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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: blogging

No, this is not Kristen having a breakdown. She’s on a boat having fun. This is Cait, talking about why I hate blogging as much as I hate downward-facing dog in yoga.

So, if I hate blogging, why do I do it? What’s more, why do I do it to Kristen’s exacting standards? Well, partly because I’m afraid of her. But, mostly, I blog because she is right about blogging in so many ways. It’s really not fair that she’s always right about this sort of stuff.

Yet, for something that seems so instinctive and intrinsically simple (“Writers write, ergo blogging”), why do we have so much trouble with it? Why does it spike my anxiety, trigger my perfectionist paranoia, and send me in the direction of scrubbing the toilet as a preferable way to spend my time?

I have spent a lot of time pondering this (probably time I should have spent drafting blogs). In fact, I have spent most of this week struggling with this post.

The first thing I had to do is come up with was a solid list of why I hate blogging (again, time that could have been spent writing). After thoroughly psyching myself out, I went back through all Kristen’s reasons that blogging makes sense (reinforcing the soul-eating guilt I feel at having wasted all that time not writing a post).

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Finally, I remembered the corollary to Kristen’s blogging rule…but I’m gonna be mean and force you to read to the end to find out what that is. <insert moderately evil laugh here>

Blogging vs. just about anything else

I could do a whole post about all the reasons I hate blogging, but Kristen would probably jump off that cruise ship, swim all the way back up the Atlantic coast, dodge customs in Boston, and break down my door just to slap me upside the head about positivity. Because she loves me.

But, the truth is, I am more at home using negativity as a motivator and dwelling in the blessed realms of snark, cynicism, and dark things. That’s just the Slytherin in me, I guess. The challenge is finding a way to use my negativity about blogging to motivate myself in a positive way. And, I’m going to stop right there, because I’m starting to sound all self-helpy, and I can’t stand 99% of that ish.

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So, let’s just dive into the top three reasons I hate blogging, shall we?

Supersizing the topic

I come from an academic background. In a parallel dimension, I am a professor of history, still using the Red Pen of Wrath…just on my students instead. Academic writing habits are hard to break when it comes to blogging, even though some do come in handy.

One of the cardinal sins of academic writing is tackling a topic that is too broad or too narrow for the projected length of the paper.

I mean, sure, we can describe the decline and fall of the Roman empire in a three page, double-spaced, 12pt font paper (I’m old school page-count and print-out, before word-counts and emailed/uploaded papers became the norm). But, those three pages are going to be uselessly generic, not contributing anything to increasing our understanding of Roman history or helping develop our ability to think and analyze critically.

On the other hand, focus on TOO granular a subject, and well…it ends up being more of an anecdote or footnote. Probably interesting, but again, unlikely to contribute anything to the greater understanding or improve our critical thinking skills.

Blogging is like that for me.

I want what I write to be informative, useful, and accessible. But, writing a blog on “How to write historical fiction” isn’t going to help anyone. Writing a blog on “Understanding currency, income, and prices in historical fiction” (shout if you want me to write something like that) is probably a lot more useful AND interesting AND better written.

I constantly feel like Goldilocks, trying to find the right-sized topic that will live up to my probably-obsessively-over-fastidious standards.

Yoast is killing our brain cells

You know that little thing called SEO? Yeah, worst thing that has ever happened to the written word. And, I’m saying that even in comparison to text-speak and adding words like ‘ginormous’ to the dictionary. If SEO is pure evil, then Yoast is its right hand.

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Yoast is a website plugin that scores your posts and pages on readability and SEO strength. It’s unfortunate, but if we want our blog posts to have a chance at traction, we have to follow the rules it sets out. What are those rules?

First, we have to set a keyword. Fine. Like a gateway drug, that’s not so bad. But then, Yoast tells us how often we should be using that word (*side-eye at density score*), and where that word should come in titles and first paragraphs. If it stopped that, I’d grit my teeth and accept that algorithms are gonna do what algorithms are gonna do.

But then, Yoast starts picking at other things, like breaking up the text every 300 words with a sub-heading. Like making sure we don’t repeat the way we start a sentence. Like making sure less than 25% of our sentences have more than 20 words (and I know I purposely triggered the repetitive-sentence-start thing, but Yoast doesn’t really understand context or dramatic intent *flounces off*). Paragraphs can’t be too long, either – oops, gotta cut this one short!

Yoast is dumbing down blogging. By trying to make blogs easier to read, Yoast is encouraging a growing laziness in blog readers. What happens to a society when we can no longer focus past three sentences at a time in order to process a complex thought or multiple pieces of evidence to support an argument? I’ll tell you what happens: we get bad movie sequels, clickbait, and double-very-bad politics.

Paging Mr. Orwell, your 1984 is ready.

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I resent being forced to ‘dumb down’ my writing just so a brainless algorithm has an easier time of it. I write for people, not Google. Oh, wait. I use Yoast, so I guess I’m writing for Google. But, consider this another major reason why I hate blogging.

Perfectionism

This actually isn’t quite as related to what Kristen was talking about in this post. I’m talking about my inner intellectual demon that MUST BE RIGHT AT ALL TIMES. If a blog post is a form of educational argument, then dammit, I’m gonna WIN!

I’m not kidding. I approach each topic – especially anything that involves factual research – with a goal of creating an UNASSAILABLE argument. I want my post to be the Fort Knox of logic. My brain goes into hyper-passive-aggressive-nerd mode, playing Kasparov-esque chess with each point I write.

