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What Authors Need to Know about GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)

What Authors Need to Know About GDPR | An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts:

I have two posts in the Blog Hop this month—this post on GDPR, and I’m also guest posting on Publishing at Ronel the Mythmaker’s blog, as part of her April A-Z Challenge.

But here I’m talking about the General Data Protection Regulation: what it is, and why authors need to know about it.

First, the PSA. I’m not a lawyer, so none of the information in this blog post is legal advice. It’s my best guess as a layperson who has studied the subject. If you want legal advice, you ask a lawyer who is qualified to practice in this area. In this case, that means a lawyer based in the EU with a background in privacy, data protection, or similar. You don’t get legal advice off the internet. Now, on with the blog post.

What is GDPR?

The GDPR is the General Data Protection Regulation, and comes into force on 25 May 2018. It harmonizes data privacy laws across the European Union (EU), so it affects any organization holding personal data from EU citizens. Note that the EU still includes the United Kingdom, so GDPR still applies. The British government have indicated they will implement GDPR-like legislation following Brexit (if it goes ahead).

Why do authors need to know about GDPR?

GDPR affects all organisations based in the EU, or supplying goods or services in the EU. If you have an email list, this includes you.

If you have an email list, you’re supplying services. Your subscribers may not pay you, but you are supplying a service. If your email list includes EU residents, or is likely to include EU residents in the future, the GDPR applies to you whether you live in the EU or not:

[The GDPR] applies to all companies processing and holding the personal data of data subjects residing in the European Union, regardless of the company’s location.

‘Personal data’ includes data such as a name or email address. It also includes IP addresses (such as those collected by your website when someone comments), and posts on social networking sites.

‘Companies’ includes your email list provider (e.g. MailChimp or MailerLite), and includes clouds. If you use an email list provider and follow their recommended best practice (e.g. double opt-in), then you are probably operating within the law. Probably. As I’ve said before, I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

GDPR requires that you collect the minimum data necessary.

This has always been best practice: if you are collecting email addresses, the only piece of data you actually need is the email address.

Asking for their first name might help you build a relationship with the subscriber (if they type their name correctly!), but it’s not necessary. Many sites also ask for a surname, and few people are going to object to that. But giving my business name, address, telephone number, number of employees … that’s over the top when all I want to do is download a short pdf file.

You have the option of making fields compulsory or optional. If the field is anything but 100% necessary, make it optional (most people will still complete it).

Note: this also applies to the contact form on your website, because that’s another way of collecting personal information.

GDPR requires active and explicit consent

The regulations say:

Consent must be clear and distinguishable from other matters and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it.​

People must be actively consenting to join your email list.

  • Joining the email list can’t be automatic by filling out a form (as happened to me today!).
  • If there is a “Join my list” checkbox, it has to be unchecked. This means the would-be subscriber has to actively check the box.
  • Joining can’t be one item in a long and unreadable list of legalese.

I suspect people also can’t explicitly consent to joining twenty email lists at once. We often see this in online giveaways. Now, giveaways will have to give entrants the option to opt in or not opt in to each participant’s list (which some giveaways already do).

It must also be easy to withdraw consent. All the major email providers make this easy, by offering instant unsubscribe options (a far cry from when I used to unsubscribe to a spam email list and be told it might take up to a month!). Subscribers also have the right to have all their information deleted upon request, and the good email list providers do their best to make that easy as well.

How email providers are reacting

The major email providers do have lawyers on staff. I’m sure they’ve all been busy reading and arguing the finer points of the legislation, and considering what they need to change in order to ensure their customers (you and me) remain compliant.

Here’s what some of the main email providers have to say about GDPR:

Aweber

Aweber is self-certified with both the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield, and intend to be fully compliant with GDPR. They say Aweber customers need to ensure they comply with Aweber terms of service to help ensure they are GDPR-compliant.

Convertkit

ConvertKit are building new features to enable users to identify their EU subscribers and provide explicit consent, including providing a specific opt-in checkbox for EU subscribers.

ConvertKit recommend users:

  • Use double opt-in wherever possible.
  • Perform regular list backups.
  • Make your intentions clear on email signup forms and landing pages (e.g. what will they get by signing up to this list? Will they also be signed up to another list?).

This is good advice for everyone.

MailChimp

MailChimp explains what they are doing to prepare for GDPR (such as a specific opt-in box on forms), and recommends users clearly explain to subscribers how their data will be used.

MailerLite

MailerLite have developed a GDPR template to help users revalidate their email list to be sure everyone has actively and explicity consented.

What should I do?

If you’re not 100% sure all your subscribers have opted in to receiving your emails (e.g. you haven’t always used a double opt-in), then you should check out what templates or services your email list provider offers, and use them to clean your list.

If you have an email list, you need to use a recognised email list provider! No, you can’t send bulk emails through Gmail, Hotmail, or Outlook.

Have you cleaned your email list lately? Have you deleted the people who never open your messages? That would make a great project for May. Sure, it will mean fewer people on your list. There are advantages to cutting the dead weight from your list. It will increase your open rates, cost you less, and mean your emails are less likely to end up in spam. Isn’t that a good thing?

What do you need to do to prepare for GDPR?

What's Changing at Twitter (Hint: no more spam)

What’s Changing at Twitter? (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

Today’s post is part of the monthly Author Toolbox Blog Hop. The Hop is organised by Raimey Gallant, and has over 40 participating blogs. To find more posts, click here to check out the main page, click here to search #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop on Twitter, or click here to find us on Pinterest.

What’s Changing at Twitter?

