May 262011

by Deborah Riley-Magnus

What makes you so special? What makes your book so special? We’ve all taken a stroll through those huge book stores and gotten that shiver of terror. Even if you’re already published and about to launch your second or tenth book, that fear trickles in and without warning you start to wonder. Who is going to buy my book when they’re bombarded with all these other books? Yes, you’re writing is wonderful and your story kicks butt, but one twirl around and you see thousands of other author’s offerings and can’t help but feel the pressure. Book store or online, it’s the same.

Relax. The solution is so simple it might shock you. The most important things you need to know to make your book stand out are not in marketing books or genre statistics. They’re not in publicity strategies or media hype. The most important elements to make you and your book stand apart are right inside your manuscript.

Your all important “hooks” are in your characters, your plot and your style. In other words, you created all the solutions you need to market, promote and publicize your book when you wrote the book.

What makes your book so special is what made your publisher sit up and take notice. For example …

  • Location. Where does your book take place? Can you build, develop and implement entire promotions around that location?
  • Character. Is there something special about your characters? Are they werewolves? Historic sailors? Contemporary businessmen? Members of a club or organization that drives the story? Is there something special about your main character? Do they have a silly saying they repeat? Wear two different size shoes? Love cats? Enjoy root beer floats? Go deep, identify what makes your characters special and consider how that element might create a powerful “hook” that resonates with a prospective book buyer.
  • Association. If your main character is a gardener, are gardening clubs a good target? If he/she loves animals, are animal rescue groups a good readership target? Does your character connect with any large group of any profession or interest? Are these possible fans? Always consider association, it can open big doors for target marketing
  • Plot. Is your book an adventure about whales or space travel or 2012 and the end of time? Is your book a romance that involves people from different backgrounds? Is it a fantasy about supernatural characters struggling to remain hidden in the human world? Here are the facts about finding your “hooks” – they can be in any and every part of your book, they’re implanted inside your story and they are ready to be effective.

The power of identifying all your possible Hooks is that you can then find more target markets for your book. Automatically, readers of a specific genre will take a look and possibly buy the book. The trick to success is to go further and dig deeper.

Next time we’ll cover Author Success Tool #3, Build Your Platform.

Deborah Riley-Magnus

The Author Success Coach


Deborah Riley-Magnus is an author and an Author Success Coach. She has a twenty-seven year professional background in marketing, advertising and public relations as a writer for print, television and radio. She writes fiction in several genres and non-fiction. Deborah produces several pieces weekly for various websites and blogs. She also writes an author industry blog, and teaches online and live workshops as The Author Success Coach. She belongs to several writing and professional organizations. Her book, The Author Success Coach: Strategies for Author Success in a Turbulent Publishing Landscape is scheduled to be released in August, 2011. She’s lived on both the east and west coast of the United States and has traveled the country widely.

May 192011

This is oceania for
this week i am talking about personal lives in our stories

as writers
we have been told to write what we know about
we may weave stories in distant lands
with fairies and were-wolfs and zombies running amuck
with drama so thick it can be cut with a chainsaw
but when we work we work in details of our own lives
dont we
our own dramas
the love
the pain
the betrayals and conquests
the only way to be a better than good writer is to live a full life
a full life gives voice to your stories
makes them a place where in the words others can connect
if you as a writer are not willing to share
to expose yourself then you have no business being a writer
certainly not one for romance or eroticism

i have all but stopped writing
i came to a place in my life was too painful to relive
even in disguise
i did not want to retell my story
i didnt want to put my finger in the hole of deep bloody pain
i couldnt
until today
today the pain grew too great to ignore
and i realized that writing was my psychoanalysis
my therapy
it kept me sane
the sickness
the divorce
the hospitals
the betrayals
the wrong choices
and the mountain of work

so i found the courage and a title for my new story
it is called Without Shame

it will be about wrong choices i made
through it i hope to embrace my lost self

so that’s my story
what will you do today
to move your words forward

tell me about it
email me at

May 122011

When I need to write erotica, it’s usually because I have promised someone a story or book. I often draw a blank, and have to “jump start” myself with a concept, theme, or image. Therefore, I do a lot of thinking about how strong stories start.

