Regardless of genre or intention, all stories need certain elements to keep readers turning pages, and these elements are often tied to the emotional responses that readers have over the events happening on each page. Without these responses, the content goes stale and ultimately forgotten, so mastering them is wise.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week we face the reality that novels of any genre should have emotional markers and identifiers that hinge on suspense, take root in structure, and adhere to plot. Fortunately, we get that dose of reality in Jane K. Cleland’s master work, Mastering Suspense, Structure, and Plot, our focus book of the week.
Join me in this week’s video as we discuss just how to properly take a reader on an exciting ride through these essential storytelling devices by exploring the depths of what this book covers and learning how to keep readers captivated by the spell our words cast. It won’t be as pretentious as this text implies. But it should be insightful. Or fun.
Remember the last time you set a book down? Was it because it was 3am and you had to be up in four hours? Or was it because you were standing in line somewhere and your number was called and you didn’t want to be rude? Or was it because you got to the end and had to set it down (because it would’ve been weird to keep reading at that point)?
Then you probably understand the appeal of a book that keeps your fingers turning pages. Like a treasure hunter who keeps digging because he or she just needs the mystery solved once and for all, or a desperate single man or lady eating Tinder photos like they’re potato chips, we just have to get to the end, so we can catch our breaths and celebrate or cry at the result.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week we take a look at How to Write a Page Turner by writing instructor superstar Jordan Rosenfeld, a craft book that teaches writers how to keep those pages turning because the reader has to know what’s coming and not because the room is hot and the fan is broken.
Check out my video to find out the rest of the story.
The holiday season is here, which means it’s time to expect all sorts of holiday themed cheer inundating our books, movies, and television screens for the next week or so. In the world of novel writing, this means Christmas books will dominate the bookshelves, as well as maybe our hearts.
But then what do we expect? January is just around the corner. Will we still care about the holidays come January 2nd? Will we still be able to buy eggnog at the grocery store? Will we still want to read those holiday books while drinking eggnog from the grocery store?
The fact is, some books are popular only in December (and sometimes July). But others are popular year round, especially those of a particular genre. Today, we’ll discuss how to write books from that one such evergreen genre, the mystery (and thriller) novel. And we’ll do so by exploring curated content as presented in the fairly recent addition to the “How-to Write” marketplace, How to Write a Mystery by Mystery Writers of America and edited by the legendary Lee Child.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf.
Be sure to watch my latest video taking the deep dive into relevancy for this awesome book.
Pretentious authors who believe literature should represent high art often scoff at genre fiction as “beneath them,” but genre fiction authors are the ones who typically make all the money. One such genre, mystery, is among the most popular with readers. Not the top genre, of course—that honor would have to go to romance—but it’s up there with thrillers, which blends mystery, action, and horror into a tight, exciting package, and falls leagues beyond poetry and literary fiction, which rarely entices a reader to devour it all in one sitting.
But, despite what flowery literary fiction writers may think, writing a mystery (or any genre for that matter) is no brainless task. It takes planning and structure to pen a competent mystery, as well as understanding its tropes and all of the conventions that classify the work as belonging to a genre.
It’s actually much harder to write than flowery literary fiction. Unlike literary fiction, where the plot makes little difference and the language itself is the only thing that sets it apart from other works, readers of mysteries and other genres have an expectation for the presence of certain scenes, events, and actions that the writer ignores to his peril. And no writer wants to lose his audience because he doesn’t know what he should be writing.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week we look at a book that breaks down the conventions of mystery and helps the mystery author not only to write his or her book competently, but also market it. Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel (Revised and Expanded Edition) by Hallie Ephron is one of the best books on mystery writing that you’ll find today. It’s a complete top-to-bottom package that should not be missed.
Check out this week’s video for more details and see if it’s right for you.
One of the common trends you’ll find in your average craft book on writing is that they all pretty much say the same things. After 54 episodes of The Writer’s Bookshelf, you’re going to get some overlap.
But through repetition comes learning, and through learning comes practice…or, maybe it’s the other way around.
Either way, reading yet another book that charts your writer’s journey from the beginning of a scene to its end, while considering all motivations, themes, etc. in between, is no bad thing. It reinforces what you’ve learned before so that you don’t forget it the moment it becomes important to bring it forward.
