From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Social Media Accounts Turned Books

A little bit ago Mashable put out a list of 12 Social Media Accounts That Turned Into Books. This includes things like Garfield Minus Garfield, Hyperbole and a Half, and Dear Girls Above Me. Maybe you guys aren't as fascinated by all that as I am, but for some reason I think the concept of turning a Tumblr or Twitter account into a book.

I just think its a fascinating glimpse into the world of modern entertainment and communication. Stories of a guy drawing pictures of T-rex trying to do normal, every-day things with his tiny arms can become a viral sensation and then a book. I'm a little bit in awe of the people who can do this.

Most, almost all, of these are in the humor genre, but I love that this is the modern way of bringing smiles and laughter to peoples lives. So that's part of it, the humor. But there are more awe-inspiring things, like Taylor Jones who created a Tumblr where people took a new photograph over-layed in the same place as the old place, and its just beautiful.

And of course, there's an element of luck.

Do you find these things as fascinating as I do? Can you think of any blog, Tumblr, or Twitter accounts that could be turned into books?

Sarah Allen

P.S. So hopefully we're all feeling a little more generous this time of year. If you have thought at all about making any kind of tax-deductible charitable donation before the end of the year, today is the day. Project for Awesome, through YouTube, is running through the end of the day. Donate to The Foundation to Decrease World Suck (Yes, a legitimate, tax-deductible organization) and vote to decide which charitable orgainzations will receive the raised funds. Seriously, this is an amazing event and a great chance to participate in making the world a better place.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Know Your Theme

When I was a student Ron Carlson came and gave a lecture and I got to go to a question and answer gig afterwards. As he was answering questions, he talked about how a lot of MFA students are super worried about not being too didactic or obvious about their message. They focus on being subtle. But he said something that surprised me. He said to throw subtlety out the window.

It hasn't been till more recently, though, that I've begun to understand a little what he's talking about, and how it applies.

See, I am definitely one of those writers who is hyper-concerned about being too obvious with their message. I love it when the text is rich enough to provide multiple meanings and solutions, and lends itself to deep analysis. Even more than that, I hate it when books or movies get into, like, children's talk show host mode and almost sound like, "And from this story, children, we learn that..." Or when a show (*ahem* Glee *ahem*) starts pushing their own agenda so hard you just feel like you're getting stuff shoved down your throat whether or not you agree with them.

So yeah, I don't like didactic or agenda-pushing stories. I like it when a story is ambiguous enough that I can sort of glean my own meaning from it. However, I've gotten feedback on a few things where people have told me that they're not sure what I'm trying to say, or what they're supposed to take from the story. I tell them, "I'm not trying to say anything, I want the reader to be able to take their own meaning."

And I think that's the problem. The point of writing is to say something, something important, something so important to you that you want to shout it to the world. I've realized, I feel that way about everything I write but sometimes I'm so scared of offending people or not connecting with people that I end up becoming too vague and obtuse and not connecting with anyone. I've had readers tell me to just come out and say what I want to say, that a reader really does need to know where the author is coming from. It's better to have a reader disagree with you than not know what you're trying to say in the first place.

I think the key is how you handle it. We are all writers because there is something we want the world to understand. We have a theme, a message, in each of our stories and we have to own it. We just need to be very, very aware of how complex issues and people are, and aware of the people who disagree with us and why they disagree with us, and acknowledge it with understanding and compassion. As long as you don't portray your theme in the light of everyone who disagrees with me in the slightest is a stupid, naive, misinformed, backward and brainwashed idiot (again, are you listening Glee?), you should be fine :)

Example time. Have you all seen Captain Phillips, the latest Tom Hanks movie? So, with a theme you have to make a statement, say that something is good and something else is bad, right? And do that with compassion and understanding and acknowledgement of complexity. Captain Phillips does this brilliantly. Yes, its a battle of sea-men versus pirates, but this movie acknowledges the humanity of the pirates, and the really complicated and hard things they themselves are dealing with. It acknowledges complexity and lets you leave the theater with much more than just, "pirates are scary and bad, huh?" It makes you think. And besides, its just a really gripping story and Tom Hanks is freaking genius, obviously.

Because being heard, getting our message out,  that's why writing is important. The world is a better place when all our voices are heard, which is why we became writers. And if we can speak with strength and determination as well as understanding and compassion, the complex people on all sides of complicated issues can benefit.

Do you agree? Have you read books/seen movies where the theme is either too vague or too exclusive?

Sarah Allen

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Friday, December 13, 2013

The Science of Happiness

So, optimism is, a bit, my mantra. In high-school I once got into a heated argument with a kid in my class who stubbornly maintained that pessimism was realism and I was like NO YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND. So when psychologists start talking about happiness from a methodical, scientific standpoint and talk about how evidence and studies suggest that 1) Being optimistic and happy is the natural, healthy state of mankind and 2) We as free agents and choice-makers have some control over it, I just have to shout and dance and mention it to everybody I know.

So here. I promise, it's well worth your time.

Have a very, very happy weekend everybody :)

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Google Trends: Social Media Secret Weapon

I've known about Google Trends for a while, but the last couple days I've come to a realization.

Google Trends, for those who don't know, is a pretty cool service from Google that tracks the daily top search trends. Basically it gives you the list of the top things people are searching for that day. (For example, "How To Cook a Turkey" on the day before Thanksgiving.)

Like I said, I've known the site existed for a while, but it hasn't been until I've been playing around with it the last couple days that I've realized how much of an awesome tool it could potentially be.

Google Trends is actually a great way to see kind of the major things going on in the world. Often the popular search terms have to do with a show finale or recent sporting event. But whatever's going on, whatever's being searched, what better way to brainstorm social media post topics?

We all want to be engaging and timely social media users, right? Well, Google Trends is the secret weapon that can help us do that. When we want to think of more things to post about, Google Trends can provide a good list. And I'm definitely not saying that anyone should always post about all the search topics all the time. That would just be really annoying. And uh, I have no interest at all in posting about sporting events, even though athletes and teams often make up half the list.

What I am saying is that occasionally checking out Google Trends can be a good reminder of what the hot topics are that day, and sometimes there will be topics that you find interesting enough to post about. And since they're hot topics, you're jumping in with the engaged and numerous crowd, which hopefully means your little ripple will multiply.

Another thing. There are charts of top searches in various categories, including authors. Outside of being able to use this info in social media use, I just think its fascinating.

So what do you think? Can Google Trends be helpful in social media, and can you think of any additional ways to use it?

Sarah Allen

Monday, December 9, 2013

Is Blogging Stuck in a Loop?

I'm gonna start with a caveat.

I love blogging. Adore it. I especially love the generous, supportive and intelligent people in the blogging community. I have learned more from the blogging community about the publishing industry than anywhere else. I've made tighter connections here on this blog than I have anywhere else online, and every time one of you amazing people leave a comment, I smile and my day gets a little brighter. I plan on being around the blogosphere for a long time to come, whether you want me or not.

