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Best of the Blogs

Best of the Blogs: 30 September 2017

Best of the blogs: the best posts I’ve read this week on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing. Okay, mostly on writing.

Writing

Writing Addictive Fiction

What is addictive fiction? It’s fiction that keeps the reader turning the page. In this guest post at Write to Done, Victoria Mixon shares The 3 Secrets to Addictive Fiction.

Writing Conflict

Is your conflict true conflict that’s necessary for the story, or is it just a temporary obstacle, an unimportant delaying tactic you’ve included because you know you need conflict in fiction? Janice Hardy visits Romance University to answer this question in 3 Ways to Tell if Your Conflict is Just a Delay Tactic.

Writing Scenes

Orly Konig visits Fiction University to share tips on Using Seasons (not seasoning) to Deepen a Scene. I love the idea of considering the season as part of the setting. Seasons tell us something about location – is Christmas in summer or winter? Seasons can also be used to reflect characterisation—does the character call it fall or autumn?

Writing Subtext

KM Weiland offers 4 Ways to Mine Your Characters’ Subtext. Great subtext, to me, is the mark of a great novel. It’s when I can read a scene and feel I know something about the characters before they acknowledge it for themselves. Yet the author didn’t tell me. The author showed me, through great subtext.

I’d add one thing to KM Weiland’s advice: don’t worry about adding subtext on your first draft (although you might find it comes out naturally). Use your first draft to nail down your plot and characters, then consider where you could add subtext (or remove telling) in your second and subsequent drafts.

Writer Productivity

I don’t know about you, but I see a lot of “productivity hacks” online (although none of them have yet told me how to get more hours in the day). In particular, many writers find it difficult to carve out time for writing, especially those who have other roles: wife, mother, employee, homeschooler, church volunteer … (ringing any bells?).

Joanna Davidson Politano visited the American Christian Fiction Writers blog to offer Help for the Time-Starved Writer. She says:

The truth is, you don’t need more time to write—you need a deeper reserve of creativity and strength and ideas that can only be found in intimate relationship with the Father.

Not the productivity hack you were expecting, right?

Marketing

Finally, Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader give his tips on writing a regular link post (like this best of the blogs post). Author Blogging 102: A Practical Guide to Developing Your Weekly or Monthly Link Post covers both non-fiction and fiction link posts.

That’s a great idea: I hear a lot of fiction authors saying they don’t know what to blog about, so a weekly or monthly link post is a great idea. Fiction authors can link to book reviews or author interviews in their genre, or to posts that might interest their readers.

His best tip? Read all the posts first. It’s something I do, even with the posts I share on Twitter. You don’t want to unknowingly share something you fundamentally disagree with without some kind of comment.

What do you like in my weekly link post? What would you like to see more of … or less of?

Show, Don't Tell How to Identify Telling

Show, Don’t Tell: How to Identify Telling

Last week I discussed one of the major writing rules, Show, Don’t Tell, where I looked at what telling is, why it’s bad … and when you need to use it. But how do you identify telling in your manuscript?

Today I’m going to share my top tips for identifying and removing telling , based on the most common telling errors I see in the manuscripts I assess and edit. They are:

  • Telling through Dialogue
  • Telling through Internal Monologue
  • Telling Tags
  • Telling the Emotion

Telling through Dialogue

Dialogue is usually considered showing, because it’s a form of action. But dialogue can be telling.

Characters will sometimes tell each other things they already know, as a way of informing readers of something the author thinks they need to know. This could be two police officers discussing the appropriate procedures for collecting evidence, or two medical professionals discussing the best way to draw blood, or how to calculate the correct dose of medicine. This may look like showing, because it’s dialogue, but it’s not. It’s telling, because there is no plot or character reason for those characters to have that conversation.

The only reason for the conversation is to get information across to the reader. That’s not good writing.

The best (worst?) example of this is Coming Home by Karen Kingsbury. In it, the married couples got for long walks and remind each other how they met (which might be acceptable if there had been a mass outbreak of amnesia). If you’ve never read one of the 20+ Baxter Family novels, Coming Home provides lots of useful catch-up on a large cast of characters. But if you have read the novels, it’s unnecessary telling.

