We’re Moving

Due to technical issues, such as Google’s new security requirements, this blog will be deactivated on July 6, 2018 and will be moving back to Blogger.

The temporary address for the Blogger version is, ablogforauthors.com. If you’re a subscriber to this blog you can subscribe to the Blogger version by clicking on the, “subscribe by email,” link in the sidebar. I’ll also be pointing this blog’s URL, fromthewritersdesk.com, to the new blog around July 1.

In the meantime I’ve already moved some of the content to the new blog, so please feel free to take a look, and, if you like what you see, be sure to subscribe.

Gayle Martin

How to do a Book Trailer Video for a Nonfiction Book

Book trailers are a great promotional tool for nonfiction books as well as novels. Their purpose is to tell viewers, in a visually interesting way, what the book is about, but without giving too much away.

Rosie’s Riveting Recipes is a cookbook, and, as with any cookbook, it’s mostly about the recipes. However, in this instance, all of the recipes are historic. So rather than do a cooking demo video, we opted to have a book trailer emphasizing the nostalgic theme which makes this book more unique. To that end we started with a little footage from an old U.S. government film about food rationing, (all public domain). We then added our own footage, which goes from nostalgia to the present time. The end result is a book trailer that looks and feels more like an old time newsreel than a pitch for a cookbook.

The book trailer was written and produced by Rob Resetar, who also wrote and produced the book trailers for my Marina Martindale romance novels. If you happen to live near or in Tucson, Arizona, I would highly recommend his services. If not, then talk to other authors in your area and find out who does book trailers. Again, you want a book trailer that’s visually interesting and engages the viewer.




So How Long Should a Chapter Be?

Photo by CanStockPhoto.com

When I write my novels, I think of each chapter as an episode, or a little story within the bigger story, and a specific event occurs in each chapter. Let’s say your protagonist plans to meet up with another character, but then something unexpected happens. Maybe she has an accident on her way to the meeting and she’s rushed to the hospital. That would certainly be a little story within the bigger story. And since I like to have a strong ending to my chapters, I might end with the man she was supposed to meet thinking he’s been stood up. The next chapter would be a new episode about what he does next.

So, how long should a chapter be? Simple. It’s as long as it needs to be to tell the story. I’ve written chapters as short as a page and a half, and as long as ten pages. There really is no hard and fast rule for chapter length, at least not one that I’m aware of. So don’t worry about the page count; just concentrate on telling your story.

Happy writing.



And Now for The End of Our Story

The EndEvery story ever written has two things in common–a beginning and an ending, and it’s at the end of the story where we, as storytellers, deliver the punch lines that impact our readers.

Regardless of your genre, most readers want, and expect, a happy ending. One that ties up all of the loose ends and leaves them satisfied. And, most often, that’s what they get. In my genre, romance, it’s pretty simple. Boy meets girl. They fall in love, but there are conflicts and obstacles to be overcome, and once they’re resolved everyone lives happily ever after. THE END. But then again, some of the most well-loved and compelling romance stories ever written didn’t end with the couple living happily ever after. Who could forget Gone with the Wind? After thinking she was in love with Ashley Wilkes for all those years, Scarlett suddenly realizes she’s been in love with Rhett the whole time, but when she finally tells him his response is, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” He walks away and slams the door behind him, leaving her to ponder her next move. This ending left us wanting more, and I believe this is way, after more than seventy years, the book and the movie still have a following.

By the way, I don’t know if this is actual fact or urban legend, but I recall hearing somewhere that Margaret Mitchell wrote the ending first, and then went back to write the rest of the story. Some authors do write their endings first, and it’s perfectly okay to do so.

Another famous ending comes from the movie, Casa Blanca, which was actually wasn’t based on a novel, but on a play called, Everyone Comes to Rick’s. It too is a love story with a twist. Boy meets girl. Girl ditches boy. Boy meets girl a second time, only now she’s brought her husband along. So, along with some unforgettable dialog, (“Of all the gin joints in all the places in the world, she had to walk into mine.”), we all root for Rick to get Ilsa back. Instead the story ends with him putting her on the plane, along with her husband, and sending them away for good. Then the final scene ends with Rick walking away with Louis Renualt and saying, “You know, Louie, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”

Once again, I’ve heard rumor that there were two endings shot for Casa Blanca. In the alternate ending Ilsa stays behind with Rick, but it was decided that the other ending would have a stronger impact on the audience. They were right. Seventy years later, Casa Blanca remains one of the best-loved films of all time. 

Sometimes stories aren’t about happy endings. Sometimes they’re about doing the right thing, even when doing the right thing isn’t so easy to do. The same can be said of real life.



Are You Including Photos in Your Book?

Photo Shoot Set
Photo by Gayle Martin

When one of my authors sent me the photos he wanted to include in his memoir, I noticed several of them were family portraits, taken by professional portrait studios. Many of you may not be aware that when you have a portrait done, the photographer, or the studio, owns the rights, even though the images may be of you, or members of your family. This means the photos cannot be used in a book without written permission of the copyright holders. My author was unaware of this, but, fortunately, was able to obtain release forms for the photos in question.