That being said, its no secret that blogging in general has been in a bit of a steady decline in popularity almost since I started. But I think that maybe, from my perspective, blogging has reached its sort of plateau. The serious bloggers still around are staying, and the drop in blog readership has leveled out. I could be totally wrong, that's just my perspective, and who knows what will happen to blogging in the future.

All that's not really my concern, though. I don't care if blogging is no longer the most popular social media outlet around, I love it anyway. The thing I've been thinking about lately--and I'm going to be totally honest here--is that as I've been doing my reading, as fun and enlightening as each post is, I'm seeing the same topics discussed over and over again. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Hearing important advice in new and fresh ways, repeatedly, is how we learn. The key lessons need to be repeated. The danger--the thing I'm worried about--is that I feel myself getting repetitive.

This isn't just a case of hearing similar lessons from various bloggers. I know it's just a function of being around the blogosphere for a while, but I'm more and more frequently at a loss for intriguing and useful topics that I haven't discussed already.

I want this blog to grow and evolve. That is important to me. I want to be as informational and entertaining as possible. What I've been thinking about lately is how to do that. How to keep this blog from getting stuck in a loop, as it were.

The way I see it, there are two main categories of blogs that I personally find interesting. The first is on the more business, informative side. Examples of this type of blog would be The Business Rusch by Kristine Rusch or Anne R. Allen's blog. Both these fabulous ladies have incredibly valuable insight and inside info and experience in the industry. The second category is a more personal, humor-focused style. Two ladies that have found pretty wild success with this are The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson and Allie Brosch of Hyperbole and a Half.

I would love this blog to be equally enjoyable and informative as these ladies' blogs, but the thing is, I am way behind Kristine and Anne in intelligence, experience, and insight and am nowhere near as hilarious and witty as Jenny and Allie. I am doing my best to take lessons from these wonderful ladies, and all of you other amazing bloggers, but as the indomitable Walt Disney said, you can't beat pigs with pigs. These ladies do what they do brilliantly, and nobody can do what they do in the same way. I need to evolve in my own way, continue finding my own voice and niche.

All this is a rambly and round-about way of asking for your input. Do you agree that bloggers need to evolve to avoid being stuck in a rut? What do you believe is the best way for them to do it?

And also, what other examples can you give me of bloggers who have succeeded in evolving their voice and niche in this new world of blogging?

Sarah Allen

Friday, December 6, 2013

Do soul-bursting romance moments only happen on television?

A couple nights ago when my roommate and I got back from Frozen, we were both sort of riding the emotional high the movie had given us. We sat for a while listening to the songs from the movie and analyzing it together and then I was trying to decide on something to blog about. I sat there for a few minutes, unable to think of much besides the movie. Then my roommate said, "Just go with the emotion." So I did, and wrote out my Frozen squee. I'm sort of doing that again.

So, I don't handle pining and romantic moments in movies and shows very...calmly. The really, really intense ones that have been building up for seven seasons (i.e. Niles and Daphne) leave me sort of in shock for like a whole twenty-four hours and then I start feeling like I need to go jump on a trampoline or take an angry shower or write letters to the President or run laps around my apartment complex belting songs from Wicked.

Um, I've been catching up on New Girl. I know I'm a bit behind the times, but I just watched the episode where Nick and Jess and all the friends are playing the crazy bizarre game around the apartment. Nick and Jess end up locked in a room until they kiss. Nobody will let them out. They start, but Nick refuses to do it. He says, "Not like this!" and climbs out the window. You can tell Jess is a little hurt that Nick climbed out a window rather than kiss her. Eventually everyone leaves or goes to bed, but Nick comes back to help Jess deal with the scary noise. Then before she goes back to bed he grabs her arm and pulls her to him and gives her one of the best kisses I've ever seen on television. He says, "I meant something like that." Then he walks to his room and shuts the door.


Do things like that actually happen in real life? I'm asking sincerely, because my life right now is about as romantic as Teletubbies. Tell me this. What is the most romantic thing that's ever happened to you?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Movie Review: Frozen

Oh wow. Oh jeez.


SO MANY things done right in this movie. I don't even know where to start. John Lassetter produced, and clearly he just has a magic touch. I don't know why I expected any less. But yeah, Frozen was unexpectedly amazing.

There were several flip-the-Disney-trope-on-its-head moments, which I really appreciated. I'll try not to be too spoilery, but I love how they spend so much time making fun of the engaged-to-a-guy-you-just-met. And the necessary, saving act of love was between sisters. And that its about sisters. It's a sister movie. YISSS.

The animation was gorgeous. Beautiful, and exactly right, despite all the female character design complaints that have been going around. Both sisters were beautiful. And the setting was just as amazing as in Tangled.

I think my favorite was the humor. Let me just say, "valiant pungent reindeer king" are words said in this movie. Also the word gassy is included in one of the songs. And let me just say this. Any movie with a song called Reindeer are Better Than People is BRILLIANT BY ME.

And the music. Freaking Idina Menzel man. Idina Menzel. I would post a video of The Song if I didn't want to spoil it for you. But you'll know it when you hear it. In fact, my main complaint would probably be that they during the credits they had somebody else do an autotuned version of The Song when you already had FREAKING IDINA MENZEL.

Not to mention Josh Gad and Alan Tudyk and Ciaran Hinds.

So yeah, now my roommate and I are listening to Idina on repeat. Go see this movie.

Sarah Allen

Monday, December 2, 2013

Writers and Our Own Magic Feathers

First of all, can I just say how freaking excited I am that it's December? December has all the best things. Big coats, twinkle lights, hot chocolate, The Osmond Family Christmas album, Albert Finney as Ebeneezer Scrooge. All the best things.

Anyway. I've been thinking a bit lately about magic feathers. I've talked about this subject occasionally with my writer friends and its something interesting to think about.

As writers, there are a lot of things that can become our "magic feathers." Maybe its NaNoWriMo, and you can somehow only make yourself really crank out during the month of November. Maybe it's a hat or a robe you wear when you write that puts you in Writing Mode. Maybe it's certain music or a certain spot on the couch or a certain caffeinated beverage. Maybe it's a scheduled time during the day.

I think for me, I don't necessarily have a magic feather as much as I'm way too willing to give in to excuses. I'm too worried about money, or I didn't get enough sleep, or I only have a half hour chunk of time, or bla bla bla. So I guess my problem is that I don't have a magic feather and have a hard time making good progress without one.

My point is this. I actually think magic feathers are a good thing. The problems arise when we become over-reliant on them and can't write when situations arise where we don't have our magic feathers (which is my problem). But, knowing what our magic feathers are and manipulating and taking advantage of them to push and "trick" ourselves into crushing it every day...I say use whatever tools we got, man.

