And the Winner for Brian W. Foster’s Best Book Read in 2012 is…

There are two ways to handle clichés – avoid them or embrace them.  I choose the latter, and what can be more cliché than a blogger who does book reviews picking his best book for the year?

Answer – A blogger posting his New Year’s Resolutions, but that’ll have to wait for tomorrow.

Without further ado, on to the choosing of the not-quite-coveted Brian W. Foster’s Best Book of 2012 Award.

The criteria is simple: the book chosen has to be –

  1. One that I finished reading during the calendar year of the award.
  2. Not a book written by me.
  3. In my opinion, the best book I read for that year.

I find that, for an award such as this, it’s better to get the perspective of time.  I tend to write reviews immediately after finishing a book, and both the strengths and negatives remain fresh in my mind.  Once I put some distance between the book and me, I can determine if it stuck with me.  If I forgot that I even read it, it’s probably not a strong candidate.  If, after several months, I look back fondly on it, it deserves consideration.

For 2012, I had two strong contenders.

The runner up for the award is Benjamin Clayborne’s Queen of Mages.  You can read my review of it here.  I love the premise of the book – magic is introduced into a world where none had existed – and I love that the book is character driven.  Overall, a strong contender but edged out by the winner on a purely subjective basis.

And the winner is…

Critical Failures by Robert Bevan.   You can read my review here.  Longtime readers of my blog will remember that I value the book’s ability to engage me as a reader more than any other quality, and this one was so entertaining that I found it hard to put down.  I don’t search out humorous books, but I’m glad I found this one.  A good, character-driven story that incorporates laugh-out-loud humor is a great find.

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Too Many Story Ideas

Speaking of managing time as a writer (see yesterday’s post), I simply have too many ideas to produce them all.

When I shared with my wife my dream of becoming a writer, her first question was, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll run out of ideas?”  I just kind of grinned; that’s definitely not going to be an issue.

Currently, I have the following projects in process:

  • Power of the Mages – the first of a planned four book epic fantasy series now in the 3rd draft stage
  • The Slender Man Massacre – Hopefully stand-alone YA horror – I’m working on the 4th chapter
  • Untitled Scifi Novel – Kind of Perry Rhodan meets Troy Rising, this one, still in the outlining stage, is intended to be an open ended series
  • The Man in White – Nearly complete short story designed to be the first of five parts of an eventual novel

I also have a concept for a YA urban fantasy romance (cause there really aren’t enough of these being written) that I can’t get out of my head, kind of my answer to Twilight.  I think this one, probably a four book series, will eventually get written.

Additionally, I’m all the time coming up with new ideas that I simply don’t have time to write.  For example, I’ve seen variations of the following scene play out in real life a dozen times, and it’s begging for me to write a story around it:

Little Man’s voice comes from the backseat, “Trak-or.”

In the passenger seat beside me, my wife looks around until she spots the construction site.  “You see a tractor?”

“I scared.”

With her voice full of feigned enthusiasm with just a hint of exasperation, she replies, “You are not scared of a tractor.”

“Boo-boo.”

“It will not give you a boo-boo.”

Little Man makes a smacking noise with his mouth.

“But if it does, Mama will kiss it and make it better.”

Just yesterday, I got a new idea from a post on Mythic Scribes – A character in a fantasy setting wants to rid his basement of rats and perseveres through a bunch of setbacks.  That’s it.  A simple premise that I found to be full of so much promise.  A character began to take shape in my head, and I wanted so badly to say, “Challenge accepted.”  If only I had the time.

I’ve a great idea for a fantasy/scifi blend.  An ancient race sees a great military threat approaching.  The advancing horde will take centuries to approach, but the good guys see no way to beat them.  Finally, they hit on the idea of manipulating some technologically inferior races to build them into a fighting force.  At this point, I seriously doubt I’ll ever get around to this story.

So many ideas, so much inspiration – so little time.

Managing Your Time as a Writer

I have a special guest blogger for the post today. Randy Crane is a nationally known speaker, author, and life coach. With the heart of a pastor and teacher, the kindness of a friend, and the willingness to challenge you to reach beyond what you think you can do and be, Randy merges his educational experience, his work experience, and his unique blend of passions with a dream for helping others to realize their God-given identity and purpose.

When working but not doing the work that he loves as a Life and Personal Development Coach, he can usually be found helping people with their dream vacations as a travel agent, specializing in Disney destinations & cruises, and in celebration, event, and bucket-list travel.

