Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: editors

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

The BIG FIVE Publishers sing a siren’s song irresistible to most writers. Granted, in the New Publishing World we now have multiple publishing options, numerous paths to take us to our goal (whatever that goal may be).

Self-publishing, indie, small press, blog-to-book, and legacy press. I’ve worked hard for my slice of success, but I’m not so “evolved” I’ve eschewed all desire to earn my own spot as a Random-Penguin 😉 .

Big Five Fever

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

All publishing paths hold advantages and disadvantages, yet nothing can beguile us like the Simon & Schuster sparkle, hypnotize us as much as the Macmillan mystique.

Big Five Publishers are the sun that burns through our ennui, revealing a mere glimpse of the literary summit. Gives us a fever burning so hot, we forget all about those manuscripts that tried and died. Ignore the frozen, forgotten dead we’ll have to climb over on the way up.

A delirious insanity propels us toward the top, no matter how much we bleed. Big Five Publishers are the K-2 for the high-achieving (okay Type A) author.

Author does start with A. It’s a sign 😉 .

Why Big Five Publishers Hold Such Appeal

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Why do so many of us crave a spot among The Five? Even though we’re well aware we might only summit once, if ever? Despite the odds, we boldly take on this mountain. We accept that, while we might lose some toes, we’ll gain bragging rights and authentic respect.

Once “in the club” we won’t have to prove ourselves by something as gauche as comparing royalties. We won’t feel the urge to reveal how much money we made on that last box set (common practice in indie and self-pub).

Added bonus? The power to instantly humble that asshat stranger who laughed when we said what we did for a living. You know him, that guy who always follows his condescending laugh with, “Sorry, I meant what is your real job?”

*growls*

Big Five Publishers give us that name brand “stamp of approval” that separates the bourgeoisie poseurs from the authentic elites. Even that clod who mocked our profession can understand the sentence, “I‘m with Harper Collins. Ever heard of them?”

Before anyone starts hating on me, I’m well aware that this “belief” that Big Five Publishers only take on works of literary genius is bunk. But, human emotions are not known for making logical sense. Intellectually we writers know Big Five Publishers are a business. As a business they represent books that will make a lot of money, plain and simple. They’re always on the hunt for A Shore Thing.

Even though Snooki’s memoir was/is hardly literary genius, it was a fairly safe bet it would sell a lot of copies and bring in the Benjamins.

Brands Have Power

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

With so much algorithm gaming and the fact the slush pile has been handed off to readers (only now with glossy covers), publishing has become hell on Earth.

It’s like living in a world of Publishing Participation Trophies. In all the electroplated garbage, how does the real gold outshine the faux? A question posited by writers and now by readers.

Five years ago no reader would have thought to look to the publisher. But times have changed and names have power. The author name (brand) sells more books than any full-page ad. An author repped by Big Five? Automatic advantage in terms of public perception.

Sort of like how designers can sell ugly shoes we wouldn’t be caught dead in…but they’re Prada. Thus instantly worth the $800 and they’re no longer hideous. They’re haute couture.

So I get it and don’t blame anyone for longing to be embraced by Big Five Publishers. Thus I am going to offer some tips.

Write a Good Book

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Yes, this falls under the “Um, duh” category but self-publishing has given a lot of emerging writers a shortcut to claim the title of “author” while avoiding mastering the craft. Remember the last post by Cait about dismemberment? There are countless red flags that light up a rookie brighter than LED. It’s why agents and editors often don’t need more than three pages to pass.

I know all a writer’s strengths and weaknesses in less than twenty pages—really five, but being generous.

Have a Platform and Brand

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Remember my Snooki example? NY didn’t represent this memoir because it would add to the body of early 21st century literature. No, she had a brand and a platform with eager fans willing to pay retail for her book regardless of “quality.”

Sort of like people lined up to own Jaguars in the 80s even though the Jags spent more time in the shop than on the road. Coveted brands are the only ones able to evoke that kind of blind love and loyalty.

Most agencies now will google our name when we submit. The platform/brand is now as, if not more, important than the book. We could have a novel so incredible angels weep, but if search engines don’t even know our name, then potential buyers don’t either. This makes us a risky investment and in these slim times, Big Five is not interested in Russian Roulette.

Do YOUR Work

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

These are publishers not daycare centers. It’s our job to know our craft and understand the business of our business. No one is going to hold our hand and do our work for us. There is no Publishing Sugar Daddy. If we suck at grammar, improve or hire someone to fix the mistakes. If we don’t know how to plot? Learn. Practice.

No agent/editor is going to baby us along from a typo-infested plotless nightmare “with promise” to a gleaming gem mega-seller like in the movies.

Being able to spell, punctuate and um, write is sort of expected with the profession. I appreciate that some people have dyslexia, or are terrible spellers. I’m severely ADD and often my sentences go off the rails…which is why even I hire pros for the polish. We need our work at its best before even thinking about an agent.

Speaking of agents, we need to do our homework. Research who represents what genre. Pay attention to what they’re in the market for. Agents are open about their “wish lists.”

Good writers are always avid readers. If you love a book and yours is similar, who’s the agent?

Another angle is to research an agent you believe would be a good fit, then read what they’ve represented and sold. This a) solidifies if it really WOULD be a good fit and b) is professional and flattering to the agent that we took time to do some work. You know, like a professional 😛 .

