Thursday, March 30, 2006

Chat With Sophfronia Scott, "The Book Sistah"

What a chat! Sophfronia really came through tonight.

Just reading her BIO can either wear you out, or energize you. It can wear you out if you think of all she has accomplished so far, or energize you to step up and do some of those things yourself.

After attending her chat, I advise you to grab onto the energy and reach for the stars!

Here are some highlights:

Linda-Mod: Check out Sophfronia's website at: . Sophfronia's blog: .

Linda-Mod: Now to get into the topic Audrey’s itching to get into. Coaching is a field she is interested in entering. What does a book coach do?

Sophfronia: A book coach assists in the development, writing and marketing of a book. Sometimes people come to me wanting advice about a self publishing company, for instance. But when I ask them about what they're goals are for the book, they have no idea.

How can you make a decision on what company to use when you don't know what outcome you want or whether the company can give it to you. A book coach helps clarify the whole project.

Linda-Mod: How is hiring a book coach different from hiring an editor?

Sophfronia: An editor will work with you on the content of the book and help it read well. A book coach can do editing, but he or she will also coach you on the book's bigger picture. What results do you want from this book? Can we reach your target market?

How do we make this book successful? Ideally a coach will also have good resources and contacts to smooth the journey along. For instance, I'm working with a guy on his book proposal on marketing and it's really good. I feel totally confident referring this guy to my agency and I'm going to do so.

janecj333: Do you think your journalism talents (articles you wrote while at Time and etc.) helped clinch your first novel sale?

Sophfronia: If that was the case, it should have clinched it sooner!!! I went through over 20 rejections! I stopped counting somewhere! But I think it did help that I understood the media and immedately knew how to market my book. The book editor of "People" used to sit in the office next to mine. He was always buried in books!!

msQTpi: It sure is nice to know that a best seller can be rejected 20 times :) makes you feel better about your own rejections somehow.

Sophfronia: Yes, and I learned a lot from the rejections. I rewrote the entire book from what I learned. Then when it was sent out again it sold.

Linda-Mod: What we're all wanting to know: How much will book coaching cost me?

Sophfronia: A one-hour consultation is $300. I also have a VIP program where we can work on the whole book project, soup to nuts. That's $5700 for four months and $9700 for eight months.

Next week I'm launching a program that will be sort of a mastermind group for writers that will include monthly calls with industry experts and open coaching times when I'll be available that will be $37 a month. I call that The Book Sistah Inner Circle.

Audrey_S: Oh, that sounds like an excellent way to get started. :)

Sophfronia: Yes, the idea is to have many price points, because not everyone is ready for the big game yet. And that's okay.

Andrea: Can you tell us some of the things said in the rejection letters that prompted you to re-write your book?

Sophfronia: Yes about the letters. They all said they enjoyed the writing, but in vague terms they said they didn't get engaged with the story. It was variations on that theme. It really frustrated me because I knew the story wasn't perfect, but I thought an editor's job was to find that diamond in the rough and help polish it.

Sophfronia: Well that's not the way it works!!!

Linda-Mod: Where have we heard that before? LOL

Sophfronia: Fortunately, an editor at St. Martin's did make a suggest about changing the beginning, and magically, a classmate of mine called. I'd sent her my manuscript, but I hadn't heard from her in ages. She was moving and said she found these notes she had for me. I said, great! I need a new beginning. She said I have a note about that. Her note was fantastic and it gave me an idea that changed the whole present day story line. Book sold, rest is history.

luswart: You said earlier that you help people figure out their goals for their writing (correct?) How do you help people that know what their goals are for their writing?

Sophfronia: If you already know your goals, then I show you the best route for reaching them. This is a sticking point for some writers... because they have a goal, such as "make a lot of money", but they're pursuing an avenue that won't get them that. Once we have the route, we put together an action plan and implement it.

Linda-Mod: You have a CD package called "Unleash the Bestseller Within". I have my copy, but please give the rest of our chatters a glimpse of what is included in it.

Sophfronia: Oh! I'm excited about it!

It's a CD I created to help novelists with writer's block! Writer's email me all the time with questions about writer's block and the more I thought about the process of writing my novel, the more I realized I might be able to translate it so it could work for others.

