Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Grappling with Modern Technology in Fiction Writing

Alvina Lopez is a freelance writer and blog junkie, who blogs about accredited online colleges.  Today she talks about the challenges technology offers us fiction authors. 

When I took an advanced fiction writing course in college, I remember that my professor, who had published several bestselling novels, noted that he could never write well about modern technology in his fiction. Having cut his novel-reading teeth on Hemingway and other greats of that era, he was not accustomed to writing about certain everyday aspects of our contemporary life. "I don't put cell phones in my novels," he said. "I just don't know what to do with them." It was interesting to get some insight into the writing struggles of a seasoned professional.

When I tried my hand at fiction writing, I too, had no mention of texting, Facebook, or Googling in any of my stories. Just like depicting sex in fiction, depicting our modern contrivances always came off as stilted, unsuited, or otherwise awkward. Try though I might, the Internet simply had no place in any of my character's machinations, and it wasn't until I was reviewing a final draft that I thought to myself, "Wait a minute, why is everyone acting as if they were living in the 1950s?"

Although I still dabble in fiction writing, I was never able to get over this conundrum. So it was refreshing to read a recent op-ed written in the Guardian by Salon editor Laura Miller, entitled "How Novels Came to Terms with the Internet." In the article, Miller mentions one of David Foster Wallace's iconic essays, "E Unibus Pluram: Television and US Fiction."

I read this piece a few years ago, and I remember now the dilemma that Wallace also experienced in a writing workshop. However, in his case, the technology to be grappled with or otherwise ignored was television, and his professor had no desire to touch it. His argument was that TV was not timeless, that good fiction aspired to ignore the fleeting now in favor of that which would transcend all generations. Wallace, however, argued back that literary novelists wrote about telephones and cars, and at some point those things were "now", so why not include TV?

Miller's article suggests that although contemporary writers have mostly ignored the Internet, the tide seems to be changing, citing authors who have begun incorporating the Internet in their work like Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Lethem, and Jennifer Egan. Of course, most authors, as Miller notes, completely circumvent the Internet by placing their fiction in a different time period, having the setting of the story be curiously off the grid, or keep to certain genres like science fiction and dystopian novels.

What about you? How do you deal with modern technology in your fiction writing?

Ms Lopez welcomes your comments at her email Id: alvina.lopez 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why Should You Like Me?

Today I am launching my Facebook fan page.  And I want every one of you to like me.

This fan page, is brand new, but that doesn’t mean I’m new to Facebook.  The profile page I created before I ever heard of fan pages has attracted 2170 friends.  There’s a fair amount of conversation there, and lively exchanges take place.  Clearly, people like the page.  So, why the change?

The truth is, my Facebook profile page has grown into an odd hybrid.  I do talk a lot about my writing and my life as an author.  But we also share family information, jokes and random stories.  This Jekyll/Hyde Facebook page is both personal and business, and therefore it is really neither.  So I decided to split my two personas officially.  But if you’re comfortable being my friend on the old page, why should you move over and like me on the new one?

Well, I’m determined to keep the fan page fun and interesting.  You’ll find videos, photos and cover art there.  I’ll be adding short fiction and deeper insights into my characters and the world they live in.  I’ll reveal behind-the-scenes details about my novels and keep you up-to-date on my appearances and writing activities.  And if my profile page is any indication, you’ll also find many of your other favorite authors hanging out and making comments.

I’ll also work to keep you involved on my discussion page.  In fact, the opening discussion is already going on: “What would you like to see on this page?”  I invite your input there, and anytime.  I hope to make my new fan page the center of a community of mystery and thriller fans and writers.  You can be an essential part of the fun.

But only if you like me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Time for Blogging?

You’re working on the great American novel, you’re trying to schedule book signings and your writer’s club needs volunteers for a new project.  And yet, everyone tells you that you need to post to your blog at least once a week.  Without new content, your blog won’t attract new readers or hold the old.  But do you really have time to blog?

Of course you do.  The trick is, don’t start thinking about your blog when it’s time to make an entry.  You need to treat it like any other writing assignment.

What works for writing my novels works for writing a blog: set aside a specific time to write.  The problem with writing a blog when you get a few spare minutes is that those minutes seldom materialize.  So stop putting it off and schedule your blog writing time.  I’ve learned with my fiction writing that my subconscious does a lot of the work before I sit down because my brain knows the time is coming.  It works that way for blogging too.

Always be open to ideas.  Whenever an idea comes to you, jot it down.  I get my best ideas for blogs when I’m thinking about something else, or watching TV, or just before I fall asleep.  If you have a notepad near you, you can capture those ideas.  If you use Blogger (where we are right now) or WordPress (the other popular blog site) it’s easy to post a draft message for later use.  Even if it’s just a title and a couple bullet points, it will give you a place to launch from when you sit down to create a new blog post.  

And don’t be shy about recycling your content.  Whatever you’ve written in your newsletter, on Facebook or presented at a writer’s meeting can be reworked into a blog post.  If you write nonfiction, any article you’ve written is a potential blog post, as are excerpts from any book you’ve written. 

Find the time to keep your blog alive: it’s an essential cornerstone of your platform and without a fan base, you’re just writing for your own amusement.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Why Am I here?

Blogging has become part of the traditional wisdom for authors.  Not long ago, blogs were the outlet of choice for anyone who wanted to express themselves online.  But I suspect that the popularity of Facebook and Twitter have made blogs less attractive, especially to younger folks.  A study done by the Pew Research Center -  - confirms that. 

