Justice (Deck of Lies, #1)

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The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2)

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Death (Deck of Lies, #3)

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Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4)

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Hope's Rebellion

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Writing 101: Being Scary

Some storytellers know how to be frightening. But does it come to them naturally, or is being scary a skill that writers can learn? 


Like most things, writing is about 10% artistry and 90% grueling work. In other words, I believe much of the skills that create a writer can be learned. And if you can learn to write, you can definitely learn to be scary.

After all, isn't it something that everyone practices doing every single October? For Halloween, people dress up to look frightening and throw parties meant to scare their guests. Haven't you ever pulled a prank on someone, or crept up behind a friend to startle them? You've done stuff to scare other people before. Now, you have to harness that innate streak of meanness...and put it on the page. 

It's okay to be a little mean, sometimes. That's really what scaring people is all about. That...and a few other tricks. 

  • Sudden shock: This is a classic horror device you'll find in every single scary movie. The sudden shock is a surprise scare that comes out of nowhere. You set the stage by painting a scene that feels calm to the reader. For example, the heroine is reading a book in the library. She's snuggled up in some large chair and there's a roaring fire. Maybe even the pitter-patter of rain on the window. Nice and cozy, right? It is until all the lights go out and a defeaning scream renders the air! ...And that's an example of the sudden shock, only please pretend it's written in a much more compelling fashion. 
  • Slow suspense: To really understand suspense, watch some Hitchcock movies. He was a master of dragging out the thrilling moment you just knew was coming. Create slow suspense in your books by painting vivid scenes with words. Plant little hints and moments in the scenes that lead up to the moment. An example might be your heroine walking up a flight of stars and down a long, dark hall. With each step, she's expecting the crazed maniac to leap out at her. Each breath, each sound, each moment is agony. By the time she gets to the end of the hall, the wait is just unbearable. 
  • The unexpected event: Create true horror with the unexpected event. It isn't enough to scare your readers. They're expecting a scare. Now, you've got to surprise them. Instead of waiting for the heroine at the end of the hall, after all that torturous suspense, there is no crazed maniac. It's only an empty wall. She laughs, a little hysterically, and turns back around. The killer leaps out at her from the ceiling! He's been suspended above her head the whole time. This unexpected event is surprising and scary.

With those three tricks in your writing bag, you should be able to scare readers. It also helps a great deal if you come up with a protagonist that people want to root for and a villain that's totally frightening. Think about all the stuff that scares you when you need new ideas. What gives you nightmares? What makes your skin crawl? What do you envision when you picture a guy you absolutely wouldn't want to mess with?

You've experienced fear, and you've probably tried to frighten others. That means you're already halfway to writing a great horror story. So think scary, and use writing tricks to make your words come out that way.

Writing 101: Use Amazon to Find More Buyers

When was the last time you looked at your books on Amazon? If you're doing your promotional tweets and paying attention the way you should, your answer should be today or yesterday at the earliest. If you're not looking at the page all the time, you're missing opportunities to sell more books. You can use that page to find more buyers, and that's pretty invaluable.

Right in Front of Your Face

If you're anything like me, you don't need to be reminded to look at your book's Amazon page. I checked it every 20 minutes for three weeks after I published my first book, no exaggeration. My biggest thrill came from receiving my first review, but this was only slightly more exciting than seeing something in the "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" section. Seeing something appear in this section meant that someone actually bought the book, and I paid attention.

I'm still paying attention to that section of my book pages, and you absolutely should be doing the same. It's a gold mine for potential readers. I want you to take a look at all of the books in that section, and pay attention to the authors who wrote them. Look for those authors on Twitter. If you find them there, you're already a whole lot closer to getting more sales. 

Readers who bought your book also bought books by those authors. You know it's true because Amazon says so, and they probably have an underground lab of statisticians who do nothing but invent new algorithms all day long. So it follows that people who like those authors will also like you, right? Yes, good logic. That's where Twitter comes in. 

First, follow the authors that you can find on Twitter. Next, look at their followers -- and follow them. Now, not all of those followers are going to follow you back...but some will. And those new followers are more likely to purchase your book, because they already like books that are similar to yours. See how it works? 

That's how you use Amazon to find more buyers. So stop reading blogs and start getting to work. You've got stuff to do.

