Sunday, November 29, 2015

Business Cards for Artists?

Are personal business cards something an artist should have? Most definitely.

Business cards are ideal for inexpensive self promotion--a way to get your name out.
  • Writers, if you freelance or have published a book or two, the business card can be a mini-flier that tells about your work. 
  • Artists, whether fine art or graphic arts, a business card shows a level of professionalism that will enhance contact with potential clients and galleries.
The basics for your business card are: Your name, phone number and e-mail address. For personal safety reasons, do not list your home residence or studio. If you have an office or P O box, that could be included.

Freelance specialties, such as portrait artist, newsletters and brochures, or regional history should be stated. It's also useful to list a web site URL where more information and examples of your work can be found.

Always be ready to distribute your card. Put them on bulletin boards at the Laundromat, churches and libraries; leave them with tips at a restaurant, and include them in those fishbowl collections set up for winning a free lunch. Tuck them into the envelope when you pay your bills--this especially benefits non-fiction writers and specialty photographers (weddings, kids, pets).

The more business cards you pass out, the greater the chances of reaping unexpected rewards.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Too Many Words Slow the Flow

© 2004 Get It Together Productions

Words. The key element of writing. But sometimes, too many words can be a problem, and certain words can change your expressive work into a bumpy read. Some of the common offenders are that and there (it) was/were/is. Overuse of these words is natural to most writers. Our ideas pop to mind and we start writing. We want to get our thoughts on paper! This need is admirable, productive--but often sloppy. Example:
There was a row at the campground last night that went on for two hours. It was started by the ranger when he said that some people needed to move to an area that was less crowded. Before it was over, there were three rangers trucks and two city police cars at the scene that was lit with spotlights from the ranger trucks.
Well, the facts have been given—along with way too many words. The correction comes in the rewrite (see below).

CHANGE IS GOOD: Usually when 'that' is used an 'it was' or 'there was' is someplace nearby, resulting in a bland sentence. These words nullify an active voice, but word choice can revive it. Consider this sentence: It was Ashburn's decision that led to a new program. Both negative elements are here: 'It was' and 'that.' Let's get rid of them. How about: Ashburn's decision led to a new program, or better, Ashburn's decision resulted in a new program.

Here's another example: Margie took the path that led to the well. 'That led to' could be omitted or replaced. Margie took the path toward the well or Margie took the path leading to the well. Better yet: Margie hurried along the path to the well. The modified sentences are more active and contain fewer words.

Another example: There could be some things that would aid their comfort would be better as Some things could aid their comfort. Best would be to mention at least one of the things: More blankets and water could aid their comfort. Notice, even with this detail, the sentence contains fewer words.

SEEK AND DESTROY: The all-important "I-have-to-get-it-out-of-my-head-and-onto-paper" write is finished. You have your theme and story developed. The first draft is complete. Ta daa! Revision time! You read the manuscript, revise and read again...Are you catching those slow-the-flow words? Probably not. As writers, we read our own work knowing what we intended, and thereby seeing what we want to see. The analytical approach is best to seek and destroy the slow-down words. You'll be more productive by setting a specific task than trying to catch the miscues in a proofread. Most word processors have the perfect tool.

Use the "find" command of your software program. It's usually in the "edit" menu. Set it to find 'that', and study the offending sentence. You will quickly see what needs to be cut or how the sentence could be rewritten for better clarity and verve. Hit "next" and you've got another 'that.' Continue to the end of the manuscript. You can search out 'there was' as a sentence beginning by instructing your search tool to match case--'There'--with a capital T.

CHOP, CHOP: Let's go back to the opening campground paragraph--now revised.
Last night's campground row continued for two hours. It began when a ranger insisted some people move to a less crowded area. Before it was over, spotlights from three rangers trucks lit the scene, and two city police cars had arrived.
Sixty-three words have become forty-three words, and the information moves along at a better pace.

