Follow my journey toward publication. Laugh, cry, point and stare-- it's all good. I'll leave a trail so that you, my fellow author, may have a straighter path to finding your own elusive publishing contract. Adventure awaits. Let's travel together...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Faces of Social Media

Social media is social. Wild concept, eh? But it’s true. We read time and time again that plugging into an online social network is a must for the aspiring author. But some of us groan. Some of us resist. We don’t have time to comment on a bunch of random blogs. We don’t feel like hocking ourselves to faceless masses. We certainly don’t get that twitter thing—I mean, who wants to read what I had for dinner and why do I care if you are at Starbucks? How on earth will that help me sell books or get a contract?  Well, it won't.  Not with that attitude.  Your investment must be in people.

There are several great articles making the case for social media—the whys and hows of successfully developing a platform and “voice” through Facebook and the rest. This one assumes you’ve read all that already. (And if you haven’t, I have provided some great links at the bottom of the post for you to check out later!) This piece is to show you the proof in the pudding.

Over the next few months, I am going to introduce you to some of the wonderful women I have met through social media. You see, it’s not about having the most glamorous blog or leaving the wittiest comment. It’s not about blasting your WIP (that’s work-in-progress) stats to the virtual universe and hoping a bunch of people will care and become your groupies. It’s about making real connections with the people behind the keyboards. And I have formed some very special bonds with the most beautiful people I never would have known if not for the internet. I can’t wait for you to get to know them too.

Next week, I’ll welcome Elaine Cooper to my blog to meet you all. Please make her feel welcome (I know you will!) Each Monday thereafter will feature another visitor for you to get to know. Some are published, some aren’t. But we are all on this same journey, finding Adventures in Writing. Mark your calendars!

AND the early bird gets the worm…

Elaine has been gracious enough to offer a FREE copy of her award-winning book, The Road to Deer Run, to one lucky reader of my blog! You can start dropping your name in the hat this week by sending people this way. For every new subscriber you refer, you get an entry into the drawing. So make sure they use your name when they pop over and introduce themselves. They’ll get an entry too, of course. And they can, in turn, refer friends as well. Your name will go in the hat just for tweeting or facebooking about the giveaway too, just send me the link to your tweet/wallpost. During Elaine’s visit, entries are given to each commenter who joins the conversation. So there are plenty of chances to win.

See you soon!

Awesome articles:

Jody Hedlund: Where Should Authors Focus Their Limited Marketing Time?
and: 3 Reasons To Start Blogging Before A Book Contract

Michael Hyatt: Social Media Framework
and: 7 Ways To Build Your Online Platform From Scratch

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Diane Graham--Clash of the Titles' Latest Victor

The winner of COTT's epic month-long Clash is....

Diane Graham!

Diane joins the ranks of COTT Conquerors as a pre-published author. She writes speculative Christian fiction steeped in allegory. Her excerpt garnered comments from readers such as:  
  •  a fully charged powerhouse of emotion and raw courage.
  •  All of them are intense, but I cannot shake the first excerpt from my mind. It moved me just as deeply the second time I read it as it did the first. I find myself deeply concerned for the well-being of this character.
  •  [it] grabbed me with such powerful emotion and desperation, that I found myself wanting it to not end.
  • Excellent emotion.
 Her novel I Am Ocilla, was a winner of Marcher Lord Press Premise Contest 2009.
A peek at her excerpt:
The darkness of my abyss consumes. Direction is irrelevant and time is worthless. If only I could pinpoint the moment when it all faded, then maybe I would be able to crawl back into existence. I slip in and out of reality. My heartbeat taunts me with hope for life, but the aches and emptiness of the rest of my body only offer death.
(cont. here)
Congratulations, Diane! We can't wait to see you in print!

Readers can keep up to date with Diane's journey here, or connect with Diane on Facebook.
Join us at COTT again on Monday when two Antagonists square off. Vote for your favorite and be entered to win a free book! Will it be a mustache-twirling fiend, or the unassuming granny-type? Who knows what kind of antagonists we'll find!

Have a book or theme suggestion? Send it in! Have you written the next blockbuster hit? Send us your 500 best words. We want to hear from you! Help spread the word by linking us in your social network and earn entries into the drawings.

bio: Michelle Massaro is Assistant Editor for the literary website Clash of the Titles and an aspiring author. She and her husband of 15 years live in sunny So Cal with their four children. Connect with her on twitter @MLMassaro and Facebook

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Snowflake Guy

It's a busy day in the Massaro household so I am treating you to a repost of one of my favorite topics:

Today I want to talk about Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method.

The what?