We all know someone who retells the same stories over and over at family parties … and we avoid that person. Unless your character is that person, or has some kind of mental health problem, avoid having them repeat the same information over and over. It doesn’t ring as true to the reader.

Ask yourself: would real-life people have this conversation?

If a conversation is the only way you can get vital facts or backstory across to the reader, consider introducing a third character who reasonably wouldn’t know the information, but needs to know. If educating that character is the focus of the scene, it is more likely to be showing than telling.

Telling Through Internal Monologue

If you’re writing in deep point of view (and I hope you are), then all the narrative should be filtered through the viewpoint character. We should see what she sees, hear what she hears, touch what she touches, smell what she smells, taste what she tastes … and know what she thinks. It’s great to read a novel when an author really gets inside a character’s head and the reader effectively becomes that character.

It’s less great when the ongoing action of the story is disrupted by long passages of internal monologue.

This is usually the character reacting to what has been said or done. The internal monologue might be fascinating, but if a line of dialogue shows up in the middle of a long passage of internal monologue and I, the reader, have to turn back three pages to work out what the dialogue is responding to … then the internal monologue has switched from showing us the viewpoint character’s state of mind to telling us her every thought.

Ask yourself: has your internal monologue turned into telling?

If you’re writing an action scene, sprinkle the internal monologue throughout the scene rather than dumping it all at once. A word here, a sentence there, perhaps even a paragraph while she waits for the kettle to boil … but no more than a paragraph. Otherwise you run the risk of turning your internal monologue into telling.

Telling Tags

One common way authors tell where they should be showing is through dialogue, and dialogue tags. Newbie authors often add adverbs to their dialogue tags which explain the dialogue—in effect, telling what the dialogue should be showing:

“Attention!” the sergeant barked.

Dogs bark. Not people. People shout. (The exception might be if your sergeant is actually a weredog or werewolf. They might bark.)

“I don’t want to go to school,” Johnny grumbled.

We’ve all heard (and perhaps even said) those words. We all know that tone. The dialogue shows us Johnny is unhappy. There’s no need to use the dialogue to tell us as well. It’s unnecessary repetition. Browne and King say:

If your dialogue doesn’t need the props, putting the props in will make it seem weak even when it isn’t.

“I’m sorry,” Beth said apologetically.

Yes, I’ve seen that in a manuscript. As you can probably tell, the adverb is unnecessary (and telling) because the reader has already figured Beth is sorry from the dialogue (a form of showing). Browne and King say:

Ly adverbs almost always catch the writer in the act of explaining dialogue—smuggling emotions into speaker attributions that belong in the dialogue itself.

Ask yourself: are you explaining your dialogue with telling tags or adverbs?

Telling the Emotion

Authors often tell the emotion. It’s easy to spot:

  • Beth felt tired.
  • Beth was sorry.
  • Beth wanted to run away and hide.

Felt, was, were, wanted, had, thought, wondered, knew, looked, gazed, heard … these are all telling words. They are telling us what the character is thinking or doing, rather than showing us.

Instead of telling, show the action or show the emotion. How do we show?

  • Show Beth’s facial expression. Does she look as though she’s about to cry, or about to punch someone? What does that look like?
  • Show Beth’s body language. If Beth is truly sorry, she’s likely to be slumped over with her head down. If she’s defiant, she’s likely to be standing tall, perhaps with her arms crossed.
  • Describe Beth’s voice—the tone, pitch, volume, or rate at which she speaks.
  • Use an action beat instead of a dialogue tag, to show what Beth is doing.

Ask yourself: are you using telling words?

I hope this gives you some practical tips on how to show, not tell. For more detailed advice, I recommend:

What tips do you have on showing, not telling?

Best of the Blogs

Best of the Blogs: 12 August 2017

Best of the Blogs—the best posts I’ve read this week on writing, editing, publishing and marketing your book.

Writing

Plot Problems

First, Kristen Lamb is back with her usual sensitive discussion on we can improve our writing. No, wait. Kristen does kickboxing, not sensitive (and she might call this post Six Simple Reasons Our Story Sucks and How to Fix It, but fixing a story which sucks can be anything but simple).

