Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: trends in fiction

mystery, why people love mysteries, Kristen Lamb, Author Larry Enmon, Special Agent Larry Enmon, Larry Enmon The Burial Place, mystery The Burial Place, how to write mysteries, what mystery readers want, trends in fiction, trends in mysteries

Last time, we talked about how important research is for creating stories readers love. Some genres require more research than others, and mystery happens to be one of those genres. The more we read, watch, and learn, the better we can execute twists and turns and surprises readers can’t get enough of.

A great way to add authenticity is to connect with people who are in the profession of solving crimes. Mystery masters, so to speak. Today, we have a real treat.

I’ve been friends with Larry Enmon for over ten years. Larry is a retired special agent from the United States Secret Service. He started out as a police officer in Houston, Texas, so if anyone can appreciate the lure of mystery? Trust me, it’s Larry.

Thanks for being here! Take it away!

Why We Love a Good Mystery

mystery, why people love mysteries, Kristen Lamb, Author Larry Enmon, Special Agent Larry Enmon, Larry Enmon The Burial Place, mystery The Burial Place, how to write mysteries, what mystery readers want, trends in fiction, trends in mysteries

Just so we start off on the right foot here, I’ve read everything Sir Author Conan Doyle ever wrote about Sherlock Holmes. As a young man, mysteries and mystery writing fascinated me. I read everything I could get. But then I did something foolish. Something that caused me to fall out of love with the genre.

I became a police officer.

For thirty-seven years I lived the dream—more often the nightmare—of solving mysteries. I started as a municipal police officer in Houston working uniform patrol and undercover vice. Eventually, I accepted an appointment as a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service, where I continued investigating crimes and solving mysteries.

But I stopped reading them. In hindsight? That was probably a mistake.

The Seed of a Great Story

mystery, why people love mysteries, Kristen Lamb, Author Larry Enmon, Special Agent Larry Enmon, Larry Enmon The Burial Place, mystery The Burial Place, how to write mysteries, what mystery readers want, trends in fiction, trends in mysteries

First of all, every good story contains an element of mystery. It’s in our human DNA to ask why—to solve the puzzle, to discover the secret. It’s what pushes humanity forward. Everyone wants to be the first to figure it out.

Reading a good mystery allows the reader to experience the thrill of the hunt without the inherent dangers involved in hunting. Staying at a safe distance from danger is always better than experiencing it first hand.

Trust me—I’ve been shot at more than once.

What else do we love about mysteries? The crime gets solved, the bad guy is captured, and justice is swiftly meted out. Sadly, this is not always so in the real world. We know this, and it bothers us that good people are hurt or killed and some crimes are never solved. Most humans possess an innate desire for wrongs to be righted. While life rarely offers what we crave, good mysteries do.

Mystery novels feed that psychic longing for closure.

The Evolution of Mystery

Secondly, mystery fulfills intrinsic human needs. This explains why mystery has changed over the decades. The old-style detective and mystery writers weren’t as concerned about characters as the new writers of today. What started out as a plot-driven genre has evolved into a character-driven genre.

In the digital age, we want to know everything about everyone. We’re just as interested in the people as the problem. Perhaps more so. This cultural shift has elevated the characters in mysteries to being as important, if not more important, than the mystery to be solved.

Let me share an example: True Detective – Season One (HBO). Sure we care about the detectives discovering the identity of the serial killer, but what keeps us coming back, desperate for the next episode and the next has much more to do with the relationship between the two detectives, Rust and Marty.

A Funny Thing About Murder…

mystery, why people love mysteries, Kristen Lamb, Author Larry Enmon, Special Agent Larry Enmon, Larry Enmon The Burial Place, mystery The Burial Place, how to write mysteries, what mystery readers want, trends in fiction, trends in mysteries

Lastly, mystery is all around us every day. It’s in the headlines, on the news, murmured in the scuttle around the office. A fellow writer once asked me how many homicides I saw as a uniform police officer. This started me to thinking about all the different types of death I investigated.

Each had a mystery associated with it that needed solving. I saw death by shooting, stabbing, drowning, electrocution, crushing (yes, that happened), poisoning, blunt force trauma, falling, hanging, and burning.

I was the first unit on the scene, and it was my job to determine what happened, how it happened, why it happened, and round up the witnesses before the homicide detectives arrived.

Old Cop Trick #1: Always ask the witnesses for some identification. Once they present it, drop it in your pocket. If you don’t, in all the confusion, they might just wander away.

I suspect that few police officers read mysteries, probably for the same reasons I stopped. It’s hard enough living with the horrible real images we see as police. Also living with the fictional ones is like taking your work home with you.

But having the experience as an officer gave me the background necessary to write a good mystery. I still love to solve crimes, but only fictional ones, please.