I’m not a copyright attorney, so the following isn’t meant to be taken as legal advice. It is, however, common knowledge and accepted business practices by publishers.

Prior to 1978, a copyright was good for twenty-eight years from the date of registration. Once it expired, it could be renewed for another twenty-eight years. After that the work was considered public domain. Then, in 1978, the law changed. Now a copyright lasts for the lifetime of the copyright holder, plus another seventy years after his or her death. This includes works of visual art, such as drawings, paintings, and photographs. So if you’re including photos, graphics, drawings or other works of art, either for your book cover, or inside your book, and they weren’t created by you, then you will need to get permission from the person who created the work before you can publish it.

So what about work you’ve commissioned for your book, such as a photo or illustration for your cover? Typically, there will be verbiage in the contract between you and the artist transferring certain rights over to you. Most often these rights are for the use of their work for the intended purpose, such as your book cover. Now let’s say you wanted to use their image for something else. For example, let’s say you published a cookbook, and you hired a photographer to take a photo of one of your dishes for your book cover. Then, later on, you decide to open a restaurant, and you want to include that same photograph on your menu. Never assume that just because you paid him for the photo, you’re free to use it any way that you wish. Putting his photo on your menu, without his knowledge or consent, might land you in some legal hot water. You need to go back to the photographer and get his permission to use his photo for your menu. Chances are, he’ll allow you to use it in exchange for a royalty. But he says no, then you cannot use it. Period.

For more information about copyrights, or to discuss a specific case, please consult a copyright attorney.



Knowing When to Quit, Part 2

Photo by CanStockPhoto.com

In my earlier post about how to avoid overworking your story I talked about redundancy. This time around I’ll discuss another way to overwork a story — and that is by creating over the top scenarios or plot lines, which don’t connect well with the earlier story. This can be especially problematic when you’re writing a series. There comes a point when your story, even if it’s a series, has to end. Otherwise it may become absurd or even bizarre.

I’ll give you a good example: Star Trek.

I grew up watching the original Star Trek. The characters, human and alien, were so believable, but by the third season the series just wasn’t that good, and the ridiculous story lines for some of the episodes hurt the integrity of the series as a whole. The network, NBC, then cancelled the show. It went into syndication where its following grew. The movies came along about ten years later. The original characters were back, but they were older and they’d changed over time, which kept them interesting. After that came Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. This created a plethora of interesting new characters and a lot of potential for exciting new stories. Next came a series of movies with the Next Generation cast.

Sadly, it was all lost, at least for me, when they started making movies with younger versions of the original characters. Prequels can also be problematic, but when I saw the first prequel I was very disappointed. It took place in a “parallel universe,” so much of the back-story, established in the original series, was gone. It was too confusing, and it certainly wasn’t the Star Trek I’d known and loved for decades. Other Star Trek movies have since followed, again set in this, “past parallel universe,” but I’ve  decided to save my money and skip them. I won’t even bother watching them on Netflix.

This is what happens when you run out of ideas. You lose the integrity of your story, and you may even lose your following as well. As storytellers, the two hardest words for us to write are, “THE END,” but write them we must. Otherwise, in the words of my college painting professor, you’ll turn your work into mud.




Watch Out for Exclamation Points!!!

Exclamation PointsFilmmakers have certain advantages over writers, particularly fiction writers. They get to use musical scores to help build the tension. We’ve seen it dozens of times. The unsuspecting protagonist goes into the seemingly deserted mansion, unaware that the villain is lurking inside, waiting to pounce. As the protagonist gets closer, the music builds to a crescendo. “Dum dum-ta-dum–BOOM.” The boom of course, being when the bad guy leaps out of nowhere, landing right in front of the protagonist, who now either has to fight or run for dear life.

We writers unfortunately don’t have the luxury of having background music, so we have to come up with alternative ways to build the tension, thus creating the temptation to use exclamation points. After all, the sentence, “he leaped out of the closet at Joe.” with just a plain old period at the end looks kind of boring on the printed page. Therefore, “he leaped out of the closet at Joe!!” would look a whole lot better. Right?

Well, not necessarily.

Using exclamation points in the narrative means you’re shouting at your readers, which they may find annoying. A better way to build the tension would be to use more effective verbs and modifiers. So, instead of saying, “He heard the footsteps and waited until the time was right. Then he leaped out of the closet at of Joe.” Try something like, “He heard Joe’s footsteps coming closer. He held his breath, not wanting to give himself away. The footsteps grew louder. He could make out the dark shadow of a human form as it entered the room. He stood by, unable to move. The footsteps thumped louder and louder as they came closer and closer. Beads of sweat popped out across his forehead. It was time. He leaped out of the closet at Joe.”

By using effective verbs and modifiers in your narrative to build the tension an exclamation point becomes unnecessary.

So what about dialog? People shout when they are excited, surprised, under stress, or angry. I will, on rare occasions, use an exclamation point in dialog, but if I do, it’s only when a character is having an “aha” moment. I think of exclamation points in dialog as hot chili peppers. A little bit goes a long, long way. Most of the time I use tags, such as, “It’s over here,” yelled Jody, or “Look out,” exclaimed Bob.