Here’s his post:

As an author, one my primary struggles has always been time management. In my new book, “Once Upon YOUR Time: 7 Strategies for Gaining Control of Your Time Through a Tour of the Magic Kingdom”, I decided to tackle that problem head-on and hopefully also provide some help to others, including other authors, who face the same challenge. In it, I use Disneyland, Walt Disney’s original MagicKingdom, as examples and illustrations of key strategies to help you gain—or re-gain—control of your time. What are these “magical” strategies?

• Strategy 1: Remove Something

We get so used to accepting overly-full schedules, living with the frustration, and forgetting the Opportunity Cost. Strategically remove something. If you feel like your time is out of control, if you feel bad that the people you care about are being neglected, or if important tasks “slip through the cracks” and are forgotten until it’s too late, then you’re already doing this with no strategy. Instead, choose what you will use your 24 hours today for. The only way to gain more of what you want to have in your life is to leave behind or take out what you don’t. If you want to write anything—a blog, a book, whatever—and you already have a full schedule, it will squeeze something out. Be intentional in advance on what that will be and how it’ll happen.

 • Strategy 2: Have a “Motivating Why”

I’ve recently begun training for a 5K race. When I decided to start this training program, something was different. This time, I had a goal—to run an actual 5K—and that goal fit in with other goals I have for myself and the Life Plan I developed. Now it’s not just an isolated, vaguely-defined, “I should do this” activity. It has a purpose. It accomplishes a goal that’s important to me. It’s an important part of my personal growth and development into the person I believe God wants me to be.

When I wake up at 6:00 a.m. and don’t want to run I remind myself of why I’m doing what I’m doing, and this keeps me going for that morning. It’s my larger purpose behind the needed daily activity and discipline. It is my “Motivating Why.” 

If you’re a writer, there will be times where writing will be the hardest thing you can do, and you’ll want to not do it. During those times, your “Motivating Why” may be the only thing that gets the next words written.

• Strategy 3: Prioritize

No look at time management/control strategies would be complete without talking about prioritizing. Even when we’ve removed as much as we think we can, when we understand we are the ones who choose how our time is used, and when we know why we are doing what we’re doing, we’re still likely to have a task list that can seem overwhelming. What do we do first? What can we push off or eliminate if we need to? What moves us forward and what moves us backward? Prioritizing is the strategy we use to answer those questions.

But before you can prioritize, you need to have a framework to use, a filter that helps you get a true picture of the importance of each task. The framework I use is ACTION Goals. Set your goals, then prioritize your tasks based on them and the particular circumstances of the day.

• Strategy 4: Recognize Your Choices

This one may be a bit hard to swallow, but stay with me. This strategy is simply to recognize that everything you do is a choice. That’s not to say that sometimes an outcome is so bad that it’s almost unthinkable, but it’s still an outcome, not the only one. Consider an extreme example.

Do you have to eat? No, you don’t. You should. If you don’t you’ll end up in the hospital and you may die, but you still don’t actually have to eat. Hospitalization and/or death are overly negative outcomes, but the fact that the result of that action is negative doesn’t invalidate that it’s a choice.

• Strategy 5: Minimize Interruptions

Always allowing distractions and interruptions is really saying, “Other people deserve to have more say in my life and what I do with it than I do. Their priorities are more important than mine.” If you don’t know what your priorities are or why they matter, then you really have no basis for thinking otherwise. But if you have goals, if you have a Motivating Why, and if you are intentional with your choices and priorities, then anyone else should only get to trump your schedule is if there is an actual, legitimate emergency, or if you choose to allow it. From my perspective as a Christian, if I know what God created me to do but instead of doing it I allow others to set my schedule and priorities through distractions and interruptions, then I’m saying that they know what I should do better than God does.

 It’s easy to be interrupted as a writer, because to people who don’t do it, we look like we’re not doing much. You lose a lot of momentum and flow when you allow interruptions, though, so be very intentional about what you allow to interrupt you.

• Strategy 6: Schedule Fun

Gaining control of your time isn’t all about schedules, tasks, work, work, work. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is a well-known proverb for a reason. If you don’t allow time for fun, down time, even if just a few minutes a day, you’ll be so wound up and stressed that you’ll snap like an over-stretched rubber band. No matter how important what you’re doing is, there must be time for fun. Remember, even Jesus went to a party every now and then.

