Thursday, April 24, 2014

7 Tips for Writing Book Club Fiction

When Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees was released in 2002, it met with encouraging yet modest sales. It was only after book clubs started discovering it and recommending it word-of-mouth, over the course of the following year, that it accumulated the kind of readership that would push it onto the New York Times bestseller list, where it stayed for two-and-a-half years.

The book club craze isn’t over—in fact, it’s in a boom. The New York Times recently estimated that five million Americans belong to book clubs. Publishers understand the boon that the book club movement represents, and will often give books designed to meet this market additional support at the publisher’s website. These titles often have staying power. I just heard of a club reading The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, which also came out in 2002. For the math-impaired, that’s twelve years ago. Especially with book club fiction, a title need not be out three months then die a quiet death as so many cynics attest.

This post is for authors who might like a piece of that action.

Book club members get creative about reading!
This one recreated Penelope Sparrow's fall onto
the baker's car in The Art of Falling

As someone who has led four different book clubs, participated in many more, and authored a novel marketed as book club fiction, I have some considerations you might want to take into account.

1. Join a book club. Not every book makes a great book club pick, and your club’s trial-and-error will give you a handle on that. Meanwhile you’ll learn to appreciate getting to know people through books, gain ease in entertaining differing opinions, and get a handle on what drives a great discussion.

2. Write about an issue that matters deeply to you. I remember one club that chose to read an early Lisa Scottoline mystery. By the time the club met we could recall not one of the character names. Our discussion lasted three minutes—a quick, “when did you figure out the murderer?— before we moved to food and wine. Compare that to another mystery, Elizabeth George’s Deception on His Mind, which incorporates themes of immigration (Pakistanis in England), arranged marriage, and necessary secrecy. George's passion for these issues gives clubs a lot to talk about.

3. Orchestrate your character set around that issue. While my debut, The Art of Falling, is a widely relatable tale about a woman seeking her authentic creative contribution in the world, it does so through the lens of what we can and can’t change about the talents, dispositions, and bodies we were born with. The many ways my characters relate to their bodies and to food pave the way for revelatory discussion.

4. Don’t spoon-feed the reader. Give clues about character motivation and let your readers figure it out. One of the surprises for book clubs when I talk to them is how often I’ll answer a question with, “Maybe she just didn’t know that…” They laugh and say, “You’re the author. Don’t you know?” Heck—I don’t know my own motivation at times! One of the great joys of art is interpretation. Don’t rob your readers of this opportunity to enter into and own your story.

5. Don’t tie up all the loose threads in your ending. A favorite book club question is, “Where do you see these characters another five years down the road?” If you’ve included an epilogue that told them, you’ve taken away another chance for them to co-create your story. Instead, think of your ending as a way to create emotional resonance while addressing the main story question.

Here a book club member created a display
about the fastnachts featured in The Art of Falling

6. Add discussion questions. If your publisher doesn’t plan to put the questions in the back of the book, there’s no reason you can’t put them on your website. My publisher has a book club site that includes a downloadable discussion guide, recipes, and food and drink pairings. You could do this too.

7. Devote a page at your author site to book club interaction. This shows that you are devoted to your book club readers. Here’s mine. Depending on your book, yours could include bonus discussion questions, a video, recipes, maps, photos, or related articles and facts. Book clubs often like to add a creative flair to their treatment of your book, so why not encourage it by asking them to send photos? Invite book clubs to interact with you and give a contact link so you can set up in-person or Skype visits. If you can find out the members’ names in advance, you can mail the organizer personalized and signed custom bookplates as a lovely and much appreciated way to thank them for choosing your book.

Book clubs are comprised of avid readers who recommend their favorites to other clubs. Don’t overlook this important market.

Have you met with book clubs, or been in a book club chat with a guest author? What was your favorite part of that interaction?

Click here to read more about the difference between book club fiction, women's fiction, and literary fiction.

Kathryn Craft
is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service, and the author of The Art of Falling, a novel by Sourcebooks. Her monthly series, "Turning Whine into Gold," appears at Writers in the Storm. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Grave Matters

Contemplating my mortality and being obsessively organized, I have given considerable thought to what happens when I die. Having dealt with our parents’ deaths has reinforced the need to think about the logistics of dismantling the detritus of a lifetime.