Not to mention, each new book on the same old story presents that familiar tale through a new perspective, and it could very well be the one that finally clicks with your brain. Ever said “a-ha” while reading a book that repeats the concepts you already know, save for one tweak? Well, now’s your chance to say it again. Possibly.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week, we cover Make a Scene (Revised and Expanded Edition) by Jordan Rosenfeld, the next great book you’ve already read but should read again. And get used to that author’s name because she’ll be making several appearances this season, including one we’ve already covered.
Check out the latest video to see what I have to say about it.
Years ago, back when I’d bring books to work to read during moments of downtime, I spent one of those dry sessions reading through this week’s Writer’s Bookshelf title, The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson. I’d since forgotten what I’d learned, so I recently went back and re-read it (at home, where I have fewer distractions), and marveled at how much I’d missed when I’d given it just half of my attention before.
This book is a gold mine of information on how to plot your stories wisely, keeping tension, conflict, goals, and even backstory in mind. It even comes with charts. It’s an important book for The Writer’s Bookshelf, and even more important for your writer’s bookshelf.
Welcome back. Find out more about this must-read resource in this week’s video.
Note: This week’s video comes with a section where I show you how to reproduce Alderson’s plotting chart in Microsoft Excel. It’s a Writer’s Bookshelf bonus!
Have you ever sat down to write a book and realized you have no ideas? Or, have you started writing with the belief that the idea you had was actually good, just to realize after the fact that it really wasn’t? Or, have you ever gotten halfway through a novel and great idea, just to find out that it needed just half a book to fully explore?
If so, then you may appreciate this week’s craft book.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week, we take a look at The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus by Fred White, a collection of 2,000 ideas broken down by category, topic, and situation. If you find that ideas are tough to come by, then this book may be the key to unlocking your imagination once again.
Now, if this book scratches the itch but doesn’t cure it, then don’t despair. You can find even more ideas by visiting my custom Book Ideas Generator on my official author site. Hope you’ll find what you’re looking for there. But even if you can’t (and that may be the case if too few readers and authors participate), then I’d suggest you invite your readers and other writer friends to also check it out and share their ideas. If enough people participate, then this could be a great place to get inspiration and discover the next great read. Give it a try and leave or take your next big idea.
Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.
Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Once again, it’s time for a new season of goodness with an even newer crop of even more written goodness. After fifty episodes, you definitely know how this works, assuming you’ve been following along.
But in case you haven’t, here’s what you’ve missed:
Now, for the first few weeks, this season will cover familiar territory. We’ll once again dive into those comfortable crafting waters that include plotting, character developing, and the stuff you’ve come to expect by now if you’re caught up with the series. This is important for any writer who needs more references than what the first two seasons cover. It will also shine a spotlight on the books that deserved coverage in the first two seasons, but for the sake of time, had to wait until now. We’ll be hitting those books first.
We’ll be moving into this season’s main event: the genre books.
Yes, genre. The thing that literary authors hate but commercial authors love. Genre. We’ll be priming those books up in the second half of the season. So, stay tuned.
But for today, we’ll be starting with our usual warmup, the prep book. In Season One, we launched with an overview of the definitive author’s starter book, On Writing by Stephen King, a book that every author agrees a newbie should read even if he or she chooses not to follow its advice. In Season Two, we followed the series with the kick-to-the-groin reminder that authors have to write, no matter what, in the cult classic The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
In Season Three (this season), we’ll continue that trend with a new “f(i)eld” author, but not a new Ste(ph/v)en. This season, we’ll begin with the inspirational, five-star-rated, pseudo-classic A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld. And we will love it.
Ready? Great, then get your coffee because this season will be an education.
So, what’s the secret to writing with persistence? Is it as simple as “putting your butt in the chair,” as Steven Pressfield may recommend? Or just writing every day, as Stephen King suggests? Well, no. It’s more than that. And this book will cover many angles and solutions regarding the author’s battle with persistence, including the need for resilience in the face of rejection, among many others.
Yes, persistence covers many avenues, and with this book’s help, you can confidently approach each situation with acceptance and grit.
Ready to find out more? Then check out this week’s video for the reasonably full breakdown of what to expect.
So, I have great news for any writer who likes to plan their stories beyond pulling up a keyboard and pounding fingers against the keys. My three feature tools and templates for writers are getting updates soon.
Actually, that’s not true. Sorry. Two of them have already gotten updates. The third is coming soon.