 • Strategy 7: Start with the Easiest, then the Hardest

When it comes to what order to do things in, conventional wisdom says to start with the most difficult task or the one you’re dreading the most and get it out of the way. If that works for you, great. It doesn’t work for me, and I know many others for whom it also doesn’t work. If we had to do the most difficult task first, we’d do nothing that day.

 Make sure you build in early accomplishments in your day, but don’t neglect the important goals and tasks for the sake of ease. If you want to write a book this year, some days making progress on it it may be the easiest thing you have to do. Some days it may be the task you dread. Eventually you have to write, though, and do it consistently.

There’s the thumbnail. Would you like to read about these strategies in more detail, see the Disneyland connections, and finally take back control of your time? If so, I have good news! You can purchase Once Upon YOUR Time for Kindle, as a paperback, or for a limited time, you can download it for FREE as a PDF! Simply click here to for links to all three of these options. If you truly want to regain control of your time, take this first step now.

 

Analyzing the Behavior of Book Buyers Part 4 – The Sample

See Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series.

If you’ve got the browser to your page, drew them in with your description, and managed to hang on to them through your reviews, the next thing they’re going to do is check out your sample.

  • If you’re lucky, this step is a formality.  They’ve already decided to buy and just want to make sure that your writing isn’t complete dribble before making that final commitment.
  • Most of the time, this step is crucial; it’s where the go/no go decision is actually made.

Takeaways:

  • Typos are an almost unavoidable part of writing.  Even traditionally published books usually contain a couple.  Do your best to get rid of them, but one here or there probably isn’t a deal killer.  In the sample, however, a single tiny mistake can make a potential buyer click away.  You must go over the first chapters of your book more thoroughly than any other portion.
  • The start of your book must draw in the reader.  Pages of exposition aren’t going to cut it.  You need to introduce a character and a significant situation immediately.
  • Try to end your sample with a hook.  There are a lot of readers who simply must have a mystery answered.  Use that trait to your advantage.

Do you have any suggestions about making the sample draw in the reader?

Tune in next Wednesday for Part 5 to learn about the price of failure.

Excerpt from Power of the Mages

In honor of the completion of my 2nd Draft of Power of the Mages, I’m posting an excerpt of one of my favorite scenes.  Since the sample is from Chapter 28 and most of the readers of this blog have no more than a passing acquantance with the plot of the book, I’ll set it up first:

Xan is an journeyman apothecary, the medieval equivalent of a lab geek.  All he’s ever wanted is to find a girl who likes him.  In a case of “be careful what you wish for,” he found himself engaged to Ashley, the daughter of the duke and a girl who is out of his league in every way.  Now that he has everything he thinks he wants, he finds out the price.  The duke asked him to sign an oath of allegiance that Xan knows to be a horrendous mistake.

Excerpt from Chapter 28 of Power of the Mages:

Feeling deserted by his friends, Xan cast his gaze at the ground.  “My lord, I can’t.”

“You must, son.  There is no other option.”

Xan met the ruler’s eyes, his tone defiant.  “And still I can’t.”

Ashley stepped forward, her posture resolute and her face harsh.  “You would refuse my father in this?  You would refuse me?”

“Ashley?  Please trust me?”  Xan winced at the pleading in his voice.

“Sign it.  Now,” she said.

“Can we at least talk about it?”

Her father nodded in response to her questioning look.  Without a glance behind to see if Xan followed, she entered the nearest alcove.  He lumbered after her and inched the curtain shut.  Turning to face her, he steeled himself for the onslaught.

Instead, she smiled.  “It’s good you have a backbone but don’t embarrass me in front of my father.”

“I’m not…  I mean, I didn’t…”

She fiddled with the engagement ring, holding it in front of the light from an oil lamp burning in the corner.  “Did I tell you how much I love it?”

He shrugged off her baffling change in demeanor.  “Ashley, I’m not doing this because of some kind of power struggle between you and me.  I won’t sign that statement.”

The cutest bark of a laugh escaped her lips.  “I know what drives men.  I’ve known since I came of age, and they stood in line for a chance at my hand.”  Her finger drifted to the soft velvet of her scarlet dress, idly tracing the corseted curve of her waist.  “Aren’t I what you want?  Sign and you’ll have me.  All of me.”

A wave of heat washed over Xan.  “Of course that’s what I want.”  What he’d implied registered.  “I mean, not what you said.”  He felt the flush rising on his face.  “I mean, not that I don’t want…”

She turned her head to the side and raised a hand to her mouth.

“You’re laughing at me!”

