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5 Tips for Writing a Good Article or Blog Post by Lourdes Venard

January 5, 2015 11 comments
Lourdes Venard

Lourdes Venard

5 Tips for Writing a Good Article or Blog Post by Lourdes Venard

With social media, blogs, author newsletters, online news sites, and more, there’s an overabundance of items to read. If you’re like me, you’re never able to read it all. Some days, I can barely keep up with my email!

So how do you make your item stand out? I’ve been in the newspaper business for 30 years, and I’m editor of First Draft, the newsletter for the Sisters in Crime Guppy chapter. Below are five tips I’ve learned through the years and which you can use, whether you are writing for a blog, a newsletter, or even a Facebook post.

1) Give a promise of advice. Did you notice the title for this article? I purposely picked five points I wanted to touch upon. Telling readers that you are giving them five pointers (or any specific number) is one way to grab the busy reader’s attention. I learned this technique from a marketing professional, but as I thought about it, it’s really a time-honored way of getting people to pay attention. Moses, after all, came down the mountain with 10 very specific commandments.

2) Grab them with your first sentence. This is a lesson from Journalism 101. Journalists call their first sentences the lede, and the idea is to Publishing_eBook_final_090514either impart the most important information or have something that will hook the reader. A good lede is golden. One of my favorite crime reporters (who became a crime fiction author) is Edna Buchanan, who wrote for The Miami Herald. She was known for her offbeat ledes, such as the one that topped a story about a drunk ex-con who wanted his food immediately and got into a fight in a Church’s fried-chicken outlet while still at the counter. He was shot and killed by a security guard. Her lede: “Gary Robinson died hungry.”

3) Write with authority and write what you know. This is one of the first lessons that I learned as a young journalist. Obviously, you need to have all the facts to back up your authority. Once you do, convey to the reader that you know your stuff. Comb your article for “probably,” “maybe,” “supposedly,” and other milquetoast words. The “write what you know” part comes before the “authority.” A journalist does a lot of reporting, more than what goes into the final product. If you are writing about a new subject, research, research, and research. Don’t make assumptions, and get all your facts. Then write as you know your subject—which you should, at this point.

4) Keep it short. More is not necessarily better. As an editor, one of the things I do most often is trim. Remember, readers don’t have unlimited time. If you have a long article or blog post, they may never reach the end. Strunk and White’s The Element of Style exhorts writers to “omit needless words.” This book is one of the slimmest volumes ever written on grammar and good writing, yet it is a classic. The authors certainly took their own advice.

5) Be genuine. There’s a place for blatant self-promotion, but if that’s all you ever do on the Internet, people will notice—and you will get a reputation. Be yourself, share as much about yourself as you are comfortable, and be social—because that’s the idea behind social media, right? I admit, as an introvert, I sometimes struggle with social media. I like posting inspirational sayings on my business Facebook page, but find that people really connect with the personal—photos of my cat (very popular!), the deer in our yard, my family, and food I’ve cooked. People also like personal, self-effacing stories. When a writer whose books I read turns out to be funny, passionate, or offbeat online, I love her all the more—and she doesn’t need to tell me for the 20th time that her new book is out. Believe me, if I like her, I’ll make a point to seek out her newest books.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lourdes Venard has worked at major American newspapers, including The Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Newsday. She is also a freelance book editor, editing both fiction and nonfiction. Her work as a freelance editor spurred her to write Publishing for Beginners: What First-Time Authors Need to Know, an e-book available at Amazon.com

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Guest Blogger Michele Drier: The New? Maybe not.

EditedForDeath_eBook my_bio_pixThe New? Maybe not.  by Michele Drier

Long ago, as the earth was cooling, people used odd machines called “typewriters” to compose notes to one another.

These machines were developed after the discovery of electricity, but they were powered by a different source, human fingers. And they were called “manual” because of this.

They were difficult to use, these first “manual” typewriters. They consisted of a series of letters at the end of long rods, attached to a board, also with letters. When a finger hit a letter on the “keyboard”, the rod that held that letter would move and imprint the letter on a piece of paper, using an inked ribbon.

This was a huge step up from clay tablets, stone carving or foul fowl feathers, and the new technology was embraced by most people.

Not by the folks who wrote the stories you found in your daily newspaper, though.

These guys were lazy, or just conserving energy, so when they typed something other than their story, they used shortcuts.

“Manual” typewriters took a lot of pressure to pound the “keys” on the “keyboard” for that the impression to show up on the paper, so the first thing those guys eliminated was capital letters. To print a capital took an extra “keystroke”. The next thing those guys eliminated was a lot of punctuation. Again, an extra stroke.

