Friday, February 26, 2010

Philosophical Answers to Theological Questions that come up in Inspirational Romances:

#2 How Do I know What God’s Plan is for me?

Very often an Inspirational romance hero or heroine will ask this question: “How do I know what God’s plan is for me?”

This question assumes that God has a plan for each human and that human happiness may depend upon learning what that plan is and then fulfilling it.

This question seems logical at first but it is full of philosophical problems. Fortunately, the public usually never thinks about philosophical problems. The public just wants answers. An author, however, should think of these problems so she will be able to become better prepared to provide more thoughtful answers. There are readers who read inspirational romances for guidance as well as inspiration.

I have found that inspiration romances do not often delve very deeply into these questions. The answers often provided in romances are usually something safe and vanilla like:

“Pray for guidance and God will send you an answer.”

“You’ll know God’s answer in your heart.”

These answers are fine. Readers accept them. However, the writer, who is after authenticity and who is willing to look under the hood, should seek a deeper understanding of the complexity involved in order to develop a deeper POV.

Just as the oracle at Delphi advised us to ‘know ourselves’, the oracle at the fictional Delphi advises authors to ‘know their characters’.

Like water in a well, problems have a depth and not all solutions are found on the surface.

Consider the problems of saying that God has a plan for each and every one of us.

Who said God has a plan for us and how does that person know? Would we want our human parents to plan every phase of our lives? Is the gift of freewill to mean nothing?

Assume that God does not know the future. (Many Christians believe this because it addresses the problem of predestination.) God sees a newborn babe in the hospital and He thinks: “My plan for this child is that she go to Notre Dame, become a nurse, marry John Smith from Dry Creek, and work in an orphanage in Uganda.”

What is the chance of this plan actually happening? Probably as close to zero as you could get. Further, how could this poor girl ever learn of God’s plan?

Assume God knows the future. He looks at the baby in the hospital and ‘sees’ her whole life before Him. He ‘sees’ every second of that child’s life. What sense would a plan make? It would be like a person planning for a trip he took to Venice three years ago. Why make a plan? It’s over. You can’t change anything.

Unless you are planning to go to Venice again, what sense would it make to plan for an event that has already happed?

Even if God knows the future, what He ‘sees’ is the result of a lifetime of the exercise of an individual's freewill. This knowledge does not prove determinism. A plan would still make sense for God to have.

This is not an answer. In fact, it provides a problem for there even being a freewill.

What if I followed a child around all his life and at every point a decision is made; I was able to tell you exactly how the child would decide. The child thinks he has freewill. Yet if I can always tell how the child is going to freely choose, then his decision must be based on something which makes up the child’s character. This evolution of the child’s makeup is likely the result of every experience the child has had in his lifetime.

Eventually, if you carry this argument back, you will come to see that the ‘initial state’ determined the first decisions which built the foundation for all future free choices.

Another philosopher enters at this point and says: “The latest finding in physics indicate that at the subatomic level, there may be uncaused events. This provides an empirical basis for the existence of freewill in a world that exhibits causality. Humbug to your initial state theory.”

At this point we can venture no further. The moment a philosophical problem is answered definitely, it gets kicked out of philosophy and winds up in another discipline. Freewill has not been answered definitively and no one has the final answer at this point. Until there is a final answer and ‘freewill’ has been handed over to psychology, all a philosopher has is his arguments.

So the problem is deep. What’s an author to do?

When one of your characters has a problem, like wanting to know what God’s plan is for her, delve deeply into the character’s psyche and determine exactly what that problem is. How deeply does your character explore this problem? You need not use this information in the novel. This information can remain in the back story. Your advice can still be the same as you were going to give in the first place.

Consider this quotation form T. S. Elliot:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

Know your characters. Then consider other answers to the common questions.
“Tell me, Vince, how do I know what God’s plan is for me? Should I take the new job in Ontario and stay in Broken Arrow?”

“Martin, how do you know that God has only one plan for you? I think God cares more about how you live than where you live. God allows you freewill. He may create a new plan for you every time you make an important decision. There is only one plan we can be sure of, and that is that God wants us to be with Him forever in Heaven. Pray for guidance but make your own plans. God trusts you. Show Him you are worthy of that trust.”

The above is only one possible answer of many. Understanding your characters, both those giving advice and those receiving it, can lead to a richer understanding of the motivations involved. Know your characters and they will play fair with you and be true to themselves.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Philosophical Asymmetrical Nature of the First Page…

And Why this is so Important to Authors and Critique Partners…

The first page is not like any other page in your book. Mistakes made on the first page can quickly become invisible. The author will not see them, critique partners may never notice them and even, if the editor does see them, on second look, they become invisible anyway.

Checking and double-checking only makes these mistakes ever harder to find. The more you look, the more invisible they become.

Read the opening page of Into The Mist below.

He jumped hard, throwing the hawser across the gap, giving the impression he would stop Mary’s departure.

A bird whispered down from the twin poles splintering her view into a kaleidoscopic array of crystalline chards.

Unbalanced, Mary dodged, salt-scented spume, wetting her signature Janzen suit.

The problem here is that the reader knows nothing about the story but the author (and all her critique partners) knows everything. The author has probably rewritten this opening a dozen times. The author often has made changes at the advice of her critique partners. Why would they then see anything wrong with the text?

Everyone in this situation, except the reader, has a very clear view of the above scene. They know what is going on and why it is happening. But the poor reader knows nothing!

When the reader knows nothing and the author knows everything, it creates an example of asymmetry. Unlike other asymmetries, however, this ‘first page’ asymmetry dissolves with each page the reader reads. It’s an asymmetry that often even the reader cannot duplicate once she ventures into the body of the book.

Read the above passage again and then answer these questions:

1. Who is ‘he’?
2. How do you jump ‘hard’?
3. What is a hawser?
4. What is the gap? A gap between what?
5. Who is Mary?
6. Is she departing? Does she want to? Does he want to stop her?
7. What does the bird have to do with this? Is the bird literal or poetic? Birds don’t really whisper.
8. What are the twin poles? Is this literal or poetic?
9. What is the meaning of 'splintering her view'? Is this literal or poetic?
10. By ‘unbalanced’ do you mean Mary is crazy or literally unbalanced?
11. Did Mary try to dodge the spume or was she dodging something else?
12. Did the spume wet her suit or was she very frightened by what she was dodging?

You may be thinking that no one would let a passage like the one above get by. You’d be wrong. It is very hard to ‘un-know’ something. Philosophers may do it sometimes but authors may not even know to try.

Into The Mist is a story about a fishing family in Mystic Bay. The family has an old pre-WWII vintage boat. The two masts are called the ‘twins’ and play an important role in the story. ‘He’ is the hero and owns the boat. Mary is the heroine who needs a cataract operation. The boat is in the harbor. The gap is the space between the boat deck and the dock. The hawser is the heavy rope used to tie the boat to the dock. The hero thinks the heroine’s eyesight is inadequate to serve on his boat. The hero is on the dock. He threw the hawser back onto the boat which Mary was thinking of leaving. She saw the hawser coming at her and dodged. The hero did not see her at the time. He was not trying to stop her departure.

The author knows all this and so do all her critique partners. The poor reader, however, is wondering “what in the world is going on here? I better read this again. Surely, I am missing something”. So the reader reads it again and a third time and then gives up and just goes on reading with the hope that things will eventually make sense.

What’s an Author to Do?

At some point, when the author believes the first page is near perfect, she should have someone who knows nothing about the book read the first page. Just the first page. She should then ask how the reader ‘sees’ the story. Does she understand what is happening? Does she feel comfortable so far? Does she feel compelled to read further?

The reader should not be someone who might be trying to be polite or trying to please the author. The same reader probably should not be used twice on the same copy. The author should try to collect a set of these readers for future use. Fortunately, this is a very unique problem involving the first page.

“But, Vince”, I hear the defensive author saying, “I deliberately left that stuff out to intrigue the reader and force her to read on.”

Well, don’t do that.

The reader has to at least understand what a sentence means. She won’t be intrigued. She will be befuddled. And if she is standing in Wal-Mart reading the first page, she will probably put the book back on the shelf and look for an author who is a better communicator.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

How to Test Your Manuscript Before Doing Yet Another Rewrite.

Critique partners may be great but the process is not. At least, it is not when criticisms are categorical. That is, when one comment is: the pace is too slow. Another: the conflict is not strong enough. A third is: the hero’s character arc is not complete.

When you think about it, these typical comments sound more like an autopsy report than a living ‘reading experience’.

Do you engage in another rewrite?

Will that really help? Remember the days when you had to retype an entire page to make a correction and by doing so you risked making even more typos than the page originally had? Of course you don’t. You’re not that old. But believe me, there was such a time, way, way back in the pre-White-Out days.

So Tell Me, What Should I Do?

Each book is an organic whole. The paper and ink only exist to create a ‘reading experience’ in the reader’s mind. The ‘reading experience’ is the true test of the book’s merit.

I would argue that there is no ideal quantification for the various categories that a novel can be divided into. A great book could have a low level of conflict if it is really funny. Remember: you are entertaining the reader. A hero might have no arc development if he is an angle. (Literally not figuratively.) A book might even score highly in each component category and still be a lousy read.

OK, So What’s Your Plan?

Take your manuscript and print it in facing-pages, book format in Word. It will look just like you xeroxed it from a published book.

Next, here’s the key part: give the book to a romance fan and ask her to read it because you want to know whether she likes it. Let her know that there is still time to make changes before the book goes to the printer. (This is surely true). Ask the reader to be as truthful with you as she can be.

The reader – and it’s best if the reader has no pretentions of being a writer herself -- will see the book as a story and not a manuscript. This is the true way it is meant to been seen.

If the reader loves the book, hold up on any rewrites until you have another reader or two render the same opinion. If the reader has problems with the book, these problems, once stated, should become immediately obvious to you. Fix these. If you think the problems are with the reader and not your writing, then test the book again with another reader.

This test is for when your book is in near finished form and you are considering submitting it to a publisher.

Bottom line: Give your manuscript a ‘reality’ test. Reality has a way of getting its way.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Marketing Janette Marie Sherrill & Her New Book: Part V

Read Part I
Read Part II
Read Part III
Read Part IV

This Session Covers:

* Ideal Series Elements
* Publicity * Positioning
* Branding * Leveraging Success

JMS: This is session five already. What’s with the domino picture?