Follow %$#@*$ Instructions

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

This is a bugaboo that makes my left eye twitch. FYI, Big Five Publishers (actually all traditional publishers) have submission guidelines. Remember they are actively looking for a reason to NOT read our work. Sometimes the hoops are ludicrous, but they are there to weed out those who can’t follow directions.

If they ask for a 5000 word sample (20 pages) and instruct a Word doc double-spaced, one-inch margins, and 12 point Times New Roman font, then just do it. Because when they open a single-spaced, 10 point Courier font with three-quarter-inch margins, it doesn’t fool them.

It ticks them off.

Maybe by fudging the “rules” we squeezed in thirty-three pages instead of twenty but it won’t matter, because that agent won’t even read ONE page let alone thirty-three. An agent will take a single glance, then send the appropriate form letter about how our work not right for their agency.

Which is code for: We don’t have time for amateurs who can’t follow instructions.

Sell A LOT of Books

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Remember in the beginning I mentioned the numerous ways to attain our goal? If our goal is Big Five, nothing sweeter than fat sales figures to get our foot in the door.

Money is a universal language.

Impressive sales numbers take out all the guess work of what readers want to buy and offer evidentiary support our books are a solid investment. This dovetails into two earlier points about writing a good book and creating a strong platform/brand.

“Good” is subjective, the reader voting with purchases. No it isn’t fair, but fair is a weather condition. There are more than fifty shades of why it’s important to write books audiences want to read.

Write What Consumers Want to Buy/Read

Maybe you possess a burning desire to tell the story of a luchador who is mocked for his passion to write haiku. Instead of teaming up with his brothers in the ring, he longs to travel to Japan and unravel his inner demons. Go for it. But who would be the audience? A clue is in the reason for writing THIS story.

Perhaps, your reason for writing this is you lived in Mexico and found the luchadores fascinating and witnessed many others did as well. You yearned to tell this story, crafting it for an ignored audience with no voice.

Maybe upon submission you’re rejected. Self-publish and if it sells a gazillion copies, then Big Five will come knocking.

Yet, if you chose to tell the story of a luchador shunned for his love of haiku and the ONLY reason was to be “different” or “clever”…then have fun storming the castle. Cherry-flavored lutefisk is different, too, yet don’t foresee any long lines forming to consume it.

We can write for ourselves, sure. But if we fail to also consider our audience, then we are writing for ONE. Publishers have no interest in audiences that small.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Hard truth, I know. But in reality? Pretty simple stuff here. We CAN do this.

What are your thoughts? Do you long to be a Random-Penguin, too? Do you think it is harder and harder for writers to find ways to demonstrate authentic “success” with all the Amazon gaming, algorithmic alchemy, and the deluge of books not ready for public consumption?

Do you resent having to part with sales numbers or rankings to garner a smidge of respect? I know writers and creatives have always had a tough time being taken seriously, but these days it seems far worse.

I LOVE HEARING FROM YOU!

And I am NOT above BRIBERY!

What do you WIN? For the month of NOVEMBER, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For subscribers, click to my site to view gallery of upcoming classes (gallery doesn’t show up for you). But here are the two biggies coming up from ME (Kristen LAMB)…

BRAND BOSS! When Your NAME ALONE Can SELL! November 14th (TONIGHT!!!), 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $45 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

PLOT BOSS! Writing Novels Readers WANT TO BUY! November 16th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $40 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

Blurb - Cait Reynolds
BLURB BOSS: Writing Blurbs that SELL BOOKS. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 10, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
BRAND BOSS! When Your Name Alone Can Sell. $45 USD. Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
PLOT BOSS: Writing novels readers want to buy! $40 USD. Thurs., Nov. 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bad Boys. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 17, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

 

Last week, I picked on The Big Six in Bracing for Impact–The Future of Big Publishing in the New Paradigm, so today we are going to talk about Amazon. There seem to be two camps when it comes to Amazon. Either they are a tool of Satan and are actually responsible for the cute kitten trafficking to fund drug cartels in Guatemala, or they are the great and benevolent Optimus Amazon Prime, the one to free the enslaved creatives from their oppressive Big Six Masters.

Which is the truth? More on that in a moment. A little story first to help this sink in…

Some of you may or may not care know that I actually earned my B.A. in International Relations with a heavy emphasis on political economy (specifically dealing with the Middle East and North Africa). Back in the day, I wanted to be a foreign service officer or an analyst. So what did I do? I booked a flight to Syria.

The day after graduation, a cohort and I boarded a plane to Damascus. Our goal was to modernize a small paper company. We sought to streamline production and minimize inefficiencies. We were young, we were smart, we were…seriously dumb out of our depth.

Our plan was to help a paper plant stuck in the 60s come join the rest of the world in the 90s. We believed we could help them become competitive in a digital world so they could be competitive in the 21st century. (Sound familiar?)

Yes, that was the plan. What did we actually do?

We spent most of our time waiting on our driver to come pick us up from the refugee camp where we were staying. Yep, waiting…and more waiting…and counting goats. And, beyond that? We tried to chew ourselves free from the bureaucratic red tape that kept us from doing anything meaningful…and we drank a lot of Turkish coffee.

Why the trip down Memory Lane? 

Little did I know back in 1999, that, a decade later I would become a voice for writers in a new paradigm. See, back then I thought my passion was politics, but it was actually people all along. I traveled halfway across the globe to one of the most dangerous places for a blonde with a big mouth and zero common sense to be. And, though I failed back then, I am better prepared now…to help you guys.

Huh? I’ll explain.

