Write Great Leads in Nonfiction Articles

July 21, 2017

One of the best things about being a writer is the variety of choices you have in deciding what to write–articles, books, short stories, etc.

One of the hardest things about being a writer is writing a lead that entices the reader to consider reading your article, then keeps the reader reading past the first paragraph.

Two obvious ways to write leads are (1) offer an anecdote that makes the point of your article, and ( 2) use a quote that grabs your reader and highlights the focus of your article.

When you don’t have either of those options, use these steps to help you write a great lead.

  • Imagine your reader and why he/she might be looking for in an article on the topic you’re writing.
  • Ask the question, “What’s in it for me?” from the reader’s perspective.
  • Answer the question by showing the reader in plain language what he/she will learn from reading your article.
  • Keep a conversational approach in your writing. Remember that your reader is looking for information, but not necessarily a class or complete education on the subject.
  • Respect the reader’s time by delivering meaningful information the reader can use.

You may find you have to write the first draft of your article before you can use the steps above to actually come up with the lead that will work for you. But that’s okay. You’ll know from the first draft what you can offer the reader, then you can write the lead to entice them and deliver what you promise. Happy writing!

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Tips for Using Foreshadowing in Your Fiction

June 13, 2017

One tool fiction writers use is foreshadowing (hinting to the reader about something that’s coming). If you use foreshadowing, you’re setting up an expectation with your reader and you absolutely need to meet that expectation before the end of your novel.

Here are some tips to help you make sure you create a good relationship with your reader so he/she trusts you’ll deliver what you promise in your foreshadowing.

  1. Make sure you’re working from a detailed outline that lays out these things: each character’s role, how each character affects the overall plot, and how each character ends up at the end of the novel.
  2. Be aware that you may decide to change your story as you write (one mystery author I know told me that one time the character she expected to be the killer simply wouldn’t do it, so she had to change the story). If you do change directions in your story, make sure you map out the change in your original detailed outline so you can see if the change makes sense with the rest of the story.
  3. Create a series of questions about your novel so you can critique it once it’s completed. Feel free to use these questions as a starting point: (1) Did the characters meet their goals or explain their failures? (2) Which destinies of which characters were left unanswered (if any)? (3) Which plot activities were not completed (things like a love attraction, a crime committed, etc.)? (4) How clearly did the plot and any subplots merge by the end of the story? (5) How well did things like dialogue, actions, etc. move the plot along (you don’t want to lead your reader down blind alleys or dead ends, which will only frustrate your reader and cause him/her to distrust you as an author)?
  4. Find a few readers you trust to read your manuscript and offer you honest feedback. Encourage them to share questions with you that they may have thought about during the reading. You, as author, know what you mean, know what you think, and know what you intend. Your reader, however, only has your written story to go by, so you’ll do yourself a big favor by learning about any holes in your story before you try to get it published.

I’ve written both fiction and nonfiction, and I think fiction is much harder to write because you’re creating the entire world the story lives in. You make a promise to your reader that your novel will be entertaining and worth his/her time to read. I hope these tips help you keep that promise. Happy writing!


Tips for Getting Interviews

May 25, 2017

Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, every good writer conducts research and one of the best research techniques is interviewing experts. But many experts are busy people, which often makes it hard to get interviews with them. Here are some tips to help.

  • Create a list of primary resources. No one person is the only expert on a given topic, so consider creating a list of experts instead of focusing on just one or two.
  • Create a list of secondary resources. Sometimes experts are reluctant to spend time with interviewers because the interviewer doesn’t appear to know much about the subject in the first place. Experts like to share, but don’t have time to offer in-depth education. Demonstrating you have background knowledge on the subject matter can go a long way in getting the interview.
  • Let the expert know how you intend to use information from the interview. If you’ve sold an article, let the expert know which publication the article is for. If you’re still looking for a sale, let the expert know you’re approaching several publications and will let him or her know which one is publishing it when that’s determined. If you’re writing a book, offer to keep the expert posted on your progress.
  • Show the expert your professionalism as a writer. Mention publications you’ve written for. Offer samples of your writing. Give references if asked. Experts don’t want to be misquoted. You can ease that concern by showing you’re a professional.
  • Make sure the expert knows you selected him or her for the interview and why. Most experts really care about their subject matter and want it treated with respect. Your job is to make sure it is.

