MUSICAL LITERARY LESSONS: SETTING AND METALLICA


Setting: It’s a central element to a narrative. Without it, readers get confused. They don’t understand the mood of the book. Worst case scenarios the reader can’t even tell where or when they are in the narrative. That’s why today’s musical literary lesson comes from one of Metallica’s iconic pieces. This lesson on setting is brought to you by “Enter Sandman.”

The opening of “Enter Sandman” is iconic. You could make an argument the beginning isn’t the beginning of the story. At first glance, the lyrics initiate the full meaning of the narrative.

Say your prayers, little one.

Don’t forget, my son

To include everyone.

Only then do we know what the song lyrics definitively set out to achieve. Lyrics don’t kick in until well over a minute. Yet, no one can imagine “Enter Sandman” beginning differently. That ominous guitar solo. The drums subtly growing creates an establishment of an atmosphere. You are provided a sense of setting.

By doing so, once the lyrics begin, you know the true character motivations and intent. Those only serve to further the narrative that already began with a sense of setting. Other songs kick in right off the bat with lyrics, but not “Enter Sandman.” In this musical instance, the instrumental opening begins telling you the setting.

From there, those opening lyrics explain more regarding setting. It plays a specific part. With moments like Say your prayers, little one and Tuck you in, warm within, our setting gets more specific. We know where we are and when the narrative takes place. You begin seeing a small boy, getting ready for bed. The setting is meant to paint the everyday Americana house, that Norman Rockwell perfect Colonial home.

While we visualize the setting and understand the time of day and locale, we also know something is amiss. It all goes back to the establishment of setting in the instrumental opening. We are all fully aware this kid is in for a terrible, TERRIBLE night. And that is worsened by the transition of setting.

After the opening verse, we hit the chorus, which is repeated multiple times. After the first chorus, we spend one more fleeting moment in that bedroom only to enter the new setting of this boy’s nightmares, because the sandman he comes.

Something’s wrong, shut the light

Heavy thoughts tonight

And they aren’t of Snow White

Dreams of war, dreams of liars

Dreams of dragon’s fire

And of things that will bite.

Now, we have entered the dreamscape that will torment us for the rest of the night. We also know the settings will vary wildly. It may seem like there’s an inconsistency in the setting. But that is part of what we’re facing with the song. We’re in for a long night of varied torment. That’s our new setting.

And what element remains despite the constant change of setting? The unrelenting drums and unforgettable guitar riff that started off the entire song. Those elements carry the narrative of “Enter Sandman.”

Understand what setting can do for you now? What song perfectly captures the setting of your latest writing? Chime in with the comment section below. The conversation is always live on Twitter @ThomasAFowler. I’ve also made a Spotify playlist with the first dozen musicians we’ll be discussing and the songs that embody the subject matter. Have a listen by clicking here.

NECESSITIES OF SEARCH: KEYWORDS


You want people to find your site, your social media, and web content. Otherwise, there is no point. You’re just talking to yourself. Which brings us to the first lesson in a six-post series called “Necessities of Search.” In this series, we’ll unravel the most important elements you’ll need to gain a stronger foothold of organic search engine optimization (Organic SEO).

Organic SEO is a way to increase your web presence via your content. It differs from Paid SEO in that you are creating this content and not paying for its promotion.

When people search the web, how do they do it? They enter either a combination of words or phrases related to the subject they’re searching for, or they enter a question they need to be answered. No matter the approach a web browser takes, it utilizes one thing: keywords.

These are essential words that are found on your website. As a result, you should persistently include keywords that you want to be discovered for. An example: You’re writing a fictionalized crime novel. It takes place in a fitness club and involves corporate espionage. It’s a weird premise, but it’s unique. And that book stands out. It will be easy to dominate organic search for such a book.

If you go with the high-level search terms, such as “conspiracy thriller,” you’re going to go against a wide selection of other books. The competing books will already be out, have web content to support it and keywords that helped establish its place in search results. It’s not the worst set of keywords to put on your site. However, you’ll likely be in competition with several other books that have corporate conspiracies set against murder. Since this example takes place at the fitness club, then adding “fitness club” or “gym” as keywords will help generate more specific organic results in searches.