I had planned to continue my series on email lists and giveaways this week. But I discovered Twitter have announced changes to their rules and policies around automation, and the changes come into effect on Friday (23 March 2018). These changes affect me directly, and indirectly affect all my fellow #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop participants. That’s why I’m covering it today.

These changes affect:

  • Anyone who manages multiple Twitter accounts.
  • Anyone who posts the same Tweet more than once (i.e. recycles Tweets).

If you don’t fit either of these categories, congratulations! You’re good to go. Otherwise, read on …

The Background

As we all know, social media has become a lot less social. In early 2018, Facebook announced they are changing their algorithm to reduce the number of posts from businesses, brands, and media so we’re better able to use Facebook for the original purpose: to stay connected with the people who matter to us. The subtext to this announcement is that Facebook are going to push businesses, brands, and media to pay to advertise or to boost posts, because that’s how Facebook makes money.

Now Twitter is taking a similar approach.

There are three ways to post a Tweet:

  1. Direct: A direct Tweet posts immediately from Twitter.
  2. Scheduled: A scheduled Tweet posts at a set date and time in the future, and may be scheduled in Twitter, or in an external app.
  3. Automated: An automated Tweet is when someone uses an external app such as Audiense ,Buffer, CrowdFire, Dlvr.it, Hootsuite, MeetEdgar, SocialJukebox, or TweetDeck to tweet on their behalf. Automated tweets are often duplicate Tweets.

Twitter have noticed (haven’t we all!) that a lot of Tweets are automated sales tweets, fake news, or spam. I often come across accounts where the Tweets all appear to be automated sales Tweets, sometimes coming from multiple accounts. I’m sure I’m not alone.

Authors are not innocent in this. I’ve read blog posts teaching me how to upload hundreds of Tweets to a programme like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, so the Twitter account can automatically Tweet sales messages. I’ve seen authors Tweeting these sales messages as often as every ten minutes. One author I know of has over 370,000 Tweets, but less than 5,000 followers … and just 16 Likes. If that’s not spam, what is?

What’s Happened?

I’m sure we all agree that Twitter would be a lot more social if there were fewer automated Tweets … especially automated sales tweets. So Twitter have updated their rules. Twitter now explicitly prohibits certain actions, and these changes come into affect this week, on 23 March 2018.

Twitter says:

  • Do not (and do not allow your users to) simultaneously post identical or substantially similar content to multiple accounts.
  • Do not (and do not allow your users to) simultaneously perform actions such as Likes, Retweets, or follows from multiple accounts.
  • The use of any form of automation (including scheduling) to post identical or substantially similar content, or to perform actions such as Likes or Retweets, across many accounts that have authorized your app (whether or not you created or directly control those accounts) is not permitted.

Twitter will police these changes, and suspend or terminate accounts which break the rules.

The first two points only apply to people who operate more than one Twitter account, so the easy solution is to stick to one account!

People who do operate more than one account now have to be sure they are not duplicating content across the accounts.

This is easy when the accounts have a different focus (e.g. an author who also sells homemade cards on Etsy may have two accounts, but they are unlikely to be posting the same content). It’s a little harder when the two accounts have a different but overlapping focus (e.g. an author account, and an account for a group blog).

I have access to three Twitter accounts: my personal account, and two accounts related to group blogs where I’m part of the administration team. I don’t simultaneously post identical or substantially similar content across all three accounts, but I’ll make sure my team members know not to do this as well. We will also be careful about retweeting between accounts, as that could attract Twitters attention in a negative way.

Posting Multiple Updates

The third point is the one that has many authors worried: posting identical content.

The use of any form of automation (including scheduling) to post identical or substantially similar content, or to perform actions such as Likes or Retweets, across many accounts that have authorized your app (whether or not you created or directly control those accounts) is not permitted.

This is a change of wording, but not a change of official policy. When I wrote my previous blog post on the Twitter rules, this was one of the rules:

[Do not] post duplicate content over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account

Twitter says they do not permit multiple duplicate updates (i.e. recycled content) on one account. But they have historically permitted recycled content as long as the posts were at least twelve hours apart (according to dlvr.it). Dlvr.it say:

Twitter is now poised to enforce this policy much more aggressively by restricting all duplicate content posting, even if it the posts are made even days or weeks apart.

Most Twitter apps and Twitter experts are saying this means the end of recycled content. For example, MeetEdgar says:

Moving forward, it means you should expect scheduling tools that have allowed for automated content recycling to no longer offer that service for Twitter accounts.

MeetEdgar is planning an upgrade that will enable users to upload multiple variations on the same Tweet at the same time. Tweets will be marked as sent, and won’t be resent. They are also considering a spinnable text option.

Twitter have also updated their rules to specifically prohibit users from creating additional accounts to get around the “no duplicate Tweets”rule. The updated rule is:

[Do not] post duplicative or substantially similar content, replies, or mentions over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account, or create duplicate or substantially similar accounts

Under this updated rule, “duplicate content” has become “duplicative or substantially similar content, replies, or mentions”. Users are also now expressly forbidden from “creating duplicate or substantially similar accounts.”

So recycling Tweets is against the Twitter rules, and has been for some time. The difference is Twitter will now be policing this more strongly. This will directly affect me, and may indirectly affect all my fellow #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop participants. Why?

Because I currently recycle Tweets.

I recycle Tweets using two different apps:

Buffer

I use Buffer’s Power Scheduler feature to Tweet all my new blog posts seven times over the next year. I currently alternate between two tweets for these, so each individual Tweet gets sent three or four times.

Buffer does allow me to create a unique Tweet for each share, so I will utilise that feature going forward—the only problem will be getting creative enough so each Tweet is not “substantially similar”. This is the approach recommended by Digital Decluttered. Problem solved.

