Megan Lentz

A New Year, A New Set of Reading Challenges

I’m a sucker for goodreads’ Reading Challenges. My to-read list has over 200 books on it. Deciding which of the 200+ books to read next is a challenge in and of itself. The reading challenges help me sort through that list and pick what I will read next.

Last year I participated in the A to Z challenge, where participants read one book for each letter of the alphabet – either the title or the author’s name (first or last) has to start with the selected letter. Surprisingly, Y gave me the most trouble, which is how I discovered Moira Young’s Dustlands series. This year I am once again doing the A to Z Challenge, but I’m also doing the 50 states challenge, inspired by Epic Read’s The United States of YA, where you read a book set in each of the 50 United States.

Planning out my year’s worth of books may seem odd. I’m pretty sure my husband was humoring me when I was explaining what I was doing all evening last night. And sometimes my reading challenge lists change if  a new book is released or I see something intriguing at the library. And my challenge lists do not encompass everything I will read for the upcoming year.

For me, planning out my reading is relaxing. It allows me to revisit books I wanted to read, but have forgotten why I wanted to read them. I can reevaluate my reading interests and find new books to get excited about. Also, as with Blood Red Road, the reading challenges help me discover new authors and books.

February 4, 2013 Book News & Reviews

Twitter Tools for Engagement

Are your tweets engaging?

Are your tweets engaging?

There are several great articles out there about ways to tweet effectively. When I first started tweeting, I relied heavily on Debbi Ohi’s The Writer’s Guide to Twitter. She shares tons of helpful information, from the basics, to how twitter can help writers, and even twitter etiquette.

There are a few basic types of tweets. There’s the retweet, where you literally retweet something another person tweeted. There’s the link share, where you share a link with your followers. There’s the @, where you are replying to another tweet or trying to tell something to a specific tweeter. And there is the straightforward, here’s what I’m doing/thinking tweet. In general, you do not want to only use one of these types of tweets. It is best to mix it up. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of over-sharing links. Link sharing is simple. So is retweeting. What I’m not great about is sharing my own thoughts. Do people really care? I’m also not great at @tweets. Just because I don’t do them often though, I do make a conscious effort to mix up the tweets.

Tools for Tweets

Let’s face it, Twitter can be a huge distraction. You think, oh, I’m just going to quickly post this tweet. Then you get sucked into reading other tweets and clicking links and the next thing you know, you’ve killed two hours. The other problem with Twitter is spreading out your tweets. I personally don’t think about Twitter all day. I have set times when I like to check out Twitter and catch up on blogs. Unfortunately, if I post all my tweets during these times, I’d post several in the span of 30 minutes or so, which is not good Twitter etiquette and it does not help with Twitter engagement.

Thankfully, there are tools that help you manage your tweet posting schedules and that can also limit the time you spend on actual Twitter (meaning less distraction).

Hootsuite

I used to use Hootsuite. Hootsuite is great because you can schedule your tweets well in advance and see your Twitter stream (what your followers are tweeting) on the dashboard. You can also see @mentions and pending tweets. The downfall is that you have to login to Hootsuite and actively think about when to post a tweet.

Hootsuite also has an analytics function. You select what type of report you want to create (follower growth, retweets, etc) and Hootsuite then generates the report. A downfall to their analytics function is that you need a paid account to use it.

Buffer

I recently discovered a new tool, Buffer. Buffer is great for many reasons. You do not have to login to schedule tweets. You can install a button to your toolbar and, if you see something you like, push the buffer button. A tweet screen pops up with the link and title and you can alter the text and decide whether you want to schedule your tweet or tweet it immediately.

You can also add tweets within buffer or schedule buffered tweets directly through Twitter. Buffer auto-schedules your tweets to spread them out during the day. You tell it how often you want to tweet and it picks strategic times. What’s great is that you can look at your scheduled tweets and move things around so you aren’t posting the same type of tweet several times in a row. What’s not so great is that you can’t schedule a specific tweet for several days down the road, like with Hootsuite unless you change your posting schedule or add in lots of filler tweets.

The best part about Buffer, in my opinion, anyway, is the analytics tool. Buffer tells how many people clicked links (per tweet), favorited a tweet, or retweeted a tweet, and it shows the potential reach for each tweet. Typically, my tweets only have the potential of reaching my followers, but I’ve had some tweets that were retweeted by users with huge followings, increasing the reach potential for my tweets. The caveat is that you only get analytics for tweets that were sent through Buffer. Buffer has a paid account option, but so far everything I want is available through the free account.