VM: Each domino represents a book in a series. If you knock one over, it tends to fall forward knocking over the dominoes in front of it. That’s both an opportunity and a problem. And that’s our topic for today.

JMS: It’s nice to be back in your office. I love the farm but it’s nice to get into Tulsa and do some shopping.

VM: How did the cow emergency turn out?

JMS: No problem. The vet wanted me there in case there were problems with the delivery but there were no complications.

VM: Good. Did you happen to read Elizabeth’s interview the other day?

JMS: I did and I think you were a little taken with her. She’s quite a woman.

VM: She is even more impressive in person than she is in the story. And she can sure ride a horse.

JMS: Well, I can only make her just so real in a novel. When you interview her in person, you get a much better picture of her.

VM: Did you know she had her nose broken on two different occasions?

JMS: You noticed, did you now?

VM: It was hard to miss it being right in the middle of her face. It thought it gave her character.

JMS: A character with character. That’s good.

VM: So why didn’t you mention her broken nose in “When God Answers”?

JMS: I did but the editor took it out. She said that women didn't read romances to vicariously have broken noses.

VM: Or to be fat. Did you ever read a romance that had a plus-size heroine?

JMS: There was a whole romance line years ago for plus-size heroines. But the subject is a little indelicate to mention. Romance authors try to offer the reader a dream heroine to vicariously identify with. We are not after a harsh reality.

VM: So how do you feel she did? In the interview, that is.

JMS: I think she did well. She’s very smart. I didn’t expect less from her. Though I do get a little nervous when she goes out on her own.

VM: She doesn’t want a sequel to “When God Answers”.

JMS: Well, that’s good because she’s not going to get one. The publisher wants a six book series. That’s what we are going to cover today, right.

VM: That’s the idea. I hope you’ve been coming up with some good ideas.

JMS: I have plenty of ideas. But now you have me thinking about ‘marketing vitamins’ and your four requirements of the ideal series. These considerations complicate planning a series.

VM: That’s true but when you’re planning a series it’s very important to have a firm foundation because you are going to build a six book series on top of it.

JMS: Only if the books sell. If not all the work that went into planning the six books will have been for nothing. It’s a higher order of risk.

VM: I agree to an extent but having a viable series outline helps in selling the first book to the publisher. So if you have the right plan and you’ve incorporated a full measure of ‘marketing vitamins’, then the books should be well positioned to sell to readers. Readers represent your second market which ultimately controls your destiny.

JMS: Let’s review your four points.

VM: The first is, ‘forward and backward compatibility’. And this means that the books can be read in any order and that there is no preferred order. No reader will have an advantage over any other reader simply because of the order in which she reads the books.

JMS: Well, this will eliminate the multi-generational family saga.

VM: I’m sure it will leave out a lot of traditional series approaches. You are going to have to be more creative if you want to create the ideal series.

JMS: But what if I want to write a family saga that spans over one hundred years?

VM: Then that’s what you write. You just won’t be writing to the ideal series format. I’m not telling you what to write. What I am trying to do is stack the deck in your favor. I’d like you to do the things that will enable you to become more successful, more quickly. That is from a marketing POV. Marketing begins before you write the first word.

JMS: What makes your ‘series’ the ideal series?

VM: My series is ideal from a marketing point of view. It is setup from the very beginning to provide maximum marketing potential. I say ‘potential’ because you still have to write great stories that the public will like. We can gage how readers will like your story, in part, by the ‘rewards-per-page’ score you get. With good pre-marketing planning, if you get a hit, a really popular first book, then we will be in a position to leverage your success in all directions without the usual series limitations.

JMS: What do you mean by ‘all directions’? That sounds like technical marketing jargon.

VM: I mean the series will be open ended. The next book does not have to be the next book in a linear sequence. The next theme does not have to follow the last theme. There is no limit to the number of books that can be in the series. That’s open ended. It will even be possible to bring in other authors to add to the series. You’ll have to talk to your agent and see if there is any value in doing this. But the point is, if you write a big hit, I’d like to be able to run with it and make the most of your success.

JMS: I like that. What’s point number two?

VM: I hope you actually know what point two is. Don’t you?

JMS: Yes, I do. I’m just asking you as a talking point.

VM: Good. Point two is, ‘Open-ended Expandability’.

JMS: Meaning?

VM: There is no natural end to the number of books that can be in the series. If the series is popular it can expand forever.

JMS: Can’t all series essentially do that?

VM: In a way but it is artificial and less satisfying. For example, first the author marries off the three sisters. That’s one series. Then the three younger brothers get married off. That’s series two. Then three female cousins get married off. That’s series three. You get the idea.

JMS: Actually, I think I would get sick of writing about that same family year after year, decade after decade.

VM: You’d also have to keep track of a lot of facts and dates and names. Which gets us to point three: ‘Action simultaneity’.

JMS: That’s a hard one.

VM: Yes, and it will be hard to accomplish but the payoffs are very large. ‘Action simultaneity’ means that all the actions in all the many books in the series happen within the same time span. Other than the core material or what I call the ‘central hub’, what happens in one book should not effect what happens in the other books. This is very helpful if multiple authors are engaged in writing the series. It is also a blessing for the single author who will not have to keep track of a million facts concerning what happened in the other books in the series.

JMS: It’s just hard to imagine how to do this.

VM: Let’s say I’m writing a series about a great Civil War battle. It takes place over several days and involves tens of thousands of soldiers. The ‘central hub’ will be the top generals involved, the dates, the weather, and the outcome. Perhaps a number of other factors will join the ‘hub’ like news coming from Washington or some other important event that actually took place.

JMS: What do you mean by news from Washington?

VM: Let’s say that Lincoln issues his Emancipation Proclamation over the days of the action and some of the troops hear about it. This could appear in every story or in just selected stories depending on the individual plots. The idea is to provide the author with lots of strands to make use of in crafting the individual stories.

JMS: Like providing a cook with extra ingredients she can choose to use or not use.

VM: Yes. Each book will be like a different meal served to the same customers in the same restaurant. There will be a commonality in quality and ambiance but there will still be a substantial variety in the menu choices – the individual book titles.

JMS: How’s that again?

VM: All the action. in all the books. happens during the same time span but the battlefield is huge. One story could be about a doctor in a field hospital for the North. Another story could be about a reconnaissance troop scouting enemy territory. A third story might feature sharpshooting snipers and how they were hated by the ordinary troops on both sides of the war.

JMS: You could have a father and son fighting for different sides. You could even have a story about black soldiers fighting for the South being captured by black soldiers fighting for the North.

VM: You get the idea which brings us to point four, ‘Loyalty & Emotional Attachment to a central hub’.

JMS: That is a rather complicated concept.

VM: It’s needed because of the nature of the first three points. Much of the strength of a good series happens when the reader forms an emotional attachment for the characters. The reader wants to know what happens to these characters in the future and, if the series is long enough, what happens to the characters’ children and grand children.

JMS: That’s the strength of the family saga. It extends for generations.

VM: Right. The emotional attachment to a ‘central hub’ is an attempt to duplicate the sense of continuation you get in a sequential series.

JMS: How?

VM: By creating an element that partakes in every story to which the reader can become emotionally attached. This would be about the hardest component to create. In the Civil War story it could be the battle itself and the great cause that battle represented to the participants. Some scenes could be identical in each book. These could involve news of deaths or failures and how this emotionally effects the commanders.

JMS: Wouldn’t these reports create events which would time-date the action? I mean, the next author in the series would not be able to have that information available if her action happens before the report came in to the command center.

VM: That’s a very good point. The common events, that could be used in all the books, should be outside of use by authors of the individual books. For example, say the report comes in that everyone in “F” troop has been killed in an ambush. No other author would be allowed to use this information in any way in her book. All this information does is add emotional impact to the narrative. That’s why it would help if these reports were historically correct. That is, if there really was an “F” troop that was ambushed. The Civil War buffs would love this. Just don’t make the ambush critical in one of the individual book stories.

JMS: I can see where this will be the hardest part. Tell me again, what’s the big advantage of achieving ‘action simultaneity’ in the ideal series?

VM: The big deal here is that the books are ‘equal’ and can be read in any order. No reader has an advantage over any other reader -- in terms of reading enjoyment -- by virtue of the order in which the books are read. This helps in writing the books but from a marketing point of view, the big advantage gained is that it makes all backlist books equally attractive. The reader then can pick from the backlist books a theme which most interests her.

JMS: You mean themes within the series?

VM: Yes, let’s say the central hub is a ‘marriage club’ in which one of the members gets married in each book. One of the stories could be a ‘marriage-of-convenience’, one could be a ‘baby-on-the-doorstep’, another story might be a ‘runaway-bride’ theme, or even a ‘stranded-in-a-cabin-with’ theme.

“In this way, a reader who likes the series idea, can select within the ‘series umbrella’ the popular theme that she likes the most. This will increase the odds of the reader buying the all important second book. Now given that the reader prefers the individual theme she has chosen as her second book, the odds are even higher that she will also enjoy the second book. This is a case of success building on success.

JMS: Is this what you call leveraging on your successes?

VM: Yes, leveraging is part of the total marketing package. What you would like is for every element of your series to act as an enhancer to increase the chance of selling other books. You’d also like to build a cumulative momentum so that each book doubles the odds of the reader buying the next book from the series. By writing the series to the ideal criteria, all the books in the series backlist become equally desirable as a choice – all things be equal.

JMS: Equally desirable? All things being equal?

VM: Yes from a marketing POV. In a sequential series readers may favor the newer books. They tend to read forward from the book they just read. If they are reading the latest book and there are five past books, they will be more likely to buy the immediate past book and not the second or third books. Now, if they could read the books in any order, regardless of the publishing sequence, then no one book would be favored over any other book and you would probably sell books about equally from the series backlist. Then by having popular themes, you could enjoy a competitive advantage over the old style sequential series where the books should be read in the order they were written.

JMS: Let me think. Suppose the reader likes the premise of my series, or as you would say the ‘central hub’ -- like the Frontier Hospital idea you wrote about. Within that series individual books would have popular themes like ‘hidden baby’. Is that right?

VM: Absolutely. One of the nurses coming from back East to work at the hospital could bring her daughter whose father is in the Army. He doesn’t know he has a child. Of course, the child and father meet at the hospital when he comes in wounded.

