel and about 90,000 words. How do I figure out what to charge? I don’t want to be too cheap, but I don’t want to be too expensive either. Help! How do I price my novel?

Rebecca Forster | Extra Squeeze

Rebecca Forster 

USA Today Bestselling author of 35 books, including the Witness series and the new Finn O’Brien series.

I love that this author has provided so much information. Her query is objective, communicated the pertinent information and is focused. Kudos. Many authors – first time and seasoned – simply calculate how much money they can make at different price points and choose the highest one that they believe the market will bear. What they don’t take into account are market forces and there are plenty of them.

This lady is a first-time author intending to publish as an indie. It is clear that she understands her genre. I will assume her book is awesome. Now let’s look at what she is going to face. There are currently about 2,500 new books published through Amazon a day. She will be competing with seasoned, midrange and newbie authors all of whom are publishing books at the same time she is. Some will offer their books for free and others for $.99. Many will leave those books at these price points for promotional purposes with the objective of getting their books into as many readers’ hands as possible. They will be hoping to garner reviews. In my experience it takes about 100 downloads to get one review. That’s a lot of books you have to sell. If you overprice your work, no one will buy it.   Spending $6.99 on an unknown will not be as attractive as receiving a free book or one at $.099. Many best selling authors (myself included) price their books at $3.99 and $4.99. Anything under $5.00 is considered a bargain book and is more easily promoted on advertising sites and book-dedicated social media sites. There are so many more nuances one can address regarding pricing but covering them all would be a novel in and of itself.

My advice to this author is to read over the above, take a look at the bestsellers in her genre and make a list of price points. I would include general thrillers in this list also because there is a ton of crossover between straight thrillers and romantic suspense. At the same time, assess how you are introducing yourself to the reading public. Do you have your website, your social media accounts, your branding in tip-top shape? Are book two and three almost done (indie publishing has taught me that readers will veer to an author with deep inventory because, if they like your work, they want to click for the next one). Does your cover scream quality? People pay a little more if it looks like the next big thing but not much.

To put this in perspective, I have published (traditionally and as an indie) over thirty books. I have experimented with many price points from $.99 to $6.99. $2.99 to $3.99 is the sweet spot (read Mark Coker’s blog post at Smashwords on pricing). You can make a good living at this price point but not without a heck of a lot of work.

Price this first book to sell, garner fans, ask for reviews, build up your profile everywhere and keep writing so that you have inventory. This is a long-haul profession. It looks like you’re ready for it. Good luck.

P.S. I price my paperbacks for minimal return. I might make $1.00 to $2.00. That is because I want them to be reasonably priced and I know that 97% of my business as an indie is in digital sales.

Jenny Jensen | A Slice of Orange

Jenny Jensen

Developmental editor who has worked for twenty plus years with new and established authors of both fiction and non-fiction, traditional and indie.

Two very successful authors and one savvy, marketer share this panel with me. I’ll leave the hard marketing advice to their tried and true experience and respond as a consumer.

I’m a champion of Indie publishing. I read a lot, all genres, and I love to discover new writers. Unfettered access to any voice that wishes to be heard is the outstanding feature of Indie Publishing. I know I’m not alone in this opinion so as a new, untested voice I salute your maiden voyage.

I download work by unknown authors at least twice a week. My price point for an unknown is from 0 to 1.99 and there are several criteria that prompt my choice: a compelling title, one that invites, intrigues or amuses always gets a second look at the cover and a close read of the story blurb. It’s that book description that’s the hook. It must be revealing to a tantalizing extent (no spoilers), descriptive of some feature that sets the book apart from the cookie cutter template of the particular genre — maybe a well-crafted sentence or two that reveals a great character, an intriguing setting or a particularly unique situation. It must include something of the challenge inherent in the plot — in other words, give me a reason to want to read the story.

This short sell copy reflects the writer’s style and skill so it’s critical that the voice I’m considering spending my time with comes through loud and clear. Poor grammar, clumsy wording and typos are an immediate reason to move on, as is a dry recitation of plot points. If the cover matches the level of professionalism and care reflected in the title and the description, I bite. It sounds like my perspective buyer self takes in these criteria in an orderly way. Not so; it’s the blending of all the features that makes a work by an untried author enticing.

Considering just how fierce the competition is it’s great to have access to various platforms where you can stand out. Whether it’s an offering on a Bookbub-ish bargain site, a platform like Indie Book Nexus or a genre specific site, this is your chance to cut yourself from the herd.

There are degrees of how strong the attraction of a book offering is. I’ll always try a .00 price point book if the presentation interests me. I don’t view that as a cheapened offering, rather I see it as an invitation. If I’m going to invest up to 1.99 then I need an assurance of quality. The care and passion of the book sell copy is reflective of the care and passion in the work.  It takes an excellent presentation to move me to my 1.99 limit.  That hasn’t happen often for a new author with a stand-alone book. Of course, editorial reviews help — nice stuff if you can get it, but I don’t require that.

I’ll add that when I’ve fallen in love with a new author and she has no published work to move on to I am bummed. I vow to keep a lookout for a ‘next’, but it does not stay top of mind. A link to a mailing list for the next book’s release date is pretty good compensation.

You’ve made the decision to publish so I’m sure you’ve had the manuscript thoroughly edited and it is the best product you can provide to the reading public.

Invite every potential reader and if it’s a freely given invitation then know you’ll begin growing your audience. Wow me and I’ll pay for the next book. It’s an investment.

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Ping Pong by Kidd Wadsworth

January 18, 2020 by in category Infused with Meaning by Kidd Wadsworth tagged as , ,

Author’s Note: In this piece I am trying to juxtapose two elements: one happy, another tragic. I want the reader to be tossed back and forth, knowing that these two worlds are about to collide. BTW this is a true story.

Ping Pong

Green never took on as many shades, or the Earth appear as lush, as in the summer of ‘92 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Windows down, radio up, I drove, my newly minted sister-in-law in the seat next to me. I’d been married a blissful eight weeks. We’d eaten lunch at Red Hot Lovers, a delightfully greasy hot dog joint. I had the dregs of my Sprite in my cup holder, and she the last of her Diet Coke in hers.


Slowing, I came to a stop behind a sedan waiting to turn out into traffic.


We jammed to the beat, hands in the air.


Filling the crowded sedan were four Arab men in robes and two women in hijabs. One woman sat in the middle of the front seat, the other in the back on the right.


I drank the last of my Sprite.


The sedan driver turned yelling, pointing his finger. The woman in the backseat threw open the door. The man beside her, pulled her across his lap as she tried to escape. She thrashed against him. The second man in the backseat grabbed her. Her fist hit the back windshield. Her legs pummeled the first man as he reached out and slammed the door shut. The sedan, wheels squealing, sped out into the traffic. A car honked; another swerved.


I clenched the steering wheel, shaking.


As the sedan disappeared around a bend in the road, she whispered, “Did you get the license plate?

“No.”

“The car was white.”

“It’s going east on…” Frantically, I searched for a street sign. “what road is this?”

“I think it was a Chevy? Maybe a BMW?”

*

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