More Writing Tip articles are available at the GITP Webpage

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Make Your Characters Vivid

© 2008 Get It Together Productions

What keeps most readers turning the page? Not an intricate plot or big type. Readers relate to the characters. In order to create these crucial elements of your story, it is important to take a long look at your characters. Be certain you know them well and portray them the very best you can. 

Make character sketches for every major character you have. When you do that, here are things to consider.
  1. What type of personality? Is your character exuberant or shy? Maybe someplace in between. Remember, most real people aren't strictly one way or another. It's the blend and sometimes mercurial traits that make them interesting. Perhaps someone doesn't like dogs in the house, but enjoys visiting the zoo. What does that tell you? Here's someone who likes things well defined and orderly. Use these types of juxtapositions to enhance your characters.
  2. How will the events affect this personality and vice versa? Consider the challenges and events that your characters will come up against in your story. How will this shy (assertive), orderly (messy) person deal with what you throw at them? Decide if the event makes a change in the personality.
    If several characters are confronted with the same challenge, write the scene from each character's perspective. These sketches will be notes for you, and when you put the scene in your manuscript, it will be believable and easier to write.
  3. Examine all details to make this person real. Keep in mind each character's age, nickname, upbringing, siblings, date of birth, performance in school, number and type of friends, favorite colors and foods, preferences for movies, books, shoes, athletic or not, and so on. By writing this down, you can keep the facts consistent throughout the story. Readers don't appreciate a character (even a minor one) being nineteen on page seven and on page seventy (only story month later) the same character is eighteen. Also be certain the characters act their age. If someone is fifteen and still likes to play hopscotch, let the reader know why.
Once you start writing your story, a character will sometimes "insist" on behaving a certain way, or a sub-character will want to "take over" a scene. This is a clue to rethink those characters and their importance in a story.

If you're writing nonfiction, much of this character-study work has been done for you. But you still need to decide the points that will enhance the story as you're going to tell it. It is quite easy for the research material to overwhelm your story. Be certain you don't lose your characters behind facts and figures. The statistics have to have relevance to the characters or the story won't be interesting.

Readers appreciate believable and well-thought out characters. The extra time spent in with this important element will boost your hold on editors (your story's FIRST reader) and book buyers.

Find more articles at the GITP website.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Writing Effective Dialogue

© 2004 GITP All Rights Reserved
Every writer expends a great deal of creative energy developing a story line and limning well-balanced prose with evocative sentences. That's what writing is all about, after all. But fiction writers have an additional aspect to creation—effective dialogue. Very few stories, novellas or novels are without dialogue, and for some writers, this can be a stumbling block.

Listen to How People Talk

If you listen carefully to how people speak, you'll notice that people tend to use shorter sentences in times of high emotion: anger, surprise, awe. "I can't take this! Get out!" versus "I find this situation intolerable. I want you to leave right now."

People ramble a bit when they're nervous or confused. "I know this isn't what you wanted, but I wasn't sure which way to make the diagram fit best on the page so I brought both copies with me. I hope you don't mind."

Young children tend to get pronouns confused or leave out articles: "Me go to store with Gramma."
You'll begin to recognize how different personalities have different word usage and diction. All of these observations can be incorporated into the dialogue you write.

The best grammar isn't always used, either. Even people who write well, don't always speak well. "I've got to get that new CD of Carlson's," takes precedence in speech over the more correct, "I have to buy Carlson's new CD." Word usage and contractions that you might avoid in exposition become quite logical in dialogue: "There's no more to see, so let's get outta here."

Use Dialogue as Enhancement

To be most effective, use dialogue as an extension of your story line and character development. Let's say you have a character, Jane. She's late to the airport. She gets in a taxi and tells the driver she has to hurry to the airport. He agrees.

