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Hope's Rebellion

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Writing 101: Getting Ahead of Yourself

Which comes first: the cover or the final draft? When I write, sometimes I'll start thinking pretty far ahead -- not just about this story, but maybe even about the next story I'm going to write. I've learned that lots of other authors do the same thing. And like me, they have to stop it from happening. Getting ahead of yourself can be harmful to your writing.

 Fast Track

Don't get too far ahead of yourself when you're writing a book, because it gets overwhelming. If you start thinking about the cover and the marketing and the blurb while you're still writing the first draft, you're doing too much. Focus on the story itself, and get that perfected first.

Take it one chapter, one page, one paragraph at a time -- don't start thinking about the cover and all of that until the first draft is finished. Because if you start getting too far ahead of yourself, you may start to feel pressured. You may start to rush the story, because you're already so far ahead of it already. You can't live in the future, you can only live in the now...so focus on where you are now

Get the story perfected and then start filling in the details, because you don't have to get it published right away. Take your time with every aspect of the story and plan it out carefully. Don't be in a rush to go fast, because that results in lower-quality work.

Indie News: Slow Sales? You Aren't the Only One

If your book sales took a dive over the summer months, not to worry: this is often the case with indie authors. Now that the weather is edging ever-so-slowly toward fall, you should see a rise in your profits. 

Summer Reading

People read less in the summer, particularly children (this makes things difficult for YA and children's book authors). Everyone's getting outside and going on vacation, enjoying the interesting summer TV programming and working on their tan lines. It leaves little time for reading. 

Books have natural peak times and slow times, and it's common for sales to become a little lethargic during the summer months. But the holiday season will soon be upon us, and that's the best time to sell books. So use this slow period to work on your marketing strategy, and make up for it.

Books on Film: Sphere

We're entering the month of fear and fright, chills and thrills. What better way to celebrate it than with a scary book? But be careful if you choose to explore the world of Sphere -- the movie adaptation is scary in all the worst ways.

The Book

Michael Crichton published Sphere in 1987, but it's still terrifying today. The book begins with psychologist Norman Johnson, who is just beginning to get a little grumpy as he edges into the outskirts of old age. He's being flown to a classified location by the Navy, and so far they aren't telling him anything. When he reaches a full-scale military operation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and he's told they've discovered an alien spacecraft...well, Norman pretty much wishes they had decided not to tell him anything at all.

The spacecraft has been there for a while. Judging by the coral, it's been in place for over 300 years. Norman is only one part of an elite task force that has been assembled to investigate. The rest of the team includes mathematician Harry Adams, biologist Beth Halpern and astrophysicist Ted Fielding. Norman soon realizes that this is the exact team that he put together in a report he was asked to write years and years ago by the government. Norman was tasked with creating a plan if and when alien life was discovered on Earth.

When he wrote the report, Norman thought it was a joke. Now, on a Navy vessel with his team and a crew of soldiers he realizes that this is no joke. It's definitely not a joke when they're all put on a submarine and taken to the bottom of the Pacific in order to study and explore the spacecraft.

 During the mission, they learn that the spaceship isn't alien after all...it was built by Americans. It's not a spaceship, not really, but a timeship that was (one assumes) accidentally sent back to the wrong time. But on board the ship, there is definitely something of alien origin. 

It's a sphere.

By the way, there's a storm topside (that means above the water) and the submarine has lost all communication with their support up above. The team of scientists has decided to focus on the sphere. They attempt communication with it, and Harry eventually uses his math skills to find a way inside. 

Very strange things begin to happen, and the sphere begins to exhibit a very distinct personality. It puts all of Norman's skills to the test to manage the truculent sphere and the increasingly stressed-out team of experts.

Things get really scary and really interesting, and the book is definitely worth your time. The movie...is a bit of a different story.

The Film

The book became a film in 1998, with Dustin Hoffman starring as Norman Johnson (Goodman on film), Samuel L. Jackson as Harry and Sharon Stone as Beth. It was an utter flop, and the critics hated it, too.  It earned around $37 million at the box office, far below the $80 million budget.

Yeah, the studio poured a ton of money into the film. They hired the best actors they could get. And they chose an excellent source of material to create a story. So why is this film so very bad? 

The special effects are good, but somehow the roles never quite fit the actors. Hoffman isn't methodical enough to be Norman, Jackson is too angry to be Harry, and Sharon Stone is sort of just...there. Too much quick dialogue pull and push the viewer through the plot, instead of allowing the story to unfold naturally.

And that's only part of the problem.

What Got Adapted?

Sphere as a movie didn't follow the book too well. Where the book exposes many of Norman's inner thoughts, the movie jumps from perspective to perspective to confuse the narrative. Many events are changed or eliminated, and some characters are removed before their time should come. Many, many writers have called this movie one of the worst adaptations ever...so think about that before you take the plunge and watch it.

Writing 101: Twist Ending

Nothing affects you quite like a truly great twist ending. Famous examples include Shutter Island, Fight Club and Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. But nothing is quite as infuriating as a twist ending done badly. You're the author, so the ending isn't supposed to surprise you...so how do you know when your ending is a surprise to someone else? 


Twist endings, by definition, completely change the plot of the story. They come as a surprise. Something unexpected happens, and everything is different. This can be done for dramatic or comedic effect...and it can be done poorly either way, too. 

Bad twist endings can appear pretty much anywhere, and you can blame all sorts of culprits. It's much easier to learn how to recognize the elements that make a twist ending good, because lots of stuff can make it bad. 