The Problem with a Monopoly

Here is the thing. Syria is a dictatorship, and being a dictatorship, they really don’t care for a free market system despite any rhetoric about wanting to modernize. The paper company we wanted to streamline? They were the ONLY paper company, so anyone who wanted to wipe their tush or blow their nose, HAD to buy it from this company.

Those at the top were, well, on top. They didn’t need to listen to well-meaning college graduates who might have actually helped them be more efficient and make more money. They already had a lot of money and they controlled anything paper.

Failure will teach us far more than success ever will…

That time in Syria taught me a lot. Aside from the sound pop on the snoot to teach me I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, I got a solid dose of the downfalls of a monopoly. You see,  success was the paper company’s worst enemy. They had a lock on an important commodity and no competition. With no competition, they got lazy. There were gross inefficiencies in production and distribution and quality control was dismal at best.

But why would they change? There was no one else consumers could go to.

Talk is Cheap

I also learned that talk is cheap. Companies can say they care, that they want to be efficient, that they want to offer good products. Heck they can say it until the cows come home and that doesn’t mean a thing. It is generally only when there is an outside threat that these companies will get their act together.

So what does this have to do with publishing?

Part of why The Big Six have been able to be so grotesquely inefficient has been due to the fact that, historically, they’ve controlled distribution. They held the keys to the kingdom. Big Publishing didn’t have any decent competition, so no credible threat, thus there was no real impetus to do things faster, better, cheaper.

Oh, but that has changed. Yet with all these changes and innovations, does the future look brighter for the publishing industry and for writers?

Not so hasty…

Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts

Amazon is the 500 pound gorilla in the room, only we can’t see it because it is hidden neatly inside a giant digital Trojan Horse. Don’t get me wrong, I buy plenty of stuff off Amazon, and they have done a lot to help shake up the industry and get New York hopping. Without them, I don’t believe we would have seen so many miraculous changes so quickly.

Ah, but every fairy tale has a dark side…

I really hope New York gets its act together, because, once the competition falls away and Amazon burns New York to the ground? What happens to the writer? What happens when we fall asleep and it is safe for Amazon’s Trojan Horse to unleash the gorilla?

Amazon right now is in the courting phase with writers, and it is using us (writers) as a weapon to kill our former masters. Ah, but if Amazon really gets its way…what then?

When NY is razed and Amazon has no real competition, do they have to keep giving us the same sweet royalty rate? And they already have a nasty reputation. They pulled that little stunt with a publisher who dared to cross them. Two years ago, they removed all the “Buy Buttons” off all the Macmillan titles. So, if Amazon will use the brass knuckles on a major publisher that crossed their path…what about us? The little guys? What happens when a writer miffs them and they unleash the gorilla?

Lord Acton so eloquently said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and that statement is as relevant today in 2012 as it was in 1887, because while industries change and technology changes, humans are timeless. So what happens when it’s Amazon’s turn to hold all the keys to the kingdom? Will they use them any differently than those they crushed to gain them?

The Perks without the Works

Unlike NY, Amazon isn’t searching through all the millions of wanna-bes for a handful of investments. Anyone can publish quickly and cheaply. Writers are running to them! The problem with this is they get all the benefits of being a publisher without any real sacrifice.

A lawyer friend of mine noted that when writers publish on Amazon, we all agree to the same blanket contract. This gives Amazon all the perks of being a publisher without concerning itself with any of the traditional protections for the writer.

And, I understand that writers haven’t been treated all that great in the past, but we need to ask the tough question. Is this future better? Is trading one dictator for another a good plan?

Amazon having total control is a particularly frightening scenario for indie and self-published authors, because many aren’t repped by agents with the legal know-how to fight any injustice. Oh, I suppose we could sue, but Amazon has armies of high-powered attorneys to make a lesson out of any of us who tried.

I know this sounds a little Orwellian, but when everyone else is gone, what is to stop Amazon from having “technical errors” that just happen to lose YOUR books? What’s to stop another “Buy Button” glitch? What’s to stop them from demanding we all sell our books for $2.99 and if we don’t comply, we suddenly start having “technical errors”?

Yes, I read a lot of Asimov in my formative years.

Amazon is great at selling the cheapest stuff. They sell everything from camping equipment to push-up bras. Books are just another commodity…right?

Books are not TVs and Writers are not Camping Equipment

See, NY has its share of problems, but one thing NY has going for it is the LOVE of the written word. They VALUE it. Now, they might be valuing it in a way that isn’t competitive, but at the end of the day, they still VALUE it in a way that I believe eludes Amazon.

To Amazon? The gorilla doesn’t have the same sentimental connection. The bottom line and making money is all that matters, and, sure, they love selling motorcycles, but the romance genre alone is worth BILLIONS.

Caveat Emptor

Some people say, “It’s just business.” Yet, Amazon has not had any problem going to the mattresses to dominate the market and drive competitors out of the game. I guarantee you that, if Amazon does manage to finish off the major competition, they will soon open their own brick-and-mortar bookstores on Barnes & Noble’s grave. Why do I say this? In my book, the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. How will we writers feel about this type of “business” when we land in the cross-hairs?

You will know them by their works…

Great, Amazon wants to bring affordable and convenient shopping to the consumer. Awesome. But the question becomes, what are they willing to do to increase their profit margin?

Publishers Weekly announced on February 1st of 2012 that:

Amazon is continuing to report record growth. The electronic and general merchandise segment that includes the Kindle devices posted a 51% fourth quarter increase and a 57% gain for 2011.