Well, those are the facts, and it could be left strictly to narration: Jane shoved her way into the cab and slammed the door as she told the driver to hurry to the airport. He agreed. Or dialogue could be used. These examples show how different Jane characters could speak and how the energy of the scene is increased.
  • Plain Jane: "I have to get to the airport really fast. Can you do that?"
    Cabby: "You betcha."
  • Jane of the streets: "The airport, bro, and hit it!"
    Cabby: "I'm on it!"
  • Jane the executive: "Airport. A big tip if you make it quick."
    Cabby: "Yes, ma'am!"
  • Jane the professor: "To the airport, please, and I'm in a hurry."
    Cabby: "Certainly."
You notice the cabby's response was dictated by Jane's words, making the scene more believable. Inconsistencies between people's words and their actions should be used for a reason and that reason should be also noted. For instance, if Jane the professor had said, "The airport, bro, and hit it!" The cabby might have jerked to look at her, or the narration might have commented how Jane chuckled inside at her language--or, both.

Writing effective dialogue is an art all its own and one that should be honed with observation and rewriting. Truly knowing your characters is essential. Reading scenes aloud to yourself or others (writing groups are good for this) will increase your ability to hear the rhythms of sentences and recognize good (not necessarily proper) word usage. With diligent practice, this creative aspect of your writing will become second nature and flow evenly with your story and literary style.

 Get more writing tip articles at GITP

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

U.S. Big Book Publishers and Who Owns Them

It's a well-known fact that most of the major publishing houses have consolidated and merged and rearranged themselves many times over. This has affected magazines as well as book publishers, and many of the holding companies aren't in the U.S.
Simon & Schuster (S&S), founded in New York City in 1924, is currently owned by CBS. Still headquartered in NYC, it is a bastion of fiction and nonfiction, producing more than 1000 titles a year from 35 different imprints, including Pocket Books, Scribner, Atria, Fireside, Touchstone, and Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Baen Books is a more recent stalwart of American publishing. It was founded in 1983 when a huge reorganization of Simon & Schuster was underway. S&S approached Jim Baen with an offer for him to head up the S&S science fiction line (Pocket Books division). Baen, however, had different plans. He obtained financial backing from some friends and proposed to start a new company named Baen Books. The deal was done and, at the beginning, Simon & Schuster handled the distribution. Nonetheless, many of the book publishers we might assume are "American" no longer hold that distinction.
  • Houghton Mifflin Company, founded in Boston in 1832, is now Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt (HMH), with the company having purchased Harcourt (formerly Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) in 2007. Several mergers and buyouts have ensued and HMH is now owned by Education Media and Publishing Group (EMPG), an international holding company registered in the Cayman Island. HMH is a leader in the educational publications marketplace. NOTE: Although primaries in EMPG are from Ireland, one of the major investors is Guggenheim Partners, a U.S. investment corporation.
  • Alfred A Knopf, Inc founded in 1915, was purchased by Random House in 1960. Random House also bought Doubleday, and now there's a KnopfDoubleday company under the RH umbrella. It's a publishing consortium of its own, with a half dozen or so imprints. Random House, Inc. has been owned since 1998 by the German mega-media company, Bertelsmann.
  • The Free Press was founded in 1947, became an imprint of Simon and Schuster, was sold in 1960 and merged into the Macmillan Publishing Company. Macmillian, founded in London, opened its first U.S. offices in 1869. It is now part of the large German holding company, Georg von Holtzbrinck.
The publisher umbrellas have a wide span, with most of the imprints belonging to three or four houses. Random House, S&S, Harper-Collins, and Penguin Group (USA) produce the majority of books we see on commercial bookshelves across the country. Former companies have become imprints: Farrar Straus, Henry Holt, Little Brown; and some have vanished (Fawcett, Carol Graf, Arbor).
But there are plenty of small and Indie publishers. Check out the Wikipedia pages to see the more than 500 companies that are competing with the big guys.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Do You Know Your Genre?

Who are you writing for? Yourself? A reader? Most writers start off with a story they really want to tell and then hope/assume other people will be as caught by the story as they are. But with all the books produced each year, that forthright premise isn't always enough.

Readers are picky, and certain expectations are attached--especially to genre fiction. To get to the right audience, you need to know these expectations.

An informative book about genre fiction is Reader's Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, by Joyce G. Saricks. Published in 2001, ostensibly for use by librarians when cataloging and when suggesting books to readers, the book has great information any writer can use. The detailed information about the expectations for each genre can be valuable guidelines for laying out the story line for your genre manuscript.