A Real-Life Mystery

mystery, why people love mysteries, Kristen Lamb, Author Larry Enmon, Special Agent Larry Enmon, Larry Enmon The Burial Place, mystery The Burial Place, how to write mysteries, what mystery readers want, trends in fiction, trends in mysteries

So let me leave you with a real police mystery I witnessed first-hand. My partner and I made the scene of a shooting involving two men. The victim was in his mid-twenties, six foot five, and unarmed. The suspect was in his late teens and five feet tall.

According to a half dozen witnesses, the older man began harassing and threatening the younger one over the affections of a woman. The younger man drew a small caliber pistol and pointed it at the older one. The victim screamed, “Nooooooooooooo!” just as the single shot rang out.

The victim fell to the pavement, dead as a door nail. But there was one problem. The body didn’t have a mark on it. No entry wound of any kind.

Everyone assumed the guy either cracked his skull when he fell or suffered a heart attack out of fear. The only blood was a few drops on the guy’s lower lip, which could be attributed to biting his tongue or lip as he hit the pavement. The homicide detectives were on their way, so I had only a few minutes to figure it out.

As far as everyone was concerned, the suspect had missed the victim when he shot at him. But it was a homicide.

Want to know how?

The short suspect fired the small caliber pistol at the taller victim as he screamed, “Nooooooooooo!” The bullet entered the victim’s mouth and, because of the angle of the shot (five-foot-tall guy shooting at six-foot-five guy), went into his brain, killing him instantly. The small amount of blood on the victim’s lower lip was the only sign of violence. But the bullet in the brain was the cause of death.

Yes, everyone loves a good mystery 😉 .

***

Thanks so much for being here! Larry has been an incredible friend and a priceless resource for me in my own writing. He’s been kind enough for me to pepper him—ok, shotgun blast him—with questions to make sure I get my facts correct while writing my own mysteries.

I encourage y’all to connect with Larry not only because he’s a fantastic resource but he’s also one of the best people I know. You can find him these places:

Twitter: @ LarryEnmon

Instagram: @ Larry Enmon

Facebook: larryenmonbooks

In your shrubs… KIDDING!

Larry Enmon’s debut crime/mystery novel The Burial Place was released by Crooked Lane Books, New York on April 10th. He is represented by the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency, Ltd, London.

Speaking of Mysteries

MAY 3rd, I have a class to unravel the mystery of how to write a query and a SYNOPSIS *writers scream*. It doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it 😉 .

Have to write a query letter or synopsis? Conference season is coming! TONIGHT!

Pitch Perfect: Crafting a Query & Synopsis Agents Will Love. Class is April 19th 7-9 EST and $45 for over two hours training y’all how to do the toughest parts of this job. Recording is included with purchase.

I LOVE Hearing from You!

What are your thoughts? Do you love mysteries? Why? What are some of your favorites? Want to ask Larry any questions? Here is your chance!

Remember comments on guest posts get DOUBLE CREDIT for the contest.

What do you WIN?

For the month of April, 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).

Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve…Up Some TRAINING!

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend:

ON DEMAND Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. 

Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.

And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get BOTH Plot Boss and Art of Character in the…

Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND).

Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN! 

I also hope you’ll pick up a copy of my debut novel The Devil’s Dance.

The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, Author Kristen Lamb, Kristen Lamb novel, Kristen Lamb mystery-thriller, Romi Lachlan

how to sell more books, trends in fiction, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Camp NaNoWriMo, dramatic writing, how to get more readers, The Martian Andy Weir, hook, writing hooks
Image courtesy of Randy Heinitz via Flickr Creative Commons.

How do we sell our stories? That is the big question. It is the reason for craft classes and editing and cover design and agents and editors and all the time on social media. And while platforms and covers and algorithms do matter, there is one tried and true way to sell more books.

Write a great story.

And not just any story, but a story that hooks from the very beginning and only continues to hook deeper.

Think of great stories like concertina wire.

The danger of concertina wire is not just in one hook, but hundreds or thousands. And it isn’t even in the thousands of hooks. It is the tension created by the coiled structureIf a person is snagged even a little, every effort to break free (turning a page for resolution) only traps the victim deeper in a web of barbed spines.

Now granted, this is a morbid visual, but y’all are writers and there is a good reason our family doesn’t like us talking at the dinner table.

So I was researching sucking chest wounds today and, hey, pass the spaghetti please?

Moving on…

We’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating. Many new writers finish their first novel, and (I know as an editor) that odds are more than good that I’m going to chop off the first 50-100 pages.