  • Logic. Good twist endings don't ignore logic. If I read your book for 300 pages and I'm trying to figure out whether the girl and the guy will end up together or if the mean ex-girlfriend and stepmother will be successful in their plot to unhinge the romance and all of a sudden a serial killer with a chainsaw comes along and kills everyone and there's been no previous reference to a chainsaw killer in the book...well, I'm not going to write you a very nice review. Crazy serial killer is a twist ending, but when it's totally random it is not a good one.
  • Reveal. A really juicy twist ending often reveals some new piece of information about a character that was kept secret for the whole of the book (until now). Revealing that the main character is actually a woman disguised as a man and she's the one who was having the affair with Steve -- not Carol, who was killed for the aforementioned affair in Chapter 2 -- is an example of this technique. 
  • New development. The new development is a classic type of twist ending. A letter arrives in the mail, a rich relative dies, someone gets killed -- some brand-new plot happens that completely changes someone's circumstances. This is a tricky method, because you have to maintain the logic. The relative must be mentioned in the book, the victim must be introduced early...it has to make sense. 
  • Really? It's hard to do this, but shock and awe can also be used as a twist ending. Unexpectedly killing the main character (or several characters) will leave readers with their mouths hanging open. A catastrophic event is certainly a memorable ending, but make sure it brings some resolution. You have to provide satisfaction when you dole out chaos. 

After you write your twist ending, run it through a couple of beta readers to see how they feel about it. Read it yourself, and check for the elements that make endings good. A well-done twist ending will leave readers feeling something about your book, and that's a good way to leave them.

Writing 101: Writing the Title

In some cases, writing the title can be the hardest part of writing the whole book. I know this to be true, because I worked on a book for about 10 months before giving it any sort of title at all (and I later rejected it). This is why I wait to announce my titles. So what should you do if you find yourself in a similar place...and can't seem to get around to writing the title? 

What's in a Name? 

The importance of the book title cannot be overestimated. It's the first (and sometimes only) thing readers notice. The title has to grab them and interest them, or they won't take a look at the blurb. If they don't read the blurb, you don't make the sale...and that all starts with the title.

It's okay to take a long time to figure out what the title of your book should be, though I've read some author tips where experts tell you to title your project right away. Don't do this unless you get struck by inspiration and you're certain this is the title for you. Some book titles don't reveal themselves until the very end of the book (which was the case with my current project) and that's fine because you can't publish before you're finished anyway.

But sometimes, inspiration doesn't strike. When a title just isn't coming to you, it might be necessary to jog your creativity a little.

  • Word list. Make a list of words that you might use to describe your book. Anything that comes to mind is okay -- nothing is off-limits when you brainstorm. Keep going until you run out of words, then sit back and look at your list. As you explore your words, something might leap out at you. 
  • Expand. If you have a handful of good words that fit, but none that are really shouting at you, it's time to expand. Take the best words from your list and look them up in your favorite thesaurus (or two or three). Write down any new words that strike your fancy. 
  • Name game. Using the words you've got, just start throwing dummy titles together. Come up with 5 or so and start playing with them. With some tweaking, you may write something perfect.

When all else fails, turn the title into a promotional event. Release a well-polished excerpt and your book blurb and stage a contest that allows fans to choose the title for your book. This is risky, but it can give you a decent marking boost and help you solve your titling problem, to boot. Include a note of thanks to the fans who named the book in the dedication or the Author's Note, and make it part of the book's history.

Writing the title can be one of the hardest parts of being an author. Keep working at it until you come up with something that you love, and don't rush the process. If you take your time, you'll craft the perfect title.

Writing 101: Don't Be Trendy

If you wrote a book about wizards when Harry Potter came out, a vampire story when Twilight became a movie and a dystopian action drama most recently, you're not a slave to inspiration...you're being way too trendy. Authors are terminally uncool...so it's really just best not to try to keep up with the tide of public favor. 

I'm a Barbie Girl

Everyone loves a fad, and I'm no exception. I turn certain movies into full-blown events. I consider myself to be pretty fashionable and trendy...but I don't try to follow book trends. For one thing, they come and go too quickly. By the time I started considering writing a book about wizardry, Twilight was already the next big thing. And before I even had the chance to consider writing a vampire book, it was all about The Hunger Games

But even that isn't a good enough reason not to follow trends. You only really need one: you should be writing what you want to write. If you've ever started a novel, grown bored and started four more different novels, you know what I mean. When you have a story that's just aching to be told, you can hardly stop writing -- or thinking about it. If you're only writing something because it's trendy, you aren't writing at your best...or with your whole heart.

So ignore the trends in books, and stick to the trends in fashion (like me). This will help you design more attractive book covers, which is really the only literary trend you ought to bother following at all.

Writing 101: Loneliness

When you write, you're doing it alone. It follows that if you can't embrace loneliness...you can't really be a writer.

My World

There are times when the world is only me and the screen right in front of me, a scrolling marquee of black text that just keeps getting longer and longer with each new thought that enters my head. Writing is a very self-involved experience. The real world goes away as you sink deeper and deeper into the one you're creating.

And that gets lonely. As a writer, you can get lonely even if you're writing in a room surrounded by people. It's just you and the screen. Sometimes, that's great. You're in the zone and you're typing and it's all flowing well. Other times, it's terrifying. The white screen is staring at you, mocking you, taunting you.