Writing 101: Use Cross-Marketing

Cross-marketing is a fancy term that's usually applied to product linking. You may not be aware of it, but you see cross-marketing all the time. When the commercial tells you that the cheese spread goes great with this cracker, that's cross-marketing. Coupons from soda that allow you to buy candy is another example. Cross-marketing is everywhere, and you can use a form of it to promote your self-published books.

Finding the Links

You're not a huge corporation and you probably don't have a bunch of industry-related ties, but as an indie author you can still use cross-marketing to push your work. Like every other type of indie promotion, it only requires a little bit of outside-the-box thinking. 

Let's play a game. Answer this question: what's your book about? Make a list of words that come to mind when you ask yourself this question. Think about all the different activities and events depicted in your book and place them on the list. 

Now use it to cross-promote your work. Link your book to products or activities and use that for marketing. A cross-marketing Tweet, for example, may read "Enjoy skiing? find out what happens when this daredevil hobby turns deadly in Sabotage Slopes."

Is there a lot of food in your book? "We all eat, but in Roman Vacation you'll find out what it's like to eat gourmet meals every day." See how it works? Now start composing your own.

You probably don't have the connections to work out expensive advertising agreements with corporations, but you can still link your work to promotable products and activities. Make your list, find you links...promote your book.

Writing 101: Wallpaper Matters in Social Media

Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus all allow you to customize your profile. If you haven't yet, you're missing all sorts of marketing opportunities for your books and current projects. It may seem like a small detail, but wallpaper matters in social media...especially if you're trying to get anyone to buy something of yours.

Did You Change Your Profile Wallpapers?

All the experts and how-to guides tell you that to be a successful indie author, you've got to get out there and promote your stuff on social media. So you get yourself an author-specific Twitter profile, a Facebook fan page, maybe even a Google Plus profile. You start gathering followers and you show off your clever side with skillful updates. 

If you're doing it all with a generic wallpaper that was provided to you, then you're not doing yourself any favors. The wallpapers on your social media pages are marketing opportunities, and they're free. It's time for you to start making the most of them. 

From Words to Pictures

Don't say "but I'm a writer, not an artist." I already know how you feel, and so does every other author who's ever tried to design their own promotional website. It's very difficult to create custom wallpapers, particularly if you don't have an artistic eye (or any skill to that end). But I know you can do it...because I've done it, and I'm so inartistic I can hardly gift wrap a box. Start simply, take every step one at a time, and you'll be fine. 

  • Creating an image. You're going to need a program to create your custom wallpaper. Chances are high that you've already got Paint on your computer. If you don't like it or don't have it, try this free image editor. I use it for everything. A blank image sized 2560 x 1600 should do nicely. This is big, but wallpapers are meant to scale to different monitors so it's best to start big.
  • Set the color. I always start with a plain black background, because I'm not very artistic or creative when it comes to images. Pick a color that's neutral enough to inoffensive (fluorescent orange, for example, will annoy potential readers instead of wooing them), and something that will show off your important elements well. 
  • Start stealing. You're not an artist, and no one expects you to be one. So start stealing stuff to put this wallpaper together. Plenty of indies incorporate their book covers into their wallpapers. Great! Grab copies of yours and see if you can find some pleasing way to arrange them. If you paid for/designed the covers, you can absolutely use them in all of your promotional materials (including wallpapers). It's not really stealing; I'm just using a strong word to make a strong point. Please do not actually re-use images that you do not own or do not have permission to use. If you need free images from somewhere, because I strongly suggest that you do not attempt to draw your own from scratch, try Creative Commons.
  • Arrange. Remember that less is more when it comes to designing a wallpaper for your social media pages. You want readers to see the individual elements, and you want them all to work together with the whole. So keep the design simple, and don't forget that only very specific parts of your wallpaper will even be visible.  Most of the stuff in the middle of the image will never be seen. Concentrate on the elements along the left edge and across the top. 
  • Check. Triple-check your custom wallpaper image to make sure it's perfect. Set it to your profile and check it twice before you stop working. 

Save all your wallpapers and the elements you're putting on them. This way, you can tweak the images as needed to suit different websites and profiles. Wallpaper matters in social media. If a potential reader likes yours, it could make the difference in convincing them to buy your books and read your words. Grab them with images, because that's what people are looking at when they're online.

Writing 101: Are You Getting Out Enough?

I used to imagine my ideal writing spot: a dark, quiet room. There would be a desk against the wall and a single lamp just next to my elbow. Here I would sit and type, alone with my words. 