JMS: This will take a great deal of thought to make it work.

VM: That’s the challenge of any series. You have a bigger investment creating it – in time and creative energy – but it gives you lots of marketing leverage later, if it is a hit. It also allows you to use story elements over and over again. And as your knowledge base expands with each book you write, you should be able to write each additional book better and more quickly.

JMS: Tell me more about length?

VM: To sell a lot of books, in the shortest amount of time, I think you should plan to write a series of short novels. Somewhere between 170 pages and 220 pages.

JMS: What if my stories require move pages? What if the kind of book I want to write requires over 400 pages? The “Harry Potter” books are long books.

VM: That’s right the “Harry Potter” books were long and got longer. The last books were not very well written but by then it didn’t make any difference. The installed base of fans was hooked on reading the next book. And reading it as soon as possible. Anyway, I’m talking about the ideal here. If you must write long books, then do that. But let’s consider the advantage of short books first.

JMS: Ok.

VM: Each book you write entitles you to a certain degree of publicity. It could get you a lot more publicity if you have an active and creative publicity program. But such powerful results take work and planning.

JMS: How do you mean?

VM: Well, take the major newspaper in a good size city. Most writers will think of this newspaper as being one medium for publicity. But it is really ten or twelve different media. You have to study the paper with publicity in mind. A book signing might be listed under “News you Can Use’ and “Coming Events.” A book signing might also appear in the Book Section, in “Announcements”, in City news, in the suburban section, in “People in the News”, in the Business News, and so on. The newspaper is actually many media with differentiated groups of readers.

JMS: Will the paper know to run you press release in all those sections?

VM: No, and they will not do it. That is your job. You need to submit the press release or ‘event notice’ to each and every section of the newspaper separately as if no other sections in the paper exited.

JMS: That’s one heck of a lot of work.

VM: More than you think. Not only must you know who at the paper to send the notices to, you must also write the release in the exact format the paper uses. You may have to compose the same notice ten different times.

JMS: Who would do that? That’s way too much work.

VM: I did it all the time. I’d have my notices appearing all over the paper many times. After you do this once or twice and have the formats stored on your computer, the process will take less time each time you do it.

JMS: Why do I have to rewrite my basic press release? Isn’t that the job of the employees at the newspaper?

VM: They don’t have time. They always have deadlines but they never have enough time. If you give them a notice in the exact format the paper uses, then the copy does not have to be rewritten. All the staff has to do is ‘spec’ the copy with a red pen. If you do their job for them, your stuff will run time and time again. People seeing your notices all the time will think you have friends at the newspaper who give you favored treatment. They just don’t understand how the system works and you don’t particularly want them to anyway.

JMS: You’re going to do a full session on just publicity, aren’t you?

VM: Yes, I am. We will have that session in the future. I used to give six hour seminars on how to get publicity.

JMS: Good because I’d like to know as much about publicity as possible. This is something I could be doing myself.

VM: It would be one of the most powerful marketing skills you can ever develop. For now, as an assignment, study your local newspaper paper. Look for announcements of any kind. When you find one, write it down, cut it out, and keep it in a file.

When I did publicity, I might send ten letters to the newspaper’s different departments. All would be written in the exact format of the stories that have run before. The editor could use my copy without making any changes.

Also some special features are on different days of the week. One feature could come out on Wednesday, another on Saturday, and a third on Sunday. Your publicity goal should be having the most people see that you are having an event – like a book signing. That’s job #1. Next you’d like readers to notice and remember the title of your book. Then, if possible, you’d also like to ‘position’ yourself or the book in the reader’s mind.

JMS: What do you mean by ‘position’ myself or the book in the reader’s mind?

VM: Positioning is part of marketing. For example, years ago, Avis positioned itself as the number two rental agency and being number two, it tried harder to please the customer. Dove has positioned itself as ‘one- fourth cleansing cream’ and not just soap for as long as I can remember.

JMS: Isn’t that branding?

VM: The term ‘branding” is hot right now but I don’t like the term. It doesn’t imply any understanding of marketing. I see want-to-be romance writers getting all excited about branding themselves as authors and it’s a big mistake. It’s as if they were teenage girls hot to get a tattoo. My advice is to think ‘positioning’ and get an understanding of what the concept is all about before you make any moves. You’ve probably heard it said that “You only get one chance to make a first impression”, well, positioning is a little like that.

There is a great book on the topic by Ries and Trout called “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind”. It’s been in print for decades. Romance writers should at least read this book before they even think about branding themselves.

JMS: Ok, then give me an example of positing me and my book “When God Answers”.

VM: Let’s see. Suppose we decide that your writing is a new form of Christian fiction called “Christian Mystic Fiction”.

JMS: Christian mysticism?

VM: Yes, just for an example, say: “Christian Mystic Fiction – It Takes Inspiration Beyond the Ordinary!”

JMS: Am I that? Are there Christian mystics?

VM: Of course, there are Christian mystics but I’m not aware of any Christian Fiction Mystics writing today. You see it really helps if you are the first to position yourself in a give niche. Usually the first to position owns that position forever. I don’t think you are a mystic but you might be one by the time your series is ready to release its first book.

JMS: What makes a person a Christian mystic?

VM: A mystic is someone who has a direct awareness of God…actually the mystical experience is one in which the individual loses her ‘ego’ and becomes one with the whole, the Godhead, the force, the Absolute, or just God. What the experience is called depends on the religion. Now, since the individual has no ego during the experience, there is no way to describe the experience as being her own experience. There was no ‘I’ to experience the event. This is heady stuff. If you have a genuine mystic experience, you will never forget it. For many non-believers, a mystical experience, where they become one with the Absolute, is all they need to become believers.

JMS: If the experience is not ‘your’ experience – because your ego fell away – then how can you write about it?

VM: You really can’t use the normal language that was developed in an ‘ego’ world. Mystics have always resorted to poetry to describe the experience and what is so amazing is this: no matter what the culture or the year the experience happened, all this mystical poetry is alike. It’s just uncanny how Saint Teresa can sound like a zen mystic.

JMS: Do you think I could do that?

VM: I have no idea. Off hand, I would not advise it. But you have gone pretty far down that road in having your characters talk to God and having Him answer back. The next step could be a mystical experience. But be careful. Orthodox believers, 'orthodox' meaning those of have the ‘right’ thoughts, are often hostile to mystics in all religions. I don’t think there would be a very big market segment for this type of fiction. However, I could be wrong.

JMS: I think you’re right. Actually, I may be too ‘edgy’ for my own good right now. Do you think what I need to be doing now is coming up with a position for myself as an author.

VM: Give it a lot of thought. Now, about positioning your book, “When God Answers”, perhaps we can use something like “When God Answers” – Inspiration that Speaks Directly to the Reader!” Something like that.

JMS: You’re filling my head with too many ideas. Is marketing always this complicated?

VM: Yes, marketing is everything you do in providing the product. When you are dealing with ‘everything’ it’s going to be complicated.

JMS: And you’d like the positioning statements to appear in every notice?

VM: Oh, yes. I’d like even little tiny notices in “What’s on Tap” to position if possible. However, never go beyond what the format allows. The paper probably won’t cut your copy. They just won’t run it in the first place.

JMS: Back to the series. You want me to write shorter novels so I can write more of them a year and each time one runs, I’ll have a chance to have ten to twelve notices in the newspaper about the book or about a book signing.

VM: Yes. Doing this is very important. By having two to four new books a year, you will be able to keep your name in front of the public. This is not a small thing. Consider that the newspaper has a circulation of 150,000. Each time your name appears you have the potential of 150,000 people seeing it. If your story runs five or six times,, in different places in the paper and on different days, then that ups the chances that someone will notice you and your book.

JMS: And that’s just one newspaper.

VM: Yes. There will be other newspapers as well. Like little newspapers, suburban papers, and local small town papers. There will be magazines, radio stations, and even broadcast TV stations as well as cable TV. There are dozens of potential publicity outlets in a town the size of Tulsa. Always be on the lookout for publicity outlets.

JMS: But can I find them all?

VM: I doubt it. But always be looking. Look for any notice in any medium that looks like something you could also employ. Get the address and put it on a list of addresses. It is possible that with a good well developed publicity plan, you could announce your new book to close to million people.

The important thing about a book signing is not the book signing itself; it’s the publicity the signing can bring you.

JMS: I never thought of a book signing that way. I always thought of it in terms of book sales at the signing. A successful signing might be one where twenty books are sold.

VM: That’s good too and important because you want the bookseller to be happy. What’s nice is that all the publicity you worked so hard to get will also bring more people to the book signing. So it's a WIN/WIN deal.

JMS: What other things generate publicity?

VM: A lot of things if you are willing to do some public speaking. You could give a talk at the library. This is like a PSA, pubic service announcement. These are very easy to get publicity for. You could also do a little seminar at the YMCA or other organization. This also has a high PSA value.

JMS: A seminar on what?

VM: Something you know about. How about “How to Get the Most Enjoyment from Reading Romances”. Make a topic up. How about, “Romances as a gateway to the classics”. With this talk you could speak to college classes and high schools students.

JMS: When am I going to have time to write?

VM: That’s a good question. I’m talking ideal situations here. I suggest that you arrange specific writing times which the family honors and that only a 911 type emergency can violate.

Always be creating the best product for others to market. As far as publicity goes, do that on what I call ‘garbage time’. If you’re reading the paper anyway, be looking for sections that carry announcements and collect these for future use. If you are at the doctor’s office, scan local or regional magazines for announcements. When in the library, look at the notices on the walls and read community newsletters that list events and seminars. Publicity is something that you build over time. You don’t have to do everything at once.

JMS: Having my own writing space is the idea behind the studio by the pond. What are we going to do next?

VM: I’d like you to outline a series that meets my four points so we can discuss it for an hour of so. Can you do that?

JMS: After all we've discussed, I sure hope I can. I may need more time.

VM: Take what time you need. I’d like to see some meat. Something that might actually fly and be of major interest to your publisher.

JMS: Very good. Until next time.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Philosophical Answers to Theological Questions that Come up in Inspirational Romances:

#1 “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People” – The problem of justice.

If God is all powerful, all knowing, all good, all just, and all merciful, then why would He knowingly allow bad things to happen to good people? After all, God knows these bad things are going to happen and he could easily prevent them.

