Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: R.L. Stine

A reading staple of most middle-schoolers and young adults, R.L. Stine is the prolific master of teen-friendly horror.  His works and writing style have helped many of us – me included – graduate from his lower-stakes horror fare to the more graphic and violent works of Stephen King and Jack Ketchum.  Even if you’ve never read one his novels, you are more than likely familiar with the Goosebumps series of books that sport very effective and compelling covers.

Stine wrote his first teen-themed horror novel, Blind Date, in 1986, which became a best-seller.  In 1989, Stine began the Fear Street series, which boats over 100 books under its banner.  In 1992, Stine began the Goosebumps series of books, a series that currently has over 130 books!  His other novel series include, The Nightmare RoomMostly GhostlyRotten SchoolThe Haunting Hour and The Nightmare Hour.

His novels have been adapted into TV series, films, and comic books.  Needless to say, he is an author with one of the most extensive bodies of work I’ve talked about in this series!

Below are some interviews with Stine where he talks about his works and his creative process.

Enjoy!

Check out his official site HERE.  http://rlstine.com/

Back in two weeks with another great author!

The Road to Midnight House: An Author’s Journey – Part Five

Last week, I talked about getting feedback, finalizing your manuscript, and getting it ready to publish. In this final post about the process of publishing Midnight House, I wanted to touch on the indie publishing process, marketing, and other aspects of getting your manuscript out in a professional form.

Let’s get started!

To Self-Publish, or Not to Self-Publish…

Your hard work has paid off. You have written, edited, and copyrighted your manuscript and are ready to move to the next step: publication. Here, you can go one of two ways: traditional publishers or independent publishing.

If you go the traditional route, you’ll want to craft an eye-catching query letter that hooks the reader, and hopefully, you get a request for your manuscript to be sent for review.  

If you go the independent publishing route, you are in control of the publishing process.  

I went independent for several reasons with The Field and Midnight House:

  • The novels are professionally published in both eBook and paperback form for sale and distribution;
  • The books are sold in the same online marketplaces as traditionally published works (Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, etc.);
  • I have the same access to social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, personal website) as other authors.

Now, the downside, of course, is that it does cost money to self-publish. I recommend you do your research and find a publishing company that fits your needs and your budget. Many have packages for just eBooks or for an eBook/paperback bundle.  

I cannot stress this enough: Make sure if you invest the money to self-publish that you have a plan in place to pay yourself back via your 9 to 5 or other income. Being an independent author is great, but don’t expect to make Stephen King money with your first novel.

Author Dan Brown had written three novels before the DaVinci Code. After that hit big, the other three became bestsellers.

Be patient, keep writing, and don’t get discouraged.

Sometimes You Should Judge a Book By Its Cover…Especially If It’s Yours

If you do decide to self-publish, many publishing companies offer in-house cover art services. If you wish to seek out your own cover artist that fits your stylistic needs, I recommend checking out my post on the topic, Finding a Cover Artist.

It’s a Team Effort, But You’re Coach

Once you’ve taken the leap to publish independently, keep in mind that you are the boss. You are in control and give final approval to every aspect of the publishing process. It’s essential to be engaged, respond quickly to any questions the publisher may have, and don’t be afraid to ask any and all questions before and during the process. This is a financial investment on your part, so making sure things are exactly as you want them to be is critical.

I highly recommend keeping all correspondence upbeat and positive with everyone you are working with throughout the process. As Team Coach, you set the tone, and you have to make sure all parties involved stay focused and motivated to create a great final product. If you have issues with something, inquire nicely—no need to be an egomaniac or a jerk. Everyone has the same goal: to get your novel professionally published and out to the world.

When each step is complete, take the time to email those who helped you and thank them for their hard work and assistance. A little professional courtesy can go a long way, especially if you plan to use the same cover artist or publisher again in the future.

Have I Got a Novel for You!

Marketing starts with you. You control the message. You control what people initially know about your book. You are the point-person when it comes to getting the word out. 

Utilize your social media and let people know you have a novel coming out soon (I recommend you start putting the word out six weeks before the book comes out). Post the cover. Post the blurb from the back of the book. Work on generating interest among people you know who can help get the word out to others.

But you don’t have to stop there.

If you desire, you can work with a marketing firm that specializes in independent publishers. They can help you craft a press release for your book and get copies in the hands of book reviewers who can help get the word out about your novel. A marketing firm can target a specific market and demographic for your book to reach the right people who can help sell your book.

This, too, costs money, so budget accordingly.

The key here is to get your book in front of as many eyes and ears as possible. When the book is released, there will be buzz about your book online, with reviewers, and hopefully, you can snag an interview or two to talk about your book.

Writing a novel, a non-fiction book, a screenplay, a play, and any other creative work takes time. It truly is a marathon that requires hard work, dedication, professionalism, focus, and energy to get to the final stage of the product’s release. I’m very proud of my independent publishing team’s work on The Field and Midnight House. And when you get that box of paperbacks in the mail and open it and see a book’s cover with your name on it, it really is a thrill.

I hope this five-part series was helpful to you and will help you on your publishing journey. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment, and I will get back to you.

Happy writing, and happy publishing!

GET YOUR COPY OF MIDNIGHT HOUSE ON BOOKBABY AND USE THE PROMO CODE HOUSE20 TO SAVE 20% OFF THE PAPERBACK AT CHECKOUT.  CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Writing Wisdom Wednesday: Stephen King

This week, I wanted to start a new series by bringing you interviews from a wide variety of authors speaking about the craft, their creative process, and other notable insights.

