Category Archives: success techniques

Power-charge your book blurb with hooks

Now that you’ve completed your novel, your next big challenge is to write a good blurb that condenses your 100,000-word novel into a short, captivating sentence worthy of the so-called “elevator pitch.”

I, too, cringe from writing blurbs. I’ve even given workshops on blurbs. I recognize great ones when I see them, and can de-construct them to reveal their strengths. I can write blurbs for other people. Yet sitting down to write my own? Blek.

For many years, I used the journalistic approach to writing my blurb. I thought of it as a mini-synopsis. Now, though, I’ve grown to think of the blurb more as a fishing expedition. Fish don’t always want the same things, and all fish don’t respond to the same temptations. Sometimes they want a sparkling lure, other times they’ll bite some drab, rubbery thingy. Sometimes its best to adjust your bobber so the hook sinks deeper in the water, other times more shallow. Whatever the variation, though, readers (and agents and editors) need to be hooked.

What are the currently hot tropes/hooks? The editors and agents are always quick to point out that they only know what they used to be—what they were last week, last month. They are ever-changing, fickle as the market.

There are some trusty tropes that seem to live forever, though. Cinderella. Survival. Strong female lead. Fish out of water. Returning home. Family betrayal. Change of fortunes.

What makes your story unique? I think this question is what paralyzes writers. Their answer (like ours) is probably … everything! “It’s my story,” we may say. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and there are many reasons why it’s unique.”  So we expound and expand.

If we stay with the fishing analogy, this would be like spilling a dump truck of junk into the water, gooey stuff that contains an odd mixture of many, many ingredients. Some of it may be really good, but it’s been amalgamated into an incomprehensible sludge.

Setting aside all the wonderfulness of your story, what sets your protagonist apart? Perhaps your response is: My novel has a kick-ass heroine. Okay, but how can you make that more interesting, and specific to your novel? Consider these from the archives:

Tough widow Norma Rae has a lot on her hands, working to the bone at a textile mill–and fighting to unionize her hazardous workplace.

Feisty young mother fights for justice any way she knows how. She takes on a powerful utility company and won’t take no for an answer. (Erin Brokovich)

 It is one woman’s fearless quest, criss-crossing the globe in an amazing attempt to save the world.  (Lara Croft, Tomb Raider)

 Gutsy Lieutenant O’Neil dares to earn a place with the elite Navy SEALS.  (G.I. Jane)

 Going beyond the cliché of something like “kick-ass heroine,” what dominant trait does your female protagonist possess? In what unique/interesting ways does she demonstrate that?

Be it kick-ass heroines, secret codes, ghosts, secrets, or intergalactic wars, remember to craft your hook as well as you crafted your book–and use tantalizing bait.

So here’s your chance to practice before you meet that editor or write that headline  … what’s your blurb? Hook me!

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Filed under "Janet Lane", finding you book's hook, get published, self publishing novels, success techniques, summarizing your novel, The Writing Life

1, 2, 3: How to reach your goals

Wannabe goals. We all made them for the new year, right? Unbelievably, we’re now knocking on the door to June.

Often our goals are unspoken but sincere, something we know we need to accomplish to advance our writing. They inspire us for a moment then, in the face of our busy lives, we allow them to fade.

Write my synopsis. Develop my marketing plan. Finish my outline. Finish/Revise my book. Query my top five publishers. Learn how to blog. Get reviews. (Fill in your goals here.)

You know you need to do it. You keep thinking you will. But you don’t.

Read this. Follow the steps, and you’ll do it.

It starts with number one. Three Dog Night sang, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” When it comes to goals, I consider it the most difficult number.

If you’re having trouble reaching your goals, try starting with number one. It will help you progress to number two. If you’re not prepared to tackle number one, don’t read this blog. This information is only for those who are tired of letting important goals evaporate in the face of procrastination, laziness or fear.

Still reading? Okay, here’s the not-so-secret formula.

NUMBER ONE. Tell someone important. Your critique group. Your most stalwart friend who supports your dreams. “I am going to (specific goal) this (week/month/summer).

It must be specific. Not, “I’m going to write more,” but “I am going to write to The End by August.” Not, “I’m going to market more,” or “I am going to develop a marketing plan,” but rather, “I’m going to write a marketing plan by August.”

Something good happens when you commit to another person or group. The goal becomes real. Increase your odds of success further by insisting that your friend follows up weekly to ask about your progress.

NUMBER TWO. Generate ideas. Browse the Internet, searching for topics such as “How To (Goal)” and “Top 10 Ways to (Goal).” Then create a mind map, incorporating what you’ve learned from your initial research.

You complete number two to better achieve your number three goal.

NUMBER THREE. Brainstorm with someone with RMFW, or a professional organization within your field, who has accomplished this goal. (Having completed number two, you will have learned enough to ask good questions and you will demonstrate to your expert RMFW or fellow associate that you’ve given this some thought, and have taken those first steps already. Show you’re committed to learning, and others will be more willing to help you.)

Seek out friends and/or associates  have become known for their expertise in, for example, writing, editing, public speaking, workshops, book tours, blogs, reviews, podcasts—the list is extensive. Connect with them through your organization’s on-line loop, monthly newsletter and/or programs, and special events such as an annual conference. Be bold and ask for help, and you’ll appreciate the power and inspiration of having friends to cheer you on.

Remember that this is brainstorming, not mentoring, which represents an extensive commitment that may scare off your targeted expert. Make it clear you’re only looking for suggestions and resources that you will pursue to complete your own plan of action.

NUMBER FOUR. By now, you will have gathered a daunting amount of information and options to consider. Sort by level of difficulty, easiest to most challenging. If your goal includes some area of marketing, sort by affordability. Sort also by effectiveness, based on what you learned in steps three and four.

NUMBER FIVE. Create your action list. Based on the completion date you initially told your critique group or stalwart supporter, put dates on this action list that will reasonably bring you to the finish line.

Make adjustments, if needed. Share your list, and if you keep a hard copy or digital planning calendar, insert those dates with a big star, color code—whatever triggers you to remember the importance of your intermediate goals.

It’s a simple concept, proven over time and as reliable as gravity. It’s also proven over time that you must take step one first.

Go for it! And come back and share your success story with me.  🙂

 

 

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Filed under get published, Life skills, self publishing novls, success techniques, The Writing Life

Do fiction readers have better social skills?

These guys must have recently read some good fiction novels!(Photo courtesy pixabay.com)

These guys must have recently read some good fiction novels!(Photo courtesy pixabay.com)

I read a fascinating research report from The Wall Street Journal on March 8th. According to a study published by Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, reading fiction can  improve one’s social skills or social cognition.

The Harvard University study involved 16 women and 10 men ages 19 to 26. They underwent MRI scans of their brains while reading excerpts from novels and magazines.

The fiction readers showed enhanced activities in regions associated with reading about people, and such enhanced activity was linked to higher scores on social cognition assessments.

This could explain why I love my fans, my book club discussion groups and writer conferences–because the people are so interesting.

You can read more about the study at http://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6156/377

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March 14, 2016 · 9:58 am

50 Shades of Happy

… the final installment of my happiness series.

Did you try the “Three Acts of Gratitude” exercise? The Fun Fifteen? (See my Feb. 20 blog.)    If so, did these simple strategies nudge you up a step on the happiness scale?

Happiness is Free Feb 2016

I tried it. It didn’t launch me into euphoria, but it did instill a quiet happiness inside me, an inner strength that made each day a little easier, a little brighter.

When happy, our creativity triples. Be grateful for the simple things in life, recall specifics about them, and this daily practice will retrain your brain to see the world in a brighter light. Think of one positive experience in your last 24 hours, day after day, and it will empower you to find new meaning in your life.

Simple but powerful stuff.

I started this happiness journey because my life was feeling flat. I felt my options slipping away, as if I had been given X number of days left to live and that all the pleasant surprises and opportunities I would ever receive had already been sent—and there would be no more.

These exercises (Gratitude and Fun Fifteen) reminded me that the joys and pleasant surprises of life were still gracing my days. Once I started focusing on happiness, some sunny and cumulative effects began occurring.

Returning to the topic of the first installment of this series, first find happiness in yourself, and then go forward to claim success. Don’t wait for “success” to make you happy because luck can be erratic, unpredictable or nonexistent. Be happy, and then go forward with your dreams.

Here are some new book releases with tips that may help you sustain happiness:

THE GRATITUDE DIARIES: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life by Janice Kaplan—how living gratefully leads to a richer, more fulfilling life.

BROADCASTING HAPPINESS: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change by Michelle Gielan

RISING STRONG: THE RECKONING. THE RUMBLE. THE REVOLUTION, wherein social scientist Brene Brown takes us through the process of getting back up after stumbling and falling.

I’m wishing you good luck and much happiness in your life journey!

–Janet

 

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4 Ways to Boost Happiness–and your goals

Are you happy? How do you feel right now? Anxious, worried? If you’re feeling less than stellar, read on for tips on 4 ways to boost happiness and regain the joy in what we do, be it writing, planning, creating or producing. We can boost happiness by establishing a few simple daily habits–very important, for we can think best when we’re happy.

Get Stay Happy Feb 2016 copy

Because we naturally store negative events in a deeper, more permanent way than positive experiences, there is a dismaying propensity to embed the negative ones. We can overcome that by investing extra effort to focus on our good experiences.

Shawn Achor, head of Goodthink and author of The Happiness Advantage, talks about how we have been fed the life formula of “Success First, Happiness Second.” If we can just get published, we’ll be happy. If we can just get a higher advance we’ll be happy. If we can just win the Golden Heart or the (fill in the blank Award), we’ll be happy. If we can just lose twenty pounds, we’ll be happy.

It’s a formula that doesn’t work, because as we achieve one thing, we set the bar higher and keep chasing that next goal. The formula keeps repeating in our heads, eroding that delicate happiness state for which we worked so hard.

Achor says we’ve got it all backwards. We should not be gaining success to be happy; we should find happiness, which will help us to succeed. Happiness and optimism, she says, is what fuels the success! Positive brains are more motivated, efficient, and creative. Achor quotes John Milton from Paradise Lost: “The Mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Think of that. Your mind is beautiful. Powerful. Are we focusing on the joy and rewards of writing, or are we hung up on the difficulties, the competition, the stress, or lack of appropriate rewards?

* * * * * * *

“The Mind is its own place, and in itself

can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

* * * * * * *

How do we get happy, and stay there? We needn’t become zombie smile fanatics, but think of the boost we get from talking to an optimistic, happy person. Like some giant, woot-woot magnet, that type of person attracts people, and their happiness is contagious. Short of hiring a talented clown as a full-time body guard, though, how do we “get” and “stay” happy?

In a Denver Post interview with Achor, he gives some suggestions. If you’ve read something similar before and forgotten it after you walked away from the magazine or newspaper, don’t walk away now. Read these tips. Re-read them, and think about how you can integrate some of these behaviors and methods, so you can be happy, and then be successful.

Three Acts of Gratitude. Just two minutes a day, write down three new things for which you’re grateful. Do it for 21 days. The frequency and repetition are powerful because you’re training your brain and, in doing so, will begin to see the world with fresh, happiness-inspiring eyes. Achor warns about generalities, because they don’t work. Rather than “My health,” my kids, my home,” etc., be specific: “I’m grateful for my daughter because she called to ask my opinion. What I think matters to her.” Or, “I’m grateful because I was alert and caught the fine print in that contract, before I signed it.”

