Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Writing Wednesday: Kilts, Camo & Tuxedos - Oh My! Do's and Don'ts when Writing Alpha Males

My latest romance is available for pre-sale right now with an anthology entitled HUNKS TO THE RESCUE. 15 authors and 15 hot alpha males jumping feet first into dangerous situations. The best part is that all the heroes are different, showing that alphas come in a delicious variety of flavors.

Which reminded me of this magazine column I wrote last March for CapeWomenOnline magazine for my "The Write Way" column. The magazine is currently undergoing transformation, and I'm not sure whether it'll be back up and running any time soon, but I had fun writing these tips and thought I'd share again.

When you hear the term "alpha male" you think strong and in charge. Movie images of ripped Navy SEALs or muscle-bound Highlanders might flit through your mind. Or maybe you picture the powerful billionaire CEO, intense and driven with the "A" type personality.

A for alpha.

Alpha males are a staple in literature as well as movies, and as a writer you should take time to master this stereotype (pun intended) no matter what genre you write. There's a big difference in creating a strong alpha male who might also have hidden vulnerabilities, as opposed to one who is simply a domineering jerk.

Romance author Susabelle Kelmer says, “Who wants to read about a selfish jerk? We sure wouldn't want to date or marry one! There is a difference - a true alpha male has got to have redeeming qualities, or I'm not going to be able to get into the story.”

“I've read some stories where the alpha male was such a jerk I had to put down the book,” agrees paranormal author Karilyn Bentley, who writes the Demon Huntress series. “I like them where they are strong and capable but also have feelings and are kind.”

When reading any genre of novel, we expect our heroes to be strong and stand up for what they believe, but readers also want to connect with characters on a deeper level. Even an alpha male needs something to make him vulnerable, and thus human. He can't just flex his muscles and order women around. In a mystery or tale of suspense, he can’t be right 100% of the time. And in a romance, he needs to give as good as he gets.

So as you’re working on your next manuscript, keep these ideas in mind. And make that Alpha work for our approval.

"Alpha Guidelines"
DO make sure your hero is hot, ripped and ready for anything. No, he doesn’t have to be conventionally handsome (although it helps) but he needs to have self-confidence and a certain amount of arrogance about his looks.

DON’T take that self-confidence over the top into the realm of self-obsessed. No one like a Narcissist.  

DO give him a job or a cause he can believe in, and something the reader can relate to in some way. Whether it’s a fireman who puts his life on the line, a Navy SEAL saving wounded soldiers, or a cowboy working hard to save the family ranch, readers love a man with a cause they can believe in too. The CEO who makes millions for his company just by shipping jobs overseas? Not so much. The CEO with a secret soft spot for disabled kids, who donates millions to the local children’s hospital? Swoon-worthy for sure.

DON’T make everything a cliché. Yes, there are stereotypes for good reason – those are formula characters that work. But that doesn’t mean readers aren’t looking for something fresh and new. From the alpha werewolf seeking a mate to the billionaire who marries the poor girl as part of some deal or to gain his inheritance… Yeah, overdone. The CEO who falls for his formerly shy assistant and dazzles her with fifty shades of kinky sexual situations? We’ve seen (and panned) the movie.

DON’T be afraid to try something fresh. There are all kinds of alphas out there, whether they’re in traditional alpha jobs or not. In LINGERIE WARS by Janet Elizabeth Hendersen, the hero was a former British special forces guy (okay, maybe a little cliché), who owned and ran a lingerie shop in Scotland! A twist to be sure, but it worked. Trust me.

DO give your hero a backstory that tugs at the reader’s heart. What made him the way he is today? A strong loving mom, being raised by a grandparent, childhood in an orphanage, a happy household filled with siblings, high school success or failure… try writing up a character background to see what makes the guy tick. What gives him strength? Why is he fighting for whatever it is he fights for? Eventually, some of this backstory needs to leak into your novel, to let the reader glimpse the hero’s vulnerability. If you totally understand the character and his motivations, it’s so much easier to make the reader fall in love with him.

DO make your alpha fall for the heroine for the RIGHT reasons. Loving her big boobs is NOT a good reason. Being horny is NOT a good reason. Alphas should love and respect women. Perhaps they’ve had a love ‘em and leave ‘em past, but it shouldn’t be misogynistic. Not wanting to settle down at twenty-something is a whole lot different than trying to sleep your way across Manhattan for the sheer sake of gaining notches on the bedpost and bragging about it on Twitter.

There are all sorts of alpha heroes out there, and all sorts of readers to cater to. In the end, you need to write the guy YOU would fall for, whether he owns a comic book store, a construction company or a mansion and a yacht. Alpha is alpha.

Chances are, there will be plenty of readers on that same page.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday Book Review: The Sapient Salesman, by Erin Wilson

The Sapient Salesman: Spinning Life into Lessons, One Tale at a Time
by Erin Wilson, Published 2015

About the Book:
The Sapient Salesman: Spinning Life into Lessons, One Tale at a Time is a collection of short stories, based on real-life events, that showcase the salesmanship − or lack there of − present in every-day interactions.

Each story uses otherwise ordinary events to bring into question the sales tactics and interpersonal philosophies we employ and [perhaps] take for granted. Through the introspection they inspire, you will discover opportunities to improve your own sales practices − both personally and professionally.
My Take:

First of all, a disclaimer. This is not my usual fiction fare. This is full-on non-fiction, and kind of self-help as well.