Instead, they’d sling the carriage return and just start another paragraph.

So for a time everybody wrote like e.e.cummings.

But that wasn’t enough. It still took extra time to write notes or instructions to the men who actually set the type, using a machine adapted from a typewriter called a “linotype.” This machine produced a line of type (letters) molded from the pot of hot, liquid lead at the side of the machine.

Not incidentally, the molten lead floated around in the air and coated everything, including the coffee we drank.

The number of keystrokes was getting trimmed, but it still took more time than was warranted on composing messages to friends or other useless drivel, like notes from your interview, so abbreviations evolved.

thnx
c u
u r a pal
luv

And it wasn’t enough to use abbrv., you could also cut whole words out. For instance, if you wanted to say, “I’d appreciate it if you would respond to my question,” you could say “gimme yes or no.”

Invariably, the pronouns were dropped also. “hope all is well,” “coming over?”

As things go, this technology went the way of swan feathers, until today lots of people correspond using only their thumbs and a string of seemingly miscellaneous letters. OMG, BFF, ROTHWL, LOL, IMHO.

Gibberish? I think not. Just the evolving result of those memos and notes we typed to each other. I seldom use caps even today when I correspond, now by email, with friends still in the business.

When you write email, do you write in complete sentences and use capitals?

I’m tickled to think that the texters believe they’ve discovered something new.

We got there first.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When the earth was cooling, Michele Drier was a staff writer at the San Jose Mercury-News and caught the tail end of manual typewriters and hot lead. The lead is gone but the caps never came back.

Her first Amy Hobbes Newspaper Mystery, Edited for Death, set at a daily newspaper, was well-reviewed including the Midwest Book Review which called it “Riveting and much recommended.” The second mystery, Labeled for Death, due out in summer 2013, looks at the California wine industry.  Michele is also the author of the five-volume Kandesky Vampire Chronicles, paranormal romances set in the field of international celebrity gossip journalism.

Contact Michelle via her website: http://www.micheledrier.com or facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/AuthorMicheleDrier or her Amazon author page, http://www.amazon.com/Michele-Drier/e/B005D2YC8G/

Guest Blogger: Kaye George – Writing What I Know

 

Author Kaye George

Author Kaye George

Writing What I Know – by Kaye George

Writers are told to “write what we know,” right? This poses a problem for mystery writers because most of us haven’t killed anyone, or even been shot. My life contains so little violence, it’s practically G-rated. So mystery writers soldier on, imaging people shot, strangled, poisoned, and bludgeoned all over the place. Some of us enroll in Citizen Police Academies. I went through one in Austin, TX, and gained an enormous amount of knowledge from it.

But, as far as writing what I know, that’s how I came to create EINE KLEINE MURDER. I’ve played violin since I was 10. I’ll leave you to wonder how years that adds up to. I started piano at age 5 and still noodle away at that occasionally. I even pretend to sing. All that is to say that I have a background in music, mostly classical music. I love composing, which I started doing in high school. I didn’t get too far in taking music theory classes, though, since that wasn’t my major in college and, after freshman year, I dropped out of the Northwestern Orchestra due to time constraints. However, when I joined a string quartet in Dallas called Allegro Strings, we sometimes found ourselves wanting to play something that hadn’t been arranged for a string quartet. I seem to naturally think in four-part harmony, having played in quartets since junior high school, and also having sung in church choirs the same amount of time. I loved arranging for our quartet!

Fast forward a few years, after eons of frustrating short story submissions and rejections, to the point where I decided to take up novel writing. Since my favorite reading was mystery, I already knew the form and the conventions and I gravitated to the genre. The first mystery I wrote that isn’t forever shoved into the back of a drawer, was SONG OF DEATH. This is the novel that eventually became, after publication of several other mysteries, EINE KLEINE MURDER, and has been picked up by Barking Rain Press, much to my overflowing joy.

I have a passion for classical music and hope I can convey that to the reader. I think a lot of510x765-EineKleineMurder-250x375_april_1 people are afraid of classical, but only because they don’t know much about it. But it’s like art: you know what you like. You don’t have to know sonata trio form, or what allargando means. You just have to listen, accept and reject. You’ll know what you like when you hear it.