So, as a former wanna-be analyst and paper salesperson (post-Syria), what do these numbers say to me? They spell potential big trouble in the future. See, I know what it is like to be the sales guy. Sure, when you are opening up into a new territory with no competition and you have a 57% gain in a quarter, you are hailed a genius! A hero!

Ah, but the numbers always look good when penetrating a new market. It’s like turning on a water hose to fill an empty pool. Every drop looks awesome. But once the pool is full?

Those numbers don’t look as impressive and the board of directors want to know where you, the salesperson failed. Why aren’t we seeing the same profits? What do we need to do to see 57% gains every quarter? The shareholders want to see profits!

And this is usually where the trouble begins.

This is the point that the benevolent dictatorship monopoly turns into a tyrant, because it is all about the bottom line and the spreadsheets. They lose all sense of reality and fail to see that no company can make 57% gains every quarter into perpetuity. This is where they start gutting geese writers for golden eggs best-selling books.

Sure, Amazon is great now that everyone is allowed to publish, but what if, in a few years, they no longer like that business model and they only want shiny darlings like Eisler and Konrath? What’s to stop them from becoming Big Six 2.0? What’s to stop them from jerking around our royalty rates? What’s to stand in their way and keep them from trafficking cute kittens to fund Guatemalan drug cartels?

Writers

We seem to be the ones that get left out, but we are the most important. We weren’t well-represented at Digital Book World or even the recent ToC (Porter Anderson explores this in depth in the latest Writing on the Ether.) Yet, without writers there are no stories, no books to sell.

Take heart, my peeps. We hold more power than we know.

How do we make New York wake up, snap in line and treat us better than they have in the past? How do we keep the belly of the Amazon Trojan Horse closed and the greedy gorilla at bay? How can we help ensure that the indies popping up all over have a viable marketplace to grow and put down roots and fairly compete?

We band together, we get educated, and we become empowered. Our author platform is the most powerful tool at our disposal. It makes NY take us seriously, and it will help keep Amazon playing nice. I would even be so bold as to say that our platforms will determine the future landscape of publishing.

An author with a platform is a citizen, an author without one is a subject.

There are too many authors who want to just write and hand the books and the business to someone else. That is a dangerous and risky plan.

No Platform=No Options

An author with a viable social media platform is empowered, and is more than just an author. Writers plugged into the WANA community are transformed. They are a new breed of faster, smarter and strangely good-looking writers. They are a WANAuthor. WANAuthors are citizens of the new publishing paradigm with a voice and a vote.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. ~ Margaret Mead

We Are Not Alone

Writers! Remember, We Are Not Alone (WANA) and together we are stronger. This is a great time to be a writer, and the future looks bright, but we are in this together. We are no longer indie, self-pub or traditional…we are WRITER-KIND. One global race comprised of storytellers, inspirers and educators with one mission…to fill the world with amazing books.

In a world where power corrupts and talk is cheap, we need each other more than ever. Our platforms and our voice keep the despots in check because we have the power to remove them from office take our business elsewhere.

What are your thoughts? Fears? Concerns? What do you see on the horizon and what are your solutions or suggestions? Hey, together we are stronger, but we are also smarter. I read every comment, so raise your voice!

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of February I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness

Those Who Can’t Self-Publish, Really? by Girls with Pens

The Big Six Publishers are Dead-6 Critical Factors for the Future by Richard Monro

Speak Strength to Yourself by Shelli Johnson

100 Tips to Alleviate Self-Doubt by Matthew Turner at Jane Friedman’s place

NYTBSA Bob Mayer has another perspective about Amazon over at his place.  The Reality of Amazon and the Digital Publishing World.

Publication–Perfection Not Required by the amazing Jody Hedlund.

25 Things I Want to Say to So-Called ‘Aspiring Writers’ by the word-pirate Chuck Wendig

Let the Good Times Roll AWESOME post by the talented Ingrid Schaffenburg

Women Peeing Outdoors by Natalie Hartford. Hey! It’s funny and makes the mash-up eclectic.

Jenny Hansen has an AWESOME lesson about Triberr (Triberr is a tool to manage all those blogs you like to read).

 

Today we are going to tackle a highly confusing subject for many writers—In medias res. In medias res quite literally means in the middle of things. This is a literary tactic that has been used since the days of Odysseus. It is a tactic that forces the writer forward, to begin the story near the heart of the problem.

The Trouble with In Medias Res

Ah, but this is where we writers can get in trouble. I see writers beginning their novels with high-action gun battles, blowing up buildings, a heart-wrenching, gut-twisting scene in a hospital or at a funeral, all in an effort to “hook the reader” by “starting in the middle of the action.” Then when they get dinged/rejected by an agent or editor, they are confused.

But I started right in the action! What is more “in the action” than a high-speed chase through Monte Carlo as a bomb ticks down to the final seconds?

Bear with me a few moments, and I will explain why this is melodrama and not in medias res.

Commercial Fiction Ain’t A Tale of Two Cities

For many centuries, there was a literary tendency to begin “in the early years” leading up to the story problem. Authors would wax on rhapsotic about the setting and spend 10,000 words or more “setting up” the story. The reader was privy to “why such and such character” became a whatever. There was a lot of heavy character development and explaining the why of things.

This, of course was fine, because in the 18th century, no writer was competing with television, movies or Facebook.