When I say strong stories, I don’t mean stories you will think are strong — you, the reader. I mean stories I will think are strong — I, the writer.  I need to generate a narrative critical mass to keep myself going through the first few thousand words of story — and by then, I’ll know one way or another if there’s a coherent narrative there, or something dull enough that I’ll abandon it.

I have literally dozens — possibly hundreds — of uncompleted novels on my hard drive; some of them are 200 words long. I’ve probably begun thousands, if not tens of thousands, of stories I’ve never finished. I’ve had lots of experience in what works for me, and what doesn’t. The problem is, what works is different every time, so I constantly have to fine-tune the process.

There’s nothing “wrong” with starting a story and not finishing it. But it becomes increasingly dangerous when you depend on writing to generate your income. False starts — on everything from short stories to novels to scenes-in-novels to conversations within scenes to individual character descriptions  — are built into the writing process. But they don’t just spend time; they spend ideas. If I blow an opener and waste a story idea, that idea might feel depleted when I go back to them. Since I write for a living, every false start is a potential financial liability.

So when it comes to writing erotica specifically, these are the kinds of “jumps” that I often find can work for me in opening a story that I’ll want to continue.

What Works?

The first thing that almost always works for me is a visual description of a woman taking action in a non-sexual context that’s eroticized. Generally, this means she’s arriving somewhere. I usually frame this within the context of her clothing. I do this because I’m clearly Ed Wood reincarnated, and women’s clothes obsess me. In all seriousness, I do this because clothing provides clues as to what is about to happen, and describing a woman’s clothes could obsess me from now until doomsday.

The sluttier she is dressed, the better. If someone nudged her into dressing that way, better still, because then I’ve got a guaranteed conflict to begin with. Boyfriend talked her into it by promising you something dirty? W00t. Desperately need $200 and agreed to be a lingerie model at the car show on the very last day before she enters the convent? Ba-da-bing.

This all assumes, of course, that the female in question actually wanted to dress that way to begin with, but someone kind of eased her into it with the promise of some reward. This is not some cryptic anti-feminist message, though it certainly may have its problematic aspects. It’s the way my brain generates drama. I’m not saying it’s good drama…but it is drama. Basically.

On the other hand, If she just dressed that way because, you know, she’s “adventurous,” that’s fine too. The point, for me, is in describing the drape of her skirt, and exactly how precariously short it is, and how little room there is between that phenomenally short black skirt and the top of her black patent leather go-go boots, because clearly, I missed my calling and should have been a creepy clerk at Hot Topic.

The second thing that usually works for me is a description of someone’s facial expression. This starter very often does not stay at the beginning of the story, because I often find that there are stronger ways to start stories, from a reader perspective. But from a writer perspective, describing facial expressions is very hard for me — and I find that I like it. It allows me to describe something expressive, without having to commit to a specific set of interactions.

Describing facial expressions out of context creates many questions. Every character has expressions that are peculiar to them; as a writer, by picking a “way” someone looks, and then describing it, I create a static physical image that I don’t know the context of. Then I have to invent that context, and voila! I’m off and running. This often works.

Sometimes posture is integrated into the description; someone may be leaning forward and frowning, or leaning back and smiling, or turning his head and looking enigmatic, or pouting and brushing her hair. But the face is where it happens for me, in the theater of my mind — especially the eyes.

What Doesn’t?

There are two things, on the other hand, almost never work for me when starting a story. There are probably far more, but these are the two I’ve really noticed.

Unfortunately, I’ve found these things out by doing them over and over again. I often do them anyway, because apparently they’re central to the way my mind works. Half the time when I abandon a start after half a page, I discover I reflexively started it with one of the two things that doesn’t work.

The first thing that usually  doesn’t work for me is a line of dialogue. For some reason, dialogue is excruciating to me. I hate it. I don’t like reading it, generally, and I really hate writing it. I think my dialogue sucks. I don’t particularly like talking to people in the real world, so why would I want my characters to talk to each other? Unfortunately, dialogue is an absolute deal-breaker in fiction. You’ve got to have it, or your story just won’t proceed.

Because it’s a method of jumping into a scene, I often fall prey to the temptation to start a scene with a line of dialogue. It’s almost always a disaster. If you’ve read an erotic story by me that starts this way, chances are that I added the dialogue later — or cut out an opening paragraph. Either that, or you’ve hacked my hard drive and you’re reading my unfinished crap.

