Learning to Plot My Life

I’ve been working with the absolutely awesome, kick-ass Cairene MacDonald of Third Hand Works, whose tagline is: “from overwhelmed to ready for anything.”   She’s phenomenal, on a number of levels.

I’m juggling a lot right now.  I’ve joined the team at Entangled Publishing, who are also kick-ass.  (Trust me, if you’re a writer, you’re going to be hearing a lot about them this year.  When they launch, they’re going to light the publishing world on fire with a blowtorch.  I’m lucky enough to be one of their publicists.  I get to wear my White Hat and walk my talk, which is awesome. )

I’ve also got this, all you peeps who like to rock and sell a lot, without selling out.  I get to do Mad Plotting Calls, and do some high level editing.

I teach over at Savvy Authors — a full year’s mentoring course.

I’ve just finished edits on the first book of a trilogy.  My agents are shopping my next series, a sort of Urban Fantasy My Girl Friday.

Did I mention my son’s four years old? Because he’d mention it, given the chance.

Oh, and we’re moving.  One to grow on!

A system is needed.  Possibly several.  STAT!

I wrote my first seven or so novels when I was working at a full time job.  It wasn’t that hard, all things considered.  I’d work all day, write a few hours at night.  Still had plenty of time to drink Jagermeister ice tea and do Family Guy marathons on weekends.

Then my son (a.k.a. The Boy) entered my life, and all hell broke loose.  Suddenly, what I juggled with relatively few bobbles became like a grenade exploding.  I didn’t so much drop things as get caught in the shrapnel.

What used to work suddenly doesn’t.

I tried Franklin Covey.  Allen’s GTD (Getting To Done.)  Zen To Done.  Julie Morgenstern and Organizing from the Inside Out.    I’ve read more time management books than I can admit, or even remember.  And nothing quite worked.  But I kept stumbling, and through a convoluted path finally found Cairene, and discovered the trick wasn’t to find the system that worked.

It was to look at myself, and what was already working.

The one system that survived.

I came up with my infamous Compulsive Plotting method with one main thing in mind:  writing to deadline.  I sold my second book on proposal, and suddenly, they wanted to know “when can you turn this in?”  I’d written my first book complete before I sold it — I knew I liked the whole proposal idea, so I suddenly had to figure out how many pages I needed to write when, and I needed to figure out how to make the story fit.

I’ve been writing for twelve years, and the plotting system and story craft has developed, streamlined, but ultimately I’ve found what worked.  I don’t think about it anymore.  When I get a story idea, I go through the same process.  Character work.  GMC chart.  Plot points.  Scene outline.  It’s like breathing.  It’s what gives me the ability to spot other people’s plot arcs at twelve paces (and under an hour.)

What I did not have was a system for everything else.  In fact, it never occurred to me to try one.

Plotting my life.

The wildest thing I’ve discovered in working with Cairene, besides the power of metaphors and play, is that I don’t have to have a to-do list like anyone else.  The reason all those other admirable systems I’ve been studying over the years didn’t work for me was because I was looking at what others did, instead of looking at what I do naturally.

I have my plotting system down cold.  So why couldn’t I apply it to my life?

Character sketch.  I’ve done more research into what shapes my characters than I’ve ever done for myself.  STarting to unravel that — the why behind  the whats that I  do — inevitably leads me to the next point.

GMC.  What is my goal, really?  If I’m not clear about what I want, I won’t know it when I get it.  I state it clearly in my novels.  I need to do that in my life.

Then, why do I want to do whatever the hell I’ve jumped into?  If I’m writing a novel, I need to ask why, or else the next time it gets sticky and hellish, I’m going to come perilously close to turning tail and tucking that bad boy in a drawer.  That’s where motivation comes in.

Finally, obstacles.  What’s standing in my way?  That would be external (i.e. “I want to sell a book, but the market’s soft for (whatever) at this point.”) or internal (such as “I really want to tackle a big information project, but I’m scared because I’ve never done it before.”) If I don’t know what’s in my way, I won’t know how to work around it.  I’m just going to keep going “smack-ouch, smack-ouch” against the wall.

Plot Points.  This is a little more of a stretch, but strangely, it does still work.  Larry Brooks’ brilliant STORY ENGINEERING breaks a story into four parts:  the first quarter being when something happens to jar the protagonist out of stasis; the second quarter, when the character runs around trying to figure out what to do and reacting to everything thrown at him; the third quarter, when he’s gotten new information and has gone from reactive to proactive; and finally the fourth quarter, when the stakes have been raised, he’s faced his fears, and he kicks some ass. (I am liberally paraphrasing.)

