April 26, 2011

What Would You Do to Sell A Book?

"60 Minutes" recently ran a piece on Greg Mortenson, best-selling author of Three Cups of Tea, the story of his failed attempt to climb K2 and subsequent encounters with a tribe that nursed him back to health when he got lost during the descent. Mortenson later created the Central Asia Institute (CAI), which claims to have built 140 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Now it appears that the original tale may be false and people who have donated money to the CAI are questioning whether it's being used for Mortenson's personal benefit.

You can read the full story and decide for yourself (link below). In the meantime, let's talk about an author's obligation to readers.

With fiction, you can build as wild and improbable a story as you want.  Non-fiction readers expect the truth. Sure, some artistic license is expected; no one wants a dull recitation of facts. Just don't lie to us.

Maybe you're shrugging. So what if he fudged the facts? His intent was good. Why should we care that he may have embellished the most dramatic parts of his books? The CAI has helped hundreds of children, particularly girls, get an education in a war-ravaged area. Surely that counts for something.

Except for the allegations that he spends more CAI money on book tours than schools.

Other writers have fabricated stories. Other charitable founders have used contributions for personal gain. Why get upset?

Because we deserve better. Because the minute we lower our standards and absolve non-fiction authors of any moral or ethical obligation to tell the truth, we invite abuse. If we don't insist on credibility, who will?

You can get the full CBS story here: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/04/15/60minutes/main20054397.shtml

April 15, 2011

More Musings on Success

A J Hartley over at the Magical Words has a great post on goals, success, and lessons learned during his writing career. Definitely worth a read.

More Musings on Success

April 12, 2011


Pop Quiz:

You place your protagonist in a frightening situation. Does s/he:
a.  scream/shriek/squeal
b.  faint
c.  stutter
d.  forge ahead, heart quaking,  knees shaking, etc.
e.  turn tail and run

If you answered (c), ask yourself why.

Think about it. Ever stutter when you're afraid? Know anyone who does?

A true stutterer will stumble over many words, not just the first one in a sentence. There's debate over how much is psychological and how much is physiological, but everyone agrees it's a verbal handicap.

I'm not saying characters can't have weaknesses, but if you're going to deprive a character of a clear and strong voice, make sure there's a reason. Give us a bit of backstory, some context that explains why this person stammers (a traumatic event, a parent who insisted on perfect diction at all times, etc.). Be creative, don't settle for a tiresome cliche.

Better yet, show us your protagonist's unique reaction to a fearful situation. Find the words to make us feel their anxiety. Your writing will shine and your readers will thank you for delicious thrills.

April 5, 2011

How to Critique

A potential crit partner returned my chapters with comments about the story itself, which I appreciated, and lots of line edits, which I didn't. IMO, when another author rewrites your words, they've gone too far.

So how do you approach a critique? A few guidelines come to mind:

RESPECT the author. The purpose of a critique is general feedback, not editing.  Note what you like and what gave you pause as far as plot, characters, and setting.  If you see grammar and punctuation errors, point them out and move on.

Some responders claim they don't know how to tell the author what's wrong with a given section, so they just write it out for them. Seriously? If you don't know how to phrase your concerns, it's time to Google "constructive criticism" and learn the basics.

RESTRAIN yourself (see above). It's not your story; don't presume to fix it. Yes, you need to address areas that concern you ("I'm confused here" or "Not sure if this is the best way to transition" or  "I didn't connect with this character", etc.). Leave it at that. Let the author consider your comments and choose whether to act on them or not. 

REMEMBER, unless a specific request has been made for editorial feedback, all anyone wants is your opinion.  Share what worked, what didn't, and let it go.

What's your take on this?