Structural Analysis Report – giveaway!

CMS Structural Analysis Report giveaway.Creative Manuscript Services (my editing business) is giving away a free Structural Analysis Report, which is normally valued at $550.

All you need to do is subscribe to the CMS blog and intrigue me with your best one-liner for your book.

If you win, Creative Manuscript Services will produce a structural analysis report for you based on your outline or synopsis.


So get over there and throw your novel’s one-liner at me! I can’t wait to see it!

If you’re not sure what a Structural Analysis Report is, it’s about audience expectations and meeting all the criteria an audience will expect – whether they know it or not.

Please remember though, you’ve got to follow ALL the guidelines on the CMS website – don’t just drop your one-liner here!

2014 Roundup

Drawing of trees in snow2014 has been an interesting year. I:

  • signed with an agent who’s now shopping my fiction around
  • wrote a couple of short stories (writing short stories is pretty rare for me)
  • critiqued a bunch of novels and had one of mine critiqued in return
  • gave a workshop on story structure at the local convention which was exceptionally well received (very happy about that!)
  • gave two presentations at a writers day: one on story structure, the other on blogging
  • grew the Fantasy Writers community on G+ to well over 8000 members
  • changed careers thanks to government cutbacks
  • edited half a novel
  • wrote the best part of a non-fiction book on story structure

So what does all that mean for me in 2015? It means:

  • I’ll be writing and editing a lot more in the evenings/at night
  • I’ll hopefully sell my first novel to a major publisher
  • I should have a non-fiction book ready-to-go in the next few months that will help a lot of writers with their stories
  • I still have three fiction novels that are written and need editing
  • I have far too many more books I want to write.

How’d you go this year, and what does that imply for your expectations in 2015?

So, you want to get your book noticed on social media, huh?

Screenshot: A mermaid holding jewellery while half out of the ocean
Screenshot from the Fantasy Writers Community on Google Plus

If you’ve been playing around on social media for a while and you tend to follow a lot of writers like I do, you’ll probably notice your feed filling up with book advertising.

Some of it will be blatant, some less so, but it’s still advertising, and few people want to see it.

So what’s the solution?

Consider this. My favourite social media playground is Google Plus where I run a community called Fantasy Writers. It has almost 8000 members, and it’s growing rapidly.

When I started Fantasy Writers I was trying to build a helpful and supportive community, not an advertising forum, so I banned self-promotion.

Unfortunately, the issue wasn’t so simple. People ignored the rule or found ways around it, and I spent far more time moderating the community than I wanted to.

In response I created a category and called it ‘Self-Promo Saturday’ for members to get their advertising out of their system, usable on Saturdays only.

It worked a charm. The list is clear of promotional stuff most days, while Saturdays see a deluge of it.

But guess what? The self-promotional stuff gets ignored anyway.

Why? Nobody wants to see advertising.

Even the people who advertise don’t bother to look at what everyone else is advertising and support each other.

And there’s the key.

Nobody cares about your book except you, but people do care about their friends, and friends help each other out.

So here’s the secret to promoting your book on social media:

  • comment on other people’s posts
  • interact with people on social media as you would your real life friends
  • share their stuff if you think it’s appropriate
  • crow about your book victories and achievements on occasion, but only if it’s newsworthy (like a new cover or contract).

With a little bit of luck people will care enough about you to promote your book when they see something newsworthy.

In short, show you care about others and they’ll respond in kind.

And like Forest Gump, ‘that’s all I’ve got to say about that’.

Now get on your butt and write something people will want to share because you’re so awesome!

Find out more about Fantasy Writers.

Things I wish I knew about Short Stories when I started writing

Things I wish I knew about short stories when I started writing.There are a lot of great things about short stories – they’re fast to write (at least in comparison to novels), there’s plenty of markets for them, and they allow you to practice and hone your craft while you learn to deal with the realities of the publishing world.

I often use them to explore my larger worlds with fresh characters, and consequently there’s been more than one occasion where a character from short story has made it into a novel.

That said, short stories take a long time to master (if that’s even possible), and even experienced writers who’ve got dozens, perhaps hundreds of shorts published, still learn with each new story they produce.

My advice: Always have at least one or two short stories on the go. That’s something I neglected for a long time.

