5 Ways Music Can Help Writers

Blog 84 ImageThis week, I listened to a CBC interview of Ian Rankin in which he discusses the large influence music has had on him. The same is true for me. I especially remember punk and new wave emerging in my late 70s undergrad days. I was in an all-male residence and there was a big debate over how that music measured up to traditional rock. We did agree to disparage disco…until we figured out girls didn’t show up at our parties without it.

Here’s how music can help writers.

Inspiration. Music can inspire a writer to sit down and start writing. The melody or rhythm might energize him. The lyrics might spawn a storyline. The emotion might conjure a scene. (Or he might just be inspired to listen to the next song. No one said it was easy.)

A background for writing…maybe. I need quiet to write. Otherwise I can’t hear the characters speak or feel the rhythm of sentences. Lots of writers do have music on when they write. In the interview, Rankin talks about using electronic music as he writes to separate his real and fictional worlds. Each to his own here.

Characterization. When a writer shares a character’s musical interests, he helps readers learn how the character emotes. In a difficult situation or looking for comfort, does the character long for Dylan’s penetrating lyrics, Miles Davis’s aching trumpet or Amy Winehouse’s sorrowful vocals? In effect, music is a shorthand way for readers to feel more involved, positively or negatively, with characters.

So, at least for main characters, a writer may want to ask himself what music they like. And rather than just saying that a character likes jazz or Top 40, the writer can pick an artist or sub-genre, give the music a listen and figure out what draws the character. Whether or not that detail finds its way into the book, the writer will know his character better.

Setting. In describing setting, writers usually focus on the visual. But telling readers what can be heard offers a lot, too. A Top 40 song places the period of a scene. Music defines a club or bar. A background song increases the sense of a character brooding over a difficult problem.

For Social Exploration. Of course, many writers use their stories to explore social conditions. The musical context can be highly relevant. A great example is Esi Edugyan‘s Half-Blood Blues, which uses jazz in 1940s Europe as a backdrop.

Time for me to go listen to some Deep Purple.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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Writer Promotion: Social Media

Blog 83 ImageIn my blog series “How to Self-Publish”, I’ve been posting about how writers can promote their books and themselves. Needless to say, these days everyone thinks about social media as a way to promote.

I’ve been careful in my use of social media. I continue to think that a writer’s best promotional tools are creating a good book and word of mouth. However, social media used intelligently and efficiently is an important support.

Here are my thoughts on approaches that work and that don’t.

Social Media Approaches That Work

  1. Pick a Few Platforms. There are many social media platforms writers can use: Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, Snapchat and others. A writer working alone won’t have the time for a meaningful presence on all platforms. Instead, to share effectively, he should focus on learning and contributing to one or two platforms.
  2. Look to Build Relationships. At its core, a writer’s promotion is effective when it results in readers talking about the writer or his books. People are more likely to do that if they feel connected to the writer in some way. A writer should approach social media as a way to offer that connection in an online relationship.
  3. Share in a Way that Builds Those Relationships. Content that helps or interests others will build connections. Authentic personal sharing that’s not overdone may as well. Sharing about writing is good but many topics will work.
  4. Have Fun and Be Creative. Maintaining a social media presence for the long term can be daunting. Writers who choose platforms and content that interest and inspire them will find it easier.
  5. Analyse the Results. Most social media platforms as well as Google offer analytics so that a writer can see which of his shares are effective. That information, in turn, allows him to be more efficient in contributing.

Social Media Approaches That Don’t Work

  1. There’s No Time Left for Writing. Again, the starting point for a writer is a good book. Any promotional method, including using social media, must leave time for the writing.
  2. Sales Pitches. A writer who only uses social media to tell people to buy his book will lose, not build, relationships.
  3. Making It All About the Writer. Except perhaps for the most successful writers, content that looks outward instead of inward will interest social media contacts more.
  4. Making It All About the Numbers. More friends on FB and followers on Twitter is not the best social media goal. The numbers can be bloated by folks trying to flog services or with only a passing interest in the writer. A smaller number of good connections is better.
  5. Forgetting About the Visual. Much of social media is a visual experience while the writer’s bedrock is of course words. Writers who don’t use images or videos in social media will be excluded from some platforms (Instagram) or have poorer take-up on others (FB). Even on Twitter, photos increase impressions.

Overall, it’s best to experiment and keep learning, a few minutes each day.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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When a Manuscript’s Current Draft Is Done

Blog 82 ImageToday I finished the current draft of my third book. The book is coming together nicely but I’m tired. This is what I will and won’t do this week.

Will do

Enjoy the fall leaves…now on the ground and sidewalks.

