Guest Post

HAVE A BOOK TO PROMOTE? Lyrical Pens welcomes guest posts. Answer a questionnaire or create your own post. FYI, up front: This site is a definite PG-13. For details, contact cj

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Building Blocks of Story

cj Sez:  My latest novel, Choosing Carter, received a wonderful 4.5-star review from “InD’tale Magazine” that reads in part:  “The slow buildup of tension and the many twists and turns will have one racing through the pages . . . well-crafted and believable characters … If the reader is searching for an unputdownable read that will keep one up at night, look no further!”    (Isn’t that a great word…unputdownable?)

Today, I’m privileged to be able to reprint an article written by Carolyn Haines, a fantastic author- friend of mine. I think you’ll find this blog a worthwhile read (just like her stories).


Publishing is a crazy business these days, and the “rules” of what publishers like vary from country to country and publisher to publisher. I teach my students at the University of South Alabama that publishing rules are sort of like fashion trends. They come and go. I think I’m accurate when I say that, but remember, my ideas are based on my experience. So what’s true for me may not be true for every writer. So here’s what I know:

In America today in almost all genre fiction, stories are told in immediate scene. This wasn’t always the case, and it certainly isn’t the case in the rest of the world.

Most—and this is a big generalization—mysteries, thrillers, romances, fantasy stories move like a train. Immediate scenes are hooked together by a strong coupling of narrative summary. The brilliant Sol Stein says that writers have three writing ways to tell a story: immediate scene, narrative summary, and description.

Description is self-evident, and I have added another category called exposition, which is just description to the 10th power. It’s description with thematic elements, description that works twice or three times as hard as just painting a picture. Often, this includes the writer’s individual style. But what of the other two?

What is immediate scene? It is merely showing what is happening rather than telling. Here’s an example. The ball crossed the plate at ninety-five miles an hour, and Johnny swung with all his might. “Crack!” Wood met leather and the ball pulled hard to third base. Johnny shot toward first base, cleats digging into sod. His hip ground into the dirt as he slid to safety. The reader lives the moment with Johnny.

In narrative summary, that same little incident could be summed up more quickly, but it would be told rather than shown. For example: Johnny swung hard at the ball and hit it squarely. He ran to first and slid to safety. There is a distance here between the reader and the action.

Both ways of writing a scene are useful to an author, and it is knowing when to give the full scene and when to use the summary that is important. Not every scene deserves the “full” treatment. But key scenes must be shown, not told.

Many of my students read a lot of 19th Century writers. These books were written when narrative summary and head hopping were in style. The author essentially narrates a great portion of the story. This famous opening—“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” is the narrator of the story telling us these things.  Much 19th Century fiction is narrative summary. It is not incorrect, but it is out of fashion now. Will it return? Maybe. But now reading audiences, for the most part, prefer immediate scene so that they can live the action. They want to draw their conclusions and not be told what or how to think.

There are exceptions to every rule. You can go in any bookstore and find newly published novels that have vast sections of narrative summary. Many are by authors who have long established careers. For writers hoping to crack the door of traditional publishing, it’s always best to understand what publishers are interested in buying.

I’m a firm believer that the author serves the story, which means that the demands of each story have to be met. If the story dictates narrative summary, author narration, intrusive narrator or any other technique, then the writer has no option except to serve the story. I do believe that all “rules” of publishing are meant to be broken. As long as they are broken with such expertise that the reader/editors sees immediately that the story could be told no other way.

Writing is a joy and a privilege. I view each idea that I’m given as a gift. I try not to let my ego get in the way of the telling of the story. I listen to the story, and then I do my very best for it. But it is helpful to understand the techniques that catch an editor’s eye or interest. You have to know the rules to break them.

Carolyn Haines is the author of eighteen novels, including the acclaimed Sarah Booth Delaney Mississippi Delta mystery series. Haines is the author of more than 70 books in a number of genres. She has been honored with the Harper Lee Award for Distinguished Writing and the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence. She also writes gothic chillers as R.B. Chesterton. Haines teaches the graduate and undergraduate fiction writing classes at the University of South Alabama, where she is an assistant professor and Fiction Coordinator.

