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Friday, 18 July 2014

Writing a Killer Synopsis by Mike Wells

A post 'borrowed' from Mike Wells, thriller writer, who has a sure-fire way to create that hard-to-write synopsis - the second most powerful sales tool at your disposal after the cover.
Here's Mike...

If you're like most authors, summarizing your book in a couple of sentences is a daunting task.  However, if you're going to sell your book, it's simply something you have to do.  If you choose to go the traditional route, agents and editors alike are bombarded with so many queries that if they find themselves having to do much mental work to understand the gist of your book, they will simply pass on to the next one.  The same goes for self-publishing--all the retailers and distributors require short descriptions of your book.  For example, Smashwords requires a description that can be no more than 400 characters, including spaces!  That's short, folks!

To help you do this, I want to share a formula I learned a long time ago, one that was created in Hollywood.  I can tell you from my dealings with the people in the movie industry that when it comes to stories and story structure, they really know their stuff.

Each and every story is composed of the same five basic elements.  If you can identify them in their purest, simplest forms, you will be well on your way to writing a good two-sentence synopsis of your book, regardless of its length or complexity.

The five elements are:  a (1) hero who finds himself stuck in a (2)  situation from which he wants to free himself by achieving a (3)  goal.  However, there is a (4) villain who wants to stop him from this, and if he's successful, will cause the hero to experience a (5)  disaster. 

Actually, what I've just written above IS the two sentence synopsis which will work for any story, no matter how complex the plot or characters may seem.

Before I go further, I want to stop for a moment and address the "Is this a formula?" question that will undoubtedly come up in many writers' minds.   Anyone with any experience in writing (or painting or composing music, etc.)  knows that formulas do not work when creating a new piece of art, that the most you can hope for is a cookie-cutter type result that will be mediocre, at best. 

However, what we are doing here is summarizing a piece of art that has already been created.  Because we know that each and every story must contain these five elements, if we can step back from our own story and identify them, it makes the job of summarizing the story much easier.

The only thing formulaic about this approach is the order in which the information is presented, and the structure of the sentences.  You can change this around later and make the synopsis appear as original and unique as you desire.

So, back to the method.  Another way to write this compressed synopsis is to move the goal into the second sentence into the form of a question, as follows:

Hero finds herself stuck in situation from which she wants to free herself.  Can she achieve goal, or will villain stop her and cause her to experience disaster?

All you have to do is identify the elements and plug them in to create the most basic  two sentence synopsis for your own story.  By the way, you don't have to put the second sentence in the form of a question--you could write,  She must achieve goal, or villain will stop her and cause her to experience disaster.    I posed  it as a question only because it emphasizes the main narrative question in the story--discovering the answer to that sticky issue is what keeps readers turning the pages until (hopefully) they reach the very end of your book.

Read the rest of the article here - http://mikewellsblog.blogspot.co.nz/2011/04/secret-formula-for-creating-short.html

Saturday, 12 July 2014

In Fond Memory of Rodney Dearing



It’s with great sadness that we have to report the passing away of one of our members, Rodney Dearing, on Friday 11th after a long and fierce battle with cancer.


Rod was very much one of today’s writers, boldly finding his way through the labyrinthine task of getting his children’s books into publication. He wrote some corker stories, polished and perfected them with the help of our group, located and worked with talented illustrators, and created bright, funny books that will delight young readers. The Brilliant Mr Badger stories and his other Cadet Willie McBride series are a sound legacy that will live on in years to come.


We all admired his determination and optimism as he worked hard to succeed at a near-impossible task. That he has done it well is a tribute to his skill and persistence, and an unwavering dedication to his craft.


Our meetings will be quieter without his spirited participation. We will all be poorer for his loss, but richer for knowing him.


With respect,


Bev Robitai



An Obituary
Rodney was born in Whangarei, New Zealand, and educated at Takapuna Grammar School in New Zealand. He's a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England and served in the New Zealand Army. During his military career he's held various active service and staff appointments. He was the NZ Instructor at the Australian Officer Cadet School Portsea. He commanded the NZ Special Air Service in Borneo. He took early retirement from the NZ Defence Force in the rank of Colonel and was appointed Director, Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland. He stood successfully for public election as a member of the Auckland Regional Services Trust and was a Director of Infrastructure Auckland and America's Cup Village for four years. He's a Fellow of the NZ Institute of Management. He's presently a Trustee of the North Shore Life Education Trust and runs his own company as a consultant in Civil Defence Emergency Management for local councils. His interests include science and technology, management, travel, children's and adult education and writing letters to the Editor of the NZ Herald! He's a member of the Royal NZ Returned and Services Association, Rotary International and KiwiWrite4Kids.He's married with four children and lives in Meadowbank, Auckland, New Zealand.







