Monday, November 17, 2014

General Word Counts in Literature

There are always exceptions to every rule.
Got that out of the Way. In general, plan on the follow Rule of Thumb for your work.

Word Counts - really? Do they still matter in today's Electronic Age?

Well, sure. How many of your have found yourselves thumbing across the screen faster and faster, waiting to light on a key word that meant the action picked up again? Just because we don't care about wasting paper anymore doesn't mean we can waste reader's time. 

And for a debut novelist who is trying to catch the eye of an agent or editor for the first time? Err on the side of caution with your word count.

Check out these great articles by Chuck Sambuchino at his Writer’s Digest blog

Between 80,000 and 90,000 words is a good place to aim for most novels.

In short, Sambuchino says this about your proposals to agents/publishers:
80,000 – 89,999:       Totally cool
90,000 – 99,999:       Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999:       Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999:    Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000:           Too short
110,000 or above       Too long

Science fiction and fantasy are the big exceptions because these categories tend to run long. It has to do with all the descriptions and world-building in the writing and can go over 100,000 easily. However, Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury did perfectly well with the 60-65,000-range.

Middle grade is from 20,000 – 45,000, depending on the subject matter and age range. When writing a longer book that is aimed at 12-year-olds (“tween”), using the term “upper middle grade” is advisable. With upper middle grade, you can aim for 32,000 – 40,000 words. You can stray a little over here but not much. aim lower. Try the lower word counts for simpler ideas

YA is the one category where word count is flexible, as we've noted in the block-buster books of the last couple of decades. Start in the 55,000 – 69,999 and let the publisher decide if it's going to be an epic that could go over 100,000.

The standard is text for 32 pages; 28, 32, 36, and 38 pages are typical. That might mean one line per page, or more. 500-600 words is a good number to aim for. When it gets closer to 1,000, editors and agents may shy away.

These can be anywhere from 50K to 80K. 60,000 is a solid number to aim for.

Memoir falls in the same category as a novel, so stay under 90,000 unless you're the Pope or Steven Tyler. Focus on the most interesting parts of your life and your contributions.

Runs 25-40,000. Generally no or one subplot

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Review: Chapel Springs Revival

Get your giggle-box oiled up and ready to rumble, 'cause Chapel Springs Revival is going to put it to good use. Patsy Kowalski and Claire Bennett are well on their way into the "unforgettable character" category for folks who love humorous women's fiction.

Take two artsy women, give them two neglectful spouses, and watch the antics unfold. Add to the mix a cleavage-showin' hussy who's unhappy with her husband and looking for a new one--anyone's husband will do--and you have a story that's uproariously funny.

Beneath the humor is a story all women of a certain age can appreciate, one that shares the insecurities of being involved in a marriage that has become too comfortable. Stagnant, maybe? Has he lost interest? How to rekindle the fire?

Many marriages of length go through this season. Many women suffer through the doubts. We look in our mirrors and see someone who wasn't there twenty years ago. We worry that his silence, his absences, his distraction are all because of our spreading hips, wrinkling skin, and graying hair. How many times are we worrying over nothing?

Ane's novel explores that question with humor and finesse. Definitely a winner.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Unlikeable Author

Let’s talk about something ugly for a minute, here… the unlikeable author. Have you ever met one or read their works? How does being unlikeable affect your book sales? And can you lose fans just because they don’t seem to like you personally?

Grumpy vs Unlikeable

There are plenty of authors who are known for being a bit curmudgeonly, and this can work for or against them. Some authors are known for not talking to the media, not giving interviews, not interacting with fans, and they develop a loyal fan following almost in spite of this.

But that’s rare. In my opinion, when you read books you enjoy you want the author to be someone you also like. You don’t have to love everything about them, but if you’re put off by them personally it might come through the next time you get out your wallet to make a book purchase.

What’s more, being grumpy is very different than being unlikeable. I personally like grumpy authors, especially the ones that complain about all the things that are wrong about the way writers are treated. (And you know who you are, dear Grumpy One.)

Being Unlikeable on Social Media

Since most readers today are going to get to know authors through some type of social media, you need to be careful about what you put out there. Things like Twitter reflect your random thoughts, but that’s not always a good thing. You can come off self-centered, dumb, or just really arrogant on social media if you’re not careful.

It’s not that you can’t share your opinions, it’s that as an author you should consider that your readers might not agree with your stance on things. How will you have a conversation with them then? You can still be yourself without acting like a jerk, so think about the words you say on any type of social media platform.

