Friday, March 29, 2013

Platforms are NOT shoes!

Writers need a "platform" when their work is being presented to mainstream publishers. There are many parts to a platform, but this blog is about one simple thing we can do to enhance our attractiveness to potential publishers. KLOUT.

What IS a platform? Our platform is all the things about us and our experiences in life that will help us sell books. Education, training, special skills, achievements...all these are part of our platform. In truth, it's all about marketing.

Pro Bass boat and sponsors
For example, I was a pro bass fisherman for many years. What does catching a little green fish have to do with selling my stories? I had pro-staff positions. I represented sponsors. They required me to do public speaking, write articles, attend expos to work in the sponsor booths and carry myself in a professional manner, always being careful to maintain a good image. Mainstream publishers like to see those kinds of things. Marketing skills and sales experience in authors are highly desired, so I make sure my prior sales related training and results show up on my "bio" as part of my platform.

But this blog is not about building a platform. Rather, it is about one tool an aspiring writer can use to help sell the platform. Social media exposure.

Publishers know that a lot of books are promoted and sold through social media, but anyone can claim to be active on social media. How do publishers KNOW that a person does indeed actively participate in social media and on a regular basis?

Klout! This website tracks each member's social media activity. They use an algorithm to assign numeric values to all our activity on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Blogger and several other sites. If this value is low, they know the aspiring author is not very active in those resources and portends poorly for future sales efforts online. If the value is high (above 60), then publishers can be pretty sure the aspiring author is familiar with and active in this most important marketing tool for new authors.

The other nice thing about this Klout score is that it changes daily. Why is that nice?

Klout ratings are weighted over a 90-day period. If you are trending up, publishers will see it. If ratings have been on a downward trend...not so good. However, there is one more outstanding benefit of this service. It imposes self-discipline on members. You must maintain regular activity on several sites to keep your rating steady. This is a great habit to develop if one expects to have a successful book sales career.

So, check out Klout. If you're not on there, you might want to consider it. Here is their website:

If you decide to sign up, look up my account and feel free to add me as one of your "Influencers" if you want. Good luck with your platform!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Feeding Your Chickens – Subliminal Writing

When I was a boy, my aunt sold fresh eggs out of her country home. I liked accompanying her through the three long, chicken coups, helping to collect eggs and feed the birds. She taught me the connection between feeding hens and having eggs for Easter decorating or meat for family barbeques. I even learned the difference between dry and wet sh . . . well, let’s say she taught me where NOT to step. It was a good education in real life.

“Everything we get from the chickens,” she would say, “begins with proper feeding.”

One of my daughters lives near several small family farms. Recently, during a mother/daughters walk, they came upon some hens and a lady feeding them. My granddaughter got to hand feed chickens for the first time. When I looked at that picture, it dawned on me, feeding chickens is a great metaphor for the subliminal creative process.

If we writers want a steady supply of literary eggs, we have to feed the writing hens. How do we do that?

Humans have a remarkable tool between our ears called subliminal processing. It’s a part of our mind that constantly, even when we sleep, thinks about ideas. It creates those really cool waking-moment epiphanies when problems we struggled with a day before suddenly become clear. And, this subconscious processor never stops. It solves issues long after conscious thought gives up. Those Eureka-moments, when the thrill of discovery pops out seemingly from nowhere, that’s our subliminal mind at work.

How would you like to influence the output of your subliminal mind?

You’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute, Dean. You just told me this is a subconscious thing. How can I manage to control something over which I have no control?”

The answer? Feed your chickens!

Subliminal processing needs content . . . mental food. The more information you have floating around your subconscious, the more inventory it has for solving problems. Imagine painting a picture with only black and white soft paint. Your art can only show shades of gray. No color. No texture. But, if you have an entire pallet of colors, the possibilities are endless.

Ideas are the food pellets for a writer’s mind, both consciously and subconsciously. They say good writers should be avid readers. Why is that? Because, the more we read, the more inventory we add to our idea pool—the more pellets we are throwing to our mental chickens.

