Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Maximize Your Media Interviews (Part 1 of 2)

(This post comes from Don Otis.)

P.T. Barnum once quipped, “Without promotion, something terrible happens... nothing!” And without trying to be sacrilegious, even Jesus had a front man; John the Baptist prepared the way for Him. Why should you and I be any different with our own books in needing or soliciting help?

The publishing world has changed drastically since I started my first PR agency in Los Angeles in 1991. Depending on the source you use, as many as 500,000 books are published each year in the United States. And as recently as 2012, self-publishing saw triple digit growth. You are a published author, so you know the often-painful process it takes to give birth to a book. I understand this process too.

Even though I am a publicist, I made mistakes along the way. I thought if I just got an interview and just answered questions that people would want to buy my book. I was wrong. That didn’t happen. Not until I had already done 300 interviews did it occur to me that maybe I needed to do something different. Today, part of what I do for new authors is to give them ideas about what works or what doesn’t in the interview process.

* * * * *

—Don S. Otis, president of Veritas Communications, a publicity agency, has scheduled more than 30,000 interviews since 1991. He is the author of five books, has hosted his own radio show, and has produced radio and television shows in Los Angeles and Denver. veritasincorporated.com

Friday, December 2, 2016

Telling Stories (Part 10 of 10)

A few weeks ago I sat through a lengthy lecture with a number of anecdotes—and they were clever. But afterward I wondered why the woman told them. They seemed to have no direct relationship to the message or to us who listened.

I see this in writing as well. So here's my principle: Whenever we want to insert an illustration in nonfiction or a scene in a novel, we need to ask ourselves questions.

* Why am I including this? That is, what's my purpose?

* What will my readers learn from this story or scene?

* Why is this relevant to readers?

* If I left out this scene/illustration, would readers notice?

As we know, many people seem to tell stories just to tell them. But when we ask why people share (and listen to) stories, there is an objective. It may be to encourage or inspire or cause readers to think differently. But there is still purpose in the telling.

When we end the scene or the story, we need to reflect on what we wrote and answer at least two questions for ourselves:

* Why is this relevant?

* What’s the moral or point?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Telling Stories (Part 9 of 10)

We end with a strong takeaway.

When we choose to tell a story, unless we're doing it only for entertainment, we give our readers something to make them ponder—even if they ignore the meaning.

Novelists of earlier times often addressed readers and told them the message they wanted them to grasp. As a child, I enjoyed Aesop's Fables because each story ended with a lesson for life.

These days our writing needs more subtlety, especially in illustrations or short pieces. If you've crafted a first-person story, you can say, "That day I learned . . . " Readers automatically transfer the "I" of the author to themselves.

Most of my blog entries present a takeaway, even when I'm not telling a story. I try to keep the words simple, direct, and easy to remember. The principle is the same: Leave readers with something they can take from our writing. Or another way to say it is: We reward them for staying with us.

A good takeaway is memorable;
it also enriches others' lives.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Telling Stories (Part 8 of 10)

We build toward a meaningful climax.

I'm still using my opening sentences from Part 3 of this series about Dad and Christmas. If this were a novel or a short story, I'd set up the tension—slowly—and show the problems and hardships the family suffered—perhaps the loss of his job. Maybe their house burned and they had no insurance. What if someone had broken into their home and stolen all the presents and their money?

The previous sentences build the tension (the problem or conflict). Part of the building in any good story is to start with a problem. Instead of solving it, intensify it.

All the while, we're moving toward the climax. We start resolving the issues. Think of it as a ball of string. We unwind by resolving the last-mentioned problem and move toward the center. The initial problem (no Christmas presents) is the last one to solve.

Thus, once we set up the initial tension, everything else—including more conflict—propels us toward the ending. The solution. The resolution. The answer.

I continue to build a story 
to push readers to the climax.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Telling Stories (Part 7 of 10)

Occasionally I read an illustration that refers to the girl or the man. We go along for two or three pages until the author says, "Her name was Cynthia and this is my story." No one cares about Cynthia, and withholding her name doesn't add anything.

By contrast, years ago I read the autobiography of the late actress Frances Farmer. Her 54-word opening stayed with me because of what she revealed and what she withheld:
For eight years I was an inmate in a state asylum for the insane. During those years I passed through such unbearable terror that I deteriorated into a wild, frightened creature intent only on survival.

And I survived.
I was raped by orderlies, gnawed on by rats, and poisoned with tainted food.

And I survived.[1]
Her opening arouses emotions. She puts readers right in the middle of her pain. She didn’t clog the writing with dates or reasons for her incarceration. She saved lesser details for later. That makes good writing.

I focus on reader involvement—
that's the best way to start a writing project.

* * * * *

[1] Will There Really Be a Morning? By Frances Farmer (New York: Dell Publishing, 1982) p. 9.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Telling Stories (Part 6 of 10)

We need to build suspense. Many writers don't get this simple principle about building suspense: It means we withhold significant information to build interest. Recently I read a manuscript and the first three paragraphs told me about a waif who was abandoned by her father and emotionally abandoned by her mother.

Paragraph 4 begins, "I was that child."

My response: Who cares? She told us many facts, but she didn't involve us emotionally in her story. Had she started with herself, she might have made us care.

By building tension, we nudge the reader onward—something that makes them want to know more. What happens next?

In the third blog of this series, I used this opening: "We won't be able to celebrate Christmas this year." With tears in his eyes, Dad turned his face away from us.

Let's build on those two sentences and add suspense.

Dad stared at his hands. "I wanted . . . I wanted to make this a special Christmas . . ." He didn't need to say more, because we understood.

What have I done? I've withheld the detail that you want to read. Why weren't there going to be presents? Why the teary eyes? I built on that by showing the broken heart of the father. Then I added one more significant detail: "We understood." No presents at Christmas and we understood?

Good stories 
withhold significant information.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Telling Stories (Part 5 of 10)

Our pastor told meaningful, personal stories every Sunday. And they were fine illustrations. But I got tired of them because he was always the hero, the person with exactly the wise word, and he never failed.

Years later, on my fifth Sunday as a pastor, I said, "I was so angry, I lost control" and described my bombastic actions. After the service, Margaret Calloway rushed up to me, embraced me, and said, "Thank God, we have a pastor who gets angry and fails like the rest of us."

Her remark changed my style of preaching and later, my writing. Readers assume we're somewhat successful—or why are we writing? When we tell only of our achievements, we do harm in two ways.

First, we imply we're above failure and therefore better or more mature than they are. Second, we imply that they're inferior because they struggle over issues that don't trouble us.

I fail often—but I keep trying.
That concept tells readers that I'm one of them.