How I found my blogging voice & why it’s important #Blogging #MondayBlogs #Amwriting

blogging-voice-1I’ve made mistakes with my blogging. Oh lordy, have I made mistakes. But that’s life, right? You need to make mistakes to grow, become a better person, and all that other self-improvement junk stuff. The problem with blogging is that you make your mistakes in a public forum – a public forum that is always awake and never disappears. Never ever. Lucky for me, one of my first blogging mistakes was to not use one of the various well-recognized and well-developed blogging platforms so my early blogging mistakes are now gone. Poof! Where did they go? I like to think of those early mishaps are in an Internet graveyard somewhere resting peacefully knowing that they have served me well as learning tools.

blogging-voice-2So, what’s this huge mistake I’m alluding to? Not finding a blogging voice/writing style to match the purpose of my blog. I wrote my initial blogs as if I were writing a legal treatise. As many of you know, I’m a recovering lawyer and sometimes that legal mumbo jumbo just seems to come flying out of my fingers without conscious thought. Now, don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing blogs like legal treatises if – and it’s a big if – your blog is meant to promote your legal business. It may even be okay if you write legal thrillers, but that’s pushing it.

But promoting my legal services was not – and is still not – the purpose of my blog. I started a blog to develop an author platform – whatever that is – and promote my writing in the vague hope of selling more books. My books avoid legal topics like the plague and, therefore, there’s no reason for my blog to sound like I’m still an uptight lawyer (because being a lawyer totally made me uptight).

blogging-voice-4I needed to find my blogging voice. How did I do that? First off, I looked at the purpose of my blog – promotion of myself as an author. What kind of blogging voice/writing style would promote my books – without actually shouting buy my books! over and over? The vast majority of my books are humorous. Why not try to write funny blog posts? If a potential reader stumbles upon my blog and likes my snarky humor, maybe their appetite will be whet and they’ll actually buy one of my books. Sounds like a plan to me.

Naturally, blogging is different than writing a novel and there’s no law that says you need to use the same writing style for both. But be careful. I’m a voracious reader and blog follower. It happens on a regular basis that I try a book from a blogger whose blogs are witty and fun to read, but I don’t end up buying her book because it’s serious as a heart attack. There’s nothing wrong with serious – even if I sometimes avoid it like the plague. But if you’re using your blog as a marketing tool to reach potential readers, a disconnect between writing styles may not be the way to go.

What does everyone else think? Should a writer maintain the same writing style on different forums? Or am I full of it? Comments welcome.

To rant or not to rant: The eternal question of the blogger #Blogging #Amwriting

Yesterday I was having coffee and carrot cake (yes, I was a bad girl and went off my diet) with a friend. I complained about a blog I had read that was just this long rant with no substance (and wasn’t funny to boot). Her response? But isn’t that one of the main forms of blogging – the long rant? Now, this friend doesn’t blog, but she is incredibly well-informed, intelligent, and reads blogs of others. Which means that I – unfortunately – have to take her comment seriously.

rant-2First of all, let me say that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with ranting per se. I love a good rant as much as the next person. And sometimes you need to blow off steam with a loud, uncontrolled outburst. But – keeping in mind that blog posts are on a public forum that never dies – is it a good idea to write a blog post that is a full-on raging rant? It depends. (Sorry, I am a recovering lawyer and can’t help but use that response sometimes even though it makes me cringe. Seriously, I’m sitting in my office chair cringing right now.)

ranting-1But – and here’s where it gets tricky – you can’t just rant. Not only is that a bit juvenile, but it effects how your readers view you. If you don’t care how others view you, good for you. I’m more than a bit jealous of that as I have to care how others view me. I’m not only a blogger but a novelist and – no matter how much I pretend otherwise – I want to sell my novels. Even if you aren’t a writer, if you are using your blog as a platform to market any product or service, you need to be aware of how your blog posts make you look to potential clients.

So how can you rant in a blog post without it turning into full on rant that may or may not turn away blog followers and therefore potential readers and/or clients? Substance and/or humor. If you’re upset about something – for instance, the inability of writers to know the difference between past or passed – you can complain (=rant) about how uneducated indie writers are. Or you can explain the difference in a simple, though not entirely rant-free manner, like I did here.

Another way to add substance is to analyze the problem instead of just ranting poor me, life is so unfair. For example, my blog post Why not me? started as more than a bit of a rant about how unfair it is that some writers are more successful even though their books are not properly edited and their stories unoriginal. Instead of crying about how unfair life is (although I do spend a fair amount of time doing that with a glass of wine), I looked at the reasons why some books are more popular than others and how some writers gain marketing success. I won’t lie, the blog was still a rant, but it turned into something more. In fact, a few writers wrote to thank me for the post.