Okay, but you may be wondering what tools I’m even talking about. If you’ve never visited this blog or my official author site, then you may not be familiar with what I do here, or what I write. Well, the good news is that you can easily explore this site (and my official author site) to your heart’s content and find out more. But for the sake of staying focused, I’m talking about these tools:
NaNoWriMo Basic Template for Scrivener: A template designed to give you the edge during NaNoWriMo (November) or Camp NaNoWriMo (April and July) by tracking your daily word count against your challenge goals for the month, and for planning your story’s progress before and after the challenge. Used with Scrivener 1 or 3.
Story Planning General: A massive story database template for planning your story down to the molecule, including plot, character, back story, and marketing, as well as any special story trope or character archetype. Gives you freedom to use as many or few components as you need to adequately prepare for your storytelling journey. Used with Scrivener 1 (requires update to work with Scrivener 3).
Kindle Vella Book Tracker: A database tool that uses a fancy spreadsheet to track your progress on your Kindle Vella story, from episode word count, reads, likes, and returns, to story-level compilation data and comparisons to your other stories to see which ones are best performers, to story planning and marketing tools to help you put your best foot forward before and during launch, and a lot more. Also tracks your earnings. Includes graphs. Used with Microsoft Excel (2013 or newer).
Each of these tools have been around for a year or longer, but none of them have received updates since 2021. Until now…
For the NaNoWriMo Basic Template (2022 Edition), I’ve added new sections for recording and ranking story ideas prior to story planning, and a social media planner for keeping your audience captivated. Do you have a bunch of ideas you’re interested in using, but you don’t know which one to choose? The new ranking chart will help you decide. And do you have a social media audience that’s interested in your NaNoWriMo journey, but you’re not sure how to keep it that way? The social media planner will help you figure out your social media journey before the writing even begins.
For the Kindle Vella Book Tracker (Beta 4b), it’s just a letter update, not a beta update, so the news is minor. But the effect is, well, effective. Previously, pages with information at the top were cluttered and unreadable. Now they’re formatted for easier reading. I’ve also added new page tabs that make it much easier to stay informed about upcoming news and updates for the tool, as well as channels that allow you to tell me what you want in an upcoming beta. This is the definitive Beta 4. But don’t you worry. Beta 5 is coming soon. Probably before the year ends. Get Beta 4b now if you want to better prepare for the upcoming Beta 5.
For Story Planning General (Alpha 3), the update will include new back story conditions and a scattershot of other useful interior templates that Alpha 2 doesn’t have. Because this one is still in development, I don’t yet have a complete list of new features. But keep an eye open for news ahead. It’s coming soon, but I don’t yet know what “soon” means.
For more information, watch my latest video previewing each tool and template and their latest updates.
I’ll be adding official pages for these templates to my author site soon, so if you think the listings on Drinking Café Latte at 1pm are ugly or ad-cluttered, then don’t worry. The ones on my author page will look nicer. But the pages here will remain live, so if you’ve already bookmarked this site, you can keep your bookmarks.
And that’s all for now. Please check out each new update as you need it. But rest assured I still have plans for future updates, so if you’d like to request special features, then be sure to visit their respective roadmaps and submit your ideas. You can access these roadmaps from their description pages and subscribe to them if you want updates sent to you by email.
Don’t forget to tell me what you think if you use any of them.
Ah, summer. The season when eggs can fry on sidewalks, iguanas lounge wherever the heck they want by one in the afternoon, and readers flock to the beach to read their latest page-turners. Such a departure from the cold heart of winter.
It also seems to be the season when I forget I still have a blog here to update.
Well, I haven’t forgotten about this place, even if I do seem to spend more time posting on my own author site these days. But because it’s been a while, I think it’s still worth updating readers of Drinking Café Latte at 1pm with what I’ve been up to this summer.
My New Smart Page
These days, anyone who has a business card likely carries around a few physical copies in their wallets to pass on to potential clients, or customers, or dates, either out of tradition, savvy, or those inevitable just-in-case moments that seem to plague us all when we’re at our least prepared.
But because we’re officially in the future now (if you’ve ever watched an ‘80s future action movie, then you’ll know that we’re officially neck-deep in it, though it’s still not quite the scene we can expect once the events of cat-centered cyberpunk adventure Stray become reality), the even savvier traditional business card carrier will also have a digital version that he or she can pass along via QR code.
That digital business card, often referred to as a biolink or a smart page, can show off much more than just a photo and a call-to-action. It can also display key articles, invite mailing list signups, and more.