What color is a rose? Many people immediately say, “red.”  A writer should say, “white, yellow, red, orange, pink, blue, peppermint . . .” The writer’s list is almost endless. In addition, roses can be mixed colors. The point is a writer’s mind uses lots of options from which to paint our literary pictures. That old computer adage, “garbage in, garbage out” applies to the mind, too. Images percolating to the mind’s surface come from the input we put in. That content is the key to controlling our subliminal processing results. By controlling the input, we shape the output. Even though the unconscious mind works independently, its output will be limited to the choices we gave it.

If I am struggling with a plot issue or in a quandary about a character trait, I trust my hidden processing to find answers. I will sleep on the matter, sometimes waking in the middle of the night, excited about a solution to my writing dilemma. I keep a pen and pad in my nightstand for those 3AM inspirations. Often, I will be driving down a busy street when my subliminal processor hits the send button with its output. Yep, I keep a notepad and pen in my center console.

Trust your subconscious. It’s a magnificent tool as long as you feed it lots of raw material. Read, watch, listen, smell, taste, feel . . . use all your senses to stock inventory into your subliminal writing reservoir, and when you need it, it will serve you well.

Remember my aunt’s advice. If you feed those chickens, you’ll get a steady supply of eggs.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Oh No…Used the Wrong Word!

Every so often, I draw a blank about a common word while writing. The more I repeat the word, the more incorrect it sounds. Is it spelled “passed” or “past?” Soon, I find myself recasting a whole darn paragraph just to avoid one stinking word.

There’s got to be a better way!

Here it is . . . my personal master list of words I most commonly screw up. Or, more accurately, it’s my cheat sheet. Without this quick reference, I descend into a fat-inducing cycle of breaks for Pepsi and chips to deal with the frustration.

I hope my list provides you the same peace of mind I get when I know answers are at my fingertips. Feel free to copy it into your own Word document or reference it here any time.

accept/except – “accept” means to agree to do something or to terms// “except” is a preposition meaning to exclude something.
example:  I accept my wife’s suggestions most of the time, except when it involves fishing.

alright/all right – “alright” is not a word. In dialog, if a character uses that word, it should be spelled “awright.”

adverse/averse – “adverse” means unfavorable or undesirable// “averse” means reluctant or hesitant.
example:  An adverse credit report caused my loan denial. I was averse to her idea.

afterwards – “afterwards” is wrong in American English, should be “afterward."
example:  We went to the movies, afterward.

alot/a lot – “alot” is not a word.

beside/besides – “beside” means next to// “besides” means other than or moreover.
example:  Put the chair beside my desk.  Besides the expense, I don’t like the color.

bring/take – “bring” usually involves direction of an object to where you presently are// “take” involves moving something to some other place.
example:  When you come over, please bring that book. Take leftovers with you when you leave.

circle around – “circle around” is redundant. Avoid “around" in this context.

compare to/compare with – “compare to” shows similarities// “compare with” shows differences.
example:  My mother’s art has been compared to Norman Rockwell’s. I made less money this month compared with last month.

complement/compliment – “complement” supplements something else// “compliment” is a kind expression directed to someone.
example:  That tie complements your new suit. I appreciated her generous compliment.

criteria – “criteria” is plural of criterion.
examples:  We only have one criterion. Criteria for this position are listed below.

data – “data” is plural. The singular is datum.
example:  The data suggest a critical failure in three days. (note suggest, NOT suggests)

discrete/discreet – “discrete” means a distinct entity// “discreet” means tasteful, or prudent.
example:  Fair Oaks is a discrete part of Greater Sacramento. Be discreet when filing complaints.

effect/affect – “effect” as a noun means a result// “affect” is a verb that means to create a result.
example:  The effect of taking vitamin C for colds is amazing. Vitamin C affects colds in ways we don’t fully understand.

everyday/every day – “everyday” is an adjective that defines a noun// “every day” uses “every” as a delimiter to define the noun, “day.”
example:  I love to jog every day. Jogging is an everyday event in my life.

farther/further – “farther” refers to measurable distances// “further” relates to general lengths or measures.
example:  He can throw a football ten yards farther than Bill.  My hypothesis requires further study.

