Author Archives: Morgan St. James

YOUR PERSONAL PRESENTATION IS IMPORTANT

by Morgan St. James

www.morganstjames-author.com

This advice goes beyond the world of writing. Having spent five years as the co-owner of a marketing and promotion company, I constantly told our clients how important presentation materials are. They represent you and your product and trigger the image the buyer forms from the “get-go.”

Whether you are promoting a widget or a book, whatever you hand or show a potential client (reader) is your calling card. It speaks for the quality of the item you want them to buy. Too many authors are tempted to go the cheap and easy route. In the end, the cost is not that different than investing in high-quality materials.

What the materials communicate

Would you be inspired to buy something represented by handouts that look like the product was produced by “Loving Hands At Home” or “Gowns by Mama.” By the way, I didn’t coin those phrases. I owe a thank-you to Carol LeVeque who was my partner in an interior design business many years ago. That was the label she applied to poorly designed interiors, color boards and brochures, and I’ve used those two examples ever since.

Your book may be beautifully produced, but if you hand out bookmarks on flimsy stock that appear to have been printed on a home printer ready for the junk pile, that is how the quality of your book will be perceived. The same goes for “do-it-yourself” business cards and one-sheets. They are not going to impress the person you hand them to. Unfortunately, they do just the opposite. One time I’d run out of business cards and was participating in a book fair. An author with no cards? Unthinkable. I ordered 250 from a well-known online company because I could literally get them overnight.

The cards arrived just in time, and they were AWFUL. So bad, in fact, that after handing out about 20 and apologizing for each one, I threw away the rest. I really didn’t want anyone having a card with that poor quality in their possession, if they kept it at all. The next day, I placed a rush order with my regular printer. It is okay to print a quick flyer on the home printer. That is expected, particularly for one-time events. But, even then, make sure the layout looks professional. Use easily readable, attractive fonts and balance the copy and sizes.

Looking solid and professional

When I was involved in the marketing and promotion company, one of our specialties was making small companies look larger and more professional. We had bigger clients like Hollywood Park Racetrack and Tony Roma’s, but the ones we really helped were the smaller guys trying to look solid. As an author, if you are not with a big publisher who might provide all of these materials to you, you are like those small companies.

It may stretch the budget, but with careful research you will find printers who produce wonderful 2-sided gloss finish business cards for as little as $25 to $50 for 1,000. Always ask to see a sample, however. An order of 1,000 cards gives you plenty to hand out to everyone and anyone who will take the proffered card. The same goes for bookmarks. When you hand someone a beautiful gloss bookmark on heavy stock, you can be proud to give them out. Unlike matte finish bookmarks printed on flimsy stock with poor color quality and layout, the beautiful bookmark practically screams, “Hey, I’m a book you should check out!” Include the ISBN numbers, website, a few blurbs, bookcover image and one of yourself. With a bookmark like that it is easy to spot a stranger reading a book and say, “Here, take this. Every reader should have a good bookmark.” That often starts a conversation and might result in the stranger buying your book.

A one-sheet is a promotional sheet that has your photo, an image of your book or books, a short bio and other blatant self-promotion devices like blurbs from readers or people in the industry, how to buy the book, other credits like awards or media links–all information that fits on an 81/2x11 sheet in a readable, compelling manner. Be sure to allow white space in the layout. In other words, don’t cram everything together so that the end result is a badly cluttered sheet. Allowing white space is an old advertising device. It helps to showcase the material. Slick brochure paper is the best, because the photos jump off the page. That’s something that doesn’t happen with a matte finish.

The author needs several things in their promotional kit—and they all should be ready to send out or give out at a moment’s notice. Update the one-sheet as necessary, and include it when you send out review copies.

A friend of mine known as the Super Shopper was a TV personality for several years. When my son was starting his speaking business, he proudly showed her the media kit he self-produced. Her first comment was, “Whether you can afford it or not, spend the money on professionally printed presentation folders. Print both the inside and outside.” She continued to offer the benefit of her experience, and said, “My first reaction to this is that you did it on the cheap. You’re trying to book speeches that guide people to being successful. Successful people have professional looking materials.” He did what she suggested, and his bookings increased radically.

Your presentation materials represent you and your product. This definitely applies to authors with a book to promote. Whatever you present, whether it is the book itself, the materials to compel people to buy it, or your own personal presentation, make sure everything is first-class.

Morgan St. James is the author of Writers Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction, due for release later this year.

Writers Tricks Of The Trade includes the book, blog, eZine and Blog Talk Radio show. For More Information: http://writerstricksofthetrade.blogspot.com

 

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MAKING CARDBOARD SCENES SPRING TO LIFE

by Morgan St. James

There is nothing more boring to read than a scene with no oomph. Can you feel the surroundings, does your heartbeat skip right along with that of the victim or the woman in love? Or have you created a set of paper dolls in a cardboard house?

If you can’t feel the scene, it’s a sure bet that your readers can’t. So, what to do?

Start with thinking about the cover. Authors don’t have a lot of control over this aspect of a published book, because it’s in the hands of the publisher and/or art director unless they are self-published. Still, the cover is what communicates the wonders that are sandwiched between the front and back. Providing a concise synopsis and some physical descriptions help the artist to communicate with the reader.