It’s exhausting.

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I don’t mind admitting when I don’t know something. But, I feel soul-crushing humiliation when someone points out a stupid mistake or an obvious (or not-so-obvious) flaw in my argument. Maybe…just maybe I’m over-reacting, and I should get some therapy about it. Or, maybe, that drive to be as certain and correct in opinion and facts is what helps make my writing and teaching reliable and useful.

Still, the fact that I’ve got some subconscious id and ego stuff going on with perfectionism makes blogging an emotionally and intellectually draining task.

Le sigh…why Kristen is right about blogging

There are a lot of reasons Kristen is right about blogging being the best, most effective way for writers to market themselves. She is also right about Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, but we’re just going to focus on blogging for the moment.

It all comes down to the three C’s: classic, cost-effective, and control. This is a trifecta that is pretty much the holy grail goal of all marketing. When I used to work in advertising, we wanted our ads to be memorable over the long-term, hit the target audience without breaking the bank, and look/feel/sound exactly as planned.

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The number of times Kristen has said this…

While the landscape might have changed from analog to digital, the principles and goals remain the same. Classic. Cost-effective. Control.

Classic: why blogging is the Talbots of author marketing

Warning: extended metaphor ahead. May cause eye strain from over-rolling of eyes.

Think of getting ready for a job interview. We have our resume, portfolio, references, and talking points at hand. The job description is a great match for our skills, and we know we’ll kick butt at it. We just have to wow them at the interview, so we inhale all the caffeine we can handle without inducing tachycardia, pop a couple of breath mints, and put on our interview suit.

The classic interview suit.

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Maybe we stay simple and true with traditional accessories (pearls for ladies, cufflinks for gents). Or, maybe we add a dash of flair with a daringly patterned shirt or chunky piece of jewelry we picked up at a vintage sale. It’s a small piece of individualism, a little personal pleasure, and it only adds to the solid impression a classic suit makes.

A blog is like the classic interview suit. It never goes out of style. It is the best and strongest way we have of presenting our brand to readers. It’s the one wardrobe piece we never throw out because its quality was designed to endure. We can easily update and refresh the look with accessories, apps, widgets, and chunky vintage jewelry (um, yeah, getting all the metaphor stuff mixed up, I know).

Besides, if we want to be remembered as a writer, then the best and most enduring pitch we can make is…well… our writing.

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Social media outlets like Snapchat, Instagram, What’s App, etc. are all well and good, but they are the Forever 21 funky accessory of marketing. They are fun, get attention, but may also tarnish and/or break fairly quickly. Can you say Vine? (So 2015!)

Just think about it…is anyone really ever going to go back through all our Snapchats, Tweets, or Instagram posts two years from now? But, as an admin on this site, I can tell you that there are blogs that Kristen has written that are four and five years old that are still top trackers and getting comments on a daily basis.

Now, that’s some classic-interview-suit power.

Cost-effective: how blogging can keep us from sin

Marketing is expensive. It costs us time and money – resources most of us are chronically short on. Marketing is also seductive. Nothing is as exciting as seeing swag with our name on it, or an ad for our book pop up on Facebook, or getting that shiny new book trailer. So, we try to find that balance between price and quality. Fun times.

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And yes, if we set up our own domain and do stuff right with backup, security, and all that jazz, it will cost us a couple hundred dollars to get started. Depending on what plans we choose, there is also the yearly renewal fees. Still, that yearly cost pretty much comes down to the equivalent of three or four impulse purchases at Target. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to continue the clothing metaphor.)

The keys to leveraging a website (assuming we have decent content people want) are consistency and distribution. Consistency is a free feature that comes with wrangling our brains into some semblance of discipline. Distribution? Well, that’s what Jetpack is for. Again, it’s free.

Even with graphics, there is a lot we can do with free ‘photo editor’ apps. Personally, I pay $10 a month for a subscription to a professional-level app, but that’s because I do a LOT more than just blog graphics. And, I only started that subscription last year. Before that, I made do with free for about four years.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some COSTLY mistakes. Like cringe-inducing-dear-God-if-You-loved-me-You-would-have-stopped-me-because-that-was-a-really-expensive-lesson mistakes. The only marketing tool I keep coming back to in the end is…you guessed it: my website (and occasionally Kristen’s because she forgets to lock the door).

Control: blogging vs. paranoia

Wanna hear a scary story? A romance author on Facebook builds an author page that gets 15,000 followers. She posts a picture for fun. The next time she logs into Facebook, her page is gone. DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUUUUN!

blogging

No, it wasn’t me. But, it has been many authors I’ve known. It’s a ‘cross-cultural’ phenomenon – there are versions in Instagramland, YouTubia, and Twitterburg.

Don’t forget, we also have to deal with ever-changing terms of use, hackers, and the final, fatal OMG-twitfacetogramchat-just-went-out-of-business! Want an example?

Dogster.

Don’t laugh. It was actually a great site for finding pet info. The fact that it was MySpace for pets is a whole other level of psychosis. Still, I met other Basenji owners through their forums, and they have become some of my closest, dearest friends. Thank goodness we had all exchanged contact info and signed up for Facebook before Dogster announced they were shutting down.

Think of MySpace…and Tila Tequila. Her original claim to fame was getting to a million followers on MySpace without much else (i.e. talent, content, etc.) to back it up. So…how’s that workin’ for ya, Tila?

