This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘book marketing’

Storytelling in 12 Easy Steps

In The Craft of Writing on November 12, 2009 at 2:00 pm

I’ve read untold articles on what writers need to accomplish to move from the ranks of the unpublished and into that select stratosphere of publication. Though you need to learn a great deal to succeed, no amount of work will bear fruit if you do not master the art of storyteller. In fiction, your workmanship is for naught if you can’t spin that proverbial yarn.

With that said, I thought today’s post would focus on how to develop that skill. How is it one insures their novel is written in such a fashion as to appeal to their readers regardless the audience? The answer, as is so often the case, is simple, though the application is difficult.

When someone wishes to write a novel, there is a time-proven formula to telling a story. This blueprint is known as The Hero’s Journey. In fact, it is the framework around which most any novel can be built and is comprised of twelve events your hero must face. This storytelling technique has been around since before the time of mythology and will last until men stop telling stories.  Once you’ve learned this technique, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of storytelling and I recommend all new writers follow this outline.

Many will tell you some of these “rules” can be introduced at varying points in your novel or even ignored. The truth? They’re right. However, as an aspiring author, stick to what works. As you gain confidence and knowledge, then do your experimenting.

The Hero’s Journey is defined by different authorities in different ways. They’ll incorporate additional steps, different terminology, whatever. But if studied, most of them will filter down to the following twelve steps your hero must traverse to create a good story:

1.   Ordinary Life

2.   Call to Adventure

3.   Refusal of the Call

4.   Meeting the Mentor

5.   Crossing the Threshold

6.   Enemies, Allies and Tests

7.   Point of No Return

8.   Supreme Ordeal

9.   Reward

10. Journey Home

11.  Resurrection

12. Return Home

I may go into each one of these steps in more detail, but for now they are somewhat self-explanatory. In general, if the hero in your story finds himself involved in these twelve situations, your story will be well-defined and should appeal to almost any reader. (Please note I said your story will be well-defined. Having it well-written is another entire series of blog posts.)

To get started, think about one of your favorite movies. Now follow the storyline and see if the primary character is placed generally in the situations listed above. I’ll bet you will. Once you can identify the steps of The Hero’s Journey in a movie, you’ll begin to understand how to apply it to your novel writing.

Star Wars is always a good example for any aspiring writer. Think of the first of the six episodes where Luke’s parents are killed. Remember it? If you recall the beginning of the story, Luke is working the farm but asks permission to strike out on his own. This scene is Luke’s Ordinary Life which is step one of The Hero’s Journey.

Step two? Luke Skywalker finds the message from Princess Leia embedded in R2D2 and gets all excited. This is his Call to Adventure. Did he accept his call? Of course not. Had he, Mr. Spielberg would’ve missed step three, the Refusal of the Call.

Considering step three in The Hero’s Journey, let’s look at Luke’s reaction to Obi Wan’s entreaty that the young man become a Jedi. The boy found a dozen excuses why he could not do as his future mentor suggested. His excuses included such things as his uncle Owen, the coming harvest and, well, I don’t remember what else, but you understand. This scene was the third step in Luke’s immersion into The Hero’s Journey, his Refusal of the Call.

Now I could step you through each aspect of The Hero’s Journey, but it’s getting late and I don’t care to right now. (So there!) However, as you follow the first Star Wars movie, you’ll see the storyline follows The Hero’s Journey quite well. And, (here’s your sign), if Mr. Spielberg can use this formula for storytelling, so can you.

Of course, Star Wars is within the genre of Science Fiction, but to show how The Hero’s Journey works with all novel genres, I’ve taken five minutes and outlined a tale of lost love for you. I’ll give this story the working title “The Disillusionment of Mindy.” Ready?

The Ordinary World

Joe and Mindy are in love, married with two children, living in a home in the suburbs of Richmond, VA. The children are Mike, twelve, and Mary fourteen. Mike loves baseball and Mary is just finding out about boys. Joe is a stockbroker and Mindy spends her time raising the children. She’s the president of the PTA and is as content with life as she has ever been.

The Call to Adventure

At a PTA meeting Mindy overhears two women talking about Joe. They suddenly quiet when Mindy approaches and act embarrassed at her arrival. They walk away without saying much to her, but they glance at Mindy from over their shoulders and whisper to each other as they depart. Mindy is surprised by their actions but thinks little else of it.