There are special matters that must be addressed upon a writer’s death.

If you are a traditionally published writer, you have a contract with a publisher and an agent. In the digital age and with self-publishing, the list is a little longer.

1) How will your outstanding royalties be paid?

Are they paid into a business account or a personal account? Will that account be closed? If the payments are direct deposited, the executor of your will must change the bank account information for payments. If the account belongs to a corporation that will remain intact, the payments can continue as is.

2) Who will you give access?

If you self-publish, make certain you leave instructions as well as your sign-on and passwords for Kindle, Create Space, Kobo, Smashwords, etc. with a copy of your will. Your executor needs to access your accounts to follow through with your wishes. If you are unwell but not deceased, who holds the power of attorney to conduct your business for you?

3) Who controls your royalties and copyrights?

If you have a contract with a publisher and agent, do your royalties and contract end with your life or will they be paid for as long as your book remains in print? Do the copyrights transfer to your designated beneficiary? If you own copyrights to your self-published works, can you will them to your estate or a beneficiary?

4) Will your books remain for sale?

If you self-published, will your books be taken off the market or will someone continue to manage them? Have a talk with your designated beneficiary. Do they want to continue to deal with it? Kindle, Create Space, etc. will continue to issue 1099s at tax time and the beneficiary must claim the amounts as income. We may be talking peanuts or, if you are lucky, a decent amount of money. Do they want to be responsible for claiming the income? Are they capable of learning the ins and outs of how to manage the books on the various platforms? They have to keep up to date on the status of those sites.

5) What if you have books in the pipeline?

Will they be published? Will your agent and editor continue to work with your “estate” or your heir? Will your designated beneficiary desire to finish the project and upload it to the self-publishing entities?

6) What happens to your business entity?

Did you form a Limited Liability Corporation or sole proprietorship? If so, the LLC needs to be dissolved or transferred to a new owner. Forms need to be filed with the appropriate documentation. Taxes have to be paid. It will help greatly if you have all of the necessary documentation printed, prepared, and ready for the eventuality, especially if your beneficiary lives in another state.

7) Are your records easily available?

If your record-keeping has been slipshod, you need to tighten it up. Make sure you leave explicit instructions and make important papers easy to find. You might know how to take care of these matters, but your spouse or other beneficiary may not.

8) What happens to your copies?

If you have stacks of your own books lying around, what do you want your beneficiary to do with them? If you have specific wishes, make them known. Do you want them to be sold, donated, or sent to special people? Is your address book up to date?

9) Who will have Power of Attorney?

Who do you trust to make certain your literary legacy is handled properly? As much as you may love those near and dear, they may not be up to the task. Choose wisely.

10) Do you have it in writing?

In addition to making your wishes known, you must make them legal. Draw up a will. Consult an intellectual property lawyer if necessary.

By providing in-depth information and instructions, you lighten the burden for those you leave behind. In the digital age, your literary legacy can continue to make an impact long after you are gone. It is important to make provisions for the care and keeping of your “book babies.”

Other articles on this topic:

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How Do You Know When You Need to Revise?

I follow the “social media maven” Kristen Lamb’s blog. She is a zany, savvy writer and social media marketer. Here are excerpts from a recent blog post “Five Warning Signs Your Story Needs Revision.” I ditto her remark, “To maybe make you guys feel better, I’ve written well over a million words in blogs and articles alone. I’ve also written three books, two novels and scads of short stories. As much as I have written—and EDITED—even I have to seek outside editors to look for these issues.”

Photo by Andrea De Stefani
via Free Images
Kristen’s warning flags:

1. If Your Novel has More Characters than the Star Wars Prequels, You Might Need Revision. Whenever the author takes the time to name a character, that is a subtle clue to the reader that this is a major character and we need to pay attention. Think Hollywood and movies (good ones, NOT the SW prequels). If the credits roll and there is a named character in the credits, then we can rest assured this character had a speaking part….Only name them if you plan on getting us attached.

2. If Your Novel Dumps the Reader Right into Major Action, You Might Need Revision.
Lola leaned out over the yawning chasm below, and yelled to Fabio. She needed her twist-ties and lucky purple rabbit’s foot if she ever was going to defuse the bomb in time. Sweat ran into her eyes as she reached out for Malfio’s hand. They only had minutes before Juliette would be back and then it would all be over for Katy, Skipper and Mitzi. 