She moved to him, nearly touching his body with hers, and stroked under his eye where the sword had cut.  “Only because you’re so cute.”

“You don’t fight fair,” he said.

“I fight to win.”

“I don’t want to fight at all.”

She smiled.  “Then sign the agreement.”

He threw up his hands in frustration.  “I can’t.  You don’t understand.”

Instantly, her countenance changed.  Her lips tightened.  “You think you understand governance better than me?  What I do, I do for the good of Bermau, for Vierna, and for the people.”

“For the people?”  He tried and failed to keep the incredulousness from his voice.  “Don’t you mean for the sake of power?”

“My father being in power is what’s best for the people.”

“It isn’t if we sign those agreements.”

Her nostrils flared, and she placed her hands on her hips.

He shook his head sadly.  “Won’t you even listen to my reasoning?  Do you care at all?”

“Do you care about mine?”

“I understand more than you seem to think,” he said.  “With a cadre of tame mages under your father’s control, his rivals will have no choice but to develop their own magic users.  By the time any have a force strong enough to counter his, the reason for fighting will have vanished as everyone will be breaking the edict.

“It only works, though, if he truly has control.  Otherwise, it’s too much of a risk.  He sees no other options.”

“If you agree, why are you arguing with me?” she said.  “Sign the damn paper!”

“Even to save your father’s duchy, the price is too high.”

She glared at him.

“Don’t you see?  This is the first step to another Wizard’s War, more cities destroyed, more devastation.”  He tried to take her hand, but she pulled away.

“This is how it starts,” he said.  “We can only use our magic at the nobles’ command.  Then come the other limitations.  We can only travel with special permission.  Our spouses are chosen for us, or maybe we’re forbidden from marrying at all.  Our children are taken away at birth.  Every aspect of our lives is dictated by our overlords.  We become nothing more than slaves, weapons to be pointed at the enemy, stripped of anything that makes us human.”

“Father isn’t like that.”

“Maybe he isn’t.  Maybe he’ll be a benevolent ruler, uphold everything he said.”  Xan’s tone pled for understanding.  “What about the other dukes?  Will they be so kind?  Can’t you see what kind of precedent we set here today?”

“What I see is our only choice.”  She exhaled sharply and ran her finger over Xan’s cheek.  “You’re intelligent, and there’s a fire within you that I admire.  I told you I’d make a good wife for you, but I gave you a condition.  Do you remember it?”

His voice came out strained, barely a whisper.  “Be loyal to you and your father.”

“That condition stands.  Do this one thing, and I’m yours.”

“Please Ashley, trust me.  Give me time to figure out another way.”

The sympathy reflected on her face didn’t dent the hardness in her stare.  “Your decision?”

He felt moisture well in his right eye, and he turned from her.  “I can’t sign it.  I want to do it.  For you.  But I can’t.”

“Face me,” she said.

He wiped his eye and turned toward her, his back to the curtain.  Her left hand covered her right, and it took him a moment to determine what she was doing.

“No!  Ashley, please!”

Her hands parted, the left one holding the engagement ring.  She took his clenched fist and pressed it inside.  He opened his palm and stared at the gold band with the sparkling diamond.  The curtain opened behind him, and her footsteps trailed away.  He gathered himself and followed. 

Ashley caught her father’s eye and shook her head.  The duke signaled a page at the back of the room who disappeared out the door.  Seconds later, twenty soldiers rushed in.

The duke pointed at Xan.  “Guards, arrest him.”

 

It’s the End of…My Second Draft

Yes, I did go for the lame apocalypse tie-in.  I feel you; it’s not my finest hour.  On the other hand, I’m going to have “It’s the end of the world as I know it…” stuck in my head all day, so, if I’ve managed to inflict the same upon you, it makes me feel better.

On with the actual subject of the post: Yesterday, I send the last section of the 2nd draft of Power of the Mages to my beta readers.

Aside – I sent the book in (6) five-chapter increments.  Because of where I was on the learning curve, this method helped me.  The knowledge I gained from reading the comments from the first part made the later chapters better.  However, sending the work out piecemeal made life difficult for the readers.  They couldn’t really get into the flow of the book, and I made changes to the plot and character arcs (even names!) in the later chapters that made them go, “Huh?”  I’m going to have to send the finished 3rd draft out for more comments.  Summary – though doing it this way worked for me this time, I wouldn’t recommend sending out incomplete works.

