Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Alina Adams - Guest Author

Alina Adams describes herself as funny, brave, workaholic, busy, and (not surprisingly) tired. Her writing is Plot, plot-twist, plot-point, plotted, plotting (which seems like nirvana to this pantser until I try it!) Without further comments from the host, here are Alina’s answers.

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

My work commute is about two feet. The table on which my computer sits stands flush against the bottom of my bed (I live in New York City, it’s a miracle I have room in my bedroom for both). It’s my most productive venue because it’s where every day is a race to see if I can get my work done and meet my deadlines before my three kids come home from school. If I traveled anywhere for work, it would take time away from writing. And nothing, not even the prospect of working without a view of the laundry hamper, is worth that.

What makes a great short story?

A point. I know that character is king and poetic language is what all authors should strive for. But if I read a short story that’s all flowery prose and deep, profound internal musing without a point – I feel I’ve wasted my time. A short story is still a story. Tell me a story. Tell me what HAPPENS.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

My mother once said that my husband’s and my worse traits as parents is that we don’t drink coffee. That said, my most productive time of day is first thing in the morning. I get up, I feed the kids, I take them to school, and then I rush back to write. In fact, I even turn my computer on before I leave, so that it can be warmed up and ready to go as soon as I walk through the door.

I’m at my best before noon. After that, anything I write feels like pulling teeth. Of course, days later, when I go back and reread what I wrote when I was flying high versus when I felt like I was being tortured, there is no difference in quality. So, yeah, that’s a little depressing.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

Back in the heady days before I had children, I’d go to the library once a week, and check out the maximum allowed – 8 books. Now that the quota has been lifted and patrons can check out as many books as they’d like, I rarely have time to read more than one a week. While I read some work in my genre, the fact is, I prefer reading in a genre that I know I am incapable of writing in. I love thrillers. I love their pace and plotting, even as I know I couldn’t duplicate those myself. I also read a lot of non-fiction.

As a lover of plot and plot twists, I find non-fiction to be much more unpredictable than fiction. Fiction needs to have logic and structure and foreshadowing, which means when you’ve read enough of it, you can pretty much see where the story is going. In real life, stuff just happens. I also love non-fiction that takes common wisdom and things “everybody knows” and actually puts it to the test. My current favorite in that genre is Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. It basically takes everything parents believe to be true about child-rearing, and looks at the hard-science and statistical data behind it.

What is the most challenging area for you as a writer? What are you doing to address the issue?

As I may have subtly intimated above, I love plot. I love stories and being surprised by what happens next. This is true for my reading and my writing. Combine that with my utter lack of interest in fashion and a TV director who once called me a “visual wasteland,” and I have no interest in character and/or place description. When I’m reading, I just skip over it. When I am writing I… just skip over it. I don’t care what my characters are wearing or the make of car they drive. I just want to know what they’re up to. As a result, I try to pick one character trait that’s descriptive of my protagonist’s personality, and then move on to the good parts.

What motivates you to write?

On an episode of “30 Rock,” Tina Fey’s character wailed that she had to be a writer because, “I have no other skills!” This is pretty much true of me, as well. Not only do I not know how to do anything else useful, there are voices in my head that keep talking at me until I write down what they’re saying. So, really, what can I do but write?

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

My whole writing career has been a case of “You know, it’s not supposed to happen that way.” My first romance novel was picked and published out of the slush pile. I wrote a non-fiction book about figure skater Sarah Hughes in a year when she wasn’t expected to do much at the Olympics. She ended up winning the gold medal, and my book went into second and third printings. I pitched a novel based on the soap-opera, “As the World Turns,” and it ended up becoming a NYT best-seller.

Then, a few years later, I took a cancelled soap-opera, “Another World,” and revived it on-line as a combination of text and video with readers directing the story. I took what I learned there, and turned my paperback figure-skating mystery novels into enhanced e-books, with professional performance footage alongside the original story. And then I combined everything I’d done up to the point, the interactive fiction, the multimedia enhancements, and decided that I would write my next book live online, and that I would take feedback from readers along the way about where I wanted to story to go next.