The Doubler. Again, for two minutes a day, think of one positive experience you’ve had in the last 24 hours. You’re a writer, so I know you can provide details about it. This can double the most meaningful experience in your brain. Doing it for 21 days will help your brain connect the dots, and you will begin to see and feel the meaning that runs through your life.

The Fun Fifteen. 15 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day is, Achor says, the equivalent of taking an anti-depressant. With successful completion of just 15 minutes, your brain records a victory, which carries over into your next activity.

Breathe. For two minutes become conscious of your breath going in and out. Fill your lungs, be aware. This has been proven to raise accuracy rates and increase levels of happiness. And drops stress levels.

Happiness, Achor says, is a huge advantage in our lives. When the human brain is positive our intelligence rises. We stop diverting resources to think about anxiety.

Our creativity triples.

More to come on this topic next Wednesday. I’ll be asking you if you tried the Three Acts of Gratitude, the Fun Fifteen, and the Breathing. Give it a try, and let’s meet again and compare notes.

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Ireland Writer Tours 2016

As I mentioned earlier, I will be teaching in a unique setting this August when I team up with multi-published YA/Middle Grade author Dianne Salerni to present the “Secrets to Publishing Success” conference. It will include private consultations and writing classes, with plenty of time for brainstorming plotting ideas.

Dunguire Castle Small

Ireland Writer Tours combines the excitement of touring the Emerald Isle with the inspiration and help of a personal writer’s conference

These surprisingly affordable tours are a heady combination of writing workshops and visiting fascinating attractions in Ireland — a fourteenth century abbey, haunted castles, stone circles, mysterious lakes — it sounds too good to be true, but it is! I’m excited to see all these inspirational sights and share my secrets about publishing and marketing. Something I love even more than writing is inspiring other writers to follow their hearts to create successful, award-winning stories.

This tour has been described as the perfect holiday or birthday gift. I first learned of it through Pam Nowak and Susan Spann. Pam attended the tour last year, and all of my writer cells screamed for me to attend with her, but I couldn’t. I so wanted to stow away in her suitcase. She was generous about sharing, though, and I saw photos of her touring days.  Pam will be presenting a June conference on Craft, Career and Publishing.

Susan, a publishing attorney, presented last year and posted several pictures that made me drool. You can see her post at http://www.susanspann.com/looking-for-a-writing-retreat-try-ireland-this-summer/

And here’s a general post from the tour organizers at http://www.theroadlesstraveledireland.com

This is heaven-on-earth for writers. Come on and join me for the writing, the sights, and the inspiration!

 

 

 

 

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Self-publishing-Courage on Steroids!

Fran commented on my previous post, sharing that she, too, had taken the self-publishing path.

What kind of fears do we suffer when we take this big step in our careers? We don’t have the shelter of a big New York publishing house — we lack the stamp of approval that comes from a big publisher’s editor.

I’ve come to realize there *are* traits and talents we *do* possess, though. With traditional publishing, I assumed I would get publicity, but in hindsight, I see that I did the lion’s share of promotion– a massive amount of publicity and advertising. Being our book’s best advocate is challenging, and yes, exhausting!  I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about it.  What have I missed? What can be done more thoroughly? How can I best reach the readers who will love my book?

Doubts needle at the oddest times.  What if my book is given a scathing review? What if my friends read it and–after all my excited conversations about writing, they read it, grimace and think, “So this is what she’s so excited about?”  We don’t have an editor or an agent reassuring us along the way.  We are, from the beginning, in charge of nurturing our Positive Mental Attitude (PMA), and funding all of our promotional activities.

It’s daunting, but we’re not in this alone.  There are hundreds of thousands like us.  Networking helps. Let’s keep clutching our COURAGE cards and following our dreams!  Go ye forth. Believe. Promote. And write more wonderful books!  –Janet

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