Today, I’m beginning the series with one of my all-time favorite authors: Stephen King. Below are a few videos of King speaking about his works, the inspirations for some of his works, and the craft of writing.

Bookmark, Listen, Learn, and Enjoy!

Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington – 2014

2016 Library of Congress Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

Check back next Wednesday for another author!

Are You a Writer Who Reads?

I love to read. If I see a book I think I would enjoy, I either buy it or add it to my wish list. My coworker buys me books for my birthday and Christmas. If there’s a topic I want to learn more about, I don’t Google it; I try and find a book about the topic instead.  Reading has always played a significant role in my life and my education post-school, and it’s an activity that I enjoy.

One of my favorite authors, Stephen King, has said: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” I have a feeling King knows what he’s talking about.

If you’re a writer, I encourage you to take the time to read.  Not books about writing, which I’ll talk about next week, but a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction books.  

Read Outside Your Genre

If you are an author who writes primarily in a specific genre – Young Adult, Romance, Thriller, Mystery, etc. – I encourage you to read novels that aren’t from your chosen realm. While it’s essential to know and understand your genre’s tropes, themes, and other elements, it’s equally important to see how different genres work within their various story conventions to see what you can learn. You can often glean some new bit of story structure or character development idea from a novel outside your chosen area of expertise.

Read Different Authors 

We often get comfy with a couple authors we enjoy and stick with them. Dare to pick authors you may not be familiar with and read their works as well.  Your favorite author isn’t going anywhere.  

Read Books from Other Decades

We are creatures of habit. Most of the time, if it’s a book that’s a current best-seller, or one on display at Target, it’s the book we grab to read. However, it’s also important to delve into the past and read authors whose work lives long after their passing. The classics have inspired authors for generations, and by looking at these works, you can learn new aspects of storytelling that you can possibly apply to your work.

Read History, Autobiographies, and Biographies

The real world can offer up some great story ideas, and you can learn a thing or two along the way. Real human beings, human behavior, and human drama can sometimes be more engaging and fascinating than fiction, and these types of books can give you a fresh perspective on topics you think you know about.

Read to Learn

As you read, observe how the author crafts their chapters, characters, and story arcs.  Look at how they format certain things.  For example, I’ve seen text messaging and phone calls formatted in many different ways in novels, depending on the author. 

If you found yourself up until 3 in the morning not wanting to put the books down, ask yourself why? What was it about the story, the characters, or the pacing that made you have to keep reading?  These are elements you can analyze and apply to your work as well.  

Always Go with Variety

If you’ve plotted out your 2021 reading list, consider adding books and authors you usually wouldn’t read. Maybe an author whose work you don’t enjoy, or one whose opinions bother you. Look at them less as annoying reading assignments and more like learning opportunities. Each book you open can inform your own writing methodology and how you create your worlds and story.  

And all you need to do is turn to Chapter One and start reading.

As a writer, how do you decide what books to read?  Leave a comment and let me know!

The Value of Set-ups and Pay-offs

“If in Act I you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act.”                         – Anton Chekhov

Set-ups and pay-offs are invaluable tools that you can use in a variety of ways in your writing.  It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a novel, a screenplay, a play, a TV script, or a short film, the use of set-ups and pay-offs can help add suspense and increase tension in your writing.

The quote above, attributed to playwright Anton Chekhov makes the pint clear: if you introduce it as important, you should use it by the story’s end.  Think about all the movie, TV shows, plays, and novels you’ve read where some weapon, potion, device, or other object or person is introduced or mentioned.  The writer has now piqued your interest and you keep reading or watching to see how the item or person is utilized later in the story.

If you give Captain America his shield, he better use it at some point in the story.  If Lex Luthor has Kryptonite and knows it can weaken Superman, he better darn well try and use it against him to show its power.  If Q gives James Bond gadgets, weapons, and a car at the beginning of his mission, we better see all of those things in action throughout the story.

It’s what we as an audience subconsciously expect: if you show or tell us about it, it better be used later.

The Melissa McCarthy movie, Spy, does an excellent job setting up items in the first act that are later used effectively and comedically throughout the film.

How disappointing is it when something is brought up once in a story and you’re excited to see what the writer does with it later and it never comes up again.  If you as the writer take the time to include it in the work, respect your reader and give them the pay-off they deserve.

Set-ups and pay-offs aren’t just for objects, of course, it’s also the basis of a lot of comedy. Sitcoms use this method of joke telling with one character saying a “straight line” (the set-up) to one character and the other replying with a one-liner (the pay-off) that gets the laugh.  Watch any multi-camera sitcom with a studio audience (Big Bang Theory, Married …with Children, I Love Lucy) and this is the basic structure of the majority of jokes. Why?  Because it works.

A more nuanced use of the set-up/pay-off structure is the HBO series, Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Here is a show that will set up jokes at the beginning of the episode or the beginning of the season and pay them off by the end of either.  It’s brilliant storytelling that uses the same structure in a more evolved way.

One of my favorite novels that shows this structure at work is Stephen King’s Needful Things.  King weaves dozens of threads throughout the story with items and events that are set-up early in the novel only to be paid-off brilliantly by the novel’s end. It’s also a really great read!

It should be noted that you can have multiple moments over the course of your story with set-ups and pay-offs. Don’t think they all have to be crammed into the first act.  Spread them out in order to keep the audience engaged and looking for how things will be utilized later.

What are some examples you have of great set-ups and pay-offs in films, plays, TV shows, or books? Leave a comment and let me know!