Bloggers in Print

If you’re a blogger, you’re a writer (I can’t attest to the skill, mind you). Just by blogging, you’re creating a volume of content. Have you ever thought about compiling them into a book to reach a different audience?

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22!

I maintain several blogs.

  • Swanstuff – This is the lint trap of my mind. The topics are all over the place. I’d be hard-pressed to unify them into a coherent book. I began that blog to maintain my sanity. The only time I kept a journal, I was embarrassed to read it. Blogging fulfills my need for people to read what I write, even if it’s just a few readers. This is the first time I’ve publicized it, though. Not every post reflects what I believe now. Be warned.
  • Writes with Swans – Similar to the concept of Dances with Wolves, I write with my namesake. This was writing advise, articles, thoughts, and whatever struck me about the writing process. That blog has yielded to…
  • This blog – Why double the effort? My views on writing and publishing are recorded here.
  • Book blogs – I wanted a way to communicate with the kids who read my books. So far, none have visited. Not even worth the link but you can have it anyway.

I know several humor bloggers, Bonnie, Roxanne, and Doug to name three, the Walter’s marriage blog, a few artists and health nuts. Which blogs are suited to book compilations and what kind of blogs aren’t?

Are:

  • Humor blogs
  • Single topic blogs

Aren’t:

  • Poorly written blogs (hey, everyone can improve)
  • Smorgasbord blogs like my Swanstuff blog that covers any and all topics with no sort of common thread.

What do you do, just copy and paste all your blogs into a book? Not quite.

Thanks to Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry, humor bloggers have it easy, but in all cases, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • A post does not necessarily equal a chapter. Group common thread posts together. Can they be turned into a longer, better chapter together? If not, is there a valuable order of posts? Chronological almost never works.
  • Not every blog post is a keeper. Everybody has an off day, so weed out yours or rework them to be better.
  • Consider voice. Ideally, your blog has a single voice across posts. Is it a good one? Might it be worth creating a new voice with some judicious rewrites?
  • Think about bridging your posts/chapters. This will probably require some new writing, perhaps a framing device.
  • Build – A good book has a beginning, middle, and end. Even though your book is likely episodic, you want to think about progressing the viewpoint to a natural conclusion. If you write a humor blog, read humor books and get a feel for them. Read books within your topic to see how they work. Your book doesn’t have to be the same but know what works in theirs, so it can work for you.
  • Length – You should be aiming for 150 – 200 pages, more if the topic demands it.
  • For topic blogs, perhaps you should use your content as a base and rewrite using your posts as a well from which to draw.

If you do maintain a quixotic blog like mine, look deeper. Are there groupings of individual topics? Many of my posts discuss politics, society, science, family, and weird stuff. With some work, I could combine similarly-themed posts in chapters.

What about your blog?

The Non-Fiction Dilemma

“My topic has been done to death!”

Well, most topics have been. Health, Wellness, Faith, all have been covered extensively. That doesn’t mean you’re in trouble.

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So get writing already!

Take Christianity, for example. Holy bananas, there are a lot of books out there. Volumes and libraries of nothing but books about Jesus. Fortunately, it’s a vast topic. Your non-fiction books don’t have to cover every aspect of a subject, you just have to tackle a corner of it.

Further, while Christology doesn’t change, interpretation does. Some of that interpretation is wrong, or heavy-handed, or off just a bit.

In Aron Osborne’s book, So Many Mountains; Which Ones to Climb?, Aron focus on the important stuff, and in doing so, gives a glorious picture of our loving God. If we tackle the important mountains, the rest falls into place.

My forthcoming book, Creativity Wears Boots, looks at an aspect of creativity and art that I haven’t seen written about anywhere before. What IS creativity? What IS art? What is its purpose and how do you develop it? Why is every human and artist whether they know it or not?

Plus, you have your unique take on the subject. It can be funny, anecdotal, technical, serious. If Bonnie Manning Anderson wrote a book on marriage, it would be hilarious and very different than Debi and Tom Walter’s book, Cherishing Us, a romantic look at marriage. Additionally, the Walter’s book is list-oriented, a romantic tip for each day of the year. I suspect Bonnie’s would be more essay-oriented. Yet another marriage book is by Steve and Cindy Wright, 7 Essentials to Grow Your Marriage, which is unique because Steve tackles each essential from the male perspective and Cindy from the female perspective (guys, when you read it, read both sides, it’s very eye-opening).

There’s also your audience to think about. You can direct your book to children, teens, young adults, adults, and us old folks.

Your topic may be old, but your take on it can be new a fresh. What you bring to your topic is YOU.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh MY!

Let’s look at Fear Fiction. The reader loves it because it scares them or mystifies them.

The category is, again, subdivided into smaller, distinct categories.

Thrillers: Action-based stories with lots of adrenaline, these works focus more on immediate reaction, jump scares, surprise, and blind fear. It’s situational, fast moving, and pants-wetting prose. Movie examples include Alien, Godzilla, and King Kong.