Here’s some more great advice:

“In a short story, every word counts and every scene should do triple duty.  You’ve no time to waste.” Vanessa MacLellan

“Do not start with a dry explanation of the story’s context.” Mary Jeddore Blakney

“Short stories for a writer are like sketches are for an artist. There is only room to explore your main subject. Every line counts, so make the best of them.” Kelly Martin

“Don’t try to turn a short story into a novel.” Vruta Gupte

“Short stories are a great way to get feedback from readers.  With minimal investment, you can see which of your stories readers like the best – and then, the most popular stories can be used for your next novel.” Drew Briney

“A short is kind of like a poignant snapshot of a much deeper story. So don’t get too bogged down trying to tell the WHOLE story. DO tell enough to draw the reader in and make it an interesting story within the larger story.” Dana Masting

“The few words of a short story can be far more powerful than a novel if done right. Often this takes more out of you to do this, and will leave you more drained than a novel can after it is finished.” Andrea Jensen

“You can still earn money writing short stories.” Vruta Gupte

“Writing a short story is a style all of its own.” Chantelle Griffin

“Writing shorts stories help sell your bigger novels. Gives new readers a small taste of your projects to garner interest. Not everything you write has to be the Great American Novel.” Chris Mentzer

“I wish I’d known to not be embarrassed or distressed because I suck at writing short stories. My natural story length is the novel, and I don’t have to follow the “conventional wisdom” that you have to break in with short stories, and then sell the novel.” Gerri Lynn Baxter

“I’ve never written a short story, but just about every scene I’ve written has a beginning, middle, and end…” Mark Mercieca

Check out some of the other posts in the “Things I Wish I Knew About” series: Author PromotionPoint Of View Critiquing, Dealing With Rejection, Editing Your Own WorkCreating Characters, Story Development, Worldbuilding and Writing.

The secret of writing successful stories

Question-markIf I could tell you the secret of writing a successful book, would you like to know what it is?

There is actually a secret, and it’s pretty neat.

What’s more, it works on all genres and subgenres, and will even help you break the genre barrier and reach beyond, which is where you want to be if you hope to sell in big numbers.

A recent discussion that cropped up on Google Plus, and one that often appears among writers, was about a certain book that people love to hate.

I won’t mention it by name in order to protect the innocent filmmakers involved, but it rhymes with highlight and features sparkly vampires.

I read it a while back along with a bunch of other successful books including The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Hunger Games, all of which racked up ridiculous sales numbers.

The reason I read them, other than to appease the people telling me I should (hint hint), was to try and understand why they were so popular.

The comment that sparked the discussion on Google Plus claimed that the sparkly vampire book was badly written – a subjective remark at best, and way off the mark at worst.

To some extent I can see where the comment was coming from. The novel didn’t work for me either, but I was hardly its target audience, and that’s not a reason to say it was badly written.

Having broken it (and others) down, I found it more or less structurally perfect and technically fine. What it lacked, if anything, was originality. Other big sellers contained quite a few original elements, so the secret wasn’t there.

And I suspect that’s where this particular comment originated.

The book rhyming with highlight followed a standard formula in an emerging subgenre, while doing little more than tweaking the known tropes.

In the end it gave its readers exactly what they wanted and expected.

In short, it didn’t do anything special from a story standpoint, so the secret wasn’t there either.

So what was the secret?

Here’s a question. What would you do if you could apply that secret to your own writing, without:

  • compromising your integrity as a writer
  • giving up on originality
  • dumbing down or nullifying your brilliant ideas?

What would you do if I said the secret was simple and could be applied to almost any story?

Take a look at any book that’s sold millions of copies, read it, and then take a look at that book’s audience. What do you see?

You see people who:

  • recommend the book to their friends
  • discuss the book online and off
  • look for other books by that same author.

In short, you see fans. Lots of fans. Why do books find fans?

Because fans care about your characters and what happens to them.

It’s as simple as that.

Make your audience care and they’ll tell their friends, discuss it online, and even look for more of your stories. They’ll become fans, and you’ll become successful.

You don’t even have to alienate your niche market to do it.

It’s obviously not as easy as it sounds or everyone would be selling millions of books, but the more people you can make care about your characters and what happens to them, the more successful you’ll become as a writer – assuming you judge success by sales numbers.