One of my favorite symphony goers was a guy who worked with my husband a few years ago. He loved going to the symphony, but knew absolutely nothing about music. He asked me what those funny long wooden things were (bassoons), why we shouldn’t clap every time they stopped playing (because you don’t clap between movements, just at the end of the whole piece) and other questions that made me chuckle. But he loved hearing the orchestra because he lived for the moments when all the strings were playing loudly. That’s what he liked and he knew he liked it. And I liked that about him!

I’d sincerely like to know if anyone learns anything about music from reading my mystery, although learning about music isn’t required! I’d also like to know if anyone completely unfamiliar with classical music gets enjoyment from the book. After all, there are deaths–and mystery!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

Kaye George is a short story writer and novelist who has been nominated for Agatha awards twice. She is the author of four mystery series: the Imogene Duckworthy humorous Texas series, the Cressa Carraway musical mystery series, the FAT CAT cozy series, and The People of the Wind Neanderthal series. EINE KLEINE MURDER, the first Cressa Carraway novel debuts in April from Barking Rain Press. DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE, the first Neanderthal book, will be published later this year by Untreed Reads. The first FAT CAT book, from Berkley Prime Crime, will appear in 2014.

Her short stories can be found in her collection, A PATCHWORK OF STORIES, as well as in several anthologies, various online and print magazines. She reviews for “Suspense Magazine”, writes for several newsletters and blogs, and gives workshops on short story writing and promotion. Kaye is agented by Kim Lionetti at BookEnds Literary and lives in Knoxville, TN. Homepage: http://kayegeorge.com/

Kaye George, Guppy president, two-time Agatha Nominee/
Imogene Duckworthy Mystery series/
EINE KLEINE MURDER, April 2013/
FAT CAT cozy series, writing as Janet Cantrell, coming 2014/
DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE, coming soon from Untreed Reads/
http://kayegeorge.com/        Want my newsletter? Email me and I’ll put you on the list.

An Arthroscopic View of Writing by Debra H. Goldstein

December 13, 2012 4 comments

An Arthroscopic View of Writing by Debra H. Goldstein

Life often gets in the way of planned obligations.  Normally, I write a blog every two weeks, but somehow arthroscopic knee surgery dropped the blog to the bottom of my “to do” list.  It actually turned out to be a nice break.

Not only did being laid up give me the time to sit back and prioritize what I needed to do for recovery, family, and work, but also it made me think why writing is important to me.  The most simplistic reason is that I love the feeling I get when my ability to string words together, like in my earlier blogs “Maybe I Should Hug You” or “My Daughter is in Love,” articulate emotions and thoughts that my readers resonate with.  I like hearing that I’ve expressed exactly what they feel, but haven’t been able to say.  There also is satisfaction in embellishing a funny moment or memory into a short story or novel.

In some ways, my writing is exactly like arthroscopic surgery.  For example, the surgeon made some small incisions in my knee and then inserted a small camera so as to get a clear view of the extent of the damage.  I take an idea and zero on it until I get a clear view of what in the idea would make a good article or story.  After getting the entire picture of my knee, the surgeon inserted another tool to hold, remove and shave the damaged medial and lateral meniscus tears.  Once I know my general theme, I use paragraphs to build my thoughts in an orderly manner from a topic sentence to the concluding point I want to make.  The surgeon did a last check for rough edges and then removed the tools and bandaged my knee.  I take the written piece I create and proofread it for glaring errors.  Then, I read it aloud to see if the words flow smoothly.  Based upon my observations, I make my final corrections and save the piece.  My surgeon sent me home with a walker, pain pills, instructions to tether myself to an ice machine, and a prescription for physical therapy.  I wait a day or two and read the piece again.  If it needs a little support, I make the changes to strengthen it.  Two weeks later, my surgeon assures me my knee is healing well and I soon will be back to my normal routine.  I submit or post the article or story not knowing whether it will be published or how readers will react to my work.

The only thing I know for sure is that after a few days of rest, I will have to write again.  The act of writing has become a part of my soul and very being.

Guest Blog: T.K. Thorne – How Do You Know If You Are A “Real” Writer?

October 8, 2012 7 comments

T.K. ThorneAuthor of Noah’s Wife – “2009 Book of the Year for Historical Fiction – ForeWord Reviews

How Do You Know if You Are A “Real Writer? by T.K. Thorne

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU ARE  A “REAL” WRITER?  This question has plagued me for a long time, and I saw it recently on a writing web site, so I am not the only one who has asked it. For a long time, I was unpublished and wrote in the “closet.” I was afraid if I admitted to doing it (writing, folks) I would have to face that dreaded question: “Oh, what have you published?” To which, I’d have to say, “Well, nothing… but my mother loves my stuff.” And then go crawl under a rock.