The nice thing about search in web browsers now is that the methods of search are more intuitive. If include a lot of keywords in a post announcing the release of the book, then any combination of keywords can help boost your organic SEO. In the announcement post about the book, include as many keywords as you can that makes sense. These words should be able to form a search algorithm of sorts. That way if someone searches a web browser for “fitness club conspiracy thriller” your book will likely show up at the top of the results because it’s incredibly specific. However, you should include more generic terms like “corporate conspiracy novel.”

This is because they are still relevant terms and not overly competitive. Terms like “best-selling novel” are going to be hard to win competitive rankings without some paid leverage. Even then, that’s an uphill battle you’re facing. If you want to see how much people are searching for keywords, check out Google Trends. There you can also do some great research on when you should have a content boost based on your genre. For example, the term “murder novel” is relevant enough for Google Trends to show results for.

There are significant spikes in the amount of searches. Namely around June and July. Guess why? Crime and murder conspiracy novels are common “beach-reads.” The books people pick up for summer reading. So when planning out content schedules for a book dealing with crime, conspiracy and murder should have concentrated efforts around that time.

If a term you enter doesn’t have any data represented, it means people aren’t searching enough for it to gather sufficient results. That’s good and bad news. Good news: That combination of search terms will be easy to win organically by simply posting regular content with those keywords involved. Bad news: Not many people are searching for it.

As a result, you have to find the right balance of relevant keywords. They can’t be too obscure, but also can’t be so generic that you’re lost in the shuffle.

What keywords do you think fit your writing best? What other questions do you have regarding search and the web? Chime in with the comment section below or reach out to me on Twitter @ThomasAFowler.

2016: This Year Scares the S#!+ Out of Me


Last year’s goal was to get pissed (in a good way). I’d had a mediocre 2014 in terms of writing. 2015 was very different. A little mood music:

In the now past calendar year the following occurred:

  • Received a publishing contract on my first novel.
  • Turned down said publishing contract.
  • Got a request for the full manuscript by an imprint of the big six through an open submission period.
  • Got a personal rejection by the editor of said imprint, including an invitation to submit future works.
  • Entered a writing social media contest (didn’t win, but placed in the top 75 among hundreds of entrants).
  • Had a short story published through Story of the Month Club.
  • Entered a screenplay into the Mile High Horror Film Festival.

I wrote 72,503 words and edited 152,452. This does not include outlines for future works, blog posts, flash fiction, submission letters, queries, etc. Those word counts were for major projects. It was a great accomplishment and expect this year to have an even larger word count.

Why does 2016 scare me then? I have four major projects that are finished and need to go out into the world. They need a home. It’s the juncture that terrifies every writer to their very core: letting people read their writing. The final products are:

  • 19,919 word screenplay.
  • 17,005 word short story & flash fiction collection.
  • 35,579 word non-fiction book.
  • 94,714 word science-fiction novel.

Two of those I’m self-publishing (announcement on the first one coming in February). The novel and screenplay I am pursuing via traditional routes. That’s right, I’m going hybrid. Thankfully the novel started the new year with a great publisher who has the first 3 chapters for further consideration.

It’s sink or swim time, this year I get to find out if people actually give a shit about what I’m doing.

Fowler-4559Done1
Big thanks to Laura Mahony Photography for the new headshots.

On top of that I’ve got a new brand logo coming, new website design, and had author head-shots taken (to the left). I made a plan for this to happen, for 2015 to be a year of writing and editing, and for finished projects to coalesce into this calendar year. I stuck to it. Now, here I am. This will be one of the most pivotal years of my professional life.

There are a few times in my past that I have felt similar pressure, and failed. I own that. And I’ve paid for my mistakes, literally in some cases. I’ve succeeded too. This year begins knowing I have an incredible group of fellow authors, advertisers, friends, family, and future fans at the ready to get me through this.

I don’t expect all four projects to succeed unanimously. But while I put these completed works out into the world, there are new projects to write that make me equally excited. And thus the cycle of the rest of my writing life begins: Submit completed projects while I work on new ones. Repeat as inspired.

Looking forward to a fantastic, but terrifying 2016. What are you doing this year? How can I help?

Let me know in the comment section. Subscribe to receive new blog posts. There will be some new categories and topics introduced this year. But don’t worry, marketing advice for writers will always take precedence. The conversation is always live on Twitter. Use the hashtag #WritersConquest. Thanks for following, subscribing & reading.

Touch Your Toes


My physical and mental strength are connected. If I get lazy, so does my writing. Right now I’m on the best consistent streak in over 5 years and I’ve been going to the gym at least once a week. That correlation isn’t coincidence.