Good storytelling is all about conflict and drama. Just don’t shout at your readers!



One of the Pitfalls of Social Media

Hands at KeyboardAs writers we’ve all been told that social media is an essential marketing tool, and it truly is. I’ve made fans and sold books on social media. It can also be a double-edged sword, so it must be treated with respect at all times. Let me give you an example.

Awhile back I was posting on a friend’s Facebook thread, and I started engaging with another of her friends on the same thread. As I recall, we were talking about jazz music, something we both enjoyed. During our online conversation she mentioned that she was an editor. I told her I was a book publisher and to please send me a friend request so I could include her on my referral list.

As it turned out, she posted frequently Facebook. Her content included extreme left wing political posts, along with rants about her hatred of children, her dislike of men, her belief that interpersonal relationships were a complete waste of time, her hatred of churches and of people of faith, and so forth. She also had no tolerance whatsoever for anyone with an opposing point of view, and she wasn’t beyond telling anyone to “go f— themselves,” for simply disagreeing with her.

After reading a just handful of her posts I realized there was no way I could EVER refer this woman to any of my authors, and I have since blocked her on Facebook. My issue wasn’t that I disagreed with her opinion. Let’s face it; the world would be a pretty boring place if we all thought alike. My issue was her open contempt and hatred of others. If she could tell people she disagreed with to go “f— themselves” on a public forum, I could only imagine how badly she would have treated one of my authors.

Be careful with what you post on social media. It really can come back and bite you.



Is Entering Your Book in a Literary Competition a Good Idea?

5 Star Cover Billy FRONTFrom time to time my email box fills up with calls for entries for all kinds of book awards, and I’ll admit to having mixed feelings about entering them. So, here is my list of pros and cons regarding book competitions.

First, I’ll start with the pros. I’ve entered competitions in the past and I’ve won awards. And I’m not going to lie. There’s nothing quite like the euphoria you feel when your book has beat out dozens, if not hundreds, of competitors and has either won, or placed, in a competition. It’s also a great marketing tool, as there’s nothing quite like having that award sticker on your book cover. In fact, I’ve included one of mine, so you can see it. Not because I’m bragging, but because there is a downside to just about everything in life, and that includes winning a book award. If you look at the cover closely, you may be able to see what the “con” is.

I won the award in 2007. However, by 2010, it was starting to make my book look dated.

The other potential con is the expense of entering a competition. Back in the mid 2000s, when I entered Billy the Kid in that competition, the entry fees were reasonable. Ahh, those were the days…

Times have indeed changed, and, depending on the competition, even early-bird call to entry fees can be quite steep. Along with the entry fee, you may have to provide printed copies of your book, oftentimes more than one copy, which adds to the cost. For example, I once considered entering one of my Marina Martindale novels in a competition for book cover design. The entry fee was $90, and they wanted four printed copies of my book. By the time I added in the cost of the books, and the postage, it would have come to about $125, just to enter one title, in one category. After thinking over I decided not to enter as I honestly thought the $125 would be better spent on advertising my book.

So, is entering your book in a literary competition a good idea? That’s really up to you to decide. If your budget will allow it then by all means you should consider it. Your book might be a winner, and that award certainly won’t hurt. But if you choose not to enter then don’t worry about it. Experience has taught me that you’ll sell a lot more books by getting good reviews. As a book consumer, I pay a lot more attention to the book reviews than to whatever awards a book may have won.

My thought for the day.



Writing Fiction? How to Keep the Drama Flowing

Colorado Creet
Photo by Gayle Martin

As you fiction writers no doubt know, your plot lines revolve around tension and conflict, regardless of the genre. The conflict is what keeps the drama flowing and keeps your readers involved with your story.

I can still recall my old high school drama teacher talking to us about soap operas. She said soap operas were really nothing more than stories about real life–exaggerated. Those soap opera writers must be doing something right, since all of the soaps on the air today have been around for a good thirty-to-forty years, if not longer. The following are but a few examples of real-life exaggerations to keep the drama flowing. They must work, as they’ve been using them on soap operas for decades.

In real life people catch colds or the flu. In a soap opera a character catches a rare, if not unknown disease, resulting in blindness, deafness, coma, paralysis, or memory loss until some doctor, typically a young intern, discovers the miracle cure.

In real life family members have arguments. Someone may end up storming off afterwards, but before long everyone makes up. In a soap opera the person who storms off ends up seriously injured in a car crash and remains in a coma for weeks.

In real life boy meets girl. They’re attracted to one another so they start dating. In a soap opera boy meets girl, they’re attracted to one another, but then another lady, typically his ex, her best friend, or even her sister, is also attracted to the same guy, and she does everything humanly possible to thwart the relationship.

In real life a boy may ask a girl out, but she’s not interested so she says no. He may ask her a few more times before he gets the hint and moves on. In a soap opera he turns into a stalker and kidnaps her. She ends up being held captive for weeks in some remote cabin out in the middle of the woods that no one can ever find.

As these examples demonstrate, fiction writing is all about considering the possibilities outside the normal routine of everyday life, while maintaining enough of that normalcy to make your story believable.