It's kind of like a meditation to get you thinking about your book all the time, not just when you're at your desk. You've heard it, Linda, is that accurate?

Linda-Mod: Very. I reviewed it and it is very good.

Audrey_S: What all ways do you market? Internet only, or offline too?

Sophfronia: I do both. My biggest marketing push involved contacting book groups and telling them that if they read my book, I would come visit them and join the discussion. That worked really well.

I also did a marketing campaign in an Atlanta magazine called "Booking Matters" because I noticed several authors I liked did the same.

I also had bookmarkers with tassels that I gave away to anyone and everyone. I also did an online campaign on several websites.

I also carried my galleys wherever I went. I gave my book to Gail (Oprah's best friend), Ice-T and Hugh Jackman. You never know what might come of such things. I saw Ice-T at the car wash!

msQTpi: Sophfronia, on your, "Unleash the Bestseller Within" site, you tell us there are solutions for quite a few, common, writer problems. Could you give us just a peek at the answers to the first two frustrations mentioned? Namely...1) "Got stuck somewhere in the middle", and 2) "Is hugely frustrated because you don’t know how to get going again."

Sophfronia: The CD asks a series of questions that may or may not apply to your novel. The idea is that one of the questions will spark you if you're stuck and help you get going again. Sometimes it helps to get back to the basics. When we're stuck, we're often trying to push to create new stuff when really what we need to do is go back to thinking about what the book is about in the first place and is it doing what you originally wanted it to do? Are you telling your story? Often thinking in that way can get you back to writing.

Audrey_S: Do you recommend self-publishing? What about for fiction?

Sophfronia: I recommend that a writer choose the path that will fit their goals. If a novelist has already tried the traditional route and can't get through, then self publishing can help them build a readership. But if you want the trappings of the traditional route because of certain goals you have for yourself, then you'll keep going that way.

Easleyed: You know it's funny, but when you start talking about your work going through editors and coaches and a chain of specialists, at what point isn't it yours anymore? When does the artist lose control and it becomes work by committee?

Sophfronia: That's not it. I want for you to really know your work so that when there are more people involved, you know what advice makes sense and what to turn away. It's when you don't have a clear vision for yourself that you get into trouble with the committee. It's that idea of, if you don't stand for something, you fall for anything.

In my article in this week's newsletter I talk about genre. I talk about making a lot of decisions upfront so that no one else is trying to push you into a box.

Easleyed: It's particularly tough with a first contract and a first book

Sophfronia: Yes, it is, but you are a writer and you owe it to yourself and to your craft to know how to stand up for it. Or at least know what will be best for it. In my first book, once it was sold, the editor suggested making the main character single instead of married. The idea is knowing that "no" is an option. Sometimes it is and the young writer doesn't know that or is afraid to use it.

Keep Writing!


For all who have been eagerly awaiting this new "Edition":

Linda-Mod: Before we get started, I need to make an announcement. My daughter gave birth by C-section a couple of hours ago to an 8 lb 5 oz baby girl. Her name is Abigail Elise. She was born in Louisville, KY, where I’m now on my laptop in a hotel room. Of course, she’s beautiful! LOL

Congratulations Linda and Family!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Blogs and Links mentioned in the chatroom 3/26/06



Happy Surfing!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Chat With Scott Virtes

I'd like to thank Scott for a wonderful chat. I think we all learned quite a bit, and it was a ball.

Here are his sites, blogs, and other links:

Some of his most recent stories can be found at:

For those who missed it, and those who'd like to re-visit what was said, here are some highlights:

Renee-mod: While snooping to prepare for this chat, I read that you get some of your inspiration from dreams and odd ideas that just come to you. When these inspirations come, are they usually ripe with detail, ready for plucking (so to speak), or impressions, that you bring to life with details as you write?

scottv: As time goes on it seems like there is a stream of images in front of me. Almost solid. Started as daydreams a long time ago. The process is a matter of pulling elements out of the stream. For serious works, I follow serious links. For funny stuff I might pull out the most absurd things I can find. All depends. Every length of story has slightly different rules. After doing enough of them, I can usually guess the length before I begin. It's more like channeling weird "world we live in" energy. Though I can outline if I feel the need.