A human parent who allowed a child to play in the street knowing the child would be hit by an automobile would be condemned and prosecuted by the law. Why does God get a pass? Shouldn’t God, the Father, perform at a higher standard than John Doe, a human father?

These are difficult questions that go to the very heart of the definition of God. These questions raise such powerful doubts that most people do not even want to consider them.

Now I think we can all agree that a romance novel is not the place to analyze deep philosophical questions about the nature of God; especially questions that have perplexed philosophers and theologians for centuries. I also think that it is almost always the case that when a romance author raises the ‘Problem of Justice’, the answer will always be the safest and most generally accepted position.

The purpose of this post, and all the posts in my “Philosophical Answers” series, is to give romance writers a more detailed set of answers so they can better understand the complexities involved and the anguish of the person who sincerely wrestles with these problems.

It is my hope that by providing a more expanded view of these questions, writers will, at least, attempt to provide a more inclusive set of solutions. I know that this may not be possible; however, just as a character’s back story may never get explicitly stated in a given novel, it’s still important for the author to understand the character’s unstated motivations. Such an understanding can help the author develop a ‘deep POV’ and help the author select the best story solution to her character's “Problem of Justice”.

There are many ways that individuals answer the “Problem of Justice”. The author should know how her character explains the problem because this will determine the suitability of the author’s solution that acts to return the character to an acceptance and belief in God.


John Doe is mad at God because his wife and child were killed by a drunk driver who was not even injured. He has not talked to God in years. The heroine wants to bring him back to the church. How does she do this and what arguments or actions on the part of the heroine should the author put forward?

Traditional Answers to Why Bad Things Happen to Good People?

1. The people were not really good. (We just thought they were good.)

2. The things were not really bad. (What we thought were bad things were actually blessings in disguise.)

3. God doesn’t let things happen; He created the world and since that time things have evolved on their own based on the laws of physics and the consequences of man exercising his freewill. (God is now staying out of the world).

4. Same answer as #3 above except that God does not stay out of the world. Sometimes He works miracles and answers prayers. (For the most part however God stays out of the day to day operation of the world.)

5. There is no God. (This solves the ‘Problem of Justice’ – but it is not the answer most people want.)

6. God is indifferent. He does not care what happens to man. Man is only an insignificant speck in the universe. (This just creates another problem: why is a good God indifferent?)

7. God is evil. He has no problem with bad things happening to good people. In fact, He might enjoy it. (This turns God into the Devil and is an answer almost no one would support.)

8. Freewill. In order for man to have genuine freewill, God must allow bad things to happen to both good and bad people alike; however, since there is an afterlife, everything will balance out and be made ‘just’ in the next life. (This is a very popular answer because it justifies the existence of Heaven and Hell; however, it just turns the ‘Problem of Justice’ into the ‘Problem of Freewill’.)

9. God is just ‘testing’ man as He tested Job in the Bible. (This answer is somewhat popular but changes the question to: “Why would a good God do this? Was God testing the Jews with the Holocaust?)

10. Value in Belief. What virtue or merit would there be in being a faithful religious person, if only good things ever happened to good people? (Blessed are those of have not seen but still believe. Some like this answer while others find it unsatisfactory.)

11. God is good but He is not all powerful. There is an evil force in the world that occupies God’s attention. (Usually the devil. Compare: Manachism a widely held belief in the time of St. Augustine. This answer is not popular because it limits God’s power.)

12. God is good but he is not all powerful, however, there is no independent evil force in the world. God just lacks the power to fix everything all the time but He does get to what he can. (This answers the “Problem of Justice” and also explains miracles but most believers do not like the idea that God has any limitation on His powers.)

13. That’s something we will never know because God’s ways are not man’s ways. Answering the “Problem of Justice” to a human would be like trying to explain quantum mechanics to a mouse. (This is an argument from ignorance. We are not smart enough to understand the answer. Just believe and don’t think about it. This is surely an answer to the problem but not one many feel comfortable embracing.)

14. Karma. The belief that today’s bad things are the result of actions taken in a past life. (This is not a Christian belief but it is a very widely held belief worldwide. It is not really an answer because the question can still be asked: “Why was the first bad thing allowed to happen?”)

15. Third Party Punishment. Bad things happened to good people in order to punish other bad people. For example, the unfaithful husband who is in a car wreck which kills his innocent wife and infant son. The bad husband is being punished for his bad actions. This person has to deal with his guilt for the rest of his life. (This is not very ‘just’ to the innocent wife and child.)

16. Universe is spinning out of control and God is doing his best to get it back in order. (This has the same problem of limiting God’s power and that is not acceptable to most believers.)


If an author has a character who is mad at God because of a bad thing that happened to him, then understanding how that character sees God’s actions will determine the type of solution that will bring him back to God by the end of the novel.

If the author can understand the depth of the character’s agony, she will be in a better position to deal authentically with that character and more likely to answer the character’s doubts without using a cliché like: “All things happen for the best” or “God’s ways are not our ways. You just have to believe.”

Is it easy to provide a more authentic solution? No, in fact, an author may not be able to do it in a romance and still get the romance published.

However, a character who believes bad things happened because of his bad Karma will certainly respond to a different solution to the “Problem of Justice” than the character who believes there is no God. Even more so, the character who thinks God is punishing him by allowing his wife and child to die in a car wreck, will require a different solution to the problem and thus a different path back into the Church.


Do you know how your character sees the “Problem of Justice” when you write that he has left the church because he is mad at God? How your character sees the problem will determine the success of the heroine’s efforts to save him. Think ‘Deep POV’. Know your characters.


Next Philosophical Problem that often occurs in Inspirational Romance Novels:

How Do I know What God’s Plan for me really is?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Marketing Janette Marie Sherrill & Her New Book: Part IV

Read Part I
Read Part II
Read Part III

This conversation covers:

* marketing vitamins
* marketing synergy
* rewards for reading

VM: Are you ready for today? This is already our fourth session.

JMS: I have been thinking about ‘marketing vitamins’ all week. I just wonder why authors don’t use more ‘marketing vitamins’ than they do. I mean the idea makes perfect sense.

VM: I’ll bet many of the best selling authors do. They just might not think of it as adding “marketing vitamins’. They write about fascinating people, places, and times.

JMS: That may be true for Nora Roberts and Linda Howard but doesn’t someone have to write about ordinary people in small towns where nothing ever happens?

VM: I suppose they do but it doesn’t have to be you. Does it?

JMS: No, but I’ve been told for years that I should write about what I know. I know about small towns and ranching.

VM: That dictum,‘write what you know’ doesn’t preclude learning about new things. Lean more and you’ll know more. When you know more you’ll be able to write about those things that make powerful ‘marketing vitamins’.

JMS: But if everybody did that, all romance books would be the same.

VM: You mean like they aren’t the same now? The point is, everyone won’t do it. But if they did, it would be harder to sell books. So be thankful everyone won’t do it. That still gives you a chance to have a marketing advantage.

JMS: That’s not a Christian attitude. I’m in favor of sharing what I know to help other writers.

VM: Other writers can read this post. It’s not like you’re hiding your light under a basket.

JMS: But my writer friends all say these posts are too long.

VM: Well, please ask your writer friends how long they should be and maybe we can shorten them.

JMS: Are you serious?

VM: Of course I’m serious. Have you heard of the Smart Bitches? They wrote a book called,“Beyond Heaving Bosoms”.

JMS: Oh, they’re terrible

VM: No they’re not!

JMS: They say romance writers are too nice. Too nice! How can anyone be too nice? They just don’t get it. And their language is absolutely foul.

VM: Their bad language is part of their ‘voice’.

JMS: Well, if I have to choose between being a smart bitch and being too nice, I’m going for being too nice.

VM: And by doing so, you are verifying the premise of their book.

JMS: So what?

VM: So? You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

JMS: What’s your point? I’m not a philosopher like you. I need a little help here.

VM: 'How-To' writing books and helpful editors tell you how to lead the hose to water…that is, how to get your book published. That’s not my goal as a marketing person. My goal is to make readers thirsty for your book. Once thirsty they will find their own water and drink it as well. That is: find and buy your book.

JMS: And your ‘marketing vitamins’ make them thirsty?

VM: Absolutely. Thirsty with desire for the right ‘reading experience’.

JMS: And…

VM: Let me ask you this. Have you ever heard about a book or an author who sells a lot of books; however, when you read one of these top selling books, you find a lot of mistakes and poor writing?

JMS: Yes, but there not as many book like this as some people would have you believe.

VM: I agree with that. But the important thing for this example is that some books like this exist.

JMS: I will admit there are a few.

VM: Good, because do you know what I think is going on in these cases? I think these authors fill their books with ‘marketing vitamins’. Their readers are willing to put up with less than perfect writing in order to enjoy the other stuff. These best selling authors may not be the best of writers but they are good marketers. They are writing what people want to read and most enjoy reading about.

JMS: What are the ‘marketing vitamins’ in “Harry Potter” novels?

VM: Are you serious? “Harry Potter” books are almost all ‘marketing vitamins”! They have everything kids like. The biggest thing is that the kids are smarter than the adults. The kids have privileged information and have powers that adults in the real world can only dream about. “Harry Potter” is ‘marketing vitamins’ on steroids.

JMS: I never thought of it in that way.

VM: Then think of it now. And start thinking of ways to work ‘marketing vitamins’ into your own stories. You need to do this before you write the first word. This is especially important, even vital, when creating a series of novels.

JMS: That’s not so easy to do. After all, I will be trying to create a compelling romance story in an environment in which a million romance stories have already been written.

VM: But that’s the same for every genre -- be it mystery or cowboy westerns. In fact, it might be best to always be thinking of ‘marketing vitamins’ wherever you are and whatever you are doing. Keep your eyes open and become like a reporter with a ‘nose for news’.

JMS: That’s an idea. I already keep an ear out for unique speech patterns when I am in public. I could just as well be looking for marketing ideas. I do have a question. I get ‘rewards for reading’ mixed up with a ‘marketing vitamins’. What’s the difference?

VM: Sometimes the two concepts are similar but usually they are different. For example, I count using multiple senses, like sight, smell, and sound, on a page as being a ‘reward for reading’ but they would not ordinarily be ‘marketing vitamins’. Setting the story in Santa Fe would be a ‘marketing vitamin’ but not a reward for reading.

