Monday, September 29, 2014

This Writer's Life 10: Staying Healthy, Because Working Sick Sucks

I’ve been passing out in the afternoons. Not getting tired, passing out. I can’t focus, can’t keep my eyes open, and have to lie down for 20 minutes to restart my brain. Add that to days where I can’t work to save my life and lie on a couch in a malaise, and I thought that doing a post about staying healthy might be a wise thing.

I also went to my doctor and had a bunch of tests because passing out. Duh.

When you’re freelancing, you don’t have a company insurance plan, you sometimes can’t afford your own insurance, and when you get sick, you have no sick leave. I live in Canada where we have universal health care paid for through taxes, so that helps. If you live somewhere where you don’t have universal health care, you need to be doubly careful.

So how do you stay physically healthy? Four basic things:


Without sleep you can’t function properly.  I wrote Cold Magics on 5 hours of sleep a night for about 8 months, because the only time I had to write was between 10 p.m. and midnight. I gained weight, felt like crap and got sick a lot.

Humans need between at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Get sleep.


Junk food is one of my favourite things but it isn’t what your body needs to function well and stay healthy. Humans need a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat and a whole bunch of trace elements to survive and thrive. Learn what they are, and learn how to cook food with them in it. It’s cheaper and healthier than restaurants. Also, yummy!

Note: Don't starve yourself. Your body needs approximately 2000 calories per day for women, 2200 a day for men. Anyone who tells you to eat 1200 calories a day is either misinformed or wants you to give them money for their diet plan.


Did you know the 8 glasses of water a day thing is a myth? Some marketing executive for a water bottling company pulled it out of thin air (or some other place) to get you to drink more bottled water.

That being said, you need to stay hydrated.  Dehydration leads to headaches, exhaustion, grumpiness and drinking all your kid’s apple juice and having to make up lies about what happened.

… I’ve heard.

Drink when you’re thirsty. If you’re worried about whether you’re hydrated or not, here’s a handy guide.


Yes, you need it.  Muscle exercises help you keep your posture when you’re sitting in your chair and help you lift those cartons of books. Cardiovascular exercises give you the breath to throw elevator pitches at fast-moving editors, and to run from your legions of screaming fans.

If you have a physical disability or disabilities, you will need to work within those limitations, of course, but still, get some exercise. Bike, run, walk, wheelchair race, lift heavy objects, go hiking, go swimming, do pushups, do something!

Having a healthy body also helps you have a healthier mind, which makes it easier to write more.


All writer-as-vampire jokes aside, get out into the sun every day if you can. Even 15-20 minutes outside does you a world of good.

Sunlight is good for you (vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin!) and more important, getting outside and staring at something other than the keyboard or notebook regenerates your mind and spirit, and you will better for it.

Bonus Tip: Wash Your Hands

I spend years doing corporate communications for a hospital. And one of the biggest messages that we sent out to people coming in was WASH YOUR HANDS!

Why you ask?

Right now, your nose is itching because unknown to you, you have Abyssinian Nose-Fall-Off plague (pre symptomatic but contagious). You’re going to scratch it. The germs will go on your hands. Your hand touches the bannister on your way down to the subway, or the counter at the coffee shop. Someone else’s hand touches the same spot. Then at some point, they touch their face.

One week later, everybody’s nose is falling off, and if you’d washed your hands after scratching your nose, the world wouldn’t be in this mess.

Here’s when and how.


Next week: Mental Health: Because your body is only half the battle.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Marketing True Magics 9: Twitter Ad Copy

Marketing True Magics 9: Twitter Ad Copy

So, last week was all about my “please be my follower” strategy on twitter (and if you aren’t my follower, I’m @erik_buchanan, and don’t you want to be my friend?). This week is all about getting folks to buy my book from twitter, and that means it's all about ad copy.

Ad copy is HARD.

It needs to be clean, concise, interesting and not irritating.  Remember the big three of marketing: think, feel, do? It all needs to be in there:

Good copy has:
1. Something to get your attention (Think: This sounds really interesting!)
2. Something to make you want the book (Feel: I want to know what happens!)
3. A way for you to buy the book (Do: I’m buying this book!)
And because this is Twitter, it has to be done in 140 characters. Ideally in 100 characters so other people can comment and re-tweet.

