Three Tips for Writers Making the Transition From FanFic

Oh, so simple.

  1. Do not substitute the word orb for eye. Just don’t. It’s horrible. Saying you looked into a person’s orbs is equal to saying you have little experience with perceiving or understanding any emotions besides your own.
  2. Do not have characters plop down. It makes them sound like twelve year olds.
  3. Do not have characters storm into, out of, or around anything. It’s cliché and lazy writing.

When you spend a lot of time with a particular friend, you’ll find yourself picking up some of their verbal habits. The same thing can happen in writing. Don’t let it. Think about what you’re saying and don’t always use the first word that comes to mind to describe it. Chances are, it will be the wrong word.


Crowdfunding – Begging or Investing?

After a few jobs as this and that, I finally found my niche as a technical writer of user manuals in the new field of computer software. It was a wild and wooly time and the stories I could tell… Not too long after starting this career, I was found to have a knack for copywriting as well as user manuals, so I found myself dividing my time between working with engineers and working with marketing. I also helped out designing materials for trade shows and working the shows themselves. So I was not only writing to serve the purpose of informing the customers about how to use what they had purchased, but also writing to invite them to invest in what we had to offer – to become a customer.

And this experience has shaped how I see crowdfunding for creative projects.

I moderate #LitChat on Writing Wednesdays on Twitter, and recently we talked about funding the writing life.

Most writers work full-time jobs. They have to because most of us have mortgages, kids, and an unfortunate desire to eat regular meals and having a job makes all of these easier. Some of us have retired (or been retired) and though our pensions aren’t lavish, they allow us the freedom to write without a lot of worry. Some of us (as I used to do) write nonfiction (articles, papers, marketing materials) as a regular job and fight against writing fatigue at the end of the day to get in a few hundred words on our fiction.

And some of us turn to crowdfunding.

A couple of the writers on the chat today surprised me by equating crowdfunding with begging and one stunned me by calling it degrading.

Begging, I tweeted, is saying please give me money. Crowdfunding is saying I have a great idea. Join in if you think it’s great, too.

There’s no begging going on in projects presented on sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, or the site I heard of just today, Pubslush. I’ve helped fund several creative projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, including a graphic novel, a film, and a web series. The same writer who called crowdfunding degrading also said that if “funding” was needed, it was not a job. In a sense that’s true. But you’re not asking people to support a job – you already have a job, finding funding for your project and then producing it. What you’re looking for in crowdfunding is investors – people who view your pitch and decide whether or not they like the idea enough to put money into it. It’s give and take on both sides, while begging is a one-way transaction: you give, I take.

When you give money to someone who’s begging, you give it in the hope they will use it wisely – for food, for shelter (please note that there are sites, like GoFundMe, for funneling cash to people with a problem, but those are different from crowdfunding a project). When people invest in a crowdfunded project, whether it’s a graphic novel or installing solar powered lights in homes without electricity, or a museum, the investor knows what they will get in return for their money. It’s a contract, even if the contract isn’t written out on paper. And, like every investor ever in the history of time, you put in your money with the hope the project will be successful. That’s it. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and your reasons for investing are your own.

With crowdfunding, the rewards are spelled out and generally not big – one of the products once it goes into production, your name in the credits, a tee-shirt. Of course, the bigger the investment, the bigger the reward, like being flown to Italy for the opening.

Two good things about crowdfunding: One is that you almost always get the reward you expect, whether the project does well over the long run or not, and you don’t have to be rich to invest. You find a project that interests you and you throw a little money at it, then you sit back and see how it does. And you do get regular updates on that.

Not begging. Definitely not begging. And nowhere near degrading.

Obviously, I’m very puzzled by the attitude that it might be. I don’t understand how anyone could possibly get that impression, unless they’ve never checked out a crowdfunding site. They’re not charities, although charities are not beggars, either. Every nonprofit I know goes to a lot of trouble to tell you how they use your donated monies.