So I'm going to get me a magic feather and stop folding under all the lame excuses. I'm going to make solid, specific word count and pitching/querying goals and actually write them down and use whatever magic feathers I can find to accomplish them. No excuses, and here's to flying.

What are your magic feathers?

Sarah Allen
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Monday, November 25, 2013

Weird Fashion Quirks I'd Spend Money On If I Had It

I wanna talk about clothes today. That's enough of a reason, right? It's my blog, after all.

Not a big shopper here, definitely, but sometimes it's fun. And I do feel like if my bank account allowed it, I could have a very...unique taste for fashion. There are a few fashion things I love.

Leather jackets. Seriously, I just love leather jackets with everything. EVERYTHING. Leather jackets are just sexy, okay? That's all there is to it.

Horizontal stripes. I know, I know, horizontal stripes aren't supposed to be a thing. But...but...
(apparently I just really like black and red, too.)

Funky tights and leggings. Just look how schnazzy these are.

And this skirt that's a freaking MAP OF MIDDLE-EARTH.

So there's that. Clothes. Yeah. They can be pretty fun sometimes. What weird fashion quirks do you enjoy when finances permit?

Sarah Allen

p.s. Just wanted to point out a new tab up there on the pages bar. I'm selling myself. Er, rather, my services as a writer or an editor or even a video producer. Check it out, see what I've got to offer, and maybe we can work out something awesome.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Making Stop-Motion Animation With My Ipad

So, I like telling stories, even when all I have is my iPad and some socks.

I know its silly, but what do you think? I've been really gratified and pleased with the response so far, better response than I've ever gotten for videos. But I always want ideas and constructive advice, so any thoughts would be great!

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Author Marketing Lessons from Grumpy Cat

There always seems to be something new that's gone "viral," that everyone's seeing across multiple social media platforms. Even those not online much seem to hear about certain things almost through cultural osmosis. When we're marketing and trying to spread the word about our books, what better thing could happen?

There's no key or formula for "going viral." A video or blog post that someone works weeks on will languor in relative obscurity while the thing they whipped up in one day will get all the crazy buzz. So yes, it's hard, almost impossible to gauge. However there are certain things that help, certain lessons to learn. Today I thought it would be fun to look at some of the lessons learned from one of those viral sensations, Grumpy Cat.

Be Consistent. Everybody knows what to expect with Grumpy Cat, even when the hilarious and awesome owners are taking pictures of Grumpy at Disneyland. Because its so pervasive, when anybody wants to express frustration and just plain grumpiness, Grumpy Cat is one of the first things they turn to.

Now, I'm probably going to have some trouble with this, because I hope to write in multiple genres. However, I am going to try and be consistent wherever I can: in terms of voice, style, etc. You can also be consistent across your various social media platforms. Even consistent scheduling can help. I follow many, many blogs that I read regularly, but for example, I actively wait for and seek out blog posts on Anne R. Allen's blog because I know there will be a fabulous and helpful post waiting for me every Sunday. I know that every Tuesday and Friday I'm going to get a YouTube video from John and Hank Green.

Be Genuine. Grumpy Cat is huge because everyone can immediately understand and sympathize with that fabulous expression. We know exactly what that face means, and have felt it ourselves. People like it when you get real, past the fluffy niceties and superficial pleasantries. We're not Victorian England anymore. We know we're all imperfect and often hilariously fallible and human and we as a culture would most often rather talk about it than gloss over things and pretend there are no issues. In fact, its this sense of humor that is often exactly what's needed to help deal with the issues and problems, even if its just on an emotional level. So be real. We're all here to connect with each other.

Be Shareable. Part of the reason Grumpy Cat succeeds is because its so simple and easy and convenient to spread it. You can quickly find and post a Grumpy Cat picture on Facebook or Twitter or a Blog or Pinterest or anything. People can easily "read" the image, have a good laugh, and quickly move on. That's what the internet is about these days, and though things like long and in depth are still wonderful things in their own right, they're not as easily shareable. People like bullet points and numbered lists and humor and, especially, images. If it takes more than point and click to spread your news, more often than not, people are going to move on rather than expend the effort.

Hopefully these principles can be applied to all types of book marketing. What other marketing lessons do you think we could take from Grumpy Cat?

Sarah Allen

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Top Three Most Memorable Villains

I've talked before about how difficult it is for me to write villains. Every time I try, or even try brainstorming and outlining my "antagonist" character, they always end up Snape-like. As in, more anti-hero than true villain. I want my villains to have a tragic back-story and maybe even a last-second moment of redemption, which just makes me sympathize with them and often find them more interesting than my hero. This has even come up a couple times in college creative writing classes, where I was often told that my characters are too nice and my villains not really villainous.

Today, though, I want to take a look back at the three most successful, effective and memorable villains, at least in my opinion. These are the characters I want to personally keep in mind when I do, in the future, try to write truly despicable characters, or at least more really evil antagonists. So without further ado, here they are. My top three favorite and most memorable villains.

1. Benjamin Linus: Yep, we're back to Ben Linus. You know me, I have to bring him up every once in a while or I start doubting myself. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Benjamin Linus is one of the most well-written and intriguing characters on television, and while the writing itself was quite brilliant, a lot of the credit goes to the paralyzingly genius Michael Emerson. You fellow Losties know what I mean. "So yes, I lied. That's what I do." You heard that in his voice, didn't you? For me, Ben Linus is in that same Incredibly Sympathetic and Heartbreaking category as Snape, but I'm adding him on this list because I know plenty of people who find him truly and thoroughly villainous. And while I think on Lost there were more true "villains" than him, none of them held a candle to the complexity and awesomeness that was, Doctor Benjamin Linus.

2. Moriarty: How amazing is this character? I mean, the character of Sherlock Holmes needed a villain that could match him, and he got that in Moriarty. The version I'm really thinking of is, of course, the aching and slightly mad version played by the incredible Andrew Scott. I love me some quirk, and Scott's Moriarty has that in insane spades. Sherlock: "People have died." Moriarty: "That's what people DO!" Again, it's that genius voice and line delivery. Maybe it's the voice that truly makes the villain. It gets stuck in your head. "I'm *so* changeable!"

3. Wild Bill Wharton: Ok. When I think of truly despicable, awful, truly evil and completely unsympathetically villainous characters, this is the face that comes to my mind. (Either him or Bob Ewell from To Kill a Mockingbird.) In the book he is just as completely evil, but really I think, again, some of the credit is due to the chillingly fabulous and insanely underrated Sam Rockwell. (You've all seen The Way, Way Back, right? Right??) Seriously. Amazing. Pair that genius acting with a character by Stephen King and you've got a match made in...well, Hell. Percy Whetmore, also from The Green Mile, could also deserve a place on a truly despicable villains list like this. Thank you, Stephen King.

These are the first characters that come to my mind when I think genius villain. Mad villain props also have to be given to Dolores Umbridge, more despicable even than Voldemort in my opinion, Darth Vader, and of course, Heath Ledger's Joker. So yeah, I don't do well at villains, but as I try and teach myself, these are the evil masterminds I will try to learn from.