The cover is a big help in setting the scene. For example, if it’s a funny book, does the cover say funny, or does it portray something entirely different? Although big name authors’ books will sell on the strength of their name alone, a compelling cover is invaluable for mid and small list authors.

Think of it as “framing” a mental picture

It certainly doesn’t stop at the cover. When creating scenes, frame a mental picture that includes surroundings, how the person sees it from their own point of view, mental reactions, weather, clothing…anything that helps flesh out the scene as though you are the production designer for a movie. That doesn’t mean to describe everything in minute detail, but put yourself in that person’s head. Picture being in those surroundings before writing.

If the scene is meant to evoke true emotion, does it?

Cardboard scenes almost read like technical manuals in a way. In other words they are generally incapable of touching the reader’s emotions. On the other hand, scenes that spring to life can trigger laughter, tears, excitement—whatever the scene was designed to do.

When I was writing some for my highly emotional book “Betrayed.” even though I knew the story, I found tears trickling down my cheeks as I wrote some of the intense scenes. I could feel my surroundings as surely as if I actually was the protagonist in Chicago in 1956. Others who read the book referred to tearfully reading parts of the manuscript.

Beyond surroundings that can be felt, make sure dimensional people populate your world of fiction.

When I was an interior designer working with model homes, I created fictional families to live in these homes, so I could design to their demographics. They had the attributes of the profile buyer the developer described and targeted, but they had also had their own quirks, desires, preferences and style. Maybe the husband was an avid golfer and the wife participated in charity work. The son was a car enthusiast and the daughter was a cheerleader. All of that was reflected in the surroundings I created with artifacts and memorabilia. The house was my palette for painting their lives.

How to create a realistic scene.

Imagine this: Tires screech as the driver desperately applies the brakes. The car skids on the rain slick street. Branches brush the windshield when the out-of-control vehicle jumps the curb. Can you feel it? If you were in that car, would you have time to notice things? Smell the burning of the brakes or feel the panic of loss of control. You better be able to if you want the reader to feel it.

Put yourself in the picture.

Play with being there. Write some sample scenes and share them with friends or fellow authors. Do they sing? Maybe they are over-descriptive to the point of being an information dump. Analyze, fine tune and learn. Pretty soon your readers won’t be able to resist turning the page.

Want More from Morgan? Check out her website here!

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Four pitfalls authors must watch out for

Morgan St. James                       www.morganstjames-author.com

Morgan St. James

Pitfalls can easily trip you up, but you need to recognize them to avoid them. After all, you can’t hit a target you can’t see. If you want to be farther off base than a foul ball, just keep thinking that your book will be so irresistible to an editor, publisher, agent or reviewer although there may be a few flaws they will snap it up anyway and assign their best editor. Some aspiring authors even daydream of the possibility of a bidding war because it’s theirs will be such a hot manuscript. Whoa! Time for a reality check. You may be approaching a pitfall.

As unfair as it might seem, even a tiny number of grammar, punctuation or usage mistakes often raise a brilliant red flag faster than you can say “But…but…but…”  Here are four typical pitfalls along with some easy techniques for sidestepping them. There are certainly many more, but let’s start with these.

Semicolon or comma?  For a very easy test, ask yourself if the part of the sentence set off by the comma can stand on its own. Does it have its own subject and verb? If so, use a semicolon or depending upon the pace of the scene, opt for two separate sentences. Short punchy sentences give the impression of fast-paced action. Some authors hate to use semicolons, and I’m one of them. I use semi-colons sparingly or not at all because they tend to stop the action. Although it seems like a small thing, knowing the difference results in a more polished piece.

Match subjects with verbs Matching plural verbs with plural subjects and singular verbs with singular subjects is often a real challenge. Look at some of your work through the eyes of a stranger. Are you guilty of being a “mixmaster?” Here is an easy test:

Is this right or wrong: Only one of the celebrities are accepting Carrie’s invitation to a hot party.

All you have to do is delete “of the celebrities” to see that “are” should have been “is”. Only one is accepting Carrie’s invitation to a hot party.

Wandering words The word “only” is a good word to use as an example. Some words just meander all over the place. They wander through the manuscript and pop up in places where they have no business being, when they should do sticking to the word or words they apply to like crazy glue.

Try this: I’ve only written two of the seven articles so far.

This mini faux pas shows up so often, editors are apt to skip right over it. However, just try moving the word “only” to see how it affects the meaning: I’ve written only two of the seven articles so far. Or, maybe better yet: So far I’ve written only two of the seven articles. As the word “only” moves around, the feeling of the sentence definitely changes.

“Unique” is a unique word. The way some people use this word sets my hair on fire! These days the word “unique” seems to  pop up everywhere, and it is misused to the max.

The definition of unique is and always has been one of a kind. If there were a Unique Detection Squad, the UDS (for short) would make a fortune just by issuing misusage tickets. Books, newspapers, radio, TV—nothing is safe. Those extraneous modifiers lurk like burglars waiting to grab the loot.

How often do you see descriptions like this: most unique, completely unique, absolutely unique, highly unique and this word that should mean one and only augmented by so many other modifiers? Surely you get the picture. If there is only one of this unique object or attitude, how in the world can it be anything beyond unique? Don’t be responsible for making an editor grit their teeth. Just drop the inapplicable word. Unique is “unique” and needs no superlative.

For more tips & tricks visit Morgan’s blog

 

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