Renee-mod: What comes first, characters or plot?

scottv: Actually I have a heap of stuff about characters.

Typically there's the idea. Then picking characters that will make it an interesting trip. Sometimes the characters will take a trip I wasn't expecting. If their ideas are better than my original plan, okay. Otherwise I smack 'em into shape. Simple characters just need a few basic rules to guide them, and need to stick with them.

There are a few simple questions to ask, like where do they come from, what's their attitude, and what do they want? That's past, present, future. Enough for most short stories.

You can get some fun combinations with very little effort. Maybe a car salesman named Bob who can't remember his childhood, he's always trying to sell something, but he really wants a family. Or a pizza delivery guy from Canada, will talk your ear off if you let him, his goal in life is to prove that there are no conspiracies. Simple enough on the surface, but complete enough to feel whether there's a story or not, whether they're a good fit.

Almost any dull character can be spiced up by using quirks. There's a well-known improv exercise called "party quirks" where you pull weird behaviors out of a hat, and try to act them out -- the host of the party tries to guess your quirk. Lots of fun. Everyone has quirks, and there are so many to choose from. You can instantly set the humor level of a story by choosing the right quirks ... such as "likes to kick people", "can't stop laughing", "gets stuck in a loop".

Or a tale can become surreal by using other quirks: "thinks she's a bridge", "married to a block of cement", "only speaks to silverware." Just some rough examples. Plenty of stories there.

My big inspiration (Roger Zelazny) once wrote that none of his characters has more than 3 actual traits. Wow.


dayna: Thanks, Renee. Scott, you mentioned daydreams and dreaming...without getting too far off track, do you lucid dream?

scottv: They're mighty lucid to me.

My night dreams often get edited right before my eyes. I'll die in a train wreck. Rewind. Find a door. Die anyway. Rewind. Stuff like that. Sometimes I'm more tired when I wake up.

What's nice is that almost any phrase can pull out a thread of dream. All I have to do is focus long enough to catch 'em.

A few of my dreams have had closing credits, even. Though most of the time they're the closing credits from the Simpson's. Really. I recognize the font. Then Yeardley Smith scrolls by. Ends with Utit Choomuang. I don't know all the names in between. So they're just a blur. Brains are funnnnny things.

dayna: In the editing you you do that yourself, consciously?

scottv: Actually, it's not so much my character in the dream that has any control. It's my editor half that just puts me through hell. It does feel very conscious. I like waking up in the middle. Then I get pretty much full control.

georganna: I dreamed in print (text) when I was a full-time news reporter.

scottv: I believe it. When falling asleep, my brain plays solitaire or some other inane PC game classic. Or chess games, when I'm playing that a lot.


TexasRed: I've written a few shorts and I draw off people I know to find little quirks that would make a good story....What is your favorite way of getting a story line?

scottv: Good q, AC. They mostly hit me over the head, or come out full-blown when I'm walking around the block. There's a sort of soup of unformed things. I let ideas stew in there until they find enough meat. When they're ready they make themselves known. Possibly the strangest method known, but that's me.

TexasRed: Good way to keep the excitement that makes a story work! thanks


georganna: With all this going on in your head, do you keep notes, a writer's journal or something; or are you of the "if it's good I'll remember it" school?

scottv: georganna: I had a journal from 1981 to about 1990. Ran about 660 pages before fizzling. I can always go back there, pull ideas out. But they're not "complete" ideas, just cues to things I meant to say. Actually it was slightly longer. Now that I think of it. When I turned the page and wrote 666, there was a blackout that lasted two days. So it did go a bit longer. Now I have a blog so I can torment everyone.

Renee-mod: I've read the blog...interesting stuff there.

scottv: BTW. Most of this "streaming" behavior is the sign of a poet.


Renee-mod: You have such a creative and expressive personality. Who or what do you believe inspired that?

scottv: Good q, Renee. Tricky one. Let's see... Okay, I think it was inspired by being left alone for long periods of time and drinking heavily in college.