Plot Points: I has them!

When I take a project, I look at what got me started (the Inciting Incident.)  I look at my goal, and why I’m there, and what will happen if I don’t do it.  (Plot Point One.)  If I’m planning, odds are good I’m at Plot Point 2.  I’ve done my info gathering, and now it’s time to set out the plan of action.

Plot Point 3 would be moving from planning to action.  Carrying out the dream.  Going for it.

The Black Moment:  “What’s the worst that could happen?”  Not in a negative way.  Just looking at possible solutions, and adding practicality to imagination.

Finally the resolution:  how do I want this to end?

It’s not perfect.  But it’s damned close.

Granted, I can’t control my life the way I control my books… but honestly, my stories have a mind of their own no matter how hard I “plot.”  The whole point for me in having the system is a way to wrap my mind around a very complicated, interdependent set of threads.  How to keep focus, no matter what happens.

Now that I’m applying it to everything I’ve got going on?

I think I’m looking forward to being a heroine in my own story. To writing my own life.  🙂

What do you think?  What do you do to keep moving, to get things done?  What systems do you have that work?

If you found this interesting, please re-tweet!

The Foundation of Non-Evil Book Promotion.

Non-Evil Book Promotion

Can you have a kick ass book promotion plan without being evil?

The tagline here is “sell a lot, without selling out” because I think that you want to be authentic, and… well, non-evil.  (“Sell a lot without being evil” just doesn’t have the same ring.  Also, I think Google’s mission statement already uses it.)

“If you write it, they will come.”

In one of the comments in my last post, DeeAnna Galbraith mentioned that “if it’s a good book, it will find a solid audience.”

I love the hope in this mentality, and I think that the book must come first, period.  If you don’t focus on improving your craft, there’s no point in promoting, because you either won’t have enough to promote (too busy promoting, not enough writing) or the stuff you write won’t stand up to scrutiny.

Unlike some non-fiction authors, we aren’t able to cruise on our reputations as experts, dining out on speaking tours and partnerships, seminars and licensing. We’re novelists, fiction writers and our books are our livelihoods.

Does cream rise to the top?

Alas, I don’t believe “good books find an audience”  is necessarily true.  I’ve had many friends who have written wonderful books. However, for lack of consistent or effective publishing efforts (on their part or the part of their publishers) they were unable to connect with readers.

Consequently, they didn’t “make their numbers.”

For those in traditional publishing especially, if you don’t sell a certain number of copies (usually sell-through, or a percentage of number printed and distributed vs. number actually sold) then you’re suddenly on a slippery slope.  Bookstores will return you, and when your next title comes up, they will check your name, and see what your last sell-through was.  Low sell through = fewer or no copies of future books.  Publishers also look at this, and when your next contract comes up, they may decide to pass.

What about e-publishing?

Admittedly, with the boom of e-publishing, you no longer have to fight for limited shelf-space.  But with the deluge of offerings, it’s harder and harder for good books to be noticed.  If you aren’t doing something for promotion, then your masterpiece may languish in Amazon limbo, selling two copies a quarter.

So we’re back to push-push-sell-sell?

Yes, you need to promote.You should have a plan to promote.  Yes, you can decide you want to be a huge, screaming, set-the-world-ablaze success.

No, you don’t need to be evil to carry this out.

The whole point of White Hat promo is to think of your reader first.  Consequently, all of your promotional efforts, and the foundation of your whole book promotion plan, is going to focus on your Right Reader.

You need a comprehensive plan to effectively promote your book.  To do that, you’re going to need the following foundation:

1.  Look at your work.  What genre are you in?  What makes you unique?  (In business jargon, they call this your USP, or Unique Selling Point.)

This can be hard to pin down, especially if you’re writing a very popular genre.  Let’s say you’re writing a cozy mystery.  What’s the hook?  Some examples: “crafty” (knitting, scrapbooks, decoupage); foodie (cupcakes, chefs, recipes);  or role (debutante, maid, traveling clown.  Okay, I made that last one up.)