SocialJukebox

I use SocialJukebox to share my blog posts, #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop posts, and posts from the two group blogs I administer (Australasian Christian Writers and International Christian Fiction Writers).

This is more of a problem, as SocialJukebox (like MeetEdgar) is a once-and-done solution for recycling Tweets, which means repeat Tweets are duplicate Tweets. However, I can control how often the posts repeat, and I have now set this to 90 days. At most, any individual post will be seen no more than three or four times a year.

I hope this will be enough to escape the attention of the Twitter suspension team. But my Twitter account was briefly suspended last year, so I need to be careful. If I get suspended, I’ll pause all my SocialJukebox streams and hope that solves the problem.

I’m not sure what this will mean for SocialJukebox. It’s a paid service, and my renewal is coming up soon. The only reason I use SocialJukebox is to recycle Tweets. SocialJukebox have not made an official announcement about changes to their service relating to this update.

Do you administer more than one account? Or post identical updates to one account? How will this change affect you?

An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post | Are you Writing Memoir, Fiction or Faction?

AuthorToolBoxBlogHop | Are You Writing Memoir, Fiction, or Faction?

Welcome to the first #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop of 2018!

The monthly Author Toolbox Blog Hop is organised by Raimey Gallant, and has over 40 participating blogs. To find more posts, click here to check out the main page, click here to search #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop on Twitter, or click here to find us on Pinterest.

Are you writing real-life stories?

I work with a range of authors as a freelance editor. Most are writing fiction, because that’s my specialty (specifically, Christian fiction). But I do have a few clients writing stories based on true life events. Sometimes these books are clearly non-fiction—memoir (I shared my top tips on writing memoir last week). Some are pure fiction. Others are a mixture of both.

How do you decide which is the most appropriate for your story? Memoir or fiction or something in between?

Memoir?

Memoir is the appropriate choice when the author is discussing good experiences (like a relationship that has had a positive effect on her life), and when the author is prepared to tell the truth.The whole truth. Including the ugly parts. Anything less is fiction, not memoir. And good memoir, like good fiction, is shown rather than told.

Soul Friend by Jo-Anne Berthelsen is an excellent example of memoir. It doesn’t tell all the events of jo-Anne’s life as an autobiography would. Instead, Soul Friend follows a theme in a way that changes the way the reader sees the world. In the case of Soul Friend, the memoir follows Jo-Anne’s journey with Joy, her spiritual mentor, which had me envying the relationship.

Or Fiction?

In contrast, Words by Ginny Yttrup is a novel about sexual abuse written by someone who has herself experienced abuse. Yttrup says she doesn’t use her own experiences in Words, but it’s clear she has used the memories and feelings from her own experiences, then adapted those to her fictional writing.

Words is typical of what readers expect in fiction: clear point of view, clear character goals, motivations, and conflicts, a three-act plot, and showing the story rather than telling. There is an excellent build-up of tension throughout the novel, and the writing is outstanding—emotive without being graphic.

Fiction based on real-life situations is the appropriate choice where the author is prepared to weave a story around the main events and themes, rather than feeling obliged to remain true to what actually happened. It may be easier to compartmentalise when writing fiction: these difficult events are happening to your character, not to you.

Choosing to write a story as fiction will mean creating characters rather than adapting real people. It will mean creating a plot that fits the expected three-act structure, rather than relying on what actually happened and when. But fiction still requires the author to go deep into the feelings of the situation—positive and negative. Especially the negative, because good fiction is about conflict, about things going wrong or things that shouldn’t have happened.

Or Something In Between?

Then there is the middle ground: writing a fictional account of a factual story. This is known as a non-fiction novel, or faction. One well-known example is Roots by Alex Haley, which details nine generations of his family’s history.

I’ve read many novels which take this faction approach. Some are writing about the experiences of people and events from long ago, perhaps from their own family history. Some are writing about events that are closer to home, about people they know e.g. friends or parents. And some are writing their own story in novel form.

I’ve read (and edited) non-fiction novels, both those based on the author’s own experiences, and those based on their family history. Some were written as pure fiction, others were written as faction. The stories which worked best had the following features:

The author was sufficiently distanced by time to be able to write about the people and events without personal bias.

This may be because the author is writing about other people (e.g. parents or other relations, or complete strangers) rather than about himself or herself. Authors who are writing about themselves often don’t pay enough attention to the goals, motivations, and conflicts (GMC) of their lead characters—possibly because they didn’t have a personal goal at the time. This lack of GMC makes for a weak novel.

The author was prepared to be honest about the faults of the characters.

No one is perfect in real life, and no one likes reading about perfect fictional characters. This means the author needs to ensure the main characters has faults … even when that main character is based on the author. And they have to be real faults, not the kind we dredge up for job interviews (“People say my biggest fault is that I work too hard”).

The main character’s actions felt realistic.

The problem with creating an almost-perfect main character is that personal stories (fiction or faction) are almost always stories where something went wrong or where something bad happened. That’s good, because good fiction is about conflict, about things going wrong. Sometimes this leads to characters making decisions that are out of character … because that’s how it happened in real life. It’s not enough for that thing to have happened in real life. It also has to make sense in the context of the character the author has created (even when that character is based on the author or someone s/he knows).

The author was prepared to change what actually happened.

In fiction, the needs of the story are paramount. If cutting a scene, changing the timeline, or combining characters makes it a better story, the change is made. Even if that wasn’t how it happened in real life (because fiction has to feel realistic for the reader).

The author kept to one story.

I read one World War II novel that had a good first half, but then turned strange in the second half. When I read the author’s note, I found the first half had been based on the real-life events of one person, and the second half based on another. That’s why the second half seemed as though the heroine was acting out of character: because she was literally a different person.