Refusal of the Call

Joe, usually home around 7 PM, starts to call every now and again saying he must work late. This has never happened before but Mindy ignores her intuition which tells her something is wrong in her life.

Mentor (often termed The Wise Old Man or Woman)

As Joe’s late returns increase and after another odd encounter with friends, Mindy speaks with her best friend, Margaret, about her concerns. Margaret tells her not to worry until Joe comes home late and the first thing he does in take a shower – a sure sign of infidelity.

Crossing the Threshold (often known as the Point of No Return)

The next night Joe comes home and takes a shower as soon as he enters the house.

Tests, Allies and Enemies

Mindy and Margaret talk to their friends when watching Mike playing baseball and then again at the following PTA meeting but most know nothing. Those who seem to be in the know won’t talk. Mindy hires a detective to follow Joe. He takes photos of Joe’s nefarious liaisons and passes them to Mindy.

Approach to the Innermost Cave

Mindy is distraught but refuses to believe her marriage cannot be saved. She confronts Joe with the photos and he admits everything, saying he still loves Mindy and was swayed by a young woman who threw herself at him. He promises never to see the woman again. Though suspicious of his pledge, Mindy accepts him at his word and they work at patching the holes in their marriage.

The Supreme Ordeal

Things are fine for a time, but soon, Joe is again coming home from work late.

Reward (often termed Seizing the Sword)

When Joe returns home, Mindy confronts Joe about his continued infidelity. He denies everything until she produces new photos she had taken of him and yet another woman. Mindy forces Joe to leave.

The Road Back

Mindy and Joe go through a trying divorce. She gets the children and the house, and the money, and the furniture and he gets the clothes on his back. (They live in Virginia, you remember.)


Mindy must now learn to live without a husband and is forced to find work. She is now faced with raising her children on her own. She finds her new life difficult, but she and her children do survive, though without much of their earlier wealth.

Return with the Elixir

Mindy meets a guy at work who sweeps her off her feet and they live happily ever after.

The End.

There ya go, a full story outline in five minutes using The Hero’s Journey.

By employing The Hero’s Journey, your story will have plot, adventure and the time-tested avenue to effective storytelling. From here you fill in the details and, voila, you’re an novelist!

Depending on the response I receive to this post, I’ll move forward with a more detailed explanation or not.

In the mean time, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Authors’ Positioning in the Emerging Publishing Paradigm

In Marketing Your Book on November 1, 2009 at 8:26 am

A a number of aspiring authors have spoken to me relative to their fears concerning the current price wars in the marketplace, and their concerns authors will be the ones to absorb the price reductions spreading over the publishing landscape. If you are fortunate enough to already have an established position in the industry, you’re fine for now, but you still should look to the future and how best to put it to your advantage.

My advice to aspiring authors? Fear not.

Yes, the authors’ landscape is changing in an unprecedented manor, fueled by price wars and technology for the most part. It is these price wars that seem to have everyone in the greatest state of furor.

First, let’s consider the changing publishing topography. In the past, publishers have had domain over three major aspects of the writer’s life. They controlled distribution, payouts and production. Their powers are under dramatic assault by authors with business sense, the Internet and POD. Technology is changing everything in its path.

Let’s focus on authors getting paid. How is that going to happen in the future?

In one word, “eBooks.”

Here’s what I see happening.

Wally World and others are now selling first run, major names well below the wholesale price. For now they are absorbing the financial disparity and using books as a loss leader. So far, so good. But mark my word on this, Wally will soon knock on a publisher’s door and demand, not request, deep discounting at the wholesale level. How is the publisher going to make money? He cuts his expenses or increases his sales. He has already relinquished his hold over marketing to individual authors and so does not control sales. Therefore, the publisher’s only avenue is to cuts expenses. What part of the P&L is going to take that bite? Since he’s already cut marketing expenses, he’ll slash payout to authors. He has little choice but to do so.

What do authors do to protect their paycheck? They sell their books elsewhere. It’s all fundamental action vs. reaction. Everybody in this chain protects their paycheck.

At some point, the publisher starts to lose his best authors and faces the peril of going out of business. In response, he’ll move toward selling via the web where his costs more rationally match his pricing structure. What is it the publisher will sell on the web? EBooks.

In the mean time, the author has had his payouts cut to the bone, so he either stops writing or moves somewhere else. Where does he go to make the most money? EBooks and the Internet.