Many said that it took too long to write long blog posts.  Also, a lack of readers can leave a blogger feeling useless.  And if the purpose of your blog is to stay in touch with family or current friends, social networking does that job better.

But people keep blogging, partially because it’s a chance to develop and display a personal writing style.  And it IS a chance to gather an audience.  For example, The Huffington Post started out as a blog.  Originally it was just a commentary site but today it looks like a lot of traditional news sources.

I spend a fair amount of energy on Facebook and Twitter, and they do a lot of the stuff blogs were originally used for.  But my blog is the place for more substantive conversation.  Is that what most of us want?  That’s hard to say.  The study says that Blogger (this blog engine) had fewer unique visitors in the U.S. in December than it had a year earlier.  However, WordPress seem to have avoided any decline, and I think it’s less user-friendly.

The funny thing is, whenever I blog I promote my post on Facebook and Twitter (and Myspace, Crimespace, Bebo and Gather) so for me, social media doesn’t compete with blogging but assists it. 

And BTW, while youngsters are turning away from blogging, people 34 and up are doing it more.  It may be that more mature people are just more verbose and can’t express themselves in 140 characters.  Or it might be that we only write when we have something to say.  The reason I’m here, on a blog, is that I want to share something that might be both interesting and useful.  I don’t tweet to tell people that I’m going to the store, or what I had for breakfast, like some of the people I follow on Twitter.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Another Ebook Success Story

When I grow up I want to be Amanda Hocking.   Of course that’s impossible, since she’s half my age.  She’s also the author of nine self-published books and sells more than 100,000 copies of them every month! 

Hocking writes three popular series.  My Blood Approves (vampires in Minneapolis), The Trylle series (urban fantasy) and Hollowland  (zombies.)  One could say that Hocking has her finger on the young reader’s pulse.

We all know that it can be done.  I’ve sent you to J.A.Konrath’s blog before so you know the basics: lower prices, good covers and enticing write-ups can sell lots of ebooks.  Readers will gamble $3 on an unknown author.  But how do they find you in the forest of ebooks?

The negative folks out there always point to Konrath and say, “well, he was traditionally published first, so he had an audience and a name.”  Possibly true, but then how do you explain Amanda Hocking, who has never had a publisher?  In fact, while I bow to Konrath for moving 10,000 or so ebooks a month, there are at least 4 other authors doing just as well, and 4 more doing BETTER, and I’ve never heard of any of them.  And at least 25 Kindle authors are regularly beating 2500 books/month (with a 70% cut, that’s about $5200/month to the author at the usual $2.99 cover price.)

The interesting thing about this phenomenon to me is that no one (including Amanda Hocking) knows how it works.  No one knows why some ebooks skyrocket and others of apparently equal quality languish.  Hocking did no real advertising, yet she has not sold less than 1,000 books a month since the second month her work was on Kindle. 

Hocking IS active on social networks and blogs.  Her preferences are Goodreads, Kindleboards, Facebook, and Twitter.  And she sends free copies to book bloggers.  And she is prolific.  I think that may be a key factor.  Perhaps the pace of posting the sequel or the next book in a series drives sales so hard.  If each of her fans buys all of Hocking’s 17 novels, she doesn’t need as many fans as a writer with just a couple out.

That’s just a guess, of course.  The important point here is that amazing success is possible with ebooks, and that if I could back myself up by a couple decades I’d want to come back as 26-year-old Amanda Hocking.  Besides, she is SO much cuter than Joe Konrath.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Your Platform Part 2: Making it Grow

I tried to define an author’s platform in a past blog.  Today I’ll try to share how you can expand your platform. 

In the process of defining your own platform you should have identified other writers with the same readership.  To strengthen your own platform, study theirs.  See where those writers appear on line – which websites, Facebook pages, blogs and Twitter accounts do they appear on.  How do you know?  Well, hopefully you’ve set up a Google Alert so you get an email whenever your name appears on line.  You can do the same thing for the writers you want to follow.

Next, you want to make connections with the other writers who share your market.  The business world knows this as networking.  Knowing your fellow writers can pay big dividends.  For example: Because I attend the Love is Murder mystery conference I got to moderate a panel that included best selling thriller author Jon Land, which led to Jon asking about my work, which led to Jon offering to give me a blurb on my next thriller.  Jon IS a great guy, but he’s not an anomaly.  In my experience, my fellow authors are a generous and giving bunch, who never see each other as the competition.

In addition to your fellow writers, you’ll want to seek out the reviewers, bloggers, and big name fans (yes, there are a few in every genre) who are connected to your kind of writing.  Follow their blogs and comment on their posts.  Re-tweet their best tweets, and if you have a newsletter make sure they’re on your distribution list.

Remember that each group of readers is different.  Depending on what you write your platform may depend on a fan base, or it might be speaking engagements, or a series of books.  When you have decided what you think is most important, it’s time to start the real work.

Make a list of things you want to do.  In my case that list includes this blog, being active on the Kindle Korner Yahoo group, and attending certain conferences – usually as a speaker or panel member.  You might decide that an active Twitter account is necessary, or reading and commenting on several related blogs.  Make a list of things you think you ought to do, then narrow it to the list of things that you WILL do.  After all, you can’t make this a full time job.  You have to save time to write, right?  And if you build your platform right, you’ll be building an eager market for your next book.