The Unlikeable Author at a Book Signing

I’ve been to hundreds of book signings. I love them. But there was one signing that stood out because of the sheer unlikeable-ness (I’m making that a word) of the author. A friend and I had read a couple of her books, one of which was very confusing. It had one of those endings where you weren’t quite sure what happened. We discussed it with our book group and couldn’t figure out what she was trying to say with that ending.

So then comes the signing. Others at this signing asked about the ending in that book, and the author, who had been snotty and arrogant the entire time, sighed as if we were so ridiculously stupid and boring that she couldn’t stand it, and said that if we really wanted to know how that book ended she would tell us if we bought the book and went up to the table for her to sign it.

I bit. I wanted her book and I wanted to know the real ending and what it meant.

The line was long and she made sure she told us how inconvenient and horrible it was to have to sign all those books for us. Her hand was cramping! The weather was cold! She couldn’t talk as long as she’d wanted because so many of us had come out!

When I finally got up to the table, I asked her about the ending. She sighed again, looked beyond me to see how many people were left, and then told me, “It was whatever you think it was.”

I took the book she had just signed, paid for it, and then deposited it in the trash. My friend did the same. Then we went to our next book group and told everyone how unlikeable she was. I haven’t read one of her books since.

Unlikeable During Book Marketing

I get many people that contact me about doing interviews on my writing blog, and out of the hundreds I’ve done two writers stand out for their unlikeable-ness. They were surprisingly similar in how they behaved. One told me she’d looked at my interview questions and hated them, and wondered if she could submit her own. I said sure. Then she said she didn’t have time and could I just take them from her website, where she had a Q&A that she gave to every blogger.

I ignored her after that and then she sent me numerous emails asking where her interview was. She still thought I was going to interview her after that. I continued to ignore her, and got a final email that asked if I knew how hard it was for authors to get publicity, and “one day” I’ll know what it’s like. If she’d bothered looking at my bio, she would have known that I was already a full-time working writer and author.

Can You Get Away With Being Unlikeable?

Not everyone is going to like you no matter what you do, but why purposely irritate folks? Why be contrary when you can show gratitude? Bloggers and fans don’t need to read your works and promote you, so when they do it’s a big deal. Be happy for it.

Readers have a lot of choices today and being unlikeable is something most writers just can’t afford to do. But the good news is that you have a choice in how you present yourself to people. Be humble and grateful and you’re bound to be liked by more people than not.

Cherie Burbach has written for, NBC/Universal,, and more. Visit her website,

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why this Former Pantser is Now a Plotter

When I wrote my first novel, I sat down at my computer and waited to be surprised by the story that unfolded. I had no idea how the story would unveil. I was writing by the seat of my pants (the definition of Panster). I never knew where I was going before I got there except for knowing the final destination. I loved the surprise of traveling where my characters led me. I loved the joy of the journey.

The joy disappeared as I started pitching the book. I learned the agent wanted a one to three-page synopsis of my story in addition to sample chapters. Some required an outline and chapter summaries. It seemed no two wanted the same thing.

Sometimes I pitched to a publisher or editor at a writer’s conference. I would get excited when they said yes to look at my book. I found them requesting a chapter-by-chapter outline plus a three to five sentence synopses of each chapter. They wanted to know about the chapters in detail including a synopsis of each scene in the chapter. The work of putting the information together was harder for me than writing a book.

I found myself having to go back and make an outline of the book. The detail needed included information on the scenes just to get it considered. At this point, I decided I would outline the next novel I wrote. I could change the outline if I felt the need to change directions, but I would not have to go back and create an outline from a 300-page manuscript.

While your experiences may be different, mine motivated me to outline first. My goal is to chase away some of those misconceptions about what it means to plot a book beforehand. I view outlining as a work saver.

I Find An Outline Forces Me To Focus. 

As I worked on my book I created these fantastic characters, put them in a rousing venue, and gave them all kinds of amazing things to do. When you begin the story, you are probably like I was – excited. You cannot wait to get the story from your head to the page.

I found writing an outline forces me to take a get a clear focus on my vision. I ask myself what is the tale I want to tell? It also helps me determine what the tension is between characters. I think about and plan for the conflicts and resolution. I determine how the antagonist and protagonist will develop and change during their journey.  As I have said, I can go back and change the outline if I fell the need to adjust directions in the course of writing a story. An outline makes you think about the details early.

I Find An Outline Helps Reduce My Fear of the Size of the Task.  

Writing a book can be a frightening undertaking. You may wonder how you can ever create 300 pages? You may ponder if you can hang in there long enough to reach the end.