For instance, when reading about mysteries, Saricks writes, "Although mystery remains the key, fascination with the characters' lives attracts more and more readers." This suggests that having a complicated mystery with lots of twists and turns isn't enough. Many readers want to know the intimate details about the characters.

If you're writing genre fiction, this book has information as to what librarians and readers are looking for in a particular type of story. Take notes and make certain some of the elements are in your manuscript, then your story will satisfy you and other people.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Get a Clear Idea of Your Project

Have you been to a writers group, workshop or convention and heard other writers try tell about their Work In Progress? Many fumble a bit, or go on for several sentences about where the concept started, and then laugh with a shoulder shrug.

Although these responses can be caused by a writer not wanting to talk about a WIP (I’ve know several who are rather secretive on this score), most often, they occur when writers don’t really having a true handle on their projects.
Here are a few helpful tasks that could prevent that, even if you don’t want to share details of your work. When you start a new writing project:
  • Write a 250-word (one paragraph) overview of your book. This should describe the main thrust of the story and, in fiction, a bit about your protagonist. Remember, every book is telling a story--even nonfiction.
  • Write a "long line" about your book, using no more than twenty-five words. Imagine you're getting on an elevator, the editor you want to impress is getting off and she says, "What's your book about?" Get it said before the elevator door closes.
  • Determine the audiences for your book. Is it for active children, university women, retired pilots, urban or rural? Target at least three. Once you have those three target audiences, write keywords and a sentence that will tell each group about your book.
By completing these tasks, you will have a clearer direction toward a well-constructed finished product. Keep the information your project folder for reference to see if you are presenting what you intended. The focus of the story might change, and you can adjust the paragraph and long line as needed. Doing this will create a more focused writing, and these items are also good to have if you approach an editor or agent. They will also keep you from being the stammering writer at a workshop.

Friday, November 6, 2015

November Writing Extravaganza NaNoWriMo

It's November, and many MANY people are involved in the sometimes fun/sometimes arduous adventure of NaNoWriMo. This acronym stands for National Novel Writing Month. November is that month with the challenge to write 50,000 words in one month.
NaNoWriMo logo

You think, How silly! Well, maybe. It can often kick start a profitable project, as it did for Carol Buchannan and Craig Lancaster (I name these two of many because they’re fellow Montanans), or merely push a wanna-be writer to use words (and words and words).

NaNoWriMo also has benefits that don't involve personal writing.
Since it's inception in 1999 in a small region of the California coast, it has become an international organization with participant numbers increasing each year. As a nonprofit organization (established in 2006) it partners with schools and libraries projects, especially to aid youngsters appreciation of language and writing.

The public concept of mega-writing might seem cute or masochistic, but NaNoWriMo is a valuable part of the literary community.

Learn more: at Wikipedia and the NaNoWriMo site.

Good Marketing from the Past

On occasion I run across odd gems that deal with writing. One such is the 1922 pamphlet "The Short-cut to Successful Writing." I picked it out of a used book bin, its cover quite intact, thinking what a chuckle this would be. Surprise, surprise! Madam Elinor Glyn, the book's author, offered interesting encouragement to new authors. Here's a Glyn suggestion:

"Every one of the great writers and playwrights you have ever read about or heard of--everyone of them had to begin at a weak starting point. Every one of them was uncertain at the outset. Every one of them had to overcome his or her doubts or misgivings…When they started many didn't really know what they COULD do. The wonderful part about literary ability is that we do not know how much of it we have in us. Then, by persistency, by patient development, by proper guidance, we may some day bloom forth all of a sudden and surprise even ourselves!"
Fine words to remember, especially when embarking on a new project.