Monday, 30 June 2014

Vicky Adin has 10 Tips on How Not to Begin a Book.

Have you noticed recently how all the blogs are full of advice? Apparently, this is the way to attract attention, and the more you can narrow that advice down to 5 best ways / 7 days to / 10 tips for… etc., the more people read them.

Most of the time I find these attention seeking options annoying, because much of it is basic, oft-repeated advice that people in the field already know about. I look for deeper, more meaningful advice from the masters, which you rarely find on social network. Occasionally, I’m proved wrong.

As writers, we can all get into a bind, and get a bit of a block about what we do. We have our own style, our voice and the genre we like to write in. It’s worked for us. We enjoy what we write, we enjoy others who write like us, but as the world of self-publishing gets more crowded we need to work out a way of standing out. A good opening is a great start.

How many times have we heard that the opening sentence, paragraph or chapter is THE most important in the book? And how many times do we have to rewrite the first chapter to even begin to get it right? If you are anything like me, then several times.

I tend to start off reflective with back-story. That is how the characters get under my skin, until I know them so well I can think, talk and react like them. This process takes time, but even when we do go back to write that first page, how many times do we find ourselves loath to delete nearly all of it and start again? But needs must… so today I’m sharing one of those snippets of information I found on social network.

Because these words come from literary agents who are the gate-keepers to what is acceptable and what is not in the trad published world, maybe we should at least heed a little of what they say.  In the SP world, our readers are our gate-keepers.

To paraphrase my take on what not to do in Chapter One:

  1. Don’t spend time developing a character to then kill them off a page later. Either they are important and should live, or they are not in which case I don’t need to know them.
  2. Don’t start with dreams or reflections.
  3. Show don’t Tell – Don’t describe everything about the setting or the character or the scenery or what they had for breakfast.
  4. Avoid information dump.
  5. Avoid prologues.
  6. Get on with it! If nothing is happening on the first page, then why would the reader stay?
  7. Don’t get carried away with ‘purple prose’ – flowing sentences with endless adjectives and clichéd settings.
  8. Your protagonists are not physically perfect gifts to mankind – don’t describe them as such.
  9. Be realistic. If an action or scene seems implausible then it probably is.
  10. And lastly - avoid backstory. My penchant. Oh, dear!

Sometimes we need reminding of what readers like and don’t like – and it often has nothing to do with what we like.

 


 

Vicky Adin

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Shauna Bickley on Writing as a Passion

Follow Your Passions
During a writing class I attended years ago, the tutor asked us why we wrote. There were various answers, most taking the high road of feeling the need to write, having something to say or wanting to entertain with our writing. The tutor smiled and said it was perfectly acceptable to admit we wanted to make money.

At that time I was in the naïve stage of the writing business, and still wondering whether an 'ordinary' person like me could ever aspire to calling themselves a writer.
Fast forward to now. There have been huge changes in the publishing business, and I think for writers they are good changes, giving us more of a say in what we do and how we choose to accomplish it. However, while there may be more people making money from their writing, I doubt many have been able to give up the day job.

If you are a writer, why do you write? 
There is nothing wrong in wanting to make money from writing, but I do believe if money is your goal, you’re in the wrong business. It’s easier to make money in almost any other way. The payment per hour of hard slog is negligible, and the lottery probably offers better odds.

I’ve never been under any illusions about becoming rich through writing. If I'm ever able to make enough money to pay the bills, I will be thrilled, but money is a secondary goal. Much higher up the list are improving my skills, becoming a better writer and entertaining people.

Maya Angelou said, ‘You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.’

If you don't love writing (or anything), purely for the thing itself, if you don't have a passion for it, you won't be able to put in the work that makes you excel.

This is easily seen with children. As they grow you can see characteristics and their likes and passions develop. The correlation between things they love doing and the growth of skills is obvious. Somehow that connection becomes fuzzy as we get older, and are bogged down with stuff we ‘have to do’.