We dream killers editors call this the fish head. What do we do with fish heads? We toss them (unless you are my weird Scandinavian family who makes fish face soup out of them).

 hook, writing hooks, how to sell more books, trends in fiction, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Camp NaNoWriMo, dramatic writing, how to get more readers, The Martian Andy Weir
Image courtesy of David Pursehouse via Flickr Creative Commons

Often, when I go to do this kind of cutting, new writers will protest. “No, but you need this and the story really gets going on page 84.”

My answer? “Then let’s start on page 84.”

Too many stories fall flat because they lack the barbs necessary for snagging the modern reader who has the attention span of an ADD hamster with a meth habit. Additionally, a lot of us writers fall into bad habits of assuming readers are stupid, that they need all kinds of brain holding to “get” what we are talking about which means we not only lack barbs…but necessary tension.

I will prove readers are really smarter than we give them credit for 😉 …

Hook with a Problem

 hook, writing hooks, how to sell more books, trends in fiction, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Camp NaNoWriMo, dramatic writing, how to get more readers, The Martian Andy Weir

One morning, on my way to take Spawn to school, as I stopped at my stop sign at a major business highway, a VW van passed at 50 mph and another car pulled out in front. BAM! Car parts, exploding glass, tearing metal, right in front of me. One driver screaming because his legs were crushed and he was pinned. All of this in less than 15 seconds.

Do you think I was hooked?

Did I need to know the history of the drivers, where they were going, what had the one driver so distracted that he would pull out into traffic? Did I need a description of the balmy, normal morning and a weather report? A description of the pale azure sky? Nope.

Now this is an extreme example, but it shows how even in life, we stop everything in light of a problem. A scream, a child crying, someone falling over a curb. We immediately halt everything.

Good fiction always begins with a problem because that is ALL fiction really is. Prose and descriptions and symbol and theme are all various delivery mechanisms…for PROBLEMS.

I cannot count the number of new manuscripts I read where the author spends most of her opening playing Literary Barbies. We really don’t care as much about your protagonist’s flaming red hair as much as we care about that warrant for her arrest. This is drama not a doll house.

Go look at books that have launched to legends and you will see this.

Andy Weir’s The Martian:

I am pretty much f**ked.

That is my considered opinion.

F**ked.

Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it has turned into a nightmare.

We don’t start the book on Earth or in the astronaut program at NASA. We don’t even start when they land on Mars and hint that trouble eventually will come. Nope. Weir tosses us face first into a problem.

Hook With a Question

 hook, writing hooks, how to sell more books, trends in fiction, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Camp NaNoWriMo, dramatic writing, how to get more readers, The Martian Andy Weir

I have a mantra that all modern novelists must live and die by.

Resist the urge to explain.

One of the reasons emerging writers get that fish head is they do a lot of flashbacks and explaining and “setting up” the story and they are unwittingly destroying the single strongest propulsion mechanism for their story—curiosity.

If we look at the opening page of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, the opening paragraph has a small character hook but six lines down we read:

The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it.

When we craft any story, we are wise to harness the power of human nature. Humans are curious. Heck, we are downright nosey. Imagine sitting at a Starbucks and prepping the computer to write. Two women sit nearby chatting and one has obviously been crying (hooking with a problem). We might eavesdrop a little, arrange Post Its, set out our lucky thesaurus but the second one of the women says, “He would kill me if he ever found out.”

There went the writing.

Then we would be doing “research” 😀 .

Hook with Question and Character

 hook, writing hooks, how to sell more books, trends in fiction, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Camp NaNoWriMo, dramatic writing, how to get more readers, The Martian Andy Weir
What the HELL, HANNAH?

Sometimes the problem or question isn’t so obviously stated and there is a lot left between the lines. We humans love to fill in the blanks, so LET US.

We will use an example from my all-time favorite book Luckiest Girl Alive.

I inspected the knife in my hand.

“That’s the Shun. Feel how light it is compared to the Wustof?”

I pricked a finger on the blade’s witchy chin, testing. The handle was supposed to be moisture resistant, but was quickly going humid in my grip.

First of all, this is a great opening line. It hooks, but then it leads to another hook and another and another. The character is testing the blade. Why? A blade being moisture resistant obviously is a plus if you are planning on stabbing someone because less chance of slippage (Stuff Writers Know).

Who is she planning to stab? How is she planning on using the blade? What has her so nervous her hands are going moist?

And on PAGE ONE we realize the protagonist is out looking at knives with her fiancé. Why? That is unusual. China? Normal. Curtains? Normal. Knives? Not normal.

Especially since in paragraph FOUR, we read:

I look up at him, too: my fiancé. The word didn’t bother me so much as the one that came after it. Husband. That word laced the corset tighter, crushing organs, sending panic into my throat with the bright beat of a distress signal.