You are alone with the screen. You're on your own with the plot, the characters, every twist and turn. Perhaps you have someone to bounce your ideas off of, but only you really understand the world you're writing. Only you do the typing, the editing, the agonizing and the imagining. 

That's lonely. There are going to be times when you drive yourself a little crazy. Doing great writing means being isolated, totally within your own head and totally living on the page. The rest of the world fades away. So remember to step outside of that space every once in a while. Make an effort to connect with real humans (not just Twitter followers) and get away from work to have fun. 

Indie News: New eBook Store Broadens Indie Market

Amazon, B&N and lots of traditional booksellers have opened the door for indie authors to publish and market their work...but in these bookstores, indies have to compete with traditionally-published authors. Libiro, a new ebook store, will allow indies to enjoy more even odds.

Knocking Down the Door

Libiro was created by self-published author Ben Galley and Teague Fullick, a designer.  The website "devotes its shelf-space entirely to self-published and small press titles," Galley told Forbes.

Galley wants to eliminate the stigma that surrounds self-published books "because it simply isn't true. Libiro, being a purely indie store, can showcase the indie market...We want to create our own bestsellers."

And for authors who want to publish on the site, there's another perk: 80 percent royalty. Regardless of your book's length or price, this is the standard.

The store is pretty new, and still rough around the edges. Users are saying they don't get enough analytical data regarding their book sales, and Galley admits they've still got work to do. For now, he says, they're focusing on providing readers with a large selection of books.

Books on Film: Along Came a Spider

Halloween is approaching, and to me that means one thing: time for scary movies. Some of the best scary movies were books before they were film. One of my favorites is Along Came a Spider, the novel that launched a 19-book (and counting) career for literary detective Alex Cross. 

The Book

James Patterson published Along Came a Spider in 1993, introducing the world to Alex Cross.

Cross is a detective with the Washington, D.C. police force and a forensic psychologist. How good is the book that introduced him? Along, so far, has launched 18 sequels, a film adaptation and millions of fans.

At the start of the story, Alex is investigating three horrific murders. The stakes are raised when two prominent students, Maggie Rose Dunne and Michael Goldberg, are kidnapped by math teacher Gary Soneji. Cross is ordered to investigated the high-profile kidnappings, which enrages him because the world seems more interested in the disappearance of two rich white children than the murder of three poor black people.

He's still in a bad mood when he meets Secret Service agent Jezzie Flannagan, head of the children's detail. They clash, but the attraction between the two is obvious as they work together to unravel the mystery.

Soneji has the children at a deserted farmhouse. He buries them alive and goes on to kill FBI agent Roger Graham, who spoke about Soneji as a press conference. As Cross investigates, he learns that Soneji is a bit of a crime history buff and seemingly obsessed with becoming a famous criminal.

Cross is personally singled out by Soneji when the kidnapper makes a ransom demand of $10 million. Alex is ordered to deliver the cash, which he does, but Cross doesn't recover either of the children. At the farmhouse, police find the graves...empty. Soneji has returned to his home in Delaware. Surprisingly, he's a family man with a wife and daughter.

It doesn't keep him from killing another teacher. It's this murder that makes Cross and his partner John Sampson realize that Soneji is also responsible for the earlier murders. As the mystery unravels, Cross learns that the plot is much thicker than he imagined...and the spider web more complex than anyone could have conceived.

The Film

The film version of the book was created in 2001, after a successful adaptation of James Patterson's Kiss the Girls. Though Along Came a Spider takes place chronologically before Kiss, the movie was adapted after. 

But if you watch the film, you'll have some trouble connecting it to the original book. Much of the plot is eliminated and Alex Cross is changed in a lot of ways. Morgan Freeman played Cross on film, a man much older than the character. Because of this, all of his family was eliminated on film.

On film, Soneji contacts Cross directly and Alex is sent on a wild goose chase to deliver the ransom money. Cross kills Soneji in the movie, saving Flannigan's life, before he unravels the rest of the mystery. Soneji doesn't die in the book; he'll be back to bother Alex, much later. In the movie, Cross actually manages to save one of the children.

What Got Adapted?

Most of the book was adapted for film, in fact. Flannigan's eventual fate is eliminated and changed entirely. Soneji's wife and child are removed. The trials are omitted, and the romantic entanglement between Alex and Jezzie is taken out completely. It's a very different story, but still worth a watch. Freeman is masterful as Alex Cross, and author James Patterson praised his peformance in the role more than once. But before you watch, read the book! It's one of Patterson's bests.

Writing 101: Is It Action-Packed...or Rushed?

Every author knows that pacing is an important aspect of every book. When events occur very quickly, it creates a sense of action and excitement. ...Or, it makes the book feel rushed. So if you're writing with a fast pace, you have to ask yourself: is it action-packed, or is it rushed? 

Double Time

Timing and pacing will make or break a book. You can use your words to make time feel as though it's passing slowly, or very quickly, in your story. When scenes are thick and heavy and events are occurring very rarely, time will feel as though it's passing slowly. When events are happening much more frequently and sentences are short and to the point, everything feels fast. Many writers use this technique to create action scenes, and drive the pace forward quickly in order to excite readers.

But when it's not done well, it just makes the book feel rushed. There's a very fine line between writing great action and dragging readers across the pages of your story. The difference between a great action scene and a rushed pace can be summed up in one word: emotion. 