The idea is to drill down in your niche.  It’s not enough to say you write cozy mysteries, or romantic comedy, or horror.  You write cozy mysteries about a pet psychic.  You write romantic comedy like modern day Kate Hepburn/Spencer Tracy movies.  You write gritty, violent horror stories that take place in the Mojave Desert. Why?  because you want to make it as easy as possible for a Right Reader to be intrigued — and a Wrong Reader to go away.

2.  Draw a sketch of your Right Reader.  Remember: this is someone who is desperately searching for what you’re writing, rather than someone who would enjoy it if they gave it a chance.  The clearer you can visualize this reader, the easier it’s going to be to make decisions about how to design your website, and what to write for your newsletter, blog, posts, and tweets.  In every communication, you want to pretend you’re communicating with your Right Reader alone.  One size does not fit all.  Communication that tries to cater to Every Reader tends to be a bland pap that attracts no one.

3.  Go native.  Once you’ve identified your Right Reader, find out where she hangs out.  Go to a book club.  Lurk in some forums.  Read book blogs.  Remember:  this is a recon mission! Right now, you care enough about your Right Reader to be interested in who she is, what she wants, and what has disappointed her in the past.  Read what she’s suggesting.  If you find stuff you love that’s applicable, share it.  Become known as “that person who knows great books/has funny insights/is kind” rather than “that author who makes every comment a way to talk about her book coming out.”

4.  Be consistent.  This means visually, in your copywriting, and in any communication you do. Again, you’re making it easier for your Right Reader to be attracted and find out more.  If you write violent, gritty, modern horror that takes place in the Mojave, then maybe instead of the usual Gothic fonts, graveyards,  and blood splatter on a black background, go for shades of gray and really creepy desert imagery.  If you’re writing Hepburn/Tracy styled rom com, maybe have pictures of a man and a woman, with smirks of challenge, facing each other from either side of your header.  Make the motif match the USP.

Also, have your website match your social media, your newsletter, your business cards, your newsletter.  Be visually consistent.  Also, use the same “voice” across the board.  Don’t write your newsletter as if it’s coming from a company, your bio as if your publicist wrote it, your tweets as if you’re talking to your high school pals, and your blog as if you’re Sybil, complete with multiple personalities.  Consistency is key.

What do you think?  Does this still feel “evil” to you, or does it make sense?  If you wanted to write a non-evil book promotion plan, what else would you want to know?

If this resonates, please re-tweet.  Likewise, please comment or contact me if you have any questions. I love hearing the feedback, and I want to post stuff that helps! 🙂

The White Hat Promo Manifesto

After my last post, I got some valuable feedback from a reader who was “dismayed” that, in essence, I was advocating a new way of “infiltrating” the Amazon forums, or any forums, for that matter.  That I was suggesting ways to trick readers.

She was worried that my stance of connecting and giving it a couple of months before mentioning a release was a carefully crafted plan.

In re-reading my post, honestly, I don’t blame her.  I wasn’t clear enough.  So today, I want to make my position on promotion as clear, I hope, as possible.

But first, a lurid, “hooky” header…

How is book promotion like sex?

Let’s say you’re a single guy.

You’re lonely.  You’d like companionship, someone to spend time with, among other things.  You don’t consider yourself particularly adept with the opposite sex, and you’re shy.

What you do know: your chances of finding Ms. Right while staying in your hermit cave are between slim and none.

You realize that one of your biggest problems is you hate this dating thing.  You don’t know what to say, or do, and you don’t know when to say or do it.  You’re not sure why anyone would say “yes” and you fear the pain of hearing “no.”

You decide you need help.  You need a plan of action.

“Black Hat” or “Evil” approach.

You see an ad from a guy who teaches classes on how to be a “hundred percent success!” with women.  He’s a pick-up artist, a successful one.

In these classes, you learn how to ignore the pain of rejection.  You learn to be flamboyant and attract attention while minimizing your defects.  You learn who to prey on.  You learn how to use psychological cues to zero in on women’s weak spots, and improve your chances.

Above all, you learn it’s a number game.  For every five to ten women you offend, one will eventually succumb.  The key to success, then, is not in your attractiveness, or your compatibility. It’s in your persistence and the sheer quantity of your invitations.

These classes emphasize another number: your success rate.  How many women you “pick up.”

These classes do not teach you how to sustain a relationship.  Considering the techniques you used to get the connection, it’s not like you’ve got a strong foundation to begin with.

