Leave Dust on Your Shelves

Sandy’s thoughts on house-cleaning:

“Don’t clean your personal library too deeply, for the tracks in the bookshelves’ dust are a testament to your love for your favorite books.”

Sandy Lender, Monday, March 7, 2011

Published in: on March 7, 2011 at 3:41 pm  Comments (1)  
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How to Write Scenes that Keep Readers Up All Night

By Your Blog Owner and Dragon Writer, Sandy Lender

Every writer experiences some moment during his or her manuscript when he or she stares at the computer screen and wonders, “Oh my God, how can I fix this crap?” I think the number of these moments increases as a deadline for an editor nears. Something that helps writers is to take individual scenes apart from their start to finish. Treat each scene as a mini-book.

The mini-book/scene requires a start, middle, and “end”; a hook and a climax; a completed purpose, no matter how trite the purpose may seem; and a clear goal for the character who stars in the scene. Here are some tips to help you check your scenes to be sure they pass the mini-book test.

Bob Gelinas at ArcheBooks Publishing recommends every book have at least three to five “big” scenes that stun and impress the reader. He’s talking about the kind of scenes upon which the reader dwells long after he or she has finished the book and is standing in the grocery store line recommending your book to the cashier—and anyone else who’ll listen.

I challenge you to make every scene at least healthy and effective, if not Hollywood-memorable. Make sure each scene has a purpose that furthers the story and gives the reader more information than he or she had before the scene began. You want to be sure the character’s goal (the purpose) is clear, but fraught with some level of tension or conflict.

As an example, in Problems on Eldora Prime, available everywhere, the crew of the Instigator has a simple goal in the second half of chapter six: stack crates against the cargo bay door to keep zombie-like monsters out. That’s it. Simple. The conflict hampering their progress is their awe/confusion and arguing over the dragons in the cargo hold with them.

By the time the MC has gone through the scene, the reader has a better understanding of the dragons in the story, and is ready to turn the page to see if Khiry will release the beasts or not. That’s right: end the scene on a cliffhanger.

The last thing you want to do is tie up a scene all nice and pretty with a bow. If a reader finishes a scene with a contented sigh and a smile, he or she will likely close the book (or set down the eReader) and turn off the light. Will she pick it back up the next day? There may be something else on her reading list…

Keep character traits in mind when producing the memorable scene. Each of your characters has personality traits and motivations to which you want to remain true. If Kor, the marksman from the Instigator in Problems on Eldora Prime, were to lag behind the group on the way to what they hope is a safehaven on Eldora Prime, dragging his gun in the dirt and ignoring his surroundings while others take on the responsibility of guarding the crew, the reader would wonder what had happened to him. It’s his job and his prerogative to support his leader and protect his crew. If you have a strong character, beware of giving him or her “weak” phases. If you have a weak character, beware of how quickly you advance him or her through an arc toward strength.

If you find yourself facing an “Oh my God, how can I fix this crap?” moment, consider a complete rewrite of the scene in question. Don’t be afraid of the delete button. Maybe the scene needs to be shown from a different character’s point of view. Maybe it needs a new purpose. Maybe it needs a rush of adrenaline or a hint of humor. Maybe it needs an explosion or two to make it one of the three to five unforgettable scenes that your reader will tell fellow grocery shoppers about.

If your current scene fails the mini-book test or doesn’t “work” for you on some other level, invest the time to rewrite with these tips for memorable and successful scenes in mind. When you view the scene through one character’s eyes and with one goal in mind, you set yourself up for best success. Build on that with tension, conflict, consistent character traits, a cliffhanger ending, and more to give the reader a scene that makes him or her turn the page, eager for more.

“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

Dragon Wine and Old English Lit Thesis Suggestions

I’ve got this bottle of Chaucer’s Mead aging in the wine rack. There will come a day…probably the day Choices Meant for All is released, when I’ll pop that baby open and sip away. Overall, I enjoy a glass of wine on occasion to savor the sweetness. Reislings are my friends. Ice wine is a newfound joy. The experts aren’t kidding when they tell you it’s made with sweet grapes. Sweet frozen grapes, that is.

Like a good dragon, I drink my wine at home so I don’t have to drive afterward. I used to be so much more tolerant of alcohol in my system, but the “stuff” I’m dealing with health-wise actually lowers one’s tolerance. Go figure! It’s a symptom.