But this can happen even if the author sticks to one character. Good fiction is like memoir: it focuses on one key theme or story question. A scene that doesn’t move the character closer to their goal has no place in the novel. Even if it’s the time you (aka your character) met the Queen. Stick to the story.

What is Right for Your Story?

So what is right for your story? Memoir, fiction, or faction? Only you can answer that question, but I hope these tips will help you decide.

Are you writing a real-life story? Is it memoir, fiction, or faction?

What is Your Editing Process?

What Is Your Editing Process? (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

This post is part of the monthly Author Toolbox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant, with over 40 blogs participating. To find more posts, click here to check out the main page, search #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop on Twitter, or click here to find us on Pinterest.

I’ve recently read Write Like a Boss! by Honoree Corder and Ben Hale. It’s an excellent short book, and I recommend it. If you write fiction, it’s worth the purchase price simply for Chapter Four, where Ben Hale details his personal revision and editing process.

Ben says:

My draft process is thirteen drafts. But it didn’t start our that way. My first book went through twenty-four drafts, and still has errors.

Wow. Just wow.

I have two initial comments about Ben’s editing process:

  1. His process is actually fourteen steps: he doesn’t count his initial detailed outline as a draft. Ben is obviously a plotter, not a pantser. I suspect a pantser would need more drafts.
  2. Ben is an experienced fiction writer. A less experienced writer, who doesn’t know some of the “rules” of fiction, will need more drafts. For example, if you write in third person but don’t know what headhopping is, you’ll probably need one full pass through your manuscript to identify headhopping, and one full draft to fix your point of view. Maybe two.

As a freelance editor, I found it interesting to see where Ben’s copyeditor fit in the process. His copyeditor sees the fifth draft of the book—he goes though the full book another eight times before he publishes, which shows there is more to editing than many authors realize.

So here is an outline of Ben’s editing process with my comments (if you want Ben’s comments, buy the book!).

Draft 0: Outline

Ben write in series, so his outline includes a series outline, outlines for the individual books, and even the chapters. Outlining means he will already know the genre, plot, story arc, characters, theme and the aims for each scene before he starts writing. If you don’t outline, this may mean four to six additional drafts to make sure you’ve nailed these essentials.

A critique partner may help brainstorm some of these plot and character issues at the outline stage.

Draft 1: Finish

The aim here is to get a completed manuscript to edit. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo next month, this is probably what you’re aiming for.

Draft 2: Content

Fill in holes and add detail. I suspect this is where a lot of authors think their work ends. Now they send it to an editor and that’s it, right? Nope.

Draft 3: Alpha Reader

Ben’s alpha readers ignore grammar and typos and focus on the big picture issues: what’s working in terms of the big issues of plot, character, story, and theme, what isn’t working, and what’s missing.

Some authors may work with a critique partner who fills this role. Others may hire an editor to undertake a developmental edit or manuscript assessment.

Draft 4: Character Building

Use comments from the alpha reader to fill out the characters and make them real.

A pantser may need to add another draft in here around plot: filling in the plot holes, and deleting extraneous scenes. After all, you don’t want to pay an editor to edit 3,000 words that don’t drive the plot forward.

Draft 5: Editor

Always submit the best possible draft to your editor. It will help keep the cost down if you’ve already removed the hundreds of adverbs, that’s, very’s, and other overused words, and fixed all the typos you can find. It also means your editor can focus on the things you can’t fix.

Draft 6: Post Editor Partial

Accept or reject minor changes (e.g. spelling and grammar), and undertake sentence-level improvements e.g. adding rhetorical devices, adding fresh descriptions and body language (no “he nodded” or “she shrugged”). If you have no idea what I mean, head on over to Lawson Writer’s Academy and sign up for Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More.

Draft 7: Post Editor Full

Now the story is free from Track Changes, address any major story issues (like that scene you should have cut and didn’t).

Draft 8: Word Draft

Polishing: checking character names are spelled correctly and consistently, and haven’t been used in other books. Run spell check. Fix the typos and mistakes you introduced in Drafts 6 and 7. Review your editorial letter and make sure you haven’t added back any of the adverbs the editor “suggested” you cut. (Because it wasn’t a suggestion. It was an order.)

You might ask why the editor didn’t catch some of these things. They may have, but they might miss tiny things while they fix big things. Your editor might not know that you called the character Jaime in the last book, but this book calls him Jayme.

It’s also a numbers game. It’s not unusual for me to suggest 10,000 changes in a 100,000 word novel. Even if I’m 99.9% accurate, I’ll still miss 100 changes. And the author might add a few hundred more as they revise and edit. This is why trade published novels go through at least three rounds of editing … and still aren’t perfect.

Draft 9: Beta Readers

Ben suggests at least five beta readers, and they have to be honest. You need your beta readers to find what’s wrong, not gush over how clever you are that you’ve written a whole book all by yourself. Please. You’re not five. Adult up and seek honest critical feedback. (But you don’t have to accept mean feedback. People can be critical without being mean).

How to pick beta readers is probably a whole separate blog post. Like this one from #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop participant JR Creaden: 5 Things To Do Before You Beta Your Book.

Draft 10: Post Beta Reader

Add changes suggested by beta readers.

Draft 11: Vocal Drafts

Reading out loud is a great way of catching sentences that don’t quite make sense, or don’t sound right (especially in dialogue). I’ll often read awkward sentences out loud when I’m editing for other people as a way of finding and fixing a problem.