My day job is as a technical writer for a software-as-a-service company. I recently attended their annual sales kickoff meeting, which was held in the home office out in California. It was great to get a chance to meet so many of my coworkers face-to-face, people I'd only emailed with or spoken on the phone with. A conversation with one such co-worker led me to purchasing a copy of her book, The Sapient Salesman, which I promised to read and review for her, because you know, that's my thing. Reading and reviewing books. And yes, I gave her cash for the book because I'm an author too. These things cost money, and while I'm always happy to give books away, it always feels good when someone values my work enough to pay for it.

Except I found myself in the strange position of realizing this is not my usual genre to read by any stretch, and I'm not sure I have a good basis for comparison to write a review. The book consists of 80 short stories which are more like parables -- think Aesop's Fables for salespeople -- but with the author as the protagonist of every tale and telling the story in first person. The tales themselves are just quirky stories like any co-worker might share over beer or wine as you sit in the hotel bar, but then the author ties each one to a sales technique, or lack thereof, like Aesop did with his morals.

Before I even opened my copy, I asked if it was aimed at women - while the cover art looks a little purplish online, in my hands it's actually neon pink. The author said she didn't intend to skew to one gender or the other, she just liked the black/pink combo. I suggested maybe neon green for the second edition (if she goes that route) but after reading it, I'm not sure about that. I think it would be better to embrace the marketing to women aspect and keep the bold neon pink. Just sayin'.

Okay, so armed with that foreknowledge - here's the official review.


This collection of short tales and vignettes combine self-deprecating humor with focused insight to make connections between our every day actions and the task of selling. Erin Wilson delivers bite-sized coaching lessons on understanding the sales mentality from the perspectives of both the seller and buyer.

Originally written as blog posts, the 80 stories in this book range in length from a scant 2 pages to the longest which is 6 pages (and includes an illustration.) As with most blogs, some of the "posts" are more effective than the others in tying the moral to the story, while others make a cognitive leap from their anecdote to the point the writer is trying to make. Likewise the humor levels vary from story to story, with some that are laugh-out-loud funny, to others that barely had me cracking a smile, but this kind of situational humor can be subjective. She has a sassy tone with a good command of both multi-syllabic words and slang that will resonate with readers.

While the lessons are not aimed specifically at male or female readers, I think women salespeople would probably gain the greatest insights from most of Ms. Wilson's stories, as she does have a unique viewpoint as an outspoken woman in a male-dominated industry. I'm not trying to say that male readers wouldn't benefit from her lessons about listening to what customers are saying, taking their needs and pain points into account, adjusting the sales pitch accordingly for your audience, etc. etc. My point is more that a lot of her situational humor hinges on gender in a way that's not totally obvious at first glance.

For example, one of her tales is of meeting with various salesmen to get estimates for a home project. The first salesperson won't speak to her alone until her husband is home from work, and reschedules the meeting. On the one hand, this is a lesson about making sure to schedule meetings when all the key decision makers are present. But it's also not a situation that too many male readers would be familiar with, so it may not resonate with them or feel authentic. (Contractors in general seem to have few qualms about going full throttle when pitching a husband alone.) That particular parable went on to illustrate an entirely different point, about listening to what your customer needs. As a reader, I was still with her because I could relate to the whole story, but I wonder how many male readers might get lost along the way.

On the one hand, the bite-sized stories are too short and sit and read straight through the book. On the other, reading a few here and there resonated with me and had me thinking about the points she made. Not every story is a winner, but there are enough in there to make me nod my head in agreement.

If you are in any sort of sales-related or sales-tangent position and want insight into how to look at situations from a different perspective, try picking up a copy of this book.

It's available on AMAZON and other online retailers.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Writing Wednesday: In Praise of Editors

Last week I read one of the messiest books I've actually read (meaning I didn't punt after the first chapter.) I actually liked the characters. I actually liked the storyline. I actually wanted to see how the author resolved the various conflicts she'd created.

But damn. The writing itself was quite the mess. More like a first draft in transition.

She had sentences with extra words in the middle - obvious that she'd changed direction between drafts, but no one caught the danglers. The narrator shifted into third person a few times, where most of the story was first person POV, so at some point it must've been written another way. But no one caught the odd remnants of that version. And while the bulk of the story was in the Boston area, it was unclear whether the narrator's hometown was in NH or Maine, because she referenced each, so I'm guessing that changed between drafts at some point but was never cleaned up. There were also the random misused words, the ones spellcheck can't fix because while they are real words, they are not the right words for the sentence. And don't get me started on the punctuation mishaps or the misplaced paragraph breaks.

I think the author made too many changes to this manuscript and didn't keep track of her revisions. Or have anyone else do a final read through.

This is why every author needs an editor. And needs the editor to read through more than once. It's not enough to read through a final draft on your own - you know your story. You will fill in the blanks in your mind and not notice.

For example. In my own most recent manuscript, I realized that I needed to add a sex scene before the heroine and hero find the next dead body. So I went back and added it. In the final read through, the hero is whipping his cell phone out to call 9-1-1.... except that he's now naked, where he hadn't been in the original version. So where is he whipping that phone from, his ass? Ewww...

(yes, I fixed that before submission. whew.)

If you are self-publishing, then you are paying for the editorial services on your own. And editors can be expensive. But it's worth it. I will never buy a book from that author again, despite how much I enjoyed her characters and plots.

If she's not going to take her writing seriously, why should I?

Now, who's feeling brave? Share the biggest or most embarrassing mistake your editor caught - like my cell phone in the butt cheek moment. C'mon, I know I'm not the only one who appreciates her editors.

Happy Writing!