My random wine-drinking reminds me of the beer commercial with the World’s Most Interesting Man. The announcer goes to all this trouble to convince you this guy is “all that,” and then shows the dude in a shadowy bar (and aren’t they all?) with a beer bottle. Yeah, THAT’S interesting. Boring! So they had to give the guy lines. “I doDragon Winen’t always drink beer, but when I do, I drink [this stuff right here].” I’m purposefully leaving the name out because, really, do I want to advertise beer on my blog? No. No, I do not.

Dragons don’t drink beer.

In fact, I bet dragons get tummy-aches after eating warriors who’ve been drinking copious amounts of beer. It may be why you see so many tragic scenes of drunken, dead warriors who haven’t been eaten by dragons…merely slashed and killed.

There’s a thesis for an Old English Literature student right there. What beverages make a warrior more palatable to dragons?

Whatever your views on dragons eating warriors, I share a toast with you. May the wine of which you partake this evening be sweet enough to entice dragons to join you in your repast, and not to encourage them to munch on you…

“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

Published in: on January 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Survive Your Amazon Ranking with a Good Review

Or…The Dragon talks about the Amazon marketing blues today

(this is a re-post from May 2009 at the old dragon blog in response to an Amazon ranking article at this week’s Writers Weekly)

My fantasy novel Choices Meant for Gods had been available at http://tinyurl.com/CMFGamazon for about a day when a friend of mine sent a message through an online group saying something to the effect of OMGlookatyourrankingonamazonlookatitnow. The note may have been in all caps.

I obeyed her to find my ranking at 200,000+. Well, that ain’t half bad for a then-unknown author with only one book out. But I recalled a warning a fellow writer gave at a meeting in the not-so-distant past. He cautioned that your book can perform much better in a day than the numbers/rankings at Amazon reflect. Here’s why: (remember, this was presented at a conference in 2009–Amazon may have upgraded since then)

The great and powerful Oz O’Amazon hides behind his curtain and sorts information every hour. He sends all those computer-language ones and zeroes skittering toward their end equations until, at about some point past the hour, according to the presenter, the rankings at Amazon.com change. This is every hour.

It’s enough to make an author bi-polar. And I don’t think you have to be a fantasy author like me who’s already half way to a state of confusion to develop the condition.

So I looked at my 200,000+ ranking for Choices Meant for Gods when my friend told me to, came back an hour later to a 100,000+ ranking, and visited that night to find a 68,000+ ranking. I was elated. Elated, I tell you! But I have seen numbers all over the board since then. One recent night when I was contemplating the arsenic-laced Kool-aid because my ranking had been down around 1,400,000+, I checked one last time to see what exact figure to include in my suicide note. I found the blasted thing back at 200,000+! How does that happen? (I think that hour’s traffic can be attributed to an Author Island blog post, actually, and I recommend every published author get in touch with DeNita Tuttle for her much-needed support.)

There are other ways authors can manipulate their Amazon rankings. First, I would ask if it’s worth your time and energy. Second, I would caution you against unscrupulous agencies preying upon the insecure or inexperienced in our industry. Beware of PR companies that want to charge a few thousand dollars to get your Amazon ranking up to No. 1. Look closely at what they’re going to do:
* What gimmick or free give-away are they offering when someone buys your book? Maybe you’re cool with a bedroom toy for a free giveaway if you’ve got an erotic romance to promote, but, for the sweet romance couched in my fantasy Choices Meant for Gods, a French tickler would definitely be over the top!
* Who are they going to align you with for promotional purposes? I’ll keep politics out of this blog post, and you probably want to keep political affiliations away from your romance, memoir, sci-fi, or mystery title, too.
* What sort of discount off your book are you going to have to take? If you’re just interested in building audience with a first book or a new genre, maybe giving up a small royalty in your contract is no big deal. For Choices Meant for Gods, I was so pleased to get my foot in the publishing-industry door that I didn’t fear the industry’s warning cry that I’d make no money on the first book. I went in with both eyes open, knowing this is an audience-building venture.
* How much are you going to have to pay? You have to weigh this marketing idea against other promotional and marketing weapons in your arsenal. In this day and age, few publishers hand out copious amounts of cash to authors for promotional efforts. Promoting and marketing your book is your responsibility. Luckily for me, ArcheBooks Publishing has some technologies in place to help its authors and the man in charge is a wiz when it comes to creating banners, flyers, ads for print or web, etc. Also in my favor: ArcheBooks Publishing has a stable of authors who have done this before and they could warn me against the predators who would seek out a fledgling author and scam her with an Amazon-rank-hiking scheme.
* Is your No. 1 ranking guaranteed? Just what will the company you’re paying guarantee to do with your Amazon ranking? Is it guaranteed for an hour? When is that hour—at 2 p.m. on a Saturday or at 3 a.m. on a Wednesday? Or is the No. 1 ranking guaranteed for a day, which I personally define as 24 hours.
These things are often a scam. Let me emphasize that for you. These things are often a scam. Please use your hard-earned money wisely and protect your hard-earned reputation carefully.