You’re able to manage a number of one-night stands, but at the end of the program, you’re right back where you started: alone.

“White Hat” approach.

You decide you don’t want to simply bag a large number of random women, and keep up the numbers game.  You want a meaningful relationship with one woman who is right for you.

You go to therapy.  You do work on yourself.  You accept yourself as you are, recognizing what you have to offer as well as what you have to overcome.

You get as clear about who you want, what’s a definite and what’s a deal-breaker.  You think about where women with the qualities you’re looking for are most likely to be found, and start going there.  If you’d love to find someone athletic, you join a hiking club or marathon training.  If you’re interested in someone who loves old movies, you’d join a movie club.

You might work with matchmakers.  You might try online dating.  You could let friends fix you up.  If you’re determined, you might try all of the above.  You realize there are a number of available paths.

Finally, when you meet someone, you’re gentle, non-pressuring, and you give the relationship time to develop.  You go for coffee.  Maybe dinner.  You date for a while.

When you do propose, she says yes.  But to keep the marriage going, you don’t take her for granted. You don’t ignore her and chase other women in front of her.  You don’t forget to send flowers. You appreciate, check in, and give your best.

All the above applies, almost exactly, to book promotion.

Predator marketing.

Hard sell manipulative tactics are like being a pick-up predator.  You’re looking to score a sale from anyone who’s half-way willing to buy.  Often, you try to bend the truth to seem more like what they’re interested in.  “You love thrillers?  There’s a mystery in mine!” you say, even though you know it’s really a comedy with a light, ridiculous suspense subplot woven in.  But you don’t care — you’re trying to close the deal and make one more sale.

If someone does pick up a book under these circumstances, odds are unlikely that they’ll become fans.

Congratulations… you’ve just made what I call a one sale stand.  You don’t have a relationship with your reader.  And like a pick-up, when you’re done, many of them will walk away feeling screwed.

Permission marketing.

Permission marketing, on the other hand, takes a bit longer, and takes more work.  Finding and connecting with your Right Reader is a lot like getting married. For one thing, you don’t just wander up to someone and say, “hey, you read books!  Want to buy mine?”  To stretch the analogy, that would be like going up to a total stranger and saying, “hey, you’re single, but appear to like sex!  Want to hook up?”

You need to know what makes your book special. That will tell you who your Right Reader is… the type of person who is looking for just what you offer.

Then, you can follow the relationship arc:  you “meet” the readers where they hang out (book blogs, websites, conventions) and strike up a connection.  You interact when you bump into each other in comments or on forums designed for interaction.

The reader likes what you’re saying — she goes to your blog, and learns more about you.  She knows and likes you. When your book comes out, she’s more than ready to give you a try.

If she’s your Right Reader, you’ve got a fan for life — one that, if you respect her with quality books and continuous appreciation, will be worth more than a hundred “pick-up” sales because it’s easier to keep her happy than spend the time and energy finding new sales.

Bottom line:

At Rock Your Writing, we only wear White Hats. Want to be a pick up artist?  Door’s over there.

If you wear a White Hat, please re-tweet or like this post.

 

Photo by A. Germain.

When Self Promotion Attacks

I was recently reading a discussion over on the Amazon discussion boards about a new feature Amazon is introducing, to try and crack down on the infestation of blatant, clumsy, and otherwise invasive self-promo that has been cropping up, choking out a lot of reader discussion. (One reader called the forum “Village of the Spamned.”)  The readers on the romance forum were overjoyed that Amazon was finally policing their policy.

Frankly, I can’t blame them. And as one commenter pointed out, “the worst part is, their publishers are telling them to do this.”

The difference between good self promotion, and bad self promotion.

You’ve got a book coming out in a few months.  Your publisher tells you, “You need to start building your platform!  Get out there!  Get on some forums!”

They don’t tell you what to say, or how to say it.  They’re not quite sure which forums they’re talking about, although “That KindleBoards thing seems to be really hot, look at what it’s done for Amanda Hocking!”

They don’t tell you about the culture.  And they don’t prepare you for what’s about to happen next.

One of the lowest rings in hell.

If you’re a true introvert, going into a busy, social forum can be like going to a cocktail party where you don’t know anyone.  You’re a little nervous to make a comment, because you’re afraid you’re either going to be mocked or ignored.

At this point, you’re not quite sure which is worse.