The Snowflake Method. Some of you may have heard of it before, but for those who haven’t, let me give you a crash course. (Then go check out the full explanation)!

Okay- what IS it and why should I care?

The Snowflake Method is an organized process for writing a novel. Perfect for split-brains like me. By that I mean that it marries my creative side with my structured, list-loving side. So if you love algebra and poetry (like I do) this will appeal to you.

In fact, I give the Snowflake a big chunk of credit in getting Beauty for Ashes from my mind to the page in the first place. Maybe you can relate to this. See, I had the basic idea for my novel for YEARS before writing it. I sometimes scribbled down thoughts about setting and characters, but always stopped short of BEGINNING THE MANUSCRIPT. It was too daunting. I didn’t have the time. I would drown if I began swimming across the vast ocean of the novel-writing process. Anyone been there? That all changed for me with two things: Stephanie Myers’ inspiring story of “getting it done”, and Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method.

So… how does it work?

Basically, the Snowflake starts with the bare bones of your story and gradually fleshes it out layer by layer, step by step. For example, Step 1 is to spend an hour writing a one sentence summary of your story. Here are my early attempts:

• A man loses everything, including his faith, in a deadly fire and struggles to put the pieces of his life back together again.
• One man’s journey to find peace after losing his family and his faith in a deadly fire.
• When a deadly fire destroys his family and his faith, one man questions whether God has forgotten him, or if He exists at all.
Later, I settled on a much shorter version:
• A young man struggles to regain his faith after losing everything in a deadly fire.

Now, none of these is what I would choose to use now that the book is finished, but it was a good start- and wonderful practice on boiling down the plot. (You’ll wrestle with that job for weeks or even months after the book is written when you want to start querying agents.)

Step 2 has you writing a 3-Act paragraph (just a single paragraph!). This is what I ended up with for mine:

Jonathon Douglas’ future looked bright- he had a beautiful young wife, a job he loved, and a faith in God that couldn’t be shaken- what more could he want? But his life goes into a tailspin when a deadly fire rips through his town and burns his future to the ground. Stripped of everything he ever held dear, he turns his back on God to embrace a life of lonely days and wild nights in Las Vegas. There, Jonathon hits bottom and discovers that God had been with him all along. As he begins to rebuild his life and discover a new future in California, his days of hard living catch up with him and threaten everything once again. But this time he chooses to cling to his faith and trust in God to carry him through.

Keep in mind that I wrote this paragraph long before I wrote the actual story. It’s pretty good! I used much of this same verbiage in my later summary and query letter attempts. The fact that this paragraph is still so accurate speaks volumes to me about the value and efficiency of the Snowflake. Granted, it is way too vague and full of clichés. I know a lot more now than I did back then about writing. But how exciting it was to see my story coming to life before it was even written! There’s no greater motivation than that.

Later in the process, you will take each sentence of that single-paragraph-summary and expand it into its OWN paragraph so that you get a full page summary. Do you see the snowflake appearing?

Interesting! Is there more?

Oh yes! Randy’s method takes you all the way through the entire writing process including scene charting and extensive character development. But what’s great about the Snowflake is that you don’t have to remain glued to it the whole way through. If all you need is a kick-start to get you going, these initial steps are perfect for the job. I started out using the scene spreadsheets he recommends but later let them go, not that I would pooh-pooh them. Once I began getting my first couple of chapters on paper, I just plunged ahead full-steam and no longer felt the need to check in with Randy on what I should be doing next. But if I’d needed to, he would have been there.

So will you use it again next time?

I cannot imagine writing a novel without at least using the basics of the Snowflake. I highly recommend using it if you are stuck on your half-finished novel, or have never started writing because you didn’t know where to start. If you don’t like starting a journey without knowing exactly where you’re going (see me raising my hand?), this is a must-have tool. The basic Snowflake Method article is absolutely FREE on Randy’s website. FREE! So no excuses! If that’s all you have, it’s enough. But he does offer a lot more, and with his track record it’s worth a looksie.

So check out his website, follow his blog, sign up for his FREE e-zine, and please let him know that I sent you!

Monday, March 21, 2011

10 Clichés in Today’s Fiction

Happy Monday! Real quick I want to let you know that I’m over at Jessica Patch’s blog today and would love it if you stopped by there and said hello. Also, Wednesday I’ll be talking about Deep POV at Edie Melson’s site, The Write Conversation.

And now I bring you my personal Top Ten clichés found in today’s fiction. Some are classic clichés and others are personal pet peeves.
10) Punching buttons.
Is everyone in your story punching buttons? Do they punch in every phone number; punch the elevator button, etc? This is losing its freshness. Use sparingly.