Now here’s something you can do to improve not just an arbitrary number, but your sales as well: get some good reviews. Do you know people who have already reviewed books on Amazon.com before? Those are good folks to talk to because they have a track record. Politely request they read and review your exciting new breakthrough work. Now, a person who already has a few reviews under his or her belt will carry more weight than your Aunt Edna who’s never heard of Amazon before, but, hey, if Aunt Edna’s the only person biting right now, she’s better than no review at all! (unless she pans it…)

Beware of site owners who are paying for reviews. Potential buyers will start to pick up on that and get turned off. You’re better off selecting your own reviewers who are doing it because they love stories, love to read, love to offer their opinions and love to get home-baked cookies in the mail. (I’m joking. I’ve never sent cookies to a reviewer…yet.)

And here’s an interesting fact for you. When a five-star review goes up on Amazon, the book’s sales are supposed to increase by 38 percent. That’s nice.

So manipulate the ranking at Amazon.com (or B&N.com) however you wish, but don’t let it rule your life. Seeing it at 200,000+ at 6 p.m. doesn’t reflect the 45 books that sold at 10 a.m., or vice versa. The great and powerful Oz hasn’t perfected a system to make you look good for the whole day with numbers, but you know what? I think you look good because you have a published book! Hooray for you!

And if you’re still working to get your book to that stage, there are tips and tidbits from interviewed authors here at Today the Dragon Wins to help you pursue that goal. We’re all pullin’ for ya.

“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

Another Dragon Story is Out

I’m a couple weeks late announcing this here. I apologize!

My short story titled “Dragons in Crisis–Overcoming Neuroses, One Dragon at a Time” has been released with a variety of great fantasy stories and fantasy authors in the second edition of Winter’s Night magazine. You can order a downloadable digital copy or a snazzy print version with fantastic dragon cover art from the lulu site. Richard Bray, the editor, did a lovely job again this year of gathering a nice mix of fantasy spice.

I also posted an edited version of my dragon story on Smashwords, which you can download for free. I’m going to make you work to find that, though. Why? Because I’m a horrid person. (To be honest, I want you to do a search for me on Smashwords to find all kinds of goodies AND I’d rather you support the writing group that Richard Bray leads with the proceeds from the Winter’s Night magazine.)(You can also pick up the first edition, which contains my short story titled “A Legacy Protected.”)

“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

Let’s Set Goals

Call them resolutions. Call them goals. We set them around the first of the new year in an attempt to better ourselves, improve our lives, move our careers forward, etcetera. I’ve got a set of goals in mind that I’d like to share for the sake of just putting them out there for the universe and everybody to see. My hope is that sharing these goals will help me keep them in the forefront of my mind as the year progresses. Here we go.

My first resolution for 2011 is to perform at least some act of promotion or marketing for the furtherance of my book publishing career each and every day of 2011. (For instance, Saturday, Jan. 1, I posted a free read on Smashwords. Sunday, Jan. 2, I sent updates to my website, including two advance excerpts for Choices Meant for All, to my web gal. Tomorrow, Monday, Jan. 3, I’ll post a scene from What Choices We Made Vol II on the Brenda Williamson Romance Party list. I have a variety of blog appearances and speaking engagements already lined up for the spring in addition to postings and whatnot. It’s going to be a full year!)