Thanks, Carolyn, for allowing Lyrical Pens to reprint your article. ‘Preciate it. To check out Carolyn’s website and sign up for her newsletter, zip on over to

Okay, that’s all for today. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Mystery Writers of America scholarship/contest

Even with a blizzard pounding the D.C. area, The Old Guard maintains a constant vigil at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Lyrical Pens says THANK YOU for your dedication and service.  (The Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit and premiere ceremonial unit in the U.S. Army.)

cj Sez:  Many authors are attracted to writing contests, me included. Perhaps it’s because I feel that winning or being an “honorable mention” validates my writing abilities. It’s a documented (by some authority) personal achievement.

Monetary winnings that might cover the entry fee are not always part of the prize package. No problem. I would like to think that mentioning the achievement in a query letter to a potential agent or publisher would get my submission out of their slush pile. And finishing highly in a contest could give me a nice atta-girl shout-out that I can use for marketing.

Anyway, the Mystery Writers of America has a contest going on now, and the prize is a scholarship to be used to offset tuition/fees for a U.S.-based workshop, seminar or college-level writing program.(

What catches my interest in this one is, while there are specific requirements and steps that must be adhered to—for heaven’s sake, follow directions—there is no entry fee. Wonderful, I think. Then I realize this contest could still cost me a lot of money. I have to decide on a workshop/ seminar/ class that I want to pay for should the scholarship not materialize. Even if I were to cancel my application, there might be a fee. There are a lot of classes available that I need to vet, and the deadline is coming up. Oh, ye writers on limited budgets, what should I do?

I have to admit I’m not sure I’ll enter even though I have three chapters ready to go, but I do think it’s a worthwhile consideration. How about you? Check out the website and let me know what you think. Would you consider entering? Yea?  Nay? 

Okay, you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Narrative, dialogue, and readers' imaginations

cj Sez:  I find that the busier I get, the harder it is to remember my appointments. That was never the case when I was gainfully employed. I kept several calendars: on my desk, on my computer, and a tickler file in a drawer. I no longer maintain a computer calendar because my crack internet provider is less than dependable. Instead, I rely on at least two and occasionally three calendars. 

I’ll note an appointment on the calendar on the kitchen door and forget to write it
in my planner (I have GOT to remember to buy one for 2016) or vice versa. The third “occasional calendar” is simply the collection of all those little scraps of paper and back-of-business-card notes that I shove into the bottom of my pockets or purse. Who I’m supposed to meet when and where just disappears.

The truth is I’ve become lax and need to pay attention. Out of sight, out of mind.

I’m a visual person (is that a right brain or a left brain thing?), and that also shows up in my writing. Scenes are the least complicated for me to write. I enjoy creating the details that permit my readers to visualize where the characters are and what they are seeing. But I try to keep my details sparse and incorporated into the flow of the action. I believe my readers are smart and have imaginations they love to use or they wouldn’t buy suspense and mystery, right?  The following excerpt from my work-in-progress introduces the protagonist’s client and her circumstances: 

Bodean scratched out a check and pushed it across the desk. “Here’s the retainer. There shouldn’t be any trouble, and it shouldn’t take more’n a couple of weeks if you know how to do your job right.” Her new client heaved his bulk out of the chair and strode out of the office.
“I’ll be in touch,” she called as the door slammed shut. She waved the $1,400 check in the air. “You, dear thing, have just saved my derriere.”
Donnie walked in on her celebration. “What?”
“Ruth’s Chris for steak tonight, Donnie. We’ve got a paying client.”
Conversely, dealing with personal introspection/emotions/internal dialogue is difficult for me since I “see” the action in my stories as movies in my head. Narrative doesn’t exist in movies unless there’s a voice-over, so I tend to use very little of it. I’ve been told I need to write more narrative, so I’m working on expanding my use of internal dialogue. It’s a great way, if not THE way to get readers invested in the character which is necessary for a successful story.  The following excerpt from my work-in-progress is the physical introduction of the hero:
An inch over six-feet tall with espresso-brown hair, Zander Flemming’s smile showed even, white teeth as he stood to shake hands. In his late thirties, he looked ten years younger despite the tanned complexion of someone who liked to spend his weekends fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Jake ignored the hungry little knot that twisted in her stomach every time she saw him and smiled.  

Okay, I’ve confessed. Your turn. What is your writing strength or weakness?

That’s all for now. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo

Sunday, January 10, 2016

2016 Marketing plans

Passing along information from my editor at Crimson Romance  . . .