Who are your favorite/most successful/most memorable villains?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dreams and cochlear implants and brains

Last night I had a dream that I had stolen the space shuttle from the Air and Space museum by the Dulles Airport in Virginia and I was trying to use it to fence-hop so I could runaway, only my pilot was a talking golden retriever. There was also something to do with a scientific study going on at an amusement park, where they put everybody in a Tower of Terror type enclosed drop-zone ride and monitored everybody's heart-rates, and everybody was fine except me and my heart rate was something like 550 beats per minute, which I don't think is even possible? Anyway, the doors opened and the medics came in with this stretcher, assuming someone was having some sort of attack, but I was just sitting there totally fine, like, hey, I don't know what's going on with my heart.

Last Sunday was testimony meeting at my church, which, for those of you who don't know, means that members in the congregation all get a chance to go up to the pulpit and take a few minutes to bear testimony about their faith and belief. One girl got up and started off by saying that she hoped she didn't sound to weird, because her cochlear implant was broken and she couldn't hear anything. When she said that I automatically thought 'You are awesome and sweet and I want to be your friend.' I think a lot of people felt that same way. I connected with that girl and automatically felt like she was more genuine. "Ideal" people do not exist in this world, or I think even hypothetically. There is no "ideal" or "perfect" person. (Except Meryl Streep, obviously. Sorry, I almost forgot for a second.) This is why we need well-rounded, complicated and unique characters. No Mary-sues. We're all so beautifully perfect in our incompleteness.

Life is strange and wonderful. Brains are strange and wonderful. And dreams. Isn't it just ungraspably weird how our minds form possibly random and incoherent images and stories while we sleep? Isn't it incredible that technology allows us to take someone who doesn't hear and give them the ability to hear? That must be one of the most intense and incommunicable experiences in the world. There's a story for you.

Sarah Allen
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Monday, November 4, 2013

NaNoWriMo Lessons for Non-NaNoWriMoers

So, I know there are a lot of people doing NaNoWriMo. Lots. But there are also a lot who are not doing it, myself included. Everyone makes their own decisions about doing or not doing it, obviously, personally I just don't feel like I can keep up the pace and want to work on increasing my pace yearlong. However there are very good reasons to participate in NaNoWriMo, and a lot of lessons to take from it, whether you participate or not.

1. Just write. This is the main point of NaNoWriMo, obviously. A person cannot be a writer if they don't write. We have so many editorial voices going on in our heads, so many things taking our time in our day-to-day-lives. In other words, the excuses are ad infinitum. NaNo really makes a point of just getting it done. Just buckle down, sit down, and crank out the words no matter if half of them amount to nothing but horse poop. The cleaning and editing can come later. But you can't edit a blank page.

2. Community is valuable. One of the coolest things about NaNo in my opinion is the sense of community. The participants gather together, psych each other up, inspire each other and assist each other. The NaNo blog has respected and intelligent writers who guest post fantastic and wonderful advice that can be applied way beyond the month of November. I think this sense of community is valuable, and something every writer should participate in and be grateful for all year long. This is one reason I love blogs and Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and Pinterest. They are some of the best places to meet like-minded folk and be inspired.

3. Goals are helpful. Even for those of us not writing the 1,600 or so words per day as part of NaNoWriMo, the concept of setting a daily word count is a very old but very wise and practical piece of advice. That's one of the first things we hear as writers, is to get down a certain number of words a day, but its good to be reminded. And it's this kind of simple goal-making that accomplishes big things.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? 

Sarah Allen

Monday, October 28, 2013

Inspiration for Child Characters

I've had several conversations with my roommate about how difficult it is to write child characters. And it is. However, I think its something many of us come up against in the course of our writing careers. I think when we get down to it, we all know what it feels like to be a kid. It's just that we have several years worth of experience fogging up the accuracy of our memory. Maybe all it takes to get ourselves in the right mindset is the right picture. If a picture is worth a thousand words, maybe one of them will say exactly what we need to hear.

If you're writing a child, now or in the future, maybe one of these pictures can help you strip away all the jaded years and get down to the truly childlike. Maybe one of these pictures will inspire its own story. If nothing else, you'll get a smile.

Anybody writing a child character? Which picture do you think carries the best story? If nothing else, I hope these shots brightened up your Monday as much as they did mine :)

Sarah Allen

Thursday, October 24, 2013

3 Reasons I Love Writing Young Adult Literature

My first novel is an adult novel, about a 40 year old zookeeper named George. It is definitely the story that needed to come out of me first. I was a bit that pretentious and presumptuous high school kid reading Les Miserables on the bus, and actually didn't really come to young adult literature as a genre until I was in college.

I am fixing this. My roommates in college were and are very good sources for great YA lit recommendations, and I've found some new loves. The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, anything by John Green. Such good stuff.

So when the next character in my head was a fourteen year old girl, I was pretty excited. I had a blast writing from her perspective. And not just that I had fun, but I've been doing some thinking, and there are three major reasons why I think I will keep writing YA.

1. Length. This is probably the most superficial of my reasons, but its still a reason. I am naturally a short writer. Quite short. I look with envy on my friends who write too much and have to pare down. I, on the other hand, have to add and add to get to the length and level of story I want. So the shorter length acceptable for YA is a good thing for me.

2. First Person Voice. Not all YA is written in first person, obviously, and not all adult lit has to be written in third. However, often the tone of YA fits with a voice-driven, personable first person. That means that once I had my character in my head, the tone felt smooth and natural. It felt much easier to just listen to her tell the story rather than try and be some omniscient observer without sounding clunky. It's been said that first person is a lazier choice, but I don't care, and I disagree anyway. It was dang fun.

3. The Next Generation. If you really want to impact this world--if you want to influence the people who will be the movers and shakers--you write for teens and kids. Think about what books shaped you as a person, or changed you. I'll bet the first books you thought of were books you read as a kid. Judy Blume, anyone? She was one of mine. Also Sharon Creech, C. S. Lewis, and Beverly Cleary. I think we would all love to be somebody's Judy Blume.

Who knows, the next book I write may not be YA. In fact, the idea cloud in my head is shaping into more adult than YA. However, I think I will always be contemporary (magical realistic a bit?), and will always come back to YA.

Do you write YA? If yes, do you agree? If no, what do you love about your specific genre?

Sarah Allen

Monday, October 21, 2013

Thinking of Social Media as an Artistic Outlet

In my last post I mentioned that author marketing/social media ing can take as little as ten minutes a day. I've made similar statements before, and I'm always a tiny bit surprised by how many commenters say they're not sure that's possible, or aren't sure how to make that work. I want to say a quick something about that and then expand on a related idea.