(Joke: Why isn’t George R.R. Martin on Twitter anymore?  He killed all 140 characters. HA!)

So how do we do it?

1. Getting your attention

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, so putting in the book cover is good (I have good covers). Also, pictures are more likely to get re-tweets. So I should either use my book covers or find cool photos related to the books and use them to get your attention.

2. Making you want more

I find my elevator pitches very useful here. The purpose of an elevator pitch is to make the person listening to it want to hear more. Observe:

Small Magics: A young man discovers magic in a world where no one believes in it anymore, except one person who is willing to kill to possess it all.

Cold Magics: A young magician must find a way to end a war before the church finds an excuse to hang him for witchcraft.

(Don’t you just want to go buy them both now?  You really should. The link is in the book titles)

Just like your elevator pitch, your ad copy should make folks interested enough to click through to decide if they want to buy the book.

The next step is to take my elevator pitches and shrink them to less than 100 characters. They have to be less than 100 characters because I also need:

3. A Way for You to Buy the Book

I need to link to to my publisher’s website or to Amazon, and since my publisher’s website is under construction right now, it’s going to be Amazon.

Remember: most book purchases are impulse buys. If the person reading my ad has the impulse to buy, I don’t want to make them wait.

How Often Should I Tweet?

Some authors send out twenty tweets a day about their books, most of them the same. I tend to tune them out and suspect you do, too. So how many tweets should I send out to get maximum effect with minimum irritation?

I had the good fortune to talk with Tee Morris [link] recently. He knows a great deal more about social media than I do, so I asked him what, in his opinion, was the maximum number of times a day one should advertise so as not to annoy one’s followers?

His answer? Three times a day. Enough to get attention and reach people at different times of the day, not so much as will drive them away.

That said, people don’t like seeing the same ad day in and day out. It becomes boring, so in addition to creating the ad above, I should probably create at least 4 others.

For each book.

And I should put them in a rotating schedule so my followers aren’t being bombarded by the same ads at the same time of day every time.

So Where Are They?

I’m working on it!

Really, I am!

Stop looking at me like that…

I am developing 10 twitter ads which will run in staggered rotation through the day and week so as not to bore or drive away followers. You’ll be seeing them soon and, if I do it right, the copy will be spread far and wide across the twitterverse, and all of you will buy my book and my publisher will do little happy dances in the street.

…Here’s hoping.

Next Week: Things I still need to learn about Twitter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

This Writing Life 9: More Editing and Editors, or More Than Just Copy vs Substantive

(Sorry this one is a late. I was sick. I'll be blogging about health next week.)

Last week we talked about why you need an editor. And you do. Sometimes a publisher supplies the editor, sometimes you want a piece edited before it goes to the publisher, or to the agent you are trying to get.  If you are self-publishing you definitely need an editor. And if you don’t think you do, don’t self-publish, ever.  Seriously.

That said, different editors have different skillsets, and in order to know which editor is best for you, it’s best to know which skills editors offer.

The Editing Editors Do When They Edit

When writers think of editors, we tend to think about two types, Copyeditors and Substantive Editors. Some quick definitions, from of the Editors Association of Canada (EAC):
  • Copyediting: Editing for grammar, spelling, punctuation and other mechanics of style; checking for consistency of mechanics and internal consistency of facts; marking head levels and approximate placement of art; notifying designer of any unusual production requirements. May include Canadianizing; metrication; providing or changing system of citations; writing or editing captions and/or credit lines; writing running heads; listing permissions needed and/or obtaining them; providing or editing prelims, back matter, cover copy and/or CIP data. May also include negotiating changes with author.
  • Substantive Editing: Clarifying and/or reorganizing a manuscript for content and structure. Changes may be suggested to or drafted for the author. May include negotiating changes with author.
Now, that’s a fair amount of work, but there are a lot of other things that editors do knowing them will make it easier for you, the writer, when you go looking for an editor.

(Assuming you are a writer. Because if you’re not, why are you reading this?  Are you stalking me?  Are you analyzing me?  Are one of the alien monsters coming to take over this planet by entering the minds of its intelligentsia?!!!!)

(See what happens when you don’t use an editor?)

Here’s a list from the EAC of the different services editors can provide. I’m not going to give you the descriptions of each, because you can find them all right here.
  • Developmental / Project Editing
  • Substantive or Structural Editing
  • Stylistic Editing
  • Rewriting
  • Copy Editing
  • Picture Research
  • Fact Checking / Reference Checking
  • Indexing
  • Mark-Up / Coding
  • Proofreading
  • Mock-Up (Rough Paste-Up)
  • Production Editing
Now, obviously, not every job is in need of all of these skillsets.  But chances are you’re going to need at least some of those skills beyond copy and substantive

My next series is historical horror instead of fantasy. I need someone who can also do fact checking (did that major historical event really happen then?). Because it is aimed at a YA market, I also need someone who can do stylistic editing to make sure I’m writing at the corret reading level.

If you are a self-publishing something (which I may be doing in the near future…) you’re going to need more than that. Just looking at the list, I’m thinking someone who can do mark-up/coding, production editing, mock-up, proofreading…

It’s a lot, but by knowing what you need, you can budget for it and know what to look for in an editor.

But Can’t I Do It Myself?

Short stories? Yes. Novels? No, unless you want it to be bad. Self-published novel? Definitely not. Ever. Unless you want it to suck.

Every author edits their own work, but at for larger projects, you shouldn’t be the only one to do it, because you will miss something.

Case in point: One of my editors, Gabrielle Harbowy, is also a writer. Gabrielle is a professional. She knows her stuff. From her website:
“Gabrielle is an Affiliate member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She edits for publishers including Pyr Books, and is a staff proofreader for Lambda Literary. In addition to her independent editing work, she is also Managing Editor at Dragon Moon Press, where she oversees the submissions and editing processes. She has edited for aspiring and first-time authors, New York Times Bestsellers, and Hugo Award winners. Books she has acquired and/or edited have gone on to be finalists and winners of Bram Stoker awards, Parsecs, and ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year awards.”
Now for the $24,000 question (and if you get the reference, congratulations! You’re old!): Does Gabrielle do all her own editing?


Like any good writer, Gabrielle does edit her own work – substantive and copy and everything else. But, before Gabrielle’s also sends her major works to another editor (either her publisher's editor, or an editor she knows for work that doesn't yet have a publisher). This is because Gabrielle knows that, like every other writer, she is too close to see everything that needs changing.

From those one or two copy-edits that you missed the first time and now can’t see for the life of you to that bit where the guy you killed in the first part of the book is giving a speech in the second, you need someone an outside eye. You NEED an editor.

So How Do I Find an Editor?

Word of mouth is your best best for finding a good editor. Talk to other writers (preferably successful ones) and see if they have an editor they use outside their publisher, and if so, do they take other clients.  Then go research that editor (because Google is here for a reason) and find out if they have the skillset that you need.

How much will it cost me?


Yes, I know, I’m stunningly unhelpful sometimes.

Different editors charge different fees depending on their skillset, experience, and the level of work that’s involved in making your manuscript go from great (which I am sure it is now) to the THAT’S AMAZING!!!

And you want to be amazing, don’t you?

Next Week: Staying Healthy, Because Working Sick Sucks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Marketing True Magics 8: Wait a minute! What about Promoting Your Books on Twitter?

All right, you caught me. I haven’t been doing much marketing of my books on Twitter yet. Which begs the question: Why not?

The Marketing Process: Think, Feel, Do

Marketing has three steps: I need to get you thinking about my book, which will lead to you feeling something about my book, which will lead you to doing something (buying my book).

Example: my Twitter feed. (are you following @erik_buchanan? You should. I’m fascinating).  I follow people to try to get them to follow me back. Here’s what happens, how it goes right, and how it can go wrong:

Step 1. I follow a person. The person:

StepRight Result Wrong Result
Thinks Who is this guy? Who is this guy?
Feels I’m Curious. I’m Disturbed
DoesLook at my twitter feed/profile Blocks me

Step 2. On reading my profile, the person:

StepRight Result Wrong Result
Thinks He does a bunch of neat stuff He does stuff I don’t care about
Feels I’d like to learn more Bored
DoesFollows me Not follow me

Step 3. On receiving my direct message:

StepRight Result Wrong Result
Thinks Now I know the stuff he talks about Now I know the stuff he talks about
Feels That’s cool! Boring!
DoesReads my posts Unfollows

At the end of the process I have a new follower who is likely to read my posts. Three different steps just to do that much. And now I want to advertise to them?