For those who don’t know, I was in a terrible car accident when I was a teenager. My right orbital was crushed, intestines scarred to the point I needed two surgeries to remove the damaged portions, and endured compression fractures on two lumbar vertebrae. It was a long road to recovery, and my back has no qualms letting me know if I’m not keeping it strong and flexible.

I’ve been working on flexibility, endurance and strength. And Monday I reached two milestones. First, I benched 150 pounds for 10 repetitions. It’s been a long time since I could do that. Many people wouldn’t consider that a monumental weight, but they’re my milestones and they haven’t endured what I have. It was a great milestone, but the big win was something I hadn’t done since that car accident over 15 years ago: touch my toes.

For months after the accident I wore what I called my “turtle shell.” It was a hard brace to keep weight off my back. When I took it off and started physical therapy, I couldn’t do a single sit-up. My core, back, and abs had to be completely dormant while the vertebrae healed. I was 5’9″ and barely over 100 pounds my body had endured so many surgeries and dietary problems.

Monday, during my cool-down I went to do a straight leg, sitting hamstring stretch. It’s where your legs are in front of you, and you bring your arms toward your feet. Initially my fingers grazed the tongue (that part directly under the shoelaces). As I counted down from sixty, I went further into the stretch. With thirty seconds remaining, I brought my fingers up from the shoelaces, and hit the trim (the part just under the toe box). At twenty seconds remaining, I grabbed the toe box and pulled my upper body down.

16 years, 8 months, 13 days ago I was in that car accident. I finally kept the persistence and dedication to touch my toes. Again, some would look at the achievement and scoff, consider it not a lot. However, once again they are my milestones and odds are very few people on this earth endured what I did.

Now, I’m wrapping up a book that I’m self-publishing in March, while submitting an already accomplished novel. All of these monuments are connected. Physical strength may not be the correlating factor for you as a writer. However, it’s likely that something must be shared to ensure your mental strength as an artist. Once you find it, hit milestones and keep moving forward. Because now that I’ve touched my toes, it’s time to work on getting my head to my knees. And now that I’m shopping one book, while finalizing a self-published second, it’s time to get writing on the third.

Milestones are the end of one achievement, and the beginning of a more difficult challenge. But the rewards keep getting sweeter.

Why it took James Bond to finally beat The Martian.


“The Martian” finally ended a long run at the top of the box office. Meanwhile, the novel by Andy Weir rests at the number four position on the New York Times, despite being initially published in 2011. Most authors consider their book successful if they hit the list once, let alone remain atop for over twenty consecutive weeks years after being released.

While its success boils down to great writing, being the right book for the right time during a resurgence of space curiosity with Neil DeGrasse Tyson and IFLScience, it’s more than that.

The movie has enjoyed incredible success hinged upon incredible marketing efforts. The level of cross-promotion and intelligent marketing efforts. Similar to “Jurassic World” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” a new norm has emerged. It stems in creating responsive websites, intuitive social media, and amazing video content for fictional universes.

In “Jurassic World,” a remarkable site was made for the park itself, as well as InGen’s successor, Masrani. The company that took the reigns after the failure of the first park had all the company tropes: about page, executive team, mission statements, corporate introduction, everything needed to create a company website. For “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” we saw Trask’s development firm discuss the innovation of protecting humans from mutants with the Sentinel program.

The Martain continued to trend with AresLive.com, a video prologue series chronicling the Ares journey to Mars. It follows the crew, counts down to launch.

More impressively, they did cross-promotional videos with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The videos were set within the fictional universe of The Martian, implying the reality of this science fiction that made it so popular. In addition, Under Armour created a microsite about the company being the official mission gear of the Ares crew. It does very little to talk about the movie itself. Rather the microsite embraces the notion of a fictional sponsorship. It takes the traditions of advertising to a different level, creating a varied approach separated just far enough to go from clichéd to original.

The takeaway? It takes an incredible core product to make something truly impactful. In this case the core product being Andy Weir’s bestseller. However, with a great core product comes unique opportunities for secondary products and promotional efforts that separate from the rest of the noise in the market. So take the chance to find out what opportunities can arise from your core products, and embrace them. Neil DeGrasse Tyson could’ve just had a trailer for “The Martian” play during an episode of “Cosmos.” Under Armour could’ve just sponsored the movie. Instead, they sponsored a fictional crew within a fabricated narrative.