“I don't usually post about agents and agencies on here, but we've been working lately with The Corvisiero Agency for one of our authors, and I really can't recommend them enough for those who are seeking representation. Their level of commitment and investment, including organizing very extensive promotional support for their authors, is really quite impressive. I'm not sure how much they do editorially on manuscripts before they submit them to publishers (also a very important criteria for agents), but for those authors searching, I would definitely check them out.”

cj Sez:  I would add to that that this group may or may not be right for you.  As with any legal document, do your homework and research the organization before signing a contract with anyone.

Marketing is my blog topic today. Since my first novel, Deadly Star, and second novel, Choosing Carter, were released, I’ve done a lot of cost-free advertising. I sent out press releases to newspapers, blurbed on Facebook pages, and have been the beneficiary of generous friends who enthusiastically sent the book cover around to their friends. I’ve done blog interviews and presentations at writers groups and conferences. I’ve donated books to my local library to have them placed on their shelves.

Some marketing choices were not free, but I calculated them to be cost-effective:  I invested in an ad in an on-line review site ( ). I created bookmarks that I punch holes in and string a pretty ribbon through to attract a browser’s eye. When the book was still an eBook and there was nothing to sign at a conference or writers’ group, I signed the back of the bookmark which has a link to the purchase site. My 2015 trip to Killer Nashville was not cost-effective in the short term, but my panel appearance exposed my face and name to a very large, mystery/crime writers’ audience.

For 2016, I’m going to market my books a little more aggressively. All that means is that I’m willing to take some losses on sales of books that I have personally purchased. I’m not self-published, so books I purchase from the publisher are a bit expensive (between the price and the cost of shipping). I usually use them as “out-of-the-trunk sales” when I make presentations, but when an indie book store agreed to take a consignment of some of these books, that was a big plus. I’m hoping for break-even. However, if a store takes 40 percent or more of the sale price (as some do), I’ll be losing money. Still, I’m going to invest a few books in that market this year.

There is a limit to how much I’m willing to lose to “get my name out there.” I am such a slow writer that I don’t have a catalog of books that would benefit from that loss-leader strategy. Once my stash of books is gone, if they go, I will re-evaluate the results. 

Right now, I’m more interested in the potential for sales of book number two because the publisher was clever enough to insert the first chapter of book number one at the back of book number two. I’m hopeful that a sale of the newest one will attract readers to the first and, perhaps, lead to my Amazon Author Central page.
Have you any other ideas for marketing your books? Drop me a note. I’d love to share them with other writers here on Lyrical Pens.

Okay, you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

(The "toon" is from a Facebook post by "Hot Girls Read.")
Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Goals vs Resolutions

cj Sez:  If you’re thinking about making New Year’s Resolutions for 2016, my suggestion is, don’t. Set goals, instead. There is a theory which holds that writing down concrete, specific goals and developing strategies to overcome obstacles is the way to success. 

You’ll never get to where you want to go if you don’t have a plan to get there. 

Corporate environments are well aware that employees who set goals that are reachable, and measurable, are imminently more successful and productive. In fact, all the corporations I know require annual goal-setting.

As a writer, it might be just a matter of thinking about how far you’ve come in your writing and how you got there. Write down the motivations that kept you on your path. Then identify the distractions that sent you into the weeds.  If you’re prepared for a potential obstacle, you can pre-plan a way, or two, around it.

Obstacles are those things you see when you take your eyes off the path.

Here’s a simplistic example: Say the goal is to write 1000 words a day, but one of those days, inspiration escapes you (the obstacle) and you sit blankly staring at an empty screen. One way to overcome the obstacle might be step away from the computer and read a few chapters in a book by your favorite author. You may find a word, phrase, or paragraph that triggers the perfect inspiration you need to continue toward your goal.

Instead of trying to keep resolutions, set goals, identify possible obstacles—brain cramp (writer’s block), family, a need for quiet or a preference for white noise—then develop options to overcome those pesky roadblocks. When obstacles loom, and you know they will, all will not be lost, because you’ll have some kind of solution in mind. And if Plan A fails, keep on keeping on until you find the solution that works for you.

Be stubborn about your goals, but be flexible with your methods.

Okay, you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. And if you run into trouble with your problem-solving, drop me a note. Maybe I can come up with a suggestion that acts as a springboard for you to come up with your best solution. 

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo

PS: The toons are from Facebook. “To soar on eagle’s wings” picture is by Jeff D. Johnston