JMS: I caught something there in what you said. You said that ordinarily, ‘sight, sound, and smell’ would not be ‘marketing vitamins’. That would mean, to me at least, that sometimes they could be ‘marketing vitamins’. Can you give me an example when ‘sight, sound, and smell’ are ‘marketing vitamins’?

VM: Sure, let’s say your hero owns a winery and is an expert wine taster. There are many people who love wine, enjoy wine tasting, and visit wineries. How different wines taste and smell, in this case, would be both ‘marketing vitamins’ and ‘rewards for reading’. Of course, for the ‘marketing vitamins’ to work in selling your book, you’d need to have this featured on the cover of the book. You would also want these aspects to be covered in reviews.

JMS: How can I influence what is covered in reviews?

VM: Well, I would have a picture of the winery on the cover or a picture of people tasting wine in the wine tasting room. As for having ‘marketing vitamins’ featured in third-party reviews, I would also send a few reviews with every review copy of my book I sent out.

JMS: Won’t reviewers resent that? Won’t they think you are trying to influence their reviews?

VM: There’s something you have to know about a lot of reviewers. They are often pressed for time. They often are assigned books they don’t particularly want to read. I’ve read many reviews where I know for a fact the reviewer never read the book. All they read were other reviews or the blurbs on the back cover. If you supply some example reviews with your book, you make it easy for the reviewer who is pressed for time. All the reviewer has to do is change things a little bit. I’ve even seen publisher’s reviews run word for word. Of course, some reviewers will not read anyone else’s review until they have written their own.

JMS: You seem to know a lot about reviews.

VM: I’ve done reviews for years. I’ve know other reviewers. I’d say I’ve done over 1,000 reviews overall in newspapers and on various blogs. But reviewers and how to deal with them is a subject for another day. It will take a full session to cover the review process. This will include influencing reviews and marketing the reviews you’ve received.

JMS: Ok, so let’s get back to ‘marketing vitamins’. Setting the story in Santa Fe is a ‘marketing vitamin’ and ‘five-sensing’ the story is a ‘reward for reading’.

VM: Yes. One other thing. A ‘marketing vitamin’ is something you put in the book to make its appeal stronger and help sell books. It’s just one small element of the total marketing effort. Marketing is everything you do in providing the product. Writing your book so that it provides a high ‘rewards-per-page’ score will help generate repeat sales and good word-of-mouth advertising. Word-of-mouth is a very powerful form of marketing. So improving one area of marketing contributes to strengthening all the other areas. That’s why it’s important to try and do as much as you can to market your book. Your goal should be to achieve synergy in your marketing efforts.

JMS: What do you mean by ‘synergy’?

VM: The term ‘synergy’ is often explained by saying that it’s a situation where ‘1 + 1 = 3’. That’s like getting more energy out of a machine than the energy that went into it. It’s like a miracle.

JMS: Doesn’t that defy physics?

VM: It sure does. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. And it’s impossible to make a perpetual motion machine. But I am not talking about physics. I’m talking about marketing.

JMS: Do you have an example?

VM: Here’s one I actually used myself in marketing. Let’s say I am marketing a grand opening of a condominium project. I have $100,000 to spend in advertising. I could spend it all on newspaper ads and produce a grand opening weekend of $2,500,000 in sales. I could also spend the whole $100,000 on TV and get $1,500,000 in sales. If I spend the whole $100,000 on radio, I might be lucky to generate $1,000,000 in sales. As you can see, some media is far more effective than other media. This depends on the product, of course. So from what I said, where would you spend your $100,000 advertising budget?

JMS: Obviously, I spend it on newspaper ads because newspapers have real estate sections and people go to newspapers to shop for real estate. I would have expected newspapers to be stronger in producing sales for condominiums. I think that is obvious.

VM: It does make sense but remember synergy. Here’s what I actually found. If I spend $80,000 on newspapers and $15,000 on TV and $5000 on radio, my result would be over $3,000,000 in sales.

JMS: Why?

VM: I used the TV ads to tell viewers to be sure and read the newspaper ads. I showed the newspaper ads on TV. It was very clear that the newspaper ads had lots of information on the condominium project and the grand opening. Because we ran the ads on TV, more people actually saw and read the newspaper ads.

I also used the radio for a ‘live event’ promotion of the grand opening itself. This was to attract people who were out driving around. They would hear about the grand opening and come over and see what was going on. A remote on radio also makes the event you are having seem bigger and more noteworthy.

Combining all three media produced a synergistic effect. It was like a perfect storm producing higher sales than using all the money on any given media. A marketing person is always interested in the mix of media selected and the amount of money that goes into each medium.

JMS: Does this synergy concept apply to everything?

VM: In what way? It doesn’t apply in real physics. There the goal is usually to reduce friction.

JMS: No, I mean more in what authors can do to market their books. Like book signings and book giveaways and blog appearances.

VM: Absolutely it does. The best thing about a book signing is the publicity it can generate for an author. Ideally, you should try to have all your marketing efforts leveraged to produce maximum synergy. Otherwise you can spend a lot of time and money just spinning your wheels. Getting maximum synergy is what I’m trying to convey to you in all these sessions. To be really successful you have to take command of marketing your own career and your own books.

JMS: Can’t I just hire someone to do this?

VM: Sure, when you’re Nora Roberts you can. Until then it would really help you to understand how to market yourself synergistically.

JMS: And you think you can teach me how to do this?

VM: Of course, but not in one lesson. It may take twenty-four lessons or more. Rome wasn’t built in a day and besides you’ve already achieved something much more complicated than that?

JMS: What?

VM: Leaning how to write well enough to get published. That’s what.

JMS: I just thought you could tell me in an hour or two.

VM: No way. There are college degrees in marketing. Even with all I am going to tell you, you are only getting what you need to know as an author marketing herself and her books.


JMS: Oh, that’s my cell phone. It’s Jack. I need to take this.

VM: So what did Jack say?

JMS: I need to leave. He needs me to meet the vet. Cow emergency.

VM: Cowboys with cell phones. What’s wrong with this picture?

JMS: Let’s talk about writing the series next time. I think I need to think over your synergy ideas and come up with some more ‘marketing vitamins’ anyway.

VM: Yes, and I’ll make all your friends happy by keeping this post shorter than the other ones.

JMS: They love you anyway.

VM: You’re such a tease.

JMS: Bye.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Interview with Elizabeth Scott Barron – the Heroine of “When God Answers”

VM: I’m surprised that you came over on horseback in all this snow. This much snow is not typical.

E: I was born in 1850. I never learned to drive a car. I don’t even have a driver’s license.

VM: I’m sorry that you had to come here right after a snowstorm. I could have gone to you.

E: You think this is a hardship for me? This is nothing for someone born in 1850.

VM: Before we start the interview tell me, did you read my, “20 Interview Questions to Ask Your WIP Characters” post the other day?

E: Yes. I thought it was interesting. I made a print copy and sent it to Janette Marie just in case she wants to interview me in the future.

VM: Good, because I don’t intend to ask you those questions. I think only your author should ask them.

E: You probably could still ask them…in a way. She’s your character and I am her character. That kind of makes you my grand-author and me your grand-character.

VM: I agree but I think it might be too alienating to the reader for us to engage in a second order level of alienation.

E: Maybe you should explain what you mean by 'alienation'. You’re using the word in a technical sense and not the everyday sense.

VM: OK, in a literary sense, ‘alienation’ happens when you remind a reader that she is reading a novel. It also happens when someone in a stage play asks the audience how they like the play so far in the middle of the play. In a play, this is very unsettling.

E: I agree, alienation destroys the whole ‘suspension of disbelief’ thing. Why do it at all?

VM: In a play it was once considered very modern – but now it’s old hat. In a novel it is usually unintentional.

E: How do you mean?

VM: It happens when a character in a romance is reading a romance. That reminds the reader that she is also reading a romance and this awareness can destroy the illusion that the story action is really happening.

E: Well, here it can’t be helped. There is no way to interview a character in a romance without some alienation happening.

VM: But if you alienate the reader in the right way, the illusion with the reader can be recreated because the alienation becomes part of the total ‘reading experience’. It really works when done well.

E: It works in “Characters in a Romance” because the theme itself is based on alienation. That’s like writing a romance about a romance author.

VM: Yes and for that very reason you won’t find many romances where the heroine is a romance author. But let’s talk about you. I understand that you had a rather unusual birth.

E: My birth was normal for the times. I survived my first year which about twenty-five percent of babies didn’t back then. What was unusual was being born on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean a thousand miles from the closest country. I am truly a citizen of the world. Sometimes I like to say, “I’m a citizen of the sea.”

VM: But I read where you claim to be an Australian.

E: I had to be from somewhere and since my parents had an Australian accent, which they gave to me, I just told everyone I was an Australian. Of course we were not an independent country back then.

VM: Let’s go into the den and get warm by the fire. I only have gas logs but they do get warm. Have you seen gas logs before?

E: Yes, and I don’t like them. The fire is warm but it is a transparent warm. There’s no color in the flames or crackle in the wood. I just don’t think that people living today have any idea what it is to lead an authentic life.

VM: We may not but don’t you think it is rather odd to hear those comments coming from a fictional character?

E: To you I’m fictional but to me I’m as real as you are. And before you get to feeling superior to me or any other fictional character, you too could be someone else’s fictional character. There is no test you can perform to verify your actual existence.

VM: There is no test? Are you sure of this?

E: Of course, any test I could conduct could just as well be part of the plot of the story I’m in. Even in fiction, you can never get to absolute truth and remember this: God has the ability to edit reality at any time.

VM: Look Elizabeth, before I get to feeling any more insecure, let me start the interview.

E: Ask your first question.

VM: Janette Marie called “When God Answers” an example of “edgy” Christian fiction. As a lead character, do you agree with her assessment?

E: I don’t see it that way. I think ‘edgy’ really means right up to the edge of what your particular publisher will allow. So one book for one publisher may be considered very ‘edgy’ while for another publisher it would be quite ordinary.

VM: That’s true but ‘edgy’ can also have reference to the author’s installed base. That is, what her current loyal readers will see as edgy.

E: That could be the case but it assumes readers, even loyal readers, are monolithic in their reasons for liking an author. It could be that many fans like an author in spite of the ‘edginess’ and not because of it. Without a very detailed study, it’s not possible to know the answer to this question.