Okay, I just smashed two into one. Your first question might be, Who the hell are these people? And likely your second question is Why do I care?
(Heidi's Note: Now I've been taught it's good to start with action, but I think the rule "moderation in all things" might apply here.)

3. Painful and Alien Movement of Body Parts? Time for Revision
Her eyes flew to the other end of the restaurant.  
His head followed her across the room.

All I have to say is… “Ouch.” Make sure your character keeps all body parts attached. Her gaze can follow a person and so can her stare, but if her eyes follow…the carpet gets them fuzzy with dust bunnies and then they don’t slide back in her sockets as easily.

4. Too much Physiology? Time for Revision 
Her heart pounded. Her heart hammered. Her pulse beat in her head. Her breath came in choking sobs.

After a page of this? I need a nap. After two pages? I need a drink. We can only take so much heart pounding, thrumming, hammering before we just get worn out. That and I read a lot of entries where the character has her heart hammering so much, I am waiting for her to slip into cardiac arrest at any moment. Ease up on the physiology. Less is often more. Get a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus.

5. Too Many Evil Adverbs? REVISE!
Most of the time, adverbs are a no-no. Find a stronger verb instead of dressing up a weaker choice.
She stood quickly from her chair.
Stronger: She bolted from her chair.
Also be careful of redundant adverbs. She whispered quietly… Um, duh. The verb whisper already tells me the volume level. She can, however, whisper conspiratorially. Why? Because the adverb isn’t denoting something inherent in the verb. To whisper, by definition is to be quiet BUT not necessarily to conspire. The adverb conspiratorially indicates a certain quality to the whisper.

Read the rest of this excellent post at Kristen Lamb’s Blog. You can also connect with Kristen Lamb on Facebook, on Twitter @KristenLambTX and #MYWANA

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, will be published in May 2014. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Remembering Your Reader During the Editing Process

While editing, yes, be the "editor," but also be the "reader." What do you, as reader, think of the story?

When I teach Writing for the Media, I talk a lot about audience. It's the first thing we talk about at the start of the semester, and as we move through our writing projects - traditional news stories, features, radio and TV commercial scripts, and mini advertising and public relations campaigns - I sprinkle audience across each project. From the pre-writing, research, legwork phases of their projects to the revising and editing, the students keep their focus on audience. Like I tell my students, we live in a fast-paced, technological society, and readers can go to any number of outlets - offline and online - to receive information. What are you going to do to make sure readers are reading you? If the students aren't focused on their readers, those readers will definitely not be focused on them.

Image by marin from

Fiction writers are no different. We have to think about our audience, too. We might start out writing the story that only we can tell, writing the story that matters to us, but ultimately, consideration of our readers should come into play. The best place for that to occur is in the editing phases. I mean, let's be honest. It's hard enough fighting with the voices in our own head during the writing of a novel. The fewer voices involved in the actual writing process, not including those lovely characters, the better.

Writers often think about the audience after a story is written, and many of them focus on the audience when developing their marketing and public relations plans for the story. This is important because in the developing of a plan, writers are defining their audience and researching where this audience congregates - offline and online - so that they can reach them.

We should, however, be thinking about our readers beyond being able to pitch a book to them. A great marketing plan will do nothing for a book that doesn't consider the reader's needs in actually enjoying the book.

We spend months, maybe even years as the writer, crafting the story.

We move into our role as self-editor to revise and clean up the story. We further develop the story's content, making sure all elements of the story are sound. We comb through the story to make sure grammar and mechanics and structure are clean and consistent throughout the story.

Once we have that copy we believe sings off the page, it's a good idea to now become the reader.

You, the writer, love the story. You, as self-editor, think the story works. But what does the reader think? Who would read this story? What would they need to know about your characters, about the setting, about background information, etc. for the story to sing off the page to them?

The story we love as writer and self-editor might become, when in our role as reader, a story that could be even better with exposition trimming and scene development.

How often do you think of the reader during your editing process?

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website, and you can get information about her editorial services and online programs at CLG Entertainment.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What Is Your Story?