So, the ten minutes a day social media thing is absolutely possible. Yes, that's probably minimum level and you're not going to write a genius blog post in ten minutes, of course. But think of it this way: keep a spreadsheet of all your social media accounts and the type of thing you want to post each day, topics, ideas, etc. For example, for Twitter I might have 'highlight a fellow bloggers post' on Monday, 'ask a writing question' on Tuesday, 'post a funny cat video' on Wednesday, etc. Something like that for all your social media accounts. Then, on really busy days, you can whip through that spreadsheet and post whatever you can in ten minutes. On days when you have a bit more time you can work on writing blog posts and leaving thoughtful comments, spending more than your base ten minutes.

There's that. Okay. New but related thought. I hear a lot of writers talk about how managing social media stuffs feels like a duty and a chore. It can be, for sure, but I think actually one of the best ways to look at social media is as an additional artistic or creative outlet.

Think of it as creating art for a specific platform, then just publicizing on that platform. Think of the platform set up not as restrictive, but as a tool or place to base your ideas. This means that you use the specific platform to express your artistic self.

One of my favorite examples is from Pinterest. Australian blogger Tiffany Beveridge created a board highlighting the adventures of her "Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter." So hilarious and cute and fun, and I'm sure Tiffany had a blast doing this. Fairly simple and easy, just a fun and uber-creative way Tiffany found to express herself using Pinterest. And now she has a book deal. Same with the Tumblr user who posts Texts from Dog.

I myself am having a fun time experimenting with Tumblr, trying out my own photography comic in somewhat the same vein as A Softer World or Tiny Ghosts, just on Tumblr. It's called A Fountain Troubled (points to anyone who can say where that comes from?). Here's something I posted.

Often I just use pictures I have on my phone and edit them and put them together with Fairly easy and simple and a fun creative outlet. I also have some ideas brainstorming for a Pinterest board idea that I have. And don't even get me started on the possibilities there are with YouTube, although that's probably a whole different more time-intensive thing. My point is, this can be a fun way to be artistic, but not just that, this brings you to the attention of all the people using that site, which is what social media marketing is about, isn't it? Best of both worlds.

The hitch in this way of looking at things, I think, is that some platforms, like Pinterest and Tumblr, lend themselves to this kind of thing much better than others. Even Twitter I think you could do some fun things, but with Facebook and Google+? Those seem more straighforward, and harder to manipulate artistically in that kind of way. Probably not impossible, but harder. And I'm not saying we all have to be artistic geniuses on every platform out there, but this might be a fun way to expand your social media horizons: to pick one social media platform to add to your tool belt and to use as a form of artistic expression in this kind of way. If you have already, or if you create one, please let me know so I can check them out and share them.

Does this make sense? I hope this doesn't scare/intimidate people, that was not my intent. I just think social media can be really fun if we look at it this way. Because we're artists after all, right?

What are some of your ideas that you'd be willing to share? What are some ways we could use sites like Pinterest and Tumblr and Twitter as artistic outlets, and can you think of any good examples?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Three Things a Writer Should Do Every Day

So, my mind works best when I divide things up into smaller chunks. My brain likes categories and lists. I think probably most people function best that way. Basically, I've sort of done that with building a career as a modern-day writer.

I'm pretty sure I've talked about this before, but it definitely bears repeating because I honestly believe that by following these three categories both simplifies things and streamlines our efforts, but also is the most efficient way to work towards success. This is obviously from my very limited and inexperienced perspective, so if those with more wisdom out there have things to add, I definitely want to hear them. This is the way my mind has categorized things, but if there's more to be done on this writing journey, I want to do it.

Anyway. Without further ado, here are the three categories I think we writers should be working at every day. And don't stress, because two of these can generally be done in like fifteen minutes a day.

1. Writing. First and most important, obviously. Writers write. I'm still working on building up to the pace I really want to be at. This is simple and straightforward, but the major key. And I guess what I want to say about this is that it doesn't necessarily have to be working on your big novel. Those big projects are probably the most important, yes, but in the between or down times work on short stories or essays or song lyrics or a movie script or a one act play or video poem for YouTube or a web comic. Just keep writing and creating.

2. Submitting and Querying. Really all we're doing as writers is creating as high quality as product as we can, and then doing our best to put it where people will see it. The major things in this category are submitting to agents and publishers, I think. But we do a disservice when we limit ourselves to that, I think. Submit your short stories and poems to magazines, your essays to journals, your web comics and one act plays to competitions. The internet is a vast resource for all kinds of opportunities. And for you self-publishers out there: submit to book review blogs and journalists and self-publishing competitions and other media outlets. Just one or two submissions a day could really pay off.

3. Marketing and Networking. Now for many writers this is the scary side of being a modern-day author, but it totally doesn't have to be. This really can take just ten minutes a day, up to however much effort you want to put into it. In some ways this overlaps with submitting: network with reviewers and journalists and media sources. Also take advantage of social media in whatever way works best for you. Take ten minutes a day updating that and sending press packages wherever you think you can do some good. You never know what could come of it.

There you have it. And this is as much a reminder for me as anyone. I need to get back to doing better at this. But thinking of it this way might help simplify things and help us all know where to put our biggest efforts. Here's to big success for all of us!

Sarah Allen
[Image source]

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dealing with Writerly Weaknesses

I've been thinking quite a bit about weakness lately.

We all have things that are naturally harder for us than other things, but sometimes serious weaknesses show up like a brick wall in the middle of the road. Like, very real handicaps and disabilities. That's not something we talk about very much, but I'm pretty sure basically everyone is directly affected in one way or another.

So I know this is a writing blog, and I realize I've been slow and relatively personal lately, and I hope that's okay. It's interesting, I feel like the past several weeks have been sort of the culmination of everything that has happened to me since I graduated college; been the real ringer. And that's actually a good thing, because I'm beginning to sense solid ground in a way I haven't since I graduated college, which includes a very solid look at my own weak areas. But again, good thing, because a person must have both solid ground and as solid a concept of themselves as possible to move forward as successfully and effectively as possible. I'm hoping that's what's been happening these last couple years, and these last several weeks particularly.

Anyway. Writing blog. So how does all this make a difference for us writers, is the question. In the general sense, moving forward with a solid grasp of ourselves and solid ground under our feet means our writing life. But I think we can make it more specific. Within the act of writing itself, we all have weaknesses. Mine is plot. I play with characters and scenarios for months before I get anywhere close to a story that can carry a novel. Maybe someone has the opposite weakness, where they constantly think of incredibly exciting stories, but have a hard time fleshing out the characters. Or maybe your weakness is setting, or dialog, or whatever. How do we deal with that?

Practice. One philosophy is to just practice until you get stronger. As pianists do scales, as ball players shoot hoops, so should we writers practice and practice until our weaknesses no longer hold us back. Find an example of someone who does what you're trying to do extremely well and learn from them.