I know, you want something better. Just teasing. It's just that there are always words and scenes waiting to jump in, see?

I've read about 2000 books I'd say. I can either read them to enjoy them or read them as editor-boy and find flaws, or sometimes I can just see the whole underlying structure and all the trickery.

I think the "flow" is out natural state and if you let it everyone will force you to stop. Kids are creative. The creativity gets beaten out of them. Very sad. Totally backward.

You'll find I disagree with almost every single thing our society does. We've forgotten all the good stuff. We've even forgotten how food works. Kill the TV's, please.


dayna: I was wondering about the wide range of stuff you write... do you think that's a unique trait, for a certain kind of writer?

scottv: Not really. You'll find that most creative people do more than one thing.

It's just TV and the ridiculous forces pushing people into careers than makes it seem otherwise. Most actors can play music, or write, for example. It's nothing strange. But the media plays it down, telling them they're only allowed to act. That's a tough force to reckon with.

I think it's good to experiment. Until you try a lot of things, you may be missing the things you're best at.

In my case, it's more like having a plan B for my plan B, job wise, but the creative stuff is the ultimate goal.


Renee-mod: Amazon now has different programs, which seem to be great for promoting book sales. You have two stories in the new .49 Amazon Shorts program. (One Mistake at a Time , The Goblin Saint ) Could you explain how that works?

scottv: Amazon Shorts is one of those odd things that nobody knows how it will work yet.

Amazon opened a department for short stories, typically 2000-8000 words, to be sold for 49 cents each. Author gets 20 cents per sale. Standard arrangement.

It's potentially a high exposure place to be. You have to have one book for sale on Amazon to qualify.

They started off with known writers like Greg Bear. Looks like a few hundred little-known and self-published people (like me) have bust in there and clogged up the works. So they may come out with more qualifications soon.

Thanks for the links, Renee. Those are two funny (a.k.a. weird) tales. I'm only going to post funny stuff there. The provide a free blog for promotions.

Renee-mod: You are quite welcome.

scottv: They have a 9-page contract, and ask for promotional blurbs and all, so that's quite an exercise. Didn't know I didn't have all that stuff till they asked for it.

Renee-mod: Have the shorts helped with book sales? Or are they intended to?

scottv: All sales are hard to pin down. Amazon amazingly has no tools to let me see my page hits or sales. So it's hard to advertise. I think my personal appearances are still the best boost to sales. There I know exactly what sold. Anywhere else there's a smokescreen of one kind or another.

Renee-mod: that's too bad...tracking sales can be so helpful


scottv: I have to admit my story collection is self-published. the stories had already been published, so I wasn't cheating. I just needed something of mine to sell to people.

Renee-mod: That makes perfect sense to me.

scottv: Without the book, I used to go to shows with heaps of magazines. Nobody's going to buy a whole zine for one story from some guy they just met. The collection was a necessary step. The new collection ("Blank Spaces") is being published by a small press. Just like if I did it myself, but this way I have to listen to all the delays. grr. weird biz.


Renee-mod: Your publishing success rate is quite impressive. Some here have no experience with publishing, and some don't really know how to start. Could you please explain the method that you use to publish your work?

scottv: Sounds like fun. Again, I've tried a little of everything. Regular publishing, self-publishing, ebooks. Mostly because I don't want to talk about stuff without experience. ebooks are dead right now, except for a few rare cases like Hope's library. Self-publishing is usually done as a cheat, with no real results. I'll dance around that fire for now.

Audrey_S: Really? I thought ebooks were growing.

scottv: A typical ebook sells under 100 copies. With heavy marketing, a few do well.

Well, ebooks on how to write ebooks are still the top. But yeah. Still, folks have a dreamy-eyed impression of the whole thing.

It's like anything else. If you just write it and throw it on a web page, it will just sit there. Nobody will know about it. There are all kinds of skills that go into making a buzz.

There is bound to be a comfortable reader someday. And the market may spike.

Audrey_S: Do you think ebooks glutted the market? People discovered they could make them on their own without a publisher, and flooded the market?

scottv: Yes, there is a flood factor. Like blogs, it's easy to make an ebook, spew it out there and think the money will just roll in. It's just not the reality for most of them.