If you don’t want to sound like an uppity bitch who knows better than everyone else, you can add humor to your rant as well as substance. I like to think I always add humor to my blog posts. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to be funny all the time. I do try, though.

In conclusion, the answer to this eternal question – to rant or not to rant – is yes! Go forth and rant. But don’t forget to add substance and/or humor. (Please feel free to rant about my blog post about ranting in the comments.)

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How being a writer has turned me into a stalker #WriterWednesday #Amwriting

Yes, it’s true. I’m a stalker. Before you call the police on me, please realize that I have no nefarious intentions. It started innocently enough (and isn’t that what they all say?). Whenever I had the good fortune that someone liked a blog post during one of my blog tours, I’d check them out. Do they have a website? Twitter? Goodreads? Facebook? Oh wait! Is this a book blogger? Do they accept book review requests? Yeah, I’d wind myself up pretty good.

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But stalking is good. Stalking increases my contacts within the online community of readers and writers, which means more Twitter followers, Facebook followers, blog followers (you get the point), which will – hopefully! – turn into more books sales. So, this is me advocating stalking. Here’s how I do it:

Likes on blog posts. You see those little avatars at the bottom of a blog post next to likes? Right click that bad boy and hit open in new tab. If the person has properly configured their gravatar, you’ll see information about who they are and – bonus! – their website. (FYI: If you haven’t properly configured your gravatar, stop what you’re doing and do it. NOW! Seriously. Right. Now.) This is where the work starts. Head over to the website. Is this a writer, reader? Jackpot! Follow that blog. Do it! Hit the button and follow. But your work is not done. What about other social media? Follow. Follow. Follow.

You’re a writer and this is a book blogger? Bonus! Find the blogger’s review policy and – this is really important – read it. And then – even more important – follow it. I’m not joking. I delete any and all review requests that don’t follow my review policy. Totally fair since I actually have written in my review policy that I will delete requests that don’t adhere to my policy.

If the person’s gravatar is not properly configured, you might only get a name. My experience is that this is often a blog name. Google that name. Now go back and follow the above instructions.

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Twitter followers. I take this stalking business seriously. I not only stalk likes on blog posts that mention my books, I also stalk Twitter followers. It’s not really stalking if they followed me first, right? Anyway, don’t be fooled by a person’s Twitter handle (look at me – knowing the lingo and everything). Sometimes book bloggers tweet about a variety of things that interest them and not only books. Shocking, I know. Because I obviously have an obsessive personality, I check out the websites of all my followers. Is this someone who may possibly – even if it’s only because they’re stuck on a deserted island with nothing to do – read one of my books? Yes? Then, proceed to follow stalking protocol as outlined above.

Blog followers. This is an easy one. If someone follows my blog, I follow theirs. End of.

stalking-2Facebook followers. Facebook is a bit trickier. I’m adamant about keeping my private Facebook profile and my author page separate, although I have been known to brag to my friends about great things that happen to me in the writing world. Not that that happens often or anything. Well, really, ever which is why I have to make shit up. But that’s neither here nor there. Most of the followers of my author page on Facebook are private persons. And this is where I draw the line. And you thought I didn’t have any morals at all? Wrong! I do. Loosey-goosey morals are still morals.

That’s all folks. If you still feel the need to call the police, go ahead. I dare you. Hold on. The doorbell’s ringing …

What we can learn from the Dutch elections #expatlife #MondayBlogs

We’re gearing up for elections in March here in the Netherlands. My voting card (stempas) came in the mail the other day, and I was reminded of just how easy it is to (register to) vote here. This, in comparison to the pain in my behind it was to register to vote as an absentee voter in Ohio. And, let me tell you, it’s gotten a lot easier since e-mail communication is finally allowed! I’m no political expert, and I’m an advocate for keeping my blog a politics-free zone, but I think I can allow this one little blog about the differences in voting between the Netherlands and the U.S. I think…

stempasNo need to register to vote. Except for a few exceptions for UN workers, you must register with your local government when you live in the Netherlands (and most other EU countries). This registration is not only to ensure you are legally allowed to live and work here, but also registers you with various local and national tax authorities and takes care of those important pesky items like a parking permit. And, if you are legally allowed to vote in the country, you are also automatically registered to vote. Every single person who lives in the Netherlands and is allowed to vote receives a voter card on the same day. No need to take any additional action whatsoever. Easy peasy!

volmachtProxy voting. If, for whatever reason, you live in the country but won’t be around on election day, you can give a proxy vote to just about anyone. It’s super easy. There is a power of attorney/proxy authorization on the back side of your voter card. Just fill it out, give the person voting on your behalf a copy of your identification, and that’s it. I know it’s possible to vote by mail or absentee ballot in the U.S., but having lived overseas for most of my adult life, I also know the absentee ballot takes time to arrange. If you suddenly need to leave town (like finding your schedule changed so that you have to jet off for an overnight trip), you’re out of luck.