This unique approach is why it took a 50 year franchise to finally stop The Martian from being at the top of the box office and make the movie Ridley Scott’s most successful film to date. Remember, Ridley Scott made a few other movies you may have heard of: Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator just to name a few. The man knows how to tell a story. And now, he has an incredible team to advertise the incredible product on hand.

So how can you take unique advertising opportunities and apply them to your brand and products? Chime in with the comment section below. The conversation is always live on Twitter as well. Let’s have a chat @ThomasAFowler using the hashtag #WritersConquest.

See you all at Mile Hi Con 47


MileHiCon47_logoThis year marks my first at Mile Hi Con. I’ll be there all weekend and cannot wait as I’m on a lot of panels, with some familiar and others I’ve never met. As a result, it has the makings for a great first outing at this established convention.

Friday, October 23

5:00 p.m. Rewrite History — with Zombies! with Stant Litore, Charles Eugene Anderson, Jason Henry Evans

8:00 p.m. Marvel/DC Universes Collide – Moderating with Tony Bagley, Mike Clarke, Jason Henry Evans, and Stephanie Slater

10:30-11:30 p.m. Total Recall (2012) vs Total Recall (1990) Discussion with W.C. Bauers, Melanie Unruh, and Jason Evans.

Saturday, October 24 

12:00 p.m. Fear/The Walking Dead Fan Forum – Moderating with Stephanie Slater

9:00 p.m. Top 10 Horror Films – Moderating with panelists Mike D’Amrosio, Nicole Godfrey, and Joshua Viola

Sunday, October 25

11:00 a.m. Interactive Fiction with David Boop, John Barnes, Hilari Bell, and Deena Larsen

3:00 p.m. The Next Big Thing with Oz Drummond, A.M. Burns, Rebecca M. Kyle, and Angela Rouquet

Thank you, everyone.


Cover design by Kyla Umemoto.
Cover design by Kyla Umemoto.

The Inkshares & Nerdist Sci-Fi Fantasy Contest ended a few minutes ago. I did not make it into the top five, which was necessary to get the publishing contract. I finished in the top 100, which is saying something considering the massive amount of submissions. It shows there is a community of support. More importantly is showed me people want to read this book, which is an incredible feeling. This book concept came together in 2008, so it has been an arduous seven year journey that still awaits a conclusion. I’m eager for this conclusion. Today I feel a mixed bag of emotions. Short term I’m feeling anger and disappointment, wondering what I could have done to win this. I’ll question my writing. It’s natural to take some hits on days like this.

Long term I’m feeling hopeful and reinvigorated. This is because I saw support from so many different people. Many coworkers at my ad agency, Vladimir Jones, were the first people on board. They sounded the call and led the charge. Many of my writing friends I’ve come to know the last few years shared and pre-ordered. Friends from high school and college rallied behind me. Random people ordered the book, which I cannot tell you how good that feels. People I do not know and have never met found the book to be intriguing enough to support my entry in this contest. Fewer things invoke that level of enthusiasm in a writer than that.

I also have to give a massive thanks to all of the fellow writers in this contest. It’s rare you enter a competition and everyone helps one another. Social media champs included Rachel Berkey and R. Heinz. Have to thank Robert Wren and C. Brenneke for the recommendations, and S.T. Ranscht & Robert P. Beus for their incredible, personalized recommendation. I’m going to use that in my book proposal for submitting to new agents and publishers. And I quote: “Reminiscent of Michael Crichton’s work, Current promises to be a tense adventure/mystery based on environmental progress.”

Congratulations to Zachary Tyler Linville,Brian Guthrie, R. Heinz, Dave Barrett, and Andrew J. Ainsworth for making the top five. It was well deserved and lost to some incredible competition. Can’t wait to read them when they’re released.

Thank you to Inkshares and The Nerdist for providing the opportunity. HUGE thanks to Kyla Umemoto for creating a book cover for me literally in a day and a half.

I’m not going to lie: today stings, but I’m also coming out reinvigorated because of the support shown by all of you. Now it’s on to the agents and publishers I haven’t queried yet. Thank you, everyone.

Why authors should pay attention to the demise of Flash.


No, not the superhero. This is even nerdier of a conversation. Adobe Flash has supported multiple facets of the internet for years. However, its demise has been a long time coming. Now, Flash’s final tolls have been rung, and its last bow is all but here.