VM: The author thinks the ‘edginess’ comes from the fact that you and the hero both talk to God and He answers back. I mean God answers you with a human voice that you hear with your human ears. The thought is, God has not talked to humans in that way since biblical times.

E: I don’t know if this is so much ‘edgy’ as it is atypical for the genre. But think about it: if God can do anything and if you believe in God, then why would it seem ‘edgy’ for God to talk to one of His children?

VM: I think it is mostly jealousy. People don’t like the idea that God speaks to others but not to them.

E: I’m sure jealousy plays a part but I think the real problem is controversy. Why are you reading fiction? For enjoyment. And why are you reading Christian fiction? I think because you want to read ‘clean’ writing and a story with a positive message. I think having God actually talk to your characters can upset the reader. This is especially true if the author does not do it right.

VM: Do you think Jantee Marie did it right?

E: Yes she did and that is why the book got published. Also, let’s be honest here, there have been a few best selling books like “Conversations with God’ and these have prepared the way. I think the reading public will allow ‘God-talk’ as long as you avoid heresy.

VM: The novel format is ideal for this because every reader can ‘hear’ God’s voice in their own mind. If you had to do it on TV, the voice of the actor might come across as camp or not sounding the way a viewer thinks God would sound.

E: Not only that but the reader of “When God Answers” never knows for sure if it really is God they are hearing. The reader could be hearing her own conscience. I expect many readers will conclude that the book characters were not hearing God. Nevertheless, they could still enjoy the conversations.

VM: Now about your part in “When God Answers”, tell us a little about yourself.

E: First I was born in the middle of the Pacific ocean over a thousand miles from any country. My mother and father had just left Australia to try their luck in the California gold fields. We landed in San Francisco.

VM: And you considered yourself an Australian?

E: Actually, I consider myself a Pacifican and citizen of no country but because of my accent, I was inclined to say I was from Australia.

VM: Your father was a gold miner and a gambler.

E: And a preacher. He was an ordained minister in Australia and a noted mathematician. He made about thirty dollars a day panning for gold. This was good money back then because thirty dollars was a month’s pay for a many workers. He also make over a hundred dollars a day gambling at night. He was great at card games where he could figure the odds mathematically. As long as the games were fair, he’d always come out a winner in the long term. He use to say, “If you always play the percentages and don’t get emotionally involved, you will always win in the long term.”

VM: So he was a scientific gambler?

E: Yes, but the way he did it, he said it wasn’t gambling.

VM: What were his math papers about?

E: Probability. Dad was very intelligent and he make a lot of money at almost everything he did.

VM: What happened next?

E: When he made enough money in the gold fields he went to Alaska and set up a trading company. The trade was with Russia. The town is still named for him. He sold the operation, however, thinking Alaska was no place to live. We moved to Santa Fe and established a church. That’s were I mostly grew up and went to school. He was not very successful with the church because most everyone was Catholic. And to be truthful the priests did a better job of converting him than he did of converting them. The priests in Santa Fe were of very high quality.

Next we moved to Texas, this was long after the Mexican American war, and he bought a very large cattle ranch. It became the largest ranch in that part of Texas. There’s a town named after him there, too.

This is where “When God Answers” opens. I’m 26 years old, the country is celebrating its centennial year, and I’m going on one of the last cattle drives. Everything seemed to be dying back then: the Santa Fe trail was over, the cattle drives almost non-existent, the range wars were settling things for good and the open range along with the wild west were all more of a memory than a reality.

VM: You seem to be very well educated for someone born in 1850.

E: What are you talking about? We were much better educated back then than kids are today. I was taught Latin in grade school. I was taught geography and history. I knew far more than a student knows today about the world. Back then, most people’s education ended with the sixth grade. The school tried very hard to give everyone the best education they could in that short time.

VM: I’m talking about T.S. Elliot. Janette Marie has told me you like to quote from “The Wasteland”.

E: I do. Let me tell you a trade secret. Novels only really exist when they are being ‘played’ in a reader’s mind. Books are like sheet music, in that they are not music. Music has to be first played and then heard in a listener’s mind.

Books exist only as ‘paper and ink’ but the novel, the story itself, that only exists when the words are being read and played in a reader’s mind. Now here’s the secret: when the novel is being read and played in the reader’s mind, I have access to everything else that is in the reader’s mind. When I discover a really intelligent reader, I scan his or her mind. I try to learn all that I can while the reader is enjoying the book. The more absorbed the reader is in the story, the easier it is for me to pick the reader's brain.

VM: Don’t’ you think that is an invasion of privacy?

E: Yes, but I’m just a fictional character so you can’t sue me. Besides, there’s not much I can do with the information to hurt anyone.

VM: What were your goals in “When God Answers”?

E: I wanted to get the cattle herd safely out of Texas and drive it to our operation in New Mexico. I was going to establish myself in New Mexico for the future. Little did I know that I would get involved in the Lincoln County wars or that Billy the Kid would be taking shots at me and my men.

VM: Billy the Kid?

E: Yes, his full name was William Henry McCarty, and he thought we were the killers of some man called Tunstall. The Kid had us mixed up with the real killers and we went our way.

VM: But not before some gunplay?

E: We didn’t consider it gunplay back then. I could have been killed.

VM: What about love?

E: Other than my mother and father, I didn’t have any role models for what romantic love should be like. In Santa Fe I had nuns and priests teaching me. The cattle hands were mostly unmarried or at least didn’t have any wives around. I read Jane Austin’s books but her world had no relation to mine.

VM: Did you ever want children?

E: I was an only child. Well my mother had four more births after me but none lived more than year. So childbirth was not an attraction for me. In fact, it was a good reason to avoid men altogether. I saw two brothers and two sisters die before they were one year old. They were beautiful innocent babies who had harmed no one. To me this was the best proof that God did not exist or at best didn’t care about mankind.

VM: But you changed your view by the end of the story.

E: Of course. I met the hero who once had three older sisters – all who died in childbirth. He saw having a child as a death sentence for a woman. He had no desire to have children. He always said he wanted to adopt children who were at least five years old. Back then half the children did not live past the first five years. Having children almost guaranteed much sadness in your life.

VM: With those views I don’t see how you and the hero could ever get together.

E: You would think that but I’m reminded of what the ancient Greeks used to advise. “First be a good animal”. The Greeks thought highly of philosophers and poets, but they insisted that you first had to educate the body.

VM: And?

E: Being healthy and being of the opposite sex and sharing a life on the cattle trails, well, let me put it this way: it all had its effect on us. I mean me and the hero.

VM: And then God came in and starting talking to you.

E: To both of us. But we talked to God first. I used to say, “Lord tell me why this or that…” Then one day He just answered, “This is why this or that…”

VM: And that encouraged Hank to also talk to God?

E: Yes but Hank could hear God talking to me and he wanted to know what was going on.

VM: The odd thing is that you two never seemed to take God’s advice.

E: We did sometimes and sometimes it turned out bad for us. Then sometimes when we didn’t do what God said, it would often turn out good for us. So the reader never knows what is going to happen next.

VM: Tell us about the hero’s background.

E: We were the same age. In fact we had the same birthday. June 14, 1850.

VM: Did you figured that having the same birthday was a sign from God that you were meant for each other?

EL: Not in the book we didn’t. After all, most people born on the same day don’t marry each other. But, yes, in the back story, the story the reader never gets to read, common birthdays did have an impact on our feelings for each other.

VM: I was wondering why more wasn’t made of the fact that you were both born on the same day in the same year. Usually the hero is older than the heroine.

E: That was Janette Marie’s decision. I know what she will tell you. She doesn’t believe you should use coincidence in fiction.

VM: Hank was not born on the ocean was he?

E: No, Hank was born in the Indian Territory. He was one of a twin. His twin, a sister, died a week later. He told me that all his life his twin sister, Abigail, was there for him. He said when he looked into a mirror he could see her by simply squinting his eyes. And he would see her as she would have looked at Hank’s current age.

VM: Hank had been a gunfighter and a paid killer. How did you adjust to that?

E: Hank was a cowboy during a few range wars. Since he was good with a gun, he was paid $10 a month more than a regular cowhand. Of course, he was expected to fight for the brand. And he did.

VM: Yes, but isn’t it true that Hank would even fight when he was in town and the cattle were safely miles away on the open range.

E: The location of the cattle was not the issue. It was the location of the threat that counted. It wasn’t like Hank was hired to kill a specific person like some modern day hit man.

VM: Still wasn’t Hank a church going Christian.

E: He was a better Christian than me. He could quote the Bible with the best of them. This is saying a lot given my father was a well known preacher.

VM: God had a few things to say about Hank’s gunfighting.

E: Don’t give too much of the story away.

VM: What were Hank’s goals?

E: Hank must speak for himself but I would guess one goal would be to find some kind of peace. He was a very angry man. All the time he was growing up bad things happened to the good people around him. He just couldn’t sit back and let that happen. At some point he would always fight. He would fight injustice wherever he found it and if he couldn’t find an injustice, he’d still find some reason to fight.

VM: Was Hank always a Christian?

E: He was a mixed-up Christian. He’d even fight non-believers for not believing. He really didn’t 'get it' until he was older and had more nights alone under the stars to think things over.

VM: What was his outer goal and how did it relate to yours?

E: He wanted both inner-peace and outer peace. He wanted to be a good father but he didn’t want to bring children into the world. We were actually in a position to be the solution to each other's problems. We both just had to change enough.

VM: Do you have a favorite moment in the book?

E; Oh yes, the shootout at high noon.

VM: You mean with the corrupt orphanage manager?

E: Yes, the orphanage was a scam. It used the fact that there were legitimate orphan trains coming out west from New York city. The manager was a dishonest minister who brought kids to Texas to sell to ranchers and farmers. Many of the kids were being abused and Hank wanted to stop it.

VM: And what did God tell him to do?

E: God told him to shoot the man because he deserved to die and go to hell.

VM: But Hank didn’t shoot the man.

E: No, he didn’t believe the voice was really God’s but I did. I knew that God was using reverse psychology on Hank. God knew that Hank would try to prove he was smarter than Him by solving the problem without killing the bad guy.

VM: So he meets the bad guy at high noon in front of the saloon with the whole town waiting for a gunfight and Hank offers to buy the orphanage.