Characterisation

One of the “rules” of fiction is to write characters our readers can connect with. But there is an exception to every rule. In The Importance of Infection in Fiction, Sarah Callender uses the movie Dunkirk to suggest an exception to the connection rule. She says:

Dunkirk reminded me that it’s not the amount of character development or back story that pins me to my seat. It’s the degree to which I am infected that matters.

Have you seen the movie? After reading this, I’m not sure I want to …

Self-Editing

Janice Hardy at Fiction University shares Improving Your Writing Without Raising Your Word Count. She identifies several ways we can make our scenes overly wordy without adding anything of substance, and how we can revise our work to fix that. (That sentence is twenty-six words long, and is a good example of the flab we editors love to trim.)

Publishing

America Star Books (aka Publish America) appear to be in trouble—they have published just two books since May (compared to up to fifteen a month in previous years). They are no longer accepting submissions (although, strangely, the submissions page at the supposedly defunct Publish America is open).

Of course, this isn’t a bad thing (except for the unlucky authors caught in their web). The world would be a better place without publishers like America Star Books and Author Solutions. As usual, Writer Beware have all the details.

Marketing

Back Cover Copy

Ask any author, and they’ll tell you writing those 100 words to go on the back cover of a book is infinitely harder than writing the actual book. In Blurbs, Back Cover Copy and Pitches, Oh My! Harlequin Love Inspired Suspense Author Lisa Phillips shares her tips.

That’s it from me for this week. What’s the best post you’ve read recently on writing, editing, publishing, or marketing?

Best of the Blogs

Best of the Blogs: 29 July 2017

I’m back with best of the blogs, the best posts I’ve found this week on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing. What’s the best or most useful post you’ve read this week? Let me know in the comments.

Writing

Conflict in Romance

In Conflict – Avoid the Easy Route, posted at Romance University, editor Julie Sturgeon looks at conflict in romance. She explains how getting the internal conflict wrong can leave you with a grown-up version of “Green Eggs and Ham”. Oops.

(As an aside, Andrea Grigg uses exactly this trope in Too Pretty, but without coming off like an adult Dr Seuss book. At least not in my view).

Characterisation

How to Write Characters Who Don’t All Feel the Same is an excellent post from Janice Hardy at Fiction University on showing character traits though dialogue, dialogue tags, and action.

Janice is the author of Understanding Show, Don’t Tell. I haven’t read it yet, but one of my clients credits it with cutting her editing bill in half. After reading this book, she did another round of intensive self-editing on her manuscript (including cutting 25,000 words to go into a sequel). As a result, I was able to complete her edit for half my original quote. It made it a much more enjoyable job as well!

Editing

I was interviewed by Christine Dillon about my role as an editor. Do you have any burning editing questions you’d like me to answer?

Marketing

Website Design #1 (Big Picture)

As well as being a freelance editor, I’m also a book reviewer. As part of my reviewing activities, I like to be able to link to an author’s blog, add their brief bio to a review, link to their books on Amazon, tag them in a post on Twitter and so on.

It’s amazing how often I can’t do these things because the author doesn’t have a Twitter account or hasn’t set up an Amazon Author page or (worse) doesn’t even make their books available on Amazon.

These authors are missing out on free publicity from me (and probably from other reviewers as well) for the simple reason that they haven’t taken the time to set their basic passive marketing up properly. Most authors claim to loathe marketing ,which is all the more reason to do this part well.

After all, if you can get other people (readers and reviewers) talking about your book to their friends, that’s even more powerful than you talking about your book.

Author Jami Gold has recently updated her website, to make sure she was doing all these basics right. In this blog post, she explains what she’s done, and why: To Make A Reader Friendly Website.

Yes, I know this is a list of activities without any explanation of how she has done it. Don’t worry—I’ll cover as much as I can over the next few months in my Wednesday blog posts. In the meantime, follow my blog on Feedly (or your favourite reader) or subscribe to my monthly Newsletter to ensure you don’t miss any posts.

Website Design #2 (Detail)

Ever wanted to add quotes to your WordPress site (like Bible quotes, quotes from your books, quotes from books you’ve enjoyed …). This blog post explains how you can add quotes using a free WordPress plugin. Very clever!