Thus if a book was a thousand pages long, it just meant it must have been extra-awesome. Also, authors, back in the day, were often paid by the word, thus there was a lot of incentive to add extra fluff and detail, layer on the subplots and pad the manuscript more than a Freshman term paper. Writing lean hit the author in the piggy bank, so most authors lived by the motto, No adverb left behind.

Then Hemingway came on the scene and…well, let’s get back to my point.

In medias res was not employed by many early novelists. They started the book when the protagonist was in the womb (being facetious here) and their stories often took on epic proportions.

Modern writers can’t do this. Yes there are exceptions to every rule, so save the e-mails. Just trust me when I say that modern readers have been spoiled by Hollywood and iPhones. They are used to instant gratification, and most modern readers will not give us writers 15,000 words to get the the point.

These days, especially for traditional publishing, we need to get right into the heart of the action from the get-go. But if “the heart of the action” doesn’t involve a gun battle, funeral or cliffhanging scene, what the heck does it look like?

For Those Who Have Slept Since Seeing Star Wars

It is the front gate of Six Flags over Texas.

Do we need to start in the years that Kristen was too young to go to Six Flags? How she would see her teenage cousins leave for a day of roller coasters and cry herself to sleep in her toddler bed for not getting to ride the roller coasters? How she vowed at four that she, too, would one day brave the Shock Wave?

Uh…no.

Do we start the story on the biggest loop of the roller coaster? The screams and terror mixed with glee?

No, that’s too far in. If we start the story on a Big Loop (HUGE ACTION–like car chases, bank heists, etc.) then we risk the rest of the book being anti-climactic. So where do we begin?

We begin at the gates of Six Flags over Texas.

We see young Kristen in the back of the station wagon and as her parents pull into the giant parking lot. We are present when she catches a glimpse of the Shock Wave (story problem) in the distance. Wow, it is bigger than she thought. We walk with Kristen through the line to get into the amusement park, and get a chance to know her and care about her before she makes the decision to ignore the Tea Cups and take on the roller coaster (Rise to Adventure). Kristen could have totally chickened out and stayed on the baby rides, but that would have been a boring story. Yet, because the Tea Cups are in the context of the larger ride, it means something when she decides she MUST ride the roller coaster.

In medias res means we start as close to the overall story problem as possible.

In my little example, the GIANT roller coaster represents the story problem. We have a choice to start far earlier than in the parking lot of Six Flags….but we risk losing the reader in the Land of “Who Gives a Crap?”. We, as the narrators, can also choose to start on the actual ride, but then we have a different problem. The readers are then hurled into the action after the decision (rise to the adventure) has been made. Thus, we didn’t get time to give a gnat’s booty about seven-year-old Kristen.

Also, since Kristen is already locked down and can’t walk away, there is no conflict. It isn’t like Kristen can step out of the coaster on the first loop and take on the Tea Cups instead. As long as Kristen cannot make the wrong choice or give into her fears, there really is no story. Kristen MUST have a chance to fail….to walk away and go play the Ring-Toss instead.

Likewise, our protagonists MUST have opportunities to fail or to walk away. This is why they are eventually called “heroes.” Anyone else would have waved the white flag in the face of such circumstances. This is why we read fiction. We like bravery, courage and resilience.

What Star Wars the New Hope Can Teach Us About In Medias Res

To give you guys another example, let’s pretend it is 1977 and we are sitting in the theater watching the movie Star Wars. Star Wars (The New Hope) is a PERFECT example of in medias res. When we start the story, wars have been fought and we are in the heart of the conflict. The twins are grown and living separate lives and Anakin has already whined himself over to the Dark Side and become Darth Vader.

Begin on Tatooine

So if you don’t want to start at the Gates of Six Flags, then feel free to Begin on Tattoine.

Star Wars begins (with the protagonist) on the planet of Tatooine just before his life will intersect with the antagonist’s agenda. We meet young Luke in his Normal World and get a chance to meet his aunt and uncle. We get a chance to see his normal life, so we have a basis for comparison when everything goes sideways. We care when Luke’s family is senselessly slaughtered. We are there when Luke is given a choice. Ignore everything that’s happened and return to moisture-farming OR step on the path to adventure.

What NOT to Do

We DO NOT begin the adventure with Little Luke looking at the stars wondering who his father is or longing for exciting adventures in space. It is too early and we aren’t close enough to the story problem–when the Emperor’s agenda intersects with Luke’s life and alters it forever.

We also DO NOT start the story with Luke whizzing through space on the Milleneum Falcon dodging bad guys. That would have been exciting, but jarring and we wouldn’t have cared about any of the passengers. We also wouldn’t have had time to see the overall story problem—The Emperor, Darth and the Death Star.

I feel part of why the prequels sucked were not as good is because Lucas tried to go back and explain the story that we already had loved and accepted. Among many other reasons

Guess what?

We really didn’t need to know WHY Annakin Skywalker turned evil or even HOW the Force worked or WHAT it was to enjoy The New Hope movies. In fact, we kind of liked the movies better before we “knew.”

The Force was better before it was explained.

Some of you are starting too far into the action, which is jarring. But others might feel the need to go back and explain everything. Why your protag is thus and such. Why the world is la la la. How the magic did whatever. Guess what? You really don’t need to explain.

I have used this example before. What if you went to a magic show? The magician makes a woman float. As the audience, we cry out, “How can he DO THAT?” What if the magician stopped mid-show, flipped on the lights and pointed out all the mirrors and wires? What would it do?