The big holdup has been the lack of a comfortable way to read the things. I think the typical ebook buyer gets to about page 10 and then finds something else to do.

Now there are markets trying to cram stories and poems onto cell phones. Again, it's hard to believe anyone wants to read things that way.

When it's too easy to publish, a lot of people will rush unfinished things into "print". A lot of really amateur writing out there, souring the whole pool.


TexasRed: What is your favorite genre to write in and why?

scottv: Ah, AC. Tricky stuff, there. Each genre works best in certain lengths.

I love sci-fi, but all my sci-fi ideas are novels or trilogies. For short stories, I do a lot of experimental and surreal works. Dream works (a.k.a. mythic realism).

I enjoy poetry because it can touch every genre with the same kind of brush strokes.

I'll go with "sci-fi" as the final answer. If only there was time. 11 novels stuck in my head in that genre.


Renee-mod: I understand that you are bothered when you see writers looking for, or being advised to take, a short cut to publishing. Could you give an example or two of the misguided short cuts you've noticed, in order to help our members sidestep a possible pitfall?

scottv: I'll take a swing at it. There are no short cuts. If something is too good to be true ... and similar babble.

Really, though. Most beginning writers think their books are finished, and thinks they're great. It's good to be enthusiastic. But typically our first 3 or 4 novels are just practice.

It can take years to find a voice. But then you've got all your old drafts out there on Lulu or wherever, and it can be embarrassing.

Another factor is ... if a reader doesn't like your current work, they can just write you off for good. You need to satisfy them. And while they may not be too discerning (it seems), they deserve the best you can do. Short cuts can backfire.

I know a few writers who have had 5 or 10 books published by the big guys, and still couldn't make it.


Renee-mod: If you were teaching a group of talented writers :) how to publish the absolutely wonderful stories they had already written, what one or two things would you most want them to understand about the business?

scottv: Good Q, R.

I'd go with basic method of submitting your work, how to find the "right" markets, explain rights vs copyrights.

How to grow a thicker skin. A.k.a. how not to let little things ruin your day.

I have to practice this, since I may be talking to some local college classes soon. I think those are the big basics.

That, and watch out for shortcuts unless you realllly put some planning into it.

Rights vs copyrights is such a basic thing. Yet there are startup amateur publishers who obviously don't know it. Can you really be in a business and not know anything about it? Weird.


Audrey_S: Could you tell us about your acting experiences?

scottv: oh, acting. Very odd story.

I was looking for some little no-budget film project here in town, heard about the tryouts for a "sailing movie with Russell Crowe".

Normally, Hollywood wants pretty people, so I can safely ignore most auditions.

But this time they wanted "men who look like they were in the navy in the 1800's". I'm a Scottish long-hair, and that fit fine. So I went.

Out of 1600 candidates in 30 countries, I ended up as one of the 50 crewmen who were there every day. The "core group".

We had extensive training in guns, swords and stage fighting. No acting classes, though. The director made life so realistic we were pretty much living the parts.

I looked like someone else and acted like someone else for six months.

Audrey_S: Giving you good experience for the next "sailing movie" to be made.

scottv: Ah, Audrey, sailing movies are rare. But there are rumors of a Viking epic.

Audrey_S: Or the next Pirates of the Caribbean.

scottv: Peter Weir is in Europe filming a WWII German spy who was a stage magician as a cover. Russell's expected another boy, then he goes to the Mediterranean to whomp on Carthage ... but maybe they'll be back here someday.

We were given priority interviews to be in Pirates 2 & 3. I had to turn it down.

Audrey_S: Oh no! What a shame.

scottv: Why? Disney's notoriously cheap. They wanted exclusive use of our bodies for 18 months, but couldn't guarantee more than 6 weeks of work.

Just like in publishing, you gotta know the market, watch for potholes.

Acting ... cont'd

After seeing how a movie production works, I found that everything about screenwriting made sense finally.

So I got some of the guys together and started an improv acting group, where I learned what little I know about acting ... i.e. that I'd rather be directing!