Think of an outline as a roadmap. It helps you remember that you do have an objective in mind.  The first work of length I wrote was a doctoral dissertation. The proposal had to be approved with a detailed outline before I wrote the first sentence. The outline not only kept me on track, but it was the beacon that led me to my destination. The same idea works with fiction or nonfiction book.

I Find An Outline Helps Me Maintain My Equilibrium. 

An outline helps me decide if I have the right balance of parts in my story. Do I have a balance of historical events and relationships or does the history overwhelm the characters?  Is my western really a western? Are the science details overwhelming the story in my science fiction?

I Find An Outline Helps Me Plot. 

Outlining makes me determine what is going to what happens in the beginning, middle and end of my book. The specifics of those happenings may be adjusted in the progression of writing a book. The outline gives me the framework of my storyline. Knowing the ending helps me point the story in that direction.

Writing the outline puts the conclusion in my mind. I find that as I write my story, my subconscious is always coming up with new and exciting ways to shove my characters toward their failures, trials, and successes.

I Find An Outline Prevents A Weak Middle Third of the Book.

When I write an outline, I quickly find out if I have sufficient action and conflict to support the middle third of my book. You do not want the middle to stretch between the beginning and end of your story like Interstate 15 stretches between the population centers of southern California and Las Vegas, Nevada. If you are not familiar, the highway crosses miles of desert including Death Valley. You want something there in the middle that keeps them moving along as your readers travel through your story.

An outline gives me a chance to think about and reflect on conflict and character development to make that middle an interesting, important part of my book. While you can do the same thing as you write your story, having an outline helps keep the story progressing and lessens the chances of the dreaded writer’s block.

I Find An Outline Helps Me Write Faster. 

When I know what is going to happen in a scene or chapter I simply sit down and write a scene or chapter. I do not sit wondering what I will write about. I have already made that decision. I only sit in my chair and do my writing assignment for the day.

I found with an outline I wrote book two in a quarter of the time it took me to write book one. And I did that having a day job that when my commute is added to it takes twelve hours of my day five days a week!

Closing Thoughts

Every author has an approach that works best for them. I have found an outline works better than writing by the seat of my pants.

Some writers use their synopsis (narrative overview of the story) as an outline. Other authors write a summary of each chapter or each scene including the action takes place in that scene or chapter. That is what I do. Here is an example from my current work in progress:
Chapter Two - Supreme Commander of the Unified Peoples Planetary Expeditionary Force (UPPEF) sends Harry to Mars to inspect the damage
1. Scene One: Supreme Commander of the UPPEF recognizes Harry’s sadness. He learns of and understands what caused the melancholy.
2. Scene Two: Supreme Commander of the UPPEF sends Harry Ashworth with letters from himself, Chancellor Wilson, and a commission to The Bradbury Burroughs Rain Dome
3. Scene Three: Harry Ashworth, to the grief of Martian based UPPEF comes to the Rain Dome
4. Scene Four: Harry Ashworth views the ruins of the Rain Dome secretly.
5. Scene Five: Harry Ashworth incites the citizens to build.

I use the writing software program Scrivener. I use the “notecards” in the view mode. I do one card for each chapter in the book. I write a synopsis of the chapter and then list the scenes in the chapter. I also use the cards to write a description of my characters.

Well, without boring you with more mind-numbing details, I will challenge you to consider outlining if you have not tried it. If the idea scares you, try it for just one chapter or even one scene. If you do not have a clue what to outline, just ask your characters to tell you what they are going to do next. They will tell you.

You may find you can write faster, with fewer holes and empty spaces in you story if you outline.  Like me, you too may become a former pantser who is converted to be a plotter.
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Monday, November 3, 2014