As it turns out, I’ve finally created one last weekend. Although I probably need to update it already (it’s a week old!!!), you can certainly get your fill of my latest content and important links by saving it to your bookmarks or smartphone.
Once you visit, you’ll get important navigational links to my official author site, Amazon book page, Goodreads and BookBub author pages, newsletter signup page, top books, latest blog articles, and more (well, not really—we’re always trained to say that, even when “more” technically means my author photo and something else I’ve already forgotten about).
If you’re curious, or just want to keep in touch, be sure to check it out and visit each respective site it connects you to, to make sure you’re not missing out on anything.
Kindle Vella Series The Hybrid City Entrepreneur Is Back in Production
Last summer (in 2021 if you’ve already forgotten what year it is), Amazon launched its latest reader fad, the Kindle Vella. The idea behind Kindle Vella is that American readers (because Vella still hasn’t gone international after a year on the market) can read series fiction one short episode at a time on their phones and pay for each episode with tokens.
It’s marketed to ravenous readers who love bite-sized fiction that evolves over time. If you’ve ever visited Medium, Radish, or Substack, you sort of know how this works. Or, if you’ve ever used Wattpad, imagine that, but with only the first three episodes of each story free.
When Amazon announced the beta launch of Kindle Vella last April (again, in 2021), I decided I wanted to try it out. After self-publishing three anthologies in the mid-2000s and watching each one fail miserably, I’d assumed publishing independently was a waste of time and resources, so I’d completely missed the self-published e-book boom of 2008-2012 once it came around. And given that the boom was happening while I was still hot in writing my A Modern-day Fantasy series (Cannonball City, Superheroes Anonymous, Alpha Red, and Hardcore Journeymen respectively), I’d dropped a rather large ball.
I still have no idea what my ignorance may have cost me.
Because I was running into the same problem with the audiobook boom still running today, I didn’t want to waste another opportunity should Kindle Vella actually become something special.
So I dropped everything I was working on in April 2021 (including building my website) and started writing a story I’d publish for Kindle Vella, based on a computer game I’ve been dabbling at making since May 2009. This story, The Hybrid City Entrepreneur, about a boy from 1985 seeking revenge on the bully who’s stolen his girlfriend by beating him at a high-stakes bet, became my focus for much of that summer. And when Kindle Vella ninja-launched in mid-July of that year, I had ten episodes of the story ready for audiences.
Well, thanks to the horrible launch strategy of requiring authors to bring in their own audience, which I didn’t really have since I was counting on Amazon to use this new platform to help me build an audience, I’d gotten fewer than a dozen readers for that first episode, and only a few of those reading the remaining freebies and just one moving on to a paid-by-tokens episode.
With each week that passed without new readers, even though I’d scheduled new episodes to drop every Friday, I’d become disheartened by the whole thing and eventually stopped producing new episodes by the time Episode 14: “The Ad Guy” had dropped in early August.
I’d wanted to finish the story, but because no one was giving it a chance, I’d decided I would take my time with it, publish new episodes only when other important things were finished, and then unpublish the whole thing once the story was finished so that I could turn it into a book and maybe find new readers through more conventional methods.
This new plan meant I’d publish just one additional episode in 2021. Episode 15: “Shop Down the Street” went live on December 31st.
But I’d gotten no new readers, even with that modest kick back to life, so I continued to let it linger for another season.
Then, like a pregnant cat unexpectedly showing up at my back door, the new batch came along.
On June 17, 2022, I’d published Episode 16: “The Security Question” and followed it with a new episode every Friday since. As of this writing, I’ve got 23 episodes live and up to Episode 26: “Fourth of July” queued (and releasing on August 26th). I’m also finishing up the mega-draft that will contain the next three episodes after that, taking us into September.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m determined to finish this thing up this year. Not because I expect new readers to suddenly flock to this old, forgotten story that’s competing with werewolf romances and other genres I don’t understand (or want to), but because I need to get it out of my system so that I can finish my newsletter exclusive novel, Paperweight, which I’ll talk more about soon, but you can get for free once I release it by signing up for my newsletter.
Hopefully, I’ll reach the end of the story before Christmas.
That said, if you like classic 1980s teen angst comedies about nerds versus preppy jocks, and if you’re a fan of movies like The Karate Kid, Better Off Dead, and Wall Street, then you should check it out. Or, at the very least, subscribe to my newsletter so you can find out whenever I turn it into a series of novels, which probably won’t be too soon (for reasons I’ll explain in the next section).