Don’t Eat Your Own Bait

 hook, writing hooks, how to sell more books, trends in fiction, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Camp NaNoWriMo, dramatic writing, how to get more readers, The Martian Andy Weir
…or drink it.

There are any number of reasons we as writers are failing to gut hook with our stories and often it is because we are falling prey to the very bait that is going to trap a reader. Problems bother us (because we are human) so we feel a need to “lead up to” something bad. We don’t like questions. We want to know…which is why we feel the urge to explain.

Just know that that clawing feeling inside that is driving you to pad the text is a good sign you are probably doing something right. Coil that barbed story all around and no escape until you’re cut free.

A FANTASTIC resource for teaching how to hook (other than me 😛 ) is my brilliant and brutal mentor Les Edgerton and his book Hooked. Read, learn, bleed, cry, grow.

If you’re wondering if your pages are hooking and, if not, how to remedy that? I am running my Write Stuff special. This is 20 pages of INTENSIVE content and line edit with an analysis included all for $55. Only ten slots are available and they fill up quickly, so get one today.

Your time is valuable and expert eyes are incredibly helpful to ensure you’re fixing the right things, or maybe letting you know to leave the pages ALONE that they are FINE. Work smarter, not harder.

Ain’t no rest for the wicked 😉 .

What are your thoughts?

How long do you give a book? I give ten pages max. On audio books I am more generous simply because I am a member of Audible and can return the book. I might give an hour. But I don’t have a lot of time and sure not spending what little extra I have on a dull book.

Does this post make the notion of the ‘hook’ make more sense? Oh, and by the way a book is like crochet, we need to hook through the entire thing. NO LOGICAL PLACE FOR A BOOKMARK.

Bookmark=DEATH.

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of April, 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).

March’s winner is Ben Gardner. Please send 5000 words in a WORD document double-spaced Times New Roman font, one-inch margins to kristen at wana intl dot com. CONGRATULATIONS! Thanks for the immoral support by commenting! Here is my gift back to you!

Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve…Up Some TRAINING!

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my ON DEMAND Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.

And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get both Plot Boss and Art of Character in the Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND). Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN! 

Have to write a query letter or synopsis? Conference season is coming!

Pitch Perfect: Crafting a Query & Synopsis Agents Will Love. Class is May 3rd 7-9 EST and $45 for over two hours training y’all how to do the toughest parts of this job.

I also hope you’ll pick up a copy of my debut novel The Devil’s Dance.

The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, Author Kristen Lamb, Kristen Lamb novel, Kristen Lamb mystery-thriller, Romi Lachlan

what is a platform, how do we build an author platform, Facebook privacy violations, Cambridge Analytica, social media censorship, Facebook facing congress, social media and privacy violations, branding tips

A platform offers major advantage when it comes to selling books. Before social media, non-fiction authors had an edge. These authors already had an existing audience by the time their books were ready for sale.

Novelists, conversely, found themselves relying on a lot of pure luck, prayer, and alignment of the stars. The fiction author had little to no control regarding the business side of their business. The only way to build a platform was to not completely FAIL with book one.

Great.

Non-fiction authors, however, were not nearly as vulnerable because they had ways to cultivate a following ahead of time. Those ways also permitted them to KEEP growing the platform even bigger as they continued to publish more works.

For instance, if one happened to be an expert of some sort, it was far easier to build an audience interested in your topic. Therapists, psychiatrists, physicians, personal trainers, business owners, etc. obviously could begin with their ‘job’ (I.e. a private practice). Then these experts progressively expanded their platforms in a logical fashion.

They might broaden to speaking engagements, guest appearances on television and/or radio, serve as ‘experts’, and maybe even fold in lectures and seminars. With every expansion, the NF author added more numbers to their ‘platform.’

What IS a Platform?

what is a platform, how do we build an author platform, Facebook privacy violations, Cambridge Analytica, social media censorship, Facebook facing congress, social media and privacy violations, branding tips

When we think of a platform for the NF author, it’s simple. Dr. Jane is an expert pediatric psychiatrist with a thriving practice. She graduated from Super Fancy School. Dr. Jane has successfully treated X amount of children for social anxiety for fifteen years. You may have even seen Dr. Jane on daytime television or listened to her on NPR. Dr. Jane knows what she’s doing because look at her c.v.!

If we have a kid whose shyness is to the point of a neurosis, we (audience) feel confident Dr. Jane might have an answer. We buy her book(s).

For the NF writer, the platform is far more cut and dry. The point is to be an expert people trust to answer a question or solve a problem. If I want to learn how to start a business, cook French cuisine, lose twenty pounds, or train my cat to stop terrorizing my bed skirts, I look for an expert. Right? Thus the NF platform, in a nutshell, is measured by how many people trust you for information and guidance.