Identification. I’m not going to go into a legal treatise about voter identification laws in the U.S. Suffice it to say that there are problems that need resolution. In the Netherlands, I do need to present a passport, identification card, or Dutch driver’s license. BUT none of these has to be valid. It’s sufficient if the form of identification has been expired for no more than five years.

Easy to vote. The polls are open until 9 p.m. in the Netherlands. Although polling station opening times in the U.S. vary widely, the vast majority close at least an hour earlier. And there are quite a few more polling stations as well. There is one polling station per 1,700 Dutch voters as opposed to one station for 2,796 US voters. I realize that’s not really a fair comparison as the U.S. is a huge country with lots of remote areas, but it does give you an idea of how easy it is to find a polling station in the Netherlands. Mine is literally a block away.

Multi-parliamentary system. The Netherlands has a multi-party system, which is pretty awesome since two parties with diametrically opposed ideas doesn’t always work. Okay, to be honest, the Dutch have gone a bit overboard with this recently. 81 – yes 81! – parties tried to get on the ballot for the March elections. This is – obviously – a record amount and not all of these parties made it to the ballot (28 still did). To give you an indication of how strange this is, there are currently 11 parties represented in the parliament.

What about the other expats out there? Any other positive takeaways from your home away from home?

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Does a murder mystery novel suck if the reader figures out whodunit too early? #WriterWednesday #Mystery #Amwriting

Something kind of strange happened the other day. One of my faithful reviewers indicated that she knew who the bad guy was in Self-Serve Murder early in the story. Okay, that happens, but then I was chatting with her about something else and she told me it was the best novel of the Death by Cupcake series. After I stopped dancing in my chair and spilling my coffee to boot, I started thinking about her comment and that’s when I wondered – Can a mystery still be good read if the reader figures out whodunit early on?

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Part of being a mystery writer is trying to figure out a way to fool your readers. We add red herrings, plot twists, and false suspects all in the hope that the reader won’t catch the real clues we’re giving them until it’s too late. At which point the reader should palm their face and shout something like Duh! I should have seen that coming! Having a reader say that the villain is obvious is akin to a slap in the face. It hurts and is shocking.

First of all, let’s get rid of those readers who always figure out whodunit. My mother-in-law and I have this one thing in common. We love watching BBC mystery series and reading Agatha Christie. We’re also both convinced we figure out the entire mystery within the first half-hour of the television show. My mother-in-law swears up and down she figures out the Agatha Christie murders as well, but we all know that’s just craziness. As a murder mystery writer, you have to ignore these wet noodles who can’t seem to help themselves from shouting out I figured it out! before you’ve even managed to plant your second plot device. After all, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

But what about other readers? Is a murder mystery a – gulp – failure if the killer is too obvious? Sometimes but not always. That’s about clear as mud, isn’t it?

unravel-the-mystery-with-miss-marple-miss-marple-30128274-800-600One of the reasons readers enjoy reading mysteries is to unravel the mystery. They enjoy solving the murder just as much as the writer enjoys writing about it. But solving the mystery and figuring out who the killer is, is not the same thing – not always. In fact, some writers will tell readers who the killer is early on, but then the reader is left wondering why him? The mystery concentrates on the motivation behind the killing, chasing the killer down, and perhaps the proof necessary to incarcerate the bad guy. In this case, knowing who the murderer is early on does not equal a bad novel.

In some cases, not knowing who the killer is until the very last second can be just as frustrating as figuring out the killer too early. A mystery ought to be fair. Readers should have all the information that the sleuth does. If the writer is hiding information from readers in an attempt to keep the mystery going even when the sleuth is perfectly aware of the information, this can backfire into reader resentment. In that case, there’s no way the reader can solve the puzzle along with the sleuth. That’s not fair and, frankly, no fun for the reader.

red-herringSome murder mystery writers will use a red herring or false suspect throughout the novel and only ‘reveal’ the true murderer at the last moment. Neither the sleuth or the readers have figured out who the killer is, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the mystery is a good story. Readers may be angry and feel cheated out of trying to unravel the mystery because they’ve wasted too much time reading about a lead that went on way too long and didn’t pan out.

It would appear then that there needs to be a balance between unraveling the mystery too early and waiting until the very last second to reveal the murderer. And finding that balance is where the fun for us writers begins.