Getting an interview can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding in many ways. I hope these tips help. Happy writing!


Are You Ready to Become a Writer Full Time?

March 28, 2017

As a writer, one of the toughest decisions you’ll have to make is whether to keep writing in your spare time or go into it full time. As tempting as it might be to go full time, be sure you make the effort to really analyze yourself and your situation before you do.

Here are some things to consider.

  • How much money will you need to earn in the next three years in order to do more than just survive? Can you make that much if you combine writing, teaching, speaking, etc.? Do you have income sources or savings to help you while you’re making the change to full time?
  • What is your worst-case financial scenario and can you live with it if you need to? If you can, for how long?
  • How large is the marketplace for the type of writing you do? How stable is that marketplace (example: there’s been a huge change in the newspaper market in recent years)?
  • How well do you handle rejection? Will you take it personally or will you understand it’s what you’re offering that’s being rejected? Are you persistent enough to keep trying after multiple rejections?
  • How many people do you know who are willing to help you understand the writing profession? To mentor you? To represent you (example: agent)?
  • How disciplined are you to work on your own? To do the things you need to do that aren’t so much fun (find markets, research, write query letters, meet deadlines, etc.)?
  • How well do you handle unmet expectations? Giving up perks (like benefits, regular hours, etc.)? Keeping business records (writing is business, after all)?
  • How flexible are you when asked to change something you’ve written? When adjusting your lifestyle to becoming self-employed? When expanding your circle of influence or researching projects or learning more about the publishing industry?
  • How supportive is your spouse or significant other in your decision? Your friends? Your family?
  • Finally, how do you really feel about not having a steady paycheck?

Only you can answer these questions, and I trust you’ll spend some time really thinking about them before you make your decision. Whether you decide to write full time or part time, remember that only you write what you write. No one else is you, so no one else can write what you do. Happy writing!


Reveal Character in Snippets

March 2, 2017

Today’s society runs 0n sound bites and 140-character postings. Few of us have the luxury of sitting down for hours to enjoy reading fiction. Instead, we claim our reading time while riding public transit, waiting for appointments, or at the end of  a long, busy, exhausting day.

Authors need to be mindful of how readers read. When introducing your reader to your characters, it’s best to remember what it’s like when you first meet a person. You don’t get that person’s entire backstory all at once. The longer you know a person, the more you learn about him or her. Here are some tips to help you reveal your characters in snippets.

  • Consider what the person’s name tells you about the person. Is it a common first name? Surname? Does the surname remind you of certain countries? Ethnicity? Is the first name a family name or unusual in some other way?
  • Describe how the person dresses (you may include jewelry choices in this also). Is the person in uniform? Casual? Dressy? Flashy? How comfortable does the person appear in that attire? Clumsy? Tugging at what he or she is wearing? Picking lint off a shirt? Wearing a wedding ring?
  • Notice how others interact or react to the character you’re introducing. Do you sense respect? Tolerance? Admiration? Frustration?
  • Listen for any speech nuances. Does your character have an accent? Speak with sophistication? Use street talk? The dialogue you write can help here.
  • Take note of the character’s table manners and types of food he or she prefers. Does the character know when to use a salad versus a table fork? Where did that knowledge come from? Does the character prefer finger food? Fast food? Fine dining? Desserts? Why?
  • Give insights into the character’s class status by offering what the parents do for work (professional, trade, business owner, etc.). Can also give insights into where the character lives or has lived growing up.
  • Offer insights into the character via his or her inner thoughts, comfort level in different situations,  personal strengths or insecurities, etc. Share what in the character’s background contributed to character feeling this way.

Your readers want to get to know your characters, but not all at once. You don’t know everything about everyone you meet right away. You learn a little at a time. So it should be with  revealing your characters to your readers. Weave the backstory into your writing a little bit at a time using dialogue, observation, and action. Happy writing!