Your Facebook Fan Page

author banner
Recently, I read a comment from an author who didn't understand the perks of having an author page apart from his regular Facebook page. I had to think about that a minute, because I wasn't sure of the answer. I have an answer now, and I think I've discovered a strategy to utilize my own author page better.
I use Facebook for keeping up with family, with both personal and close cyberfriends, and with my writer friends and aquaintances. Most of the folks who have "friended" me are writers. Had I possessed a functioning brain at the time I started this, I would've opened a separate page for personal friends and family, but I didn't and I don't feel inclined to separate everyone at this late date. Besides, they get a kick out of my posts. They're fun and silly for the most part. I also vent about my writing progress/frustrations here. My writer buddies can always relate, but others couldn't care less.
I've never posted about writing on my author page. Aside from this blog, which gets posted to the page automatically with each new update, nothing goes up on that page that pertains to the art, craft, and adventures of writing. That page is all about the readers and what they would find appealing. Not all of my followers on that page are authors. Some really are fans (yea!) who want to keep up with me, learn when my next book is due out, and participate in the giveaways that are always part of new-book promos.
So that's two things I do right--I keep that page about the readers, and I host giveaways only for followers of that page. Just like I have things in my newsletter that are only for folks who take my newsletter.
I read an article that gave ideas of how to better utilize the page. Online Marketing expert, Susan Gilbert, suggested these techniques--well most of them. I supplied another. Susan meant these to be for a Facebook marketing campaign, but I think her ideas are great for keeping your fan page active:
1. Hold regular giveaways. I love this idea. I have several books at the house that I ordered for different events but haven't sold, so I can always offer my own books as giveaways. I can also offer books I've read and am ready to pass on. I keep these in great shape, so they're "like new," and perfect for another reader. I don't know about "regular" giveaways, however, since I'm using this to keep my fan page active instead of using it as a component in single marketing campaign, but random giveaways would work.
2. Ask open-ended questions that engage the readers in dialogue. This one is always hard for me. I come up with things on occasion, but more often than not, they're duds. My winners, however, make the posts fun and the readers' responses are great. I've done this on my regular page and on Twitter (which, for some reason, is always a dud for me), but I think I'll kick it up for my author page, too.
3. Present "calls for action" in which readers can gain opportunity to champion you and your works, or to help you in some other way. I think this is similar to having a "tribe." Actually, this may be a great way to identify those willing to be in your tribe. Be sure to have some tangible way to thank those who help you.
4. Give out tips and advice. This is particularly great when it can pertain to something in your book. If I had a lick of sense--and I do, so I'll probably take my own advice soon--I'd have posts about cat care on my site, since my most recent promo book is The Cat Lady's SecretOr, since my work-in-progress is a contemporary western romance, I can give tips from my research about things that would interest my western romance readers.
5. Share your author friends' giveaways when they will appeal to your readers. If you're branded (like I'm supposed to be, but I'm not yet. Oops.), your readers are following you because they like the genre you write in, so promote friends' works that appeal to their interest.
Can you do all this on your regular FB page? Of course. Personally though, I like having a separate page for my readers (though not all who follow that page have actually read my books). And, the more active I am on that page, the more people are reached. I'm not sure I can say that about my regular page, because my regular page doesn't keep stats for me.
That's another perk to having a separate author page--the stats. Right now, I have around 680 followers on my author page (not many, I know, but give me time). And on the day I wrote this post, my page reached 1091 readers. That discrepancy is a mystery I'm not interested in solving, but it's great to know that the more active I am on that page, the more people I reach. It's also great to know which posts reached the most people, a stat which allows me to adjust what I'm putting up to appeal to the readers. Also, if I were so inclined (and I'm not), I can compare my page's activity levels to those of other author pages.
But a slow-growing page is the best kind, because many of those joining you are interested and will engage with you, respond to your activity. I recently watched a video someone posted from Veritasium, called "The Problem with Facebook." I recommend everyone watch this before spending too much in the line of advertising dollars on Facebook.
But, regardless of the video, is a fan page worth it? Yeah. I think so. Look for me on mine.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Types of Genre in Literature

How do you know what you write? Sort it out here.

City University of New York describes genre:
Genre is a French term derived from the Latin genus, generis, meaning "type," "sort," or "kind." It the classification of what books have in common, either in their formal structures or subject matter, or both.

Why do we divide our reading material into categories? One reason is that grouping works offers us an orderly way to talk about a bewildering number of books. More importantly, if we can point to a genre we get an idea of what we might expect to read. Bookstores need to know how to group their products; libraries need to know where to shelve like material so it can be more easily found, right?

About genre in literature
Genre is an abstract concept, used to classify and describe other abstract objects, namely written works. And I like this quote from The Muse website: "If you believe that a book is a written work because it's printed on paper, think again; it's only a collection of words, which are symbols. The written work only exists in your mind after you read the book." Genres is also applied to music, painting, film, television, and many other arts—even in video games! For example, in music there are genres of classical, folk, rock, heavy metal, pop, blues, big band, etc.; in fine arts, there are genres of still life, sculpture, portrait, landscape, etc.; and in film, there are genres of documentary, animation, thriller, horror, etc.

In written works, genre can be a confusing concept mostly because books can have a combination of formulas that apply to the different genres. One publisher will promote a book in a certain category in hopes that it will sell better. I’ve even seen libraries and book stores categorize books differently. A reviewer may call a book a category different from another one. Sometimes genre is just a matter of perspective.

