Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Know Your Audience!

I am so pleased to have a sweet friend of mine share today's post. JP and I are both members of the Ohio Chapter of ACFW. Because JP writes Young Adult (YA) fiction, I asked if she would share some insights with us, knowing that we are all in this together and we can all learn from each other. Enjoy!

After I finished my YA Christian fiction novel and edited it a few hundred times, I looked into publishing it.  All agents and editors gave the same advice, “Know your audience!”

It seemed so overwhelming to me, getting to know the reading preferences of thousands of teen readers. But I dove into researching my audience and nearly drowned in discouragement.

Most YA Christian fiction is either romance or speculative fiction, which often breaks down into fantasies and dystopian fiction. My novel, set in contemporary West Virginia with crime elements and a male protagonist, seemed to have no place in the current publishing landscape.
But I continued my research. Eventually I realized that when it came to tailoring my novel to the YA audience, I had to understand what I can do and what I can’t do.

What I Can’t Do
I can’t write a romance or speculative fiction novel. This is not a case of lack of confidence or fear of stretching my skills. Some things I just can’t do, like flying or running faster than my teenage nephew.

I don’t read romance. I know none of the rules of the genre and would give myself and any future readers unspeakable nightmares if I wrote one. I do like some speculative fiction but don’t have the imagination to create something fresh. Anything I wrote would easily be identified as a collision of Middle-earth, Star Trek, and Narnia.

What I Can Do
Even if I don’t write romance or speculative fiction, I could learn from them and see if those lessons could apply to my novel.

One reason I believe speculative fiction is so popular is because writers can pack in a lot of action sequences. My novel needed more of them, so I added two scenes and made sure they were reasonable within my setting.

Another reason is that both genres appeal to emotions. Will the girl get the boy when his family is prejudiced against her? Will the teen rebels save the world from the evil tyrant?
My novel has high stakes for my characters, which leads to many emotions. Will Junior Lody keep his family of eight siblings together after their aunt who has raised them dies and the sheriff is determined to tear them apart? Since I write from Junior’s viewpoint, it’s easy to let readers experience and identify with Junior’s fear, rage, triumphs, and more.

Best Audience Analysis
The best way to get to know my audience was to let real live teens read my novel. They filled out a one-page questionnaire for me. Because one boy said I had too much exposition at the beginning, I examined my first chapters and saw I could lop off the first two and start with the action in the third.

And I discovered something else. I can’t write to please thousands of readers. But when I see my future readers as individuals, like the teens who critiqued my book, Amanda and Andy and James and Brooke, I feel compelled to go beyond my best.

I am still getting to know my audience – one reader at a time.

JPC Allen is a 2016 Genesis semi-finalist in the YA category for her contemporary novel The Truth and Other Strangers. She offers writing advice and prompts at and on Facebook/JPCAllenWrites. A life-long Midwesterner, she has deep roots in the Mountain State.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Writing Tip: Leave a Piece of Yourself on Every Page

 My husband and I loved to read. We shared books, enjoying a wide variety of genres. When one of us discovered a new author, the other would quickly join in reading. Several years ago we found a suspense writer we both enjoyed. Her books were intriguing and masterfully written. We couldn’t wait for her latest novel to be released.

After reading a few of her novels we began to “know her.” Her characters were believable. We decided her husband must be the role model for many of the heroes found within the pages of her offerings. We would say things such as, “She must love New York City. She’s spent a lot of time there.”

Her descriptions of places and events and her down-to-earth characters with their quirks and honest dialogue carried the story to another level. Identifying with her made the suspense all the more intense.  We were hooked.

Finding her stride, she began releasing two books a year. Then three. As her popularity increased so did her productivity. Then something happened. We were both disappointed in one of her books. “It fell flat. It just wasn’t her,” we agreed. We shrugged and waited for the next book. It, too fell short. We talked about how her writing had changed. It appeared to us she had found a publishable formula and was chasing the market.

I’m sure she made a ton of money with her books but when she stopped inserting herself into her books, we stopped reading. She not only lost her passion, she lost two avid readers.

If you are writing to make money, that may work for you. But if you are compelled to entertain others, to weave a story that grabs the hearts of others, to have your books be a testimony to who you are, then here is the best advice I can offer:

Leave a bit of yourself on every page.

How do you do that?
1st  Know Yourself- What is Your World View? I have never met John Grisham except through his novels but I am sure he is an advocate for social justice. The lens through which I see the world is as a Christian. How you view the world influences where you put your time, money, and energy. The words on the page should reflect your world view.

2nd  Don’t Chase a Market
Write what you’re passionate about. Or at least include your passions in your writing. Don’t chase a market. If the popular writing is about Amish zombies, if it isn’t  something you embrace, don’t write about it just to get published or make money.

3rd  Write the Characters You Know
I love the T-shirt that reads, “You better be nice to me or I’ll put you in my next novel.” Use the traits, characteristics, and nuances of the people you know to populate your book. I know some writers envision movie stars as the characters in their books. They can “just hear him saying this…” and so forth. You will be better served to base your characters on people you know. My characters are typically a combination of people.

Simply put: Leave a bit of yourself on every page.

What ideas do you have to accomplish this?

P.S. Sorry this post is late this week. Yesterday was moving day and today was find-my-computer day! Have a great week.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Taking Care of Business: The Writer's Workday

 One of the greatest advantages of self-employment as a writer is the flexibility of scheduling your time.

One of the greatest disadvantages in the business of writing is the flexibility of scheduling your time –especially if you’re a lenient boss.

A productive, successful writer must be diligent and self-disciplined. I’m neither by nature. To a degree, I have to treat my work as a writer the way many think of a job outside the home.