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A website of our own never goes away. Our blog content is subject to our rules. Our website is our castle, and we can defend against trolls and hackers with laser precision. Oh, and we can also build community through interacting with commenters, adding chat and forums, etc.

Remember, the flip-side of paranoia is control-freak! 🙂

Wait…that didn’t come out right…

The thing we usually forget Kristen said about blogging

Here’s the promised payoff from my little intro tease. Yes, we need to blog…but we also have to find a way to ENJOY it.

Somehow, I tend to forget that.

I haven’t entirely solved my blogging problems, and that’s probably partly because I’m still figuring out how to TRULY enjoy it. There are moments when I giggle to myself as I write something that is (at least I think) funny. Picking out the memes to go in a blog…I love telling people that it is legit part of my job. I bask in the glow of the final product and clicking ‘Publish.’

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But…there’s still the anxiety, the dread, the worry I’m not providing good enough content or that I’ve gotten something wrong. It doesn’t take much to spiral me into a perfect orgy of procrastination…er…research.

However, I am experimenting, trying to figure out what I can do to both get better ABOUT blogging regularly and ENJOY blogging regularly. I’ve found I really enjoy making videos, and I’m about to dip my toe into podcasting (which I think is really spoken-word blogging). While the file sizes mean I wont’ be ‘hosting’ the videos and podcasts on my website, I will be centralizing all the information about them there.

I also have been sharing my love of creating reading ‘syllabi.’ But, being a snotty little French historian, I have to call them something pretentious like a ‘Catalogue Raisonné.’ It turns out I have a lot of fun going through my personal library to pick and choose what I put into the list. It also became something I could turn into another page for my website.

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(And by the way, while I do think you’d enjoy those pages, putting external links into a blog post is another Yoast requirement. *shakes tiny fist*)

All in all, I’m still on the journey, but I’m determined to get there. If you happen to be on the same road, maybe we can travel together?

Let me hear it!

Why do you love/hate blogging? What are your tips for becoming a happy, successful blogger? Share the love…or hate, LOL.

Class tonight!

URBAN FANTASY: SALT CIRCLE NOT INCLUDED

PARANORMAL, URBAN FANTASY, GHOSTS, VAMPIRES, WRITINGInstructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, October 19, 2018. 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE!

Be honest. How many voodoo dolls have you mutilated in your quest to become the next Laurell K. Hamilton or Sherrilyn Kenyon?

  • 0-9: You’re probably too virtuous to ever get published.
  • 10-19: Equivalent of the New Year’s resolution of voodoo…fizzles in week 2.
  • 20-29: You’ve won NaNoWriMo once or twice and wear lucky writing socks.
  • 30+: Now, we’re talking.

In all seriousness, urban fantasy has emerged as one of the strongest and most competitive categories in publishing, building on the momentum of legends like Anne Rice and expanding to embrace all kinds of sub-genres such as YA, satire, and romance.

But for all its badass convention-breaking, urban fantasy also a genre boobytrapped with the worst pitfalls of all the genres it borrows from.

If we’re not overdoing the Mickey Spillane-esque hard-boiled grit, we’re confusing which supernatural creature has which power. Or, we’re creating characters that are so wrapped up in their love lives with <insert hot supernatural guys here>, they almost miss the climactic battle between good and evil happening a couple blocks over.

Fear not! Strap on your vampire-hunting gear, grab your wolfsbane gris-gris, and don’t forget to bring your sarcastic sidekick to this class where I will help you navigate the mean streets and treacherous back alleys of urban fantasy!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

SEE YOU TONIGHT!!!

 

 

First of all, I’d like to dedicate this blog post to Mrs. Barbara Bender who taught my high school sophomore year American Literature class. It wasn’t that the reading selections were all that riveting, or that we had any kind of “Oh, Captain, my captain,” kind of moments. What made the class so pivotal in my formation as a writer is the fact Mrs. Bender made us write papers…and we hated it.

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Why?

Because we had to submit an OUTLINE for every single paper, and the points had to match up. The outline had to create and support a logical argument supported by evidence from start-to-finish. It was a pain in the butt. But…wouldn’t you know it, writing outlines before writing papers soon became a habit.

Once I mastered how to outline an academic paper, it was like I was unstoppable. Yes, I know. This sounds like the Passion of the Nerd. In reality though, it’s more like the Redemption of the Procrastinator. But, becoming a master outliner helped me write papers faster and get better grades every time.

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(No, seriously, I spent an entire semester pulling procrastination punishment all-nighters every Monday night cranking out three-page papers for my anthropology of Papua New Guinea class and got an ‘A’ on every single one…all because I could outline!)

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Whether its academic papers or blog posts, creating an outline is a skill that every writer needs, and unconsciously, every reader appreciates. And today, I’m going to share with you Mrs. Bender’s simple-but-magical outlining tips and tricks from the introduction, to the middle, to the end..

The Introduction

Just like in fiction, a good blog post or academic paper starts with a catchy opening. It can be challenging, evocative, shocking, or revelatory.

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Then, we start to circle the topic in general, sharing reasons it is interesting, relevant, worthwhile, etc. A good technique is ‘within, without, backward, forward.’ We address why a topic is important from within the field, in relation to society in general, in the context of the past, and its potential impact going forward.

THE THESIS STATEMENT COMETH. Just like a logline for a story, the thesis statement for a paper or a blog is the BURNING REASON we are writing this. It’s the single argument that everything else—no matter how many thousands of words—supports.

papers, writing, blogs

The Plan of Attack: Right after the thesis statement come the three main points that will support our argument. It’s the old “Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em,” schtick.

Here’s an example of outlining an introduction.

Papers, writing, blogs

The Middle

Now, we’re into the thick of things. We’re sligning facts and logic right and left, maybe even footnoting stuff (Heaven forbid!). But, without a coherent structure, all those facts are going to end up overwhelming us and the reader. Think “I Love Lucy” and the chocolate factory conveyor belt.

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Whether it’s fiction or blogs or papers, the middle is always the longest and hardest part. Luckily, there’s a trick to setting up this section of the outline, from the main point down to the individual paragraphs. Okay, maybe the trick is more like the bastard child of an illicit affair between a formula and a checklist, but it’s still one of God’s creatures, and I love it.

I call it ‘The Telescoping Rule of Three.’ Catchy, non?

Yet, it is an accurate description of both the flexibility and order we need for the middle of papers and posts of all lengths. We need the limit of three to help us focus our high-level arguments. But, at the same time, we need the open-ended ability to drill way, way down into details. We can’t lose ourselves in irrelevant minutiae if we stick to The Telescoping Rule of Three. Even if we do, the structure will guide us safely back.

The Telescoping Rule of Three

The rule starts with the having a plan of attack with three main points that support the thesis statement. This isn’t to say that there are more arguments we could make to support the thesis. It’s simply that these are three points we are choosing to illustrate because we believe they are a relevant, cohesive angle.

papers, writing, blogs
Okay, not precisely relevant, but I couldn’t help it.

Once we are done with the introduction, we tackle each point as its own section. We turn it into a mini-paper, complete with its own introduction with a thesis and plan of attack. From there, we illustrate each of the supporting points with three points…aaaaand you begin to see how this rule ‘telescopes’ to expand for a dissertation or contract for a 1500-word blog post.

It’s easiest explain this with a graphic.

Papers, writing, blogs

‘Three’ is not by any means a hard and fast limit. Think of it more like a boogie board in the ocean. It can help us surf the waves with that rush of speed and ease. But, it can also help us stay afloat when we get swamped by that unexpected swell..and get salt water up our noses like a gratuitous neti pot accident that makes us cough and swallow some of the saltwater while snotting the rest of it back out into the ocean.

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Because we can’t have too many cat memes, especially on a boogie board. Check out Kuli’s story here!

Bonus—Paragraph Structure

Because it’s all starting to come full circle now…

I know you know what’s coming.

The fact that writing a paragraph starts with an introductory sentence that states the point of the paragraph.

The fact that there are three sentences that support that point.

The fact that there is a concluding sentence that segues into the next paragraph.

It’s getting kinda trippy, amiright?

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Don’t hate it because it’s logical.

The Conclusion (in more ways than one)

By the point, it should be 4:00 a.m., and the caffeine shakes should just be starting to kick in.

In the prehistoric times when I was in college, we didn’t have Red Bull. Instead, I drank cold, black coffee from the mini coffeemaker in my room. That’ll wake you up. And put hair on your chest.

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All of the stages are funny-not-funny, and sorry-not-sorry for sharing.

Until I figured out the secret to writing a conclusion, I struggled with this part of a paper. I would even go so far as to shower and fold my laundry instead of writing this bit. I know, right?

However, when I discovered that a conclusion is just an introduction in reverse, it was like the clouds parted and heavenly hosts appeared bearing white chocolate mocha lattes (no whipped cream).

This is the “Tell ’em what you told ’em” part of a paper. I used to feel it was repetitive, but then I realized it was okay. That’s the point of the conclusion. We have to remind the reader why the topic is important and affirm the fact that we proved the bejeezus out of our argument.

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Isn’t it beautiful? Doesn’t the symmetry of it all move you to tears? Don’t you feel like you can write a better, more coherent blog or get a better grade on your paper now? *sniff, wipes away lone tear*

It’s like a full-circle-reverse-rule-of-three-telescoping…oh, whatever. I need more coffee.

SHARING TIME! Tell me your best all-nighter or turned-it-in-by-the-skin-of-your-teeth story! Also, if you’d like to suggest a topic for me to use for a fake paper to illustrate using this outline, put it in the comments. I’ll pick one and work it up. Maybe we can see if I still have the old zip and polish and do it as a timed event on Twitter, LOL!

Everything You Ever Wanted – A Weekend of Cait & Kristen!

Kristen and I are having a teachapalooza this weekend, starting with my class on Friday night – Keywordpalooza: Tune in, mellow out, and learn to love keywords for Amazon.

Then, Saturday is going to be out-of-this-world (literally) with The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle. I’ll be geeking out on world-building for sci-fi, dystopias, apocalit, zombies, horror, paranormal, etc. Kristen and I are co-teaching how to take all that world-building and create characters we love to love and love to hate. Then, Kristen is going to wrap up the day with a master class in plotting for speculative fiction.

Even if you’re not writing this genre, there is so much here that is relevant to all fiction.

You can purchase each class individually, or, you can buy the bundle which essentially is all three classes for the price of two. And if you can’t make the classes live this weekend, they all come with a free recording so you won’t miss a thing.

Hope to see you this weekend!


Keywordpalooza: Tune in, mellow out, and learn to love keywords for Amazon

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, September 7, 2018. 7:00—9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

It’s one of the universe’s great mysteries… the same word can both boost and drown your book in a category (mind BLOWN, man!).

