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Welcome to From the Writer’s Desk

a blog for novel writers

There are a lot of writing blogs out there, and many offer great advice. However, most of the ones I’ve seen are geared toward nonfiction writers. As novel writers, we have different goals and needs. We’re storytellers. We write to entertain.

This blog is about helping you write a better novel as I pass along what I’ve learned about this crazy business. So please, pull up a chair and make yourselves comfortable. And if you see something you like, please be sure to post a comment.

Gayle Martin

Dialog vs Using Proper Grammar

© Can Stock Photo / bradcalkins

One of the things I love the most about writing fiction is the dialog. The dialog is what brings the characters to life. However, like any other kind of writing, there is a technique for writing effective dialog. In fact, there are entire books about how to write dialog. If you’re new to writing fiction I highly recommend reading them. In the meantime, I’m going to cover some of the basics, and the way I go about writing dialog.

What is the purpose of dialog?

As most of you already know, fiction writing is all about the conflict. The conflict is what drives the storyline, and the dialog helps build the tension. For example, the more a character talks about their big plans, and how they made everything foolproof, the more we know something is about to go terribly wrong.

Dialog also defines the character’s personality. A character who has a PhD will undoubtably have a different speech pattern than a character who’s a high school dropout. Here in the United States, different regions of the country have their own dialects. A character from Boston will speak differently than a character from New Orleans. Therefore, it’s a good idea to set your story in a location where you are familiar with the local lingo.

Dialog and Grammar

People don’t use perfect grammar when they are speaking. We tend to shorten words. We’ll say, “gonna,” instead of, “going to.” We speak in incomplete sentences as well as comma spliced sentences. Therefore, none of my characters speak perfect, grammatically correct English. Fortunately, my editor gets this. She’s a fiction writer herself. However, it’s been an issue with some of the proofreaders I’ve worked with.

Gloria, who proofread many of my earlier Marina Martindale romance novels, passed away a few years ago. She was a dear friend who I will always miss, and she also loved my books. While not a writer herself, she had once been a proofreader for a newspaper. Trust me, nothing got past her watchful eye. She also understood the difference between narrative and dialog.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t so lucky with the proofreaders for my next two novels. One was a retired English teacher who not only corrected all the grammar in my dialog, she also argued with me when I pointed out, more than once, that real people do not speak perfect, grammatically correct English. My most recent proofreader was someone who had learned English as a second language. To her credit, she was very fluent in English, and she had also written a few nonfiction books. However, when it came to the dialog, she didn’t always understand slang words and common idioms, which caused some confusion.

The Use of Grammar in First and Third Person Narratives

I write in the third person narrative. When my characters aren’t speaking I use proper grammar and punctuation in my narrative as I describe the events from an anonymous and detached point of view. However, the rules may vary when using the first person narrative. Since your character is telling the entire story from start to finish, you need to let the character speak in his or her own voice. The same is true when writing dialog in the third person narrative. Let your characters have their own distinctive voice.

Gayle Martin

The Trouble with Twitter

© CanStockPhoto/ShutterM

Someone I follow on YouTube recently posted a video about why he finally left Twitter. He made some interesting points. Twitter has an unusual dynamic. While most Twitter users are well educated people, he noticed they all seem to behave like middle school kids.

I use Twitter to promote my books and photography. However, I don’t engage as much on Twitter as I do on other social media platforms. I’ve always found their platform odd. Twitter used to call their tweets, “mini blogs.”  When I first signed up posts were  limited to 140 characters, which I thought was pretty limiting. I’m a writer. I want to express myself. They’re since doubled it to 280 characters, but it’s still pretty limiting. Therefore, I mostly use Twitter to post links to my blogs and websites.

I use third party websites to post my Tweets. One is Hootsuite, the other is Buffer. Both offer free accounts with some nice features, such as shorted URLs for your links. Hootsuite has a nice dashboard where you can see how well your tweet performed. Buffer gives you preselected time slots to schedule your tweets. It too is a nice feature which can save you valuable time. However, both limit how often you can tweet per day. If you want to tweet more then the limit, you’ll have to upgrade to a paying account.

The YouTube vlogger also talked about Twitter “tribes.” Like other social media platforms, Twitter algorithms suggest people for you to follow. It also recommends you to people with a similar interests. Interestingly enough, my tribe is other writers and photographers, so I’m adding new hashtags, such as, “#romancereaders” and “#photographylovers,” to my tweets. Hopefully, this will attract more prospective readers and art buyers.