Draft 12: Final Beta Reader

One final read-through to catch last-minute typos. I think it’s best if this person hasn’t read the full story before (although they may have add early input at Draft 0 or 1). The reason for this suggestion is that we often see the words we think are on the page, not the words which are actually there. For this draft, you want someone who is going to read the words on the page, not fill in the blanks because they’ve already read the story almost as many times as you have.

Draft 13: Final and Format

Fix final typos, format, and add front and back matter (make sure you double check the spelling of any people you thank. It kind of takes away from the buzz of being mentioned if the author spells your name wrong. True story).

This draft process is not for everyone. In fact, it probably only works for me. But hopefully it helps you get a start on your own if you don’t already have one.

This process (or something like it) will be useful for me as a writer. It’s also going to be useful for me as a freelance editor, as it shows clients where Editor-Me falls in the writing and revision process.

As I said, I do recommend Write Like a Boss! It has heaps of great tips for both fiction and non-fiction writers.

Do you have an editing process? What does it look like?

This is the final #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop post for 2017. We figure everyone will be busy with NaNoWriMo in November, and Christmas in December. We’ll be back in January 2018. Meanwhile, I’ll still post every Wednesday (writing or marketing) and Saturday (Best of the Blogs). Well, except for Christmas and New Year.

Meanwhile, check out more #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop posts:

Click here to check out the main page.

#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop is on Twitter.

Click here to find us on Pinterest.

Show, Don't Tell

Show, Don’t Tell (#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop)

Show, Don’t Tell is part of the September #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop, hosted by Raimey Gallant. Click here to find other blogs participating in the Hop and read some great writing advice! Or follow the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop on Twitter, or visit our Pinterest board.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve discussed two oft-quoted pieces of writing advice (or bad writing advice, depending on who you ask):

I’ve covered what each phrase means, and how you can apply it to editing your manuscript. Today I’m going to cover another common writing tip: Show, Don’t Tell, which is one of the major rules of modern fiction (whether contemporary or historical, genre or literary).

But what does ‘Show Don’t Tell’ Mean?

Telling a story is the classic way of structuring a novel—think Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, or Charles Dickens. They told their stories as the narrator, able to see into the minds of all the characters at once.

But telling is now considered outdated by publishers, and readers. Modern readers don’t need pages describing a jungle, a panther, and how a panther moves through the jungle. We’ve seen that on the Discovery Channel.

Modern fiction writing relies on showing the story through a series of scenes. We need to show our reader the scene, rather than telling them about the scene. We need to allow readers to watch and experience the story for themselves.

This isn’t new. Sol Stein said this in 1999:

A writer who wants to be read by contemporary audiences … will find it useful to study through example the differences between narrative summary and immediate scene. Keep in mind that narrative summary is telling and immediate scene is showing.

So instead of telling the reader she was frightened at the noise in the dark basement, let us hear the noise and show us her reactions—her conscious actions, her unconscious visceral reactions, and her internal monologue:

There was a thump in the basement, a pause, then scrapes and scratches as though something—or someone—was moving furniture across the wooden floor. Then steps. Footsteps. Climbing the stairs. She froze in place as her heart beat in time to the heavy footsteps, da-dum, da-dum, he-is com-ing. Where could she hide?

As Renni Browne and Dave King say:

You want to draw your readers into the world you’ve created, make them feel a part of it, make them forget where they are. And you can’t do this effectively if you tell your readers about your world secondhand. You have to take them there.

We need to show the action (and reaction) that relates to the main plot and subplots. We need to show the action and reaction that impacts on the character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts—their character arc.

But we don’t need to show everything.

I’ve yet to read a novel where a character visits the bathroom (to use the American euphemism). This is a good thing. We know the characters must need to visit the bathroom on occasion. But it’s detail we rarely need.

Narrative summary has its uses, the main one being to vary the rhythm and texture of your writing … Just make sure you don’t use it when you should be showing rather than telling.

We can tell the transitions between scenes. If scene A takes place at home, and scene B takes place in the office, we don’t need to show every detail of how our character gets from A to B—unless it’s directly relevant to the plot, or to the character’s personal arc.

This comes back to the principle of Chekov’s gun, which I touched on last week:

If there is a rifle on the mantelpiece in the first act, it needs to be fired in the third act.

Readers know and understand this principle, even if they can’t articulate it:

  • We know that if a novel shows character scrabbling for her car keys in the dark of the parking garage, there will be someone waiting behind her car (or in the car).
  • We know that if the novel shows character using her car key to open the car remotely, there will be a bomb in the car.
  • We know that if the character is shown squeezing toothpaste onto a toothbrush and cleaning her teeth, that there’s either something nasty in the tube of toothpaste, or someone has cleaned the toilet with the toothbrush.

There has to be a reason for any detail. If there is no reason to show the detail, that’s when you tell. We don’t want to disappoint our readers by leading them to believe something is important when it isn’t.

Next week I’m going to share three ways authors tell when they should be showing, and how to fix those “tells”.

What questions do you have about Show, Don’t Tell?

How Do I Find a Publisher?

Reader Question: How do I Find a Publisher? (#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop)

This blog post comes from a question I was asked on Twitter: could I help the writer find a publisher. It’s also part of the August #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop, hosted by Raimey Gallant.

Can I help you find a publisher?

No, I can’t. Not directly.

But I can provide you with some advice that might help. First, know your genre. Then understand the paths to publishing, and choose the best path for you.

Know Your Genre

No publisher publishes anything and everything. Small publishers specialise. Big publishers have dozens of imprints, each specialising in specific genres.

Harlequin Mills & Boon (HMB) are a great example. HMB publish romance novels under a range of branded imprints. HMB are also subsidiary of HarperCollins, one of the big five multinational publishers, who publish a huge range of romance and non-romance titles.