Keywords also seem to evolve every five minutes…or are we the one evolving, like a butterfly having a dream of SEO (trippy, dude!)? Like gravity and Jane Fonda’s hair in ‘Barbarella,’ the popular rules for using keywords value over-inflation and the slavish following of fads.

But, like Talbot’s tweed and mother’s pearls, certain marketing strategies and techniques are enduring classics that stand the test of time. They’re not flashy like bellbottoms, nor do they yield dramatic overnight results like ironing your hair. Yet, ignore trends, and we risk getting left behind…kind of like buying electric typewriter ribbon because that whole ‘computer word processing’ thing will never take off.

This class won’t just help you turn on, tune in, and drop out of the keyword rat race. We’ll also cover:

  • Fully body contact SEO: when and where to use keywords, and what publishers know that you don’t;
  • Fantastic keywords and where to find them: which websites, lists, search engines, and Magic 8 Balls yield the best keyword research results;
  • Mix and match like a Parisienne: no, seriously, how to mix consistent ‘classic’ keywords with the latest trends like a Frenchwoman wears a crisp white shirt with this season’s Hermes scarf;
  • Same bat genre, same bat book, different bat keywords?: learn the differences between keywords for ebooks, print, and audio;
  • And so much more!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Speculative fiction may be a way of seeing the world ‘through a glass darkly,’ but it can also be one of the clearest, most pointed, and even most disturbing ways of seeing the truth about ourselves and our society.

It’s not just the weird stuff that makes the settings of speculative fiction so unnerving. It’s the way ‘Normal’ casually hangs out at the corner of ‘Weird’ and ‘Familiar.’

But it’s trickier than it seems to get readers to this intersection without letting them get bogged down in the ‘Swamp of Useless Detail’ or running them into the patch of ‘Here be Hippogriffs’ (when the story is clearly about zombies). How do we create a world that is easy to slip into, absorbingly immersive, yet not distracting from the character arcs and plots?

This class will cover:

  • Through the looking glass darkly: How to take a theme/issue/message and create a world that drives it home to the reader.
  • Ray guns and data chips: The art of showing vs. telling in world-building.
  • Fat mirror vs. skinny mirror: What is scarce in the world? Valuable? Forbidden? Illegal? What do people want vs. what they have vs. what they need?
  • Drawing a line in the sand: What are the laws, taboos, limits of this world? What is unacceptable to you/the reader/the character? How are they the same or different, and why it matters.
  • Is Soylent Green gluten-free and other vital questions: All the questions you need to ask about your world, but didn’t know…and how to keep track of all the answers.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

It’s a time-honored tradition in literature to take an ordinary person out of his or her normal life and throw them into a whirlwind of extraordinary circumstances (zombies/tyrants/elves/mean girls optional). After all, upsetting the Corellian apple cart is what great storytellers do best.

It’s also that very same ordinariness and normalcy that first gets the reader to identify then empathize with the characters and stick with them (and the book) through to the end.

But, what do we do when our ‘ordinary’ protagonist lives with a chip implant and barcode tattoo, and our antagonist happens to be a horde of flesh-eating aliens…or a quasi-fascist regime bent on enforcing social order, scientific progress above ethics, and strict backyard composting regulations (those MONSTERS!)?

How the heck is the reader supposed to identify with that? I mean, seriously. Regulating backyard composting? It would never happen in a free society.

This leaves us with two challenges in creating characters for speculative fiction: 1. How to use the speculative world-building to shape the backgrounds, histories, and personalities of characters, and 2. How to balance the speculative and the relatable to create powerful, complex character arcs.

This class will cover:

  • Resistance is futile: What does normal look like for the characters? What’s different or strange, and how to get readers to accept that retinal scans and Soylent Green are just par for the course.
  • These aren’t the droids you’re looking for: What are the discordant elements around the characters? What are their opinions about it? What are the accepted consequences or outcomes?
  • You gonna eat that?: Whether it’s running from brain-eating zombies or fighting over dehydrated space rations, what is important both physically and emotionally to the character? What is in short supply or forbidden?
  • We’re all human here (even the ones over there with tentacles): The basic principles and techniques of creating psychological touchpoints readers can identify with.
  • Digging out the implant with a grapefruit spoon: In a speculative world, what are the stakes for the character? The breaking point? The turning point?
  • And so much more!!!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term used to describe narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes but it not necessarily limited to fantasy, science fiction, horror, utopian, dystopian, alternate history, apocalyptic fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction.

Basically, all the weird stuff.

Gizmos, gadgets, magic, chainsaws, demons, fantastical worlds and creatures are not enough and never have been. Whether our story is set on Planet X, in the sixth dimension of hell, on a parallel world, or on Earth after Amazon Prime gained sentience and enslaved us all, we still must have a core human story that is compelling and relatable.

In this class we will cover:

  • Discovering the core human story problem.
  • How to plot these unique genres.
  • Ways to create dimensional and compelling characters.
  • How to harness the power of fear and use psychology to add depth and layers to our story.
  • How to use world-building to enhance the story, not distract from it.

***A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.

REGISTER HERE

Recordings of all three classes is also included with purchase.

Kristen Lamb made the mistake of giving me admin privileges on her website.

So trusting.

So innocent.

So screwed.