From time to time I’ll log on to Twitter itself, but certainly not every day. If a major news event is happening, particularly in my local area, Twitter is the best platform for real time updates. My tribe mostly tweets about their writing. So if someone asking a question about their writing, and I think I can help, I’ll send them a reply. I honestly enjoy helping other writers whenever I can.

Even though my tribe is a friendly one, I’m still very cautious about what I say on Twitter. If there is anything which could possibly be perceived as, “controversial,” then rest assured, someone will get pissed off and start screaming and name calling. Hate to say it, but the vlogger was right. A grown man or woman will indeed behave like a middle school kid. This is why Twitter is, unfortunately, a hostile platform. I find it very sad. It has the potential to be a whole lot more.

Gayle Martin

 

 

 

Lying vs Fiction Writing

© Can Stock Photo / Ostill

I sometimes see the stupidest things on social media memes, such as, “Writers are professional liars because they tell stories for a living.”

Oh, please! Go peddle it someplace else. If you can’t tell the difference between a fictional story and “bearing false witness,” you’re beyond hope.

What’s the Difference?

Lying is knowing something to be false and presenting it as fact. It can also be telling a half-truth, or lying by omission. Simply put, you’re withholding pertinent information about something to slant the narrative in your favor. A good example would be a married man who presents himself a  single, unattached man. He’s a self-serving individual who intentionally deceives others solely to please himself. I included such an individual in one of my Marina Martindale novels. Interestingly enough, it’s titled, The Deception. I’ll just say it didn’t end well for him.

Fiction writing, or storytelling, is presenting a story about people who never existed. Unlike the liar, whose motives are to mislead or deceive, the storyteller is altruistic. Their goal is to entertain, or educate, or both. For example, I read Aesop’s Fables when I was a child. It’s common knowledge that the stories are make believe. They’re told to teach lessons about morality.

The other purpose for storytelling is to entertain. Life isn’t always easy or fair. We all feel overwhelmed at times, and we need to take a break. We’ll turn on the TV, watch a video, or perhaps read a book. As a novel writer, my purpose it to entertain the reader so he or she can take a break from reality.

So there you have it. I also get it. Some people don’t read fiction, and that’s okay. To each their own. However, I have zero tolerance for people who intentionally insult the integrity and sully the reputations of fiction authors. As stated, our purpose isn’t to deceive. It’s to entertain. There is a difference.

Gayle Martin

What it Means to Support the Arts

© Can Stock Photo/ ginosphotos

There are times when I may ruffle a few feathers, but so be it. Some things simply have to be said.

Those who regularly read this blog know I write novels, mostly as Marina Martindale. I’m also an art photographer, and I use social media to promote my books and my photography.

I was on Facebook the other day and came across a post about supporting the arts. It had plenty of likes, but there was a problem. The people creating the posts, and hitting the like button, may have thought they were supporting the arts, but they actually weren’t. Why? Because they weren’t telling their friends to BUY the art!

Hitting the like button doesn’t mean a damn thing

Whenever I post about my books and photography, I always include a link to a website where you can purchase the book or photograph. The posts will always get plenty of likes as well as comments such as, “Nice photo” or “I like really your book cover.” On rare occasions someone may say, “I’ve read her books and she’s great.” That’s the kind of a comment I live for! Sadly, those comments are too few and far between.

Unfortunately, hitting the like button doesn’t help me pay my bills. So if you really want to support my art, (or another artist’s work), please buy a photo or a book.

No, it isn’t a hobby

I’ve never understood why so many people think of the arts as just a hobby. Colleges and universities offer advanced degrees in the arts. Film and television production is a multi-million dollar industry. Does any of this sound like a hobby to you?

Artists, writers and musicians work damn hard, and they spend many years learning their craft. If you ever took music lessons when you were a kid you probably remember just how hard it was, and most of you gave up long before you mastered the instrument. Now think of what it took for a professional musician to reach that skill level. Does that sound like just a hobby to you? Do you really think hitting a like button on social media is all you have to do to “support” this artist? Seriously?

If you really want to support the arts then put your money where your mouth is

If you really want to support a musician then go to their gig and order a meal while you’re there. The venues who hire musicians do so to attract more paying customers. I realize some venues may be pricey, however the appetizers are usually less expensive. Trust me, I’ve eaten a lot of chicken quesadillas at friends’ gigs.