As an author, this means you have to know your genre so you can target the specific publishers and imprints who publish your genre. Don’t submit your post-apocalyptic thriller to Love Inspired (the HMB Christian romance line). Don’t submit your historical epic to a publisher that specialises in flash fiction.

Instead, do your research and find out which publishers represent your genre. These sources might help:

Know Your Path To Publishing

There are various paths to publishing, each of which I’ve covered in detail in previous blog posts. You can:

  • Publish through a major trade publisher
  • Publish through a small press
  • Self-publish
  • Vanity Publish

I’ll look at each of these:

Major Trade Publisher

(see Paths to Publishing: Trade Publishing for more information)

Major trade publishers are probably the publishers you’ve heard of. If you read books in your genre (and you should), they are books from these publishers. You’ll find their books in your local bookstore and at your local library. And you’ll find their books in your local supermarket or big-box store.

The problem with major trade publishers is that every aspiring author wants to be published by one of an ever-shrinking number of publishers. Almost none take submissions directly from authors—instead, you’ll need to be invited to submit, usually through a recognised literary agent (click here to read my post on finding a literary agent).

If you can’t get an agent, your other traditional publishing option is a small press.

Small Press

(see Paths to Publishing: Small Presses for more information)

You probably haven’t heard of many of the small presses, although the better ones will be represented in your local bookstore or library. Many accept submissions directly from authors (although some only accept submissions from recognised literary agents).

The main problem with small presses is that they are small, which means they can’t do everything well. They might be good at editing, but have mediocre cover design (or vice versa). They won’t have the distribution networks a bigger publisher has—you might find your novel in your local Christian bookstore, but you won’t find it at the supermarket or airport.

Some offer digital-only or digital-first contracts.

This means your book is only produced as an ebook, probably because the publisher can’t afford to invest in cheap offset printing without having a print distribution network (and perhaps can’t make a profit of the more expensive print-on-demand).

There is nothing necessarily wrong with the better small presses. But if you choose to publish with a small press, you need to make sure they are doing a better job than you could if you self-published.

Self-publishing

(see Paths to Publishing: Self-Publishing for more information)

Self-publishing means you wear multiple hats. As the author, you write and revise your book, and you have primary responsibility for marketing. (That’s the same no matter what path you take to publishing.)

You then have a role as a publisher, where you’re responsible for all the business aspects of publishing: finding one or more editors, getting your book edited, proofread and formatted. Finding a cover designer and agreeing a cover. Finding reviewers and influencers. Sending your book off to print (if you’ve decided you need a print run—many authors don’t). Converting your book into ebook format, and uploading to the various retailers.

Self-publishers still need partners to distribute their book. The most common distributors are:

For paper books:

These distributors list your book in their online catalogue, then print it when an order is received, and ship it directly to the purchaser. As the author, you receive the profit on each sale (i.e. purchase price less printing, handling, and distribution costs).

For ebooks:

There are two main formats of ebooks: epub, and mobi. All retailers except Amazon sell ebooks in epub format. Amazon uses mobi, their own proprietary format. Distributors such as Draft2Digital and Smashwords will sell books in a range of formats, as selected by the purchaser.

As an author, you receive the sale price less a distribution fee. This distribution fee varies from 35% to 70%, depending on the retailer and the sale price. For example, if you publish on Amazon Kindle, you keep 70% of the sale price on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, and 35% for cheaper or more expensive books.

There are an increasing number of companies who advertise themselves as assisted self-publishers.

Some of these are legitimate companies providing quality services to authors (e.g. editing, cover design, formatting, or printing services). But many are vanity presses, charging a lot of money and not delivering a quality result.

Vanity Publishing

(see Paths to Publishing: Vanity Publishing and Author Services for more information)

This is not my recommended route. In fact, it’s one I recommend you avoid. These publishers might tell you they are self-publishers (but they ask for money), or they might tell you they are traditional publishers (but they ask for money). They may call themselves a co-operative publisher, a hybrid publisher, a partnership publisher, a self-publisher, or even traditional royalty-paying publisher.

What they won’t call themselves is a vanity publisher. But that doesn’t change what they are. But you can learn to recognise them: vanity publishers ask for money.

Check out their website: are they trying to sell books to readers, or publishing packages to writers? A genuine publisher makes their money by selling books to readers. A vanity press makes money without ever selling a single book. They don’t usually offer editing, and their books are often overpriced relative to the market. The contract may well assure you that you earn 100% royalties, but 100% of no sales is nothing.

If you have any doubts, don’t sign.

To my Twitter questioner:

No, this doesn’t directly help you find a publisher. But I hope it helps you understand the publishing industry, and brings you a few steps closer to finding the right publisher for your book. It might just be you.

Are you a published author? Which path to publishing did you choose? What advice do you have for my Twitter questioner?

This post is part of the August #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop, hosted by Raimey Gallant. Click here to find other blogs participating in the Hop.

Introducing SocialJukebox

Introducing SocialJukebox | An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post

Last week I talked about how I use Buffer as my main tool to manage my social media sharing. This week I’m talking SocialJukebox, the tool I for ongoing sharing of evergreen posts (posts that aren’t time-sensitive).

What is SocialJukebox?

SocialJukebox is pretty much what the name says: a jukebox, but with a modern spin.

SocialJukebox started as TweetJukebox. Users created Tweets and added them to a vitual “jukebox”, which randomly posted Tweets during predetermined times. When everything in the jukebox has been posted, it starts again. And again. And again, until you turn it off or the zombie apocalypse wipes out the interwebz. Read more

Best Book Marketing Websites

#AuthorToolBoxBloghop: 9 Best Book Marketing Websites

This post is part of the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop, the brainchild of  Raimey Gallant. There are over thirty authors participating in the blog hop this month, each sharing on a topic related to writing, publishing or marketing. There are three great ways to follow the blog hop:

  1. Check out the list of participating websites on the main blog hop page
  2. Follow the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop hashtag on Twitter and other social media sites
  3. Visit the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop board on Pinterest

So … on to my 9 favourite book marketing websites.