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This bear looks like he’s about to enter a thriller!

Suspense: More atmospheric than thrillers, these stories focus on psychological fear. They’re slower and tension builds like a gathering storm. Thrillers contain suspense but it’s often more dread of short duration while suspense is long duration, with hills and valleys that continually build to a climax. The suspense characters are changed profoundly; thriller characters are rarely deeply changed. More movie examples include Signs and most of M. Night Shymalan’s movies. I’d also put a lot of Stephen King’s books here.

Horror: True horror goes where the other subcategories rarely go. These trade in the obscene, sometimes with a supernatural aspect, sometimes with a psychological basis, but always with an offensive underpinning. These stories show a distorted nature of people and settings. Supernatural monsters like vampires and werewolves are an affront to nature and, you know, they eat people. Night of the Living Dead and stuff like that.

Mystery – Really its own animal, mystery is often brought up with thrillers and suspense because they can belong to these subcategories. Here, though, the main character has a mystery to solve as a cop, PI, or amateur sleuth. Tension and suspense should be a part of it, and the hero should be threatened, yet fear doesn’t have to be a part of it. In suspense, the main character doesn’t choose to be involved, they’re typically trapped. In mystery, the main character chooses to solve the mystery.

Adventure – Like mystery, this is more fun action than outright fear. Light suspense, fights that are almost comic in the fact that punches that should kill don’t even leave a bruise. Indiana Jones, all superhero movies (although, the possibly released New Mutants intends to go the horror trope route. Disney hasn’t said if they’ll release it as shot).

It seems like each of these should have the indicator stickers that hot sauce has at Tijuana Flats. Thrillers, Suspense, and Horror get the frowny face; Mystery the straight line face, and Adventure the happy face.

What appeals to you about this category?

History is My-story

No one’s life is boring if they are continual learners. Life is a discovery. There’s gold in them thar personal histories!

Memoirs are not just for celebrities. While I admit it takes a gift to find the excitement in your personal history, some people have stories that just scream to be written down. But memoirs have a difficult structure to them. First, because there is no structure, and second because there is so much ground to be covered. How do you keep the story going from childhood to whatever you are now?

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No, no, no, I said write ABOUT yourself, not ON yourself!

When Michael J. Fox writes a memoir, it’s pretty easy. We know who celebrities are and expect them to reveal secrets of their past we want to know.

But if you aren’t a celebrity, we have to establish that all up front. Begin with the ending, and drive in your hook.

What’s your life like now? What heights or lows are you living now?

Are you a police officer or corrections officer? What kind of immediate interaction can you show me that sums you up now, which is in contrast to who you were then? Were you a cheerleader or drug addict? Did you have it all together, or falling apart, or did everyone think you had it together when you didn’t at all?

A memoir is usually written first-person, which allows your present self, the narrator, a degree of introspection. You can establish the now, pop back to the beginning, and either tell the story from there or jump around in your timeline. The only rule is tell a great story, and stick somewhat to the truth.

Just somewhat?  Yes. Strive for verisimilitude, an appearance of truth, but recognize the demands of story may require you to combine characters (so the reader doesn’t have too many people to keep track of), sharpen some experiences (that doesn’t mean lie, it just means shape it for story), leave out some experiences (not everything matters), and change settings and names (to protect the innocent and guilty alike, and prevent you from getting sued for libel).

Spend a lot of time in research, and by that, I mean researching yourself. Define:

  • In startling detail, exactly what your journey was. That’s the spine of your story. You should be able to sum it up with a sentence.
  • Write a list of events that mark the twists and turns of the journey. If it isn’t on that path, don’t include it.
  • Determine when and what the epiphanies were; the events that spurred you forward on your journey.
  • The points that held you back from your journey, the doubts, the pain, the fear.
  • What constitutes the climax of your journey, which brings you back to now.
  • How you will tie it up in a bow.

I recommend making a timeline, big, on a corkboard or wall. Once you have all that, begin writing.

That’s all there is to it. Well, more like a sliver of what there is, but this will get you started.

All Characters are Fictitious – Yeah, Right!

Writers have to develop a thick skin. I’m not talking about negative reviews, I’m talking about friends and family reactions to your story.

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Name that character…

Is That Me???

It’s inevitable, your friends and family are going to recognize themselves in your book and have one or more of the following reactions:

  • Honored
  • Horrified
  • Pissed off like a five-ton gorilla

If you write about your family, someone will say, “I never said that” “That never happened” “Is that really what you think of me???”

You’re a fiction writer; learn to spin fiction. “Of course, that’s not you, Aunt Joanne! That’s a different stripper!” (My aunt is a stripper. She strips furniture and restores them. Her business card says in big letters, STRIPPER. OF COURSE I’m going to use her in my stories. She’s colorful!).

“That’s not you, that’s your evil brother.”

