Category Archives: Writers’ tools

Author Blog: A Promotional Tool


At the moment, it is August 2014, and authors not in the international star category must have blogs. You ask why. Wheels within wheels, I say. It’s all about promotion. To push sales of your book, you need to build a water cooler where your readers can come and pass ‘round the dixie cup. The water cooler can be a blog or a website with a blog; it just can’t be erected in the wilderness if the object is to attract readers.

The Do I Have to Have a Blog FAQ

Q: Isn’t a website enough?
A: No. Google wants you to have a lot of activity on your website, and the easiest way to do that is with a blog.

Q: Can’t I just put up a blog and not have a website?
A: With a good blog platform, you can have what is essentially a pretty nice websitish blog.

Q: Isn’t my Facebook page already doing everything I need?
A: Not everyone is on Facebook, and some people don’t want to go there. But you can write your posts on your blog and share them on your Facebook page. Ditto for Google+ and any other social media sites you like to use. And all that activity will please Google.

Blogging and Liking It

There are other considerations, aside from driving up your Google ranking, which may be more personally rewarding. Presumably, you write about something that interests you. If you think it is interesting enough to write about, you may really enjoy sharing your knowledge or experiences on a blog. Plus, there are other people out there who are interested in knowing what you know. These folks may find your blog because of the subject matter and hang around to buy a book.

As a practical tool for managing your event calendar, blog posts should alert your fans to signings, tours, interviews, and upcoming releases.

Finally, writers write. Your blog is your marginalia, your journal, your correspondence, your samples, and your resume. Your posts are frequent exercises for developing your writing chops. It’s like working out at one of those gyms with nothing but a window between you and the sidewalk. The foot traffic will evaluate how fit and strong you are as a writer by what they see on your blog, so don’t get sloppy!

Great Writers’ Blogs

Kathryn Lang-Slattery’s website concentrates on the subject matter of her book and is a fantastic example of an all-around useful site. Her blog keeps fans updated on the book’s progress and provides additional information that is well written and relevant.

Eva Vanrell’s blog doesn’t call itself that, but her site is porous with links that take the visitor from post to post to post. Vanrell’s pages are simple and attractive, and she manages to avoid the curse of many richly developed sites–the dreaded cluttered screen. She invites the reader to know her characters and shares her progress and insights.

The Anne R. Allen blog contains this indispensable post on blogging blunders authors should avoid. Allen promotes her own novels in the right margin while graciously sharing truly useful advice—which pulls in new readers like you—in the main section.

Outlining Your Novel: Spreadsheets

Outlining a novel helps to structure the plot and keep the time line straight. There are many methods and forms. The goal is not to freeze-dry the plot before it is even composed, but to prevent the writer from losing sight of the universe he or she is constructing.

Spreadsheets for Outlining

There are a variety of strategies for outlining aside from the I., A., 1., a., method. Spreadsheets are an excellent way of visualizing the structure and flow of a novel. Below is a spreadsheet created by J. K. Rowling, jotted down by hand, wobbly lines and all, on a sideways piece of ruled notebook paper.

J. K. Rowling spreadsheet outlining The Order of the Phoenix

I lifted the image from the Paperblanks blog.

Rowling made columns for chapter number and title, with the corresponding month, a column for plot (overview), and columns for the different plot strands. At a glance, she could see when a character is introduced, at what point critical events take place, and importantly, what else is going on around the same time. She could see how the various subplots were flowing and how they were intersecting with each other and with the main plot. The chart is full of scribbles, arrows, scratches, and insertions. Rowling maintained it as a live document as the writing progressed.

The spreadsheet is a very handy writer’s tool, even for novels with only two or three subplots. Rowling worked with a pen and notebook paper, but a writer working in Word or WordPerfect can use the table feature. Scrivener also has tables. And there is always Excel. The virtue of Excel, aside from the ability to build very wide documents, is that you can get pretty OCD with colors and formulas and subworksheets. Here is a link to How to Get a God’s-Eye View of Your Story in Excel from Jeffrey Scott’s blog post on Animation World Network. His example pertains to scriptwriting but is adaptable to novel writing.


Style Sheet: A Key Writers’ Tool

Keeping a style sheet as you write will save headaches for everybody later on.

Writing is often an impulsive task, and momentum should not be sacrificed to detail if the result is inspirational derailment. At some point, however, you will reread what you’ve written. You will revise. The moment is yours to choose, but you will make choices about this and that. Record those decisions.

A sharp editor will compile a style sheet if you don’t provide one. It will list names of people and places, dates and chronologies, brands of significant objects, preferred spellings, the special treatment of anything.

Here is an example:

My Style Sheet

style sheet

If you look carefully, you will see that certain details raise questions. Sid’s last name doesn’t match the rest of his family. Probably the writer changed the family name but missed Sid because he is only mentioned once. Karrie was 8 when she gave birth to Sid and 13 when she had Henry. This is because in the first draft Karrie was 48, like her husband, but in the second draft the author decided that she needed to be younger, which means Henry should have been made younger too, but the revision slipped between the cracks. The problem is compounded because Sid was moved from younger son to older son to explain the father-son issues between Henry and Carl.

All sorts of details become easier to keep track off with a style sheet. Henry’s Tacoma is frequently mentioned—a kind of defining trait. This is an indication to the editor that the Tacoma deserves heightened attention—its color, model year, dings and scratches, or anything that might come up later. For example, if the dent on the rear quarter was caused by a collision on the driver’s side, it doesn’t make sense for it to be on the left side. If Trixie is only 4 months pregnant, she should not be stumbling off curbs yet; if we meet her 8 months later and she is about to give birth, there is clearly a problem with the chronology. If the writer had to look up the spelling/styling of a brand name, chances are the editor will have to look it up too. If you have to look it up twice, you have your style sheet to refer to.

Story development means errors are almost inevitable. Maintaining a style sheet will help you keep track of all the changes you make. And your editor will love you if you provide a copy of your style sheet with the manuscript. It will save the editor time (and you money).

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