Analytics for Twitter Engagement

Analytics are extremely useful because they can help you learn what types of tweets are successful – clicks, retweets, likes, etc. All of these activities equate to engagement, and social media success is all about engagement.

Analytics can also help you determine if the reach of a tweet is affected by the time/day. Despite studies I have read to the contrary, among my followers I have not seen a correlation between time/day and engagement, but that is not to say that other people with different audiences will not find this to be the case.

Knowing how your tweets are received can help you create more engaging tweets as you move forward. It helps pinpoint what worked and what did not work. It also helps you monitor changes over time. Maybe something that worked last month does not work this month. Social media is constantly changing, and monitoring your analytics can help you stay on top of these trends and continue to create engaging content for your followers.

Are you using any great tools for Twitter? I’d love to hear about other Twitter management apps.

January 31, 2013 Tips for Writers , ,

Are you Guilty of Twitter Spam?

Photo courtesy of Holley St. Germain

Photo courtesy of Holley St. Germain

Lately I’ve been noticing more and more tweets that fall into the category I would describe as Twitter spam. For me, Twitter spam is the number one reason I drop a person from my follow list. It is also the number one reason I will opt out of following someone back.

What is Twitter Spam?

There are a couple forms of twitter spam. The biggest one is blasting twitter every hour or couple of hours with a desperate plea to buy a book. Here’s an example from a particularly spammy twitter feed (I have removed identifying information):

Get the #bestseller NOVEL TITLE on Amazon for #Kindle only $2.99! (1hr ago)
Need a short but fun read this weekend? Check out my new series SERIES TITLE for your #kindle each only $0.99. (3 hr ago)
Please visit and like my author page on FB (link). It’s got the latest news on my next novel NOVEL TITLE  (4hr ago)
A #supernatural #war raging for millions of years follows man as he conquers our solar system and heads to the stars (link to book mentioned in above tweets). (6 hr ago)
Check out this review of the #bestseller NOVEL TITLE in paperback (7hr ago)
What’s short, awesome, and you can’t put it down? My new series SERIES TITLE. Get it for #Kindle each $0.99 today! (9hr ago)
What can you get for $0.99? How about an awesome novella! Grab SERIES TITLE for your #Kindle right now. Really! Get it! (10 hr ago)
Support independent authors and fill your #Kindle & #iPad with content from people who write for you – link to all of this authors books on amazon. (11hr ago)
Want something short to read tonight? Grab my new series SERIES TITLE for your #Kindle each only $0.99 (12 hr ago)

Slightly obnoxious, right? Now, I’m all for self-promoting. And I know for self-published authors, this is especially important. But here’s the thing. If someone is following you, they either a. are already a fan of your book and probably planning on buying the next one or b. are interested in what you’ve got to offer or want to offer support.

What does this mean? It means that spamming is not going to increase your sales. Instead, save the book promotion for your about section and maybe tweet a couple of times here or there (never more than once in the same day) about where your book can be purchased or for how much. Then reserve your tweets for actual content. Share a link to a book someone else wrote that you admire or, better yet, think your readers will like. Chances are, that author will reciprocate and share your book with their twitter fans. Or share information that your readers will find interesting. Are you writing about a zombie invasion? Share information from how to survive the apocalypse sites. Or share literary news. Or tell people something funny that happened to you, the person who wrote these books. Give your feed content and people will be more likely to follow you, like you, and, ultimately, buy your book.

Another, slightly more obscure form of spamming is posting the same tweet, word for word, multiple times a week for weeks on end. While it is not an obvious form of spam, if I notice someone doing this, I often take it as a sign that they have no new content and are not worth following.

In all fairness, I can see the temptation to repost a tweet. The reality of twitter is that tweets can often go unseen. But to your loyal followers, this can begin to feel spammy, and could lead to a loss of followers. Mix it up. Create new tweets that get across the same information. Find ways to rework the old ones. Because, in all honesty, if your original post did not generate a lot of engagement, chances are it was the tweet itself that did not encourage engagement, rather than the massive amount of tweets that make their way across a person’s feed. Be creative. How else can you say what you want to say? How else can you get your message across?

Now that you know what Twitter spam is, you may be asking, so what can I tweet? How can I engage my followers? Stay tuned for my next post on Engaging Tweets.

January 16, 2013 Tips for Writers ,

Beta Reading – Why it’s worth your time to help other writers

Image courtesy of Tsahi Levent-Levi

I recently served as a beta read for a ya novel. Sure, taking time out of my writing to read someone else’s seems like it would be counterproductive to my overall goal of finishing my own novel. But here’s how being a beta reader can actually help you as a writer.

Applying the Critical Eye

Every time a writer reads something, they cannot help but to read it with a critical eye. When you read a work that has already gone through multiple edits with a professional, writing for publication can seem daunting. You find yourself wondering how you can get to that point. But when you are a beta reader, you get to see manuscripts before they have been primed and primped. You get a taste for what most manuscripts look like before an editor has done his/her magic.

Beta manuscripts will have both good and bad elements. But the good elements seem more attainable when you are viewing them alongside the not so good. Not everyone is perfect. By realizing that you can focus on one element at a time, the task of creating a ‘perfect’ manuscript goes from impossible to possible. Beta reading helps you see that this is the way most writers get their manuscripts submission ready, piece-by-piece.

Not only does beta reading help to improve your self-esteem, it also helps you take your critical reading skills and apply them to your own writing. It is often easier to pinpoint why something isn’t working in other people’s writing than it is to do the same with your own work. But if you have just spent a day reading a manuscript with poor character development and then read your own manuscript and note similar awkward or poorly developed bits, it will be easier to see what needs to be improved – just use the same advice your gave the other author.

How do I become a beta reader?

So how do you find beta reading opportunities?  I’ll let you in on a secret. Writers want beta readers, but many writers don’t know how to find them. Put yourself out there on the web. Is there a writer blog you follow? Send them an email. Put a notice on your own website offering your services. Tweet your interest in beta reading. I bet someone will jump at the offer. Just remember, a real person is on the receiving end of your critique. Don’t forget to compliment the things the author has done well in addition to providing useful suggestions for the things he/she has not done so well. Think of the writer as yourself. Critique their work in the same way you would want your work critiqued.

 

December 3, 2012 editing process, Tips for Writers

Knowing your Market

You should never write something just because you think it will sell, and you should never stop writing something just because you think there is no market out there for it. Markets change and what is hot today can be ice cold tomorrow and vice versa.

Last year when I started writing my WIP, I didn’t see sci-fi come up very often as a genre agents were looking for. Last week I was reading the most recent edition of Writer’s Digest and almost all of the agents they spotlighted are now looking for sci-fi. This is great news for me if I can keep to my schedule and get my darn book finished and start soliciting agents.

I won’t lie and say I didn’t see this trend coming. I suspected it might be on its way, following in the footsteps of some recent sci-fi-esque books and now with The Curiosity landing on Mars, space seems to be getting cool again. While my suspicion that this could become a trend wasn’t the reason I decided to write this book, it did push me to work harder. The worst thing would be to miss the trend because I couldn’t get my act together and write/edit faster.

So how do you know if what you are writing is going to become ‘hot?’

Sadly, you can’t always anticipate it. Sure, if you are keeping up with newly published works and seeing where the holes are and what genres are being touched on, you can start to anticipate where things are going, but you can never know for sure. The most important thing is to write what interests you. You will spend a long time with your WIP, so if you don’t find it interesting, it will feel like an even longer time.

August 27, 2012 Tips for Writers

Exorcising Demons: How to say get lost to a character that isn’t working

It’s been a while since I posted anything, so I’m sure you are all wondering what I’ve been up to. There was an epic road trip from Austin to Florida with my sister and her 3 young kids (5, 3, 1) that ended in a surprise visit to my grandma. There was a wedding shower in New Hampshire that resulted in a rather embarrassing, but extremely creative, gift from my mom. There was a trip to a Jewish mikvah to complete my conversion. There was a visit to the vet just to learn that my cat really is eating himself sick ($70 well spent). And then there was a TON of editing.

I always thought writing was the time-consuming part of being a writer, until I decided that one of my characters had to go. He was getting in the way of plot elements and relationships and, when I looked closely at the manuscript, I could see that the only reason he was there in the first place was because I didn’t want to have to work out some tricky elements. But putting a bandage over a leak never fixes the leak. You have to actually discover the source of the problem and repair it. So over the past 4-6 weeks, I have been exorcising this character from the plot. And you know what? Even though it takes a lot of work to remove a character, my other characters are growing more interesting and the plot is flowing better now that I’ve made these changes. Of course, removing this character has forced me to rewrite entire chapters since his removal has altered the plot in significant ways.

While this process has set me back some, it has been well worth it because I feel like I have gotten a stronger WIP out of it. So the take away from this – don’t be afraid of change, even if it is BIG change. If you feel like something isn’t working, chances are, it actually isn’t working.

August 22, 2012 editing process, Tips for Writers

To Outline or Not to Outline, That is the Question

I’ve never been a fan of outlining. But it’s not because I don’t think it’s a good idea to outline. Rather, I don’t want to do the work. Every time I sit down to outline my brain hurts. So why, you might ask, am I make myself outline now?

I hit a wall where the plot was not flowing right. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know how to fix it. Enter the outline. For the past couple of days I have been putting together a solid outline detailing the main scenes in each chapter. Doing this has helped me to get reinvigorated about my project because I am seeing ways to make it work. And since I have written it all down, I don’t have to remember the brilliant ideas I came up with.

The other advantage of outlining is that it is allowing me to realize which relationships/characters do not work. I am cutting plot elements and adding new twists and scenes that contribute to the over all movement of the plot. In short, I am finding ways to make my story the best it can be.

What do you think about outlines? Do you outline before you write, in the middle of the writing process, or do you avoid outlines at all costs?

July 26, 2012 Tips for Writers

Writer Woes: Answering to Timelines

Asking a writer how close their book is to being done is like asking an artist how close their painting is to being ready, or a computer programer how much time they need to finish a project. You cannot put a timeframe on creative output. It’s done when it’s done.

I’m sure once I’ve written multiple books, I will have a better gauge, but for now, I have no way of knowing how long or how close I am. I can estimate, I can work towards a given timeline, but until I’m in my final stage of editing (fixing grammer, not content), I won’t really know.

July 11, 2012 Time Management, Tips for Writers

Monday Blues and the Dreaded Middle

It’s Monday, and, even though I am arguably living the dream job, I’m fighting the Monday-back-to-work-blues. The reason being - I’m floating around the dreaded middle and all I can think about is how much I want to pick up one of my older projects so that I can avoid having to face the glaring flaws I’m seeing in my story arc. I know I’m pulling away from what I originally set out to do, in part because some of my original ideas didn’t work. Why I continue to try to keep them in, even after they didn’t work in the first draft, I’m not really sure. But I know with each rewrite, my story is getting strong, so the only thing I can do is visualize the goal of seeing my work published, of truly being a writer, and push through.

I think one of the biggest things I’m struggling with is trying to stay true to the story I want to write. But so often when I read a story that is poorly developed, I think to myself, this person wasn’t willing to sacrifice the story they thought they wanted to tell for the story that they should tell; they ignored the story that worked for a story that is flawed.

When I wrote my Master’s thesis, I discovered 2 weeks before the due date that my hypothesis didn’t work. But instead of trying to submit something that was flawed, I worked my butt off to turn what I had into something that worked, at the sacrifice of a lot of data and many paragraphs and even chapters that I was proud of. While this was a struggle, it was what had to be done. I know I need to apply that same logic, that same part of my brain, to my fictional writing. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. If I want to call myself a writer, I need to not only be able to see when something doesn’t work, but I need to have the bravery to step back and rework scenes until I have something that does work.

What does your Monday have in store for you? Do you struggle with the middle? Or do you find your weakness elsewhere? How do you push through?

July 9, 2012 Tips for Writers

Book Review Friday: Before I Fall

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary: Samantha Kingston has looks, popularity, and a seemingly perfect boyfriend. She does what she wants to who she wants, with little thought of the consequences. Until the night of February 12, when Samantha finds herself the victim of a car crash. Only, instead of waking up the next day, she finds herself reliving February 12 over and over. As Samantha tries to figure out what happened, she learns a lot about herself and the person she has become. And, she realizes she doesn’t like that person. Will changing who she is change her fate? Or are some things inevitable?

If you are a fan of Delirium, Before I fall, while different, has all of Oliver’s skills as a storyteller. Samantha has her flaws, but she is still lovable. There is a vulnerability about her that draws the reader in. It was very fulfilling watching Samantha make different choices each time she relived the same day and learned more about what was important to her, and how a simple decision can have a huge impact.

This book had a Groundhog Day feel to it, for those of you old enough to remember that movie, but I found the plot and characters to be more captivating than the 1993 movie.

Oliver is a master at creating dynamic characters, and she does not fail to deliver in this book. By adding her own spin on the plot, with the reliving of the same day over and over, a device I have not seen used in any other YA books, Oliver has created a fresh, unique plot certain to appeal to lovers of paranormal and contemporary fiction alike.

July 6, 2012 Uncategorized , ,