Now I write every day, and I've come to learn that this was an insane idea. Please don't sit in the dark day after day and write...no, not even if you're writing horror stories or dark tragedies. When you're a writer of any kind, make sure you're getting out enough. 

Who's Out There? 

It sounds romantic to be a starving artist, a brooding and melancholy wordsmith. Can't you just see Poe pacing around in a room made of stone, candlelight flickering against the wall, mumbling to himself about death and ghosts and murder?

It's hard to write like that, and it's not good for you to sit in the dark all the time. Environment absolutely affects you when you're writing. If you're sitting indoors all day long in the same spot doing the same routine and looking at the same stuff, you're going to make yourself crazy. You've got to take time to step outdoors, take a look around, maybe get out there and do something. Go for a walk around the block if that's all you've got the time to do. Take the laptop or the tablet outside, if you absolutely can't leave your work, and at least just sit out there. 

Because if you don't, your writing is going to deteriorate. You've got to get a change of scenery every now and then. You've got to see different sights. You'd be surprised how much creativity a simple change will inspire.

Sitting shut-up inside a room all the time isn't romantic, and it's not an ideal way to write.

Writing 101: The Epic Novel

For some authors, it isn't enough to write a book. Some authors aspire to write the great American novel. That usually means it's an epic novel. And when I say epic, I'm referring to the length of the story. In books, epic is a sort of grandiose way of saying super long.

Big Stories

Some stories just can't help but to be big. Gone With the Wind, my favorite, is a massive book. Yet the story simply can't be shortened, and that's just how it is. Despite the length of the novel, I wouldn't want to spend one less moment with Scarlett. 

But a book doesn't automatically have merit simply because it's long. Extreme length is a huge, huge turn-off to many readers, in fact. An epic novel is epic because it usually spans many, many years and details many different events. There's a lot of change and character growth, many obstacles and challenges...a boatload of characters and interaction. A lot happens, and that keeps readers engaged. 

Writing a long book doesn't make it epic, and regular readers of the blog will know that I'm an advocate for brevity. If you can say it in fewer words, do it. Readers don't want to get bogged down in lengthy descriptions of the way leaves blow in the wind, for example. In today's world of ereading, the epic novel could become the next literary dinosaur. So write lengthy novels cautiously and with a keen eye for details you can gloss right over. 

Read your story, and ask yourself if it's really an epic...or just too damn long. If you don't want to read your story, readers won't want to do so, either.

Writing 101: The Non-Linear Timeline

Unless you're Doc Brown or Marty McFly, you're forced to slog through time the normal way. Like the rest of us, you see time march by on a minute-by-minute basis. The events of the morning take place before the things that occur in the evening. But when you write books, you're allowed to break all natural laws and visit any point in time at any moment you like. You may even get really bold with your book, and write a non-linear timeline. 

Time Travel

Many stories occur along an accellerated timeline. Something happens in the spring that sets it all in motion. The summer that follows is action-packed. By the time the autumn leaves are falling, the hero or heroine has learned a few lessons. When winter blusters in, the protagonist has captured the love interest, banished the villain and resolved all the issues. It's a neat 80 thousand words, give or take, and a simple enough storyline for audiences to follow. 

There's another option. Instead of writing scenes in a linear fashion (in which the winter naturally follows the fall), some authors opt for a non-linear timeline. This means that the story starts in summer, instead of the spring. Readers are exposed to the action first. Then they visit the spring of the past, and learn how these events all got set into motion. You'll find some better examples of non-linear stories in works such as The Iliad, Wuthering Heights and Slaughterhouse-Five. Those are all written stories; get a master class crash course on the non-linear timeline with Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction is the best example).

Showing readers events in a mixed-up fashion makes for an intriguing, engaging story -- in some cases. It's a bit like unraveling a mystery, and people love a good mystery. But the problem with non-linear stories is obvious: it gets confusing. Readers may get so caught up in trying to sort out all the different events, they get lost. It takes away from the story, and that makes it less enjoyable. As a writer, you have to lead readers through the story you're telling. If you lead them around and over and under and forward and backward and all sorts of different directions, eventually they're going to get tired of walking...metaphorically, of course. 

The point is, take your readers on a little walk if you will...but make sure it's an enjoyable one. If you can make the non-linear timeline work, use it. But if it's just not working, don't try to force it. Let the story unfold the way it needs to unfold, and you won't go wrong.