The second thing that almost never works is a summary of events. That might get me further than a line of dialogue, but it usually won’t get me very far. “The night they first had sex was totally awesome” doesn’t ask any questions for me as a writer.

When I put stuff like that down on the page, I find myself shrugging. “So? Why say any more? You already said it.” Even if that summary is only backstory (“Though they started out with a strong mutual attraction, they had been having mediocre sex at best since he moved in to her place”), it lays out too many of the answers to questions I haven’t even asked yet. It’s not that it doesn’t give my mind room to work; it doesn’t make my mind work just to complete a scene that’s already in front of me.

That’s why I gravitate toward the concrete descriptions of physical realities that have social cues underlying them (clothes, expressions, posture).

Don’t think for a second I’m telling you that if you avoid these types of openers you will write more effective fiction. I think all these things work great as openers for stories. I’ll even go back and add either summaries or dialogue at the start of a story, once it’s written. I think both can be strong ways to start stories.

But in terms of getting the draft down on the (virtual) page, those kinds of openings don’t work for me as a writer — and the more I stick to the things that open my brain up to finishing a picture that’s already there, the more I let my subconscious do my work for me.

So…feel free to leave your views in the comments. What works for you, as a writer, to begin stories that you’ll want to keep going?Do you find yourself opening stories, predictably or reliably, with a certain kind of description, scene or interaction? And if so, how reliably does it work? Are there things that don’t work?

Share your ideas as you wish, and maybe we can each pick up some new ones.

May 052011

Clearly, if you are reading this and interested in writing erotica (or just writing) and have ideas about things you would like to write about, you have a creative personality.

Science has discovered everyone and anyone can be creative. Creativity has nothing to do with IQ. We all have creative elements in our personality.

Psychology has delineated eight characteristics shared by most creative, problem-solving people. Amazingly enough, all these personality traits are cultivable skills anyone can develop.

According to creativity maven Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, former Chair of the University Of Chicago Psychology Department, his research revealed that creative people possess the following paradoxical matchings of traits. They are:

1.      Smart yet naive

2.      Playful yet disciplined

3.      Imaginative yet realistic

4.      Extroverted yet introverted

5.      Humble yet proud

6.      Passionate yet objective

7.      Iconoclastic yet traditional

8.      Experiencers of both intense pleasure and intense pain

9.      In touch with their female side and their male side

These nine characteristics are the key personality components that engender creativity. As a writer you likely recognize a majority of these in your own personality.

Csikszentmihalyi’s research also suggested it is possible for people with creative personalities to increase these elements, and hence increase their own native creativity,

If there are times when you are stuck on plot, scenes or character actions and reactions, if there are times when you run out of ideas, or have ideas you can’t seem to make gel, you might give the three exercises that follow a try. These exercises can help you develop the nine qualities listed above and make you a more creative person than you may have dreamed you could be. They will not only help you solve problems with plot, structure, and characters but will enhance the creative side of your personality.



People often say, it’s a hopeless. My mind has gone completely blank. I can’t think of a thing. They want to know how to get their brain in gear, when it is worn-out, clouded, or simply won’t start.

The following three step strategy was developed for my workshops. No matter how blank your mind feels, it is guaranteed to catapult your brain from Zero to Sixty in half-a minute or less.


Step 1: Eliminate mental static.

Step 2: Focus on the problem.

Step 3: Ask yourself the following pairs of questions:

1.      Ask yourself, what are the key issues?

2.      Ask yourself, what seems most trivial?

3.      Ask yourself, what aspects of it you feel positive about?

4.      Ask yourself, what aspects of it you feel negative about?

5.      Ask yourself, what seems to be the biggest obstacle?

6.      Ask yourself, what seems to be the smallest obstacle?

7.      Ask yourself, what aspects seem most confusing?

8.      Ask yourself, what seems clearest?

9.      Ask yourself, if there is any important fact you have a nagging question about?

10.  Ask yourself, what facts you are most certain of?

11.  Ask yourself, what’s the best result you can imagine?

12.  Ask yourself, what’s the worst?

By the time most people are even part way down this list, their minds have caught fire and they are already generating ideas, possibilities, and solutions.  When it’s my turn again to share the blog we’ll begin to delve deeper into the mindset and examine color schemes of creativity and how child’s play can really bring out the creative person in you.