Again, What IS a Platform?

what is a platform, how do we build an author platform, Facebook privacy violations, Cambridge Analytica, social media censorship, Facebook facing congress, social media and privacy violations, branding tips

Right now I know a lot of you are scratching your heads (or panicking). Um, Kristen, I write paranormal. Am I supposed to be an expert in summoning demons?

No. First, because all writers know more than they want to about demons. They live in Windows 10 and Printer Possession is unusually common.

It’s why we creatives all marry or partner with ‘engineer’ personalities who seem to be able to coax possessed printers into cooperation. I no longer even try. My printer just shouts profanities at me, then uses up all the green and yellow ink so I’m rendered unable to print something in BLACK.

Squirrel…

I’ve seen many ‘experts’ answer this question, ‘What is a platform?’…badly. They’ll claim the novelist needs to blog (I agree) and become an expert in a topic (NO!).

To the first point, novelists are entertainers. Stories are RIGHT BRAIN. It makes no sense to sell a right brain product with a left-brain tool.

Blogging about writing, doing book reviews, conducting interviews is a useless time-suck. Yes, I blog about writing and social media because my audience is mostly writers. I’ve spent a decade demystifying the blog for the writer who’s solely an entertainer.

For the author who’s a pure storyteller, the blog is merely the watering hole where you can craft content appealing to your ‘tribe.’

If I write fantasy, then blogging on all things nerdy is a good idea. What are people who read fantasy interested in? CosPlay, ComicCon, Dr. Who, Dungeons and Dragons, etc. Talk about the same stuff you would with your other fantasy ‘geek’ friends.

That’s it. The platform then simply becomes the number of people who recognize your name and attach descriptors and emotional experiences to it (also known as a brand, which we discussed last time). If brand is what people know, then platform is how many people know 😉 .

what is a platform, how do we build an author platform, Facebook privacy violations, Cambridge Analytica, social media censorship, Facebook facing congress, social media and privacy violations, branding tips

Story Solutions

If our brand is our story (narrative) then platform is simply how many people have heard, know about, and follow our stories. How many people connect to us enough that they’d be likely to buy our books? In a world where consumers are drowning in choices, they’re gravitating more and more to people they know, like and trust.

Our goal is to gather as many of them into our virtual community as possible—platform. This way, once we DO have a book(s) for sale, other people KNOW about us and are vested in us.

Otherwise, we’ll have to pay for enough ad space to break through the din and that, my friends, is NOT cheap (and doesn’t work that great anyway).

For authors, the blog affords the most bang for the buck. First, writers write. It plays to our strengths. It trains self-discipline, which is essential for success. Blogging regularly makes us leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner writers.

We can cultivate our fan base before our first book is even finished because we’re posting merely to start a dialogue, create community, and chat about something we (and our audience) enjoys. Visitors aren’t feeling all weird that we’re only interested in trying to score a sale.

If we DO have a book for sale? It’s off in the side-bar. Followers can look…or not.

I wrote a post What Went Wrong With the Star Wars Prequels? seven years ago. People are still commenting. I get it. I am an ‘expert’ but I am also a free-range nerd. The brand is me—KRISTEN LAMB—and so I have flexibility to talk about other stuff, too. Topics I find fun. Like Star Trek, Wonder Woman, and Atomic Blonde.

Trust me. Nerds? We all feel very passionately about imaginary universes.

And like to argue about them.

A lot.

Just watch.

Loki is hotter than Thor *throws grenade and runs*

Posts that talk about what we enjoy are incredibly fun to write. It also takes pressure off us to sell, sell, sell. Engage, then go back to writing books. Our blog can be a fun place where people can join in on ENJOYABLE debates, discharge pent up psychic energy and have a good time.

Kidding! Cap is hottest *runs with glitter*

Using Time Wisely

what is a platform, how do we build an author platform, Facebook privacy violations, Cambridge Analytica, social media censorship, Facebook facing congress, social media and privacy violations, branding tips

No, you do not have to blog. No one is going to take you to writer jail if you don’t. Tricky thing is we still need a brand and a platform if we want to sell enough books to do this full-time.

I don’t know about y’all, but I prefer working smarter, not harder.

Yes, we can create this brand and platform on any social site, but the reason I remain steadfast in support of a blog is because of the following:

The blog is stable.

The blog has been around since the 1990s and was popular before Web 2.0 even existed. Short of the internet imploding, the blog will remain because it provides what humans have wanted since the dawn of time—information, entertainment, community.

In my opinion, the blog is an ideal way for writers to build a platform because it’s as stable as it gets on-line.

Stability is vastly important for any brand/platform, namely because we want to have control. It makes no sense to spend years building a massive following only for that entire following to one day vanish. I found this out the hard way by starting my blog on MySpace.