How Do Successful Authors Market their Books?

BookBaby have released a survey on what successful authors do in terms of marketing. The survey was completed by 7,677 published or aspiring authors in October and November 2016.

There are some interesting results, such as the table comparing the activities of successful authors ($5,000 or more in annual book sales) vs. unsuccessful authors ($100 or less in annual book sales). What would be more interesting is understanding the return on investment (ROI) of these activities—especially the high-cost-no-guaranteed-return activities such as hiring a publicist.

There were also interesting comments on soliciting reviews. Successful authors were more likely to ask book bloggers for reviews, while unsuccessful authors asked friends and family. This is significant: Amazon will delete reviews from people they suspect of having a financial or personal relationship with the author, which defeats the purpose of asking friends and family for reviews.

Also, it’s not good marketing. If I look at a book on Amazon and notice that two of the five reviewers have the same last name as the author, I’m going to assume those are reviews from family members—especially if the author has a less common last name (e.g. Goulton). And I’m going to ignore the reviews, because I know they are biased.

What reviews do you pay the most attention to?

Best of the Blogs: 28 January 2017

www.christianediting.co.nzYes, it’s been a while. Conference in October, a family bereavement in November, a holiday and Christmas in December, and suddenly it’s been three months since I’ve written a “weekly” Best of the Blogs post. Anyway, life seems to have calmed down (I hope) and so I’m back.

So here we go …

The best blog posts on writing, publishing, and marketing I’ve read in the week to 28 January 2017:

Writing

I get a lot of questions from writers around point of view—specifically, around writing deep third person point of view. I suspect one reason authors find this aspect of writing difficult is because they are writing (well, duh!).

What I mean is that the author is writing the character, rather than allowing the character to speak for him or herself. That’s perhaps because we don’t know our characters well enough. Because we haven’t yet found the character’s voice.

In this blog post, Janice Hardy of Fiction University shares some tips on finding your character’s voice: How to Find Your Character’s Voice.

Publishing

Tate Publishing Closes

Tate Publishing & Enterprises has closed, leaving a lot of confused and unhappy authors (especially those who still don’t realise Tate has always been a pay-to-publish vanity press who’d take anyone. Hey, they offered me a contract without even seeing my manuscript. That is not how a proper publisher works.)

It would appear the company has been going steadily downhill since Ryan Tate had his famous outburst where he prayed and quoted the Bible before abusing his staff, and firing 25 people.

‘Proverbs say that the wicked will set a trap, but the righteous will prevail and the wicked will fall into their own trap,’ said Tate in the recording. ‘A lot of good people are going to get hurt.’

It would appear the “good people” are the authors who trusted Tate.

New York Times Cut Bestseller Lists

The New York Times have cut a number of their bestseller lists. I’m no expert, but I suspect this will make it a lot harder for indie authors to “get their letters” (i.e. to be able to boast of being a NYT Bestseller). On the other hand, it might be good news for readers who value such things. Although less good news for those who read the genres which have been cut, like romance. Or maybe it simply reinforces that the NYT list is irrelevant for many readers.

Data Guy at Digital Book World

The other big publishing news was Data Guy’s presentation at the recent Digital Book World conference (Data Guy is, well, the data guy behind the Author Earnings website and reports). I’ll be writing a separate blog post on that next week.

Marketing

Blogging

This excellent post from Sabrina at Digital Pubbing contains dozens of links to help you set up or improve your blog.

Kick-Start Your Author Platform

And if you don’t have a website and you’d like some guidance in building one (and some friendly accountability), then join my free March Marketing Challenge: Kick-Start Your Platform. Sign up here: March Marketing Challenge.

In case you’re not convinced you need a website, let Kevin Tumlinson at Draft2Digital tell you why you do:
The Absolute Basics
Advanced Approaches
Best Practices

He also reinforces the importance of a lot of topics we’re going to cover in the March Marketing Challenge … so if you don’t know what he means or how to implement his suggestions, sign up now: March Marketing Challenge.

