Writing Tips: Sharing is Caring

BookBaby is a self-publishing website that I use for promotion tips. It’s totally free and helpful. Recently, I shared a link for a free download they were offering to Bookbaby members (a $10 value). One of my Facebook friends thanked me for doing so, claiming she’d seen the
“crab-in-a-barrel” mentality among authors.

I could understand why I wouldn’t want to share an inside tip on YA/sci-fi because that’s what I write. Still, unless there’s a case of direct competition, I don’t see the point of keeping away valuable information. I do charge a consultation fee, as do most people who mentor inexperienced writers. Most people offer free tips if their blog content isn’t totally self-centered. Have you run into this?

Open Letter to online reviewers

ImageDear Reader,

I read your review, the one where you gave me one-star and compared the first few chapters of The Lost Testament to an “eighth grade assignment for a short story.”

You’e not alone. Another one-star giver said it was “just bad” and “uninteresting.” Someone else called it “not worth finishing.”

I’m not going to pack up my laptop. My wife isn’t confiscating my belts and shoelaces. Really, I’m okay.

But, there are some things you, as a reviewer, should know.

As a writer, I appreciate the time and effort you spend giving independent writers like me a chance. You could stick to the works of the Big 6 or disregard indie authors altogether. It’s a credit to you that you do otherwise. Thank you for that.

Likewise, if you think my work is crap and you have spent $1.99 of your hard earned cash on me, then, from a certain perspective, it is your God-given patriotic duty to announce to the planet (Kindle is practically worldwide, after all) your opinion that a fourteen-year-old and I are on equal literary footing.

Writers who have hit it big barely blink at what reviews say. Indie writers, whose ability to sell a book might live or die on a review, count on it. It’s up to us to put out the best work we possibly can and pray it is reviewed well in kind. Of the thousands of books I’ve sold, you’re not the first person to think something negative. You’re just the third to publish it publicly about this book.

Like you, I’ve read some BAD writing in my day. I’ve taught literature for eight years. One of my students wrote a slave narrative about how she and her sisters, Meg, Jo, and Beth, escaped to the north. THAT was bad writing (plagiarism, actually), and if you think my writing is close to that, you must not read teenage writing very much.

Speaking as both an author and a publisher, I’m asking that if you going to give an independent author like me lower than a three star review, don’t leave one at all. Here’s why:

  • You say you didn’t know what to expect? Amazon allows you to preview a few chapters before you buy. Usually, if a book is crappy, you can smell it by the first few pages. Preview it first if you’re skeptical.
  • You could have returned it for a full refund, no questions asked, no comments left.
  • You could have read ALL of the reviews first. Marlene Wagner said it was “an inspiring story of how [faith] can change a life.” Jodi Cornelius and K. Wagner highly recommend it. I promise I don’t know those people.

Something I’ve learned in the past five years and five novels is that you’re never going to please everyone. There’s always something to improve. Likewise, I’ve also learned there are some people who will never be pleased no matter what you do. Whichever you believe, sir/madam, I hope you will take my suggestions to heart. The next indie author will appreciate it, too.

Sincerely,

Brian Thompson

How much does it REALLY cost to publish yourself?

Mike from Conyers, GA asked me this question a few weeks ago. I gave him my accountant’s answer: “It depends.”

Well, to self-publish a fiction or non-fiction book, you need an ISBN and barcode from here. That’s $125 for the ISBN and $25 for the barcode. If anyone offers to sell you an ISBN for less than $125, it means they will be listed as your publisher, not you. 

For editors, I recommend going here and looking for someone who knows Oxford style. The lowest I’ve seen for an editor is $2 a page. The highest? Just above $4. Make sure they know what they’re doing. This is not a place you want to cut corners. 

My cover designer charges $105 for e-books and $160 for full covers and the interior designer I use charges $60 an hour. For a cleanly-formatted fiction book with little interior art aside from chapter breaks, that would be about $100. Honestly, both of those are way below the industry standard for design, but if you find good people for less, stick with them!  