If you really want to support an artist then buy their art. Most authors have their books available for the Amazon Kindle, and you can download a copy for a few dollars. You can also get a Kindle app for free for your phone or tablet. Books make great gifts too, so if their writing genre isn’t your thing, you can still buy a copy for someone else.

You can also share their posts with a click of a mouse. Word of mouth and organic reach really are a thing, and it really does help get the artist’s name out there. Best of all, it only takes a few seconds of your time, and it doesn’t cost a thing.

Same goes for visual artists. How hard it is to share a post or click on a website link? You just hit the like button, so you obviously like their art. Visiting their websites helps improve their Google rankings, and many artists have their work reasonably priced.

Can’t afford to buy a framed print? Then you can probably buy the same photo on a coffee mug. You certainly can on my website. It only costs a few dollars, and it really does help support the artist. It will also be very much appreciated. Having someone tell me how much they enjoyed reading my book, or how much they like having a piece of my art in their home, means more to me than you could possibly imagine.

Gayle Martin

To learn more about my books please visit my website at martinamartindale.com.

To see my photography please visit my website at gaylemartinphotography.com.

It May Be Well Meaning But No

© Can Stock Photo / ollyy

Sometimes well-meaning things people say to writers which really aren’t the best things to say. They’re not doing it to be insensitive. At least I hope they’re not. They simply don’t realize it’s inappropriate.

A few years ago I was going through a difficult time. I’d ended a friendship with someone who had been my best friend for ten years because it had become toxic. Ending a relationship with a close friend is similar to ending a romantic relationship. It’s a painful experience to go through.

What anyone in my position wants to hear are words of support. Unfortunately, because I’m a novel writer, what I got instead was, “Gee, you should write a book about this.”

I’m sure everyone who said it thought it was well meaning, or even cool for them to say. However, it wasn’t cool at at all. It was insensitive, and it came across as glib.

Writers are people too. We experience the same disappointments everyone else experiences, and when bad things happen, we feel the same pain everyone else feels. What we need are the same words of support others get. I don’t know of any writer, myself included, who goes out and deliberately creates drama in their life just so they can write a book about it.

How we handle this would depend on the situation and the individuals involved. However, we are certainly within our rights if we choose to speak up about it. When bad things happen, we deserve the same dignity, respect and compassion, as anyone else.

Gayle Martin

 

Making Promises You Can’t Deliver

© Can Stock Photo / eric1513

Years ago, a fellow writer contacted me about including me in a book she was writing. I’d met her at a few events where I was promoting my Luke and Jenny book series. Her book was about honoring people who helped to preserve the history or promote the culture of the old west. It would feature many prominent Arizonans, as well as a few Hollywood actors.

Needless to say, I felt both honored and excited to be included in this very distinguished group. One member had been the host of a kid’s TV show in Phoenix which ran for over thirty-five years. He may not have been as famous as the Hollywood actors, but I grew up watching him on TV. I was especially excited to be in the same group as him, and I really looked forward to reading her book once it was published.

A few years went by. I checked her website from time to time. There was no new information, but I wasn’t concerned. Writing a book doesn’t happen overnight, so this was not uncommon.

It’s now been more than a decade since she first contacted me, and her website has since been taken down. It wasn’t a good sign, so I wondered if something might have happened to her. A number of people she included in her book have since passed away, including the kid’s TV show host. Then the other day I saw one of her posts on Facebook. It was the first I’d seen or heard of her in years.

I commented on her post and asked how she was doing. I also asked her about her book. Her response was totally unexpected. She had changed her mind and wasn’t going to do her book after all. It was too much work and she just didn’t have the time. Seriously?

We’ve all had ideas for books which we may have started, but, for whatever reason, were unable to finish. The issue is her having contacted and interviewed people before she changed her mind. At the very least, she should have reached out us, along with the families of those who had passed away, to thank us for our time and apologize for not being able to complete the book. It would have also been nice if she had returned whatever materials I may have sent to her. Where I come from this is called common courtesy.

Things happen, but it never ends well when you don’t deliver on the promises you make. I honestly feel like I’ve been duped, and whatever respect I may have had for her evaporated the minute I read her comment. I take my profession seriously. I’ve worked hard to build a good reputation. If something beyond my control comes up and prevents me from keeping a promise, I let the other party know, as soon as I possibly can. Not only is it common courtesy, it’s also good karma.

Gayle Martin

Is the Social Media Fad Ending?

photo by Gayle Martin

As authors we’ve all been told social media is our best marketing tool, and it is. However, the Internet is always changing. Nowadays, at least by my observation, social media seems to be waning in popularity. My main social media accounts are Facebook and Twitter. I’ve been using both for years. A few months ago I started using Instagram, but so far I’m giving it a big, fat, meh.