An Excerpt from The Life Organizer by Jennifer Louden

You observe the world in your own way, a way formed by your biology, life experiences, education, culture, spiritual beliefs, and many other influences. That’s a common enough idea — you observe the world through a lens fashioned from all these facets of you. Yet consider: to observe is to interpret. You literally cannot experience reality as it is, just like you can never see yourself without a mirror. You live in a world first filtered through your brain’s system of sorting, editing, and ordering information and then shaped by your observations. It is a narrative system — information comes in, and your brain sorts it into a story, which is a good thing, since 400 billion bits of information are received by your brain every second. Without this narrative-making brain, you would soon be insane. Creating narratives is how you make sense of things. Everything you experience is the product of this storytelling process; without really knowing it, you become the shape of your stories. You look at a person, and you see your story of him and whatever meaning you assign him. You start a business, and it fails, and you create a story out of those events. “We do not see how things are; we see them according to how we are,” writes Australian coach Alan Sieler in Coaching and the Human Soul.

We can create tremendous pain in our lives, our communities, our corporations, and our world by confusing story with fact, interpretation with truth. When we believe that there is only one true religion or that one race is superior to others, for example, there is no limit to the evil we can perpetrate in the name of “truth.” On a more intimate scale, how many of us are unhappy right this second because we believe our co-worker or boss or partner or child ought to be a certain way, in spite of the reality that he or she is not? How much time and energy do we spend nagging and hoping that people and circumstances be different than they are, more in alignment with our interpretation or story of what is right?

Given this powerful automatic dynamic it is critical to ask yourself these questions: What stories am I telling myself? What do I base these stories on? Do I base them in fact? What is fact and what is interpretation? How life giving are my stories? Is there a kinder story to be telling myself?

Here’s an example of how powerfully the stories we tell can shape our lives. Having had my share of knee injuries and two surgeries, when my knee started “sticking” as I rode my bike, accompanied by a couple of sharp pains, I immediately assumed (or interpreted this to mean) that something was seriously wrong. On the ride home, I imagined a future in which hiking, yoga, and biking were gone and a knee replacement was looming.

Over the next few weeks, I stopped exercising. I ignored my knee, told myself I was getting old, and beat myself up for not being able to participate in extreme sports — never mind that I don’t even like extreme sports. After a few weeks of telling myself this story, it finally occurred to me to go see Mark, an orthopedic surgeon, to have my knee checked out. He laid his hand on my knee, twisted it in each direction, and told me my knee was in solid shape and that I was most likely experiencing “wear and tear,” and perhaps a small tear in my cartilage.


Because of his grounded assessment of my knee, which was based on his years of training, and my trust in his ability, my mood and my use of my body changed — instantly. Suddenly, I was literally leaping around his office, flexing my knee, calculating how many yoga classes I could fit in that week. My interpretation of the sensation in my knee had changed — the twinge, the catch, the pain were no longer “serious,” just due to wear and tear. Yet the sensations were the same. Before I walked into Mark’s office, I was telling myself a story that I was broken and doomed. Ten minutes later, I was ready to climb Mt. Rainier. All that had changed was how I interpreted the pain.

Separating the Story from the Facts

To understand the power of stories, you need to cultivate a habit of noticing your interpretations and whether they are serving you. What if, instead of assuming that the sensations in my knee meant I was badly hurt, I had said to myself, “Hmm....This is a new sensation. Let me take a moment to feel this. When I stand I feel a catch. My knee feels like I don’t want anybody to touch it. I don’t want to ride a bike or do deep knee bends.” When I remain with the sensation in my knee, without having to decide what it means, my field of possibilities widens dramatically. When I decide that my interpretation of an experience or sensation is a fact and I forget I’m making up an interpretation, forget that I am observing through the lens of me, my ability to shape my life becomes cramped and limited, or it shuts down altogether. When I believed my own story that there was something wrong with my knee, my mind went instantly about its job of proving my story to be true.

When I don’t observe the story as simply that, a story, it becomes the truth. Often we observe without being aware of the context that shapes our observations, just as a fish isn’t aware it lives in water (or at least I don’t think the fish is aware). Water just “is,” and many of our interpretations have that same quality of inevitability: this is just the way I am, this is just the way working in this company is, this is how I always feel when my mother comes into town. Oh really? Is that true? This is rarely anything other than an interpretation.