9) Too many adverbs
This isn’t new but is still a trap I see authors falling into, particularly new authors. Do a document search for “-ly” words and see if you can find a replacement verb instead of using the adverb. I.e. Instead of “walked quickly”, use “scrambled”.

8) Raven-black hair
No comment needed.

7) Never using the word ‘said’
‘Said’ is an invisible word. If you must use a dialogue tag, ‘said’ is preferred to “breathed, huffed, etc”.

6) Characters rolling their eyes
Not only is this cliché, it’s not terribly accurate. A full eye-roll is rare. But semantics aside, try to find another way to display your character’s attitude. Reserve eye-rolls for an occasional teen response or when another expression just will not do the job. Use it as a last resort.

5) Your MC describes themselves for the reader by looking in a mirror.
Oy vey! Mirrors have their place, but please. Most of us don’t wake up every morning and ponder our auburn curls, honey colored eyes with golden flecks, admire our high cheekbones or bemoan our double chin (ok maybe we do with that one). But you get the idea. There’s something to be said for allowing room for the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imagination too. Personally, I want an idea what the character looks like but I don’t want to work at putting every freckle and scar into place in my mind’s eye. It’s too much work. Mirror or no mirror.

4) Noticing eye color from across the room.
People, I have a bone to pick with you. I often can’t tell someone’s eye color even when having a face-to-face conversation with them, unless I make a point to really look. And you’re telling me that your MC noted the shade and brilliance and every colored fleck in someone’s eyes from across the restaurant? In my humble opinion, not every character needs their eye color revealed. It’s one of the last things we know about our own friends, honestly. What color eyes do I have? What about your kid’s kindergarten teacher or your pastor—do you know without checking? Mmm hmm. (Disclaimer: There are legitimate times to notice eye color. During a romantic embrace perhaps, or when a character does have eyes that are uniquely bright blue. But don’t make every character fit this bill.)

3) Characters who “gaze” at everything.
I don’t know when this trend picked up so much momentum but this one has really gotten under my skin. I use the word too, but I try very hard not to overuse it. I won’t give you a book quote because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But if you put this word on your radar next time you pick up a new release, it will jump out at you.

2) “Cupping” things
This is just a personal thing but it is high on my list because it just makes me cringe. There is nothing in the industry that says to avoid this word, but I would love it banned. It just makes me feel icky. Maybe it has something to do with bra shopping, I don’t know. Just be forewarned if I ever crit for you and see this word it will be replaced.

1) “Verbicizing” of nouns
My number one pet peeve, born I believe out of the passion for active voice, is the verbicizing of nouns and adjectives. (This term was coined, I believe, by miss Phoenix Sullivan in a previous post.) You know what I mean, right? A poor example is hands "fisting" rather than balling INTO fists. Or how about ‘he treed the cat’ instead of ‘he chased the cat into a tree’. Her hair "rivered" over her shoulders. I’m all about word economy but not when the result sounds weird. What’s next: It was so cold her lips blued? It must stop! If you find yourself thinking this is a nifty way to cut your word count, please step back and assess whether the phrase works or just sounds odd. Ask a reader (not a writer). We write for them, right? It doesn’t matter if our author friends love a neat trick to convey a line succinctly if the reader wants to laugh out loud, throw the book against a wall, or simply feels pulled out of the story by the unfamiliar use of English. For the love of all things good and decent in this world, please don’t do this.

So there you have my Top Ten. Feel free to disagree with the opinions expressed in this post. I hope I haven’t offended anybody. If you are gazing at your computer screen, ready to punch in a reply, and find yourself cupping a piece of rotten fruit to chuck at me, please don’t; it will only muck up your computer screen anyway. *grin*

What about you—what are your literary pet peeves?


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Increasing the Odds as You Climb Towards Your Writing Destination

by Jennifer Slattery
Writing is definitely not for the thin-skinned, nor for those seeking instant gratification. It is one of the few jobs where the applicant can spend years, decades even, doing all the right things with nothing to show for it. So much of the writing industry is beyond the writer's control, at times it may appear to be an endless upward climb with a perpetually elusive destination. And although it is true there will be much that forever remains beyond our control, there are concrete steps a writer can take to increase their chance of success.

The first thing a writer needs to do is develop a long-term focus. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme. In fact, quite the opposite. If you want to be successful as an author, expect years of sweat and tears and start by focusing on the foundation.