Lightning Source, which prints most POD publishers’ books, charges $70 to set up a new title (text and cover). 

So, for a 250-page book with $2 a page editing, I’d pay just under $1,000 and retain all rights with no fluff. If you pay more than that, I’d really ask the POD publisher where exactly it’s going.  

When do you break the rules?

I’m a recent devotee of Margie Lawson’s deep EDITS system. She recommends that you use highlighters to code different aspects of your writing. Whenever you see too much of a color, that lets you know your writing is out of balance.

It also shows your tendencies. My writing tends to drift into thoughts, action, and dialogue, if I’m not careful.

I’ve recently gotten hooked on The Hunger Games series (I am writing YA now, after all). There’s a spot in Mockingjay that’s a page-long monologue/info dump. Had I done the same thing, my editing partners Jackie and Martha would have jumped all over me.

But Collins has sold a bazillion (give or take) books doing the exact same thing I’ve been taught is poor writing. The experts tell you not to do something, then you see someone famous do it and it’s fine.

So what’s the message here? Is it that poor writing habits pass if you’re famous? Or, are they not poor writing habits after all?

I don’t think there’s a book on the planet that’s perfect, grammatically or stylistically, We like what we like. If you’ve read Mockingjay, you’ve probably passed over the same section without thinking twice about it. There’s nothing that says Collins is wrong, or that Lawson is right. It reminds me of a quote I once heard and will paraphrase: if you make your reader fall in love with your characters, you can get away with anything,

Hope this helps! 

Seven Essential Things to Remember About Very Important Characters

I’m all for original content, but I’m also for not reinventing the wheel. I came across this blog post and thought it insightful enough to re-post. What do you think: good advice or not?Image

Stories revolve around protagonists and antagonists and it is a good idea to introduce them in the first chapters of your book. I believe they are the Very Important Characters (VICs) in a story. Their motivations will drive your story and we want to know what happens to them at the end. Other characters like love interests and friends play supporting roles in well-plotted stories.

I think it’s a good idea for authors to know as much as possible about VICs. Even if you never use all the information, you will know them better than you know yourself. I suggest you complete a good character biography template, like the one we use on our Writers Write course, or create your own.

Seven ways to ensure you give VICs the attention they deserve

  1. Make them powerful enough to make choices.
  2. Make them the centre of attention. Even if they aren’t in a scene, the other characters should talk about them or think about them.
  3. They must make frequent long appearances throughout your book. If they don’t, you may have cast a character incorrectly.
  4. Make their actions and decisions memorable. As VICs, they are responsible for inciting actions or responding to events.
  5. Make the reader empathetic towards them. Your reader does not have to like them, but they need to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.
  6. Make these characters viewpoint characters. Readers like to see the story through their eyes.
  7. Make sure they are worthy opponents for each other. If you want to create a compelling, memorable protagonist, you need a strong, three-dimensional antagonist. (Read 10 Essential Tips for Creating Antagonists)

If you do this, you will probably find that it’s easier to write your book. You won’t be giving prime time to supporting characters and you’ll be concentrating on the plot, not the sub-plots.  

 

Roll up the partition: Where does artistic responsibility begin?

I’m a fan of Beyonce. Was a fan, until her latest album permanently turned me off and unplugged me from fandom.

Hardly a “hater,” but I disagree with its direction.There’s no artistic responsibility there — meaning, I won’t take my preteen niece to a Beyonce concert (not like I was itching to do that anyway). This music is for grown folks now.

Problem is, grown folks aren’t the only ones buying her tunes.

I do not want my young daughters growing up too fast. Will that make them sheltered? Maybe in the eyes of some. But my wife and I cannot teach them accountability for their actions and let them sing “Partition” and “Blow” too.

Bring up artistic responsibility to musicians or authors and they may feed you a line about how they are not role models, how parents should keep a tighter reign on their children, blah blah blah.