fewer/less – “fewer” refers to a countable number// “less” compares abstract amount.
example:  There are fewer tomatoes on my plants this year, so I have less marinara sauce.

in/into – “in” specifies location as inside or within// “into” shows movement from one place to another.
example:  I found the papers tucked in the book. Let’s go into the house before the rain hits.

infer/imply – “infer” offers to reach a conclusion// “imply” is to suggest a conclusion.
example:  The data infers a connection. Did her kiss imply more than I thought?

insure/ensure – “insure” is a legal act of making contractual guarantees// "ensure" is to offer assurances.
example:  The agent said they will insure our home. He ensured that my car was repaired.

irregardless – “irregardless” is not a word. It is often confused with regardless and irrespective. This non-word is used commonly in American English vernacular and may be used in dialog IF the character would likely use such wrong vocabulary.

its/it’s – “its” (no apostrophe) is the possessive form of “it”// “it’s” means “it is.”
example:  Its nose was red and warm to the touch.  It’s better to win.

lay/lie – “lay” as a verb needs a subject and direct object// “lie” as a verb does not use a subject or object. “Laid” is the past tense of “lay."
example:  Lay your books on the table. I lie down every day at the same time.

led/lead – “led” is past tense of “to lead” (pronounced “leed”)// “lead” is a malleable metal or a verb meaning to have someone or something following.
examples:  The town mayor leads the parade every year. He led it last year.

literally – “literally” means exact fact and is frequently used incorrectly. For example, “I am literally dying in this heat.” No. You are likely uncomfortable, but not going to die.

lose/loose – “lose” means that you lost something// “loose” means something is not tight.
example:  Don’t lose your lunch money. The bolt became loose when the nut fell off.

might/may – “might” implies uncertainty of an outcome// “may” implies consideration or permission.
example:  I may fire this homemade rocket, but it might explode.

passed/past – “passed” is the past participle of the verb “to pass”// “past” is a noun, adjective, adverb, or preposition depending on how it is used. Passed and past are NOT interchangeable.
examples:  We passed my aunt’s house on the way to the movie. (past tense of “to pass”)
My past finally caught up with me. (noun)  Past behavior finally caught up with me. (adjective modifying behavior)  I ducked past the low branch. (adverb modifying ducked)  I got sick after running way past my limits of endurance. (preposition)

premiere/premier – “premiere” is the opening night of a play, movie or similar production// “premier” means the first or best in status or a political head of state.
example:  I loved the premiere of the Godfather movie. Premier Loch demanded a vote.

principal/principle – “principal” means a sum of money, head of a school or a main owner in a business// “principle” is a basic accepted truth or generally agreed to scientific fact.
example:  Mr. Brown is a principal in the bank. The principle of “Do not harm.” is fundamental to the practice of medicine.

sight/site – “sight” has to do with vision// “site” means located of an internet page.
example:  I lost sight of the others. Have you seen the new site for my business.

sit/set – “sit” is a verb meaning to be seated// “set” means to put or place something.
example:  I set the picture on the mantle. John can sit over there.

than/then – “than” is used to show a comparison// “then” shows a sequence of time.
example:  She is taller than me. Let’s go to the store then head for the beach.

that/which – to understand the proper use of these two words, it is necessary to understand the difference between a RESTRICTIVE CLAUSE and an NON-RESTRICTIVE CLAUSE. Both clauses modify a noun, but the restrictive clause DEFINES the noun while the non-restrictive clause offers additional information about the noun but is not necessary to define the noun.

Restrictive clauses answer critical identifying questions about the noun. For example: The baseball bat that had his fingerprints on it was likely the murder weapon. In this case, the clause defines a specific bat.

Non-restrictive clauses add information that is not essential to the sentence or the noun. For example:  Any one of several knives, which rested in the knife block, could be the murder weapon.


Restrictive clauses are never enclosed in commas, and their information is essential for understanding the sentence.