I lost a year of blogs and a large following (that took three years to build) when MySpace imploded almost overnight. After that experience, I vowed to never again be that vulnerable.

We control our domain.

If we build our entire platform on a social site, we are sitting ducks praying nothing will go wrong. Our author web site (blog) is very stable because we PAY for it. We own our content, our domain and possess a degree of immunity to outside shifts.

For instance, on a social site, some troll could gather all his/her troll friends and report us for nonsense just for the fun of being jerks. Our page is deleted and either we have to start over or pray whatever social site will let us have our stuff back.

Sometimes people are deleted without the social site even investigating whether the ‘complaints’ are valid or vicious harassment. It takes a lot of time, gray hair and hassle to get your stuff restored if this happens. Bad news is sometimes we lose and don’t get it back…ever. Trolls have a lot more power to do damage in places where we are not in charge.

Ugh, then Twitter. I have an author friend who recently lost SIX MILLION Twitter followers (built over the span of almost ten years) after Twitter changed their ToS. #OUCH

Don’t get me started on Goodreads.

When we are anyplace we do not control, trolls can say and do just about anything and we have no say about being abused.

Shifting trends.

Regardless how many fail-safes we put in place, it doesn’t matter. We could spend years building something HUGE….only for the social site to be sold, change the rules, change Terms of Service, or go cray-cray and finally piss off enough people that they begin to bail like rats off a sinking ship…and POOF.

GONE.

In light of Facebook’s grotesque privacy violations (the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Facebook’s botched plan to access confidential medical records), accusations of censorship, ‘news curation,’ and more, the social media behemoths are hemorrhaging users.

Nothing is ever too big to fail 😉 . In fact, I have been a social media expert so long I now believe I know how Plato felt writing The Republic.

*gets cramp feeling smart*

Cycle of Social Media Rule

Timocracy (Web 1.0) where only super wealthy could afford websites or computers to even look at websites.

Oligarchy—earlier social media where only those who could afford computers/internet could join chat rooms or social sites OR (currently) social sites where we might pay a fee to participate.

***On WANATribe (a Ning I built for writers), we meet every day M-S to sprint pretty much all day. I pay $70 a month of my own money to have a virtual workspace and a drama-free zone where I play benevolent dictator 😀 . There are no ads but that is because I fork out money to keep it that way. Book spammers (all spammers) are smited—smote? smoted?—without mercy. The point is someone is willing to put up CASH for the peace and quiet.

Democracy—FREE! Everyone can join! And do whatever they WANT TO DO! Want to automate 700 identities to post on the hour everywhere? GO FOR IT! You are free to do what YOU WANT, and mob rule is the only rule!

Oh, but remember the social site is free to do what they want to do, TOO! Free! Free to harvest our private information and sell to the highest bidder!

Eventually people (on both sides) go too far with their ‘freedoms’ and those participating need some sense of order and rules so they don’t lose their minds.

Rules start creeping in and the powers that be realize they DIG that kind of power and POOF–>Tyranny. The social site goes all nutso with power. Also, on the other side, jerks/trolls use ‘the rules’ as weapons to unleash mayhem on anyone unfortunate enough to cross them.

We (regular users) rise up against the social site bullying and revolt. Start a NEW site (a republic perhaps?) which won’t have ANY of those problems.

Yep.

Still waiting on the social media philosopher-poets to rule. Not holding breath, though.

Refuse to be an ad mule. Own your SPACE.

Any outside social network trades a FREE service then monetizes US. They use us for data mining, blast us with ads, make us pay to play (open up the algorithm so more than three people see our posts), and more.

FREE is never FREE.

Some social sites are paid to blast us with ads using our data. Conversely, creatives are being blatantly and unapologetically EXPLOITED. We are the ones creating the lure for the clicks that pay REAL MONEY…while we work for free.

Refer to my earlier posts about the exposure dollar grift and how places we can blog for exposure really are companies using us as a massive unpaid labor force. We generate all their content, content which cannibalizes our own SEO and brand. Meanwhile those in power make hundreds of millions…then write books about how money isn’t important.

Either way, whether we are using a social site or creating content for a blogging site, when we do not own our domain? We’re an ad mule.

Blog Gets Bigger With Time and Love

The blog gives back what we invest. I gain new followers daily from stuff I forgot I wrote. I began blogging just because I was a slacker who needed to learn self-discipline. Now? This blog gets 1.1 million hits a month. When I take out those who are likely spammers, I am still close to 100,000 visits a month from actual people.

This isn’t because of one or five blogs. It is because of almost 1,300 blogs. A little bit over time adds up. Search engines send people to my blogs. Google has yet to send anyone to my quippy tweet from June 11, 2011.