My second resolution for 2011 is to complete eleven (11) books of novel or novella length. I anticipate there will be a couple of short stories in there, but I have a list of books that are on the roster. Almost ready, you might say. Choices Meant for All is the first comin’ out of the chute. I’ve got the follow-up to Problems on Eldora Prime (Problems Above Pangaea Moon) waiting in the wings. Then there’s a holiday ditty that needs some polishing. I also have my NaNoWriMo piece to finish and edit. There are more. I’ll report back as we dive into March, April, etcetera.

My third resolution is to read more. I started with a mystery novel that tried my patience Saturday. Ugh. But, hey, what can you do? I also read a short fantasy story called The Gauntlet that was delightful. Now, I don’t know that I’m going to take time to write reviews for these things…

I think that’s enough for one person with a day-job.

Have you made resolutions? Goals? A wish-list? I wish you not just a happy, safe, and healthy 2011, but I also wish you much success with the goals you’ve set for yourself. Check in from time to time and let us cheer each other on.

“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

That Wasn’t the Way I Planned NaNoWriMo

I went into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) with a great idea for a steampunk novel. About two weeks and a mere 7,000+ words into it, I hated several of the characters and saw no way to redeem the main protagonist. He was just too weak and simpering. Luckily, I still had the rest of the month to develop a new novel. I was only two weeks behind.

Funny how life treats you when you’re on a deadline. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who tell me they “don’t have time to write” when there’s a whole thirty days in which to work. Would you like to know what life threw at me November 2010? It’s not so different from what any other writer went through, I’m sure. You can gauge the measure of a professional by what she does with those setbacks and bits of bad luck. She can moan and complain and turn them into excuses for failure. Or she can tell the universe who’s really in charge.

That would be me, by the way.

One thing I did plan to have taking place during NaNoWriMo: two online book tours. The ladies at Goddess Fish Promotions helped me put together an online tour for Problems on Eldora Prime (a YA novel released from Night Wolf Publications in October) mid-month. I didn’t plan for it to go haywire when some of the tour hosts had problems holding up their end of the bargain, but, hey, it worked out! The other tour starts tomorrow for What Choices We Made, Volume II. The launch is at a book party site of some sort that ought to be pretty cool! I’m giving away a book to a lucky commenter from the tour, so you’re welcome to stop by a blog and discuss the topic of the day at any time…WCWM II Cover

November 2010, I had two trips that took me out of town. One was a surprise for work that didn’t get nailed down until the weekend before it happened. So I didn’t know if I’d begin NaNoWriMo on a plane or in the comfort of my den. The second trip involved a quick weekend hop to the other side of the state for my cousin’s wedding. I intended to write in the car for 90 minutes each way while my date drove. At the last minute, we realized my date couldn’t get out of work, so I drove myself. No writing time for me! But I elected to get a hotel room so I could at least sit up all night writing in peace and quiet while staring at the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, that weekend was the coldest yet this year for Florida and the hotel had not yet turned on the central heating. I froze and was unable to get more than a thousand words down. Doggone! Luckily, that was work I threw out anyway (see note about irredeemable protagonist above).

Throw in the daily activities of cleaning four bird cages and keeping up with a day job like everyone has to do with a surprise doggie/house-sitting gig that required back-n-forth driving (but the doggie was adorable and catching Duran Duran on the supersize TV did NOT suck). My day job is as an editor for an international trade magazine, so there’s a monthly publication deadline to add to the non-novel responsibilities we’re discussing. In November, I also worked on and helped launch a new website for a conference I’m chairing. For that conference, I planned the program and solicited speakers during November because, although the conference is in April, I need to get the program brochure printed and mailed in early December. I also met with a fabulous woman who’s taking on the brunt of the sponsorship asks because I know I’m weak at that.

Now throw in a couple of doctor appointments. I intended to spend the lengthier of the appointments with my novel! I took the laptop, fully charged, with me, but the nurse had a fit and forbade me to type, telling me the sugars in my muscles would collect in my hands and fingers if I used the computer or blackberry while I sat for an hour waiting for medicine to course through my body. Thwarted again! Next disappointment came while waiting for the technicians to wrangle up the results of my labwork (one appt) and scans (another appt) so my doctor could discuss it all with me (another appt that took two hours after the hour drive to get there). You can’t make this stuff up!