E: And the bad guy took the money and…

VM: No more, let’s not give too much away because what happens next is just too big a surprise. I can’t imagine any reader anticipating what happens next.

E: That’s why it's my favorite moment.

VM: What’s your favorite moment that you took a part in?

E: There were many of them. I had a really good part in this novel. It’s really my story and I shouldn’t give too much away.

VM: Do you think there will be a sequel?

E: I hope not and I can’t see it happening. All the loose ends are tied-up at the end and all the objectives have been obtained. A sequel would have to have some part of this perfect picture unravel just so it could be fixed again and it’s simply not that kind of story.

VM” How have the reviews been? Do you even get to see the reviews?

E: I never read reviews unless the reviews are part of the plot. I don’t think there have been any reviews yet. Just the ARCs are out. The book has not been released.

VM: I read a real copy of the book not an ACR.

E: Then you had an early author’s copy. What did you think of “When God Answers”?

VM: You don’t want to know.

E: That bad?

VM: Not bad but there are a lot of things I would have done differently. I would have made the book more “reader friendly” and easier to market.

E: It’s just her first book, Janette Marie will get a lot better. I think she’s finally learned to listen to her characters.

VM: I’m sure she’ll read this post. Do you have anything to tell her?

E: Of course, thanks for the HEA.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

20 Interview Questions to Ask Your WIP Characters

Many writers have said that their writing really picks up after their characters ‘come to life’ and start acting on their own. Maureen Child wrote that the hardest part of a book is the first part because she did not know her characters that well. Once the characters took on a life of their own, the rest of the writing went very quickly.

Many writers also hit dry spells and have trouble writing even the most routine copy. When this happens, I suggest that the author interview the characters. Write the interview down and demand honest answers. I have found that this exercise can open a floodgates of ideas. To get you started, I've listed twenty starter questions to begin with.

1. How comfortable are you with your role in this WIP so far?
2. What do you think of the hero/heroine at this point?
3. Is the hero/heroine someone you would actually fall in love with in real life?
4. How do you think the story is going to end?
5. How would you like the story to end?
6. Are you happy with your name, height, eye color, and personality?
7. What would you change about yourself at this point to improve your life or happiness?
8. What fears about the future do you have at this point?
9. If you had the power, what would you change about the author of this WIP?
10. If you married the hero/heroine, what do you think the odds are that you’d stay in love the rest of your lives?
11.How strongly do you feel that God plays an active role in your life here on earth?
12. Are there any fictional characters you admire?
13. Do you think you are getting the opportunity to fully express your emotional life?
14. Do you feel that your speech is truly authentic or do you feel someone if putting words in your mouth?
15. If you were interviewing the WIP author, what would be the three most important questions you would ask?
16. In what way do you feel your life has meaning?
17. Do you feel you are doing anything important that is bigger than yourself?
18. Is there anything you could have done to be better prepared for your role in this WIP?
19. What do you plan to do after this WIP is completed?
20. What are you doing in your role that specifically rewards or entertains readers?

Be sure to save all interviews for potential future use as blog postings when the book is released.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Marketing Janette Marie Sherrill & Her New Book: Part III

Read Part I
Read Part II

This conversation covers:
* Story Location
* Merchandising
* Concept of 'marginality'
* ‘Marketing vitamins’
* “Ah Ha” experiences

JMS: Here we go agin. Would you believe that we're already on session three? By the way, how did you like our farm pond?

VM: It’s beautiful. But we should disclose that that picture was taken last autumn and not today. Is Jack really going to build you a writing studio with a view of the pond?

JMS: He promised that if I ever got a book published, he’d build me a studio just like the one a friend of ours has. Our friend is a commercial artist and has a beatiful studio.

VM: As I understand it, the studio will be a round building with floor to ceiling windows facing the pond.

JMS: Yes, and it will have a bath room, kitchenette, hot tub, book shelves for over a thousand books and a state-of-the-art sound system.

VM: And it will be a full hundred yards away from the house. So going there will be like going to work at a regular job.

JMS: That’s part of the idea. Construction starts in the spring. I’m still selecting carpets, tiles, colors and appliances.

VM: Then I think you better make some real progress with your writing. I mean, with a professional studio, which would be the envy of most writers, it would be helpful to produce some professional results.

JMS: That’s why you’re here. According to Jack, you’re going to tell me how to derive the most profit from my writing.

VM: Yes, but you need to know this: marketing your book begins before you write the first word.

JMS: And you’re going to teach me how to do that, right?

VM: Yes, we will start to cover that today. You’ve already read my workbook on “Rewarding the Reader” and you’ve read my post on creating the ideal series, correct?

JMS: Yes, and I have some questions about the post.

VM: Good. I hope you have some story ideas that might meet the ideal criteria for a great series.

JMS: I don’t think I can meet all the criteria. I’m not sure any writer can.

VM: I’m not sure either but that’s inherent when you postulate an ideal system. The goal will be to come as close to the ideal as possible.

JMS: What do we cover first?

VM: Let’s talk about your book, “When God Answers”. It takes place in west Texas in 1876.

JMS: Mostly in Texas. The story is part ‘wagon train’ and part ‘cattle drive’ and part the coming death of the ‘old west’. The story ends in New Mexico.

VM: I’ve looked at a map and your story action gets within about a hundred miles of the Palo Duro Canyon state park. This canyon is only second in size to the Grand Canyon. Did you know that over three million people have seen the productions at the outdoor theater in the park? This three million includes me and my wife.

JMS: I’ve also been there with Jack. It’s spectacular. But I had no idea that so many people have been to the plays.

VM: I was surprised myself when I looked-up the figures. Anyone that has been to Palo Duro Canyon will remember the experience.

JMS: So?

VM: A lot of the action in your book could have taken place in and around the canyon. This would allow the publisher to put a picture of the canyon on the cover. I estimate that millions of people are alive today who have been to Palo Duro State Park. Many of these people would have an interest in reading your book, if part of the story action took place in the canyon area.

Many of these park visitors and playgoers would like to relive their experience of the area by reading about it. Especially the history of the area before the park came into being. The park gift shop would likely sell the book. Bookstores in the area would also likely carry the book. They might even sell “When God Answers” all year round. The local newspapers and magazines would likely give the book publicity. You could have all these potential customers and publicity by changing the location of your story a few hundred miles.

JMS: Are you saying that when I plan a story I should be thinking about the location and how some locations have a very strong marketing appeal.

VM: Absolutely, if I was building a product like a new mouse trap, I’d be thinking about who would likely buy it and how to best market it. A writer is often only thinking in terms of getting an editor to buy her story. This is important -- don’t get me wrong. However, a writer also has a second sale to make and that is to her readers.

When creating the story, you should be thinking of doing things that will make the book more saleable to the reading public.

JMS: But I’m an artiste! I can’t compromise my art with crass considerations like making money. NOT!

VM: I was worried there for a minute. So you get the idea? I’d like for you to merchandise your plot to make it the most marketable.

JMS: What do you mean by ‘merchandise’? Isn’t that the same as marketing?

VM: No, not at all. Merchandising is part of marketing and a very important part in retail selling. Merchandising is about what items you choose to place in a given advertisement.

JMS: Like when Wal-Mart runs a newspaper ad and it has dozens of items in it for sale?

VM: Yes, a merchandiser has to select the items that will appear in the ad and also price the items.

JMS: Ok, I get that idea but I don’t have any items for sale in my book. I don’t see what you are getting at.

VM: Let me explain. I have two newspaper advertisements here for a furniture store. Do you see them and how they look alike?

JMS: Yes, they are full page ads and they show a lot of furniture items.

VM: Please look closely and tell me how many items are in each ad?

JMS: OK, there are fifteen items in each ad.

VM: Good. These two ads ran one week apart. The weather was good each day. I wrote every word in both of these ads. The showroom displays and salespeople were all the same. As far as I can determine the only difference between these two ads is the merchandise that is in them.

JMS: Let me look again. OK, I can see a few differences but the ads look mostly alike.

VM: That’s right. They are both the same kind of ad. Also all the artwork was drawn by the same artists. Look closley. Isn’t the artwork just about the same in both ads?

JMS: Yes.

VM: Now here’s the point. One of these ads did $12,000 in sales on the day it ran. The other ad did $24,000 in sales on the day it ran. Can you tell me which ad did twice as much business as the other?

JMS: No way. I have no idea.

VM: Can you theorize which ad did the most business?

JMS: Yes, the one that had the lowest prices.

VM: No, actually the winning ad had higher prices. By that I mean, the profit margin on the winning ad was 40% while the losing ad was only 25%. Items were cheaper in the ad that did not do so well.

JMS: In that case, I have no idea why one of these ads did so much better than the other.

VM: The difference was the merchandise in the ads. One of the ads was merchandised by our professional merchandiser and the other ad was merchandised by me. Now which ad do you think did best? His ad or my ad?

JMS: I would say his ad because he was the professional and we should listen to professionals. You want to show me how important it is to listen to your marketing advice, right?

VM: Yes and no. No, it was actually my ad that did twice the business but yes I do want you to listen to my marketing advice.

JMS: Why did your ad do better and why did you know more than the professional merchandiser?

VM: Here’s why. We had different goals. My goal was to make the advertising look good by getting the most sales at the highest profit margin. The merchandiser’s goal was to use our advertising to get rid of his bad buying mistakes. The merchandiser is also the buyer of the furniture and when items don’t sell, the merchandiser is in trouble. The General Manager sees the ‘days in inventory’ for each item and when they go over ninety days, the merchandiser can be in big trouble. So what was this guy doing? He was putting items that did not sell on the showroom floor into the ads in the hope that they would sell at the lower prices that were featured in the ad.

JMS: And it didn’t work?

VM: No, it was a disaster. People walked by that merchandise on the showroom floor and the salespeople were not excited about showing it. The same thing happened in the ad: people 'walked' by the ad items and did not come into the store to buy.

JMS: So how did you get to merchandise the ad?

VM: I had to defend my advertising. I told the General Manager what was going on and that I wanted to merchandise the ad in a way to produce maximum sales volume. He liked that idea and gave me the OK. He did say this: “Just make sure that we have that stuff in stock.” Also, I was not allowed to set prices. Only the merchandiser could do that.

JMS: So how did you know what to run in the ad?

