Monday, November 17, 2014

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

I only said that because I'm hoping to have a book and a proposal done by Christmas. LOL If I get them done, that will be a happy, lucky day for me. And I have a Christmas release THE TWELVE DATES OF CHRISTMAS. Not to mention today's $.99 release CHASING THE RUNAWAY BRIDE. For $.99? ...go buy it. LOL

When I'm in the throes of deadline after deadline...which I will be until June 1, 2015, I have discovered that two things will keep me from going off track. Those same two things will give me "something to write" every day.

What are these magnificent things?

The one-line story summary...It's a book about a shy heroine who only makes sensible decisions because of her life as a foster child, who meets a temperamental chef who sweeps her off her feet, but she's terrified to commit to him.

And story high points.

These are the framework of your story. So even if your storyboard goes wrong or your synopsis suddenly becomes irrelevant -- because, as the story took life as you wrote it, something took an unexpected turn -- you can keep your story on point (even with the new direction) if you lead it back to your one-line story summary and/or your story high points.

For instance, in my story about the Italian chef, the hero kissed the heroine before he was supposed to. LOL But I didn't panic. I knew the next high point was to be that she told him she was already engaged and I used the kiss as the event that causes her to tell him. Then my story was back on track. Except the first kiss in the synopsis now became the second kiss. LOL

If, however, I have a character make a decision that goes against the one-sentence story summary, I might actually delete the scene.  If my shy character who only makes sensible decisions suddenly decides to go skinny dipping long before her character arc allows for her personality to begin changing...I axe that baby. Why? Because if you lose your connection to the one-sentence story summary, you lose your connection to the story.

I'm all for characters helping the story along with unexpected behavior. But note...The temperamental chef's unexpected action FIT the one-sentence story summary. The heroine going skinny dipping did not.

That one-sentence story summary should be the heart of your story. It should be the essence of the story you want to tell...if you go against have a totally different story.

You don't want that...At least you shouldn't. When you wrote that one-sentence summary, it should have made your heart sing...if it didn't...maybe that version of the story wasn't the one you wanted to write?

Plus, if you can find the heart of your story before you start writing, you can save yourself a lot of woe. :)

So chew on that. And go buy my $.99 book.

But stick to the heart of your story...Oh, and btw, if you don't like the heart of your story...or don't feel it's strong enough, I'd keep working on THAT before I wrote. Know that heart and your writing day will become a lot easier. :)

Happy Monday...and Happy Reading
susan meier

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Scientific Benefits of 20-Minute Writing Sprints

With a couple of deadlines looming, my friend Tamara Girardi volunteered to share her experience and wisdom on sprints. With NaNoWriMo on deck, it's the perfect time to think about productivity.

The Scientific Benefits of 20-Minute Writing Sprints 

Guest Blog by Tamara Girardi


            The camaraderie of sprints such as #1k1hr on Twitter (which encourages you to write 1,000 words in an hour while other writers on Twitter do the same) has always appealed to me, but staying committed for the full hour proved difficult. I wanted a drink. One of my kids needed a snack, a diaper change, a fill-in-the-blank. Or I simply lost focus and momentum on my work-in-progress.

            Recently when I signed on to participate in NaNoWriMo, I decided I would sprint a bit with #1k1hr, but then something even better happened. A writer friend of mine and I started sprinting on our own - for twenty minute spurts. Twenty minutes work so much better for my brain (and my hectic environment) than hour-long intervals.

            Science just might explain why.

            Productivity blogger J.D. Meier promotes 20-minute intervals as very useful slice[s] of time noting the productive possibilities are endless, if you can sustain your focus. The key is to know that sustained thinking takes energy, and it burns out.

            In other words, the goal is to write nonstop and really push your mind (and your fingertips/pencil and paper) for 20 minutes. Then, the next piece of science comes in.

            To address the burn out, J.D. Meier says to take breaks to recharge and renew. Five-minute breaks are a great way to stay focused.

            Research supports J.D. Meiers advocacy for frequent breaks.

            University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras references his research, suggesting, when faced with long tasks, it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!

            One hour might not seem like a long task, but for me, writing nonstop for one hour, is unnecessarily challenging. My one-hour sprints tend to yield around 1,000 words (as the #1k1hr hashtag suggests), but when I sprinted for three 20-minute sprints with five-minute breaks in between, I wrote 1,943 words!

            That was a particularly productive session. They dont all go that well, but it certainly went better with shorter sprints and brief breaks than it would have with one hour of solid writing.

            For me, anyway.

            Of course, this does not suggest you shouldnt participate in #1k1hr. Just dont feel badly if you have to stop after 20 or 25 minutes for a 5-minute break.