Even during action scenes, perhaps especially during action scenes, you want your readers to feel the thrill of it all. They should be pressured by the weight of the danger, shocked by every new turn of events, frightened that their favorite character will somehow suffer. You want events to come quickly and you want readers to be able to devour the words at a fast pace, but always remember to give them time to gasp

And to process what's happening. When you're just firing out information and drawing with rapid strokes, readers don't have time to take note of the fact that Mark has fallen from a shoulder wound and Cara just hurled a rock at Dylan's head. You don't have to be flowery or overly-descriptive, but you should provide enough detail for readers to soak it all in. 

If Mark falls from a wound, describe the burning pain. Let me feel his horror as he watches the rock hit the side of Dylan's skull. Now, shock me when Mark turns to see Cara staring at Dylan, having just thrown that deadly rock. Don't cram events into your sentences so quickly that four things are happening at once. Even in action scenes, it's okay for events to play out one at a time. In many cases, it's preferable.

So re-read those fast scenes, and ask yourself what you're feeling. Ask yourself if you still have time to gasp, and then you'll know if your work is full of action...or just way too quick.

Writing 101: Can You Schedule Creativity?

I make to-do lists and write reminders for even the most mundane tasks. If I didn't, I wouldn't have electricity or any food to eat because I would forget to do it all. I have to put everything on my lists, and cross items off those lists, as each day progresses. I like to try and do things at the same time every day, so it's easier to maintain some sort of order. I've even caught myself putting "work on the book" on my list...and on those days, I get maybe one good paragraph written. 

You can't make yourself be creative. Storytelling isn't something that you can command at will. And I would know...because I've tried.

On My Watch

When you're an indie author, you're also a lot of other things. If you're like me, you've got a ton of things to do in any given day: drink copious amounts of coffee, exercise, clean, work, write, blog...spend lots of time on Twitter. If you work down a list to check all those items off, eventually it's going to be time to write. 

So, write! 

...Can you do it just because I tell you to? 

I force myself to write all the time (it's my job), but I can't force myself to write stories. Well...that's only true up to a point. Most writers can force themselves to write something, even if you're just typing mostly nonsense. But good writing is something that can't be forced. You can't make yourself creative. You know what it's like to be in the zone -- when it's all coming so fast that your fingers can't even keep up with the words pouring out of you. That's not a place that you can put yourself in intentionally.

I'm not a fan of scheduling writing time or setting daily goals, but I have always been an advocate of taking down time to relax and enjoying free time. Into this space, creativity will wander. You will naturally get that writing itch during your free time. You'll get the urge to write, and you'll have the time to follow it. And that's where you'll find the creative zone.

You can't schedule creativity...but you can open the door so creativity will walk through it.

Writing 101: Freebies

In my "day job," I used to write advice articles for freelance writers, and I constantly cautioned them against undervaluing themselves. As a freelance writer, you have to set a minimum price and refuse to waver (unless the economy crashes, but that's a whole different issue). As an indie author, freebies are your bread and butter. You can't possibly undervalue yourself or give enough books away for free. What I'm saying is this: never, ever shy away from giving out freebies.

Free Milk

Homespun wisdom dictates that you should never give anything away for free. Do so, and why would anyone end up buying it? 

But that's just not how it works with books; it's never how it has worked with books. What's the most-read, most-sold, most-known book in the United States? The Bible. It's given away for free all the time, and you can find copies of it in every hotel and church pew in the nation. Yet it also sells more copies every single year. Clearly, people will both drink free milk and buy it still. If that wasn't the case, libraries wouldn't exist. They're dedicated to lending books out for free, particularly all the big bestsellers and legendary classics that everyone wants to read. You can go get a Mark Twain book any time, but people still buy all of them all the time.

Under that philosophy, you should give your book away as often as possible. If you could put a copy of your book in every single hotel room across the land, don't you think you'd get more reviews on Amazon? You certainly would. However, this is not a logistically feasible book promotion. 

Giving free copies of your book away on your blog...now, that is feasible. It's also easy. There are any number of file-hosting sites that will allow you to upload your book file in any format, or multiple formats, and provide you with a link so you can share this file with anyone. I'm partial to Dropbox, but you should explore what's out there and find out what works best.

Smashwords also allows you to run free book promotions any time you like. They give you the added advantage of choosing to mark your books down by percentage instead (25% off, 50% off, and so on). However, Smashwords requires users to have both an account and a special code to take advantage of promotions, and that can be a hassle.

Amazon's KDP program doesn't just allow indies to give their books away for free, it requires it. You choose free days every month as a matter of using the program. I do not advocate this program for indies, however, because Amazon KDP requires an exclusive listing. 

Giving books away for free exposes more readers to your books. Word of mouth is still the most effective book marketing tool in the world, and it's not something you can buy with money. You can buy it with free books. Give them away, get readers talking, and their friends will buy your books when the free promotion is over. 

Many indies are afraid of freebies because they need the sales income. But you'll actually sell more by doing free book promotions frequently. Exposure is everything in this business...and free is free. There are people who will download and read a free book just because it's there. When they fall in love with it, they'll tell everyone. You can't buy that sort of promotion...you can only give it away for free.

Writing 101: Showing Personality

You know how people always tell you "just be yourself" when it comes to any sticky situation? That doesn't apply to self-published authors. In fact, here's much better advice for the indie writer: don't be yourself. Don't be yourself at all. 

What "Be Yourself" Really Means

Everyone makes decisions and forms opinions every day. Some people use all sorts of different criteria when they're deciding what to read -- and the author's personal history and beliefs aren't at all off-limits.

