Sunday, June 29, 2014

"Thats all, Folk's" - Possessives, Plurals, and Pronouns

Ah, the problem of possessives, plurals, and pronouns.  Many people, including teachers, writers, and marketing professionals, find the use of apostrophes with possessives, plurals, and pronouns to be very confusing.  So I'm going to outline it very simply for here.


The first thing to keep in mind when trying to decide whether or not you will need an apostrophe ('), is that the apostrophe takes the place of another letter (such as with contractions), except when used to indicate possession of an object or idea.  So, for example:

"are not" becomes "aren't"
"It is" becomes "it's"

When creating a possessive, the apostrophe is used to indicate ownership:

"the cat's meow"
"the bee's knees"
"the rat's donkey"
"Einstein's theory"

Now, when using a pronoun, no apostrophe is needed, because the pronouns all have possessive versions:

"its paw"
"his leg"
"their house"

When it comes to plurals, many people become insecure about apostrophe usage.  To simplify this, consider the following words:

"Mrs. Jones"
"The Joneses"

Not all of these are plural, but they all end in "s".  This is where the confusion lies.  The important thing to remember here is that to make these into possessives, singular words will take an ('s), while plural words only take (').

So, the list above would look like this:

"Mrs Jones's car"
"The Joneses' pool"
"cats' pajamas"
"bees' knees"
"fathers' day"
"Agnes's attitude"
"happiness's sake"

Keep in mind that singular words only take ('s), not ('), NO MATTER WHAT LETTER OR SYMBOL THEY END WITH.  Take these examples:

"Rktak's pillow"

"Ω's representation"

"Babalú's jokes"

's usage"

"My pass's lob"

Hopefully this helps to clarify things!


Sunday, June 22, 2014

If You're a Writer, DON'T DO THIS!

Many years ago I attended a seminar that promised dating advice for men. In it, I met many nice guys who had trouble meeting women, and had become immersed in a world of "pick-up artists" and seminars that promised to teach techniques that went beyond pick-up lines and other tricks. Many of these men were seeking a "magic bullet", or a line that would have any woman hypnotized instantly. Unable to get that kind of information at previous seminars, they continued to attend different ones, hoping that the magic pick-up line would suddenly come to them.

The key here is that none of these men were ever going to be able to find women by attending weekly or daily seminars full of men. Sure, some of the techniques the presenters brought to the table made sense, but all of them required practice, dedication, and of course, application. Many of the attendees hopped from seminar to seminar hoping to find a method that would allow them to get results without much effort. This is similar to people who constantly try new pills to lose weight; the tried and true way of losing way is not a pill - it is diet and exercise, and that takes effort.

Similarly, in writing, there are people who attend seminars to learn how to write, to learn how to land an agent, and learn how to get published. But what good is all of this information if you are not actually doing any writing? The point here is that, although there is a lot of information to be learned about writing on the internet and in seminars throughout the world, none of them are going to get you published if you don't have any work to be published.

What I am recommending here is not to stop reading tips on writing or publishing; learning your craft is a very important aspect of writing. But, if you are spending most of your time (or rather, more than 20 percent of your writing time) learning about writing rather than actually writing - you're never going to get anywhere. So, if you don't dedicate an hour of each day to writing, and are instead spending more than 30 minutes reading, you're wasting valuable writing time. Recognize that this is a procrastination technique that your brain is using to avoid failure.

Those guys at the seminar say they want to be sure they know everything there is to know about women and dating before going out to try and meet a girl - but that is a tall order, and one that is impossible to achieve. They are "putting off" going out and approaching women because they are afraid of being rejected. If your work is akin to Shakespeare's or Frost's or Hemmingway's or Thoreau's, the reality is that there will be many people who will reject it regardless, so get used to it; being a writer requires very thick skin. So, rather than wasting too much time learning the craft, spend time writing and getting your work critiqued. There are many places you can get this done for free, including critique groups on Meetup. This will help you find your target audience much as a dating enthusiast will find a date by actually approaching women.

So get out there, work in hand, and find your match.

Learn more writing tips and get help with self-publishing, queries, and getting your work out there at:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

How NOT to Use Social Media

If you have Twitter and have "followed" a few people "just because" or to increase the number of followers you have through reciprocation, then you have likely run into them.  Yes, them; the mindless automatons who feel that they are a gift to the world and that you would purchase or download their product (most of them, in my experience are writers selling their books - even free books).

