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?

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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

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.  

 

What’s coming in 2014

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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!

Digital Books: The Price Is Wrong

I went to the store and almost bought the second season of Superman: The Animated Series. Not for my five-year-old, for me.

Don’t judge me — I have a bigger point to make about it.

The reason why I didn’t buy it is because I saw the price, paused, and thought about it. You never  want a consumer to do that. Logically, you want their interest plus access to the money for purchase to equal an actual purchase.

If they have to think about it, chances are you’ve lost the sale. In a former life, I used to sell men’s suits. The “I’ll-be-back-to-buy-it” folks are looking for something — a lower price, a cheaper product — but whatever it is, you don’t have it.

Recently, I read a blog where the author advised against pricing your e-books at .99 cents. Yes, it worked for Amanda Hocking, Darcy Chan, and a number of other authors. But he said it devalues your work to price it that low, and he’s right. I’ve seen a bunch of books priced .99 cents and they looked like they shouldn’t have cost any more than .99 cents.

This is a group I do not want to belong to, and neither should you.

Instead, experiment with your pricing and watch your sales numbers. Find a price point where your buyers don’t pause and think about it, and your numbers stay the same. Stick with what works.

Hope this helps!

Reject High Cover Photo

Here you are, my friends. I wanted to share it with you first. What do you think? Would you read it? Okay, okay, ARE you going to read it?

Writing in a time crunch

My writing process is insane. Don’t try it at home.

I envy those writers you read about who can flick their muse on and off like a light switch. I have, what my editing Jackie Rodriguez calls “writing jags.”

Imagine if your writing muse had the stomach flu. One moment, there’s nothing, and the next, there’s everything. 

One day, I might not write anything, the next, I’ll churn out thirty pages. I don’t pretend to make sense of it. I just ride it out.

You can imagine the flux I was thrown into halfway through my fifth novel when my second daughter was born. In addition, I went back to teaching full-time and we have a four-year-old in Pre-K as well. My peak writing times are — you guessed it — when I’m in school. Balancing my after-school commitments and family time is tough, but you do what you have to do.

To get through it, I grab any and all writing time I have. Ten minutes before I get my daughter up for school, five minutes while she plays in the bathtub. A half-hour when my wife is nursing our newborn, and maybe twenty minutes during my lunch break. My muse has learned to live with it and gradually, so have I.

So, tell me, if you’ve had a similar situation in your field, how have YOU done it?

You market yourself. . .how? (Part 2)

My literary friends and I debate over whether or not Kindle Direct Publishing’s Select Program is “worth it.” Actually, they think I’m a little cray cray for considering anything besides Select, but I’ve been called worse.

Amazon’s Select program allows you to set 5 days (per book) where your book can be downloaded for free and Amazon promotes for you. In addition, if your book is “borrowed” by Kindle Prime account holders (they’ll get it free, too), you get a small cut of an unspecified pool of money per borrow. All of this is in exchange for a 90-day period of exclusivity.

Is it worth it?

As my accountant adviser loves to say, “it depends.”

If you are writing or publishing to make money, the answer is a resounding “yes” from my perspective.

Of course, Barnes and Noble has its Pub It platform, which essentially does the same thing as KDP Select, except its not as user-friendly for reviews, doesn’t demand exclusivity, and doesn’t have the book lending/profit sharing mechanism that KDP Select has.

But, by not enrolling in the Select part of the program (and just having your book available on Kindle), you can publish to B&N, Smashwords, the Apple iBookstore, Kobo, etc. That’s five different streams of income in comparison to one.

KDP Select, however, is easier to manage and maintain if you’re starting out and building your audience. Marketing yourself is hard enough without having to do it for five different places on a rapidly multiplying, infinite bookshelf.

Even if you hire someone to manage your marketing for you, would you want them laser focused on one channel guaranteed to make you money, or five that MIGHT make you more money in the long run?

Here’s my advice: with one title, stick with KDP Select. With two or more in your backlist, mix it up (I’m actually doing this now). Spend 90 days with Select, and during that time, try to establish a way to maintain those other publishing sites. Then, shift from Select to those and see what happens. Let me know how it works out for you!

You market yourself. . .how? (Part 1)

Recently, a friend asked me, “How do you market yourself [as an indie/self-publisher]?”

Aye, there’s the rub.

Indie and self-pubbed authors want to sell books, but don’t necessarily know how. Witness almost any self-publishing outfit that will offer you bookmarks, business cards, placards, postcards, and the like as marketing collateral (don’t fall for it — do it at Vistaprint for less). To date, I’ve never bought a book because I received one of those things alone. Have you?

So then, we go to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and other free forums to promote ourselves. I’ve unfriended/unfollowed quite a few people, due to the “Check out my book/buy my book/like my status/watch my trailer” flurry of automated tweets.

I can’t speak for you, but ad nauseum sales pitching turns me off. Be doubly-concerned with your consumers and what they want, not always just what your bottom line demands. It’s my belief that investing in the former will take care of the latter.

So, how do you market yourself? Honestly, without investing time or money, you can’t do it effectively. Trust me, I’ve tried. Pumping out a book a year is a lot more difficult to do when you’re learning how to market, actively marketing, and putting it into practice. Either your sales or your writing will suffer.

Here are two tried and true tips that worked for me.

  1. Come up with a marketing plan (with achievable goals) and follow it. You don’t have a marketing plan? Why not? I found a template online and then asked Stacey Shearer (here’s a link to her Facebook) over at Shearer Message  to help me polish it. Convince yourself that you don’t need a marketing plan. Then, try to get your books into Barnes and Noble, or Lifeway, or just your average, run-of-the-mill bookstore. They’ll all want to know how you plan to sell books before they shelve you. A plan on how to sell books sounds awfully like a marketing plan to me.
  2. Run a contest. Fine, you have a “limited budget.” Do what I did for The Anarchists. Run a “Name a Character Contest,” where you receive entries via your Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, however you want to do it. Promote it on your social networks. Use a randomizer to select the winners and promise them a free book and a mention in your book as long as they sign over the rights to the character (a.k.a. they promise not to sue you if it’s the next Hunger Games). In the end, you have created people who will promote your brand. They have a connection to you and your work. So, they got a free copy. You don’t think they’ll tell other people about their character in your book? That’s word-of-mouth advertising, and anybody in marketing worth their salt will tell you that’s worth its weight in gold — if you can generate it.

Hope this helps! Stay tuned for my take on Kindle Direct Publishing and whether it’s worth it (or not).

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