Newsletters by and large have the same open rate as direct mail (less than 8%) and unlike a blog, a newsletter can only reach those who subscribe (provided the newsletter doesn’t end up in the spam filter). It has no ability to go viral.

The blog does.

Blogs, unlike social sites, can also be harvested for content and made into books. Sure the content is on-line and FREE, but what is our TIME worth? Don’t know about you, but if I love a blog, I will drop the five bucks for a Kindle version that is neat and edited and easy for me to navigate.

Every angle you look at it, in my opinion there is no better ROI than a blog. And I mentioned the safe and stable thing already. And you can put troll comments in trashcan where they belong. Winner winner, chicken dinner!

Is What It Is

Now, I know I might have y’all feeling down (sorry), but this is just the way our world is shifting right now. I use social sites all the time. I just don’t build my platform on them. While fabulous for reaching others, they make a lousy foundation for my brand.

Too…shifty.

Social networks are great for…networking. Ideally, we can use them to encourage others to visit our site and LOVE it enough to hang out. Our website is OURS. We can monetize it, instead of IT monetizing US. The power dynamic shifts. We can add in merchandise, a shopping cart, or get large enough we might court advertisers to pay us.

Our hard work builds OUR SEO, not some mega-brand who expects us to work for free. If we’re going to work our tails off, then it might as well be for OUR benefit, right? This means we can hop on Pinterest or Facebook or InstaSnapPlus and meet and greet…but the party is ALWAYS at OUR place 😉 .

Then, once the book comes out, it’s far less invasive and weird to mention it. Like if you want to learn about social media, check out Rise of the Machines. Feeling bold? You can try my FICTION—The Devil’s Dance— a mystery thriller with even more inappropriate gallows humor and even higher body count than my BLOG!

AMAZING, I KNOW!

I can even mention classes, like my ON DEMAND Blogging for Authors.

Or the other classes (scroll down).

I dunno. Maybe you want to give it a try blogging or writing a novel and don’t want my ten-year learning curve 😀 . I know we writers are masochists but come on. There’s a limit.

Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve…Up Some TRAINING!

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my ON DEMAND Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.

And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get both Plot Boss and Art of Character in the Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND). Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN! 

Have to write a query letter or synopsis? Conference season is coming!

Pitch Perfect: Crafting a Query & Synopsis Agents Will Love. Class is May 3rd 7-9 EST and $45 for over two hours training y’all how to do the toughest parts of this job.

I also hope you’ll pick up a copy of my debut novel The Devil’s Dance.

The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, Author Kristen Lamb, Kristen Lamb novel, Kristen Lamb mystery-thriller, Romi Lachlan

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of April, 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).

March’s winner will be announced next post. I know I said this post but have STILL been sick and am a writer so I lie 😛 . Very sorry, but I will make sure I announce it. Been a rough few weeks.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

If you are a writer who has a goal of selling books it is wise to remember that audiences are not static. They change. Their tastes change with the times and we need to understand what is “trending” if we want to connect and entertain. Many new writers look to the classics for inspiration and there isn’t anything per se wrong with that, but we must reinvent the classics, not regurgitate them.

Even if you look at the fashion trends, sure some styles “come back around” but they are not exact replicas of the past. They are a modernized version. But keep in mind that some fashion styles never come back. They’ve outlived their usefulness and belong in the past. Same with fiction.

Story trends and fashions change along with the audience. For instance, Moby Dick spends an excruciatingly long time talking about whales, namely because the audience of the time probably had never seen one and never would. If we did this today? Sure, feel free to walk around in a literary gold-plated cod piece, but er…

Yes, awkward.

Epics were also very popular. Follow a character from the womb until death. FANTASTIC STUFF! Why? Because no one had HBO, Pinterest or Angry Birds. Books were a rare indulgence usually reserved for a handful of literate folks with the money or connections to get their hands on…a book.

Also, since writers were paid by the word, their works were padded more than a freshman term paper. Their motto? No modifier left behind. These days? We have to write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner.

We’ve talked about POV before, and which one might be the best for your story. I can’t choose for any of you, but before we talk about deep POV, I want to mention that POV is also affected by audience and I believe is a direct reflection of how connected we are as a society.

You guys may or may not know that POV has changed along with communication and connectedness. Waaaaay back in the day, omniscient with a god-like narrator was all the rage. But people didn’t travel at all. Most humans lived and died in the place they were born and in isolation from other communities.

With the early epics, we often had a narrator who was separate from the events.

Dear Reader, come with me for a tale of AWESOME…

Later, after the Dark Ages, people got out more, traveled more, etc. We see the narrator merging into just general god-like presence. Then, after the printing press was invented, more and more people were reading and a lot of monks were out of a job and went off to start the first microbreweries.

Don’t argue. It’s history 😛 .