I stumbled across a Goodreads thread not too long ago where one reader stated they wouldn't purchase a certain author's books, because of something they'd done or said.

Unless you specifically write politically- or religiously-toned books, readers don't need to know where you stand on the issues, how you vote or what you think happens to us when we die. Your personal opinions on the President, war and other matters are fine for sharing among friends and family, but you shouldn't use any of your author platforms to tout these opinions (unless you meet the aforementioned criteria). 

But you should still show personality as an author, and give people a sense of who you are as a person. When you're in author mode, this is what "be yourself" actually means. You should be who you are...but be a neutral version of who you are. Be a you who doesn't ruffle feathers. If you're funny, be funny. If you're sexy, be sexy (keep it PG-13 on public platforms, however). And if you want to talk politics, keep it balanced and turn questions back to readers whenever possible. 

Show personality by engaging with readers. Tweet about music you like, shows you watch, movies you've enjoyed. Tell them about your sense of style, what you like to eat, how you spend your time. Be yourself...up to a point. Otherwise, you could be alienating readers. As an indie author, that's something you just can't afford to do.

Indie News: Smashwords Unites Series Books

In case you missed the spam email that flooded many Smashwords author inboxes, you need to know the latest indie news: series have come to the site. Smashwords has unveiled a new function on the site that allows series books to be grouped together, and it's pretty easy to implement. 

To unite your series books as a unit, log into your Smashwords account. A link to the Series Manager tool should appear right on the homepage. Click it and begin following the steps to create a new series. You'll be guided through the process, and taken to a page where you'll find a list of all your books. Click the relevant titles and keep following the steps until you get to the end (it shouldn't take more than a few minutes). 

Once you're done managing your series books, a new link will appear under those titles. This will take you straight to the series page for that book series. Smashwords plans to use the tool to make book-buying easier for customers and selling easier for authors.

Books on Film The Postman Always Rings Twice

James M. Cain published The Postman Always Rings Twice in 1934, and gained notoriety at once. The book is quick, thrilling and (in its day) quite controversial. The novel was banned in Boston for its sexy scenes and themes of violence. But it didn't really get sexy until the 1940s, when Lana Turner helped turn it into a movie.

The Book

The story begins with Frank Chambers, a roustabout who travels from place to place. Right now he's in California and he has wandered into a diner that just so happens to need a helping hand. Frank's always looking for work to make quick money...and there's another incentive.

The diner is owned by Nick Papadakis, an older man with a very young, beautiful wife. Frank is interested at once, and not much troubled by morals. The two begin an affair quickly, because Cora is only too willing. From the very start, there's a level of violence to their relationship.

Cora plainly doesn't love Nick, and she's eager to improve her situation. Together, Cora and Frank plot to kill Nick. This way, Cora can keep the diner and she won't be burdened by the old guy. They want it to look like he has fallen and drowned in the tub, so Cora wallops Nick good with a strong blow. But then the power goes out and a cop unexpectedly arrives, and the plan sours. 

Nick doesn't die. He recovers, but lingering memory loss protects the scheming Cora. So Cora and Frank try again. This time, they stage a car accident. Both Frank and Cora are injured in the attempt, and Nick dies. 

The prosecutor knows the sexy young wife and the handsome drifter are guilty, but there isn't enough evidence to link them to the crime. He uses trickery to get what he wants by charging just Cora with the murder. She immediately rolls over on Frank and tells the cops about his role in the murder, damning herself at the same time. A clever lawyer steps in, however, and for a brief moment it seems that Frank and Cora will live happily-ever-after...until Cora dies in a car accident. 

This time, the prosecutor is able to make murder charges stick...on Frank, for Cora's death. At the end of the book Frank is on death row, and the ambiguous title of the book is never explained. The explanation comes later, after the story is turned into a film.

The Movie

The most famous adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice was made in 1946 with Lana Turner and John Garfield. The movie follows the book quite faithfully until the very end. The writers tacked a speech on to the end of Frank's life, wherein he explains the title. 

This happens when he sort of admits that being executed for Cora's murder, a crime he did not commit, is what he deserves. He says it's because the Postman is ringing twice. "He rang twice for Cora, now he's ringing twice for me." It means that if the Postman can't deliver your package (or your fate) the first time, he'll ring you again.

The film version of this book almost didn't get made. MGM bought the rights more than a decade before they turned it into a film. But when Paramount started making another adaptation of a Cain novel (Double Indemnity), the studio decided to proceed.

What Got Adapted?

There are various visual tricks used in the film that you can't find in the book. In the first scenes, Lana Turned is pictured wearing white. But once Cora conspires to commit a crime, her outfits become all black. This shows the evil of her character. Cora doesn't look like Lana Turner in the novel (she isn't blonde or completely gorgeous), but moviegoers didn't care. She's a little too perfect and too glamorous for the role, but her beautiful evil makes the movie a can't-miss attraction.

Writing 101: Tagging Matters

When you list your self-published books on Amazon, B&N or pretty much any other store, you're going to have the option of adding tags. You should always do this, because tagging matters. 

Words, Words, Words

Seems like there's always one more thing to do, right? It's not enough to write a book. You have to edit it and format it. Don't forget the cover! Now you need a blurb. Have you published it yet? What's the price? Check the layout! Oh, and now add a bunch of words.

Tagging can feel like a stumbling block on the road to making your work publicly available. It's one of the very last things you have to do in a process that can take many years to complete, and it's easy to rush through. You can simply ignore it. You can plug in a handful of words without half thinking about it. And you can move on. 