Now, I have a huge challenge ahead of me.  I want to get my novel in the best possible shape to enter in Amazon’s contest on January 14.  My first goal is to get as far on the 3rd draft as I can by January 7.  To give you an idea of what this means:

  • 1st draft = word vomit
  • 2nd draft = coherent and readable
  • 3rd draft = more emotion and tension, tighter POV, a lot of little things that will more engage the reader, pick up beta reader comments

Best case scenario — and this is really ambitious — I’ll get through Chapter 10 by the 7th.  The question becomes: what is the best use of my time in the remaining week?

  1. Take another up to 3 chapters from 2nd draft to 3rd draft – OR
  2. Go through all the rest of the 2nd draft chapters and correct major errors and typos based on beta reader comments.

The arguments for the first path are:

  1. I doubt I’m going to win the Amazon contest with a submission that is only partially finished with the 3rd draft, so, rather than wasting my time making corrections that I’ll have to go back over anyway, I should just continue on with the 3rd draft.
  2. A few more complete and totally engaging chapters will give me more of a chance to win than getting rid of typos in the last half of the book.
  3. My writing improved markedly after around Chapter 14.  The last half of the book is much more polished than the first half, so my time is better served working on the worst sections.

The arguments for the second option are:

  1. The 2nd draft is really rough in spots.  If I don’t smooth it out, I have less chance of winning.
  2. Typos and mistakes will completely sink me.

That’s the debate I’m having internally, and I’d love some input in the comments section.

Analyzing the Behavior of Book Buyers Part 3 – Reviews

In Part 1 of this series, I examined how book buyers find your page.  In Part 2, I wrote about the first thing they look at on your page.

At this point, the potential customer has found your book and, after reading the description, is intrigued.  You’re home free, right?  Wrong.

Next comes the dreaded reading of the reviews.  Some browsers will read a bunch of comments; other only a few.  You can be sure, though, that they’ll all look at the top rated one for the “Most Helpful Customer Reviews” and that they’re all looking for the following:

  • Assurance that someone out there has actually bought and read your book.
  • Assurance that the book isn’t total crap.
  • Highly individual criteria.

We can’t control that a potential buyer might read something innocuous in a review that makes him click away.  There’s no accounting for taste, and you have to write the book you want.  The fact is that you’re not going to convert every browser into a buyer.   There are, however, some things that you can do:

  • Make sure you have reviews for the potential buyer to read
  • Make sure that these reviews say positive things
  • Make sure that the top Most Helpful Customer Review is awesome

I can hear you shouting at the computer: “I will not write fake reviews!  I have no control over the reviews!  I can’t even get reviews!”  Calm down.  First of all, I can’t really hear you, so screaming doesn’t really accomplish anything other than making your coworkers look at you funny.  Second, give me a chance to explain:

  • You can get reviews.  It takes a lot of time and work, but it can be done.  Pick a goal of how many reviews you want.  Send 10 emails a day to Amazon reviewers, book bloggers, people on forums, and anyone who has ever “liked” your blog until you get commitments for the number you want plus at least 25% (some of those “commitments” will fall through).  With luck, one out of every ten emails might result in a “yes.”
  • You do have some control over the reviews.  If you want them to say your book is good, WRITE A GOOD BOOK!  Most reviewers, especially ones you’ve contacted personally, don’t want to say bad things about your work.  If you give them half a chance, they’ll mostly concentrate on the positive.  Make sure there are positive things for them to say.  If you’re getting only bad reviews, consider the possibility that your book wasn’t ready for publication.
  • I agree that it’s unethical to post fake reviews.  I do not plan to use that method, and I do not advocate you doing it either.  On the other hand, I don’t mind gaming the system a little.  If you get enough reviews, you’ll hopefully find one that you really like.  It will be detailed, say fantastic things about the book and about your writing ability, and mention some minor negatives.  Once you get that review, tell all your friends, family, and fans to click “Yes” to the question, “Was this review helpful to you?”  That will move the review to the top of the list, and enough votes will keep it there.

Final thoughts on reviews:

  • You’re going to get some bad reviews.  Don’t sweat them too much.  Not everyone has the same tastes as you, and that’s okay.
  • The best reviews tell potential buyers both what the reviewer liked and disliked about the book.
  • A five-star review that says, “This book is AWSUM!!!” and a one-star review that says, “I hated the title so I didn’t read it.” or “This bok sux!” aren’t going to impact your sales or reputation much.

Tune in next Wednesday for Part 4 – Your Sample Is Crucial.