I’ve spent most of my social media time on Facebook. It used to be a lot of fun, and, for a time, Facebook was a popular fad. Everyone was on Facebook. Those who weren’t just weren’t cool. People posted photos of their kids and grandkids and talked about their hobbies and interests. I shared my book covers on Facebook and I’d post about the current book I was writing. I also started a business page under my pen name, Marina Martindale, which has hundreds of followers. So, what changed?

For me, social media started changing when people began posting their politics. It created an us vs them atmosphere, which was both divisive and hostile. As an author and artist, I’ve worked hard to build a following. Therefore, I keep my politics out of social media because I don’t want to alienate any of my fans. Facebook and Twitter, however, added their own fuel to the proverbial fire when they took sides and started censoring people on one side, but not the other. Strange business model. I’ve never understood the concept of pissing off half of your customer base. But hey, that’s just me.

The Covid pandemic has made the one-sidedness, and the censorship, so much worse. Here’s a fun fact for you. Doctors don’t always agree. Remember the old ad jingle about four out of five dentists agree? So where was the fifth dentist? Don’t ask on Facebook or Twitter. They will censor you just for asking. Nowadays Facebook will put you in “Facebook jail,” if you so much as say, “boo!”

We Americans are accustomed to speaking our minds, and everyone has the right to their own opinion. We don’t take kindly to censorship, and many walking away from social media as a result.

By my own observation, I’m seeing fewer posts on Facebook from friends who used to post frequently. Others have closed out their accounts entirely. I’m seeing less traffic on my business pages. I’ve also stopped advertising on Facebook because my ads no longer have the reach they once had. Now in case you’re wondering, I’m not alone. My marketing guru tells me she’s seeing the same issue with other clients. Like any other fad, Facebook, along with other social media platforms, has apparently run its course. What was once new and exciting has become, “Been there, done that, and you can stick your censorship where the sun doesn’t shine.”

Once a customer walks away from a business, they’re gone. They don’t come back. I’m also seeing people forming new social networks, such as Parler, but they’re niche networks. While I make no claims of being a social network expert, I think smaller, niche social networks may become the trend in the future. Yes, Facebook and Twitter will still be around. MySpace is still around. However, I think their popularity has peaked, and I doubt they’ll ever regain the following they had before.

So, where does this leave us as authors? I have no plans for closing out my social media accounts, but I’m now focusing more of my marketing on email newsletters and blogs.

Gayle Martin

Questions to Ask an Editor

© Can Stock Photo/ novelo

As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, every author, regardless of experience or genre, needs an editor. There are no exceptions. However, finding the right editor for your book may be daunting. This is especially true if you’re a new author working on your first book.

The best way I know to find an editor is to ask for referrals through writers groups, forums and associations. Then, once you have a few names, the next step is to reach out to them and see if they would be a good fit for you.

Your editor is your writing partner, so chances are you’ll be working closely together. He or she will also be working for you. So, as with any job, you’ll need to conduct a job interview. The following questions are a guide to help you determine if your prospective editor would be the best fit for you.

  • Do you edit books in my genre?
  • Do you charge be the hour, or by the word count?
  • How much will you charge?
  • Do you offer manuscript evaluations?
  • How long is your turnaround time?
  • Would you have any issues if my manuscript should contain graphic violence, sexual content, or harsh language?

I found Cynthia, my current editor, at a writer’s association meeting. We were both surprised to see one another there as both of us were, at the time, also performers in Tombstone, Arizona. Because we already knew one another we knew we would be a great fit as we shared other interests besides writing.  We also have the same twisted sense of humor. Never underestimate the importance of having a good sense of humor. In fact, I learned the hard way to never drink coffee while I’m reviewing her edits. A few years ago there was an unfortunate incident when I was reading one of her snarky comments in the margin while swallowing my coffee. I of course started laughing, and the coffee nearly went out my nose.

I can’t think of a better example of having a good relationship with your editor. The editing process can sometimes be intense, so being able to crack a joke can relieve the tension. Remember, your editor is there to help you. He or she reviews your manuscript with a fresh pair of eyes to catch the mistakes you may have missed, and, when necessary, make revisions or suggest rewrites. Their goal is to create a positive experience for your readers. And the better the reading experience, the more likely your readers will recommend your book to others.