Watch every documentary on Netflix about late 60s and early 70s rock bands.

Make the “new and better” carrot cake mix that’s been in my kitchen cupboard for a year.

Play a video game (kidding…or maybe not).

Ignore the MS.

Feel thankful for what I have.

Won’t do

Spellchecks.

Worry if pages 179 and 403 are consistent.

Ask why some of my characters are so nasty.

Wonder if the book’s ending is too Hollywood.

Look at the MS.

Try to understand world events.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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Writer Promotion: Blogging

Blog 81 imageThe most recent posts in my blog series “How to Self-Publish” have been about promotion. This week I’m discussing blogging.

Should a writer blog? It’s very common to read recommendations that fiction writers, whether traditionally published or self-published, should blog in order to promote themselves and their books. This remains true even with the rise of social media. However, does it work?

Looking at my experience to date, I’m afraid I’m not sure.

I can’t relate my blogging efforts to any sales, so at that level, I just don’t know. Certainly, I’ve never been told by a reader of my blog that she went on to buy a book.

However, I can also measure the usefulness of blogging by the extent of my online presence. Traffic has gone up over time but it’s a slow go. I do get regular compliments about my blog content, though.

One of the main benefits of blogging, I find, is that I learn a lot about writing and publishing. That helps with other types of promotion such as library presentations.

So, overall, I would say that blogging continues to offer good opportunities for writer promotion. However, it’s a lot of work, and since there’s enormous competition for the attention of readers, it takes a long-term commitment to see results. Writers should think carefully whether blogging is the best and most enjoyable use of their limited time for promotion.

What should a writer blog about? Everything in blogging starts with the content. If a writer blogs regularly, it can be surprisingly difficult to think of topics. I think of topics as falling into one four categories:

  • insights into the writer and/or his work
  • insights into other writers and/or their works
  • “how to” and “tips” posts about writing
  • discussions of other interests the writer has.

My experience is that readers appreciate short content. They also like content containing personal experience or that answers a specific question. Blogging about the craft of writing is fun, but it tends to interest other writers and not readers.

What makes blogging more effective? Generally, blogging will have wider reach if the writer:

  • posts regularly (I post every Sunday evening)
  • adds images to posts
  • links the blog to social media
  • considers closely what the best search terms for the blog are
  • reviews analytics to see which posts do best
  • searches out opportunities to guest post on other blogs
  • comments on other bloggers’ posts with the aim of getting comments on his content.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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Characters: Giving Readers What They Want

Blog 80 imageIn “Thoughts on Writing”, I’ve been posting about issues I’m grappling with as I rewrite my third book. A big focus of the rewrite is character development, which is partly based on comments of several readers on the prior draft. Today’s issue: how far do I go to respond to those comments?

Some writers advise not to use beta readers at all. Stand tall and believe in your book, they say. It makes me wonder what they do with comments about characters they get from their editor(s). At the other extreme, I’ve heard of writers who try to incorporate all comments from editors and beta readers except where they conflict. Their books are almost crowd-sourced and thus, perhaps the thinking goes, guaranteed to please all.

I treat my books as my own but do pay attention to what my beta readers say about my characters. Here are the guidelines I (currently) use for those comments.

Fix or explain the inconsistencies. If a beta reader finds an inconsistency in the history or preferences of one of my characters, I obviously fix that. However, there might be a good explanation for other inconsistencies. For example,a character who reacts differently to similar situations might do so because of an epiphany or personal growth. Or I might have screwed up and should make the reactions conform.

Watch for the same comment from several readers. I’ve posted this before, but if more than one reader identifies the same issue with a character, I usually try to resolve the issue.

A character’s depth can be improved. I aim to make my key characters rounded. When I’m told that a character is flat or superficial, I almost always work to improve that.

Consider what to do if the character, a trait or an action is unbelievable. I work hard to understand a comment along these lines. I often talk to the beta reader for more input. Sometimes I make changes and sometimes I don’t.

Consider what to do if the character’s not likeable. This is a tough one. In The Case for Killing and False Guilt, quite a few characters are troubled or irritating. Often, I’ve resisted change and told myself that, yes, those were the characters I wanted. In the third book, I’m interested in creating some key characters who readers would like to spend time with, even if they’re flawed. So I’m paying more attention to comments regarding likeability.

Focus hard on comments about characters with backgrounds different than mine. An excellent example for me is writing female characters. My goal is for them to be authentic and I ask my female beta readers to help with that.

Drop humour that’s flopping. What I find funny others often don’t. If the humour of one of my characters is failing, I get rid of it. No matter how much I laugh at it.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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