It would ruin the magic.

Keep Your Literary Magic

Same with our writing. Sure, some things (backstory) can be explained. But, I will be blunt. Most backstory can be explained in dialogue, real-time in flow with the narrative. Flashbacks and prologues really just bog down the narrative more times than not. Yes, you might want to explain why your vampire is dark and brooding, but why? Many readers will keep reading in hopes they can piece together enough hints to figure it out. Just because readers might want something, doesn’t mean it is in our best interests as authors to give in.

Sure. Star Wars fans all thought they wanted to know WHY and HOW, but once we got what we wanted????

Yeah.

Finding the Literary Sweet Spot

Thus, as writers, we are looking for that literary sweet spot, just close enough to the inciting incident to make readers feel vested, but not so far that we are basically beginning our book with a scene that should be the Big Boss Battle at the end. In medias res is tough and we aren’t always going to nail it on the first try. The key is practice and study. Movies are really wonderful to study because in screenplays, Act One is brutally short.

Watch how the best movies introduce the characters and the problems and see how efficient they are at relaying backstory in dialogue. And sure, some movies use flashbacks, but we always have to remember that the visual medium is different. We can “see” differences and don’t have to “keep up with” a zillion characters. We are passive and watching with our eyes. We don’t have to recreate the world in our head.

Reading is very active, so flashbacks always risk jarring the reader out of the narrative. Also, if you study screenwriting, great screenplays, much like great novels, do not rely on flashbacks. Heavy use of flashbacks is generally a sign of an amateur screenwriter. Highly skilled writers, whether on the page or the screen, are masters of maximizing every word and keeping the story real-time.

So what are your thoughts? Does this help you understand in medias res better? Do you have anything to add?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Last Week’s Winner of 5-Page Critique Annette Mackey.

Please send your 1250 word Word document to author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

Happy writing!

Welcome to Twitter Tuesday with Dr. Twuth. The tips offered here are all based off my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. If our goal is to build an author platform in the thousands to tens of thousands, then we will have to approach Twitter differently than a faceless corporation or even the regular person who does not possess a goal of becoming a brand. This blog will help you rule the Twitterverse without devolving into a spam bot.

So who is Dr. Twuth? Heard of Dr. Ruth, Sex Therapist? Well, today I am introducing you to my alter ego Dr. Twuth, Text Therapist (Dr. Twuth is accredited by one of the best mail-order PhD universities in the Bahamas. She isn’t a real doctor, just plays one on the Internet).

Have a question about Twitter? A problem? A sticky wicket? Let Dr. Twuth help, because the Twuth will set you free.

Dr. Twuth–Putting the “smart” back in smart phones.

On to our tweeps in need…

Dear Dr. Twuth,

I spend way too much time on Twitter but it’s so much fun. Ah, social media – so much to do, so little time :-) Maybe I should just duct-tape my laptop shut? Dr. Twuth?

Signed,

Overwhelmed Orlowski

Dear Overwhelmed,

This is a common problem when it comes to writers. What few people know is that most of us writers can trace our genetic lineage to an offshoot of the ferret family–early homo sapiens must have gotten desperate for warmth right after the last Ice Age and cuddling went too far.

You can see how embarrassing this is and why we have buried the twuth for years…along with snacks, favorite pens and some killer bookmarks.

Anyway, it was at this genetic juncture that writers broke off the family tree from normal homo sapiens. Writers are actually a distinctive line of primates known by only certain scientific communities (the ones who failed Biology 101) as homo ferretus busyworkus--which scientifically explains the short attention span and the attraction to all things shiny. Most of you probably make nice nests of paper and fluffy things like sweatshirts and crocheted blankets.

Yes…I really can see you. You behind the stack of unread books and papers to be edited. Pay attention. Stop tormenting the cat with the laser pointer.

Anyway, yes we are born this way. It can be a genetic advantage in that the homo ferretus enjoys a heightened sense of curiosity and a need to explore, but this comes at a price.

Shiny things are our downfall.

Thus, anything shiny–like Tweet Deck–must be treated with extreme care. I highly recommend avoiding purchasing lava lamps or disco balls, despite how “cool” they would be to have in your office. And, when it comes to social media, we need to have a plan.

If we will brand everything under our NAME–the name that will be printed on the front of our books–this will help a lot. Too many writers are hiding behind a cutesy moniker on Twitter, then they have an equally cutesy name for the blog and then their Facebook page has their real name and the fan page has a pen name. These writers are trying to balance FOUR identities/brands. Since efforts are diffused, there is less impact when these writers participate on social media. So, using our NAME, will help a lot. Every effort is focused like—

Yes, like the laser pointer you are using with the cat. Could you please pay attention?

Thank you.

Your efforts on social media will be focused like that laser pointer you should not shine directly in your cat’s eyes because it can cause retinal damage. A focused social media platform will transfix followers the same way as your cat, who was so absorbed in the shiny red dot that he didn’t even see the dog.

A brand gives followers a focal point.

Another key tactic to managing social media is to create friendships and community. When we all work together, creating a platform is far easier. We can rely on others to help us if we actively seek to help and support them. I liken it to a barn-raising. When we all do a little for each other, big jobs suddenly become more manageable. Since we aren’t doing everything alone, we need to spend far less time on social media to still be effective.

This is one of the reasons that using traditional marketing tactics on social media is so ineffective. Most people won’t line up to help a spammer, so the writer has to do everything alone. This is why spammy writers need in excess of 20,000 Twitter followers to have any impact on sales. The ROI of this approach is dismal, because the writer is marketing linearly instead of exponentially.