At www.AlinaAdams.com/live, readers can literally watch my every key-stroke. They can see my typos, my mistakes, my clunky prose and my badly plotted dead-ends. It’s the exact opposite of what writers are told to do, which is to polish their work until it’s perfect before letting anyone see it. But, what can I say, it sounded like a fun idea, so I went with it. You know, it’s not supposed to happen that way….

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

My high-school AP English teacher told me, “Just think about what you want to say, and say it.” I was worried about using fancy words and sounding smart. The end result was paragraphs that went on for pages. With the above, all I had to do was figure out my point. And then write it down. It’s especially useful on days when the myth of writer’s block threatens to rear its head. On those days, I ask myself, “What is this scene about?” I then write it down. I ask myself, “What should happen in this scene?” And I write it down.

One sentence, then two, then three, eventually, you have a whole book.  That’s another reason I decided to launch my live writing project. I wanted to demystify the process. There’s nothing magical or holy or inspired or profound about writing a novel. It’s simply a matter of sitting down in a chair and typing line after line after line about what’s happening.  And then, of course, there’s the editing….

To watch me destroy a 20 year writing career, visit www.AlinaAdams.com/live. To see the books I wrote prior to losing my mind, go to: www.AlinaAdams.com, or find me on Twitter @IamAlinaAdams and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alina-Adams-Media/265239180177087
Here's a bit of a teaser for the Figure Skating Mysteries:

Who murdered the judge that awarded Olympic Gold to Russia’s dour ice-queen over America’s perky princess? Why did a skating prodigy disappear the night before his biggest event? How is the baby found abandoned at the ice-rink connected to the dead girl swinging from the rafters (and who’s its father)? What secret is the Russian defector hiding and did it cause his death? And who killed the world-famous coach? His much younger wife? His bitter daughter? The skater he nearly drove to suicide – or the one he guided to Olympic Gold? Learn the answer to all of the above in the Figure Skating Mystery series (5 Books in 1) at: http://www.amazon.com/Figure-Skating-Mystery-Series-Books-ebook/dp/B00HUZ41FI/ref=zg_bs_159911011_32

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Kindle Scout – a Winner’s Report

As I write this blog, I do not know if Amazon will accept Ant Farm for the Kindle Scout program. Its nomination period ended Thursday, February 26. I’ve noticed that those selected typically show up on the approved list two or three business days after the nomination period closed.

If that guess is correct, Kindle Press will inform me on Monday or maybe Tuesday.

Kindle Press released the first ten books of the program on March 3, 2015, following traditional publishers in picking a Tuesday publication date. Of the first ten, two are Science Fiction, two are straight Romance. One is labeled as Mystery, four are called Thrillers, and one is a combination Mystery/Romance. Two are by authors I know—how cool is that?

Preordering provides our first view of how Amazon will price these ebooks. The books range in length from a short 178 equivalent print pages to a substantial 436. Prices range from $2.99 to $3.99. Here is the page range associated with each price. Whether something other than length went into Kindle Scout’s pricing decision, we’ll be able to figure out later as they publish more titles. 
  • $2.99 ranged from 178-205 pages
  • $3.49 ranged from 250-329 pages
  • $3.99 ranged from 338-436 pages
Also interesting to note, on the release date for the first books everyone who made a nomination in the Kindle Scout program received an email with a 50% off coupon for a Kindle Press book. The coupon expires May 2, 2015.

How does Amazon select which books to publish? They have been coy about how much the nomination process affects their decision and how much is based on their definition of quality. Their FAQs has this answer, “Nominations give us an idea of which books readers think are great; the rest is up to the Kindle Scout team who then reviews books for potential publication.”

As the program matures I suspect what they already have in the hopper will play a role as well as how similar stories have sold. Amazon knows how to use data to shape markets. However, sometimes their reporting of statistics leaves me scratching my head.

According to their press release, “Scouts,” as Amazon calls those who make nominations under their program, average reading nine excerpts before making a nomination. That is hard for me to believe. I know many of the people who nominated Ant Farm did so by following a link I sent them. For every one of those who clicked my link, read the sample chapters (or not) and nominated the book, some other (average) soul had to read seventeen excerpts before finding one worthy of nomination. Really?

The press release also indicates the average number of days in which a Kindle Scout author receives a publishing decision after submitting a book is 31 days. Since it usually takes a couple of days for Amazon to decide to allow a book into the nomination process, and the nomination process itself last 30 days, that would mean authors on average know whether they will be published before the nomination process is over. That math does not work.

I’m thinking someone is playing a bit fast and loose with data (or is arithmetically challenged). However, the quick turnaround between the completion of a book’s nomination period and when the author hears suggests that the humans behind the scenes are doing some work while the book is still in the nomination process.

My guess (because of the timing, but mostly because it is how I would do it) is that before a book is accepted for nomination someone checks to make sure the writing meets some minimal standard and is complete. Then up it goes. If during the first three weeks or so the book continues to gather support, then one or more humans read the entire manuscript. At the end of the nomination period the decision makers will know not only how many nomination votes a book received, but would have access to other statistics as well, such as

  • How many of those votes came as a result of someone directly accessing the novel’s page? 
  • Of those, how many read the excerpt before nominating the book?
  •  How many nominations came from those who read other books’ excerpts before selecting this one?
  •  How many who nominated this book went on to read other books’ excerpts?
  •  How many people read the excerpt and chose not to nominate the book?
  •  How long did people read the excerpt before moving off the page (or choosing to nominate it)?

In other words, Amazon has lots of information to evaluate the quality of a book’s nomination. Do they use it? I sure would. So what does that mean if you are an author interested in the program?

Keeping in mind that we really do not know how Amazon makes its decisions, I suggest authors do the following:

Try to maintain your book as “Hot.” Of course this presumably means that people are voting for it, a good thing of itself, but it also keeps it in front of people. Plus, when making a decision of what to nominate, we humans like to know we are not alone. Labeling a book hot makes it easier for someone to click the blue “Nominate this book” button.

This means you need to start out strong, but also spread out your asks over the thirty-day nomination period. Kindle Scout gives you a couple of days between notifying you that your book will be eligible for nomination and the day it is first available. Use those days to plan out your campaign.

Make sure your website has a nominate link prominently displayed.

Go through your personal email list and determine who you know well enough to ask that they nominate your book.

Consider your social networks: writing groups, the stamp-collecting forum you belong to, church, alumni associations, etc. Spread out informing them through your campaign.

Use social media to generate interest without falling into the trap of everything being about me, Me ME! There is a fine line between being too bashful to present your request for people to check out your three chapters and nominate your book and boring people so they ignore you. I chose to post on Facebook four times: The first day, about a week into the program, a week remaining in the program and the last day for nominations.

However, during the thirty days I also wrote an informative blog for readers and authors about the Kindle Scout program that had a small mention of my entry and another blog for authors titled “Six Rules of Author Self-Promotion” that also mentioned my Kindle Scout participation. My Facebook account automatically notes when my new blogs appear, so those were two more related posts.

Special are those people who will spread the word for you. Those authors with street teams could employ them. Author Alan Orloff whose novel Running From the Past was one of the very first Kindle Scout selections, offered a free story to anyone who nominated his book and shared his posts on Facebook.

You are competing against other authors, but really, aren’t we in this together? If you know other authors whose books are in the nomination process the same time as yours, figure out ways to support each other. I’ve even become online correspondents with three authors who I only learned about because their books were interesting, and we reached out to each other in mutual support.

Thirty days is a long time, more a marathon than a sprint. Carve out time each day to implement your plan and when people do support you, make sure to thank them.

Arriving in my inbox at 12:17 a.m. on Monday morning while I was sleeping was an email from Kindle Press notifying me that they selected Ant Farm for publication. Notifications to people who had nominated Ant Farm started going out a minute later.

I suspect there was a touch of automation involved. Perhaps the last thing someone did at the office on Friday was tell the computer to send out the word once Monday arrived.

No matter, I spent that day doing the Snoopy dance.

~ Jim

A version of this post originally appeared on Writers Who Kill 3/1/15.