VM: I checked what was selling on the showroom floor. I also had a better mix of items than he did. He had lots of bedroom groups and dining room sets which made up only 20% of our business. He was short on soft goods like sofas and loveseats which were over 40% of our business. He even left some categories out of the ad. In order to sell something, you have to show people you have the item for sale. People who are looking for a recliner need to know you have recliners for sale. This was what we call an 'omnibus' ad which means it is supposed to have a little of everything we sell in it.

Anyway, by changing the mix of items and by covering more categories of items, I was able to double the sales volume. I could do this so often that, for the most part, our advertising department took over the merchandising of the ads. Of course, we were never allowed to set price points.

JMS: You mean you took over the merchandiser’s job?

VM: No, I didn’t do that. The merchandiser still went to market and bought the furniture and still would give us a list of items he wanted in the ad but we would make changes as needed to produce the best selling advertising.

JSM: Ok, so now I have an idea of what merchandising is and how important it is in the retail business. But what has this to do with writing a romance?

VM: I’m going to tell you now. Have you heard of the writer, Nevada Barr?

JMS: No, does she write romances?

VM: She writes mysteries. I’ve read all her mystery books. Do you know why?

JMS: You liked them.

VM: Yes, but I like a lot of mystery writers who I think are better overall but Nevada Barr was a national park ranger for many years. Each of her mysteries takes place in a National Park. Not only that, she goes into the inner workings of the park and what it is like to work for the park service. By the way, I have not been as happy with her when she writes a second book about the same national park. You see, I want to learn about more parks.

JMS: What you’re saying then is that Nevada Barr gets her normal number of fans who like mysteries but she also gets fans who are mostly interested in reading about the various National Parks.

VM: Exactly. Another writer I really enjoy and who is on my auto-buy list is Donna Leon. She writes mysteries that take place in Venice, Italy. I’ve read all her books because I love Venice.

JMS: Are you saying you will buy a book simply because it takes place in Venice.

VM: Very often I will. But this brings up the concept of 'marginality'. Have you heard of it?

JMS: I’ve heard the word but I don’t know what it means in this case.

VM: OK. It’s something like this: say there are two items you are thinking of buying. You like them about equally well, that is, all things are mostly equal. However, there one feature, on the margin, that only one item has that is very important to you. That one feature, no matter how little, can tip a buying decision in a certain direction.

For example: I like to read Love Inspired romances. I went to eHarlequin to buy one and I had six choices for that month. All were acceptable but one book had the ocean, a sail boat, a gazebo, and a flower garden on the cover and it was part of a series called “Lighthouse Lane”. I’m a big fan of lighthouses. I collect little lighthouse replicas. These features, on the margin, were enough to tip my buying decision towards buying The Doctor’s Perfect Matchby Irene Hannon.

JMS: I see. But if the same cover was on a Blaze romance, would you still have bought it?

VM: Probably not and also probably not if it were a paranormal novel. 'Marginality' comes into play when the buying decision is a close call.

JMS: As I get it, you want me to put items or features into my books so that on the margin the buying decision will go to my books and not to someone else's books?

VM: That’s right. But it's not so 'all or nothing'. Let’s say a buyer is considering six to ten books but she can afford just two of them, then there will be features, on the margin, which could tip the fan towards buying some books over the others.

JMS: I know you want me to think in terms of locations that have a big potential for selling books to people who have been to those locations or want to go to those locations in the future. Places like Palo Duro with its millions of visitors. But what are some more of those features?

VM: You can probably come up with many of them yourself. Think about those things that have a very strong natural appeal to segments of the population. Which of these can you incorporate into your story?

I call these marginal features ‘marketing vitamins’. Add as many of these as make sense given the nature of your story. Think of it as taking vitamins in real life. Vitamins are not your food and they are not your diet. They supplement your diet to keep you healthy. And that’s what I want to do for you: supplement the marketing power of the stories you write to make you economically healhy.

JMS: I like the idea of ‘marketing vitamins’. What other ‘marketing vitamins’ are there besides location?

VM: Events are good but they are not as easy to work into a story. Major events tend to become the story. I’m thinking of events like the Word Fairs that took place in the US. It is just inherently interesting to read how people in the past viewed what the future would be like. There have been many World Fairs in the US going back to 1853.

In any event, there are all kinds of events you can choose from as a writer. Always look for what events happened during the time span of your novel.

JMS: I like the idea of events.

VM: Events can be minor or even tangential. For example, your hero and heroine might have to get to Alaska form Texas. They just happen to be in San Francisco when the earthquake hits. This might only be one chapter or less of your novel but it could add a lot of excitement to your story. This is especially true if you are writing about things the reader has never heard about regarding the quake. Knowledgeable readers will be very interested if you have your hero and heroine in San Francisco on the day of the earthquake. They will wonder if you are going to include the earthquake in your book.

JMS: There could be many such events. Like the Chicago fire.

VM: Yes, also along these same lines you should strive to create “Ah Ha” experiences.

JMS: What’s an “Ah Ha” experience?

VM: That’s when you reveal something to readers that surprises them. Something that they never knew before People love the “Ah Ha” experience. Just make sure you get your facts right.

JMS: Do you have any examples so I can lock the concept into my mind?

VM: Here are a few off the top of my head.

Most deaths from the San Francisco earthquake were from fires because of broken gas lines and not falling buildings.

More people died of the Spanish Flu just after WWI than died in WWI.

The Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, Roman, nor an Empire.

Most of the educated people in the ancient world thought the world was round.

Columbus was turned down over and over again by different countries because he had his math wrong about the size of the earth. The experts knew the earth was much larger than Columbus thought and those critics were right. The argument against Columbus was not over the earth being round; it was over the distances involved. If the new world had not been there, Columbus and all his men would have died. Columbus thought the earth was only one sixth its actual size. The experts back then were very close to the real sise of the earth.

JMS: Hold on. How many of these “Ah Ha” moments are there?

VM: Almost unlimited. People 'know' so much stuff that isn’t true that “Ah Ha” moments are not that hard to find. Nora Roberts will have occasional “Ah Ha’s” as will Lucy Gordon in her books that take place in Italy. Having “Ah Ha” moments is on my index of ‘rewards-per-page’.

JMS: How do I find these “Ah Ha” moments?

VM: You have to read the right kind of books. It also helps to visit locations and see if there are any local museums. Talk to people in the museums. They also love to give tourists “Ah Ha” moments.

JMS: So far we have locations and events. What else?

VM: There are also famous people or people who should have been famous. I don’t mean to involve them as major characters unless that is the kind of book you are writing. I mean use famous people as characters who just happened to be there when your story happens.

JMS: Do you have any examples here?

VM: Yes, in my book, “Three of Our Vampires Are Missing” I have the hero, who is thousands of years old and a vampire, go into a tavern in Paris where Benjamin Franklin and the philosopher David Hume are having dinner together. The hero, also a philosopher, has a conversation with these two famous men.

I knew from research that Franklin and Hume were in Paris at the same time, so I worked this fact into my story. Many famous Europeans made tours of the US in the 1800’s. Some were doing research and others were on lecture tours. It would add interest to a story if you had your characters be in a town when one of these famous people was also visiting. Research the tour of a famous person and learn what you can.

JMS: You’re mostly talking about historical romances here, right?

VM: Mostly. The famous person theory fits well with historical novels. They are long dead and won’t sue you. Readers love to encounter bits and pieces of history here and there. So give it to them. Reward your readers. Delight your readers. Surprise your readers. Always be trying to enhance the 'reading experience'.

JMS: Location, events, people…is there anything else?

VM: Another ‘marketing vitamin’ would be the effects of change. Did you know that at one time in US history, one of the biggest employers was the ice making and delivery business? It was way bigger than the automobile business is today in the number of people employed as a percentage of the working force. Everything was going well when the industry quickly ended within a short number of years. Why? Refrigeration was invented. Remember the “Ice Man Cometh”? How many men were employed to deliver ice to every home in American with an ice box? Couldn’t this economic disaster be worked into a novel that takes place during this period of change?

JMS: So now we have locations, events, people, and the effects of change. I assume events would include the suffrage movements.

VM: Indeed, I’m reading a book right now that uses the suffrage movement in an unexpected way. It was a kind of “Ah Ha” moment for me. In fact, the book had quite a few “Ah Ha” moments in it and I highly recommend it. It’s called “The Bartered Bride” by Erica Vetsch.

JMS: It sounds like Regency.

VM: It’s a little bit like a Regency romance but it actually takes place in the early 1900s. The location is on the Grate Lakes. Change is happening everywhere. On the roads there’s a mix of automobiles and horses. The author’s descriptions of things, like room interiors and clothing, are detailed and unique. The setting for the book is fascinating in itself. The writing is also excellent.

JMS: I’ll have to read it. Are there any more ‘marketing vitamins’ as you call them?

VM: Yes, another category of ‘marketing vitamins’ would be things people really like -- especially collectables.

JMS: Collectables?

VM: I’m thinking of things I like to collect, for example, the lighthouses I’ve already mentioned. I love lighthouses and so does my wife. We collect lighthouse items, plates, scale models, and we visit lighthouses when we can.

JMS: Yes, and you bought a book because it was part of a lighthouse series called “Lighthouse Lane”.

VM: I did. I also buy books with Venice on the cover and I will usually buy a romance that has a picture of Ayer’s Rock on the cover. I’m also a big fan of books that take place in Santa Fe. These are all things that a lot of people have a strong affinity for and, as such, they make good ‘marketing vitamins’. They can help sell your book.

JMS: And you say there are many more of these ‘marketing vitamins” to choose from?

VM: There are probably hundreds of more of them but they will most likely be combinations of the other categories we’ve already covered. I think you get the idea now.

JMS: Yes. You want me to ‘merchandise’ my stories so that they lots of “marketing vitamins’ in them. What’s next?

VM: Next we are going to cover the series and publicity. In the meantime, I’d like you to think of as many ‘marketing vitamins’ as you can.

JMS: Any ideas on this?

VM: Go to a really big magazine store. If there is a magazine for the topic, then there is a segment of the population you can attract by having that feature in the book. Think of attracting women first, of course, but please note that women also like a lot of things men like.


VM: Yes. Think about spicing-up your story with ‘marketing vitamins’. You can do this without changing the nature of the story.

JMS: OK, until next time.

VM: Remember to do your homework. We are going to talk about the series next.