Teamwork and service above self is always the winning combination….like nachos and coffee. Always a win.

Best of luck!

Dr. Twuth

See how easy this is? Do you have a Twitter or social media dilemma? Leave your question in the comments or if you would like to maintain anonymity, e-mail Dr. Twuth’s slave assistant at kristen at kristen lamb dot org. Just put GIVE ME THE TWUTH in the subject line.

Dr. Twuth is all about love and offering a human touch to this digital world. Dr. Twuth is #MyWANA certified, or certifiable, I can’t recall which. But, hey, it’s free so if you don’t like her advice, she will give you 100% refund (There will be a $15.99 processing fee for said refund).

Let Dr. Twuth help you out. Remember, the Twuth will set you free.

Tweet ya later!

P.O.V. Prostitution is an ugly sight.

Okay, you guys asked for more Deadly Sins of Writing, so here we go. I’m putting on my editor’s hat. Many of you decided to become writers because you love to write. Duh. I’ll even bet most of you, back when you were in school, also made very good grades in English. Thus, you might assume that you naturally know how to write a novel that is fit for NY publication. Maybe you do. But, if you are anything like me when I started out? You might not know as much as you think you do.

Why?

Our high school English teacher didn’t care that we used 15 metaphors on one page. Why? Her goal was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor…NOT to prepare us for agent submission.

As you might be able to tell from my latest posts, I think self-publishing is becoming an increasingly viable option for many writers. Yet, I also want to be forthcoming. Self-publishing is not a panacea, and there are too many writers who rush to self-publish instead of understanding why their story was being rejected. Aside from flashbacks and back-story vomit, today’s sin is probably THE biggest problem I see in most self-published books.

Generally, I can see in three pages why a manuscript was rejected by an agent. How?

There are a number of ways, and I recommend you check out one of my posts from last year, Novel Diagnostics for a detailed explanation of some of the most common newbie novelist oopses.

But, beyond that list, the single largest mistake I see in new manuscripts is the author does not understand P.O.V. This is an easy mistake to make, in that, as I stated earlier, our college English classes aren’t there to teach us how to be great novelists.

Some writers pick up on P.O.V. intuitively, but most of us need to be taught, lest we leave the reader feeling as if she is being held hostage on a Tilt-A-Whirl.

P.O.V. Prostitution (Head-Hopping)

Let’s step back in time to the days before we all made the decision to become writers. I would guess all of us were readers. We loved books, and books were a large part of what prompted our career choice. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you ever tried to read a book, but eventually had to put it down because it was too confusing? You couldn’t figure out who was doing what, and you needed Dramamine to keep up with the perspectives?
  • Have you ever read a story that was so good you actually felt as if you had taken on the character’s skin? His success was yours, as was his failure. By the final page, you were sad to say good-bye?

P.O.V. used properly can create entire worlds, and breathe life into characters. Used improperly, it can make your reader feel like she’s been strapped to Hell’s Merry-Go-Round—not good.

First, you have to know what P.O.V. is if you hope to use it to your advantage.  “P.O.V. does not stand for ‘Prisoners of Vietnam,’” as author Candy Havens would say. P.O.V. stands for Point of View.

Although this literary device is one of the most vital tools an author possesses, it is probably the number one style problem I encounter as an editor. I cannot count how many new writers (and, sadly, some not-so-new writers) give me a blank stare when I write P.O.V. in big red letters all over their manuscripts (and H.H., but we’ll get to that later).

The best way to describe point of view is to think of your story as viewed through the lens of the video camera. How many people (characters) are going to be permitted to hold that camera?

Is your camera going to travel with one main character through the entire story? Or, do others get a turn? Is “God” holding the camera? These are simple questions you can answer to help you select the point of view perfect for your story.

There is no wrong P.O.V., but we do have to be consistent. P.O.V. is a HUGE factor in determining our writing voice.

What are the types of P.O.V.?

A quick overview:

First-Person P.O.V—uses “I” a lot. Only one character (the narrator) has the camera.

There are four major disadvantages to this P.O.V.

1. This P.O.V uses a lot of “I” which can become repetitive to the point of distraction.

2. The reader can only see and hear what the narrator knows. This limits the flow of information. Probably good for a mystery, but if you aren’t writing a mystery this may not be the right P.O.V for you.

3. EOEs are problematic. An EOE is an emotionally overwhelming event. If our narrator walks in on her brother lying dead in a pool of blood, the scene can lose power and authenticity.

4. First-Person P.O.V is a bugger when it comes to tense. Why? Because First-Person breaks into two camps.

There is the I remember whencamp and the Come along withmecamp.

One is in past tense, a recollection. “I remember the day my father and I were attacked by a pack of Mary Kay ladies gone feral….”

The other is in present tense, and the reader is along for the ride. “I walk these streets every morning, but today I am just waiting for something to go wrong….”

Note of Caution: It is extremely easy to muddy the two camps together. Tense can be problematic…okay, a nightmare.

The benefit? First-person P.O.V. adds an intimacy that no other P.O.V. can, and is useful for stories where we might want to withhold information from the reader.

Third-Person P.O.V—is when you, the writer, permit one or more of the characters to lug the camera through your story.

Third Person Locked allows only one character access to the camera. The entire story is told through what that particular character can experience through the 5 Senses. So, if your character’s eyes are “shining with love,” then she’d best be holding a mirror, or you are guilty of head-hopping.