Nope. I just don’t get it, and I think that writers with a great idea for a series or a graphic novel or screenplay or anything else creative who won’t consider crowdfunding are cheating themselves of an opportunity.

NOTE: I don’t like the term ‘begging,’ anyway. Individuals sometimes have problems they can’t solve by themselves and they ask for help from family, from their community, and it’s usually to help them get going again on their own. I’ve heard that some people can make a living from begging, but I’ve never met anyone who has.

Update: Crowdfunding is also a way to market your brand

Marketing Your Book – What’s in a Voice?

Yikes. I like to support other writers. Not out of tit for tat, but just because it makes me feel good. If I don’t think well of a book, I either don’t review it, or I am very specific about what I didn’t enjoy about it and I am always aware that taste is subjective.

These days, selling a book involves more than courting reviewers and doing book tours. With social media and self e-publishing, there are more voices than ever and short video is one way authors are promoting their works.

I got a video recommendation through my daily Medium feed. It was about an artist’s reinterpretation of a classic on military strategy. It was something I had read because when it came out – or maybe, when it was rediscovered – it made a big noise with all of the yuppie stockbrokers in their suspenders, who probably read it in between yelling over the phone and power lunches.

I’ll leave the obvious questions alone – why do an artistic reimagining of what is now a not-as-popular book at this stage, for example, and just go on to the video itself.

Yikes again.

The artist made a good point about applying these military strategies to life problems other than trying to conquer a nearby province. And laying out those strategies in a graphic format to make them easier to grasp is another good idea. But the voice.

I am going to guess the artist did the voiceover herself. For some reason, she chose to apply an echo effect that made the whole thing sound like it was recorded in a public bathroom at the beach. Bad enough. But the voice.

No doubt the artist is a woman, not a child, a professional and productive visual artist.  But her voice did not say that. Instead, it said to me, “I’m a somewhat ditzy teenager and I want to show you my sparkly, sparkly new thing.”

Her voice in the video was youthful in the extreme, with all the squeaks and high tones that implies. There was very little range and very little depth. Certainly not enough range or depth to cover a subject like military strategies as applied to life problems.

Someday, perhaps, people will be able to overlook squeaky voices applied to serious subjects, but right now, they don’t. Study after study shows that little girl (and little boy) voices are not taken seriously. You may have the best mind in the world, but if you sound as though you’re a Belieber, you will have to put in some extra effort to get your thoughts across.

It isn’t fair. True. But life isn’t fair. Also true. Actors spend a lot of time learning to use their voices – learning to project, to expand their range, to give richness -depth – to them and to consciously choosing where to place emphasis and how to use silence. Most professional singers – those who want to be able to use their voices well into old age – do the same.

Because well-trained voices are a pleasure to listen to. We lean into them, we trust them more, we find them more believable. Voices that squeak, that bottom out like a boat on a riverbed, that constantly end on a question mark rise, that have popular culture inflections that take one back to high school days, are not trustworthy, are not believable.

And if you’re trying to sell a book, you should take that into consideration.

Half a Decade? Oh, Please…


It’s a writer’s job to use words to give voice to emotion but I hate it when language is blatantly manipulated to inflate the mundane into the gasp-worthy. Example:

“…after all, it took nothing less than the pent-up rage of thousands and a fantastically dumb sound bite from Kenan Thompson to get Michaels to bring on Sasheer Zamata, SNL’s first black female cast member in over half a decade.” (Excerpt from this article.)

Five years. Leaving the subject of  the article out this, five years can be either very long or very short, depending on the context. But putting it in the frame of a decade automatically takes us to ten years, just as $1.99 makes us mentally round down to a dollar. It’s a trick and an obvious one used in service of the author’s argument, which was also a side rant to the real issue. In another writer’s hands, such treatment could be construed as ironic: Gee, a whole five years? Used with all seriousness, it just comes off as manipulative.