Writing 101: Crazy Character Names

Scarlett is one of those great, unique character names that stands out. But it's also a color and a decently recognizable word. Other character names are much more unusual, inventive...and sometimes, borderline psychotic. Crazy character names just aren't often a good idea, and forgive me if that word is a bit offensive. But honestly, can you find a better descriptor for names like Sookie Stackhouse, Ever Bloom and Midshipman Hornblower?

Name That Character

I didn't make up those examples above; other authors did. I'm not the most well-traveled girl in the world, but I haven't ever met anyone named Sookie or Ever. Good character names are memorable, and the really weird ones always are. But good character names should also be easy to pronounce. Otherwise, you're just going to have readers stumbling over their own tongues when they attempt to describe your book to others. It seems like a small point, but if your book is difficult to describe verbally you're shooting yourself in the foot. Word-of-mouth is still by and large the greatest advertising tool for any product, including yours. 

You want your names to be memorable, easy to pronounce and easy to spell. Why? Because everyone's on Twitter and writing in blogs, and if they misspell your character name would-be readers won't find your book and they'll go buy someone else's book and that's your fault...that's why.

If you've got those three things covered, you're in pretty decent shape...but that still leaves the door really wide open for an array of weird names. Crazy made-up names or otherwise odd-sounding names put a unique stamp on your book. Maybe too unique. The really strange names turn readers off and end up becoming the butt of jokes in blog posts like this one. So think it over. Crazy character names have their place...not always in your books.

Indie News: Wattpad Introduces Fan Funding

Not on Wattpad yet? If you need more motivation to get involved with this story-sharing social media site, here's an incentive: you can use it to make money for your self-publishing projects. 

Wattpad has recently introduced a "Fan Funding" option to the site, where writers can encourage readers in their network to help fund their upcoming projects. Wattpad says their program is different from the crowd funding platform Kickstarter because many Wattpad users have large fan bases to work with.

The platform isn't limited to ebooks or even print books. Through Fan Funding, Wattpad users can donate to movie scripts and other writing-related projects. This gives indies a whole new means of supporting their dreams and making them a reality. 

So if you've been waiting for an excuse to join the site, now's your chance. While you're there, look me up!

Books on Film: A River Runs Through It

Like some of the best film adaptations, A River Runs Through It was based on a short story. I've always believed that movies are too short and small a medium to accurately capture a complete novel...but short stories are another matter entirely. This one was originally published in May 1976, and it's sort of based on a true story. 

The Book

The story revolves around the Maclean family, who live in the wide-open spaces of Montana. Fly fishing is what bonds them together. The story is mostly told through Norman's eyes. He's the oldest son, and he goes on one last fishing trip with younger brother Paul. This occurs in the summer of 1937; both men are in their early 30s. 

Fishing is a huge part of the story, which is really more of a novella. If you like very long and detailed descriptions of nature and the weather, you will certainly enjoy the print version of this particular tale. In-between descriptions of lures and the like, you'll see the profound relationship between the Maclean brothers. Neither one can really understand each other, but their affection isn't any less because of it.

The story in the book delves much more deeply into the characters than the film, and gives you a much closer look at Norman's struggle to help Paul. The story is taken from a semi-autobiographical novel, a collection of three stories, written by (who else?) Norman Maclean.

The Film

A River Runs Through It is perhaps best-known as being a Brad Pitt movie, but it's a pretty enjoyable period piece in spite of that. Pitt plays Paul, younger brother to narrator Norman (Craig Sheffer). Directed by Robert Redford, the flick was so popular it actually sparked an interest in fly fishing all over the United States. 

The two brothers are the sons of a Presbyterian minister. Norman has been away at college for 6 years when the film begins, and Paul has been working as a journalist back home. They are a study of opposites. Norman is straight-laced, and interested in courting the eligible young Miss Jessie Burns. Paul is wild, and chases the ladies as it strikes his fancy. He drinks, he gambles, he does just what he likes...much to Norman's despair.

It's your classic coming-of-age tale...but it's Norman who ends up coming of age, not Paul. If you haven't seen it, what have you been doing? You must seek it out at once. But if you read the story and watch the film, you will find some differences in the two narratives.

What Got Adapted?

You'll get to meet Jessie much more quickly on the page. She appears once the film is already well-established, and she doesn't marry Norman soon enough. Jessie is Mrs. Maclean early in the story, and Norman's ordeal with her brother plays out after they are married.