Why do I say this? Let’s look at two comparatives. Let’s say a publishing house pays you three dollars for each of your books it sells. He soon cuts this to $.50 per book to cover his discounts to Wally. You’re already a self-marketer, and as self-publisher, you might make $2.50 per book sold. Would you rather sell a book for $.50 and do your own marketing or $2.50 and do your own marketing and production? To each his own, of course, but many of the best and brightest among writers will go for the bucks.

So, with the changing paradigm and price wars, an author under contract to a publishing house moves toward eBooks where the publisher can reduce his costs and payout more to attract first rate writers. If he’s self-published, he moves toward eBooks, for cost, marketing and distribution reasons.

Fear not, kind readers, embrace the future and you’ll be fine.

May all your books be best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Ten Tips to Remain Unpublished

In Editing Your Manuscript on October 22, 2009 at 9:13 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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We all wish to see our books and novels on the shelves while throngs of people race to the store to grab a copy for themselves. Few of us will ever realize this dream if we lack those skills necessary to master the craft of writing. So, I’m offering a short list of novice errors the accomplished writer has learned not to make.

Your manuscript is full of synonyms for the word, “said.”

“Save me!” she pleaded.

“I’ll save you!” the hero responded.

The villain cried out, “I won’t let you save her!”

“Never mind, I’ve saved myself,” she complained.

If you feel you must use a tag line, put it in sentence form.

She pleaded for someone to help.  “Save me!”

Her hero called out to her. ‘”‘ll save you!”

The villain yelled to her hero. “I won’t let you save her!”

After freeing herself, she stood behind them with a scowl. “Can’t you two do anything right?”

(If your dialogue sounds like this, you’ll remain unpublished, but this works as an example.)

You Use Too Many “ly” Words.

Adverbs are badly overused by writers today. Oops, I mean, Adverbs are overused by writers today.

Adverbs are the lazy author’s method of working. This writer has the tendency to use the first thought that comes to mind and put it on  his paper. This is no problem in your first draft, but by your fourth or fifth, they should mostly be gone, uh, they should generally be gone, oh, jeez, I mean there should be few, if any, of them left in your manuscript. There are two traditional ways to overcome this error. The first is to use your Find Feature within your word processor and locate those evil “ly” words. Replace them with stronger verbs or reword them. The classic example is to replace “softly crying” with “whimpering.” You can also drop the “ly” word entirely, or rather in its entirety,  if it doesn’t make a difference to the meaning. Consider the phrase, “utterly alone.” If you’re alone, you’re by yourself and if you are “utterly alone” you are still by yourself.

You Have a Tendency to Overuse Adjectives.

Our classic example in this case is, “the dark night.” We all know night is dark and by adding the word, you’ve not embellished the concept of night at all. James Thurber explains with this sentence. “The building is pretty ugly and a little big for its surroundings.” “Pretty ugly” is still ugly and “a little big” is still big. There is a place for adverbs in writing, but use them sparingly and only if you’ve attempted to replace them with verbs and nouns.

You Use Wimpy Words.

Wimpy words tend to cheapen your writing. They include such things as almost, probably, seems, appears, about and “ish-words”, among others. Did your character almost yell out or did they fume? Did the boss seem upset or were his eyes flaming with anger? Use your words with boldness and confidence.

Clichés are a Dime a Dozen.

Now and then your readers feel it in their bones that your writing has feet of clay. (Hey, Cut me some slack. I’m improvising on the fly here.) Cliché’s bore your readers and an author’s worst sin is to writing boringly, uh, without feeling.

Your Writing Contains Dialect.

It be too diff’cult t’ red dose dam woids. Ya cotton t’ ma meanin’? With some characters, you must show a distinction between their dialect and that of others, but aim for the flow of their speech patterns rather than their actual words.

You Repeat Your Best Words Over and Over and Over and Over Again.

If you truly use the same words too often, your writing will truly be, uh, truly bad. Keep your eyes open for those words that repeat themselves too often. It bores your readers to repeat the same word or words repetitively. Look for those words that are similar in wording, too. Reword them.

Miscellaneous Errors.

“He looked over the escarpment between childhood and manhood.” If your writing sounds like poetry, reword it. Just use expressive, interesting words and put them on the paper.

You use altogether too much alienating alliteration.

Sure, it can be effective if used with correct comportment, but its effectiveness is fast fleeting if you employ it as a tentative tool too many memorable times. Alliteration can work, but its strategic use makes for more effective writing.

Your Writing is Coy or Uses Gimmicks.