But if you do it this way, you're automatically decreasing your chances of selling that book. Tagging matters. Why else would all the bookstores be using it? 

Tagging Your Books

So, you've used a search engine before. I've got one on this blog. If you want to find a Writing 101 post about using commas, for example, you can just type comma into the search box and see all the related posts. This is pretty much how all search engines work, especially when it comes to online bookstores. The tags you add to your books are the words that book buyers will use to search for (and find) your books.

Say I'm a casual shopper on Amazon. I'm into historical horror novels involving supernatural activity (don't judge), so I type historical, horror and ghosts. Maybe I like Civil War ghost novels in particular, so I add Civil War. If you don't have any of these tags (or any tags at all) I'm not going to find your book. 

Maybe you don't care, since you've never written a story set in the Civil War about the ghost of a Roman general and a runaway war bride, but one day I might go searching for books that are much closer to your genre. My taste is eclectic. 

So before you publish, write your tags. Think about the words that you would use to describe your book, and make yourself a little list. Don't forget to include all genres that fit, your own name, and indie (if you're an indie). If your story has vampires or werewolves or any other interesting non-humanoids, add them as tags. Don't forget about synonyms. I like to tag teen as well as young adult, because they mean the same thing. So if you're writing murder mysteries, you might want to use tags like murder, killer and death

Now think of two- and three-word phrases that can be used to describe your book. Tags don't have to be just one word, and shouldn't be. You still want me to find you if I type murder mystery or female detective. So add phrases to your tag list, as well. In some cases, websites will limit the amount of tags you can add. Circle the top 5 on your list -- the words and phrases you believe describe your book most accurately -- and use these first. 

Tagging your books makes them easier to find...and that's the goal. So get to tagging everywhere you can, and take that one extra step before you self-publish. 

Writing 101: Juggling Multiple Projects

Many readers like to read more than one book at a time. So is it okay for writers to work on more than one book at a time? Should you be juggling multiple projects, instead of focusing on just one book? 

Balls in the Air

I had to face this question myself, recently. As my Facebook followers know, I've been stuck on the last three chapters of my current project for quite some time now. I started re-reading the manuscript in an attempt to get the creative energies flowing again...and somehow found myself looking over all the research I pulled together for a different book project that I started and stopped (in favor of my current work, ironically). 

As I looked over the materials, I got all excited about the project all over again. I started thinking about the ending, a sure sign that I'm looking forward to working on a project, and had to keep reminding myself that I already have a book to work on. 

Which is exactly why I say no to juggling multiple book projects. As an indie author, I've already got a lot of stuff to do. Blogging, book promotion, forum reading...it takes me over an hour every day just to erase all the Twitter and Wattpad spam from my inbox.  If you self-publish, you're already juggling. Why try to juggle separate casts, settings and plots while you're at it? 

Working on two books at once is a good way to confuse yourself, stretch yourself way too thin...and keep yourself from completing either project. Hey, we've all been there. You get stuck working on a story, so you start another (or go back to an old project you quit long ago). You get into the writing groove again, and you get a lot of progress made on the new story. Then you feel guilty, and go spend time on the other. You pingpong back and forth until you exhaust yourself, finish neither, and start on yet a third story. 

When you get used to juggling, it starts to become easy. You begin with simple, round balls. Then you get really good at it. So you add some bowling pins, which have to be tossed and handled with a bit more finesse. But then you master that, so you decide to turn things up a bit. You throw in something a little more dangerous. Before you know it, you're juggling four chainsaws at once and standing in a flaming ring of fire. It was all so simple in the beginning. All you wanted to do was entertain. Now, you're one wrong breath away from totally severing your hands. 

Juggling multiple projects doesn't work. If you get stuck on a story, it doesn't mean you should immediately abandon that story. Take a break from it -- and from writing stories -- and see how you feel then. Re-read a little of it, and see if you feel like continuing the plot after all. Staying focused on that world is the most effective way to get the project completed. 

But if you do get excited about your next project or a different story idea, use it. I looked over my materials for a different book, and I'm really eager to start writing it. This gave me the motivation I needed to sit myself down and get to work on my current project...and I'm happy to report that I now only have two chapters to complete. I am going to write that next story...but I've got to finish this one first. Juggling has a way of getting really dangerous. 

Writing 101: Success as an Author

I've been thinking a lot, lately, about success. As a writer, it's my job to define words and think about what they mean. Sometimes, I'll agonize over a single word in a sentence for so long it's the only one I get to write that day. As a person, it's easy to get overwhelmed by bills and living expenses and big emergencies and all the rest. And as an author, I've realized that I have no idea what success actually is. 

Are You a Success? 

Are you a success? Before you ask yourself the question, figure out what the heck that word means to you. Because every writer knows that words contain shades of meaning within different shades of meaning. The word opulent may have personally negative associations for me, while to you it just means extra lavish

So you get to find your own definition of success (and maybe you'll share yours with me). 

Does it mean that you're financially comfortable? That you have no worries? That you don't panic when you get an unexpectedly enormous bill to pay? To some people, that's exactly what success means.

But are you still a success if you hate what you do in order to earn that money? Suppose you're a killer for hire making a cool 50 grand for every life you take...and your last target was a 20-year-old soldier? Or a mother of three? Or maybe you just make a ton of money standing in a room and filing all day (because that might be possible somewhere), but your mind is turning to mush and you're bored silly. Are you still a success under these circumstances?