Paul catches the fish in the movie, but it was really Norman who wrangled the beast on the page. It doesn't happen at the end of the story, either, but more toward the beginning. Certain plot points are also fabricated out of whole cloth for the movie. In the book, Norman doesn't attend Dartmouth or get offered a job in Chicago.

Some of the passages from the story, however, appear in the film verbatim. Some of Brad Pitt's most memorable lines are ripped right from the page, as are Tom Skerritt's as the minister/father.

The book takes you even deeper into the world make visual by the movie, and both are worth the time it takes to enjoy them. This is one adaptation that got it pretty much right...and that fits into my theories perfectly, so I highly recommend it.

Exposing Death

 "I don't know how Jade Varden keeps these twists and surprises coming!" 

"Will all the lies be revealed or will they all be swept under the rug like usual?"

Death (Deck of Lies, #3) has been reviewed at Eastern Sunset Reads. Check out their review to see how the book was rated!

Alert! You Need Justice

"If you enjoy a mystery and contemporary young adult this book’s for you."

"It’s different and refreshing from a lot of the YA that’s out there."

Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) has been reviewed at Good Book Alert. Read the whole thing to find out why the book got 5 stars!

Writing 101: Starting is the Hardest Word...

Those who follow me on Twitter know that I watch The Golden Girls late at night. One of my favorite moments is depicted in the clip below, where Blanche says she's got writer's block...because she hasn't written anything at all. Dorothy tells her that you have to have written something to have writer's block -- otherwise, everyone's got it. But I know what Blanche means, because I've sat and stared at blank screens a lot.


For me, starting any project is the hardest part. I compile research, I envision plots, I carefully plan outlines...and then, I sit. I stare at the screen. I think about that first line. I let my mind wander; I try to snap my focus back into place. The dance could go on indefinitely, in some cases, if I let it. 

A lot of emphasis is placed on the first line of any book. Join any forum group, and you'll often see it as a thread. The first line is the subject of articles, blog posts, conversation and obsession. No pressure, or anything, but you're expected to come up with an amazing first line. Not just good, mind you, but sensational. Some readers believe that the better the first line, the better the book.

This is how writers get blocked...before they even write a single word. This is why I stop, and start again, and erase, and go back, and eventually just write whatever feels right to me. This is how you defeat the blank page curse: stop caring. The best first lines are natural, and flow easily into the rest of the story. If you think about it too much and obsess over it, you're going to end up like Blanche...staring at egg yolks inside a plastic bag.

Writing 101: Easing Into It

It's very dramatic to kill a character suddenly, or allow raeaders to walk in on a cheating husband. Many authors write moments like this in order to provoke an emotional reacion. But your readers aren't going to buy it unless you're easing into it. Abrupt plot turns need to have some backstory. Otherwise, readers just aren't going to care. 

Slowing Down

You're writing a story about Beatrice and her friend Ursula. But if you kill Beatrice in the first four pages of text,  what do I care? I barely had time to meet her before she was suddenly gone. If the remainder of the story is all about Beatrice's loss, I'm not really going to identify because I'm not feeling the pain of that loss. In other words, I won't like that story. 

There is merit in slowing down and setting the stage, something that many great writers do before they introduce too much action and plot. Show me some scenes with Beatrice before you take her away. Show her doing something admirable, or intriguing. Get me interested in that character and invested in that character, and then yank the rug out from under my feet. Otherwise, I won't feel the impact of that big moment. 

You want to make an impact with your words. Do it properly by setting the stage and letting the reader establish some feelings before you throw them into the meat of the story. Easing into it is a delicate art form, but once mastered you'll be able to jerk those heartstrings much more successfully.

Writing 101: Retaliation

Ever given someone a not-so-glowing review? Ever had that come back to you in equal, or even greater, measure? The indie author community is a close-knit bunch of folks that do a lot of interacting with each other...but artists do tend to be a little touchy. You too could be a victim of indie author retaliation. 


I'm a big advocate for the indie author community as a whole. Self-published authors need each other, and honestly if you're doing it right you're going to interact with them anyway. You'll bump into them in forum groups, on Twitter, and you'll find them commenting on your blog. 

And you're not going to become BFF with every last one of them, because this is not summer camp. Even worse, if you start reading books by other indie authors (and chances are, you will) you're going to discover that some of them just don't suit your particular reading tastes. You're not going to enjoy every single self-published book you read. If you're honest about those feelings (and I believe you should always be honest), you may face retaliation. 