Starting too many sentences with, “and” or “but.”

You pull lines from movies or television shows.

Your exciting sentences end with multiply punctuation marks!!!!

You use CAPITAL LETTERS instead of italics to indicate emphasis . (“DO WHAT I SAY!” vs. “Do what I say!”)

Perform a triple-check of your manuscript and see if it can be improved. It may well make the difference between a form rejection and an offer.

(And you thought you were done with your editing.)

I hope you know by now I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

Why Query?

In Working with Agents on October 19, 2009 at 6:48 am

I liken the querying process to being beat up by a schoolyard bully. He keeps knocking you on your butt every time you run into him. He steals your milk money, too. Worst of all there is nothing you can do about it. Feel familiar, all you rejection-laden authors?

So, why must we query anyway? Surely there’s a reason to subject ourselves to this abuse time and again. Isn’t there? Yeah, there is.

Think of your query as little more than a filter. Yep, as tough as it sounds, a query is your introduction to the sifting process of publication.

In most cases, the first set of eyes to view your query does not belong to the agent, but rather a subaltern of some sort. These nameless and unheralded assistants toil behind the scenes to find the unadulterated garbage that constitutes ninety percent of all queries. You’ve heard about them; the ones adorned with perky ribbons, musky aromas or a thousand staples. These look-at-me schemes don’t work and are filtered first. Next, these tireless unnamed peruse their in boxes for those letters crafted by the uninitiated, the inane and the idiots. Finally, they whittle away those queries with no story to support them, poor characterizations and the many other writers who have yet to learn their craft.

Eventually, that elusive ten percent filter down and find their way to the agent. The agent now must cull anew. This one does fit the genres she represents, but she just sold that very same story last month. This one disquiets her emotions and that one she loves but it has no current market.

Finally ten, of a thousand, rise to the surface. The queries pass the initial harvests and are transferred to the agent’s Kindle for further consideration. As she reads them on her subway ride home, one identifies the author as someone who does not understand The Business of Writing. This person will require too much additional work for the agent and she decides to pass. The next tells her the author is dabbling in a hobby versus living in a profession. Pass. However, the rest show wonderful promise!

The remaining queries exhibit acumen with their storytelling, expertise in the craft, and prove the authors’ professional toward their profession and give her the information she needs to identify plot points, conflict and characters. That evening, four emails are sent out asking for further submissions. (Hallelujah!)

The moral of this story? Your query is your sales document and it must survive the filtering process if you are to succeed. Learn how to craft a well-written query before you send it in. Best of luck to you all.

Until we speak again, may all your books be best-sellers!


Unemployed and Writing? Uh-oh…

In General Information, Marketing Your Book, Working with Agents on October 14, 2009 at 7:54 am

If you’re trying to have your first book published and are not gainfully employed, you may initially want to keep that tidbit of information to yourself.

Think from the agent’s perspective and it becomes clear as to why I recommend this. The moment they think you’re writing simply to fill time, your desirability diminishes with great speed. *Lead balloon hitting ground.* If they suspect you’re not in this for the long haul, their potential to make money off your talents is reduced. They may see you as the proverbial one-trick-pony and shy away from your limited earning capacity. As a career writer, you’ll be busier after they sell your work and they’ll need you out and about marketing your book. They may assume you won’t hit the bricks when you find employment. After all, they are in the business of writing, even if you’re not. The same thing applies if you’re retired. Avoid all references to the ominous and, and wonderful, “R” word, if possible.

So, how to do this? Have you heard of the “Sin of Omission?” That’s your ticket. (It’s not my favorite sin, but it does have its usefulness nonetheless.)

So, when do you come clean? When they ask or the subject comes up. But in every case, you must inform them before any agreements are signed. They may consider this a critical issue and you owe them your honesty. You and your agent are business partners and you have an obligation to be honorable and truthful in all things related to your mutual business interests. However, if they’re not your agent, then they are your sales prospect and the obligation is to yourself. At that point, as with anything being sold, put yourself in the best light. (No, that’s not a thin line.)

On the other side, does you current situation preclude you from writing? Not at all. If you have talent, maybe this will become your new career. Besides, some of the most noteworthy authors have started well after their fifth decade. You want proof? Consider Nirad Chaudhuri’s “Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” It was published at the start of his second century on this planet.

Your agent is a business person, as are you, and you’re both looking for each other. Honesty and salesmanship is necessary at both positions.

Until my next post, my all your books become best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze