Recently, we had a conversation on one of my author loops on applying Six Sigma/Lean Manufacturing techniques to writing. Apparently some guru will soon be teaching a class on using Kanban boards to increase author efficiency.
One of the Six Sigma terms I remember from my training back when I worked in the manufacturing sector was “hidden factories”—process steps that take time and resources but don’t add value as defined by the customer. For example, let’s say you have a coffee shop that puts a little paper doily on each saucer before placing the baked good on the plate. If the customer (not the waiter, not the baker, not the store owner) doesn’t perceive that doily as adding value to his bearclaw, that step is a hidden factory.
So how would the concept of hidden factories apply to writing? I’m just riffing but here are some things that authors put a lot of time into that don’t necessarily improve the quality of the book from the readers’ perspective:
- In depth research into careers/jobs held by characters.
This is definitely one of the reasons why it takes me so long to write a book. In The Demon’s in the Details, the protagonist was a painter. Since I’m not even a tiny bit artistic, or even crafty, I had no clue how artists view the world. She was, specifically, a muralist, and I didn’t know how artists go about painting murals. Continue reading
If you’re a regular visitor to 8LW, chances are you’re an avid reader. Would you like to get your hands on the latest releases, for free, before they hit the market? If you’re willing to write an honest review of the book on Amazon, Goodreads or a similar platform, chances are you could do just that.
In today’s ultra-connected world, most savvy bibliophiles use reviews to help them decide whether to click the button and buy the book. Which means that most savvy authors will do everything they can to make sure their book has a good selection of honest reviews. Starred ratings are useful, but a paragraph or two describing what worked—or didn’t—for the reviewer is invaluable. It’s as important to warn off the wrong reader as it is to attract the right one, because word of mouth works both ways and the last thing an author wants is a disappointed reader.
So how do authors find these treasured reviewers? Sometimes through carefully cultivated “street teams”, but often by using a reputable ARC (Advance Review Copy) organization such as NetGalley, Hidden Gems or Booksprout.
It’s not permitted for an author to buy reviews, nor is it allowed to give a reader a free book in return for a review, honest or not. However, publishers large and small are allowed to pay an ARC organization who will match advance copies of their books with eager readers. The readers are not paid and are not required to review the books they receive—but as you may imagine, readers who reliably post insightful reviews are in great demand, while those who take the freebies and post anodyne one-liners, or nothing, aren’t likely to stay on the list for long.
Told you that to tell you this: there’s a huge demand for good reader/reviewers. Continue reading
In the past couple of months, I have been out in the writing wilds, reviewing multiple manuscripts. I return to you now with disturbing news: someone has absconded with all the dialogue tags.
Or so I thought, when three of the last four manuscripts I reviewed had long passages of dialogue with no attributions. None of those innocuous “he said” “she said” phrases. No bodies in motion in the same paragraph to show who must have said it. Not even the slightly more annoying scene blocking some of us (ahem, are those three fingers pointing back at me?) tend to use, at least in early drafts, for variation. This lack of tags occurred in scenes with two people talking. And three characters. And even five! Yes, I read a scene with five people in a conversation, with no way to discern, from the words on the page, who was saying what.
I got a sinking feeling.
When a trend appears across manuscripts of writers who do not know each other (and therefore probably haven’t come up with a new technique themselves), I smell “advice” emanating from “professionals”. When I asked one of the writers about the lack of tags, she confirmed my fear. She had cut most of the dialogue tags from her manuscript after her writing group (that’s a whole other blog post, isn’t it?) told her she should stop using them. WHAT?!!! I wondered out loud where they had learned this…ok, I’m struggling not to use profanity, so imagine some nicer word for BS. According to my writer, they got the advice from agents. More precisely, from agents ranting on Twitter.
That loud thwack heard ’round the world was my head hitting my desk. Continue reading
Photo: Black Milk Women
I recently ran across a survey that I thought the other Ladies and their fans might be interested in. The (very) informal survey was conducted by Barbara Linn Probst, a novelist and researcher who holds a Ph.D. in clinical social work. She wanted to know what elements of a novel made a reader love it.
Probst said that the idea for the survey was triggered because as a novelist, she felt that she was thinking like a technician, not a reader. She said that while she focused on characterization, plot development, and pacing, she said that she believed readers didn’t pay attention to those things—unless some massive failure drew a reader’s attention to them. Continue reading
I’ve been reading on-line reviews lately which, in some cases, is a lot like slowing down to look at an accident on the side of the road. You know you shouldn’t do it, but something just draws you in.
I often scan the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads for books I’m considering buying. I’m rarely influenced by them, unless they happen to mention any of my no-buy triggers, but it’s interesting to see the range of responses a book may get. Looking at the high and low reviews it often seems like they are talking about completely different books.
My recent foray into review reading was over on Goodreads, where I was curious to see what people thought about a series I am in the midst of reading. I had a very strong emotional response to many of the books in the series and I wondered whether others had as well. (They did.) To be completely honest, I was also looking for some mild spoilers about the next book in the series so I could decide whether to continue reading or take a break. The story I just finished had packed a major emotional punch and I wasn’t sure I could handle another dose quite so soon.
Based on the reviews – some of which were wonderfully written, some of which were witty, some of which were just plain mean, and very few of which contained actual spoilers – I decided it was time for a little reading palate cleanser.
Conveniently, as a “street team” member for a number of authors, I often have Advanced Reader copies (ARCs) of upcoming books sitting in my inbox, waiting to be read. Even more conveniently, the most recent ARC I had ready and waiting was about as far from the series I had been reading as it is possible to be and still be book.
Palate cleansed. Continue reading
Some of my very favorite books have unlikable protagonists:
- Ain’t She Sweet, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
- A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby
- Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn,
- Girl on a Train, by Paula Hawkins
- A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy O’Toole
- Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.
- Citizen Vince, by Jess Walter
But, you point out, most of those novels are literary fiction. Only one is a Romance.
True, but I’ve never subscribed to the notion that Romance can’t take on the same challenges as other genres. The only two rules your book has to follow to be a Romance are:
- Must have a central love story.
- Must end with a happy ever after.
That’s it. Somewhere along the way, a lot of romance authors (and, to be honest, readers) have added a third, unwritten rule: The protagonist must be likable from Day One. I beg to disagree. Continue reading
So I got a note from an old friend and former co-worker the other day, saying they couldn’t finish The Demon Always Wins because it was too scary. Pressed, she admitted that she never actually started it–just the idea of demons freaked her out.
I was sorry she couldn’t enjoy the book, but I didn’t really take it to heart. It didn’t feel like a rejection of my work so much as a rejection of the genre. Since I have no expectation that I’m going to convert anyone who doesn’t like paranormal over to reading it, I wasn’t upset.
What felt a little more personal was the lady at the gym who declined to read it because of the cursing in the first chapter. I pointed out that only the bad guys curse, but she wasn’t swayed. Cursing makes her uncomfortable. Continue reading