Focus on your strengths. Maybe the weak spots don't matter. Shaq succeeded in the NBA without being able to shoot free throws worth anything. Didn't matter, because he was valuable for other reasons. Maybe sometimes I'll work and work until I get an exciting plot, maybe sometimes I'll just let the characters lead the story slowly forward and see what happens.

Use your weaknesses. Sometimes we just need to step back and stop thinking of our weaknesses as weaknesses. Nobody has exactly our talent and ideas and perspective, weaknesses, strengths, and all. We are uniquely situated to give the world exactly what only we can give. I'm realizing lately that I'm just not able to do certain things. I'm just not. So I'm going to try and not beat myself up about it and instead focus on the fact that because I'm not doing these certain things, I can do other things which means different things will happen and work out and be wonderful anyway. Sorry, that's kind of abstract, but I guess I just mean that we are as we are and placed where we're placed for a reason. Don't wait to be someone else before you start giving the world whatever it is you can give.

Anyway, to be honest, there may be a little bit longer of slow pace and reflective type posts. I also know I've said that full speed is coming for what feels like a long time now, but I'm pretty certain I mean it this time. Just a few more things to get sorted out and then I'm hoping I'll be/feel more stable than I ever have, and more able to really DO THIS THING. In spite of, and because of, my weaknesses.

Sarah Allen

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Really Great Place for Getting Ideas

Okay. So. Life. It's a crazy, crazy thing, and I miss blogging more frequently. But things are going up and up, and should be calming down in the next few weeks.

For now I want to show you guys this amazing thing I found. Its like, seriously amazing. I think some people naturally have ideas floating around all the time while others (me) take a while of struggling to develop the inklings and flashes. So there's this website that basically just plays random movie trailers non-stop. Obviously I found it when trying to pick a movie to watch, which I am also terrible at, but after a while of clicking through trailers I thought, this is actually really creatively inspiring, and could be a fantastic way to do some idea gathering/brainstorming.

So here it is.

And also, here is a song that is just awesome.

Have a good one everybody!

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Don't Do This Writing Life All On Your Own

I feel like I'm about to sound like a children's show host, but here goes. I've learned a very important lesson lately about asking for help.

Things are just hard sometimes, in and outside of our writing lives. (Whether these two lives are actually separate things or not is arguable, but that's another post.) The thing is, I really think these hard times show us exactly why there are other people on this earth--to help and be helped. There's no reason for anyone to face hard things on their own, especially when a little help from someone else will make a big difference. People say writing is a solitary endeavor, and in many ways it is, but really I think the barriers to success shrink in direct proportion to our willingness to ask other people for help.

Let fellow writers sympathize creatively. Yeah its up to you to put words on the page, but there are so many out there who relate to how hard that can be. They know the struggle, and can sympathize. They may even be able to give you tips and life-alteringly great advice.

Let businessy people help you with businessy things. My poor dad...if he got paid as my marketing consultant/legal adviser/financial analyst/therapist he would be a rich man. The business side of writing has so many twists and turns. Get advice from the people around you who know more than you do about these things. As writers we can use and apply advice from lawyers, marketers, agents, psychologists, all types of people.

Let smart readers read for you. I recently swallowed my pride enough to ask one of my bloggy mates to read my query for me. I also asked one of my former professors to read my novel. Not easy for me to do, but can I just tell you how much of a difference they made? A BIG DIFFERENCE. These are some smart, incredibly generous people and now my query shines like Patrick Stewart's head. SO MUCH BETTER than it was before.

Let people help you in messy life stuffs. Sometimes you just need to hire a babysitter or a house cleaning service or lawn care service or whatever, so you can get writing stuff done. Let people help you take care of those things that are getting in the way.

In other words, look at what's overwhelming you and figure out how some help can lighten the load. I'm learning to not be ashamed of this. Because we all go through phases. It's like leap-frog: sometimes we're giving people the boost, sometimes we need the boost ourselves. There's absolutely room enough for all of us to have success, and we'll get there so much faster and better by helping each other out. Let people do that for you. Maybe right now you (I) need peoples help quite a lot, but that means that once I've got my feet on solid ground I can turn around and pull someone else up with me.

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My biggest talent is being excited about things.

With the crazy first couple weeks of school behind me, I've come to realize something about myself. Many somethings, really, but in particular I've been realizing how very unremarkable I am. I don't mean this in a whiny way, I mean this in a look-how-much-I-still-have-to-learn kind of way.

My college friends are so much better at editing and analyzing things than I am. When we watch movies or talk about books I feel that I am often taking their ideas and interests as my own. I don't know much of anything about business or government or things like that.

There is one thing I am really good at. I am good at getting excited about things. I bought all eleven seasons of Frasier as a college freshman and watched them in one semester. I tried to explain it and show it to my roommates, but it wasn't their thing. Instead they introduced me to the incredible world of Star Trek and Doctor Who and Sherlock (OH MY WORD SHERLOCK). Lately, it's been the Marvel world and the beauty that is Tom Hiddleston.

From what I'm seeing, I think it's becoming more acceptable to be inordinately excited about things, maybe thanks to things like YouTube and Tumblr. There's a whole dialect springing up around the feeling you get when something is so there and so important and magical and beautiful and makes you feel like your whole insides are boiling so they're going to crack your ribs apart (BENEDICT'S CHEEKBONES WHAT IS AIR).

To be honest here, that feeling is one of the biggest proofs to me that there is something more than this world. Like our good friend C.S. Lewis said, "If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world." I think when we feel like we're going to explode of THIS THINGNESS maybe we're getting a glimpse into the bigness that's really out there, the bigness we're made for and are meant to experience one day.

If you're thinking, is she really using Benedict Cumberbatch's cheeks as evidence of God's existence? Uh...yes, yes I am, a little bit. Also Meryl Streep and Colin Firth's smile and the Bellagio fountains and Stephen Sondheim and Wallace Stegner and Vincent Van Gogh and Pixar and the white chocolate macadamia nut cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory and Fantasmic at Disneyland and Mia Michael's choreography and the Eiffel Tower and the cavalier king Charles spaniel and lightning storms and long, hard kisses and this song.

I wish I had more of the analytical, explaining talent. Then I could maybe really communicate to people this feeling, or even explain it better to myself. I know we all experience this kind of thing from time to time, and I'm glad. I think it's one of those things that truly connect us as souls, that truly gives us friendship. But I'm still working on being a good teacher and explainer and analyzer of all these things, rather than just a student and sponge of awesomeness. We're all just doing our best to add to the awesome, right?

Maybe you don't see this feeling as spiritually or important as I do, and that's okay. But it's like the TARDIS says. We humans, we're bigger on the inside.

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Idea Brainstorming with the Pyramid of Abstraction

Some days we have ideas buzzing around in our mind--too many to even remotely keep track of. Other days our brain feels like a dry sponge and we can't get anything out of it no matter how hard we try. Here's a little something that might help.