I’m not yet published. Well, not in a book sense. I’ve got thousands of words published online in the form of hundreds of book reviews and blog posts–my book review blog will hit 1,000 posts in a couple of months, and at least 80% of those posts are reviews.

Even though I’m not yet published, I’ve been studying the art and science of writing, editing, publishing, and marketing for several years. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on the road to publication, it’s this:

Marketing starts a long time before you publish.

Which means everyone who wants to publish should have at least a passing awareness of current marketing trends. And there is a lot of marketing advice out there—some excellent, some good, and some downright misleading.

(I think the worst was the one which advised readers to add everyone they knew to their “opt-in email list”. Had she heard of the CAN-SPAM Act? Did she understand the meaning of the words, “opt in”? I can only assume not.)

Anyway, today I’m sharing the nine websites I find most useful when it comes to identifying book marketing trends.

1. BookBub

BookBub is the gorilla in the room of book marketing. They charge authors hundreds of dollars to advertise in one of their genre-specific daily emails, and turn down more potential advertisers than they accept. I’ve only heard of one author who didn’t make her money back on a BookBub ad (the book was middle grade fiction, so it doesn’t altogether surprise me. My kids are on their devices 24/7, but still prefer paper books).

But the power of BookBub’s featured advertisements isn’t why they are on my list. BookBub analyses their sales and other data to provide detailed articles on what sells, and what doesn’t. And that’s worth reading.

Chris Syme

Chris Syme is the owner of Smart Marketing for Authors, and the author of Sell More Books With Less Social Media, and the soon-to-be-published Sell More Books With Less Marketing. She also co-hosts a book marketing podcast with her daughter, bestselling romance author Becca Syme.

Reading Sell More Books with Less Social Media was a lightbulb moment for me, one of those times when someone says something that seems obvious, yet I’d never seen it before:

Not all authors are at the same level when it comes to writing and publishing, and our marketing needs to take that into account.

Dan Blank

Dan Blank is the owner of WeGrow Media, who help authors connect with readers. He has recently published Be The Gateway, where he shows authors how to research and understand their target audience, then work out how best to connect with those people. It’s about playing the long game in an industry where many people are looking for quick wins.
Be the Gateway
I like Dan’s philosophy of marketing—it’s similar to Tim Grahl, and is one I can embrace as someone who hates asking for the sale (something I’m working on). I enjoy reading his blog posts and newsletters—like his recent post reinforcing the importance of word-of-mouth marketing.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran is the author of Let’s Get Digital (why authors should consider digital self-publishing), and Let’s Get Visible. He was the first author to show me the importance of understanding and using Amazon algorithms to drive sales. The books are a few years old (and I read them both as new releases), so the information may have dated a little.

The other reason I like and follow David is because of his personal war against the vanity publishing, and the valuable information he provides on their various schemes. You might not think so, but this is marketing as well: it’s part of Product, one of the four Ps of marketing strategy.

Joel Friedlander

Joel Friedlander is The Book Designer. He hosts the monthly Cover Design Awards, where he critiques author-submitted covers. He also hosts a monthly Carnival of the Indies, a round-up of what’s new in indie publishing (and writing, and marketing). He also attracts guest posts from some of the top names in digital publishing.

Rachel Thompson

Rachel Thompson of BadRedHeadMedia is the mind behind #MondayBlogs and the weekly #BookMarketingChat on Twitter.

She’s also the author of The 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge, which was the inspiration behind my own KickStart Your Author Platform challenge. Rachel doesn’t pull her punches, and brings twenty-plus years of pharmaceutical sales experience to her marketing advice.

Seth Godin

Seth Godin invented the idea of permission-based marketing, that we should work to grow a tribe of people who support us and our work. He posts a short blog post each day, and all are worth reading.

The Buffer Blog

I love Buffer. I loved their free version, and I love the Awesome plan even more. Buffer enables me to manage my social media sharing without going mad. Hootsuite has similar functionality, but I find the Buffer interface much more user friendly.

But that’s not the reason Buffer is on this list. They’re on my list because of their blog. They share millions of social media posts, and collect information on the performance of those posts. That enables them to write meaty blog posts that answer a lot of social media questions: when is the best time to post? How many times a day should you post? Do you need to use hashtags? Images? Which social media networks perform best?

Buffer knows, and Buffer tells us.

Tim Grahl

Tim is the owner of Outthink Group. He is the author of Your First 1,000 Copies (which preaches the importance of building an email list and using those connections to market your book), and The Book Launch Blueprint (which reinforces the importance of building an email list, and using those connections to launch your book).

He’s not about sell-sell-sell. He’s about building meaningful connections, about getting permission to contact people (through the email list), delivering relevant content, and outreaching from there.

It’s been several years since I read Your First 1,000 Copies. I’ve recently realised that while I’m doing Permission and Content reasonably well, I need to work on Outreach.

That’s my list of the best book marketing websites. What are yours?

 

#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: Shaping the Diamond (Showing, not Telling)

Today I’m participating in a new venture: the first Author Toolbox Blog Hop. You can find more post by clicking the link, or find us on Twitter at #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop

Author Toolbox: Shaping the Diamond

Using Show, Don’t Tell to Engage Readers

Last week, we talked about interior monologue—a technique some writers overuse. This affects the pace of the story because it takes the reader away from showing the action into telling the character’s internal reaction. Remember: show don’t tell.

#AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Telling a story is the classic way of structuring a novel, but it is now considered outdated by publishers, and by readers:

There has been a drastic change in storytelling in the twentieth century… Writers need reminding that we’ve all had exposure to movies [and] television … a visual medium. Today’s readers have learned to see stories happening before their eyes. They tend to skim or skip long passages of description or narrative summary,
– Sol Stein, Solutions for Novelists: Secrets of a Master Editor

Therefore you need to show your reader the scene, rather than telling them about the scene.

Our readers want scenes and action, not to be told what happened through description and narrative summary (and narrative summary includes long passages of interior monologue, especially if it’s in the middle of a scene). Readers need to be able to see each scene, see what is happening:

A good scene will enrich character, provide necessary information to the audience and move the plot forward.
– Les Standiford, in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing

Jack Bickham says:

Show, don’t tell. Don’t lecture your reader; she won’t believe you. Give her the story action, character thoughts, feelings, and sense impressions as the character would experience them in real life. There are four essential steps:
  • Selection of, and adherence to, a single character’s viewpoint
  • Imagining the crucial sense or though impressions that character is experiencing at any given moment
  • Presenting those impressions as vividly and briefly as possible
  • Giving those impressions to readers in a logical order

In other words, use deep point of view. Sol Stein gives a useful list of questions to review for each scene:

  • Is the scene described in terms of the action that takes place? If there is no action, there is no scene. The frequent fault of new fiction writers is that they unravel the thread of the story instead of keeping it taut like the gut strings of a tennis racket… Leave the reader in suspense.
  • Is each scene visible throughout so that the reader can see what is happening before his eyes? If the action is not visible, you are probably sliding into narrative summary of past events or offstage events.
  • The reader is not moved by the writer or a narrator telling him what one or another character feels. The reader is moved by seeing what is happening to the characters.
  • Which character in the scene do you have the most affection for? How can you make the reader feel affection or compassion for that character in this scene?
  • Is there a character in this scene who threatens the protagonist subtly or openly, psychologically or physically?

Browne and King apply the ‘show, don’t tell’ principle to the interior monologue and feelings of characters, where authors often use unnecessary adverbs or description to explain what a character is feeling:

This tendency to describe a character’s emotion may reflect a lack of confidence on the part of the writer. So when you come across an explanation of a character’s emotion, simply cut the explanation. If the emotion is still shown, then the explanation isn’t needed. If the emotion isn’t shown, rewrite the passage so it is.
– Renni Browne and Dave King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Yes, it’s harder to show than to tell. But make the effort. Your readers will thank you.

Balancing Show vs. Tell

Scenes that show the reader what is happening are harder to write, so writers have a tendency to revert to narrative summary, which is telling. That is not to say that authors should eliminate all narrative summary:

Narrative summary has its uses, the main one being to vary the rhythm and texture of your writing … Just make sure you don’t use it when you should be showing rather than telling.
– Renni Browne and Dave King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

That’s not to say we should show everything. Yes, we should show everything that’s important. But not everything is important, and there are some things we don’t want to see up close. This is when we can increase narrative distance.

Using Narrative Distance

Narrative distance is the distance between the reader and the point of view character. There is little distance in deep perspective point of view (which tends to be showing). There is a lot of distance with cinematic or omniscient point of view (which tend to be telling).

Good writers know how and when to manipulate narrative distance to maximise reader engagement and prevent the story getting boring.

Imagine film in which the camera stays the same distance from the characters, never moving back or in. Boring, right? The same is true for fiction.
– David Jauss, On Writing Fiction

For example, a murder mystery necessarily includes a murder. But readers don’t necessarily need to see the murder take place. It might be enough to see the body, to give the reader some emotional distance from the violence, and allow us to focus on what’s most important in a murder mystery: solving the crime.

Handling point of view is much more than picking a person and sticking with it. It involves carefully manipulating the distance between narrator and character … to achieve the desired response from the reader.
– David Jauss, on Writing Fiction

Chekhov’s Gun

We also don’t need to see every insignificant action your character takes, every irrelevant thought he has. This means focusing on what’s important.

The more words you devote to an action (or a speech, or a thought), the more importance that action will have in the reader’s mind. This is the principle of Chekhov’s gun: if there is a gun on the mantelpiece in the first act, it should be fired by the third.

If your character is undertaking some mundane, routine action such as squeezing toothpaste onto his toothbrush, then the reader is expecting this to be relevant in some way. Maybe the maid cleaned the toilet with the toothbrush. Maybe there is poison in the toothpaste. Maybe his wife is being murdered in the next room, and he can’t hear over the sound of the running water.

If you’re mentioning mundane details, make sure they’re relevant to the plot. Give the reader the payoff they subconsciously expect. Otherwise, it’s best to tell:

The key is to show the intense scenes and tell the less important transitions (the narrative summary) between important scenes. As a guide, if what you are writing has the possibility of present-moment dialogue, it is a scene and should be written as such. If not, you’re in summary .
– Renni Browne and Dave King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Revision and self-editing is about examining our rough diamond and working out how best to shape and cut the rough stone to produce a final product that will shine. How will we manipulate the reader experience through careful use of point of view? How will we get the proportions right in terms of showing vs. telling?

The way we shape our rough diamond at this stage determines the look and value of the final cut and polished product. If we want to maximise the impact of our rough stone, we need to shape to produce a brilliant cut. I’ll be back next week to talk about cutting. I’ll also have a special offer, so don’t miss it!

What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to showing, not telling?

Don’t forget to visit the main Author ToolBox Blog Hop page for more great writing advice.