Better make the ads good, hadn’t I?

Next Week: Writing Twitter Ad Copy

Monday, September 08, 2014

This Writing Life 8: Editing and Editors or Just Because It’s Done Doesn’t Mean It’s Done

(Note from Erik: My blog posts have been too long. Since I’m talking about editing this week, it seems like a good time to start shortening them)

Last week I talked about writers as Explorers or Engineers. I said that no matter which a writer was, when that writer finished their book, they were confident that what they have written was the best it could be. I also said they were wrong. Here’s why:

First drafts are never the best they can be.  Ever.

Some people say first drafts are always terrible. They are wrong. Some first drafts are terrible, some are OK, some are good, and some are great. All of them can still be improved.

And here’s the big secret: You can’t make your book the best it can be all by yourself.

You can improve it. You can fix typos and grammar and spelling. You can fix characters, change plot, remove inconsistencies, and correct timelines. But you still need set of outside eyes to look at it.

Too Close To Notice

When we write a novel, we are too close to see all the flaws. Maybe because it’s all in our heads, and therefore we see things on the paper that aren’t there. Or maybe we’ve looked at the work so many times we’ve stopped really seeing it.

Here’s some of my favourite mistakes:
Saying the same thing over again.
“You know how Sir Robert says [X] on page 243?” “Yes?” “He died on page 31.”
Writing the same word different ways, like Mill pond, Mill-pond and Millpond.
Saying the same thing over again.

And one that I didn’t do, but which is my personal favourite:
“Remember how you said, “Make every person count”?”
“You left out the “O”.”
 (Yes, it really happened)

When to Hire a Professional Editor

If your book has a publisher already (congratulations!) your publisher will supply you with an editor.  Otherwise, you should hire an editor when:

  • You’re getting ready to send it to an agent
  • You’re getting ready to send it to a publisher
  • When you are self-publishing (please, please, please!)
  • When you are stuck – you know the book could be better, but can’t figure out how, and neither can your first or beta readers. 

An Important Note

If your novel has been accepted for publication, the publisher should bring in an editor to work with you. If they do not, run screaming. Seriously.

If your publisher does not bring in an editor, it does not mean you are a perfect writer. It means that that publisher publishes unedited manuscripts, i.e.: crap.

What Stage in the Writing Process?

Everyone has his or her own process, so the answer is, “it depends.”

The amazing Tanya Huff, for example, is able to edit as she writes. By the time her first draft is done, it’s ready for her publisher to give it to their editors.

My books don’t go out to my publisher/editor until the fourth draft. Here’s the breakdown:

  • First draft: Yay! I’ve written it! Pour the whiskey! NO ONE SEES THE FIRST DRAFT!
  • Second draft: Fixes the messes I made and puts in all the things I left out of the first. This goes to my first reader (thanks, Katrina!)
  • Third draft: fixes the things I missed on the second draft and those that my first reader says are inconsistent/stupid/don’t work (this involves lots of fun arguing). This goes to my beta readers.
  • Fourth draft: Add in input from my beta readers, do another scan for typos, etc., and fixed anything that still bugs me. Off to my publisher/editor.

Next Week: More Editing and Editors, or More Than Just Copy vs Substantive

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Marketing True Magics 7: Twittering To The Masses, My Journey So Far

The delay on True Magics, final book in my Magics Trilogy, has given me extra time to build my social media presence and following, and take my time in planning out the rest of my marketing campaign. So far, my main focus has been on Twitter.

(Buy Small Magics and Cold Magics so you'll be ready when True Magics comes out and yes, I am getting the sales pitch out of the way early)

Why Twitter?

It’s the easiest to use and the fastest to build a following on. Twitter has lots of writers, readers, fantasy fans, horror fans, historical fiction fans, YA fans, etc., etc., etc.

And most important of all, it is very, very easy to be found and followed.

I’m still learning Twitter. There’s a lot about it I don’t know, and there’s a steep learning curve ahead as I work on turning my followers into my fans, but here’s what I’ve got so far.

Getting More Followers

I’ve gone from approximately 150 followers to 4,761 at the time of typing this. I expect to break 5,000 by the end of the week. And it’s all because I am, in fact, stunningly interesting.



Little love here, folks…

All right. It’s not because I’m stunningly interesting (though I do try). The truth is that if you’re not already famous (or notorious), rich or stunningly good looking, you aren’t going to be building followers at any great speed just by being present and tweeting regularly.

So I’m doing it differently.

After some research I decided to gain new followers as described in this article by C.S. Larkin. The gist of it is this: I follow people who are interested in the same things I am, and the ones that follow me back, I keep. The ones that don’t follow back, I unfollow, usually in 24 to 48 hours.

It sounds fairly heartless, doesn’t it?

I think of it like cold calling in sales. I follow someone. They look over my tweets and decide if they want me to follow back. When they do I send them a direct message. Once they read that, they decide if they want to keep me. If they don't, I unfollow them to make room for those who will.

A Word About that Direct Message

There is debate over direct messages in Twitter. They’re used for advertising and for spam, they’re impersonal (if you write them badly) and they can annoy people.

That said, a properly written direct message is a polite way to tell a new follower that you are glad to have them. Here’s mine:

Welcome! I tweet about writing, books, TV, movies, web series, science, stage combat, and stuff that’s just neat. Thanks for following!

No sales pitch. No requests for friends on Facebook. No requests to visit my website. No demand for retweets.

Of the 4500 followers I have gained in the last few months, I have had exactly one complaint. So I’d say it’s working just fine.

So How Do I Find Followers?

I use JustUnfollow to find people to follow because it allows me to search by hashtag or keyword (such as #amwriting #amreading #fantasy #scifi #horror #YA). It also allows me to find people who write similar things and follow their followers. That’s the one that works best for me so far.

But are they “good” followers?

Right now, my followers are made up of:
  • fans
  • people who think I’m interesting
  • people who think I might be interesting
  • people who automatically follow back anyone who follows them
  • The odd spam-bot (I'm working on wiping those out).  
Now, “good” followers (according to the social media gurus) will read what I tweet, ask me questions, retweet, and buy my books.

Another word for them is “fans.” And turning followers into fans is my job. If they aren't interested, they'll leave.


I try to live tweet at least tree times a day. I also use every week to gather together articles I like (see the list in my Direct Message) and Hootsuite to send out scheduled tweets with them. This way the account is always active.

The daily tweets are the hard ones because if I’m not careful they become a variation on “Sitting at #desk. #Amwriting.” Most of the articles I send out get at least 2 retweets. Some get many more, including some of these blog posts. Thanks, folks.

Retweeting and Favoriting

I do as much of this as I can, when I can. I favorite and retweet causes I support and statements I agree with, as well as articles, pictures or tweets that fall into the parameter of my welcome message, or that I find funny or interesting.

If you are advertising your book/play/web series/comic/event with exciting copy and I read it, I will probably re-tweet it (Put “#Retweet” “#RT” or best of all, “Please #Retweet” in your tweets to improve your retweet numbers). If you have boring or nonsensical copy, I will not. My follower’s time (and mine) is valuable. I’m not going to waste it.

I don’t retweet anything political or religious because my twitter feed is for selling books, not debating beliefs. I don’t retweet anything off-colour because of the demographics of my target audiences.

Final Note: Don't Be Creepy

This article went way longer than I expected, both in time to write and length, but I need to say one more thing.

Don’t be creepy.

One of the problems with JustUnfollow is that, if you follow as many as I do, you tend not to look at whom you follow. This can lead to political or religious connections you don’t want, people you don’t like, and some times, it can make you look creepy.

Case in point: My next series is a YA horror series aimed at young adults, with a possible middle grade audience as well. I thought about following Rick Riordan’s followers, figuring they would like what I write. Fortunately I looked them over first.