Renee-mod: As an editor, what do you look for in a submission?

scottv: (putting on editor's hat)

Editing is an odd affair. You'd think it would be easy to find 10 good stories in a month. I could almost stop right there.

BUT, you get junky pages you can't even read, folks who insult you in the cover letter, most opening paragraphs put you to sleep ... You get writers who chew you out if you try to say something helpful on a rejection. You ask for horror and they send you muppet-like things on mars. Or you get story after story about people killing themselves. That's not horror. That's just depressing. Or a story's rolling along just fine, and the main character drives into a tree for no reason. And they promised you a surprise ending right in the cover letter!

Basically, at least pretend you read the guidelines.

Know the genre. And the sub-genres.

Don't act like I'll change the whole focus of my anthology just for you. It happens. That's just weird.

Be friendly. Write a good story. Good stories are pretty obvious early on. Most get dumped after half a page.

If you want to have a editor's night sometime, it could be fun for all.

Renee-mod: That is something to really consider...thanks

scottv: Renee - the "people" factor is really big.

If there's no cover letter at all, it just feels like a pile of work.

Other folks will try to wow me with bizarre little contests & stuff.

Fact is, if the editor doesn't recognize your name, you can't make them like it. The story is the thing.


Renee-mod: Scott, is there anything you want to say before we close up for the evening?

scottv: Final words ...I'm always the "odd guy". But that comes with the territory. You have to find a voice and figure out who you are, then all your work will benefit from it. I think I have the "poet brain". But I found a way to apply it to other things. Be creative!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

C.L. Russo Chat

Thanks, to all who attended chat tonight!

To those who missed it: You missed a good one.

Our guest was C.L. Russo, one of the successful Short Story Fiction writers we hear about, but never seem to be able to actually touch.

Highlights: (hint: to enlarge font size on this page, hold down ctrl & use scroll button on your mouse)

Diana: When did you start writing with the want to be published? How long have you been writing?

clrusso: I've been writing for about two years. I started with the intention of being published. I'm a firm believer of publishing as the only legit affirmation of a writer's work.

Diana: publishing on any level?

clrusso: Well, I'll probably sound like a snob, but I believe getting paid (even nominally) is best. I mean, are there any famous writers who don't get paid? Not saying that there aren't good writers who don't get paid, but they are people who, if they're really good, simply need the courage to raise their sights.

Renee-mod: I understand you tend to write in "spurts". (on again) How are you able to hold such a high level of publishing success? What is your secret?

clrusso: Well, I actually spent the last year and I half writing every day. As well as doing crits, reading about writing, thinking about writing, eating, sleeping, talking about writing. I sort of burned out in September. The idea tank went completely, utterly empty. And I got a bit frustrated (and obsessed) with waiting for responses. So, I'm on a bit of a hiatus. Recently though, I've had some interesting guests in my head. And I'm sending out finished stories again.

Renee-mod: You are a self professed, "degenerate poker player". How does the "gambler" in you influence your writing?

clrusso: Every time you submit something, you're taking a risk. A good poker player knows when to make a move that is risky, but the reward is worth it. I try to send stories to markets that are a good fit. I've even written stories specifically for certain market (my story for Red Scream)

RyanL.: Would you say going back to the start when you're halfway through is a bad idea? Have you ever wanted to take something completely apart before finishing because it wasn't making sense?

clrusso: Yes,all the time! I probably stop half way through on a third of my story ideas. Sometimes I come back to them, but usually if I stop, it's because I know it's dead. I'm generally afraid of tearing a story completely apart. Only because, to me, once I replace it, the new stuff seems to have squatters rights and I can never return to the old stuff If I want. As far as it being a bad idea. I think it depends on he situation. Sometimes, if you're stuck, you need to burn it to the ground and start over. Other times, If you can see your way to an ending, I'd do that and make changes in the revisions. One piece of advice: once you do the first draft, put it away for at least a couple weeks and write something else. I need distance before looking at a story critically.

During the chat, Chris's blog link wasn't working. (Thanks Mandy and Scott, for pointing that out) Seems we had the link wrong. Check it out at:

Thanks for a great chat!

Keep writing!