            Additional research supports the value frequent breaks by categorizing our brain modes as focused mode and diffuse mode. According to research, diffuse mode is that time when our minds are daydreaming and wandering, and studies show that activity in many brain regions increases when our minds wander.

            Some scientists argue that the brain solves problems in diffuse mode, which could explain why writers are able to progress through their manuscripts more quickly with small breaks. Perhaps the brain works out manuscript challenges during the diffuse time, so that when we return to our focused time (in this instance, another 20-minute sprint), the brain can be even more productive than if the break never occurred.

            Perhaps 20-minute sprints arent your key time interval. Maybe you work best in 15 minutes. Or 30 minutes. In any case, try to determine what your most productive intervals are. Take quick breaks in between. Get up from your desk to grab a drink, throw the laundry into the dryer, watch the kids play. Transition your mind from focused mode to diffuse mode for just a few minutes before diving back in for another sprint.

            NaNoWriMo participants or not, we can all use a little boost in productivity, right?

            What is your sprinting style? How often do you like to take breaks? Share your experiences with focused and diffuse modes in the comments below.




Sites I refer to if you want to link to them:





An English instructor for Harrisburg Area Community Colleges Virtual Learning program, Tamara Girardi holds a PhD in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Letters in Creative Writing from the University of St. Andrews. Her YA fantasy DREAMSEER won the 2013 PennWriters Novel Beginnings Contest and is on submission with agents. Tamara is a member of Backspace, Sisters in Crime, and PennWriters. Follow her (and challenge her to a writing sprint!) on Twitter @TamaraGirardi.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hey guys! I could use some help

I have a new book out from Harlequin Romance...THE TWELVE DATES OF CHRISTMAS. Harlequin has been losing shelf space so it's not in many bookstores. I'm sort of counting on online sales and it's not doing so well.

Could you share the cover on your Facebook page? Or tweet about it?

Catch Susan Meier's new holiday read THE TWELVE DATES OF CHRISTMAS.

All help appreciated. :)

The weekly writer blog is below.


Monday, November 3, 2014

One trick today

The guys from DitDat told us at Ninc that posts don't have to be long. They have to be useful.

So here we go with something useful...

We've talked about the could/might/must and should list for jotting down potential scenes for your book and using the list when you storyboard. But what do you do when your idea is just a glimmer?

Do you have a system for "catching" ideas before they run away from you? You should.

To me, there are two ways to get an idea.

The first one is simple. You get a full-blown idea. "The hero and heroine must catch a killer but she's already been arrested for the crime and he's the DA prosecuting her." That's a full-blown idea. When you get one of these, scenes will pop into your head. You know the conflicts just from the one line.

The second one isn't so simple. It's an idea that you get piecemeal. You see a mom with twins and Walmart and you think, "Hmm...I'd like to write a murder mystery about a twin who frames her sister for murder." And from there you get bits and pieces of the idea. You see things that fit into the story, one piece at a time.

Do you capture these the same way? (Do YOU even try to capture them at all? Some people don't. They assume their subconscious will work everything out and they end up losing a lot of good ideas that way.)

Actually, you can capture both types of idea the same way. You create a form or system and put it in a notebook.

My "idea" page starts with "Gist of the story." That could be "Hero and heroine must catch a killer but she's already been arrested for the crime and she's the DA prosecuting her." Or "I'd like to write a murder mystery about a twin who frames her sister for murder." Though one's the full-blown idea and the other is just a thought, they are both the "gist" of a story.

Then I have  a section called Conflicts. In the one case you could fill them in right away. In the other, the very fact that you have a section called conflicts reminds you that you have to ponder these, and as ideas pop into your head you fill in the conflict-related tidbits.

I have space for characters and, as ideas come to me, I write them in. I sometimes write out my thought process. ie Should they be identical twins? Do you really want to write about another yellow-haired vixen? Is the hero tall, dark and handsome, or is his lack of physical perfection part of his sexiness? Or his conflict?

Setting is also a good category. For some story types setting is almost a character. But even if your setting is just background, you still have to know what it is. :)

Then I have the section for potential scenes. The could/might/must and should list.

I write these "categories" of story in sections that are about a page or two in a spiral notebook. I don't always have the notebook with me, but I have it with me lots of times. (Because I always carry a big purse.) I may also have more than one story in a notebook. (Because most of us have lots and lots of ideas.) If I do have more than one idea, I put a post-it where one idea ends and another begins.

I do like to talk to myself, so there are a lot of my arguments for and against hero types, settings, potential scenes on my pages...but I know shorthand so anyone who finds my notebook won't think I'm crazy...but also I can fit a lot of words on a page! LOL

If you start a notebook like this, ONE notebook to capture ideas, when it comes time to write your next story, you will be surprised and pleased at how far you've already taken your idea(s).