Now, Twitter and other social media can be very useful tools in your online marketing, but these people are trying to do it the easy way, and cutting too many corners will have you running in a circle in no time.  Marketing is about branding.  Branding does not involve pushing the consumer to action first, and then introducing the product; it is an art that requires careful consideration and cunning.

So, here I present you with a few "don't's" when trying to market yourself with social media like Twitter, and alternatives that would work much better for you.

1.  Do NOT ever, ever, ever, set an automatic reply asking the person who has joined your social media circle to join you in your other ones.  First, nobody even reads these auto replies; second, most people delete them without even reading them; and worse of all, this is the FIRST impression you're making with this person!  Instead, create a post publicly announcing the person, and thanking them for following you.  Be genuine.

2.  Do NOT ever, ever, ever, send messages to your followers or fans telling them how wonderful your new book is and how they should buy it, because it's only 99 cents or FREE.  I say this all the time, but too many people out there are doing this so I need to drill the point home: DO NOT DEVALUE YOUR WORK BY GIVING IT AWAY.  If you want to be a professional writer, you must charge for your work.  You wouldn't expect a chef to make a complete meal for you free of charge to get you to go to their restaurant; neither would you expect an electrician to wire your entire home before you contract him to do other work.  If you want to be a professional, charge for your work.  That's what differentiates a professional from an amateur: pay.  If you give your books away (other than a very short promotion), then you are simply equal to a student in a creative writing class. Instead, run promotions to discount your book(s), create a website where people can learn about you and your work, and subscribe to a mailing list - this is where you can provide samples of your work and build yourself up to people who have asked for this information.

3. Do NOT ever, ever, ever, spam your followers with advertisements for your book or anyone else's.  Social media marketing success requires that people who follow you actually READ your posts - and if they know you as a spammer, they may keep you just to have more followers under their belts, but they are not reading your posts.  Instead, provide rich content.  Let people know you're a real person who will interact and who has something to offer.  If you build it, they will come.

4.  Do NOT ever, ever, ever, EVER, say anything negative about a fan or a critic.  To be a writer, you must have thick skin.  If you can't handle criticism, find another line of work, because it will happen.  Just look at reviews for your favorite writers, musicians, actors, directors, etc.  This comes with the territory.  Instead, ask the critic to provide more detail.  Exchanging respectful communications with a critic to find out why they didn't like your work is a great way to turn a critic into a fan.

5.  Finally, do not be inactive.  I am terrible with this one.  I really don't like using Facebook or Twitter, and I don't have an Instagram account.  But I do write at least one or two posts each week, because I know it's important for my career.  And this is fine, so long as you don't disappear off the face of the Earth for months on end.  Any marketing person would tell you that for a person to remember something - anything - they need to hear it mentioned an average of three times.  That's why ads on the radio mention the product AND the phone number at least three times; some do it in a row, which doesn't work.  Instead, place the cover of your book on your website (on every page, if you are so inclined) as the background on your social media account, on your business cards, on your email signature; everywhere, but be subtle about it - remember #3 above.

As a final thought, use common sense.  Ask friends what they think about your social media accounts and about posts you make.  True friends WILL tell you if something you post might bother fans.  So keep these five things in mind, and happy socializing!  Robots have empty flower pots, a professional charges for it all, spam gets canned, critics don't carry sticks (or stones), and the couch potato won't get no tomato.  Oh, and this blogger is a father - Happy Fathers' Day!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Building a Platform

For a writer, a platform is what makes their career a success.  Much like sports teams have fans, writers, too must have followers who enjoy reading their work.  A writer's platform includes all of these followers, from the people who read a writer's blog, to the ones who enjoy a writer's Twitter posts, to Facebook fans, to people who purchase every book or novel published by the writer/author.

Although this sounds rather simple to accomplish, it really requires patience, time, and valuable content to achieve.  This is why agents and magazine editors use a writer's platform as one of the main criteria in their decision-making.  So if you're starting out in your writing career, how can you begin to build a solid platform?

Planning is key.  The first step is to create social media accounts for your writing persona.  These should be separate from your personal accounts.  These should be active - schedule reminders to update your feeds at least once or twice per week.  Make sure you have a professional-looking picture on these accounts.  If you have work already published, create a website with links to all of your social media accounts - and make sure you use memorable page names, but that they are not too complicated or hard to spell
( vs.  This should all be relatively inexpensive, maybe even free.