One-star reviews may appear out of nowhere, comments that belittle you may suddenly crop up...you might even get a rage-filled email accusing you of pretty much everything except being a Republican. It's going to hurt your feelings, because that's the point. You hurt their feelings...by being honest. This doesn't make sense, I know. When you're a  professional, you know that you aren't going to please all the readers all the time. You know that you may face comments and criticism that sting a little, and you know you've got to simply absorb that information, use it however you can, and write the next line. You'll get 'em next time.

But every indie author you meet isn't going to have this attitude. Some indie authors think they are geniuses, their words so brilliant and perfect they can do absolutely no wrong. You are wrong for not liking their work. You are wrong for being critical (even if your mission was to review their work and therefore, to be critical). And by Jove, you are now the one who's going to hurt.

This is the path to retaliation, and believe it or not it's pretty easy to walk. It beckons and it calls, and it traps many different indie authors and in some cases, their friends and supporters. You may not be attacked by the author in question, but by one of their network of fans/friends/whatever.

It may never happen, but if you dish out reviews then it's probably going to happen in some form or fashion. When feelings are hurt, people tend to lash out. And as a professional, you're just going to have to absorb it. Look at the bad reviews and the ugly comments, and feel sad about them. Cry if you like. And then shove it away from you...and write the next line. 

As an author, that's just what you do. Don't ever retaliate against one of your fellow authors, or anyone really. Stay professional, stay cool, and they'll end up leaving you alone. If you react to their reaction, it could lead to a full-blown war...and who's got the time?

Writing 101: Publicity Stunts

What's the craziest marketing idea you ever had? A few years back, I launched a one-woman email campaign under an assumed name in an attempt to get a certain right-wing, conservative talk radio host to publicly denounce a book I wrote (under a different pen name, in a former life). I happen to believe that bad publicity is better than no publicity at all, and there's an entire school of thought that controversy sells books...but I digress. The point is, I'm not above at least attempting a publicity stunt (because my campaign didn't work, FYI)...and you shouldn't be, either. 

Hanging Upside-Down from a Building

I saw this movie about Houdini once. It was based on his life (they call that a biopic) and it really wasn't very good (it had everything to do with the actor that played Houdini, whom I won't name). But I do remember this one thing about it quite distinctly: he was a master of the publicity stunt. Houdini resorted to all sorts of stuff in order to get attention for his feats of daring magic-do, and it worked. He had himself locked inside jail cells, punched in the gut, tossed into bags...and once, in Las Vegas, he put himself in a straight jacket and hung upside-down from a truly eye-popping height.

Suspended above one of the city's tallest buildings, Houdini hung there...until he started to draw an enormous crowd. This is how he introduced himself to the city. And whether you care for his tactics or not, you've got to admit that he did something right -- because you've probably heard the name Houdini before you ever found this blog. The man died almost 9 decades ago, and you still know his name. 

That's good marketing. Publicity stunts are a fantastic way to get lots of attention very quickly, but you have to tread lightly. Writing inflammatory (and fake) emails is one thing, but publicity stunts of Houdini's ilk are life-threatening (go back and read that again: life-threatening). So if you're going to pull a publicity stunt, please come up with one that couldn't possibly cause you or any bystanders any injury. If there is any risk or danger involved whatsoever, take all necessary safety precautions. 

I should probably also caution you not to break the law, though in some of my crazier moments I've often thought that even a jail term is negligible. But seriously, don't break the law and don't implicate me if you do. I am not advocating in any way that any authors go out and break laws in order to gain publicity.

However, I do condone a perfectly legal and relatively harmless publicity stunt. There are lots of good examples of safe, legal stunts. The most famous publicity stunt ever just may be the Boston Tea Party, but please don't go declare war to sell some books.

Ever heard of the Tour de France? A French newspaper organized the first one, back in 1903, to get more readers. It worked, by the way. The first Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was also a PR stunt for the department store, back in 1924. In 1999, 11 UK ladies from the Women's Institute posed nude to raise money for charity. They cleverly used flowers and bakery items to hide the more R-rated areas of their anatomy, and got so much attention it even inspired a film.

And in the UK, a student glued himself to a billboard for a book promotion. Publicity stunts can work sometimes, and sometimes they fail. The beauty of a really good publicity stunt, however, is that even a failure can be a success because they may get media attention, too. By the way, I don't think you should glue yourself to a billboard.

