Doughnut. Doughnut. Doughnut.

The desires of an audience are always changing. In some cases, they want you to be intentionally vague: "Core speed 5x faster than before."

"Packed with twice as many nutrients as our previous version."

"Tomorrow, fly to work."

They don't want to know right upfront, really, about the processors that make the speed faster, or the chemicals that brought out the nutrients, or what and how you're going to fly to work tomorrow. It's the idea that if you give the general picture, people who want to know more will do the research, and everyone else will be content with what they've been told.

In other instances, though, it's not helpful being vague. Imagine going to the doughnut shop to buy a doughnut (without knowing what flavor you wanted), and when you arrived, every one was labelled:

"Doughnut."

"Doughnut."

"Doughnut."

It would be ludicrous (especially now, in the age of 'if-you-can-invent-a-flavor-we-can-doughnut-it'). People would complain, because even if it was clear what they were from looking at them, there is a certain amount of comfort in the over-explanation when it comes to making choices that directly effect you.

When you're writing, figure out how much information your audience wants, and provide them with exactly that. Not more, not less. Not only does it streamline your writing for clarity and purpose, but it also makes it much more enjoyable to read.

A Month of Sundays

Authors are notoriously dilatory. They seem to live by months of Sundays, rather than the typical gregorian calendar month. Although it is hard to get your writing written, with dogged determination, a will of iron, and a hard deadline, it's a little easier. If you're going to make a commitment, keep it. It will earn you long term respect.

And if you realize you can't keep it (Aunt Bertha passes away, your computer falls into the Adriatic Sea, a piano falls on your head and erases the rest of your plot-line), tell whoever you're writing for as soon as it happens. Not three weeks after it was due.

Don't be a 'month of Sundays writer.' Be an, 'on time, good condition, just like I promised' writer. It'll get you a lot farther in the long run.

Persistance in Writing

When college teaches you how to write an essay, you learn this structure: #) Tell them what you're going to tell them.

#) Tell them.

#) Tell them what you told them.

Or, simply stated, say your point three times to really drive it home. Don't be afraid to be persistent; that's when people remember what you said.

Don't be afraid to say it again. It makes it memorable.

Repeat your main point. It will be annoyingly unforgettable.

Jim Beam and Writing—Part 1

There's a billboard in Chicago that  millions of people see daily. It's on the entire side of a several story tall building, located at the on ramp for the interstate in and out of Chicago.  It's for Jim Beam's bourbon. It's simple: on the right side side is a bottle of Jim Beam's. On the left, in large cream-colored letters against the dark background, it claims, "The best in the world." And near the phrase is a seal from the contest or convention (the light turned green before I could read it) that chose it as the best. Without the seal, the words would be mere conjecture. Someone, somewhere, picked up the glass, took a sip (or a swish, or a taste, or a swig), slammed the glass on the counter, splashing little droplets everywhere (classy whiskey drinkers everywhere shudder), and said,

"This is the best d*** whiskey in the world!"

But that wouldn't actually mean anything to anyone besides him. To make a statement that bold that means something, it must be backed up by more than solitary opinion. If you call your horse the fastest—it needs to have won gold in every race since it started running. If Grandma June 'makes the best chocolate cake in Missouri,' everyone in Missouri must agree. And when your clothing label is more durable than all the other leading brands, go ahead and tell people. But only if it's been tested to be absolutely true.

It's a quick way to lose your credibility—because everyone has "the best" cake recipe, the "most durable" clothing, the "fastest horse" (or car, or train, or internet speed). If you are quick to make claims about your product (animal, clothing, recipe) being better than everyone else's, no one automatically believes you. They are instead instantly on guard, thinking of their own amazing thing. It's not to say that yours isn't wonderful—but people are usually partial to their own.

Come back tomorrow to see why it matters in writing.

 

Advertising

As a self-published author, ideas for marketing and advertising are always welcome. Self-marketing is a struggle; networking is hard in a small circle. Continuing the effort to publicize, I stumbled across this page. The ideas are fresh, creative, and intriguing—exactly what I want my advertising work to look like. As the contest to promote continues, I am reminded continually of how key consistency is. It's about doing, doing, and re-doing something. We're creatures of habit; finally, after multiple repetitions (seeing the same add four dozen times), we may remember it.

Don't lose heart in your marketing and advertising. The struggle is real, but it is worth it. At least, that's what they tell me.