Get up, Get Ready for the Day
While many authors boast they love their job because they can write in their jammies if they like, I accomplish more if I shower and dress for work. Okay, I’ll admit my work clothes are more casual now than when I was teaching at the university, but getting up and dressed is an important first step. And speaking of steps, don’t forget to put on your shoes. I first learned this lesson from Maria Cilley. You may remember her as “The Fly Lady.” She wrote a home organization book called Sink Reflections several years ago. In it she reminds people working in their home to get dressed right down to their shoes every morning for a productive day. It is psychologically sound advice. It doesn’t matter if you’re cleaning a closet or cleaning up a manuscript. Get dressed.
Available on Amazon:CLICK HERE

Set Your Work Hours
Setting hours of operation works best for me. I know many authors who do this. Author Jerry Jenkins of the Left Behind series shares in his books and workshops the power of setting a work schedule. Your hours have to fit your life. I write in the morning. If your best hours are after dinner in the evening, then make sure you don’t turn on the television. Go to work.

How long is your workday? I set my workday for two- three hours a day. Of course there are many days I put in overtime, but that is by choice. If I’m on a roll, I tend to forget the time. You may only have one or two slots of time devoted to writing during a week. If so, schedule that time as well.

I know people who do not schedule work hours. They set a word count goal for each day instead. I’ve tried the word count method –where it is not the time you spend in the office, but the number of words you produce each day. When I subscribe to that method, I start counting every word in a blog or an article or even social media marketing so I can reach my goal. The pressure is too great. I feel like I’m cheating if I report numbers outside of my novel.  While word count works for some people, I write more and engage more in my novel when I simply go to work and write until my workday is over.

Get to Work on Time
When I was a teacher of young children, my students arrived at 9:00am. I was required to be at school by 8:30am. That half hour gave me the opportunity to make sure I was prepared for the day, review my goals for the day, research and prepare future lessons, or take care of any bookwork needed. The same holds true in writing. Once I arrive in my office, I need to review my writing goals for the day, turn on my computer, and check my email. When I check my email, I am checking for anything work related. Personal communications can wait until the end of my workday.

Then I write. And write. And write. That is the bulk of my typical day. If I am in the throes of revision, my day is focused on that. If my schedule requires a workday engaged in editing, so be it. You get the idea.

Closing Your Workday
At the end of your workday you need to allow time to set goals for the next day or sketch your plans for the week. Now is the time to engage in social media, market your book, or design that new business card you wanted to make. I find saving my social media for the end of the day keeps me from wasting my writing time. Social media can be a true drain.

Routine is a Powerful Writing Tool
Having a routine for writing helps you maintain focus and meet your goals. I know one writer who designates Monday as her day to market her books, work on her blog, and plan her week. She writes Tuesday through Friday for two uninterrupted hours every night. It works for her. (Although when I was a young mom her age, I could probably find two hours of uninterrupted time only after midnight!)

Consistency Counts
I’ve talked a lot in this post about the workday couched in a workweek. The truth is, if you are a new writer, you may not have the luxury of setting aside a few hours each day for your craft. That’s okay. Take on writing a your part-time job. Even if you only work two hours every Sunday afternoon, if you are consistent and protect that time as your work, you will be more productive than if you think about writing that great novel, talk about it at parties, or dream about that magical “someday” when you’ll have time to write.

Now, I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU! What works best for you and your writing? If you are still in the early stages, share your thoughts on how you can carve out a schedule to write. Sharing your schedule helps you commit to it. Let’s support each other in this! I look forward to reading your comments below.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Packing Up the Memories

Last week I shared that the strong women in two of my favorite books moved both figuratively and literally as they accepted the challenges of life. I mentioned they were women who refused to allow past circumstances to hold them hostage, to keep them from become the women God intended them to become. They are good models for me.

This week I have been packing boxes in preparation to move into a new house. I know this is the right time. I know God has a plan for me. That helps. Knowing I am living within God’s will makes life decisions easier.

Easier—but not without a crazy mix of emotions. It’s not that I have a problem leaving this place I’ve called home for twenty-four years.  I made the decision shortly after Tom’s death to never be held hostage by a place or event. I made it a point to eat at some of our favorite restaurants. I went to the movies with my kiddos to see the new Star Wars movie when it came out—something Tom would have loved.

Tom and I had planned to move in 2014. The intent was to spend the winter camping in Florida. We planned to return to Ohio in the spring when we would find some property and build a new home.

In fact, we had a contract for selling this very house. The closing was set for November. Tom died on October 29th. The buyers, people chosen by God because he knew they would do the right thing, were gracious and helpful. They let me out of the sale. I wasn’t ready to go through Tom’s things—to sort through his clothes, tools and sports equipment. And I had nowhere to go.

Earlier this year, a little over two years after losing Tom, I came to the realization it is time to move. Time to downsize. Time to pack up the life I’ve known and move toward the plan God has for my future. I prayed about it. I found a house that suits me and my needs. The new house is smaller and everything is on one floor.

Every step of the buying and selling process has been affirmed by God in multiple ways. Perhaps that is another blog post. For now I am packing.

When I tell people I’m moving I receive mixed reactions. Close friends understand and have offered to help. Some people ask me how I can leave this house since it was the last place Tom and I lived together. A few other widows have called me “brave” or “courageous.” But the remark that strikes me most is when people suggest that by moving I am leaving the memories behind. “You have so many memories in that house. How can you leave it?” they ask.

Here is the simple truth. I’m packing up the memories and taking them with me.

By the way, if you missed last week’s post, here is the link. I call it Beyond Wonder Woman: