Emotional Connection and Writing

Last weekend at my writer’s group, we were discussing how necessary it is to develop an emotional connection with the reader through your work. In fact, a strong emotional connection between the reader and the character can translate to a best-selling book that many of us might not think is all that “good.” It can also translate to the proverbial nerd rage when someone doesn’t like the same book, character, movie, game or comic that someone else love with all their heart.

Those common emotional experiences can range from love to hate and everything in between. They can also range from unhealthy experiences to empowering ones, too. To understand what my characters are going through, I sometimes use a technique that I call “method writing.” This technique helps me get into the mind of the character; sometimes, I try to write the character’s mindset before I write about them so I understand their voice. (If you’re interested, you can read about how that process works for the character of Mahochepi in my e-book THE QUEEN OF CROWS.)

However, in my mind “how” we as people deal with emotions is not the same as “what” we are all experiencing. Take death and grieving for example. Although the experience of grief has been well documented and described in stages, the actions we take may be different from one another because we are different people. One person may grieve by getting rid of old photographs; another may grieve by looking through them or putting together a scrapbook.

I feel that this is what makes us, and subsequently our characters, all unique. Sure, there will be similarities, but how we deal with our emotions is never precisely the same from one character (or one person) to another. My job as a writer is to explore the common emotions and express it in a way that reaches a common level of understanding. In some cases, especially within the realm of genre fiction, it can be difficult because the character might be experiencing something that we, as people in the real world, have yet to experience on a broad scale. (Cybernetics, anyone?)

Often, to reach the heart of my characters I use music as a way to feel what they might be feeling. Music, for me, is a very powerful medium that acts as my emotional barometer. To that end, my music tastes vary widely, and I often listen to music I don’t normally like because I feel it fits the character I’m writing about.

Perhaps this is why the genre of romance is so popular and why there are so many reader expectations surrounding it. If you stop to think about it, that pretty much makes sense because in a romance — the focus is on the relationship. If you strip out the setting, in many cases the relationship can stand on its own two feet. Love, sex, heartache, etc. are common experiences that we all share.

When was the last time a book, movie or comic touched you on an emotional level? Do you remember how it made you feel?

Do Not Be Afraid To Make a Mistake

Every day, I read headline after headline about all the things writers “should” be doing. From things you shouldn’t do or say in a query letter to the various mistakes you can make when you’re trying to sell your books, I can certainly see how anyone might feel overwhelmed.

Here’s the thing: most people online provide advice as a way to share what they know (or in some cases, what they don’t). I recently overheard a quote that proclaimed “unsolicited advice is self-serving.” Yeah, that’s really true, but without that “unsolicited advice” no one, including me, would have a lot of material to blog about.

Just because there is all this advice out there, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be afraid to make a mistake. I believe that the number one reason that many people stop writing or never submit is because they are paralyzed with fear. Paralyzed by it because someone out there is always better, faster, more connected or more visible than they are. So, if that writer makes a mistake, they feel like someone is going to find out about it and cross their name off the “I am a writer” list with a big, fat “X.”

If you want to write professionally, handling bad news and criticism in a way that doesn’t damage your soul for eternity pretty much comes with the territory. The only way you’re going to learn about this business is by getting out there and hoofing it. Yes, there’s a lot of conventional wisdom out there that is worth listening to, but that is up for you to figure out what’s meaningful to your career and what’s not. Your experience is going to be different than mine is, because you are a different person than I am. That doesn’t mean “you’re doing right” or “you’re doing it wrong.” If you find something that works for you? Great. If you fall flat on your face? Learn from it. Embrace it. Then? Get back up again.

For clarification purposes, please note that I do believe there’s a difference between reality and fantasy. Experienced authors make writing seem effortless, because they’ve got millions of words behind them. If you’re just starting out? You’ll probably need to focus on how to write rather than how to be a writer. In my experiences, writing isn’t about what you do on the first try, it’s a journey that you have to repeat over and over and over again. Yes, you’ll encounter bumps along the way, but who cares? I don’t measure my career by how many times I fall down, it’s about how many times I get back up. Of course, the irony of this blog post is not lost on me because that I’m telling you — flat out — not to worry about always making the “right” decision when it comes to your career. That certainly includes listening to anything I have to say. *smiles*

If you do one thing this week, I would like to encourage you to try something new. Have a hard look at a story you’re having a hard time selling, write something in a new genre, or give your manuscript to a brutal critic. Break out of your mold and be brave! BE BOLD! Become…a writer who isn’t afraid of making a mistake!

On Dealing with Bloggers and the Press

Today, I’m going to put on my project manager hat and share with you some of my frustrations working for FlamesRising.com. Because I work as a professional marketer for my day job, I’ve been able to translate a lot of my knowledge and test the things I’ve learned through this website. FlamesRising.com is a horror, dark fantasy and dark science fiction webzine that offers new, reviews, interviews and other content for fans of the genre. Part of my role is to reach out to other authors, game designers, artists, publishers, etc. to help provide them coverage on our site for our readers.

FlamesRising.comReviews are easy to write, because in a review, I have the product in front of me and I can assess its value based on my personal opinion. However, reviews are also time-consuming and they are not the “only” focus of the site. Often, we reach out to people (or they reach out to us) to get different kinds of coverage like an interview or design notes, etc. One of the biggest challenges that I have, is that it is very rare when someone provides me with enough information to talk about their game, comic, book or movie. Nine times out of ten, we do not get a press release that explains the important points about a product or an author. Translation? We then need to research the product or the creator to find things to talk about. In some cases, creating a news piece about a new product takes longer than writing a review for this reason.

As careful as we are, this approach can actually translate into us asking questions that don’t help the audience uncover what they want to know about the person we’re interviewing. There are a ton of different ways to write an interview, too, that can range from a single product focus to a role at a company. So you understand our time constraints, we started a preview functionality, but on average, it takes us a few hours to manually code each one because we typically don’t get it in the correct format.

Although it’s certainly not the case, sometimes it feels like there is an underlying expectation that we should do most of the heavy lifting. (Believe me when I say, that if I was employed full-time in this role, making a decent salary, I would do most of the heavy lifting. In our roles, we do not get paid a salary. Our site is free for everyone to read and enjoy.) The truth is, most sites that can provide creators and publishers with the coverage they need are built on a “free” model so a lot of other sites like ours are in the same boat. There are sites that are owned by a corporation, but even then their content will, understandably, have a slant or an agenda that fits their goals. Our goal, simply, is to share content about the genre that we love so much.

What can you do to help? You know your product the best! When it comes to news releases, interviews, contests, etc. why not come up with a few, different press releases that tell us about you or your product. Why will your audience like it? Why not determine what the highlights are (e.g. talking points) and let us know when we’re taking a look at what you’re promoting?

We have worked with professional marketers that work at publishing houses as well as individual authors that don’t have a public relations agent. Regardless of “who” is submitting the content, it helps save us time and get more content on the site faster if we have it delivered to us in a web-friendly format. While we have a promotional schedule, it also helps if you tell us when your product is going to be released and whether or not you like more than one press release posted to the site.

In order for any website to provide you with the best coverage possible, my personal opinion is that you really need to be very clear and open with your communication. I know a lot of authors and publishers worry about that first week or first month’s sales, but in our experiences, you can’t be afraid to talk about something that’s an “old” product that your existing fans enjoy, too. It’s amazing to me that there’s a preconceived notion out there that if one website in cyberspace talks about your product, then you’ve “done your job” providing PR.

There’s three things I’d like to point out here: one, if you have a website or a blog, you will help your readers learn more about you if you link back to (or mention) the content that has been provided for you. Second, no “two” website audiences are alike. FlamesRising.com has its own market of readers which may be different from another site. Yes, there could be some overlap, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We can help you tailor your content to our audience (which is what every website does) and we hope that you’ll work with us. Third, no matter how popular you are, not everyone knows about your work. That simple statement affects not only our content to our readers, but I hope that it sparks your imagination when talking about your products, too.

I hope that the things I’ve shared in this post today will help you on your quest to spread the word about your products and work. My goal here was to shed some insight on how you can manage your PR better by showing you the effect of poor communication.

VIDEO: The End of Publishing

This viral video put out by the UK branch of Dorling Kindersley books has been making the rounds this week on Twitter, Facebook and several blogs. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth your time.

I agree with the message, here, and have seen how popular culture can actually “increase” someone’s desire to read or learn. In the world of music, for example, many kids are picking up instruments to play their favorite songs from video games or movies like TWILIGHT. It’s a good reminder to all of us: don’t make assumptions based on the customers you “think” you know. Good, relevant content is king.

Guest Post: Science Fiction and Happy Endings at Apex Book Company

This month, I talk about happy endings in science fiction stories over at Apex Book Company. Take a peek:

Even though there are stories out there with happy endings, for those of us who enjoy dark science fiction it can be pretty tough to identify which ones those are. Yes, while just about everyone might point out the ending from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, I see each film in the series as the end of a story arc, in part because there are dozens of books in that universe that do explore some fairly dark storylines. –SOURCE: Science Fiction and Happy Endings

If you’re interested in the article, read the rest of Science Fiction and Happy Endings at the Apex Book Company blog.

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