Status Update on Books-in-Production
Note: This will be a general overview. To get the best picture of what’s going on with my books, please visit my Coming Soon and Book Triage pages on my official author site.
If you’ve monitored my release history these last few years, you’ve probably figured out that I’m slow at creating new work. Sure, I had a publishing hot streak in 2015 and early 2016, but that was because those books were already written (save for The Computer Nerd and half of Cards in the Cloak and Gutter Child), and I just needed a few updates to make them release-worthy. By the time I’d started work on my sequel to The Fountain of Truth, a new collection of holiday-themed parables called Snow in Miami, as well as my still-unfinished comedic teen novel, Teenage American Dream, I’d burnt out, and I’d found it difficult to finish anything since.
Fortunately, my groove has returned in spurts over the years, but not in the way I needed it to. Thanks to NaNoWriMo and a wealth of new ideas, I have about eight new works-in-progress, with a couple of them more than halfway finished, but that means nothing if I can’t get to the end of any of them.
To remedy this problem, I’d made a decision a few weeks ago that I should’ve made in 2016.
Last month, I signed up for an online writers’ conference called Inkers Con. Last weekend, the live roundtables wrapped up, and after having attended as many as I could, as well as watching as many of the recorded live sessions from the in-person conference in June as I could, I’d walked away with some new insights.
Including one important one.
I’m a multi-genre author. If you look at my bibliography, you’ll see that I like writing thrillers, coming-of-age comedies, adventure stories, and holiday fables. I also like subgenres dealing with superheroes, high school stupidity, and unrequited love. I also enjoy quirky and/or ridiculous events in fiction. It makes me laugh. And if it makes me laugh, I hope it’ll do the same for you.
But writing in multiple genres hasn’t helped my sales in the slightest, nor has it helped me to build a following. If I expect to attract readers to any new book I finish, then I need to make sure they’re looking forward to it first. And that’s hard to do if I don’t have a returning audience.
What I’ve learned from Inkers Con is that writing in multiple genres does a great job at splitting reading audiences.
Sure, some readers will read any book an author writes. But others insist on staying within their preferred genres or series. And Amazon’s “Also Boughts” apparently go belly-up when a reader buys a thriller and a coming-of-age novel from the same author.
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about “my brand” and “my writing lane.” What audience am I trying to attract? Who wants to read my next release? Do I need several pen names to keep it all together?
The reason I haven’t finished more than a couple of books in the last six years is because I’m demotivated by the lack of new readership my titles have attracted. In my quest to find the topic readers want to devour, I hop from one story to another without finishing the previous story. This all comes from a desperate attempt to sell enough books to break the way too low financial ceiling my day job has put upon me. If I can’t afford to fix my car, I panic.
Obviously, leaving a book unfinished doesn’t get me closer to resolving the problem with this ceiling height. So, I have to start finishing books. That means I have to start identifying which books need finishing first.
That means writing within a specific lane for a while.
Two-thirds of my published books haven’t sold a dime in seven years. The rest have sold very little. Even though I’m bringing a few of them through the Book Triage to update their content and hopefully give them a better shelf life (along with a new attractive title), I don’t know if it’s worth it to re-release them if they fall outside of “the lane” I need to focus on. And if it’s not worth re-releasing them yet, then I wonder if they’re worth updating now in the first place.
I also don’t know that it’s worth it to keep the unsold books live on Amazon or any of the major retailers. Because they’re already considered “Archived” on my site, I figure it’s about time to take them down and leave them readable on my website or on the Smashwords store only.
Maybe doing so will increase my author attractiveness, but I don’t know. I just know I have to do something. Sales suck right now. Really, really suck.
And there’s no reason to self-sabotage my career by leaving a bunch of stories on Amazon that no one wants to read.
So, to recap:
My sales suck.
I need to pick a lane.
Some books I’ve been touting for years may be delayed even longer as I try to write the ones that will actually give me a readership.
Now, I don’t mean to drive you all crazy with these fluctuating plans. But I need to figure out what works for my career and then run with it when I find it.
I also need to finish my newsletter-exclusive novel, Paperweight, a story about a retiring treasure hunter entering the corporate world and making a mess of it. You can find out more about it here.
So, that’s all for now. Thanks for reading. Don’t forget that you can keep up with the latest news by signing up for my author newsletter. (You can find out more about that here.) And remember that while I’ll continue to post here on occasion, you’ll get the most benefit out of also checking out the latest news on my author site.