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Thankful post #MondayBlogs #amwriting

I went on a bit of a rant the week before last. Shocking, I know. The name of the blog post (I’m funny not worthless) kind of gives away my malcontent. But then something strange and wonderful happened. Not only did people read my blog (Yeah!) but several writers/bloggers responded with words of encouragement. (Double Yeah!) In order to balance out the universe (interpretation: make it seem like I’m not always whining), I decided to do a thankful post. And yes, I realize it’s nowhere near an appropriate time in the year to do a thankful post. Things like that don’t stop me. Christmas socks rock all year round.

Anyway, here is an obviously incomplete list of things/people for which I am thankful.

  1. I’m thankful for every single blog follower I have. I’m sure that there are bloggers who are way cooler and more interesting than me, although I wouldn’t know who they are 😉
  2. I’m thankful that some of those blog followers actually take time to read my blog posts and don’t immediately unfollow me after reading whatever drivel it is I’m going on about now!
  3. I’m thankful that bad reviews are always virtual so that I don’t have the opportunity to throat punch someone who says my ‘clean’ read is smut. It’s so much easier to NOT throat punch someone when they aren’t standing in front of you. (Don’t worry. I wouldn’t ever seriously throat punch anyone. A right hook on the other hand …)
  4. I’m thankful that I’m in personal contact with my A-team reviewers so that I can personally e-mail them to profusely thank them and promise them my first-born child for being supportive.
  5. I’m thankful for every single reader that gives one of my books a chance even though my name is not well-known (not sure why not).
  6. I’m especially thankful for those readers who gave one of my books a try and then went ahead and read another one. Seriously, you guys totally rock!
  7. I’m thankful to all the tweeters out there who tweet my blog posts or re-tweet my tweets. Sometimes it’s downright shocking how supportive tweeters are. I feel like after several years on Twitter, I still have absolutely no clue what I’m doing. Thankfully, there are those who do know what’s going on.
  8. And – not to piss anyone off or anything – I’m thankful that giant internet book seller (that shall remain nameless) makes being self-published easier than continuing to hide manuscripts in the attic, which is a really good thing since I no longer have an attic.
  9. I’m thankful for all the people who put up with my grumpiness when a book is just not going my way. I really didn’t mean to hit anyone with that tennis ball. I thought it was a ‘safe’ way to get rid of my frustration. Really, I did.

Thanks for reading! Keep being cool.

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If you do any of the following, you’re probably over 40 #Grammar #Justforfun #AmWriting

I was just working on a document a fellow writer sent me for review, and I couldn’t help but notice all those spaces between sentences. Ah, I thought, she must be over forty since she’s using the old-fashioned two spaces after a sentence rule. That got me to thinking about grammar rules that have changed and whether it’s possible to guess someone’s age from their grammar. So, just for fun, let’s have a look at grammar that gives away your age.

 

grammar-3Two spaces between sentences. If you use two spaces after a period, you’re probably over forty or use a manual typewriter. And I really hope you don’t use a manual typewriter. There are actually people out there who do. Yes, it’s true. I once took a job at the Province of North Holland to replace someone who was retiring. Not only did the man use a MANUAL typewriter, but he had a big cartoon taped to his dusty computer that said computers were for cave dwellers. I never did understand that joke.

 

grammar-4His or her. Welcome to the new century, where we are now using the singular they. I know, I know. It feels wrong, but – admit it – it’s also easier and kind of makes sense. The Brits are totally okay with the singular they, American sources are still clenching their teeth and wondering why we have to follow the stupid Brits anyway.

 

And or But. If you are violently opposed to starting a sentence with and or but, you’re probably over forty. Unless, like me, you like to write in first person and have realized that a lot of thoughts start with BUT. If you’re one of my characters, you probably use the word ‘but’ way too much, BUT you don’t know how to stop.

 

Split infinitives. Oh gosh, where to begin with this one. We all learned in school that splitting infinitives was bad – equivalent to having sympathy with those Ruskies. (In case you didn’t guess it yet, I went to school during the Cold War.) Unless all your characters are over forty and speak using perfect grammar (or are Sheldon Cooper), you’re going to need to get over your irrational fear of split infinitives.

 

Fun is a noun. Apparently, fun is now an adjective and we mere mortals are allowed to use it as such. I’m still violently opposed to ‘funner’ and will continue to fight the good fight against the use of that word in anyone’s vocabulary. Good thing I live in a country that does not have English as a first language, because you just know I would stop people on the street and correct them for use of that word. (Free has also morphed into an adjective, but one new adjective a week is all I can take.)

 

I’m not going to get into the defunct use of whom. Whoever did the research indicating its use was declining obviously hasn’t read any fiction lately. For my thoughts on the whole who or whom debacle, read this blog post.