Third Person Shifting allows more than one character access to the camera. Here’s the rub. Your characters must to play nice and take turns. Only one character with the camera at a time. When the next character wants a turn, there has to be a clear cut. Think of the director’s clapboard ending one scene before shifting to the next.

It is usually a good idea to limit one P.O.V. per scene. When we switch perspectives inside the same scene, that is called head-hopping, and it will confuse and frustrate our readers.

There are advantages to Third-Person Shifting

1. It can add additional depth and insight to your story.

2. It can allow you (the writer) to hold back information and add to suspense.

3. Third-Person Shifting can allow other characters to take over during emotionally volatile points in the story.

For instance, looking at our earlier example, if your protagonist walks in on her brother lying dead in a pool of blood, the emotions experienced are realistically too overwhelming to be properly articulated by your protagonist.

In this scenario, First-Person P.O.V is probably not a good fit. The scene could be more powerful if told from someone watching your protagonist react to discovering a deceased loved one.

There are inherent problems with Third-Person Shifting.

1. Your characters must play nice and take turns. Otherwise, your reader will likely become confused and eventually frustrated.

2. It is best to permit camera access to key characters only. The reader has to stay in one head long enough to feel connected. Too many perspectives can easily become overwhelming and dilute the strength of your characters.

Omniscient P.O.V is when “God” gets to hold the camera.

This P.O.V is like placing your camera up high over all of the action. The narrator is omnipresent and omniscient. “If Joe had only known who was waiting for him outside, he would have never left for that pack of cigarettes.” Joe cannot experience anything beyond the 5 Senses (third-person). So, unless Joe is actually Superman and possesses X-Ray vision, it takes an omniscient presence to tell us someone bad is lurking outside waiting to do Joe harm.

There are advantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Omniscient can relay information that would be far too overwhelming to describe if limited to the 5 Senses. Battle scenes are a good example.

2. Omniscient can give information critical to the story that the character doesn’t have to personally know. For instance, in Bob’s Area 51 Series (which I HIGHLY recommend), he relays a lot of factual and historical information that is critical to understanding the plot. But, it would really seem bizarre to the reader if his characters just started spouting off the history of the pyramids like an Egyptologist. To avoid this jarring scenario, Bob uses an omniscient presence to relay the information so the prose remains nice and smooth.

There are disadvantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Third-Person P.O.V. and Omniscient P.O.V. are VERY easy to muddy together.

2. Omniscient P.O.V. and Head-Hopping are not the same, but are easy to confuse. I have edited many writers who believed they were employing Omniscient P.O.V. In reality, they were just letting every character in the book fight over the camera simultaneously, leaving me (the editor) feeling like I was trapped in the Blair Witch Project.

Whose head am I in? I can’t tell. Help meeeee…..

Proper use of P.O.V. takes a lot of practice to master. It is very easy to shift from one type of P.O.V. to another, or what I like to call “P.O.V. Prostitution” or “Head-Hopping.”

Key Points to Remember:

  • In First-Person–Come along with me stories can easily turn into I remember when stories (or vice versa). Tense is a big red flag. Do you shift from present to past or past to present? Pay close attention to verbs.
  • In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting)–Characters will only play nice and take turns if you, the writer, force them to. Make sure whatever is happening in a scene is something that could be filtered through ONE character’s 5 Senses.
  • In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting) –“God” is really bad about grabbing your character’s camera, so keep an eye on Him. If there is suddenly information your character has no way of knowing through the 5 Senses, that is a big clue the Big Guy snagged your camera. Just remind Him nicely of commandment number eight, and ask Him to give the camera back.
  • In Omniscient–“God” is in charge. Be careful your wide-lens isn’t zooming in and out and making your reader dizzy in the process.

P.O.V. is one more reason it is critical for writers to read if they hope to become great authors. Read, read, read. Read all kinds of books by all kinds of authors using different P.O.V.s to see how it is done well. Here are some of my recommendations:

Suzanne Collins brilliantly employs First-Person in the Come Along with Me fashion in her Hunger Games Trilogy. Her choice of P.O.V. gives an intimate feel no other P.O.V. can, and, since it isn’t an I Remember When story, Collins is able to maintain reader suspense.

Stephen King does a great job of using first-person in an I Remember When style in The Green Mile. King chose this P.O.V. for a very specific reason, which I will not say so as not to spoil the ending.

Dennis Lehane does an amazing job of employing omniscient in Mystic River. If you think you might want to use omniscient, I’d recommend reading him.

James Rollins uses third-person shifting very well in the Doomsday Key. Third-shifting is generally a great P.O.V. for thrillers in that it helps manage/reveal a lot of information that the protag may or may not know.

I would also recommend reading Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo. She actually mixes third-limited and first-person and the effect is impressive.

P.O.V. when used properly can take a story to a whole new level. Read, experiment and practice. I know I just touched on a handful of suggestions, so feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments .

I highly recommend NY Time Best-Selling author Bob Mayer’s  The Novel Writers Toolkit for more in-depth explanation.

What is your favorite P.O.V. and why? Which ones do you like the least? Why? Have you never heard the term P.O.V. before? Does this post clear up some big questions about why your manuscript might have been having problems? Do you guys have any resources you would recommend? I want to hear from you!

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

Last Week’s Winner of 5-Page Critique–Marcy Kennedy

Please send your 1250 word Word doc to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of August I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.