But your publisher has told you to get your name out there, and damn it, you’re about to tunnel out from your cubicle with plastic spoons you’ve stolen from the break room. You are going to make this book a success if it kills you.

So you jump on a board, and announce:

“Hi, my name is Jane Author, and I’ve got a book out in two months.  It’s about (one sentence high concept elevator pitch)!  I hope you like it!”

Then you duck behind a couch and pray that the worst doesn’t happen.

What’s the worst?

You will hear one of two things.

One:  the awkward chirps of crickets as there is a huge crush of indifference to your post, and various conversations continue around you.

Or two:  the quick “fwoomp” sound of flamethrowers being lit, as you are roundly pointed out as a self-aggrandizing clumsy promowhore who is automatically not going to be purchased by anyone in the near future.

Actually, there is a third sound you might overlook: the soft “click” of a link called:  report abuse.

Obviously, you don’t want to do that.

Don’t do this, either.

Some authors try the Clumsy Random Segue.

Let’s say there’s a discussion going on about albino vampires who drink V8.  You have a vampire book.  You then post a comment like this:

“I love vampire books!  In fact, that’s why I wrote my vampire book.  It’s called Puncture and it comes out in June!”

Again.  Crickets or flames, or that soft little click.

So what do you do?

Pretend you’re a reader.  Only a reader.

That doesn’t mean put on the persona of a reader.  That means tap into that part of yourself that started out just loving books, unaware that you would also one day be writing your own and having them published.

It doesn’t mean that you lie and say you don’t write books. It means you don’t mention it unless someone asks.  Don’t make a big production of it.  Don’t make a signature block that looks like a billboard.

Just say, “Hi, I’m Jane Author.  I love books by (favorite authors.)”

Contribute.

If you can give something to the conversation, even if it’s just “I didn’t know about this author, thanks for the rec!” or “I can not wait until (whoever’s) next book comes out.”

Or if you know other authors that you genuinely love, not that you’re trying to impress or whatever, mention them.

“So how does that help build my platform?”

One is the number one reason why readers don’t read your books?  It’s not because they don’t know about them.  It’s not because they’re not interested in the concept.

The number one reason a reader doesn’t buy your book is because she does not trust you.

These days, even $1.99 can be too much to risk on a book that’s going to suck.  She needs some reassurance.

She doesn’t need to hear how cool your premise is.  Doesn’t want to know who your main characters are.  Doesn’t care about your blog tour.

She wants to know that you’re like her: someone who loves stories.  And who hates being harassed by over eager advertising.

“Am I supposed to befriend 100,000 readers to make a bestseller list, then?  I don’t have that kind of time!”

There is a short-cut, of sorts, to this “get to know me” approach.  If you’re on a forum, odds are good you are connecting with connectors.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, he mentions Connectors, people who are part of a large group of “loose bond” friends.  They also tend to be really plugged in, and have an almost compulsive need to share information with their networks.

You don’t need to know everybody in the network.  You just need to know the Connector… and have her vouch for you.

They even have a fancy information marketing name for it.

SOCIAL PROOF.

I’ll be blogging more about social proof soon, but in the meantime, if you’re on a forum, think about what you’re posting.  Pretend you don’t know you.  If someone sent you that post… how would you feel?

If you’ve been the victim of some other author’s self-promo attack, or otherwise found this article helpful, be a love and hit the Retweet button, please?  😀

UPDATE:

I just wanted to clarify a few things, after some very cogent points from the fine folk on the Amazon romance forum.

This is NOT advocating “okay, Amazon is cracking down, we’re just going to be more covert in our attempts to snag readers.”

This “strategy” is not about figuring out a “sneaky backdoor to promotion.”  No, no, NO!

Yes, you want to promote your books as an author.  Nobody’s saying shave your head, wear brown paper robes and give away your fiction for free.

What I am saying is:  people in forums do not wish to be “promoted at.”

Let me repeat that, loudly.  PEOPLE IN FORUMS DO NOT WANT TO BE “PROMOTED AT”!

So what do they want?

They want to have conversations about books they enjoy, and don’t enjoy.  They want to share a love of reading and connect around a passion we all should share.

They are not sheep waiting to be fleeced.  They’re not a market to be harvested.  They are people who love to read.