Okay. So here we have the Pyramid of Abstraction. This represents the structure our writing should take. On the bottom, at the base, we have a solid foundation of the most concrete, specific details we can possibly get. That is where the rubber meets the road. That is where our readers relate to what we are saying, and how they understand. We can talk about abstract ideas and themes but we need to build on this concrete foundation first if we want to be understood, before we can get to--wait for it--the point. (Anyone? Anyone?)

Anyway. So this is not really new, right? We all know a solid foundation of full and rich detail is what makes a good piece of writing. Our readers need to be pulled in to our world in order to really relate to and understand our larger, more abstract ideas. But we can take this principle and flip it on its head and use it as a fantastic brainstorming device.

Let's do an example. Let's pick some abstract concept or word. How about 'Beauty.' Pretty abstract right? Okay, let's get a little more specific. How about 'Angelic.' That's better. So what's angelic? How about we take it literally and talk about a statue of an angel. In a garden in a manor house in Spain. It's being transferred over from the workshop of the sculptor, a middle aged man whose wife just left him. His son is a sculptor too is in school in the States and is about to come home for Christmas break.

See what we did there? We took an abstract concept and flipped it into a story. What if we'd picked a different word for beauty. How about 'Graceful.' So then we've got a ballerina. She's from Kentucky but has worked for a lead ballerina role her whole life. Her mom was a prima ballerina and she has always felt like she's in that shadow. Now she's about to have the audition of her life, but one of the other girls auditioning is the daughter of the director.

Totally different story from the same word, 'Beauty.' It can work with any abstract idea: anger, happiness, sadness, shame. Try it out next time you're stuck. See what you can come up with.

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Music and Lyrics

Hey guys. Quick update. I'm not dead or in an emotional coma yet. Which is good. (My roommate and I may or may not have gone through almost two seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but that's a different thing. Maybe). Anyway. School has officially started, and we've made it through the killer first two weeks of a move. And I think it's going much better than expected. I'll be honest, I've felt too weird and frazzled and delicate and nervous and excited and confused and more weird lately to be in the right place for normal blogging/social media life. I've barely made progress on editing, and that's really sad, although I'm pretty darn close to submission ready for novel two. Which I guess I haven't told you guys the title of yet, have I? Point is, I'm still here, and hopefully a rhythm will get in place very soon and we'll be off to the races faster and better than ever.

Blech. Boring update over. For today, here's a cool thing to try.

Take a song. One with lyrics you could submit as poetry, and a beautiful melody. Play it and close your eyes and find the character who is telling you these things, the person in this story. But the thing is, pay attention to what is being said over and above the actual words. What is the emotion, the music, telling you?

Here's the song I used in my class.

One student said she thought of a mother and daughter after an argument. Genius, right? And totally separate from the actual lyrics. Its the story she heard in the music.

Now try it with a song with no words.

I think the best writing is like this Rachmoninoff piece. What it says most powerfully, it says without words. What songs would you try with this?

Keep on!

Sarah Allen

Monday, August 26, 2013

Read Like a Teacher

One of the most ubiquitous pieces of writing advice we get is to read, read, read. It makes sense, right? We need to expose ourselves to what's out there, learn from the masters of the medium we want to work in. In fact, we are often told to "Read like a writer." That sounds all well and good, but if you're like me than you wonder what that means exactly. How does one read like a writer?

Well, as I've been preparing for the beginning of the school year, I've come up with somewhat of an answer to that question. I believe that to read like a writer, the best way is to read a piece of literature as if you were going to teach it.

Imagine that you were going to teach the book you're reading right now. When I think of it that way, as I have been the last couple weeks, it makes subtle changes to what I notice and pay attention to as I read. I'm focusing on plot arc and sentence construction and character development and theme. Things I can discuss with my class. Tools of our writers trade and areas in which we need to be continually improving. It's like being a watchmaker and paying attention to the mechanics of your watch rather than just what time it's telling you.

Reading like a teacher can inform your reading selection as well. I've kind of found three areas where I'm expanding my reading as I prepare to teach. First, I'm doing a lot more research type reading, online and otherwise. Secondly, the Norton Anthologies I used in college have become a bedside staple. Reading and studying (again) all these poems and stories from centuries ago has been so cool. I think its important for writers to explore and familiarize themselves with the beginnings of our language.

I'm also going back and reading classics I read in high school. I had a really unique and spectacular high school experience where we read a huge number of incredible books and I just devoured all of them. It is in large part thanks to my high school English teacher that I want to write. Anyway, since then, though I loved all the books we read and still have them on my shelves, I've mostly subscribed to the Stephen King philosophy of reading, meaning life is too short too reread. But now, partly because I want to see if I could teach any of these books, and partly just because its time, I'm starting to go through some of them again. Right now I'm on Their Eyes Were Watching God.

So anyway. All this is not to discount the pure joy of simply getting lost in a book, and there is definitely value in that as well. But when you want to read a book as a writer, as someone looking for technique and wordsmithing tools, it might help you to read like a teacher.

What book would you personally want to read like a teacher, for analysis and technique?

Sarah Allen

Monday, August 12, 2013

6 Things I Learned Working at Barnes and Noble

Whew. Okay. So I'm in the beginning stages of getting settled in Vegas. I start teacher training today, and I'm terrified and excited.

One thing I left when I left D.C. was a job at Barnes and Noble, and the incredible, hilarious and kind people I worked with there. I learned a ton while working there, and I thought I'd share some of those things that might be useful and applicable to us as we work towards furthering our writing careers.

1. Who goes to brick and mortar stores: The trends I noticed at the store were very interesting. I definitely noticed that three groups of people tended to visit the store more than any other. I almost always worked in the morning and early afternoon, so evening trends may be a little different. But the group I noticed most often were mothers with young children. This may have had more to do with our Lego and train table than anything else, but there you have it. I also noticed quite a few older people. I think the older generations are still simply more comfortable with paper books over electronic devices, and I don't necessarily think they're wrong. The other group I noticed were career professionals: nurses, artists, or businessmen looking for applicable books.

2. Two different types of promotion: There are basically two different types of promotions that Barnes and Noble stores do. The first is top down, nation-wide promotions of bestsellers, holiday promotions, stuff like that. The second type is set by the individual store and determined by local store management. Basically this means that it is possible to work with local management to get your books put in better spots, if the local management likes you and your book. Sometimes. Possible. It's worth looking in to, for sure.

3. You want booksellers to like you: This is a duh point, but I didn't quite realize how important this was until I was a bookseller myself. There are a few times when the booksellers are making decisions: picking this book or this book to send back, organizing shelves and picking which books to face out, answering customers requests for recommendations. All this means that if a bookseller likes you, or is even familiar with you a little, it is to your advantage. So whenever you go places find the local bookstore, drop in and say hi and offer to sign a few copies of your book. It was always fun when that happened, and besides, autographed copies can't be sent back to the publisher.