Author Brand

Part of author branding is making sure you portray yourself as polished and professional. But, as Amy Matayo points out in Image Isn’t Everything, this means people get a distorted view of others, as if their lives are always good.

Encouragement

We all need a little encouragement, a reminder that we don’t need to do everything. Elaine Fraser encourages us to make space in our lives for God, and for ourselves in the Unforced  Rhythms of Grace.

Best of the Blogs: 28 October 2016

The best blog posts I’ve read in the week to 21 October 2016, on writing, publishing, and marketing.

But first: a giveaway

Can’t Help Falling, the second novel from New Zealand author Kara Isaac has just released, and I’ve got one Kindle version to give away. Click here to enter.

Here’s the description from Amazon:

A funny, heartfelt romance about how an antique shop, a wardrobe, and a mysterious tea cup bring two C.S. Lewis fans together in a snowy and picturesque Oxford, England.

Emelia Mason has spent her career finding the dirt on the rich and famous. But deep down past this fearless tabloid-reporter façade, there’s a nerdy Narnia-obsessed girl who still can’t resist climbing into wardrobes to check for the magical land on the other side. When a story she writes produces tragic results, she flees to Oxford, England—home to C.S. Lewis—to try and make amends for the damage she has caused.

Peter Carlisle was on his way to become one of Great Britain’s best rowers—until he injured his shoulder and lost his chance at glory. He’s determined to fight his way back to the top even if it means risking permanent disability to do so. It’s the only way he can find his way past failing the one person who never stopped believing in his Olympic dream.

When Peter and Emelia cross paths on her first night in Oxford, the attraction is instant and they find common ground in their shared love of Narnia. But can the lessons from a fantasyland be enough to hold them together when secrets of the real world threaten to tear them apart? Cobblestone streets, an aristocratic estate, and an antique shop with curious a wardrobe bring the world of Narnia to life in Kara Isaac’s inspiring and romantic story about second chances.

The first chapter is at the bottom of this post. But now, back to our regular feature: what’s best in the blogs this week.

Writing

Fiction authors need to show and not tell. It’s easier said than done (and easier told that shown!). Janice Hardy visits Helping Writers Become Authors to share an excellent article on 3 Ways Writers Can Instantly Spot Telling … which is the first step in eliminating it.

Book coach Jennie Nash visits The Book Designer to go Back to the Basics on Backstory. This is an excellent post which also contains links to five previous posts in the series, all written to help you write the perfect chapter.

Publishing

Anne R Allen shares 10 Tips for Choosing Your Book Title—there is some meaty stuff in this post.

Marketing

Draft2Digital have advice on How to Build an Author Platform. Despite the title, this post is not so much about developing an author platform. It’s more about how you can use some clever tools to improve your passive marketing—like putting store links in the backs of your books. It’s from Draft2Digital so they’re obviously pushing their own publishing platform, but why not? I’ve only heard good things about them (and I’m happy to be corrected on that).

Fun

I’m no athlete, but our family are fans of the TV show Ninja Warrior (although we prefer the subtitled to the US version. Sorry, American readers). Anyway, this dad also has a daughter who loves Ninja Warrior … but he’s taken his fandom a little further than most people: Baby Ninja Warrior

 And here’s the beginning of Can’t Help Falling:

Remember: click here to enter the giveaway

Best of the Blogs 21 October 2016

The best posts I’ve read in the week to 21 October 2016 … on writing, editing, marketing, and an update on the Amazon book review situation.

Writing

I’ve got two posts this week looking at different aspects of point of view. Both posts give lots of great advice on how to use deep POV to improve your “showing”.

First, Carol J Post visits Novel Rocket to give four tips to Elicit Greater Emotion Through Deep POV. Great post, although I have to say I don’t like Novel Rocket’s new web design. Scrolling down makes it look like those background pages are turning, and make it difficult to read the actual post (or am I the only person with this problem?).

And next is a great post from Janice Hardy at Romance University on how your use of narrative distance (aka use of Deep POV) affects your ability to show rather than tell. If you only read one post this week, this should be it.