Look at it this way: if you put leftover food uncovered out on the street and cats get into it, the neighbors will complain. What do you do then? Kanye shrug and blame it on the neglectful cat parents? You put it out there.

For me, my rule is this: some day, my daughters will read my books and ask me why I wrote so and so. If I can’t keep my head up while I’m explaining it to them, I don’t write it.

Can you help me? My virtual book tour conundrum

Let’s put it out there. Brick-and-mortar book tours for indie authors (without a massive grassroots following) can be a waste of time. Say you can carry an event crowd-wise. Most stores want around 55% of your retail price. They ring the register, keep your money, and cut you a 45% check 30 days later. Unless it’s Borders, in which case it might as well be the Heart of the Ocean from Titanic. 

Yeah, it happened to me.

Going “virtual” means finding an agency (shout out to Tywebbin Creations) to arrange for reviews. Or, you DIY and send advanced copies of your book to bloggers around the country hoping you’ll become the next Amanda Hocking. Will they review it? Maybe, maybe not. There are no guarantees. 

Which brings me to a dilemma for my next book, Sophomore Freak. I DIY-ed it with The Anarchists and Reject High to mixed results and went traditional with The Lost Testament and The Revelation Gatealso to varied outcomes. What would you do?

 

Why social media SCREAMING isn’t the answer to your bottom line

Ever wonder why people aren’t buying your stuff?

I do. From a previous life as a men’s suit salesman, I’ve learned one thing about retail of any kind. When it’s good, it’s good and when it’s bad, it’s BAD. Everyone goes through down cycles. It’s just indie or self-published authors go through it longer and more often and it’s tougher to dig yourself out on a smaller budget.

So, we market on the cheap, a.k.a., social media. Which is fine, except most people I see doing it don’t know how to do it. I’ve heard variations of “Twitter hashtags don’t really work for me,” to, “I’m putting myself out there and my sales seem to go up.”

In other words, “putting myself out there” means copy and pasting a long description of your book and how much it’s going for these days.

I’m a fan of direct correlation, meaning, if I employ a marketing strategy and my sales go up, I am 100% without a doubt positive it had a direct correlation to my marketing efforts. Otherwise, it’s like playing a low stakes game of the lottery.

Direct correlation: it’s not as hard as it sounds.

Brian’s DIY Tip for Today: Twitter Marketing

Try this: join Twitter (if you haven’t already) and do a search for the hashtag #lit. Find people who are relevant to what you write (young adult sci-fi for me) and for the love of God, don’t ask them to buy your book. Become a fly on the wall and listen to their conversations. Follow their followers. Treat it like a game of double dutch and jump in when you see the opportunity.

Again, NO UNSOLICITED PITCHING.

You’d be surprised at the helpful resources you can find, like this one I got the other day. Eventually, someone MIGHT ask about your book, or mention they’ve bought it already — since you’re a cool person who doesn’t product pitch 24/7.

Hope this helps!

What’s coming in 2014

Image

Ready for a Christmas party? So am I. Almost. Maybe not so much.

My blog has been an accurate reflection of my writing time once school started. Some of you know I have returned to the classroom as a high school literature and journalism teacher.

In between the lessons and grading, I don’t have very much time to blog or write, or party, for that matter. I snatch the moments I can and work with them, meaning to others, I might seem antisocial for not hanging out.

For 2014, I commit to blog and even vlog (yes, a video blog) once a week with information on my writing and marketing journey. There has to be something from my triumphs and/or mistakes that can be of use to you. I plan on sharing those.

Also, in 2014, my fifth novel, Sophomore Freak, will bow right before the summer. It’s the second book in my teen sci-fi novel series, Reject High. The third installment has been languishing on my flash drive for some time. That’s on my to-do list, too. There’s also a sequel to The Revelation Gate there. As you can see, I’m asking Santa for some extra writing time.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

So, I stumbled upon these rules, written by one of Pixar’s storyboard artists, here. Tell me what you think. (I’m a big fan of #3, #6-#8)

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

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