Pursue your passions, and it shouldn’t seem like work!

Shauna Bickley

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Guest post on Punctuation marks

Some helpful advice from that excellent site, Indies Unlimited. Melissa Bowersock has set it all out for you.

Those Pesky Punctuation Marks


punctmarks1In my reading, I often see questionable usage of a few related punctuation marks. I know (1) that grammar is not every writer’s strong suit and (2) the rules for grammar are more often gray rather than black and white, with lots of room for subjective variation, but a short primer on a few of the more confusing marks might be in order.
Semi-Colon 
Many writers today seem to either hate or distrust the semi-colon, and that could be because they are not clear on the usage (and I won’t even go into the discussion about the spelling, with or without a space and/or dash). Cathy Speight did an IU piece on this persnickety punctuation mark a while back, but I want to talk about it along with some other marks that are sometimes confused, so I’ll recap the semi-colon here as well. Interestingly enough, in the mid-19th century there was an organization of writers in Cincinnati, Ohio called the Semi-Colon Club. Members included Harriet Beecher Stowe and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Salmon P. Chase, among others. I would guess from their choice of name for their group that they were not afraid to use the much-maligned mark.
The semi-colon has two primary uses:
a)      Between two closely related but independent clauses, usually complete sentences in and of themselves. The two clauses may also be contradictory.
John chose the yellow kitten; Samantha picked up the calico.
I thought the drizzly rain was uncomfortably chilly; my daughter found it to be invigorating.
b)      In a series or list that includes other, internal punctuation that would make the use of commas confusing.
I’m going to have a sandwich of ham, which I got at Trader Joe’s; jalapenos, which came from my own garden; and bell peppers, which were given to me by my neighbor.
Colon
I’ve seen colons and semi-colons used interchangeably, but they are very different and denote different things. The main difference between the two is that the semi-colon is used to link two independent clauses, while a colon is used to introduce an explanation.
The colon has four main uses:
a)      Before a list.
Hank packed everything he could think of: shirts, shoes, pants, socks, underwear, books, and his laptop.
b)      Before a description.
She loved the look of the vase: its translucent glass caught the light and the yellow color seemed to glow.
c)       Before a definition.
He said I was audacious: recklessly bold and extremely original.
d)      Before an explanation.
Crossing the Atlantic was hell: the wind howled the entire time and the waves rolled ceaselessly beneath the ship.
Dashes
There are two dashes, the en dash and the em dash. The en dash is a single, short dash (-) while the em dash is a longer dash or two en dashes put together (– or —). The en dash is primarily used to hyphenate words, like space-time. The em dash, however, can be used in much the same way as a colon or a set of parentheses as shown in the following four ways:
a)      To denote an abrupt change of thought or feeling.
I was going to say—but, no, I don’t think I will now.
b)      To set off a clause.
He was wearing the scarf I knitted for him—the purple one with the green spots—and I realized he was trying to please me.
c)       To indicate an interruption, especially in dialog.
“But how do you—”
“Wait! Let me explain.”
d)      As the inverse of a colon, i.e. after a list or description.
Black, red and yellow—these colors on insects often denote poisonous species.
There, is that all clear as mud? Just remember that we’re trying to get our ideas across to our readers in as clear a manner as possible, so giving them the right visual clues to follow our line of thought is essential. Happy punctuating!


Indies Unlimited has all sorts of useful advice for all aspects of writing and self publishing. I recommend a visit!





Sunday, 15 June 2014

How to get a US Tax Number (without tears!)


Once you start getting royalty cheques from overseas sales via the USA fairly regularly, you may want to reduce the amount they grab in taxes. Here are helpful hints from a couple of writers who have been through the process, along with my own experience from this week.
Amazon and Smashwords will charge you 30% withholding tax on your royalties, which is the IRS’s directive, not theirs. But, courtesy of a tax treaty New Zealand has with the US, we can reduce that rate to 5%. Here’s how you do it.

First, you need an EIN (Employer Identification Number) from the US.

Smashwords will suggest you get an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number), but based on info I’ve found, you don’t have to. EIN’s cover lots of scenarios, including non-residents earning royalty-type income. Which is good, because an ITIN can take weeks or months to attain, and involves sending certified copies of passports, driver licences etc, to the US. In comparison, I received my EIN in less than twenty minutes, over the phone, with little more information than my name, address, that I was a Sole Proprietor of my business, and that I needed an EIN for Royalty purposes. She even wished me luck with my book! How’s that for service.