Writing 101: How To Make Readers Visualize

Break it down to the basics, and writing is simply this: painting a picture with words. You have to use 26 letters, repeated in millions of different patterns, to make someone else picture exactly what you want them to see. That makes you a little bit insane, really. You've set yourself to an extremely ambitious and difficult task. But if you break it down to basics, there are a few tricks you can master to make painting with that word brush a little bit easier. 

Do You See What I See?

Picture me standing next to a tree. You're going to come up with an image of me, and an image of a tree, based upon your own experiences. If you're from the Pacific Northwest, you might be seeing a towering redwood in your mind's eye. Someone from the southern US may conjure up an image of a drooping weeping willow, or a fragrant magnolia. 

So maybe I ought to tell you to picture me standing next to an elm tree. If you've never seen an elm, you aren't going to be able to draw a clear image. So now I've got to tell you the elm is tall and slender, with a straight trunk covered in grayish bark. 

Is that picture getting a bit more clear? That's the first thing to remember: if you're going to draw a picture, draw a complete one. Give me enough details, as a reader, to fill in the details. The more clearly I can see that picture, the more deeply I'm involved with your story. 

  • Make comparisons: Give readers a frame of reference when needed. Lot of people have never seen caviar, an expensive delicacy. So tell people it looks like shiny little black marbles, only about one-tenth the size. Most people have seen marbles. 
  • Add color: Don't ever forget to include colors. Tell people to envision a girl and they will. Tell people to envision a girl with flaming red hair, and now you're in control of the scene.
  • Include background: I can picture a red-haired girl floating in a white space, but it's going to feel much more real if you tell me to see her in a wide, flat meadow filled with small, white flowers. Include background, and paint a clearer picture.

Make your reader visualize, and you'll make them like your writing much more. Authors have to paint with words -- a monumental feat, to be sure, but not an impossible one.

Writing 101: Stop Being Humble

When you're an indie author, you have to be your own publisher, literary agent and biggest fan. In other words, stop being humble. You are an amazing writer and anyone who isn't reading your book is totally missing out. Remember that. Write it down if needed. Keep it close by...and when all else fails, just pretend. Because if you're going to promote yourself, you have to be capable of selling yourself

Buy Me

You don't have to convince readers to buy your books, whatever they're about. You have to convince readers to buy you as an author. That's the real secret to selling books. So first things first: convince yourself that you are awesome. If you can't do that, you certainly can't convince anybody else. 

Fooling yourself is an important part of being an indie author. But there's no reason to be ridiculous about it. Read and re-read your book. Check it, double check it, triple check it for errors. Make sure there are no plot holes or glaring grammar mistakes, no crazy punctuation and no excessive junk you don't really need. Once you feel comfortable that you have done the best you possibly can, there's no reason not to get out there and start marketing yourself and your work with absolutely everything you've got.

Now's the time to drop all pretense of being humble. Tell everyone about your book, and that it's great. Write down a few short, concise sentences that sum up what your book is all about. Repeat them, memorize them, and use them when people ask (and even if they don't).

Tweet about your book...every single day. Write Facebook updates about it. Blog about it. Guest blog about it. Look for book review sites, and sell it to them -- at least once a week. Post excerpts of it. Find Goodreads forums where you're allowed to talk about it. Give the damn thing away, always reminding everyone how fabulous it is. Once you get some reviews, make a list of all the good quotes and share them all over the place -- with a link back to the book, of course.

And meanwhile, conduct yourself like a professional author. You are always selling yourself as an author with everything you put out there, and you should always be in a mindset that you are an amazing one.

Writing 101: Don't Describe Too Much

I'm not too sure how it happened, but I started reading one of my really old books the other day. Predictably, I was quite appalled by what I saw. One of the many things I've learned is this: every single thing does not need to be described.

Adding Adjectives

What does that mean? Aren't writers supposed to be descriptive, paint pictures, put their readers in the middle of the action? Yes, to all of it. But there is such as thing as too many descriptive words. Let me give you an example of the type of stuff I've been reading in the past week: 

"It looks like rain," she said quickly, glancing to her left at Lola. 
Lola hurriedly rushed to the window, peeling back one side of the drapes to press her nose close to the glass. "It does!" She cried excitedly, turning to look over her shoulder at Dev. "It really does!" She added with a big smile. 