For those completely unfamiliar with Flash, you’ve seen it. You just may not have been aware that you have seen it. As stated on its website, Adobe describes Flash as “…the standard for delivering high-impact, rich Web content. Designs, animation, and application user interfaces are deployed immediately across all browsers and platforms, attracting and engaging users with a rich Web experience.” Meaning that as you see advertisements on the web, played games within a web browser, or saw elaborate animations, it was likely that Adobe Flash played a factor in what you saw.

There are multiple reasons for Flash’s decrease in popularity. As stated by The Trefis Team, in an article on Forbes.com, “Support for Flash has waned with the emergence of HTML5, due to the former’s high latency and power consumption. It frequently crashes as well. Apple dropped support some years ago, as has Mozilla with its Firefox. Morevoer, Adobe has been slow to address these and other flaws, including some of the critical security issues.”

Apple stopped supporting Flash on its devices years ago, and a few months ago Google announced Chrome, its browser, would not support Flash display. With the majority of the most popular browsers no longer showing support, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) no longer lists Flash as the recommended method of display advertising.

Neat, what does it have to do with authors? More than you may think. Your publisher may still rely on Flash animation for display advertisements. Any correlating animations on your websites will start to hold back on the animations. If there’s an animation your site, visitors won’t see it immediately as a default. They’ll have to first start the animation, it will then play. However, that’s currently. Soon Chrome and Safari won’t support as Flash at all. Meaning any Flash animations will be hindered, and shortly unsupported entirely.

As a result, it is vital to check all of your advertisements and websites for Flash integration. Utilizing HTML5 is still capable of being done in Adobe. Only with HTML5 you get less security complications, crashes occur less due to less computer usage, and better functionality.

If you are self-published, and outsource digital resources, check with those vendors to ensure that any advertising banners are being converted, or were developed in HTML5. There can be static JPEG images in the interim. There are pros and cons to static versus animated banners, but statics can help fill the gap to ensure you don’t miss any placement dates. If you are traditionally published, it’s hopeful that your publishers are ahead of the curve and engaged either their team or external vendors that produce their work. However, a quick conversation wouldn’t be hurtful.

You can also check your website for flash animations to see if those need to be updated. You can often do that by right-clicking on an animated piece, click “Inspect Element.” If you see a file name in the code labeled as “filename.swf” that is a flash animation. MP4 and GIF files can be good substitutes. However, with MP4 files you often also want an OGG Theora version of the file to accommodate Firefox. You can convert MP4 files easily to OGG with Miro Video Converter, it’s a free download.

Have further questions or concerns? The conversation is always live on Twitter @thomasafowler and on my website of ThomasAFowler.com. Enjoy the rest of your week.

Inkshares & Nerdist Sci-Fi/Fantasy Competition: Week Two Results


Cover design by Kyla Umemoto.
Cover design by Kyla Umemoto.

Lots of traction, but still a long way to go. A big congratulations has to be extended to the top ten because they are certainly making it a competition. Each of the books have their own unique spin and I’d read any one of them.

Having said that, looking forward to another week. With the Inkshares & Nerdist Sci-Fi/Fantasy competition, the top five books with the most unique pre-orders win the competition and get published. Meaning by showing your support, the reward is the novel itself.

Appreciate your support, if you cannot pre-order the novel, consider sharing to show your support wherever possible. Much appreciated and can’t wait to see what this week has to bring.

Pre-order the novel and follow progress over at the Inkshares website: https://www.inkshares.com/projects/current/

Inkshares & Nerdist Sci-Fi/Fantasy Competition: Week One Results


Cover design by Kyla Umemoto.
Cover design by Kyla Umemoto.

My campaign for my science fiction novel, Current, has only been active for three calendar days. Having entered this match late in the game, I’m so ecstatic to announce that I’m over a third of the way to enter the top ten, out of what appears to be nearly 300 entries. And I’m over a quarter of the way into the top five, which would make me a winner of the Inkshares Science-Fiction & Fantasy Competition and considered for implementation into The Nerdist Collection. In looking at who’s donating, I thought it’d be fun to set up various groups, see who wins among the groups.

Advertisers – 55%

Family– 18%

Friends – 9%

Fans – 9%

Writing Tribe – 9%

Let’s keep it going. I’ll have an exciting announcement for those who pre-order the book coming later on in the competition. Thank you everyone. To pre-order the book, please visit my InkShares page. You will not be charged for the book until I win.

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