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Image via kcxd courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

With pamphlets and papers, people became more engaged and journalism eventually gives birth to this new-fangled invention…first-person. Third person and third-person shifting only became popular after audiences grew accustomed to radio programs (and later television) and could mentally process the idea of a cut-to scene.

As people became networked closer and closer, we see the psychic distance closing. Now that we are a culture of reality TV and social media? Omniscient is a tough sell. I am not telling any of you what POV to choose, but I will say that modern readers will shy away from these older forms of POV because they “feel cold.” Modern readers LOVE being as close as possible, ergo my little side-trip through history.

And this is where we get *drum roll* deep POV.

You hear this word flung around the writing world. Oooh, deep POV. That is deep POV. Deep, Man.

Um, what is deep POV?

And, if you are like me, you go along and are too embarrassed to ask what the heck deep POV is? Everyone wants it. Readers love it. Uh, but what IS it? How do I do it? Can I order some off Amazon?

Deep POV is simply a technique that strips the author voice completely out of the prose. There is no author intrusion so we are left only with the characters. The reader is nice and snuggly in the “head” of the character.

Okay, clear as mud. Right? Right.

As an editor, I see the intrusion much more than authors. It is actually shocking how much you guys interrupt. In fact, you are like my mother chaperoning my first date who would swear she was quiet as a mouse.

NOT.

I actually like deep POV because I love tight prose. I loathe unnecessary words. Deep POV not only leans up the writing, it digs deeper into the mental state of the character. We probably aren’t going to stay completely in deep POV, but it’s a nice place to call “home.”

How do we do it? Today, for the sake of brevity, we are just going to talk about simple stylistic changes, not the actual writing. We will do that next time 😉 .

First, Ditch the Tags

Just using the word “said” tells the reader we (the author) are there.

Kristen’s Made-Up Example (don’t judge me, just roll with it)

“No, I always love it when you drop by,” she said. Fifi felt her hands start to shake. She glanced over Tom’s shoulder and saw that the street was deserted. She knew all of her neighbors had already gone out of town for Christmas and no one would hear her scream. She thought, He is going to kill me.

Okay, so we get that Fifi is in a bad spot. But just that little word said tells us the author is present. So in the next layer we are going to remove the said.

While We Are Here? Thought and Sense Words—Ditch Those, Too

If we really pause and think about it, thought and sense words are frequently redundant. If we are IN the character’s head? We KNOW she is thinking. Who else would be thinking?

We aren’t dumb. Yes, it is my personal opinion, but I feel sensing and thinking words often qualify as holding the reader’s brain. We don’t need to. Readers are pretty smart.

Let’s look at my made-up example.

“No, I always love it when you drop by.” Fifi felt her hands start to shake. She glanced over Tom’s shoulder and saw that the street was deserted. She knew all of her neighbors had already gone out of town for Christmas and no one would hear her scream. She thought, He is going to kill me.

So we ditched the said and that tightened it up. Did you notice how losing the tag tightened the psychic distance? Now let’s remove these stubborn stains  unnecessary sensing and thinking words.

***Also, try to ditch any “starting to”.  Do or do not, there is no try starting to.

“No, I always love it when you drop by.” Fifi’s hands shook. She glanced over Tom’s shoulder. The street was deserted. All of her neighbors had already gone out of town for Christmas and no one would hear her scream. He is going to kill me.

Do you see how just getting rid of those excess words upped the tension of this piece? We (the reader) go from being a distant observer to being in the potentially deadly situation. We don’t need to tell the reader Fifi is thinking or feeling or about to do something. The reader gets that and us putting in glowing directional arrows is a distraction.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 5.19.06 PM

Fifi felt Tom’s hands clamp around her throat.

Just get to it already!

Tom’s hands clamped around her throat.

So I hope this helps clear up some of your “deep POV” questions. Remember that we live in a culture that is spoiled with intimacy and we can give them what they love. Next time, we will discuss characterization and how to write in deep POV beyond the stylistic choices.

Before we go, I want to give you a heads up especially if you are thinking on attending a conference.

I’m holding my ever-popular Your Story in a Sentence class. Can you tell what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t? There might be a huge plot problem. This also helps if you are ever going to query or pitch an agent. The first ten signups get their log-line shredded by MOI for FREE.

Also speaking of FREE, I’d like to mention again the new class I am offering!

How and WHY are we using FREE!?

Making Money with FREE! As a bonus for this class, my friend Jack Patterson who’s so far sold over 150,000 books to come and teach us how to ROCK the newsletter. This is in excess of two hours of training and the recording (as always) comes with purchase.

Were you confused what deep POV was and why people all wanted one? Is it really much easier than you imagined? Do you silently wish the bustle would come back into style?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MARCH, 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.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook