Saturday, August 31, 2013

Creating a "Call to Action"

This is an accidental post, written in response to an email from one of my How To Write Fast students:

Hi, Mary
You might check out this TED talk, though it is for a strategic call to action. 

And I found this not-too-bad page on outlining speeches.

The simplest call to action is one where the speaker/author has power and the action is already specific and measurable. The only real requirement then is absolute clarity (like a process diagram), with specifics on roles, timings, and what constitutes a satisfactory deliverable.

Things get trickier when the exact actions are less specific and when the accountability is lower. In these cases, the call to action speech or document must be increasingly persuasive. This may be the hardest sort of nonfiction writing, but here's what I keep in mind:

Know the audience and write the first draft to a specific person (the one person you would most want to have act), if possible.

Knowing the audience means using the right vocabulary, knowing what is appealing and interesting to that person, knowing what is already in that person's head about the subject, knowing what the points of resistance are, and knowing what will make it personal. You also need to know how that person is engaged and persuaded - logic, stories, images, whatever.

Know how tough a sell this is. How difficult action will be. How much resistance, hostility, and skepticism is out there.

The opening needs to grab attention and create a mood. It needs to put people into the right emotional space and make distractions and vagrant thoughts disappear.

The person needs to see how this is in their interest. It needs to touch on the right levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Stories, visions, evidence, and logical arguments may be used. Examples, including recognizing people in the audience specifically, may be helpful. Calling upon experts or getting testimonials can help, too. Questions and answers can be used at the end or within. Call and response is another technique.

Always make the benefits of success clear. Anything from a few extra bucks to the promised land.

What people often miss, especially execs, is the need to show support. This goes beyond "I'm behind you 100%." Tools, places to go for help, deferring other work, mentors, and more should be part of the talk (or included in a ready reference) because no one who thinks they are incapable of taking the action will make a real effort.

And it is best to have the motivation be intrinsic and positive. Otherwise, there is the danger of people gaming the system or even of malicious compliance.

The ending of the communication especially must be rousing, with reminders of what went before to make the case and the call to action stated clearly. In some cases, it may be important to have people publicly commit themselves to action at the end.

Overall, you need to keep that person's attention, keep the messages clear, involve the head as well as the heart, and make in memorable. To act, a person must understand what must be done (including the deadline and level of quality), be committed emotionally to doing it, have the necessary time, tools, and capabilities.

Does this help?


Friday, August 16, 2013

The Challenges of Writing a Trilogy - PJ Sharon Guest Post

I'm delighted to welcome YA author PJ Sharon today. PJ graciously was interviewed in a past post. She is author of several award winning independently published, contemporary young adult novels, including HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES, ON THIN ICE, and SAVAGE CINDERELLA, winner of the 2013 HOLT Medallion Award for outstanding literary fiction. She is excitedly working on The Chronicles of Lily Carmichael, a YA Dystopian trilogy. WANING MOON, Book One, was a finalist in the National Excellence in Romance Fiction Awards for the YA Category. Book Two, WESTERN DESERT released in June of 2013.

Writing romantic fiction for the past eight years and following her destiny to write romantic and hopeful stories for teens, PJ is a member of Romance Writers of America, CTRWA, and YARWA. She is mother to two grown sons and lives with her husband in the Berkshire Hills of Western MA.

Hey Peter, thanks for having me here today. It’s always a pleasure hanging out with you. For your readers, I decided to talk about the challenges of writing a trilogy. Specifically, the demands of getting each book out within a reasonable time frame. I’ll preface the post by saying that I am a relatively slow typist. I still have to look at the keys and never learned proper typing technique—a huge handicap and one I have not pushed myself to overcome and learn. Stubbornness is a double-edged sword, my friend!
As a “recovering pantster,” I had to decide up front that if I was writing a trilogy, I was going to keep a series bible and plot out each book ahead of time. A series bible is where you keep all your details straight about facts, family trees, character traits (descriptions), and technical/research data. I knew I needed to do all of my character grids and story arcs for my main protagonists, and plan out my production schedule. The industry standard these days is two books a year or one every nine months. With Indies, I have more freedom to set my schedule, but industry standard is more like three, or even four stories per year. Occasional short stories or novellas are almost expected between releases. It’s gotten very competitive out there and the more product you have on the market, the better you’ll fare in terms of discoverability and sales—as long as you can continue to create quality material. 
Now, in that, there can be no compromise for me. Quantity, in my opinion, is never worth risking quality. With all that said, I figured I could do a book every nine months. If I can grow an actual human being in that amount of time, I can certainly write a book.
I’ve found my limit—the hard way. But I’m happy with that pace and, if I’m not, I can change it. But to try to force more of myself makes the job, a job, and sucks the joy out of my writing. I treat my writing as a business, but I also treat it as an art and a passion, respecting the creative drive.
This is what I did. It’s a broad picture of my production schedule:
Between September of 2011 and March of 2012, I published three back to back releases every three months (Contemporary YA novels that I had already written and had tried to sell to traditional publishers).  While marketing and promoting those three books, I began writing WANING MOON in January of 2012. I published it later that year in September of 2012. That gave me two books in 2011 and two in 2012.
WESTERN DESERT took me nine months as well. I worked on it from September, 2012 to June of 2013. If I stay on schedule with the third book, it will be out next spring around March, 2014. That means only one book out in 2013…unless…stay tuned! The best part of being Indie published is that nothing is set in stone. If I need flexibility, I have no one looking over my shoulder but me, and I try not to do that. Our necks are stiff enough already, right?
I further break down my production schedule per book. I figure out a reasonable weekly page/word count which gives me some flexibility in taking a day off now and then. I know that I should be able to write a first draft in three months if I write 5-7,000 words per week. It takes me three months for revisions with back and forth edits from editors and beta readers. Then it takes me at least another month or two of what I call the 3P’s—polish, prep, and promo. The nine months is doable for me to create a quality work of YA fiction of about 70-90,000 words (WESTERN DESERT is my longest by far at 90,780 words). Publishing requires planning and discipline, but I like the work. 

Here’s where the art takes over and my yin energy prevails. I am compelled, for both artistic reasons and business reasons, to finish a contemporary YA romance I started last year, before I move on and write the third book in the trilogy. Oddly, I’ve had real trouble finding a name for Book Three, and I normally have no trouble naming my babies. This one just isn’t coming to me. That should have been a sign to me that I needed to take a step back.
To be honest, it feels great to take a break from the trilogy. I have learned as a writer to follow my gut and write what’s working if I want to be productive. But if I’m not inspired to write, the words will always feel like work. I was a bit fatigued after producing the first and second books in the trilogy and I needed a creative shot in the arm. The story I’m working on is doing that for me (by the time this post goes live, I’ll have written a whopping 20,000 words or so this month), so I’m going to allow the muse to take the lead. After all, I am the boss and I’m having fun! And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Contact Information for PJ Sharon
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Friday, August 2, 2013

Every Other Friday - Laura Bickle

Laura Bickle’s professional background is in criminal justice and library science, and when she’s not patrolling the stacks at the public library she’s dreaming up stories about the monsters under the stairs. (She also writes contemporary fantasy novels under the name Alayna Williams.) Laura lives in Ohio with her husband and six mostly-reformed feral cats. THE HALLOWED ONES is her first young adult novel. The latest updates on her work are available at

Tell me about THE HALLOWED ONES. 

My newest release is THE HALLOWED ONES, a YA thriller. Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the outside world. But the outside world comes to her when a helicopter falls out of the sky near her house. Katie must confront not only a massive disaster unfolding in the world outside her community, but also the threat of darkness in her own increasingly fragile society.

What drove you to write THE HALLOWED ONES? 
I live not too far from a large Amish settlement. When I was a child, my parents would take me to visit, and I was fascinated by a world very different than the one I lived in. I’d see Amish girls my age over the fence and wonder what their lives were like. So, you could say it’s been simmering for a while.

Some of that curiosity lingered, and I always wanted to revisit it in a story. It popped back into my head when I was writing about a catastrophic contagion. Considering all the incredible self-sufficiency they apply in their everyday lives, it seemed to me that the Amish would be uniquely well-equipped to survive a large-scale disaster.

What were your biggest obstacles? 
I’m one of those writers who needs the structure of a synopsis and outlining. I’ve always yearned to be someone who can just put pen to page have the words sprout…but I can’t do it that way.  I need a scaffolding to begin, a skeleton on which to build some story-flesh.

And I think that’s true for most writers. Learning our own processes takes a really long time. What’s efficient and works for me won’t work for the next person. It’s such an individualized process, and there’s no one “right” way to do it. The important thing is that you’re doing it.

What are your productivity tips?  
The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is to set up a word count calendar and use it. It’s too easy to let the days and weeks slip by without anything productive happening. I keep a writing calendar and commit to writing a certain number of words a day. Otherwise, I tend to procrastinate. If I didn’t set deadlines for myself, I would never finish a book

I really suggest that writers try National Novel Writing Month at least once. It got my excuses and blocks out of the way, and helped me learn that what I thought were my limits were not really limits. They were just walls I’d set up in my head.