These definitions are associated with The Muse's definition of literary genre:

  • A literary theme is the central meaning or dominant idea in a literary work; its single unifying or underlying dominant idea; its motif or recurring idea.
  • A literary subject is the basic idea or thing that is explored by a literary work.
  • A literary technique is the body of specialized procedures and methods used to write a literary work.
  • A literary style is the manner of expression used by a writer, including such things as sentence structure, diction, and tone.
Following is the brief definition of most types of main genres found in literature.

All Fiction

The thriller, spy novels, with lots of chasing and not so much dialog; the kind of stories that often solve international crimes, involve espionage of some kind and are usually technical in description of weapons and escapes. Think James Bond—or my new favorite author, Steven James.

Stories composed in verse or prose, usually for theatrical performance, where conflicts and emotion are expressed through dialogue and action

Narration demonstrating a useful truth, especially in which animals speak as humans; legendary, supernatural tale

Fairy Tale
Story about fairies or other magical creatures, usually for children.

which is often lumped in with Speculative Fiction and Science Fiction, which is different. Edgar Allen Poe was an early speculative fiction writer, as was Jules Verne; Fiction with strange or other worldly settings or characters; fiction which invites suspension of reality

General Fiction
What doesn’t fit into one of these tighter sub-categories, like the works of Jane Hamilton, Jane Smiley, Rebecca Rassmussen
Narrative literary works whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact

Fiction in Verse
Full-length novels with plot, subplot(s), theme(s), major and minor characters, in which the narrative is presented in (usually blank) verse form

The songs, stories, myths, and proverbs of a people or "folk" as handed down by word of mouth

Product DetailsHistorical Fiction/Buggy Fiction
Story with fictional characters and events in a historical setting. The Deer Run series, written by my friend Elaine Marie Cooper, are such books. She took a family story and wrote a novel based on it. Historical fiction has to have some kind of tie to true events.

Horror/All kinds of “Punk”
Fiction in which events evoke a feeling of dread in both the characters and the reader. Think Stephen King. The horror doesn’t have to be graphic, either – M Night Shaymalan in the Sixth Sense; a “punk” example is Steam Punk, etc, which is historical or contemporary-ish that deals with tools run by steam power

Fiction full of fun, fancy, and excitement, meant to entertain; but can be contained in all genres. Think particularly of Garrison Keillor – the goal is to make ’em laugh.

Story, sometimes of a national or folk hero, which has a basis in fact but also includes imaginative material

which includes many sub-categories, such as the Detective or crime story, and the cozy
Fiction dealing with the solution of a crime or the unraveling of secrets

Legend or traditional narrative, often based in part on historical events, that reveals human behavior and natural phenomena by its symbolism; often pertaining to the actions of the gods. Think Beowulf
Product Details 
New Adult
Often starts with teens who are involved in big events, and grow up, often get married and/or make adult decisions like marriage or having a child. Twilight, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Jill Williamson’s books

Realistic Fiction
Story that can actually happen and is true to life; Rudyard Kipling, Harper Lee, John Steinbeck

Stories where a relationship is the main theme, and the book ends with either a proposal or a wedding

Science Fiction
Story based on impact of actual, imagined, or potential science, usually set in the future or on other planets. A sub-category of this is fan fiction, or license-based fiction. People who are fans of shows like Star Trek can apply to write sequels or parallel dramas based on those shows.

Short Story
Fiction of such brevity that it supports no subplots.

Tall Tale
Humorous story with blatant exaggerations, swaggering heroes who do the impossible with nonchalance. Think Paul Bunyon, etc.

Youth Fiction
Children’s literature, story and picture books, chapter books and Young Adult, Coming of Age stories. Does not get to the level of New Adult

Not always historical, Westerns feature cowboy stories of one kind or another, ranching, farming, dealing with large animals in usually an American setting, the mountains, pampas, or west of the Mississippi


Narrative of a person's life, a true story about a real person

A short literary composition that reflects the author's outlook or point

Product DetailsNarrative Nonfiction
Factual information presented in a format which tells a story. Think Michael Perry, Population 485, Truck, Coop. Who would think a balding farmer could tell such great stories?

Informational text dealing with an actual, real-life subject. Newspaper or magazine or newsletter articles

Verse and rhythmic writing with imagery that creates emotional responses. Shakespeare falls into several categories, as he wrote his dramas in verse.


Public address or discourse
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