“Mom, a writer has to consolidate characters, the good stuff is you, the bad stuff is Dad’s sister.”

“Really? You see yourself in that character? How long have you had these insecurities?”

“The only thing you have in common with that character is name, hair color, physique, and temperament. The rest is made up.”

“You talk in your sleep, honey.”

All our characters have their root in someone we know. The only thing worse than someone recognizing themselves in a character is recognizing themselves in the wrong character.

My recommendation: Give your character not just a different name than the real person, give them a name the real person hates. Try a different hair color and style, maybe a fictitious physical impairment.

And always be sensitive to your friend’s and family’s reactions after your book comes out. Are they avoiding you, looking hurt, kicking your dog? Nip that in the bud. Get that person aside and ask them if so-and-so will be offended because you based that character on them. Your relationship will be restored.

Try potato water for thickening your skin[1]. Worked for me.

[1] Not really.

Self-Help Boom

The largest non-fiction category these days is Self-Help. Do-It-Yourself Improvement.See the source image

Is that because Americans don’t want to ask others for help or is it because the experts are pumping out self-help additional streams of income?

I’d guess a little bit of both. Looking at the blog challenge participants, health and wellbeing are a huge cross-section of bloggers. I find that heartening, if not always interesting. I’m not cynical enough to believe these folks and other self-help writers are in it for the money but rather they have experienced improvement in their lives and want to share it with others.

Evangelism isn’t just for the faithful. 😊

What makes a good self-help book? I’d suggest equal parts knowledge and heart.

Begin with the problem, clearly define it, and if you’re wise, SHOW it instead of telling it. This might be your personal story, or a client’s. It isn’t enough to indicate the problem, you must also illustrate the life impact it has; what the problem costs the reader, how the zest of living is diminished by the problem.

Then you need to envision the reader. This is what your life would be like with the problem solved. Insert your renewed life here as the model for the reader to achieve. Once that’s established, hop into your way-back machine and give us an idea of your journey. We all have problems, something clicked in you to change things. What was it? Why did you decide the journey was worth it.

Now that the reader is on board, envisioned and ready to start their own journey (and if you have gotten them there, you haven’t done your job), start taking them through the process. Anticipate the turn-back points and insert a story of perseverance and reward to keep your ready moving.

Be careful here! Too technical and you lose the reader, not technical enough and you have the same problem. Highlight your own discoveries as you work through the process. At the end of each chapter or section, take the reader’s temperature with questions or quizzes. If forms, templates, and lists are necessary, include them!  Infographics are gold, they give a visual means to understand the words.

Once you’ve delivered them to the promised land (the end of the book), make sure they have next-steps. This may be more of your stuff (additional streams of income), a workbook or journal, an introduction to others on the journey, whatever is appropriate.

As the writer, remember, what’s in it for the reader is what was in it for you at the beginning of your journey. If you don’t have a journey, you don’t have a book.

How Long Should My Story Be?

Oh my, how this answer has changed. It used to be your story had to be at least 60,000 words, or 200 printed pages, then any multiple that was divisible by four. That’s because in the pre-Amazon and off-set printer publisher days, your book pages were printed in “signatures” or a giant piece of paper printed on both sides, then folded and cut to the proper page size. If you’ve seen books that have several blank pages in the back, that’s why.

Print-on-Demand has changed that to a minimum of 25 pages, and e-books have no minimum. Today, your story can be as long or short as it needs to be.

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What better way to get in the mood?

Amazon capitalized on this with Kindle Singles (like a music album has “singles”). Short fiction and non-fiction are now possible and encouraged. Typically low cost, but sometimes you get 15 pages for 99 cents, and sometimes a single page.

So, what does that leave us?

  • Flash Fiction/Dribble/Drabble/Microfiction – Stories from a single word to fewer than 1000 words. Brevity is key and expect a twist.
  • Short Stories – There is no cut and dried word count, but the idea is it can be read in a single sitting (my dad called them One-Flush Stories). Difficult to write because you must balance brevity with character, setting, and plot, so each tends to be sparse.
  • Novellas – Short novels, not necessarily a single-sitting story, but not a full novel, either. 6,000 to 20,000 words, give or take a few thousand. Enough time to tell a tight, focused story with full character development.

Let’s talk about publishing them. Amazon Single is a good way to go, and this doesn’t prevent you from gathering them together in an e-book or in a printed collection when you have several.

Personally, I’ve always struggled with short story collections. The right way to do it is read one and let it digest before going onto the next story, but I tend to read them straight through. There is also a weird psychology to multiple beginning-middle-end cycles in a book.

Having said that, I always enjoyed the flip-book concept, with two novellas. Read the first, then flip the book over and read the second. They’re longer reads, so picking up and putting down isn’t a problem.

I don’t believe Amazon does the POD flip-book, but my next fiction book will be two novellas of time travel. At least that’s the plan. Novellas tend to turn into epics for me.

What’s your flavor?

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