Next, which I tell every writer in my writing and critique groups, is order business cards with your name and the url's for all of your social media sites.  Give these out everywhere you go.  Leave some behind at the bus stop or on the table at a restaurant.  Introduce yourself as a "writer" or "author".   If someone asks, "What have you written?"  simply reply, "I wouldn't know where to begin... but here, this is my card," and give them your business card.

Third, produce content!  Create content that is intriguing, but also create content that offers something to the reader.  Know your target audience so that you know what to offer your readers.  In other words, if your target audience is "post partum women", create posts that describe your own experiences: if you're a man, tell these women what they can expect from their partner; if you're a woman, share the ups and downs of motherhood.  For the above example, do not create content about myopia in teacup breed dogs.  Do not write fiction about murdered children.

Fourth, be patient!  You cannot build a platform overnight; you cannot sell one million copies of a book overnight (unless you're Dan Brown); just like Rome wasn't built in one day.  If anyone offers you the secret to achieving this kind of success quickly, RUN the other way.

Finally, do not anger your followers with unsolicited advertisements for your new book!  Even if it's free, PAY FOR AN AD, do not target the people who trust you not to spam them with Twitter posts about downloading your free book.  Unless you're James Patterson or J.K. Rowling, people do not care that your new "soon-to-be-classic" is available for download on Smashwords for free. It's just one more post to delete or ignore among all the other 9,999 books that are produced each day.  Literally.  And don't badmouth other writers or their work.  They are not your competition, just like Brad Pitt is not competition for Judi Dench.  There is plenty of room for all writers.

The key here is to give so that you can receive.  After all, if you build it (your platform, that is) they will most definitely come.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Getting Published in Magazines

Before putting out books and novels, an author needs to have a platform - a solid following through various media - to be able to sell even a modest amount of books.  One of the best ways to accomplish this is by getting work published in magazines, newspapers, and other publications.

However, with the publishing industry suffering a dwindling readership as a result of the digital era and a flood of writers saturating the talent pool for the same reason, it is becoming increasingly difficult for good writers to get their work noticed.  Sure, a talented writer will definitely stand out among the frantic workers in the disturbed anthill of digital publishing; but the key for a talented writer is to get someone to actually look in his or her direction.  So how can we do this as serious writers?

Every book and website out there will tell you that the first step in trying to get published is to read several issues of the publication in question to get a feel for the tone of the publication.  I will not tell you differently.  This is the crucial first step in getting your work to appear in the publication.  If you're already familiar with the magazine, great!  You're halfway there.

Next, you need to ask yourself if what you plan on presenting is something that would appeal to the readership of the publication.  If it isn't, you need to get back to the drawing board.  If your answer is yes, then the next step is to draw up a proposal (if it's nonfiction) or a synopsis (if fiction).  Your proposal is the key to getting noticed, but you must keep in mind that the closing of your proposal includes your biography.  This is where you explain why you are qualified to write this article, and why the article will help increase interest in the publication.  In other words, you must have a compelling list of qualifications and a solid platform.

If you do not have either of these, you can still get published if your proposal is intriguing enough or it fills a need.  However, your best bet is to spend several months getting your other work out there, and the trick to that is to donate your work.  Yes, I know I always say that as a serious writer, you should never do "free books" on sites like Smashwords, because it devalues you as a writer and puts you in the same category in the eyes of the reader as the cat lady down the street who can't spell and didn't bother to hire an editor.  But what I'm recommending here is to find publications that are reputable but are not-for-profit and donating articles for them.  Most will gladly take donated articles and publish them, and this will help you build a resume.

In addition to this, you can write essays for scholarly journals, as these publications are constantly looking to fill hundreds of pages each issue.  It is not difficult to get published in a journal, but like with anything in writing, you need to do your research.  Make sure you are familiar with the writing style the journal utilizes and properly cite your sources.  Make sure all of the information within your essay can be verified with a reliable outside source.

Make sure that your byline describes your expertise, and that you list your website, blog, or social media pages.  For example: "Giovanni V. Crisan is the author of seven books, and a regular contributor on 'Unique Me Magazine'.  He also runs the blog 'On Writing', which is updated with writing and publishing tips weekly."

If you have trouble getting published in any of these, try a local small-print newspaper or magazine.  Again, donate the article or story - this is an investment to build a resume, a platform, and eventually a career.