Gayle Martin

 

Selling a Book is Business 101

© Can Stock Photo/ araraadt

Many newbie authors don’t understand how basic retailing works. I sometimes see posts on author’s forums from people who are most upset because Amazon is selling their books below THEIR price.

Let’s Take a Short Course in Business 101

You write a book. You then want to sell your book. (And who doesn’t?) There are different way to accomplish this, depending on the book format. These days most authors sell an ebook and a print edition. I’m now going to explain the differences in how they are distributed.

eBook Editions

For ebook editions distribution is pretty simple. You upload your file to Amazon or Smashwords. You determine your retail price. Amazon asks you what percentage of that price do you want them to pay you as a royalty. You make you selection, submit your file, and viola! You ebook is now available for purchase, at your price.

So, how are you able to do this? Well, simply put, ebooks are intangible. They’re an electronic file. Amazon didn’t purchase tangible, printed copies of your book for resale.

Print Editions

Print editions are different. They are a tangible product. It costs money to have them printed and distributed to booksellers. So, how does this work?

Most small press and independent authors will usually use Print on Demand. POD for short. Here’s how POD works. Once your book is typeset and your cover is designed, you upload the file to the distributor, which, oftentimes, is Ingram. You include your retail price, along with a discount, typically 55%. That discounted price is your wholesale price. Your retail price is, essentially, the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price, or the MSRP.

So what’s a wholesale price?

Your wholesale price is what resellers, or retailers, you know, book stores, pay for your book. They then stock your books in their store.

So why aren’t they selling your book for your price?

The retail price is what the consumer, in this case, the person who wants to read your book, pays to purchase it from the bookseller.

The bookseller has overhead expenses, such as rent, the electric bill, and so forth. Therefore, he or she has to factor in their overhead and sell the book at a price so that they can make a profit. That price may be the same as your MSRP, or it may be less. If they can sell it for less, the consumer is more likely to buy. If they are having a sale, they may drop the price even lower. Either way, the final retail price is determined by the bookseller, not the author. The author’s price, which is printed on the book cover, is the suggested price only. There is no written agreement between the author and the bookseller.

Your other option–print and distribute it yourself

If you’re not happy with the way books are printed and distributed you can print and distribute your book yourself. Some authors choose to do this, and there is certainly nothing wrong with it. However, there are some disadvantages. First, you’ll have to find a book printer and pay for a print run, which is typically 500 or 1000 books. That’s a lot of books, so you’ll need a place to store them.

Once you have your print books in hand, you can sell them directly from your own website at your MSRP. Again, some authors do this, quite successfully, but it’s also a lot of work. Once a book is sold you’re responsible for the shipping, so plan on spending time waiting in line at the Post Office. You can also sell the book yourself on Amazon as a third party seller. However, you’re still responsible for fulfilling the order, which means you’re still the one who has to go to the Post Office.

So there you have it. If you want total control of the MSRP, and you don’t want anyone selling your book for anything less, then you’ll have assume responsibility for the printing and distribution, and well as fulfilling the orders. Again, some authors do this successfully, while others do not.

Gayle Martin

 

I Have This Really Great Idea

“I have this really great idea for a book that I think you should write.”

© Can Stock Photo/ racorn

This has to be the most infuriating thing anyone could ever say to an author. While the person saying it may have thought they meant well, they’ve just told you how to do your job. Then there’s the other implication. Somehow you’re not capable of coming up with your own ideas for your books. Good grief! I never thought that I would actually hear this, but sure enough, someone said this to me. It was a real jaw dropping moment.

My response was firm, but polite. I told him I write contemporary romance novels, and that I ONLY write contemporary romance novels. Period. In other words, I set my boundaries before the conversation went any further. Had he said, “Yes, I know. I just wanted to tell you about my crazy ex girlfriend,” I would have listened. When he finished his story, I would have thanked him for his time time. I would have also let him know that I couldn’t guarantee I would ever use his story for a future book.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with people sharing their stories. Other people’s stories can be great inspiration for a novel, and oftentimes they are. However, adding the words, “I really think you should write this,” changes the dynamics of the conversation rather quickly, and not in a good way. I don’t need you to tell me how to do my job. Any decision to use anyone’s story, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, is mine and mine alone, and it’s subject to my own interpretation.

Once I firmly set my boundaries the gentleman didn’t elaborate any further. I had a funny feeling that romance novels weren’t his thing. He never got around to telling me what his great idea was, and I didn’t ask.

Gayle Martin