By that measure, are you a success if you're happy with what you do? If you enjoy your days, but every night you have to worry about where your next meal is coming from...are you a success then? 

And let's not forget the factors that are unique to authors. Are you success if you get a lot of 5-star reviews...or even just one? Are you a success if you get a real, bona fide fan letter? Or are you only a success if your book becomes a bestseller?

I don't have the answers, because I don't get to judge whether or not you are a success. That's the real secret of the question: you're the only one who can ever answer it. Don't let someone else answer that question for you. You define your own success, and you make it happen as best as you can. Success as an author means shutting out every one else's opinion...and just figuring out your own. 

Writing 101: Paper or Plastic?

Are ebooks better than paper books, or just more convenient to store? As an indie author, it's important for you to understand your medium...all the mediums you use. So it's time to really get an answer to that eternal question: paper or plastic? 

Reading on Screens

It's a lot easier to carry a cell phone, a tablet or an ereader than to haul 20 books with you everywhere you go. But when you read on a screen instead of on the page, you may be missing out on some of the story. 

By what gauge does one judge the relative merits of reading on a screen versus reading a paper book? As an author, my biggest concern is reading comprehension. 

I'm not the only one who cares about it. The Nielsen Norman Group conducted several studies regarding reading speed and comprehension. According to their findings, it takes readers longer to finish a page of text on the screen. Specially, reading from a computer screen is 25 percent slower than reading a printed page. Reading from a Kindle is almost 11 percent slower than reading a paper book. Reading on the iPad is a little faster -- just 6.2 percent slower than reading on paper.

But that's not all. Reading from the screen isn't just slower, it's harder. Readers who participated in the study using an iPhone-sized screen understood only about half of what they were reading. Compared to those who read from a monitor, iPhone users comprehended around 48 percent less of the text they scanned.

Nielsen asked readers to share their opinions about reading from screens, while they were at it. Surprisingly, many readers said they found it more relaxing to read a paper book. Those who read from their computer screens were uncomfortable, because it reminded them of being at work.

What should indie authors do with the information? They should keep publishing across as many mediums as possible in order to satisfy the biggest possible group of readers. Publish your books so they can be read on the Kindle, Nook, iPads and other tablets...and in paper. As screens grow more sophisticated and technology more advanced, reading from a screen soon may be even better than reading from the page.

Until then, keep printing...just to be on the safe side.

Writing 101: Regard or Regards?

Adding an s to a word may be enough to completely change that word. With other words, however, the change is not so big. When it comes to regard and regards, does that little s make a difference?

To S or Not to S

I'm writing to you in regard to a book review

Regard is sort of an old-fashioned way to say about or concerning. Or is it regards? Use it in the sentence, and it still makes a lot of sense.

I'm writing to you in regards to a book review. 

In the example, the correct usage of the word is regard. You're talking about a book review, a singular object. This means that any modifier of that noun should also be singular -- so leave off the s.

But in the plural, you want to add the s to regards. Let's look at an example.

With regards to the book review requests I've been sending...

Now you're talking about more than one object -- requests. That means now you add the s to make your sentence technically correct. 

However, this is an extremely fine grammar point that most people ignore altogether. Regards and regard are used pretty much interchangeably. Use the one that sounds best to you for the particular sentence you're writing, and you should be okay. Remember that when you doubt your grammar, just read it out loud. If it sounds weird, it's probably wrong.

Guest Post: Cost-Cutting Editing

by Leti Del Mar

Everything I have ever come across in regard to self-publishing says I should get my work edited.  Even those who don't self-publish are still urged to have their manuscript edited before submitting it to agents or publishers.  It makes sense to have your work edited, but it can also be incredibly expensive. I asked around for someone to edit my 82,000 word manuscript and the price range was $500 to $1,500!  ...And that was people just getting started in the business, not those who come highly recommended.

What if you're just starting out and uncomfortable with spending that much money on editing?  What is an aspiring writer to do?  Fortunately, I've got some cost-cutting suggestions!

When it comes to editing for content, you absolutely need another pair of eyes looking over your work.  A free way to do this is to ask a beta reader to read your book.  A beta reader is someone who will read your work and then give you their opinion. It is a good idea to have some questions in mind you want to ask about plot, characters and setting. A good beta reader will give you his or her general ideas and point out inconsistencies or troubled areas.  I've had great success connecting with beta readers on message boards. Try Goodreads groups, World Literary Cafe and the Kindle boards.

  • Sway students. If you want a more personal touch and are willing to shell out some cash, try your local college or University. It is amazing what $50 will buy you. Post a notice asking for English students to critique your work.
  • Swap edits. Use those message boards to find other authors willing to swap edits. Ask for a thorough edit and have them consider grammar, spelling and punctuation.
  • Swap services. Are you handy with graphic design? Swap a cover design for an edit with another author. Are you super duper organized and have contacts with book bloggers?  Perhaps you could swap organizing a blog tour in exchange for an edit.  Hit those message boards and advertise what you can do in exchange for a good manuscript edit.

There are also some great websites out there to help you edit your work.  Grammar Girl answers all sorts of grammatical questions for free. Auto Crit will assess your work and search for things like overused words, spelling mistakes and some grammar issues. You can try it for free, but their packages start at about $50 a year. I love Grammarly! It does a wonderfully thorough job of searching your work for all kinds of grammatical mistakes.  Again, you can try it for free. Ttheir packages start at around $20 a month.