Happy Monday and Happy Reading...

susan ... who is hoping that was short enough to please the guys at DitDat. :)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Susan Meier's Sometimes Crazy, Sometimes Spot On Thoughts about the Ninc Conference

Long title...interesting post. LOL

The Ninc (Novelists Inc.) Conference is long and intense. People from the industry attend and for the most part they are the speakers during the day. At night, we have what we call night owl sessions. These are led by authors and frequently are roundtable discussions, not workshops.

There is so much great information at this conference that I take notebooks full of notes. But, invariably, I come away with two or three takeaway points that I can actually implement. So I don't have to type pages of notes to you. This might not even be a long blog. LOL

So what did I learn from the CEO of Sourcebooks, Porter Anderson, Hugh Howey, a little contingent from Amazon, etc?

1. The industry is changing...No, duh, right? Well, this change runs deeper than the fact that authors can now self-publish. Because there are more ways to publish, an author (and if she has one, her publisher) needs to interpret the sales numbers differently. If you sell well in Walmart, for instance, you should be targeting Walmart readers and you or your publisher should make sure tons of your books go to Walmart. BUT...This also means certain types of advertising won't be effective. If you're an impulse buy at Walmart is an ad on an obscure blog site effective? Maybe not. (Okay...Probably not.) However, if the majority of your sales are esales to readers whose impulse takes place when they pick up their ereader or when they read your latest blog (or interview), then the same ads that won't work for that Walmart author will work for you.

But it goes beyond the simplistic. Seriously. Do Indies complain that they only have esales? No. They rejoice. If there's no print copy of their book, or if they have a Createspace book (Print on Demand) for their loyal print readers, they don't stress over what might actually only be a courtesy to their print readers. They focus on the numbers that count.

Which the end...traditional publishers can no longer look at a "sales" number which lumps everything together, they need to break that number down and analyze it.

Do they? Will they?

Who knows. LOL

2. We need to take a second look at our social media efforts. Readers hate buy my book, buy my book, buy my book...Oh, hell, I'm just going to say it...I HATE buy my book, buy my book, buy my book on Twitter and Facebook. Now, that's not to say, you can't have a post that says, Halleluiah, my book is out TODAY or next week or here's my new cover. What it is saying is that you shouldn't schedule a post every 15 minutes that says buy my book. I know. I know. The first post is going to get lost...but ... You do not want to turn readers off.

So...If we can't hawk our books...How should we be looking at social media?

After going to a number of workshops given by publicists, publishers and the guys from Dit Dat, I analyzed my notes (You're shocked I know...) and saw a thread that basically says, your social media posts should tell people who YOU are. (For better or for worse, my beer Friday posts may have led many people to buy stock in the company that owns Michelob Ultra.)

Readers (ultimately...eventually) are interested in your next book. (Thank God.) But when they see you on social media they are curious about YOU. Day-to-Day YOU. Hey, here I am in my PJs, eating peanut butter toast, about to start my novel.

You hate that, right? You don't want to see "I'm eating peanut butter toast" from your author friends. You think that's stupid. Yeah, but you know your author friends. You LIVE the same experience. So it's not fascinating to you. But it is to readers.

And like it or not, readers hunt you down on social media for just this kind of tidbit. Not to hear buy my book, buy my book, buy my book.

So how do you sell books to them? With your sparkling personality? Some of you may be lucky enough to do that...LOL...but most of us just don't sparkle that brightly. LOL What we need to do is befriend them enough, or post enough, or post interestingly enough that eventually they go to our website, FIND EVEN MORE PERSONAL STUFF...and eventually go to our books page.

Whew. That sounds like a lot of work. Especially, for one reader.

Yes. But here's the deal. If your book is in Walmart. A small crowd doesn't gather around it, chat about you, say kind things about your last book, and then ultimately clear the shelf of your novel. No. One customer at a time walks up to the shelf. She looks at all the AUTHOR NAMES (Sorry, but contrary to what lots of traditional publishers think, I believe readers first look for author name.) Then she looks at covers and titles...almost simultaneously. ie The cover will attract, then the title will create curiosity...then she picks up the book and reads the back cover blurb...and, well, you know the rest.

My point, though, is that you are selling to one person at a time. You always have been.

So social media is the place where readers befriend you, get interested in or curious about you. From there they may jump to a book site and look at your books...but (according to the people I heard at Ninc) more than likely they will go to your website. Where they still want to know MORE about you, which means...

3. The website isn't dead.

And, in fact, it can be your most effective tool. But, readers still don't want to read buy my book, buy my book. They want to see a bit more about YOU, your interests, your life. They want your grandmother's pie recipe. Or a free read. Or a public service announcement like...Support the American Cancer Society...because the very fact that you are kind enough to have a message like that says something about lots of different ways. Maybe even that you knew someone who died from cancer and that's why you support the cause.

So what does all this mean?