If not, forget you read this post and keep on doing what you’re doing.

If you want to sell books though… well, now you know what it takes.

Read more articles about The Craft of Writing.

The value of an awesome freebie

yWriterIt’s amazing what providing freebie can do for you. Take Simon Haynes, for example.

Simon created the novel writing program yWriter to help him write his novels because he couldn’t find anything that did what he wanted to do at the time.

Afterwards, he let people use it for free.

Today, yWriter has something of a cult following, and Simon’s name is known around the world.

His novels have had far more exposure than he could have ever hoped to gain without yWriter.

Similarly, a few years ago I created a novel structure diagram as a last-ditch effort to try and save a novel I just couldn’t get to work no matter what I did with it.

From what I could tell I was doing everything right, but it still wasn’t working.

Years of casual research went into that diagram, but it paid off because the information highlighted a whole bunch of structural elements my novel was either doing poorly or missing altogether.

The diagram was my means of making sense of it all my research; a visual clue I could see in a moment to trigger a greater understanding of what needed to happen around certain points in a story.

When complete, I posted it on my blog in the hope it would help others, and from the feedback I’ve received, it did.

So what’s the point of all this?

My blog gets more hits from that one page than any other post I’ve ever put up.

What’s more, visitors often continue on to my other posts about writing, and sometimes that trail even leads them to my fiction.

Just the other day someone posted a link in a writers’ forum asking the people there what they thought about the diagram.

Lots of writers clicked on that link and swung past my blog to check it out. Plenty of them read on.

So what’s the value in a freebie?

A diagram showing the elements of a novel and how they fit together.Would I be blogging about Simon Haynes if it wasn’t for yWriter? Would someone have posted a link to my blog without my diagram?

It means people come for something, and hopefully find something else.

Maybe you’re sitting on something that might help people too. In helping them, you just might be helping yourself.

Find out more about yWriter and/or download it from Simon’s website.

Take a look at my novel structure diagram – it may just be the answer you’re looking for.

The Elements of Novels at the Conflux Writers Day

Conflux BannerJust a brief announcement to say I’ve written a guest post for the CSFG Blog on my upcoming presentation at the Conflux Writers Day on 5 April.

If you’re coming, please check it out.

While you’re over at the CSFG blog, you’ll find a submission call for the next CSFG Anthology, The Never Never Land!

You never know, I might get my act together and actually submit something for this one myself.

Have a great weekend, and hopefully I’ll see you at the Conflux Writers Day!

Conflux Writers Day April 2014

Conflux BannerJust a brief post to let everyone know I’ll be doing two presentations at the Conflux Writers Day on Saturday April 5, which is a prelude to the Aurealis Awards that night.

The inaugural Conflux Writers Day will take place at University House, Australian National University, Canberra.

The theme is ‘The Writers Journey’, which will be covered by four sub-themes – Writing Skills, Writing Processes, Submission and Publication and Building a Career.

My first presentation, Presenting Your Blog Posts for Maximum Impact will focus on:

  • text layout
  • readability
  • images and other features
  • how to keep people on your site for longer
  • accessibility issues and what to avoid.

My second presentation, The Elements of Novels, will feature information about:

  • balancing the beginning, middle and end
  • purpose of theme
  • how to distil a novel into a single, sharp, meaningful sentence
  • the three essential characters every novel needs (and how they work together).

In all, there will be a total of twenty sessions, plus an additional four plenary sessions by:

  • Joanne Anderton
  • Kaaron Warren
  • Ian McHugh
  • Keri Arthur

It will be well worth your time if you’re able to come.

Further information:

You might like to check out my Novel Structure Diagram which forms part of The Elements of Novels presentation.

New Year’s Resolutions 2014

Blank pages in a book.Last year was a huge year in many ways. I landed an agent and kicked a bunch of other goals, all of which have moved my writing career forward in several ways.

So what are my Big Hairy Audacious Goals for this year? I should probably write a list:

  1. Get my epic fantasy signed by a big publisher.
  2. Edit and self-publish at least one novella.
  3. Write at least one new novel or novella.

Obviously, the first of those three major goals is out of my hands (although I’ll do everything I can to make it happen), but the other two are entirely up to me.