I’m sure there are people out there for whom this would not be a problem, people who have lots of self-confidence and don’t care what anyone thinks of them. I tip my hat to you. For the rest of us, what to do? Should we go to the writer’s conference and expose ourselves as wanna-be’s or should we just stay home?

Now that I have a novel published, I have the perspective to return to this perplexing question. How do you know when you are a “real” writer? What is one? Does anyone who picks up a pen or taps on the computer qualify? Do you have to be published? How many times? Does self-publishing count? Does payment in art journal copies qualify or do you have to be paid for it? If you win an award or get an honorable mention, does that jump you to the “writer status?” According to the IRS, a professional is anyone who is paid for their work. My first publication to a magazine netted me $8.48. It was a great feeling to finally reach that milestone, but somehow it didn’t make the question go away.

Is the aspired distinction merely to be found in the eye of the beholder? If I like what you write, does that make you a “writer” in my eyes, but if I don’t care for it, you aren’t? Saying someone is a “good writer” or a “bad writer,” at least slaps the tag on them, but is he/she a “real” writer? If you keep a journal under the bed and scribe in it daily, are you one or not?

Okay, I’ve asked the question, now I’ll share my epiphany. By college, I was quietly writing fiction, but I took a class in poetry because my roommate talked me into it. It turned out to be the best move I could have made. Everyone brought their hearts and souls to class with their poems. And it was brutal. I learned that there was only one rule—Does it work?

Not, does it express what you really want to say? Not, does it use alliteration and rhyme correctly? Only, does it work? You can  break rules; you can follow rules; you can cry big crocodile tears onto your paper, but the only question is that one.

So, it doesn’t matter if you are published or not, have won awards or not. It doesn’t matter what you write or how often you write. It doesn’t matter. A writer wants it to work! If it doesn’t work, a writer is willing to produce it for critique, to listen to criticism, to cut, to add, to change, to ask questions, to learn, to rewrite, to stand his/her ground, to start over, to rewrite again—whatever it takes to make it work.

Of course, you can write without being “a writer.” And there is nothing wrong with writing for your own pleasure or self discovery or for your mother. Kudos to you and keep writing! But if you have a passion to tell a story, to paint in words, to reach people, to move people, then you understand the question—Am I a “real writer?” And if you have that passion and are willing to work to make it “work,” then, in my book, you is one!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

T.K. Thorne retired as a captain of the Birmingham Police Department and currently serves as executive director of CAP, a business improvement district in downtown Birmingham.  Both careers have provided fodder for her writing. Her fiction, poetry, and non-fiction have been published in various venues and garnered several awards, including “Book of the Year for Historical Fiction” (ForeWord Reviews 2009) for her debut novel Noah’s Wife.  A short film from her screenplay Six Blocks Wide was a finalist in a film festival in Italy and has shown at other juried festivals in the U.S. and Europe.  She has served on several community boards, including the Alabama Writer’s Conclave.  She writes on a mountain top east of Birmingham, Alabama.  To learn more about T.K. Thorne and her writings check out her website at http://www.tkthorne.com .

Musings on Malice by DHG

April 30, 2012 11 comments

Malice Domestic XXIV has ended – amazingly!  As a dedicated cozy mystery reader (and writer), I have long realized that many of my favorite authors are Agatha winners and that the Agathas are awarded each year during the Malice Domestic Conference.  Research, a writer’s second best tool, revealed that Malice is one of the largest fan/writer conferences.  The formal agenda lists three days of informative panels, special breakfasts including Malice-Go-Round and New Authors, the Agatha Awards Banquet, an Opening Ceremony, and a closing tea.  The quality of programming is top notch, but the sub-level interaction is amazing.  No standoff behavior here. 

Often, it is impossible to tell who is a fan and who is a writer.  The smiling woman you start talking to in the elevator or while having coffee might as easily be a fan from Milwaukee as Margaret Maron or Charlaine Harris.  Authors at all levels of their careers could be found sharing tips, encouragement, or “you wouldn’t believe” stories in the hospitality room, the bar, or anywhere a conversation could be held.  The common thread throughout the weekend was that it didn’t matter if one was a reader, an established writer, a newbie, or a wannabe.

As a member of Sisters of Crime, I particularly enjoyed the Sunday morning breakfast and the times that the Guppies got together.  It was nice to put faces with names that I have exchanged messages with through the listserve. 