More Book Signing Tips

February 22, 2017

I’ve seen many local news shows interviewing authors in the past few weeks and thought offering some more book signing tips might be helpful.

Here are a few things to think about as you set up your own book signings in the future.

  • Bring your own copies of your book with you. You’ll want to do this just in case the copies the store ordered for your signing don’t arrive on time.
  • Offer value beyond your book and signature. Come with a small presentation or program that will draw people to your book. One author friend writes mysteries with a cooking theme so she comes dressed with a full apron and holds a drawing for a small food basket (this also gets her reader contact information).
  • Invest in a small PA system. With so many bookstores also housing cafes, your book signing may end up close to the espresso machine. If you’re prepared with your own PA system, you can turn up the mic and still be heard when the machine goes off.
  • Create the signing space that works best for you and your book. The purpose of a book signing is to meet your readers and to sell books. You know your book better than bookstore personnel do, so work with them to set up your signing space to achieve that purpose.
  • Do your homework regarding the community in which your signing takes place. You’ll want to know if your signing is competing with church on Wednesday night, with high school football on Friday night, or even with the hottest new television show. There’s no sense in competing with any of these types of happenings.
  • Determine your own promotion strategy. Social media, local media (radio, television, and even newspapers), flyers at related venues/events (libraries, book clubs, writing classes, community bulletin boards, etc.) are all possibilities. Don’t forget to email those already in your database, if you have one.
  • Let your audience know you enjoy being with them. Smile, shake hands, listen to people, etc. Your job is to let your audience know you’re glad they took the time to come out to meet you.

Book signings can be rewarding or frustrating. Remember readers buy authors, not publishers, so be sure you create a book signing event that makes people glad they came. Happy writing!


Tips for a Successful Book Tour

February 10, 2017

People buy books based on the author, not on the publisher. Authors do book tours, personal appearances, etc., not publishers. My point? It doesn’t matter which publishing avenue you take, it’s still up to you as the author to get out there and sell your book(s).

Here are some tips for a successful book tour, including local television interviews, panel appearances, presentations, etc.

  • Choose clothes you feel comfortable in. For television, be sure you avoid loud prints or stripes. Be aware also that bright reds and blues, whites and blacks can take the focus away from you. Granted, we’re seeing more variety in what people wear on news shows, etc., but why risk taking the focus off of you?
  • Keep your eyes on the interviewer rather than looking into the camera (if there is one).
  • Show your enthusiasm about your topic. I say topic because you don’t want to appear to just be selling your book. People will be interested in topics more than one specific book title. Yes, you’ll want your book title mentioned, but you don’t want that to be the only thing you talk about.
  • Relate your answers to other people (audience, interviewer, viewer). Use phrases like “I think everybody has felt…,” “Have you ever done something that…”, or “Most people have…”
  • Prepare for your appearance by having three to five important points. Repeat these same points in every interview, presentation, etc. While it may be repetitive to do so to you, keep in mind that each audience is new and hearing your points for the first time.
  • Keep your answers succinct. Get your audience’s attention with phrases such as “The most important idea is…,” “The scariest thing is…,” or “The biggest joy can come from…”
  • Avoid yes and no answers because they are boring and dead end. Use words like “Absolutely” or “Never” instead of yes or no.
  • Understand that most interviewers or those who introduce you probably have not read your book. Be sure you have an “elevator speech” answer telling what your book is about prepared (that’s an answer you can give in 30 seconds or so).
  • Practice, practice, practice. Writing is a solitary activity. Appearances are not. Since doing a book tour is about as opposite from writing as you can get, it’s important you practice so your discomfort doesn’t show. People buy the author, so it’s up to you to make them want to take a part of you (your book) home with them.

You wrote the book and got it published. Now it’s up to you to sell the book. There’s nothing like the feeling of someone willing to spend money to read your writing, so get out there and let the world see you. And don’t forget to keep working on your next book at the same time because once people like you, they’ll want to read more from you. Happy writing!