I’m currently editing the first novella in a series – Through The Veil: Welcome to Earth, which I hope to self-publish this year, and I’d like to plan and write at least one of its sequels. Preferably two.

I also have a stand-alone novella (loosely set within in the series) written, and a novel set in the same universe. Both need editing/review/polishing.

Other goals:

  1. Blog regularly. Once a week would be good.
  2. Continue to grow my social media presence.
  3. Get at least one short story published.
  4. Attend at least two conventions.
  5. Give at least three writers workshops or presentations.

I think most of those secondary goals are pretty doable too, although no doubt I’ll struggle with the blogging. I didn’t originally name this blog ‘The Infrequent Blog’ for nothing. Still, it’s a goal I’d like to kick.

You’re welcome to read the first chapter of Through The Veil: Welcome to Earth. It’s still a draft, so any feedback you could offer would be appreciated.

Book Trailers – an afternoon’s play

A comet hitting a city at night.

For a little bit of fun, but mostly experience, I made a book trailer for a work in progress.

It’s not the greatest thing in the world, but for an afternoon’s work and considering all I had was a bunch of clips and a copy of Movie Maker (which I’d never used before – in fact, I’ve never used any movie-making software), I think I’ve done pretty well.

I’d be interested to know what you think about:

  • what works
  • what doesn’t
  • where it could be improved.

I know I’ve got a huge list of things I’d change if I had the right skills and the time (including an image of actual book cover at the end), but please let me know your thoughts about anything else you notice isn’t working for you, or you would change/add/alter (in the comments section or elsewhere).

Would You Like to be Murdered – Results!

A hand holding a bloody knife.The results are in!

It was a lot harder to come to a decision than I’d thought it would be – as well as the responses directly on my blog, there were plenty more on G+ and even a few emailed directly to me.

What’s more, they were all awesome, making the decision even harder.

Thanks everyone so much for entering! I had a lot of fun doing this post and I hope you had fun too!

Although all the responses were fantastic, there was only one position available for murder, and so I had to make a really tough choice.

I eventually went with the response I thought was the most creative: Vanessa MacLellan!

Here’s Vanessa’s response: So far that month, Vanessa had burned a pattern in her lawn, eaten raw liver, sacrificed her pet bunny, Arnold, erected a tower of tinfoil and chrome, and sent emails to and still she had no visitations, though the real reason she should die: striped socks with plaid pants.

Congrats Vanessa – it’s going to be a pleasure to murder you… in print, of course.

In case you missed it, check out the original blog post and competition details: Would You Like to be Murdered?

If you wan to know more about Vanessa, check out her blog or find Vanessa on Google+.

Would you like to be murdered?

A hand holding a bloody knife.The Competition

Do you fantasise about being kidnapped and murdered by an evil shapeshifter (every day, right)?

Not the lycanthrope kind, but the ‘let’s take dark magic and warp someone’s mind and body’ kind.

Perhaps being murdered is your greatest fear and you feel a desperate need to exorcise it, or maybe you’d just love to show the story to a loved one and see their reaction.

Whatever your reason, here’s your chance to vicariously live the dream.

The story situation is quite simple: an innocent girl is going to get killed in order to send another girl a ‘message’. She’ll be stabbed to death – the body discovered after the event.

The dead girl could have your name. Sounds like fun, right? (If it does, you need to see someone with quack-type qualifications.)

So here’s what you have to do.

In the comments below, simply tell me why you’d love to get your namesake murdered.

The best response will win you immortality in print along with a digital copy of the book when complete. I’d have offered you a new Ferrari, but I’m all out of Ferrari’s at the moment.

The rules!

  1. It’s a girl that gets murdered, so it has to be a girl’s name. If you have a guy’s name, you’re welcome to find a female equivalent (so long as you include your actual name too).
  2. You need to impress me with a response to this question: Why do you want your namesake gruesomely killed off? I’ll choose a winner based on the responses.
  3. It has to be your own name – your mother-in-law’s name and those of your enemies and friends are off limits.
  4. Keep it to a single sentence (I’m applying the KISS principle here).
  5. You can enter multiple times.
  6. I can add and remove rules as I see fit (the butt-covering rule).
  7. If you enter, I reserve the right to look at you strangely for all eternity.