Are these options as good as hiring a professional editor? No.  However, if you are just starting out or if your books have not sold enough that you can justify investing $1500, these suggestions will help you put together a more professional product -- whether you are self-publishing or submitting to agents and publishers.

Want more cost-cutting advice? Check out my book, How To Self-Publish: A DIY Approach. It is available on Amazon for just $0.99.

About the Author

BioLeti Del Mar lives in sunny Southern California with her husband, daughter and abnormally large cat. When she isn’t writing, reading or blogging, she is teaching Biology and Algebra to teenagers. Leti is also a classic film buff, passionate about Art History and loves to travel.

 Leti's blog    Amazon    Goodreads     Facebook   Twitter

This book is for anyone who has ever considered publishing their own work but has either thought the process seemed too complicated or too expensive. My newest book will hold your hand as it guides your manuscript from your word processor to a formatted e-book and paperback. It will show you how to launch and market your book, get reviews, and use social media to establish an author platform. I promise to show you how this can all be accomplished for less than you would spend on a week's worth of lattes!

My Do-It-Yourself Approach is full of useful advice and practical tips any author new to the world of self-publishing can easily implement.

The best news? I am not alone in this endeavor. I have teamed up with 6 other authors who represent a wide variety of writers including; Craig Hurren, Victoria Sawyer, Carmen Stefanescu, Clancy Tucker, Melissa Wray and Lee Zamloch. They have each contributed their insight on topics like the importance of research, coping with bad reviews, creating a brand, utilizing feedback and much more!

Writing 101: Unsolicited Advice

Once you've been an indie author for a while and published a few books, you begin to gain a certain amount of wisdom and experience. You know, for example, how to format an ebook, where to go for cover art, which Goodreads groups to use to find reviews. The indie author community is largely a place for sharing information, and there are times when it all feels friendly. And one day, you may be compelled to take some other indie author under your wing and share your valuable experience with them. You may, one day, feel the need to give out a little unsoliticed advice -- with the best intentions in mind, of course.

I warn you not to do this...no matter how tempting it might get. 

Everything You Can Do...

Say you're hosting an indie author on your blog, or you're being hosted on their blog. Suppose, during the course of getting all of this organized, you notice something on their blog or Twitter profile or Amazon page or whatever. Something...that's just wrong. Maybe the blurb is all wrong, or the cover is crazy-looking, or they're just misunderstanding Twitter all to hell and back. 

You know better. In fact, you made a similar mistake and learned all about it. You know exactly how to fix the problem...and it would be fairly easy to do. So do you tell your indie author colleague, and grace them with the value of your knowledge and insight? 

Absolutely, unequivocally, no. It doesn't matter how nicely you phrase it or how well-intentioned you mean it. If you give you unsolicited advice to another author, it's going to be interpreted as a criticism 9 times out of 10. Of those 9 times, 8 of them are going to go poorly when that other author tells you off (or worse, points out your own flaws). It's just a bad situation for everyone. They won't take your advice any way except the wrong way, they certainly won't follow it, and you're just going to wind up feeling bad and frustrated. It could even lead to an argument and it could very easily ruin the opportunity to work with this author in the future. 

Wait until they ask. If they ask you what you think, they're opening the door and they expect to get some criticism back. When you give unsolicited advice, it very often feels like an attack to indie authors -- who are, generally speaking, a little nervous and unsure of their art in the first place. If they don't ask, they don't ask -- and it isn't your place to give them the help they need. If they're not asking you, it's because they don't want your help. 

So make it easy on yourself, and simply don't give out unsolicited advice. It's almost never received well, and you have lots of other stuff to do.

Writing 101: A Labor of Love?

Do you get crushed by every negative review? Feel a deep pain in your gut if someone doesn't absolutely adore your book? As an artist, it's natural for you to love your creations...but it's something you've got to avoid. Loving your books is dangerous. 

Love's Labor Lost

I wrote, once, about falling in love with one of my books...and how it nearly destroyed me. Now I know that I should never love one of the books I write....I should love writing itself. 

There is a difference, believe me. If you love your book, you're going to be sensitive about it. You're going to find it much harder to listen to criticism that may help you, and you're going to struggle to read and absorb those reviews you work so hard to receive. 

What I'm saying is this: that book isn't going to love you back. Don't give your heart away to something that can't return it or even reinforce it. Don't love your books, love the work. If you love writing itself, rather than the stuff you create with it, you'll always be a writer. If you fall in love with a book, you may get your heart broken. And you may come really close to never writing again, which is exactly what happened to me.

Writing a book is a labor of love, but that doesn't mean you should love the book. You should like the book. You should enjoy reading it (because if you don't, no one else will). And you should definitely put a lot of labor and love into it...just don't fall in love with it. Keep your distance, and stay professional as a writer. This way, you'll always get better as an author...and you'll always be able to move on to your next book project. 

Indie News: Indie Authors Want to Rule the World

Self-publishing is spreading, like a word plague, across the globe. Amazon has launched the Kindle Store and their KDP program in Mexico. Tears for Fears said that everybody wants to rule the world...but Amazon may actually do it one day.

The two launches mean that indie authors in Mexico will now have the option of self-publishing their work through the online giant. Stateside authors enthusiastically embraced the KDP program upon its launch, unleashing a tidal wave of indie titles. The availability of the Kindle Store in Mexico means that US authors will now have the option of selling their books to Mexico, and vice versa. 

Self-publishing has spread so far so fast, many have questioned whether it signals an end to traditional publishing. If self-publishing and ebooks become the norm, Amazon really could rule the world one day.