La Revolucion

There’s a little more about me at caitreynolds.com – but, be aware that my website is under reconstruction because I got hacked by Bollywood porn spammers. Yeah. That’s the same face I made. However, I’ve posted my manifesto, and that should be a start!

 

****Just FYI, in an effort to combat spammers your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me! And MAKE SURE to check out the classes below and sign up! Summer school! YAY!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, 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).

NEW CLASSES!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

OMG, Like How to Write Fleek YA July 7th $40 with Cait Reynolds

How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here) July 14th $40 w/ Cait Reynolds

Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World July 21st $35 w/ Cait Reynolds 

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction 

July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Classes with MOI!

Plotting for Dummies July 13th $35 ($250 for GOLD)

Blogging for Authors July 20th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 7th $35

OTHER Classes with Cait Reynolds

Research for Historical Romance Writing – Or, How NOT to Lose Six Hours on Pinterest July 8th $35 for Basic/ $75 for GOLD / $125 for PLATINUM

Shift Your Shifter Romance into High Gear June 30th $35 Basic/ $75 GOLD/ $125 PLATINUM

Classes with Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook June 24th $40

 

 

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Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Keith Roper

I rarely reread books, namely because there are so many new titles I want to consume and only so many hours in the day. But, there are a handful of books I read and reread namely because they are areas I struggle in and so reinforcement is tremendously helpful.

The three books I seem to cycle through the most are actually about money and investing: Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and (even though it is an older book) Stanley and Danko’s The Millionaire Next Door.

There are plenty of money manuals that promise to make me a gazillionaire overnight with no effort on my part and those kinds of plans frankly give me hives.

The books I prefer are far more salt-of-the-earth and they say the same things, though in different ways.

Fortunes made on a winning lottery ticket are rare and never last. Slow and steady wins the race. Never underestimate small actions done daily.

I know this. I know all of this stuff. So how is it I so easily get off-track?

Perception Matters

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What is so fascinating particularly about The Millionaire Next Door is the very people we would think have vast investment portfolios actually are far more likely to be living paycheck to paycheck. Conversely, those who actually have accumulated substantial wealth often don’t “look” wealthy at all.

Here I was beating myself up because I use coupons and buy everything on sale.

What am I doing so wrong?

When I reread these books, I realize that I’m doing a lot more right than wrong. What I perceive as a truth actually isn’t (it’s a consumption shill propagated by pop culture). Most genuine millionaires don’t have a fleet of new luxury cars. They have a solid IRA instead.

But because my “vision” isn’t correct, it is then really easy for me to start accumulating bad habits that undermine my goals.

Well people with clean homes have maids.

NO, they wash their dish after eating!

In Regards to Writing

Often we writers can fall into similarly skewed thinking when it comes to our profession. We have a flawed perception of what a successful author looks like…and this opens the door for the little foxes that spoil the vine.

A successful author would publish her first book and be a runaway success with no social platform.

Noooo, that isn’t an author. That is a unicorn. A tortoise isn’t glamorous, but it is at least real.

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In our minds, we can believe that we would do far more writing if we simply had more “time.” Since most of us don’t have the luxury of getting up, having coffee and simply creating all day long, we then fail to invest at all.

We will invest “one day.”

We believe that because we also hold a day job and “only” have an hour to spare in the mornings, that our situation is hopeless. The consequence is we end up squandering the most valuable resource that is available to all living humans.

Time.

Why I love books on fiscal responsibility is I hold a core belief:

Small truths reveal larger truths.

If I am not managing, planning and budgeting my money, odds are I am not doing that with my time either. I find that often when I work on habits in one area, other areas also improve. When I zoom in on waste in one area, I become aware of it in others.

If I fail to plan the meals for the week, the consequence is a lot of food I throw away. We end up eating out or rushing to grab a bite because I didn’t put dinner in a crock pot and I am tired and cranky and In-N-Out Burger is just so darn convenient.

The end result is I nickel-and-dime myself $15 and $20 at a time.

When we look at how we are spending our time, are we leaking it away 15 and 20 minutes at a time?

Planning matters. Using time deliberately is vital.

If I fail to plan my time for the week, I’m all over and time goes swirling down the drain. In fact, failure to plan can cost me BIG. For instance, last Tuesday, instead of getting my next day planned I was “tired” and decided that Facebook and watching Dr. Who was preferable to preplanning.

Wednesday morning, I was in the middle of working and feeling great about my progress.

Then…

OMG! Spawn’s camp has a field trip today! I totally forgot! And they leave in 20 minutes!

In a mad rush, I swooped the one remaining Lunchable into a Sprout’s bag so I could dash like a crazy person to get him there in time for the bus.

In my haste, I unknowingly threw my cell phone in with his lunch.

Shoot…me…now.

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That three-second mistake (that could have easily been prevented with ten minutes prep work the night before) cost me an entire day and easily ten years off my life from stress.

A three-second error cost me four hours hysterically hunting for my phone and then two more hours at Sprint replacing the missing phone with a new phone. Then when the school found my phone? It cost me another two hours returning the new phone I didn’t need and reactivating the old one.

And a $35 restocking fee, or what I fondly refer to as a Stupid Tax.

How much writing could I have accomplished with only ten minutes of preparation the night before?

How Much Stupid Tax Are We Paying?

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When it comes to time, boundaries go a long way. Now, I’m no proponent of cramming activity into every waking second. But we can start truly seeing our days instead of merely wandering through them as bystanders.