Bad, right? Felt like it was sort of dragging you along, didn't it? Let's eliminate some of those unnecessary descriptive words and see what happens: 
"It looks like rain," she said, glancing at Lola. 
Lola rushed to the window, peeling back one side of the drapes to press her nose close to the glass. "It does!" She cried, turning to look at Dev. "It really does!" She added with a big smile. 

When you use too many descriptive words, you may sometimes unintentionally repeat yourself. Excessive words also make the text feel clunky. In the example above, hurriedly rushed, for instance, is redundant. Clearly she's hurrying if she's rushing, so you don't need that descriptor.

Read your words more carefully, and remember that more isn't always more. Eliminate what you don't need to make your work more streamlined and easier to read. You want the writing to flow, and readers to turn the pages quickly because they're captivated by the story. It's impossible to be captivated if you've got too many words getting in the way.

Writing 101: Targeting Your Marketing

They say that being successful as an indie author requires spending a lot more time on promotion than on actual writing. But if you're just throwing stuff out there at random, you're not doing a whole lot of good. First, you've got to figure out where your target audience is. Then, you've got to actually target them. 

Ready, Aim, Fire

It's a lot like playing basketball. If you close your eyes and start chucking balls in the general direction of the basket, sure a few of them will go in. But if you open your eyes and actually aim at the center of the target, it's likely that you'll land even more of them. Targeted marketing just makes sense, and it will save you time that you can spend on actual writing.

  • Define your age group. The first step in targeted marketing is defining the age group that would be most interested in your books. This is really easy for some genres, like children's and YA. You already know who you're writing for. When you write other types of books, however, it gets tricky. Romance novels can appeal to people of all ages, but women in their thirties and forties buy the bulk of romance novels. Scifi novels are largely read by people in their teens, twenties and thirties. Look at demographics and data specific to your genre, and get a better idea about who's most likely to purchase your books. 
  • Define your gender. Both men and women read books, but they're largely drawn to different genres. Women overwhelmingly buy romance novels, as compared to men, for example. When you start thinking about gender, you can start getting really specific and figure out that teenaged girls are likely to be the most interested in your YA paranormal romance, for instance.
  • Find your market. So now you know more about who your audience is. The next big step in targeting your marketing? Finding them. Where are these people? If you're spitting a bunch of links out on Twitter all day and your books are most appealing to college-educated divorcees, you're wasting a ton of time because Twitter is largely populated by teens and twenty-somethings. Facebook is more appropriate if you're looking for people who are a little bit older. Look up information about your target demographic. Find out which websites they like, what activities interest them and what sort of blogs they read. Once you figure this out, you'll know where to spend the bulk of your promotional efforts. 

Targeting your marketing is the best way to connect directly with your audience. Focus your promotional efforts, and you'll see much bigger results from your hard work.

Writing 101: When Fiction Writers Use Brackets

The Internet has totally blurred, if not altogether obliterated, the lines of good punctuation. Now, people are using punctuation to make little faces at the end of the sentences. This is not the use for which punctuation was originally intended, and it's darn confusing. Maybe that's why it's so difficult to know when to use brackets in fiction writing. It's almost never okay for authors to do so...even when you're writing about what happens on the Internet. 

Thou Shalt Not Use Brackets

Brackets are not a parenthesis...they're the more twisted cousin. While parentheses have gently curving lines, brackets have hard edges. That's to remind you that they're used only in the most extreme of circumstances. In fiction, they're used almost ever.
In other types of writing, brackets can be used for a handful of different reasons. 

  • Math: In some complicated mathematical problems, brackets are used to show specific number groups or functions or what-have-you.
  • HTML: Look at an HTML how-to anything online, and you're likely to see brackets. They're commonly used to show how the code is written.
  • Quotations: Brackets are found in online articles and other pieces that contain quotes. When a word needs to be added or a pronoun needs to be changed to a proper noun, the word is put inside brackets.
  • Direct address: The direct address is the only time you're likely to see brackets in fiction writing. As the name would suggest, this is when the author directly addresses the reader with the words inside the brackets. This by no means requires that you have an entire conversation with the reader. It's usually one to three words at most. It's always done to clarify or emphasize. Example: "Bob and Hugo stared on in shock. He [Hugo] decided to open the umbrella."
Fiction writing doesn't necessarily need brackets, because there are much better ways to clarify what you mean. Using them can help streamline and save time where otherwise a long explanation may be required. Brackets definitely have their place, but like any good punctuation they have to be used sparingly and correctly. Use too many, and it will just become disruptive.