Toss in a 90-minute board meeting an hour from my home for the Naples Press Club. Another meeting I attended in November that took far longer than I anticipated was a writers’ group meeting one Saturday afternoon. I signed up before realizing, omigod, the networking lunch started at 11:30 and the business meeting ended at 4 p.m. That’s a chunk of a Saturday that I really wanted for writing!

Of course November has holiday overtones for some folks. I’m in the U.S.A., so I celebrated Thanksgiving at a friend’s house for a few hours on the 25th. I’m a Christian, so I prep and send out Christmas cards with a Christmas catch-up letter in them. While I got the letter written, edited, and printed early in the month, I had to go through and cross out a line of mis-information before getting the cards in the mail. Only half of the cards are signed, addressed, stamped, and in the stack to be mailed right now, but I anticipate the other thirty will be ready before Dec. 1 now that I’ve hit the 50,000+ goal for NaNoWriMo.

That’s right. I succeeded despite all the crazy bits I’ve listed here. I’ve not listed them to complain about them. They’re facts of life that writers, as well as normal people, have to deal with in any given week/month. The point I want to make is that we have to roll with the punches and work around crazy bits like this. You don’t succeed in life by giving up when a few meetings run long or a few time slots get usurped by crappy circumstances. You’ve got to suck it up and rearrange the attitude, the thought process, the schedule, the den, etcetera. Whatever it takes…

I didn’t complete Military Issue (which will probably have a name change before Christmas) with 61,296 words. That word count is enough to “win” NaNoWriMo for my second year, but it’s not enough to resolve Captain Jess Ukraine and Princess Anam Cara’s issues. They have too many issues for a 50,000-word novella. Criminy. But I adore these two (and their dragons), so I’ll be finishing up this novel in between the edits on Choices Meant for All and the edits on Problems Above Pangaea Moon so we have plenty of dragony releases to look forward to in 2011 and beyond. That wasn’t the way I planned it, but that’s the way it’ll work!

From Fantasy Author Sandy Lender

“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

Dragons Downtown

I prepared a guest article about the dragons in my new novel Problems on Eldora Prime. That guest article is live and visible to the whole world today (Friday) at http://www.downtownya.blogspot.com/. Now, I don’t know if Sandra changes her blog every day, so you may have to scroll to read the post if you’re checking in on, say, Saturday… 😉


“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

Published in: on November 19, 2010 at 5:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Real Life, Writing, and NaNoWriMo

If you’re a writer, you’ve been bombarded with information and “pep talks” concerning National Novel Writing Month, which has just begun. If you’re not a writer, those people in your life who are writers probably look a bit harried right now. They’re seeking peace and refuge so they can get their 1,677 words a day (or whatever the minimum is to hit 50,000 for the month).

I’m not following the daily minimum all that closely because my first week of NaNoWriMo has been rife with life. Yes, the day job required a business trip with air travel and I’ll be headed across the state for a wedding tomorrow. Original plan: I’d type while my date drove. Plan B: my date can’t get out of work after all so I’m driving myself. Now, yes, I am quite adept at writing and driving at the same time, and I’m sure I’ll do this well. But I have a new plan up my sleeve.

I’ve booked a room at the wedding’s resort (because it was actually less expensive than any of the resorts or hotels nearby, if you can believe that) for the night. I have an ocean view with balcony for 21 hours. Factor in Daylight Savings Time issues and I have 22 hours. Factor in late check-out and I can probably eek another hour or two from the hotel proprietor who is stoked to have the tourism business at all.

Yes, I have to take time out to attend the wedding. But, dudes and dudettes, I can walk back to my room, open the computer file, and type like mad.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Get hungry? Room service, please. I don’t have to make any food. I don’t have to clean up the dishes. I don’t have to make the bed in the morning. Heck, if I don’t feel like it, I don’t have to shower in the morning. Just wipe the drool off my computer keyboard and pour everything into the trunk of the car…off we go.

This is going to be a good NaNo weekend. The dragon in me is pleased.

“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

Published in: on November 5, 2010 at 8:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Other Tour

Here’s the other tour info! I’ll be conducting on online book tour for my latest full-length novel, Problems on Eldora Prime, next week and the week before Thanksgiving. Fabulous stuff. It’s a young adult, sci-fi/fantasy novel with oodles of scary stuff, dragons, outer space, terraformers, etc.