Excerpted from the new paperback edition of The Life Organizer: A Woman’s Guide to a Mindful Year © 2013 by Jennifer Louden. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. 
Jennifer Louden helped start the self-care movement with her first best-selling book The Woman's Comfort Book. She's written 5 more books including The Life Organizer, just out in paperback. Visit to get your free app and four more super useful gifts.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Characters - Peel Away Those Layers

To me, a book is ALL about the characters. Strong characters can shore up a weak plot, but weak characters won't help even the strongest story. Characters should be like artichokes. You don't get to the heart until you do some serious work peeling away the layers. What the reader sees, as well as what other characters see when they meet a character, be it protagonist or a secondary character, will be superficial at first. Perhaps the character was too good to be true, and as time goes on, faults are revealed. Or maybe it's the other way around. An unlikeable character turns out to be golden inside.

We spend a lot of time getting to know our characters so we'll know how they'll respond in any situation we subject them to. Or will we? It's just as important to know how your character will behave when confronted with the unexpected. And, as authors, we need to keep the unexpected happening.

What happens when your hero finds himself in an unexpected environment? How will he cope? Does he grumble and complain? Does he make the best of it? Go into hiding until it passes? In one of my Blackthorne, Inc. books, Where Danger Hides, Dalton, the hero, is a covert ops specialist. How does he respond when Miri, the heroine, drags him along to her shift as a 'baby cuddler' and he's forced to face not only something he's unfamiliar with, but something that calls up memories he's tried to bury. Will he suck it up? Refuse? Explain? Or suddenly remember somewhere else he has to be?

The best characters are the ones who have to cope with NOT having their creature comforts, or their professional tools. What happens when the hero is a chef renowned for his veal and lamb, and he prepares an exquisite meal to impress the heroine? Who, he discovers, is a strict vegetarian.

Or the hero who's a whiz with technology: What happens when he doesn't have any of his fancy equipment? Does he give up? Go into MacGyver mode and create a high-tech gizmo? Or utilize a totally new way to solve his problem, not relying on technology at all?

Peeling away those character layers makes for three-dimensional characters—characters your readers will care about.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Making a Point or Three

Graphic courtesy of
Hello, dearies! Well, it seems that Mother Nature can’t make up her mind. Eighty summery degrees one day, snow the next. I must confess that I’m sorely tempted to simply toss my coats and T-shirts into one large pile and draw my wardrobe at random. It would make about as much sense as the latest weather patterns.

To spur the jet stream into sticking with a decision, let’s have a little look at ellipses versus periods, shall we? While some writers delight in the use of ellipses to trail off thoughtfully in a sentence, many editors (and readers) rail against this trail and demand closure. Firmness! Decisiveness! Like a good analyst, they seek closure in their sentences.

Here are a few tips to help nudge you in the appropriate direction when faced with the decision to dot or not.

1. Ellipsis points indicate the omission of some portion of a quoted passage. The omitted portion mustn’t be essential to said passage, or you run the risk of skewing the meaning.

2. Suspension points (same thing, different use) are used to show suspended or interrupted thought, much as an em dash indicates an abrupt shift.

3. A period, in the words of the CMOS, “marks the end of a declarative or imperative sentence” or a single-word response.

In the end, it all boils down to clarity. Is your character suffering from a derailed train of thought? Go for the ellipses. “Now then, I need to buy a pair of stockings. Heavens, what an awful plaid pattern on that coat! Hm, where was I? Something else I needed to get …”

If, on the other hand, your character has focus on par with the Hubble telescope, get to the point with a period. “I’m going to buy those shoes. Hand me my checkbook.”

That’s all for now; it’s nearly time to go out and watch the lunar eclipse. I don’t trust this ever-changing weather, so I believe I’ll wear a heavy coat while I’m outside. For the first ten minutes, at any rate. Until Mother Nature settles down, be sure to dress in layers and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo by Darrick Bartholomew

Faced with a choice between giving up King cake and buying a new (larger) wardrobe, the Style Maven opted to adapt the recipe into smaller portions, creating Epic Raisin Cinnamon Rolls. She is currently planning to install a treadmill in the kitchen


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