Leslie Budewitz

Agatha Winner Leslie Budewitz & DHG

There was a special excitement to have so many of them nominated for Agathas for their short stories, first books, fiction, and non-fiction.  All of the Guppies jumped out of the pond when Leslie Budewitz won an Agatha for Books, Crooks & Counselors… 

 I also was very moved by the words and the look on her face when Sarah Bewley, whom I previously met when Carolyn Haines and she ran Daddy’s Girls’ Weekend (another fine conference), spoke after being announced as the winner of a scholarship to Malice awarded annually based upon a partial manuscript.  Bet we see Sarah onstage again as a future Agatha winner.Personally, I was excited that not only was this my first Malice, but I was permitted to be a participant in two events.  I was one of the twenty-four authors who hosted a table at the New Authors breakfast and was allowed to speak for two minutes to the entire room – and yes,  give me a microphone and I had them laughing J.  My turn on the “Well-Schooled Panel” was more serious, but introduced me to five wonderful writers:  Judy Hogan, Linda Rodriguez, Frankie Bailey, Robert Spiller and Ada Madison aka Camille Minichino. 

Well Schooled Panel

Ada Madison aka Camille Minichino, Linda Rodriguez, Frankie Bailey, Judy Hogan, Robert Spiller and DHG

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the operations behind the conference — all of whose names I apologize for not knowing – but that is because this conference is put on by volunteers for the love of mystery writing.  But thanks to a special few:  Barb Goffman (whose touch and she herself was everywhere), Ann Murphy (loved that librarian voice), Rita (your control center blew me away as I helped Velcro signs),Verena Rose, and of course, toastmaster and writer extraordinaire Dana Cameron.

 Would I go back again?  In a heartbeat –  because that is the true measure of the love between the fans and writers who attended Malice XXIV.

For the Love or Hate of Blogging by Debra H. Goldstein

February 26, 2012 8 comments
Debra H. Goldstein

Author Debra H. Goldstein

For the love or hate of blogging….

As a writer, I understand the need to blog, tweet, post onFacebook and be LinkedIn; but often, I resent the invasion of social media into my time and privacy.  I tend to be shy and uncomfortable with outing my thoughts and emotions.  It was so much easier to exist under the radar without the fear of a comment being misinterpreted or worse, never again being private. 

The mechanical aspects of blogging are daunting and frequently irksome.  Precious time that could be spent writing or watching Top Chef is devoted to coming up with an idea, translating it into a coherent piece, posting it, and then letting the world know the new blog exists.  Yet, that is the moment I understand the juxtaposition between hate and love.

I love the interaction a blog posting provokes from readers.  When people tell me my words resonate with them, I am touched.  If I can capture a feeling or emotion for many, like I did in the blog “Maybe I Should Hug You,” I am elated.  The range of reactions to my different blog offerings astonishes me for their variety and their sincerity.  Even if readers and I don’t agree, I learn from the ensuing dialogue.  The entire experience of blogging ultimately makes me a better person and writer.
 
When I first began blogging, I tried to “do it all,” and quickly found myself avoiding the experience because my initial efforts felt forced and strained.  Knowing I wanted a purpose behind each of my blogs rather than for them to be just filler, I shut down.  My sense of humor deserted me.  I stopped blogging, but I began to read other people’s blogs in earnest.  I marveled at the ease and grace behind blogs by people like Ree Drummond’s “Pioneer Woman.”  The productivity of writers like Lois Winston during her “Sit on Your Butt Book Tour” exhausted me.  I liked the way that eight writers combined their efforts to balance their respective levels of sanity and engaged me as a reader through their “Jungle Red Writers” blog.  All of this reading brought me back to blogging.

This time around though, there are a few major differences.  “It’s Not Always a Mystery” reflects that sometimes I write about writing or mysteries, but just as often, I share a topic close to my heart.  By alternating a blog by me with one from a guest writer every two weeks, I am making a concession to juggling my day job, my family, my need for time to write, and my promise to bring you, the reader, a quality blog that is worth your time to read.  I hope that each of these blogs will make you want to leave comments.  The tedious process of blogging may be hateful, but I love sharing this time with you.

A word from DHG:  After having my blog, “It’s Not Always A Mystery” as a part of my website, www.DebraHGoldstein.com , I have moved it back to wordpress.  Problems with a Message Box resulted in the loss of comments previously left for any of the blogs.  For a chance to win a signed copy of my debut mystery, Maze in Blue, read through all of the posts and make comments.  Each comment made before March 11, 2012 will give you a chance to win one of three signed copies of Maze in Blue.  Good luck!