I’m going to be blogging about having a strategy without sounding like a criminal mastermind, too.  Sounds like I’ve got a busy week!  😀

 

Torture for Fun and Profit

As part of both my coaching service and my critique service, I get to see the framework of a lot of stories in progress.  When it comes to conflict in general, and Black Moments in particular, there’s one thing I’ve noticed over and over.

People pull their punches.

They get to the Black Moment, and it’s really more of a Light Gray Moment.  What happens is… unpleasant.  Possibly even upsetting.

As a reader, I don’t want unpleasant or upsetting.  I want soul-crushing*.  I want to be tied up in knots.  I want to stay up until three a.m., wondering how this character is going to get out of this predicament.

*And if you think this doesn’t apply because you’re writing comedy, you are so very, very wrong.  I direct you to THE HANGOVER, which is a funny gross-out movie, a perfect mystery, and a great example of how to raise stakes.

How to crush a soul (successfully.)

There are four questions you have to answer for your reader before you can have a true soul-crushing Black Moment:

1.  “Why do I care about this character?”

Usually, this is interpreted as: is my character sympathetic? Can the reader relate to the character?  Because relating to a character means your reader can imagine herself in the same situation.  She would care if it was happening to her.  That’s one step closer to caring about the character.  Bottom line: your character needs to be interesting, in an intriguing situation.  The situation will carry you until we learn more about the character. (One further note: she doesn’t need to completely empathize.  I love the show Dexter, and I can’t imagine chopping people up.  That said, I relate to his misguided sense of justice… and I look at the building conflict and go, Wow, how would I get out of that?)

2.  “What am I rooting for?”

Once you’ve managed to create a character readers can care about, you’ve got to go to the next step.  Readers need a clear and tangible outcome to root for.  Like any good goal, you need to know when you’ve achieved it.  Be crystal clear.

3.  “What happens if the character doesn’t get it?”

This is what’s known as creating high stakes.  If the answer to your character not getting what she wants is “she’ll be unhappy” then you do not have stakes. You’ve got a tangible outcome, right? You need a tangible consequence for failure.  If the ending means the character doesn’t achieve her goal, but there’s still a happy ending because she realizes that she didn’t need it, this still applies.  She has to feel shattered and hit rock bottom before realizing that.  She can’t simply have “an awakening.”  (See point 4.)

4.  “What’s stopping the character from getting it?”

This is the whole shebang:  conflict.  What’s standing in the way of success?  It not only needs to be sizable enough to require a lot of ingenuity and effort, it needs to escalate… like climbing a mountain, you’d better make sure every step gets harder. Oh, and be wary of internal conflict.  If your character has a goal of, say, getting married, and she’s got a proposal and everything but her conflict is her abandonment issues, if you’re able to solve it by saying “she decided her abandonment issues didn’t matter” then I have news for you:  YOU DO NOT HAVE CONFLICT.

Once you’ve got these four elements, you’re ready to craft a truly soul-crushing Black Moment.

The soul-crush.

Take your goal.  Look at precisely what your character wants, and why she wants it.

Next, write down a list of the ten worst things that could happen in terms of those characteristics.  For example, let’s say you’ve got a character who wants to get married by the time she’s thirty.  The reason why:  she’ll inherit a billion dollars… and she’s been struggling financially, trying to make ends meet to cover the expenses of a demanding and dysfunctional family as well as pay for school.

From a Black Moment standpoint, it has to look like she is not going to get the money, because she’s not going to get married.  To really make it worse, she’d get kicked out of school and disowned.  See?  No punches pulled there.  And say she fell in love with someone who doesn’t believe in marriage, and she was going to married some other guy just to get the money.  Bam!  She loses the guy she’s in love with, too!

At that point, she could also get hit by a truck.  Or maybe learn an asteroid is heading toward her home town.  Those are, admittedly, Very Bad Things.  However, they don’t really tie to the goal and motivation, so they don’t really apply.  The Black Moment must be in terms of what your goal and motivation have set up.

Donald Maass suggests a great trick:  write down at least twenty possibilities for scenarios where this could go.  The first ten will probably be stereotypical, complete cliches — what the reader’s expecting.  The next ten is where the juice is.  Stretch yourself.

Where the torture comes in.

You might think that the torture in the title means torturing your protagonist.  That’s true, to a certain extent.  More importantly, you need to torture your readers.  You’re putting someone they care about in gradually increasing pain.  Worse, you’re making them watch!

The really amazing thing?

They’ll thank you for it.  Pay you for it.  And keep coming back for more.