This is where contests come in. At the American Christian Fiction Writers conference last September, I reported on one of the late night agent panels, and something Kathy Helmers from Creative Trust, Inc , said really resonated. When discussing the importance of developing a platform she said it was easier for an unpublished author to land a contract than it was for a published author with low or diminishing sales. What this means is, before you sell that first novel, make sure you have a wide reader-base to support it.

That's where Clash of the Titles comes in. Each week, we draw readers from over nine different countries, including the Ukraine, Peru, India and Germany. Competing authors point readers to our site and search-engine friendly key-words draw even more. This ensures a great deal of exposure for all participants, which in turn, offers the potential for an increased reader-base.

We also offer authors valuable reader feedback. All contests provide great feedback, but Clash of the Titles is unique in that we provide unbiased, authentic reader feedback. Let's face it, you can do everything right technically and still pen a dud. If your characters don't grab the reader and your plot falls flat, so will your book. And although editors, agents, and traditional contest judges have learned to "read the market" so to speak, they'll never be able to dive in the reader's head. But we can, in a way. By inviting readers to choose their favorite excerpt and leave comments in our survey, we get a glimpse into their psyche. We learn what they like and what they don't.

So why would an unpubb'ed author subject themselves to a contest on Clash--one where their work will be read by thousands and perhaps even dissected line by line? Because we offer great exposure, the potential for an increased reader-base, and honest feedback.

Yep, it's a win-win. (And remember, we're not just for the unpubb'ed. In fact, most of our competitors are published, but every once in awhile, we open our clash to the unpubb'ed, giving our audience a chance to get to know emerging authors before they make it big.)

So, hop on over to our submissions page to find out how you can throw your excerpt into the ring. Remember, every tweet, fb share and comment enters you in our drawing to win a free book and builds up an author who very well may be in need of encouragement.

Bio: Jennifer Slattery is a novelist, columnist and freelance writer living in the midwest with her husband of fifteen years and their thirteen year old daughter. She writes for Christ to the World, the Christian Pulse, Samie Sisters, and Reflections in Hindsight, reviews for Novel Reviews and is the marketing manager for Clash of the Titles. Find out more about her and her writing at http://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com/

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Is That You? Developing Voices for Different POVs

by Janice Hardy
(Another wonderful and timely post I had to share with you, my dear readers!)

We all know voice is important, but there’s more than just your author’s voice. Characters have voices too, and making those voices distinct in multiple POV stories helps readers keep track of who’s who. It’s also a good way to help you develop those characters into solid personalities. Until you know who they are, you won’t know what they sound like (and vice versa).

The Sound of…Someone

Crafting character voices for a multiple POV story isn’t that different making them sound different in a single POV tale. Everyone has their own speech patterns, favorite turns of phrase, physical reactions or gestures while speaking and whatnot. You may not be in their heads, but you still hear them talk. The biggest difference is in the internalization, hearing them think. Because it’s easy to forget you’re looking at the world through their eyes and write it the way you’d see it. And that risks all your characters sounding alike.

...Continue reading this very helpful article by Janice Hardy here!

Do you have a favorite article on the craft of writing to share?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Shake It Up Baby, Now
Clash of the Titles loves to shake things up. Recently, things have gotten fun with the opening of the sparring arena to self-published authors (leading to a quick victory for Elaine Cooper's The Road To Deer Run), and currently with a month-long Clash among six pre-published writers. (Stop by next week for Round 3). But did you know that YOU now have control? Yep that's right.

Readers, want some say in what kind of excerpts COTT features? Well, now you can send in nominations and share your favorite reads. For doing so, you receive three free entries into any of our book drawings. Awesome, right? We thought so!

And authors, we've given you more control as well. Now you can send us any 500-word excerpt from your book in the new Author's Choice category. Visit our Upcoming Clashes page for details.

Also, please remember that following our blog, facebook, or twitter account lands you an extra entry in any drawing you enter. Just be sure to mention it in your comment.

And now we bring you the newest face on the team, Gail Pallotta...

Clash of the Titles Welcomes New Staff Member

It's my extreme pleasure to introduce to you today the newest COTT staff member, author Gail Pallotta. Gail also happens to be a previous Clash of the Titles Champion! Last November, she took the cyber-laurel for best description of nature. Go, Gail!!

Let's take a moment to get to know this special lady...

Gail’s husband, Rick, says she’s the only person he knows who can go in the grocery for a loaf of bread and come out with someone’s life story. That’s probably because she inherited her mother’s love of people and enjoys talking to them. Working as an editor and freelance writer, Gail published a couple hundred articles.

to continue reading the interview, click here

Thursday, March 10, 2011

“In the Beginning” Part One–Normal World

I stumbled upon this awesome post, on this awesome blog, which just so happens to be what I've been working on this past week in my own first page.  Just had to share with you!  Enjoy...