The competition closes at midnight (your time), November 9, 2013 (Friday the 13th was too far off).

I’ll announce the winner shortly thereafter.

Here’s the story’s premise: A warrior princess from another universe unexpectedly falls for a human boy while hunting the shapeshifter that murdered her parents.

The girl that gets murdered is human (just like you – so if you’ve got a name that sounds like it comes from another world, I may veto your entry because that’s not what I’m looking for, but put your entry in anyway).

And that’s it. I’m looking forward to reading your deepest, darkest, most horribly gruesome desires!

You can read the first chapter of Through The Veil: Welcome To Earth if you want to see what you might be getting yourself in for.

GenreCon 2013 Roundup

Chris Andrews wearing a Pirate Bandanna

GenreCon BannerI spent the last weekend at GenreCon in sunny Brisbane. Brisbane is incredibly pleasant for such a big city – at least where I was staying at South Bank.

Clean and tidy, open and airy, they’ve put a lot of effort into making the riverfront appealing, including a rainforest walk, a free pool/beach, a massive open-air stage and a café and restaurant district.

GenreCon itself was held at the State Library, a modern building with a bookshop and café outside, and great facilities inside.

The event began with a cocktail party where I caught up with a bunch of friends including Mark and Luke Mercieca, Amanda Bridgeman, David Versace and Josh Melican, and met a whole heap more.

Dave Versace
David Versace channelling James Bond at the cocktail party.

I only wish it had gone on for twice as long.

We followed up the cocktail party with drinks at the official Con hotel, though I snuck off to bed a bit early as I didn’t want to risk a hangover.

Some people chose to risk it judging by the zombie stares and Twitter talk the next day.

Day 1 was full-on. It included:

  • fantastic keynote speakers
  • workshops
  • panels.

The highlight for me was the workshop on creating book trailers with Scott Baker.

Scott gave us lots of very useful information disguised as common-sense, straightforward guidelines, but in reality he made it clear that a professional-looking book trailer is really hard to pull together, and potentially quite expensive.

The other big highlight of the day was a great chat I had with the lovely Rochelle Fernandez from HarperVoyager.

Not being faced with the prospect of having to pitch a novel to her at any point, it was a relaxed, easy-going conversation. It felt like a catch-up with an old colleague.

People dressed up as pirates at the At the Cutlasses and Kimonos Banquet.
At the Cutlasses and Kimonos Banquet.

Saturday night featured the Cutlasses and Kimono’s Banquet, where Chuck Wendig’s speech: 25 Reasons Why Genre Is Awesome (or something to that effect), had the room in laughter and cheers. Brilliant speaker. He loves wombats of the steampunk variety, apparently.

He followed it up by answering 25 Questions, which produced just as many laughs.

The final day was the ‘interesting’ day.

It started with a ‘What the?’ moment.

I woke up well before the con started, and being slightly hung-over following the banquet and after-party, I figured I needed a little more sleep.

So I took it upon myself to roll over and get some.

At some point I started awake, and panicked. You would have too.

Scott Baker explaining information displayed on a slide.
Scott Baker explaining one of his slides.

There was less than ten minutes until the con started. I bolted for the shower, determined not to miss anything.

That was stupid, of course.

The hotel was a ten to fifteen minute walk from the con, and I still had to pack up and check out.

Regretfully, I decided to sacrifice the keynote speeches, get organised, and arrive late as if I’d intended to do so all along.

Naturally enough, being at a genre convention, I entered a Time Warp at that moment.

Time Warp you say? Seriously? Yeah, seriously.

Nothing else could possibly explain it, not even the fact that the room was fairly dark when I woke and my watch has hands but no numbers.

After checking out of the hotel, I was about halfway to the con when I decided to check my social media feeds on my phone.

My phone was clearly broken. The time read 6:56am. What the…?

I checked my watch. Same thing. I looked around. The streets were fairly quiet for what was supposed to be about 10am, and the sun oddly low in the sky.

Thanks to my own personal Time Warp, I’d been given the gift of several hours.

Stranger things have happened, like the time I fell ten metres and then swam to the edge of the pool without a single broken bone.

Ferris Wheel.
A photo I took on my early morning walk.