To get your EIN, call the following number 001 (267) 941-1099 between 7am and 7pm US time. I made my call at about 10.30am NZ time. I was on the phone for around nine minutes. It was quick and painless. I answered a few questions (which you can see on the IRS form SS-4 on their website), and they gave me my EIN there and then.

In summary:

1. Call the IRS at 1-267-941-1099 (and press 1 on the computerized menu).
2. Tell them you are applying for an EIN for a foreign entity.
3. If they tell you that you need a Form SS-4, hang up and start again. If not…
4. Tell them that you are a sole proprietor (or whatever is applicable).
5. Give your details (name, address, etc.)
6. They will ask if this is for compliance with witholding – say yes.
7. They will ask if this is for e-books – say yes.
8. They will give you your EIN!!!


Go to the IRS website and download or print the following form:

*  W-8BEN Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding

Part 1, Number 3, ‘Type of Beneficial Owner’: Tick ‘Individual’.

Part 1, Number 6, ‘U.S. Taxpayer Identification Number’: Tick ‘EIN’ and type/write your EIN in the space.

Part 1, Number 7, ‘Foreign Tax Identifying Number, if any (optional)’: Leave blank

Part 1, Number 8, ‘Reference Number(s)’: Leave blank

Part 2, Number 9a: Tick the box and type/write New Zealand in the space

Part 2, Number 9b: Tick the box

Leave c, d, and e, blank

Part 2, Number 10, ‘Special Rates and Conditions’: In the space after ‘Article’ type/write the number ‘12’, as in, ‘Article 12’. In the space after ‘to claim a’ type/write the number ‘5’, as in ‘5%’. In the space after ‘(specify type of income)’ type/write ‘Royalty Payments’. In the space after ‘terms of the treaty article’ type/write ‘Citizen and resident of New Zealand’.

Part 3, Number 11: Leave blank

Part 4: Sign, date, and above ‘Capacity in which acting’ type/write ‘Beneficial Owner’.

Once completed, post a copy to:
Amazon Digital Services
Attn: Vendor Maintenance
PO Box 80683
Seattle, WA 98108-0683

 

And another to:

            Smashwords, Inc.
 Attn: Tax Compliance Dept.

            PO Box 11817
            Bainbridge Island, WA  USA 98110

It can take 30 days or so to hear back from them, in the form of an email, telling you that you are now paying 5% withholding tax instead of 30%.

Royalty payments.

You’ll get your royalty payments sent to you in the mail, by cheque, when you reach $100. They cost very little to deposit in your own bank but do take 21 working days to clear.

Keep writing, keep publishing, and let that passive income roll in!
Good luck!
Bev
Bev Robitai







Sunday, 8 June 2014

The Book Show - soon on TV in NZ


It will be hosted jointly by Graham Beattie and Carole Beu and will include reviews, interviews with authors; and news about books and writers. Carole Beu is well known from the Women’s Bookshop in Ponsonby Road and Graham Beattie’s blog is the most widely read book blog in New Zealand. A superbly knowledgeable pair, who is there better qualified to establish such a timely initiative?

Initially there were not enough funds to enable the show to start; and so Carole and Graham resorted to appealing for funds through their crowd funding site ‘Boosted’. Wonderfully, within weeks the funds needed to get things going had been raised. They are now able to start planning an extended season for the show as funds continue to be donated.

If you are interested in having publishing issues discussed, would like to hear a range of authors talk about their work, would appreciate the opportunity to make comment on any aspect of the book publishing and selling industry, go to THE BOOK SHOW or www.boosted.co.nz.

It seems to me this is an idea which has found its time. It is impossible for two or more writers to get together without the challenges relating to publishing and finding a readership being discussed.  Should we persevere with trying to find an established publisher; if we do, what can we do about the ‘bleeding’ of our hard won earnings into the hands of agents, cover designers, editors etc?  If we persevere with independent publishing, how and where do we find our target readership?

 If we support Graham and Carole with this show, we will sustain a forum where our concerns can be voiced, not only to the converted within our own ranks, but that wider audience –  who often don’t  know  how many good books they are missing out on – the enthusiastic readers of New Zealand.

Erin McKechnie