Anyone in publishing will tell you that one of the most important parts of your novel is the beginning. As an editor I hear, “Oh, but wait until you get to the good part on page 50. This is all the lead up.” Um, no. Doesn’t work that way. You might have a humdinger on page 50, but you are competing against authors who hook readers in the first 1-10 pages.

Many agents freely confess that they can tell by page five if they will even bother reading the entire sample submitted. I know. Nothing has changed. I spoke at the DFW Writers Workshop Conference this past weekend and sat through the Agent Q & A. Agents have a lot on their plate, so they are looking for a reason to put a story down. Why?

Because agents are out to get you. They are really psychic vampires who feast on the crushed dreams of writers. Muah ha ha ha! Kidding!

To be blunt, agents love great writing. They also want to be good at what they do and make at least a living doing it (like the rest of us ). How do they do this? By helping writers sell a lot of books. They understand that a novel’s beginning is the “hook” that will make or break a novel when it comes to readers. Agents want writers to succeed, and they know that excellent beginnings are vital to selling many, many books.

I actually believe that, as e-readers become more popular that beginnings will become more important than ever. I know that I frequently download free samples. I figure if a writer can interest me (sell me) in 3 pages, then I will read 5. If she can hook me in 5 I will read the free 30 pages. If I make it through 30, then this writer deserves my money and my time. But, remember, she had to make it past 3. Good writers do their homework and know what goes into a great beginning. I recommend studying great beginnings so you know what they look like.

So what makes a great beginning? Glad you asked. There are a lot of components that can go into a great beginning, but I am only going to discuss one of those components today—normal world. I believe if you can understand why normal world is important, the functions it serves, then you will be less eager to cut it out completely.

Read the rest of the article here (you won't be disappointed!!)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Unpublished is a State of Mind


by Lisa Lickel

Here in Clash of the Titles World we believe in you. We are authors in various stages of publication ourselves. We believe in the process of creating a gripping read, getting it published and introducing it to readers.

Although I'm multi-published, I still get turned down quite a bit. I get turned down because I keep submitting, and yes it's disappointing when I get that note that says, "Hmm, just didn't grab me," but that's what I have to do order to chance an acceptance.

I learn.

Why didn't the story grab the editor? What is he or she looking for? Usually the answer has something to do with "Make Me Care."

What makes us care? And the most important answer is: Creating that Intense Moment of no return – the one that makes you turn the page.

I tend to start out slow and build up to a crescendo of incidents. It might work for opening credits of a movie, but not with readers who aren't on a date in a dark theater. It's easier to put a book down than get up and leave a movie. So, multiple comments from publishers, agents, and editors taught me to make an opening commitment to the reader that promises an unforgetable experience.

What do you care about? Intense emotions tend to fall into positive and negative; neutral only rarely.





The reactions these emotions evoke are symptoms. For example, why do you cry? What makes you angry? When are you sad? How do you show love?

Pain can be emotional or physical – my reaction to it can be anger, tears, inward focus, lashing out, among others. Oddly enough, desire, lust and greed are results of pain and fear.

Fear often also elicits an anger response. My anger-elevated heart rate, intense desire to cause pain, unhappiness that a situation did not go as planned, helplessness and tears are common reactions.

Joy can also be the wellspring of a tearful reaction, as well as feelings of relief, release from fear and pain

Love, pure love, is commonly as empathetic emotion, bonding one to another in achieving common good.

Desires are outside of self-gratification. Occasionally love is characterized as a result; people act out the desire to achieve common benefit, but actions are not mindless or instinctive in humans. They are the result of internal reasoning based in part on experience.

Readers, what makes you turn the page?

How do you empathize with the characters?

Every reader empathizes with different emotions. Some people prefer thrilling experiences of danger; some enjoy traveling the winding path of adversity toward inevitable marriage; some prefer the mind games of clue masters; others prefer the intricacies of world building.

In our examples this week, the first CLASH is between a first-person account depicting fear and pain while being held against his or her will that makes the reader wonder how the person came to be in the predicament; the other except is from a woman also in fear and pain, but outside in a forest with a stranger who can do even stranger things. An element of trust is added in this excerpt. Stay tuned: Our second CLASH features no-win situations. The stakes are high. Guilt is a powerful tool of an author.

I hope you enjoy these samples, and be sure to leave these authors an encouraging message, as well as join in our discussion today about what keeps you, the reader, engaged in a book. Thank you for coming by.