Non-restrictive clauses are always enclosed in commas, and their information is not essential to the sentence.

there/their/they’re/there’re – “there” is an adverb showing place// “their” is the possessive form of “they”// “they’re” is a contraction meaning they are// “there’re” is a contraction meaning “there are."
examples:  Let’s go over there. Their car ran out of gas. They’re going to the store. There’re more cookies in the cupboard.

to/two/too – “to” is a preposition that introduces information through prepositional phrases// “two” is the number 2// “too” is an adverb meaning “also."
example:  Too many people assume motorcycles are dangerous to ride. I’ll take two!

waive/wave – “waive” means to forego a right// “wave” is a hand gesture, usually a greeting.
example:  I waived my right to a reading of the will. She waved goodbye to me.

who/whom – “who” there is a simple way to determine whether who or whom is the right word. Simply put, answer the who/whom question with a he/him response. If “he” is the right answer, then “who” is the right pronoun. Same for whom and him.
example:  For who/whom did they raise money? Response…Money was raised for him. Therefore, “whom” is right.  Who/whom answered the door? Response…He answered the door. So, “who” is right.

your/you’re – “your” is a possessive pronoun, “you’re” means you are.
example:  Your story made me cry. You’re not going to get away with that.

Wikipedia list of most commonly misused English words.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Practice Makes . . . What?

How many times have you heard the adage, that if your story is rejected, start writing again, immediately? Or, the notion that your first three novels are just practice, and, by that time, your skills will have grown so you finally write something worthy of publication.

Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

He's right.

If you plunge into that "next" story and repeat mistakes that plagued your first story, what have you accomplished? Yep, fast track to rejection number 2, or 3 or worse!

As a young man, I received a lecture during an agency meeting about the importance of repetition in sales training. My supervisor stressed "Practice makes perfect." Behind me, an old, very successful agent muttered "Bullshit" under his breath. When the meeting was over, he tapped me on the elbow and motioned for me to follow him into his office.

"What'd you think about that advice on practice making perfect?" he asked.
"Makes sense to me."
"Well, forget it. It's wrong. The correct statement is 'Perfect practice makes perfect.' If you just keep repeating your mistakes, then practice only makes permanent!"

Wow! That guy's wisdom stayed with me my entire adult life.

How does it apply to writing?

If a writer doesn't learn from mistakes, then the flaws will be repeated every time a new writing challenge is attempted. "There" or "their" or "they're"? "The glass's flower pattern." or "The glasses flower pattern."  Or, one of my favorites . . . "He laid on the couch" or "He lied on the couch."

Before jumping into that next story, find out what was wrong with the first submission. Don't be afraid to ask why you were declined. It might be something over which you had no control, like they already had too many historic fiction writers. But, what if the reason for the rejection was "too much editing needed" or "weak hook" or "shallow plot?"

If you ignore the feedback and dive right into the next book, you're probably going to repeat the same mistake(s) with the same outcome.

"Wait a minute!" you say. "Most agents and editors don't provide feedback. How am I supposed to figure out what to fix, if I don't know what was broken?"

There are three ways to handle this absence of information:

1) Hire a professional editor to review the manuscript and provide assessment. This can be a painful, but critically valuable, experience. "What if I can't afford a professional editor?"

2) Then, find some new beta readers. I'm assuming you used a set of beta readers before you submitted the story in the first place. If you neglected this essential step, then do it the next time. What if you DID use betas? They're human and could easily have missed important writing problems like SPAG, plot holes, weak hook or inconsistent character traits. Try to find some more experienced beta readers (not relatives) who also love your genre. See what they say BEFORE starting your new project. By the way, five good beta readers and an editor-in-training missed my misspelled word "corral" that I spelled "c o r a l." DUH! Fortunately, I caught it on my final edit.

3) If push comes to shove, there's one more source of feedback. Self-publish that first story and watch for reader comments. Readers are the very best judge of what they like, and they will not hesitate to point out every little mistake with the story.

Remember, the important lesson here is that "Perfect practice makes perfect." So, after learning from the feedback, apply your new knowledge and put together that classic story you always wanted to tell.

PS Please accept my apology for only posting two blogs during February. I was bedridden for three weeks and just couldn't get them written at a level I considered presentable. I'll make it up to you, I promise.