Well, first off...interpret your numbers correctly and, secondly, YOU are the commodity readers want until they buy your book. And even after a reader buys your book and reads it, she wants to know a little sumpin' sumpin' about the person who wrote the book she loved. Why did you write it? How did you get interested in cowboys, space aliens, tycoons, serial killers?

It's now a relationship. If you're lucky, it becomes a love match. <3 font="">

Now, do you have to tell them everything? The color of your undies? Your addiction to THE BLACKLIST? I say skip the undies and stick with things that can potentially connect you to your readers. A shared love of a TV show. A shared love of crocheting. Or even introducing them to something like the history of firehouses that potentially builds a hobby for them.

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO GET SO PERSONAL. You don't have to post pix of the grandkids if you don't want to. But that means you need to find other ways to connect with them. Because the key here is CONNECTION...

Oh, crap. It's almost 8:30 and I have to write. So I'm off for now.

But chew on all of that. :)

And Happy Monday

susan meier

Monday, October 20, 2014

On my way to Ninc

Ninc? What's Ninc?

Novelists Inc. The conference is in Tampa. I leave Wednesday. My capris are packed, along with my tank tops. LOL

So what are we going to do at the Ninc Conference?

Well, first ,you should know that to become a member of Novelists Inc. you need to have published at least two books. (Sorry, I know the rules have been updated, but I'm not familiar with the requirements pertaining to self-published.)

Because everyone in the group is multi-published, there are no workshops on "how to write." It's assumed we all know how to write. LOL Our workshops are on the industry.

And what an industry it is lately. LOL

There are speakers from Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Audible, Sourcebooks, Writer's Digest, Create Space, Audio Book Creation Exchange, Draft2Digital...not to mention agents, editors, publicists and best-selling authors.

We are going to hear some great stuff...some very technical stuff. So I'll be taking shorthand. LOL Because there is a lot I don't know!

A friend and I were talking a few weeks ago about using raffle copter to handle our giveaways. We talked about the ins and outs of it and suddenly paused. My friend said, "OMG, who would have ever thought we'd need to know this technical stuff?"

Well, none of us. LOL But the truth is we do need to know it.

So I'm away this week but I should have a doozy of a blog for you next week.

Happy Reading
susan meier

Monday, October 13, 2014

Never Say Never... :)

Many years ago, in the stone ages of print-only publishing, there were several nevers. Never write about a sports hero, an actor or a musician...the worst being country singers. Vampires were dead. (No pun intended.) Don't have anything supernatural in your book at all. Don't kill a dog. Don't mention God.

And don't even get me started about the "words" you weren't allowed to use. At. All. Ever.

Then pretty soon, the internet came along, and there was email, then Amazon, ereaders, epublishers, indie published writers and Konrath...and suddenly nothing was taboo. There are no sacred cows. There's no restriction on country singers. I'm reading a book about one now. LOL I've seen dogs killed and cats that talk. Witches and demons. Inspirationals and even, yes, Christian erotica.

If you want to write can.

So the question becomes...should you?

The bottom line is money. (Drat.) Or maybe I should say the bottom line is your goal. Why are you writing this book?

If you want to change the world, have a story burning a hole in your heart, have a spouse who will pay the are free to move about the Internet.

If you want to earn a living, you're not going to have to pay attention to rules as much as you are going to have to watch what's selling.

Now, before you get angry and flick me off your screen...I'm not telling you to copy anyone's work.  You could be the trailblazer who writes the next big thing. There are a lot of us who don't follow the crowd. I was actually laughed at when I wrote my first baby book. I've made a living out of those squirming, peeing suckers.

The trick is, your book has to be worthy of attention to become a trendsetter. If you're not first (and, trust me, just about everything's already been done on the Internet) then you have to be the best. You have to bring an insight to the table no one's ever brought. Or a tone. Or a plot. Or a character.

And, really, it's not that hard. (Stop throwing old shoes.) All you have to do is follow a few rules.

What? I thought you said there were no rules.

There will always be rules. LOL But, seriously, I'm not talking about no country stars or sports heroes or demon daycare workers. I'm talking about rules of great writing. There really are rules about what makes a great book. They differ from genre to genre in some cases, but it's very easy to find a how-to book on basic structure.

And, yeah, like Picasso, you might be the author who bends the rules until they break, and become a grand success. But Picasso also said, "You can't break the rules until you know them." (And have perfected their use or some such thing...Can't remember the quote verbatim.)

So where am I going will all this?

I believe there is a market for every book. :) You can write crap (or I can write crap) and put it on the Internet and somebody will buy it. Maybe lots of somebodies.

But if you want to be great, if you want your books to be loved, to be need to take your time, learn the rules of your genre, and write a great book.

Happy Monday

susan meier

PS I looked up the Picasso quote...“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”