Just as many of us hemorrhage money through tiny holes and unseen leaks, the same could be said of our time. But not being stupid with time is not the same thing as being wise with it, either.

Are We Investing Wisely?

Via Flickr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.
Via Flickr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.

Many people believe when they have money, they will invest money. But if we take a closer look, those who have money, have it because they invested it.

Not the other way around.

Many writers new to the profession see building a brand and a social media platform as a wasteful use of time because they don’t yet have a books to sell. Problem is, in this publishing climate, trying to build a platform after the book is almost a formula to fail. They will spend valuable time (later) that could have been used to write more books and better books scrambling to claw sales from the ether.

They believe they don’t have time, and yet a really strong brand/platform is rather simple to build over time with small and consistent investments in the right places.

Where to Invest?

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Instead of investing an hour a day on Facebook and Twitter, could I spend that on building an author blog? Being an expert tweeter does nothing to improve my skills as a writer. Facebook content can’t be eventually harvested for a book (that can make money or be used as a loss leader/promotional tool). Search engines will never direct new fans to my author site with my clever Instagram pics.

So instead of feeling overwhelmed that we don’t have an entire Gucci wardrobe a bazillion SnapChat fans, can we be patient and consistent with our small IRA account blog that we know with time and consistent investing will reap amazing returns?

This is a snapshot of my blogging stats. WP didn’t even bother measuring my first two years because they were too small to register. In 2009 I had roughly 6,900 views. By 2013, a half a million.

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Though looking at raw numbers, my overall traffic has gone down over the last couple of years but numbers can be deceiving. In 2010 I published a total of 95 posts and received 62,000 visits. This year I generated over 220,000 visits with only 60 posts, meaning I am doing more with less.

I’m gaining an advantage of compound interest (archives and following) which frees me up to now finish more books because now my blog is doing far more work for me than it did at the outset when I was new.

That was great because we’ve had a horrible couple of years with illnesses and death and it has taken a toll on how much I could physically do.

But the cool thing was, because I invested what little energy I had in a blog, my brand not only remained in tact, it actually grew much larger even though I wasn’t there to micromanage content (like I would have had to on all other social media sites).

The effort I could continue was effort that would pay dividends. When I had Shingles, I wasn’t tweeting a lot, but by gum I could post a blog. Now that I have weathered these storms and am back writing like a mad person, I don’t have to waste time reclaiming lost territory.

My blog is strong and so is my brand. Now to get my @$$ in gear on the books.

Because books can do the same thing. Most authors who make a good living aren’t banking everything on the sale of one book. They are investing their time and focusing it on multiple titles.

If we are focused, can we spend an hour a day on the novel. Just one hour. Instead of waiting for the magical, mystical tomorrow, can invest that today?

What are your thoughts? Are you happy you don’t have to try to be a unicorn? Do you find yourself buying into popular myths about what’s required to write novels (I.e. eight hours uninterrupted time)? Do you feel guilty because you aren’t on every single social media site? Are you relieved to know that is actually a bad plan? 😀  Are you leaking small amounts of time away and they are adding up big? I bet you’ve never put your cell phone somewhere stupid 😀 .

Are you actually excellent at managing your time and have tips to share?

***Btw, I do actually have a blogging class coming up 😉 .

I LOVE hearing from you!

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. 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).

Check out the other NEW classes below! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th) will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that 😉 .

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages August 12th

The first five pages are the most essential part of the novel, your single most powerful selling tool. It’s how you will hook agents, editors and readers. This class will cover the most common blunders and also teach you how to hook hard and hook early. This class is 90 minutes long, 60 minutes of instruction and 30 minutes for Q&A.

Your First Five Pages Gold Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique your first five pages.

Your First Five Pages Platinum Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique of your first twenty pages.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

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

 

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

Ah the blog. Some of you might perk up at the word. Others? Blog sounds like some radioactive creature that hatched from a meteor and is only there to feed. Feed on your energy, your hopes and your dreams.

Many writers start the blog with high hopes, then a few months in? You can’t bear to go to your computer because the screen is a reminder of that shiny blog you started…then abandoned to the spam bots.

A blog done properly is one of the most powerful tools in our social media arsenal.

Twitter could flitter and Facebook could face plant, but the blog will remain. In fact, blogs have been going strong since the 90s and have taken over much of what used to be the sole territory of traditional media outlets. Additionally, blogging is the only form of social media that plays to a writer’s strengths.

Writers write.

Many writers get overwhelmed at the idea of a blog. But there are SO MANY blogs! Yes, there are. But don’t let that number fool you. Yes there are a gazillion blogs, but how many are any good? How many are consistent? How many have been abandoned?

When we blog properly, the competition isn’t nearly as bad as one might imagine.

What vexes me profoundly is when I attend classes on social media and blogging and witness eager authors listening to advice that frankly? Sucks. Not long ago, I literally walked out of a blogging class at a conference…namely because shutting up is not my strong suit.

So today, I want to outline some basics for you and get you asking and answering the correct questions before you begin to blog. If you want to know more about the author brand/blog I go into great detail in my book Rise of the MachinesI also have two classes coming up—Branding for Authors (May 16th) and Blogging for Authors (May 20th). This will keep this post a reasonable length because blogging is a vastly complex topic.

But the biggest question we need to ask in the beginning (before we get stuck) is….

What Kind of Blogger Do I Want to Be?

An Author Blog is Different

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

One thing I want all of you to understand is that the author blog is a distinctively different creature. Part of why I got so angry in the class I walked out of was because the expert failed to make the distinction and acted like a blog was a blog was a blog.