What if it Rains

Setting up the full sound equipment for a choir and band to perform outside, for instance in a park, takes an extensive amount of effort. Between speakers, wires, and every small technical detail, by completion it's been several hours of labor, lots of sweating, and a good amount of tactician's effort—how things need to be positioned to sound the best, where they'll be out of the line of vision (but still effective), and the wires that need to be set and draped to avoid a rats nest of tangle. All of this, and what if it rains? You have to pack up and clear out quickly, to save the equipment. Even if the band only played for five minutes, rain doesn't make the process worthless—but it certainly feels that way.

Sometimes you spend a long time on a piece, working very hard and putting your best into it.  Then something goes wrong; someone doesn't like it and 'they' only have negative things to say about it.

That doesn't invalidate it. It is always worth it to write.

3 Tricks to Writing Better Dialogue

Jack said, "Please, good sir, be so kind as to pass me the wrench." Bob replied, "Certainly, my good man, it would be my pleasure."

Then Jack said, "Why thank you. I will now unscrew this bolt and take the cover off of this engine."

And Bob said, "Wow. That's a big job. It is a good thing we have a lot of time to do it after lunch." And Jack replied,

"Yes. I anticipate it will take several hours."

Bob said, "Okay. Well we should start up." Jack nodded, and said,

"Yes. Lets."

We've all read dialogue like this—stilted, unmeasured, uncomfortable. It is clunky and unbelievably dull. Here are three tips to avoid flat dialogue:

  • Read your dialogue out loud. You'll be surprised how fast you spot inconsistencies and dull phrases—and things that no one in his right mind would say.
  • Think of your characters as someone you know: Uncle Jack, next door neighbor Sallie, grocery bag boy Tim. Then, try to hear them saying your words in your head; if they can't say it, or sound ridiculous, it's probably a sign that you should cut it down.
  • Edit rigorously, over time. You'll find that a sentence that seemed fine yesterday, or even this morning, has three extra words when you go back to read it later. The more you edit, the slimmer your dialogue can be. In real life, speech is very relaxed.

See this adaption from above:

Jack nodded, and said, "Wrench?"

"Sure, dude."

"Thanks. Looks like we gotta take the whole cover off." Bob looked at his watch, as his stomach growled.

"That's gonna take a long time."

"Probably. Let's do it." Bob sighed and nodded, saying,

"Okay."

 

The Slow Build

I'm an impatient reader. After getting caught up in the story, I want action. The slow build—the long tedious process that takes time and development and careful plot planning—is hard for me. It's not because I have no taste; plenty of classics have slow plots that gradually build and  crescendo, then gently decline. The difference? The reader isn't at the mercy of the author; he is learning about the events at the same rate, and the author is just along for the ride. It's as if the two of you are watching the same play simultaneously; he is just transcribing the storyline. When the reader feels manipulated, and the author holds back information "just because," the slow build has been misused.

Write suspense into your story; use the slow build, the steady increase, the thrill of discovery—but don't gloat over him when you keep your reader in the dark. It is, after all, his choice to keep reading.

How the Cover Sells the Book

A good billboard is never more than a few words—the theory is that if it's something quick to read and easy to remember, it will come to mind naturally when people need it. The front cover of a book is the same; we want something fast, simple, and aesthetically appealing. The back cover copy is more complicated. It needs to be longer than a mere phrase, but just as eye-catching.

The front cover and the back cover are a team that sells the book. Without a good front cover, no one will pick the book up. Without a good back cover, anyone who picked it up will put it down instantly. A bland, emotionless set of sentences will repel as fast as a clever cover attracts. A good back cover is like the smell of fresh baked cookies or chocolate cake: irresistible. The copy needs to appeal to the reader, to draw them in, to say, "This book is written by someone like you for someone like you about something that you care about. You will benefit from reading this book." And just like that, it's in the shopping cart.

If you can do one well, you can learn to do the other well. Make your front cover like a billboard—and your back cover like the smell coming from a pizza shop.

What Makes A Bestseller

According to yesterday's post, people are looking for one of two kinds of books: books that help and teach, or books that entertain.

Eat This, Not That (now faded from popularity, like most fads) was an overnight sensation, because everyone wanted a book that would tell them how to lose weight easily.

The Help gained popularity so fast, it was a movie before some people had finished reading the book; a moving, compelling account of the hardships of being African American house help in the south in the 60's.

One helps, the other entertains. If you can figure out what people want to learn, or how they want to divert their minds, it's very likely that you can write something that thousands of people will buy.

Study your audience, then appeal to them. After all, they're the ones who are buying your book.