Editing

Self-proclaimed Kindlepreneur Dave Chasson gives his advice on Selecting the Best Book Editor. He does an excellent job of briefly summarising the four main levels of book editing (in my experience, most novels need all four. Yes, this is four separate edits, although not all need to be from paid editors). I also agree with his “what to look for” list.

What I didn’t agree with was his idea of an editing test—not because I don’t want to take a test, but because I often find authors can’t accurately gauge the level of editing they need, and tests like this won’t tell them. His test is a 1,000-word article. Not a 90,000-word novel. It completely misses the many intricacies of fiction, which include:

  • Point of view
  • Plot and structure
  • Scene structure
  • Showing, not telling

If a fiction author picks their editor based on a test like this, I have no doubt they’ll come away with a polished manuscript that has all the essentials of grammar, punctuation and spelling right (although he’s still wrong on one point: CMOS 7.58 clearly says “either italicized or enclosed in quotation marks”, with “or” being the operative word.. Italicizing “and” enclosing in quotation marks is unnecessary emphasis).

But a polished manuscript could still be a rambling unstructured mess of headhopping and telling that doesn’t obey any of the current “rules” of fiction.

Instead, I prefer Dave’s other suggestion of getting sample edits from potential editors. Comparing different sample edits will confirm what level of work needs to be done, and help you decide who is the best editor for your book.

Yes, I offer a free sample edit of up to 1,000 words. A sample edit means we both know the level of work the novel needs, and how much I’m going to charge for that.

Marketing

Misty M Beller visits Seekerville to share her 9 Steps to Market a New Book Release. Oh, she makes it sound easy!

Book Reviewing

As you’ll remember from my post on 7 October, Amazon have recently revised their Reviewing Guidelines, and the changes have been causing consternation around authors on the interwebz (mostly from people who didn’t read the full Amazon article, which explained authors and publishers can still provide reviewers with Advance Reader Copies).

Anyway, Anne Allen has written a comprehensive post on the “new” rules. As you will see from the comments, I don’t agree with all her findings, but it’s still an excellent reference. And do read the comments!

Fun

And finally, a little fun. Aren’t you glad publishing is easier these days?

Best of the Blogs – 14 October 2016

The best blog posts I’ve read this week on writing, editing, publishing and marketing (and a bit of fun, and a new release from client Elaine Fraser):

Writing

Two big things any aspiring fiction writer needs to learn are how to use point of view, and the importance of showing, not telling. In this post at Romance University, author Janice Hardy shows (!) how using point of view affects showing and telling:

How Your Narrative Distance Affects Show Don’t Tell

Editing

Julie Lessman interviewed Revell editor Lonnie Hull Dupont at Seekerville. They discussed what Lonnie looks for in a novel, her pet peeves, the acquisition process, and her views on ‘edgy’ Christian fiction:

9 Questions I Asked My Editor

Publishing

The Alliance of Independent Authors blog are well known for their anti-vanity publisher stance (which I fully endorse). They have published two valuable posts recently. The first is a list of publishers and publishing services companies, with advisory notices for many of the vanity publishers:

ALLi Service Ratings

And John Doppler posted 12 Self Publishing Services Authors Should Beware

If your “publisher” is offering any of these as a selling point or (worse) making you pay for them, then your publisher is likely to be a vanity press.

(Sign up to my mailing list if you’d like to receive a free list of Christian publishers, including the vanity presses specialising in the Christian market. The sign-up form is to the right >>>)

Marketing

Social Media expert Chris Syme visits Jane Friedman’s blog to talk about push vs. pull marketing … and how good social media marketing uses “pull” strategies: providing consumers with what they want, rather than pushing them to buy something they may or may not want.

Are You A Push Marketer or a Pull Marketer?

Fun

Coke vs. Pepsi might be the big-name food war, but Kiwis and Aussies have our own battle going with Marmite and Vegemite … and the national Marmite shortage resulting from the Christchurch earthquakes.

Kiwi Culture 101: Marmite

Also, congratulations to Christian Editing Services client Elaine Fraser on the release of her latest novel, Amazing Grace. Andrea Grigg has reviewed it at Australasian Christian Writers:

Book Review: Elaine Fraser

That’s all for this week! What’s the best blog post you’ve read this week? Share in the comments.