4. People shop differently for fiction versus non-fiction: What I found, and this is obviously a generality and not a hard and fast rule, is that people looking for non-fiction tend to have a specific book or author in mind. If not that, then at least a very specific topic. On the other hand, while people definitely were looking for specific novels, there were a lot more browsers in the fiction section, people just looking for books to jump into their hands. This is useful in terms of marketing, although I think taking aspects from both types of shopper is the best idea.

5. Media attention works: There is not much to say about this, accept that almost every day I had someone (usually an older person) come up to me with a folded newspaper, point to a review and say, "Where can I find this book?" So basically, take advantage of whatever media opportunities you can find, national, local and everything in between.

6. Books as gifts: Something I noticed that I didn't necessarily expect was this: People seem much more comfortable and willing to buy books as gifts for friends and family than they do buying books for themselves. Especially nice editions, hardcovers, etc. I definitely plan to find ways to work this in to my future promotional efforts.

There you have it. Those are some of the things I learned as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble. I'm very, very grateful to the team at the Falls Church Seven Corners store for letting me part of their team. Hopefully some of these tidbits can help you as you think about your marketing and such.

Keep writing!

Sarah Allen

Monday, August 5, 2013

5 Great Quote Posters About Writing

These are good enough for an office wall, and good enough to share:

We got this! Keep writing!

Sarah Allen

Thursday, August 1, 2013

5 Ways Writing is good for Children (By an 8 year old)

Hi. I'm Sarah's youngest sister. I wanna be a writer when I grow up. Here are five ways I think writing is good for children.

1. Writing helps kids learn more words. They have to discover more words to say what they mean.

2. Starting young gives you more time to improve. If you start young and write your whole life, you will have had practice and will be better when your older.

3. It stretches their imagination. It gives their imagination more practice.

4. Writing is a good activity for kids to do when they're bored. It's good for their education and they can do it anytime. And it's better than a video game.

5. When kids share their ideas with their friends, it makes everyone happy. When other people find out someone's ideas, it makes them excited. 

Kids, I encourage you to write :)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Answers from a Book Reviewer: Interview with Lori Hettler

Hey guys! One thing that is incredibly important to us writers is getting reviews. Positive reviews, hopefully, but reviews. So today I thought I'd take the opportunity to ask one of the fabulous book bloggers around the interwebz a few questions about how to get buzz for our books, and making it good buzz.

So please give a warm welcome to the wonderful Lori Hettler.

1. First things first. What kind of books do you review and how does a writer get you to review theirs?

I prefer to read and review small press literature. The edgier, the better. I can’t seem to get enough of it. And it doesn’t help that there’s never enough time to read it all, either. It’s absolute torture.

Even still, I’ve been known to accept genre literature and self published novels for review if they are pitched well and catch my interest. A well pitched book will definitely get my attention. I’m more likely to take a chance on a book I wouldn’t have normally read if the author personalizes the pitch, something as simple as naming books I’ve reviewed that are similar to theirs in style or theme. It also helps to have links to the book, access to an excerpt… and I’m a bit of a goodreads snob. If the book isn’t listed on goodreads, I tend to turn it away or recommend that the author add it there.

2. What can a writer do to make themselves and their book stand out to you and to your readers?

Well, as I mentioned, a strong, personalized pitch certainly makes a book stand out.

If the author comes highly recommended from other authors I’ve read, that’ll definitely get me to look at it. The small press publishing world is so interconnected, and they’re passionate about each others books. They are incredibly supportive of each other, and I eat that shit up. If I read you and loved your book, and you recommend me to an author you’ve read and loved, I’m all over that.

But wait, I’m not sure that answers your question, does it, cause in that case, the writer is not the one pitching his book to me… Hmmm…

Other things that help a book stand out? A great cover. Nothing makes me cringe more than a crappy cover. And a well edited book, that’s a huge win in my eyes. If I’m reading your book, and catching grammatical errors, I’m eye-rolling myself through it. I’m no grammar expert, so if I’m noticing, it’s got to be baaaaad.

Making the book stand out to my readers would really fall on me… right? The way I review what I’ve read can influence my readers to either take a chance on it or run away from it. And I always keep my readers in mind when I review a book. I use a rating scale that rates a book by what I think others would like, not so much what I like. In the rating, I recommend the books to fans of XXXXX or people looking for XXXXX. I think that helps them make the decision for themselves, rather than me making it for them, you know?

3. Describe a writer who is the easiest possible person to work with.

You mean without naming names, right? Like, listing their personality traits? I love authors who don’t let my feelings about their book get in the way of our interaction with each other. Authors who don’t check in on whether or not I’ve read their book 20 times. Authors who jump at every opportunity to whip something up for my blog because they like the challenge and find my silly ideas fun and interesting. Basically, someone who’s not just a book-puppet, but an actual human being with an actual personality who can separate themselves from their writing and just be.

4. What is the difference between a book that gets a positive review and a book that sends you out into the streets screaming “You all must read this book!!!”

The difference between “This book was really good” versus “Oh my god, I would marry this book immediately if marrying inanimate objects were legal!”? That’s a tough one. I don’t know if I could describe the difference. It’s really just something I feel, something visceral. If I just instantly start crushing on the book and its author… it’s a run out into the streets screaming kind of book, or if I’m gulping it down in one sitting while freaking out because reading it fast means it’ll be over faster vs. meandering through it and enjoying it but not really concerning myself with the pace of it.

5. Any type of review is inherently subjective. Our moods change. What happens when you have to review when you’re just having a crappy day? Is there a way for authors to keep this from happening? Send you chocolate, maybe?

Ha! Bribe me with chocolate, boys! (Just kidding)

I used to review books immediately upon reading them. I felt I was able to channel my emotions and initial thoughts more clearly that way. My mood, bad or otherwise, at that point, was always based on my feelings towards the book and would dictate the tone of the review and I never felt apologetic for it.

Now, books linger weeks and sometimes months after I’ve read them before I attempt to review (mainly due to lack of time, not for any real conscious reason). I’m not as happy with my reviews this way, because I believe distance taints my views on them, and also makes them come off a bit more bland, but it is what it is.

If I’m in a bad mood, and it has nothing to do with the book, just a crap hand I was dealt that day? Well, in that case, I wouldn’t be in the mood to review, so there would be no worries about my non-book-related mood infiltrating the review.

And sadly, to date, when a bad mood strikes, no amount of chocolate or anything else for that matter, helps to move me through it. Unless I’m reading a kick-ass book. A great book is the cure for any and all bad moods!!
Lori Hettler is the founder and moderator of TNBBC. Her passion for supporting the small press and self publishing communities began when she birthed The Next Best Book Club on Goodreads back in 2007, a group which now boasts an unbelievable 11,500 members who are collectively, endlessly, searching for the next best book! She also puts her lit-loving heart to work for Chicago Center of Literature and Photography (CCLaP) as their Marketing Director. When she’s not curled up on the couch with a good book, you can find Lori on TwitterGoodreads, and Facebook.
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