Why is this anecdote a marketing tip? Because that's just what Madam Glyn was doing. The entire thirty-two page (book size: 7.5" x 4.75") pamphlet was enticement from her publisher for people to buy her book about writing. It was an early 20th century INFOMERCIAL where on the last page the publisher exhorts, "Right this minute—NOW, when you finish reading this—is your chance to send for The Elinor Glyn System…"

It's good marketing with tidbits of advice, pages of endorsements, and a sincere promise of more in the complete book. Successful marketing develops from offering something to a client, not just hoping people will buy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Beat the Blahs and Avoid the Block

Writers block is often talked about among writers and other creative artists, and is usually looked on as a great affliction unique to the profession. But think about it as two problems, not just one. The first is the moderate Writer's Blahs.
Dictionaries define blah as a feeling of boredom, lethargy or general dissatisfaction. It's a universal condition and not restricted to one profession or lifestyle. Many executives, secretaries, pilots, grocery clerks, teachers, doctors et cetera often get up some mornings and really don't want to go to work. It's an effort to get dressed and leave the house. It's hard for them not to catch a different bus or not to turn their car away from their employment. Nearly anyone with any job will at some time face this malaise and lack of desire to get to work.
Freelance writers get the blahs, too. Those mornings will arise when the brain just doesn't want to fiddle with words and headlines or story plots. The clack of the keyboard is nerve wracking. The manuscript seems just a heap of paper holding down one end of the desk.
There are several productive ways to get over the blahs, and many of them come from advantages freelance writers have over traditionally-employed people.
1. Adjust your thinking: Your most obvious advantage is that you don't have to "go to work." This doesn't mean you've given up on a task, or are shirking duty. If you decide not to write for one morning or day, you haven't committed some "writer's sin." Problems most often become greater with over analysis. You think, "I don't feel like writing today. Oh dear, I must have writer's block! Woe is me!" That thought could get lodged behind all other activities so that nothing seems satisfactory or productive. This creates a tension that could ruin a whole day.

2. Remember that your work is always with you: A freelance writer's main tool is thought. Even when you aren't transferring these thoughts as words to some medium, you're still working. A break from the physical act of "writing" can give a chance for the thoughts to percolate and become better defined.

3. Get some physical exercise: Whether it's a long jog, a trip to the gym or doing isometric exercises in your living room, the increase of oxygen to the brain stimulates thoughts.

4. Indulge in a luxury: Although a 24-hour day often doesn't seem long enough, it's important to pamper yourself on occasion. Have a leisurely lunch or dinner at a fine restaurant; visit a favorite scenic spot; get a massage. These are the types of extras everyone should give themselves. For those who work both a day job and also freelance, these perks are especially important.
I often get the blahs on sunny days. I'm lured to the outside; I think of many non-writing projects that could use my attention. I used to mope inside while urging myself to write, and not doing it; by day's end, I had neither been creative nor productive--inside or out. What a waste.
I've learned that trying to force myself to a task is often counterproductive; it increases discontent rather than lessening it. If you feel indifferent about your work, don't panic, take a break and try one or more of the suggestions listed above. In a short amount of time, a surge of creativity will take you back to your work and the dreaded Writer’s Block probably won't happen.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Punctuation ... --

Here are two elements of punctuation that are helpful in writing.

Ellipsis (…) is used in non-fiction to show where something has been left out of a quoted text. “Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon” becomes “Hey diddle diddle, the cat…the moon.”
The ellipsis shows a reader something has been omitted from this sentence.

In a longer passage, the complete sentence is followed by a period and the ellipsis goes before the next line of text. “Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon.…the dish ran away with the spoon."

In fiction the ellipsis can be used to represent hesitant dialogue. “You shouldn’t…you shouldn’t be doing that.”
Slate has an interesting article that examines this more.

Dash (—), called an em dash in printer’s language, is often represented by two hyphen marks (--); many word processors automatically change this to an em dash. The em dash is most often used to set off a parenthetical clause. I could have written
"The dash—called an em dash in printer’s language—is represented by…"
In dialogue the em dash represents interrupted speech.
“You shouldn’t be doing tha—”
“Why not?” his friend demanded.
When an em dash is used to show interruption, no punctuation follows it.

No space should precede or follow an ellipsis or an em dash.