Taking the Time Warp in my stride, I did what every red-blooded Australian would do.

I picked up some coffee and banana bread, and went for a long walk along the river. I even took some photos on my phone.

I got to the library a good hour before the con started, too. Impressive, no? Just like I planned.

Despite that, I felt as if I’d already had a big day.

After downing another coffee I rested on a bench, my ‘Duff Beer’ hat over face, and nursed my Time Warp-muddled senses until Peter Ball let me in early (what a champion!).

Day two highlights: Lean Pub – a way to publish your work as a serial, or just publish them as an e-book. Looks pretty interesting. I’ll be playing with their site and maybe using it for a series of short stories and/or writing articles.

Chris Andrews wearing a Pirate Bandanna
Me at the Cutlasses and Kimono’s Banquet.

The other highlight was the Thinking Like a Pro panel with Valerie Parv, Keri Arthur and John Connolly. Always good to get the perspective of a pro.

Unfortunately I missed the final panel and The Great Debate as Qantas refused to hold my plane for me.

Okay, technically it’s their plane, but I’d hired a seat and paid for a wonderful dinner of three tiny biscuits and a microscopic tub of relish.

The lessons I took home from GenreCon were vastly superior and much more filling than the Qantas meal, and definitely worth the effort.

A big thank you to Meg Vann and Peter Ball and all the other Con Ninjas for putting on such a great, professional event. Cheers guys – rest up for a bit.

Read last year’s GenreCon roundup or check out some other reports from David Versace and J Michael Melican.

The High Concept

What’s your story’s High Concept?

A man atop a cliffI run a regular Novel Writers Group at the ACT Writers Centre, usually spearheaded by a topic of the month.

This month it was The High Concept.

It’s worth devoting some time to it and figuring out.

During the discussion, the High Concept quite often got confused with Theme and Plot, probably because it’s tied into both.

Phillip Berrie, a member of the group, recently wrote a wonderful novella called The Changeling Detective.

Right there in the title is the basis of the story’s High Concept – a detective who can alter his appearance.

There’s a heck of a lot more going on in the book than that, and the overall series might have a different High Concept compared to the individual book, but as a stand-alone that’s what’s at the heart of it.

Break it down

What happens in the story is Plot, and this will influence the High Concept.

So will the story’s higher meaning – its Theme.

Both Plot and Theme hang off High Concept, not the other way around.

The Changeling Detective centres around a character who can change his appearance – short and simple. Everything’s tied into that. In this case, it’s an origin story – which further influences the High Concept.

Try explaining your High Concept to someone who doesn’t know the story

Practice with something familiar:

  • A family has been lost in space and is trying to find a way home. (Lost in Space)
  • Factions of a galactic empire fight for control of a rare mind and body-altering drug. (Dune)
  • Gods are manipulating people and events to try and win control of a universe. (Prophecy of Power: Quarry. Okay, that’s mine. Couldn’t resist)

The High Concept is your sales pitch, your Big Idea.

It doesn’t encompass your story – it’s the basis for it.

How do you find your own High Concept?

Look to the title.

You may not find it there (Dune, for example, doesn’t encompass it, though the Spice comes from the planet Dune and the story is set there – but the sequels come closer: Children of Dune, Chapter House Dune, etc).

Star Wars, Lost in Space, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – all give you insights into the story’s High Concept.

Consider you’re telling your best friend about a story you’ve just read. What do you say?

Imagine a bunch of robots are trying to destroy their makers, and:  

  • The survivors flee their homeworld looking for a safe haven… Battlestar Galactica.
  • A cyborg is sent back in time to end human resistance before it begins… Terminator.
  • A man has the power to manipulate programmed reality… The Matrix.

Find the basis of your High Concept and expand on it in a single sentence.

Anyone can write a story about a secret agent with a licence to kill, but there’s only one James Bond. That particular High Concept has spawned countless books, movies, games and rip-offs.

To find your own, you’ll need to add a little uniqueness.

Start with the word ‘imagine’ and then lay it out.

What’s mine? Imagine… The Gods are manipulating people and events in order to gain control of an entire universe. The premise of the story? A princess is being hunted by assassins because of a prophecy she wants no part in. They’re tied together – but certainly not the same.

What’s your High Concept? Let me know in the comments.


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