NO.

There is a HUGE difference between a blog and an author blog so you need to ask yourself this BIG question before you ever get started because it will impact everything that follows.

Is your goal to become a professional blogger? Or, is your goal to use your blog to build your author brand and eventually drive book sales?

There’s no wrong answer, but there is a vast difference in approach and planning. Often bloggers will use monikers. Think Scary Mommy, The Bloggess, or Pioneer Woman. For a blogger, this is perfectly fine since the goal is to build the BLOG and often the goal is to become big enough to be able to sell ad space.

If, however, you are wanting to be a successful author who blogs? A moniker makes your journey unnecessarily longer and harder and will only add layers of friction to your brand. The only acceptable author brand is the name printed on the front of your books.

People don’t like thinking and they’ve gotten really spoiled. If I spend years blogging as HappyFunGirl, then no one browsing novels would even notice Kristen Lamb because I branded the wrong name. 

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Steve and Shanon Lawson
Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Steve and Shanon Lawson

There is another constraint worth mentioning. Content. Often blogs revolve around a particular area of interest—cooking, family, parenting, pets, etc. These are all non-fiction topics and stuff the left brain loooooves.

The problem is that authors are selling a right brain product (fiction). Why are we selling a right brain product with a left-brained brand? It’s bait that’s less than ideal. Again, it can work, but it isn’t connecting the way it needs to in order to cultivate a fan base for fiction.

Another problem when we start a subject-based blog? It’s easy to burn out (get stuck). An author blog gives us far more flexibility and freedom in our content that will keep us passionate about writing for years to come. We won’t feel chained to a subject that no longer interests us.

Courtesy of Imagens Evangelicas vis Flickr Creative Commons
Courtesy of Imagens Evangelicas vis Flickr Creative Commons

Platform Matters

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Why it is really critical to define our goals in the beginning is this is going to dictate where to build our blog. Any “expert” who says the only difference in a free platform and a paid platform is how many fonts, colors and backgrounds you have to choose from, doesn’t know her stuff.

The reason I’m a huge fan of the blog is the blog is a great way to drive book sales in a noninvasive way. We blog on something that catches interest, a reader clicks and likes and subscribes, and over in the corner, what do we have?

A shopping cart to BUY our books.

The entire reason I became a social media expert was I fell victim to the same bad advice I’m warning you of today. The same advice being given in 2016 in that class.

I didn’t know that the real difference in the FREE version and the PAID one had everything to do with BUSINESS.

In the FREE version, we cannot conduct commerce, which means no shopping cart. I didn’t know this in the beginning and it wasn’t until I had over 25,000 subscribers that I realized my mistake. By the time I had books for sale? There was no moving my followers, my 500+ blog posts and my tens of thousands of comments.

I had to start at GROUND ZERO if I moved. Yes, I was STUCK.

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***Actually, WP now will allow me to move everything but I had to wait five years for the technology to catch up to my oops. I’ll be moving over the summer when things slow down. It will be way easier for me to have a shopping cart instead of having to hyperlink books and classes every post.

But here is the deal, I’ve done all the dumb stuff so you don’t have to. Plan for success and just invest the $100 in a paid site. You will thank me later 😉 .

If you are stuck and not growing and not selling books? Might be time for an upgrade.

Interface Matters

We must remember that the easier we make it for people to find, interact, subscribe, follow, share and comment on our blogs, the greater the odds of the blog being successful. This is why I strongly recommend a WP based website. I know some authors love Blogger and are very successful using it and if so? Sally forth. This is more for the new folks.

WP, in my POV, is far more user-friendly. Blogger makes me solve five CAPTCHAS, submit a haiku, three letters of reference and a blood sample before I can comment. This is why if I click on a link and see the post is Blogger based? I don’t even read.

Blogs live and die by the comments, so no matter what platform you use, please make it easy for people to comment and share.

When authors don’t get comments and followers it is super easy to get discouraged and give up. Change the interface. It might just be your readers are having a tough time connecting.

Bonus Blogging Tip

If you start an author blog, make it your landing page on your author website.

Static pages are boring and no one wants to go there. This makes it easier for you to use blogs as bait to get folks to your site where hopefully they will buy books. Remember the more we make people click to navigate, the more chances we have to lose them. If the blog and shopping cart are right there on the landing page?

BOO-YAH!

Also, if you blog regularly putting your blog on your author site (home page) will make the search engines looove you and will give you algorithmic advantage which is essential for success 😀 .

What are your thoughts? Did you realize there was a difference between the blog and the author blog? Are you seeing some things you’ve been doing that might be stalling your blog? Have you lost the love for blogging?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

More Classes

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line (THIS FRIDAY!!!) This is a great diagnostic for a floundering plot. I can tell what is wrong (or even right) with a plot by looking at the log-line. The first ten signups get their log-line shredded IN CLASS and for FREE.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist This class will teach you to be a master plotter. No antagonist, no plot. Weak antagonist, weak plot. Additionally this class will teach you how to put conflict and tension on every page.

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages The first five pages are one of our best selling tools. We fail to hook the reader and that is a lost sale. In this class, we go over the art of great beginnings. Additionally, the upper levels Gold and Platinum I actually LOOK at your pages and critique your actual writing. I am offering DOUBLE PAGES for FREE so this is a fantastic opportunity to get feedback from a pro.