As would be expected for someone who writes middle-grade fiction, most of Rick Riordan's followers are minors.

I did not follow them.

As a rule, I try not to follow anyone under 18 years old. Because having a guy in his 40s following you when you’re a minor is creepy.

Don’t be creepy.

Next week: Wait a minute! What about Promoting Your Books on Twitter?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

This Writing Life 7: Outliners vs. Pantsers or The Many Ways to Write Stuff

There is big debate over which way is the best way to write a novel. This debate divides the writing community into two main camps: “Outliners” and “Seat of the Pantsers.” Outliners outline their books before they write them and Seat of the Pantsers don’t.

And I’m pretty sure the Outliners named the groups.

And if one of your big questions as a writer is, “should I outline or not?” read through to the end because that’s where I put my opinion on the matter. Before that, thought, I’m going to explain each type.

I’m also going to rename the two types Explorers and Engineers. Because, really, who wants to be a “pantser”?

Explorers and Engineers

Both the Explorer (Panster) and the Engineer (Outliner) have the same job. There is a mountain (the novel) in front of them and they need to make a path to the top (the end of the novel).  Nice metaphor, eh? And so original…

The Explorer’s Journey
Explorers will say, “Right, I have to go that way,” and start walking. They may find themselves with false starts, they may find themselves backtracking and they may find themselves wandering into completely different territory, but at the end, they will discover what is, for them, the best path up the mountain.

For the Explorer, writing is a very organic process. They most likely know the beginning middle and end (some don’t), but how they will get there is completely open to possibilities. They explore and learn about their characters as they write. They find the situations and scenes and moments as they go.  And while they may have false starts and false directions, the Explorer feels that, by the time they get to the top, they have found the best possible path up the mountain.

(They are wrong of course, but that’s the subject of next week’s blog.)

Some explorers: Stephen King, Meg Cabot (who wrote a great article about why) and Erik Buchanan.

The Engineer’s Journey

The Engineers will say, “Right, I have to go that way,” and start planning. They’ll survey the mountain, measure out the best distance and create blueprints, and then build a road that takes them to the top of the mountain.

For the Engineer, a lot of the creative process happens before they write the book. They figure out who the characters are, from their birthday to their favourite colour in some cases. They know what the story is going to be about, and they decide what actions, tensions, conflicts and resolutions will best serve the story.  Then they sit down and write.  They have fewer false starts because they already know where they are going.  They’re less likely to hit dead ends. And when they are finished, they are confident that they have built the best possible road to get up the mountain.

(They are wrong of course, but that’s the subject of next week’s blog.)

Some Engineers: John, Grisham, J.K. Rowling, and Erik Buchanan.

Wait. You’re In Both Lists

Oh, you noticed.

So Which Are You, an Explorer or an Engineer?

Both, of course.

I started out as pure explorer. I love the flow of the writing, and love the journey of discovering the book.  In the last few years, however, I have incorporated more and more of the Engineer’s path.

Why I went from Explorer to Engineer

Remember the only rule of writing: You Must Finish.  As an explorer, I was finishing, but I was hitting some pretty big dead ends in the process. For Small Magics, I had to re-write 200 pages of the book to fix it.  With Cold Magics, it was 250. Both dead ends took up a lot more time than I wanted, and when I moved to writing professionally, I realized it was time I didn’t have. Add to that, most Ghostwriting clients ask for an outline, and you see why I made the change.

So Which One’s Better?

Remember the First Rule of Writing: You Must Finish.

The one that is better is the one that allows you to most effectively follow the First Rule of Writing. Some people can’t outline because they feel it destroys their creativity and makes the story go away.  Some people feel they must outline because it guides their creativity and brings the story together.

For me, changing from Explorer to Engineer made sense. It allows me to work faster, which means writing more books.  Does it make my writing better? I don’t know. I think so, and when I figure out why I think so, I’ll write a blog post about it.

What I do know is that both ways work. Look at the names beside mine in each group. These writers write good books and make a good living doing it. So pick the method that works for you and do that.

Next Week: Editing and Editors or Just Because It’s Done, Doesn’t Mean It’s Done

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