Should You Be Honest When Writing Fiction?

October 18, 2014 in Articles, Writing & Publishing

Writing honestly works. Think of the stand up comedian and note how the most successful really only tell you what you already know. It is the recognition of  something you see in everyday life, caricatured, that is funny. Writing is no different, connect with the reader and they will want to read more.

Honesty When WritingWhat Has Honesty Got to Do With Writing Fiction?

What a strange thought, I hear you say. What has honesty to do with invented, fictional characters, places and events? Actually more than you imagine.

Literary critics delight in using words and phrases that turn the milk and bore the pants off ordinary folk (but then most critics can’t write fiction well enough to make a living). They chunter on about ‘voice’ and ‘point of view’ but rarely mention the one feature that makes prose stand out from the page – honesty. Writers of humour – rare beasts – do it; the guffaw is the response that means ‘Got you. I know what you mean.’ We laugh because we recognise the truth of the unique observation these wits have written.

When writers ‘release the brakes’ and express precisely what they are thinking the impact is stronger. No equivocation: ‘That dog stinks.’ Not, ‘That dog has an unpleasant odour,’ or ‘that dog’s scent wouldn’t sell well at Harrods’. In polite company few would shout out the word ‘stink’; but fictional prose isn’t polite company. You and your reader are intimately connected – unless the work is being read out aloud for some unearthly reason!

How to Write Fiction Honestly

When writing fiction, prudent authors rarely name their characters after people they know, or locate the action in places they are fond of. Why? Because the mind plays tricks when in ‘muse mode’ and tends to pull punches rather than hit out when recognising friends and places. In other words it is deceiving itself, and in turn, you, and your readers. I can write more bitingly about a hockey player in Manchester than a golfer in London because hockey and Manchester are foreign countries to me. London and golf, however, are too close for comfort.

New writers often sprinkle their prose with a surfeit of adverbs and adjectives. What they are doing is being polite, well behaved, cautious even, not wishing to rock the boat. Now this is fine for behaviour in company; few like the idiot who shouts out ‘Cobblers!’ in the middle of a convention of bishops. But in fiction, if you want to make an impact, cause a stir, be remembered, is it really wise to behave like a wimp? No, it’s counter-productive.

Leave nouns and verbs alone and they will sing off the page. Clothe them with qualifying adverbs and adjectives and they will lose their impact and have a deadly effect on the pace of your story – and it is the story that matters, which should always ‘get on with it’.

A few examples. ‘The plane landed at Heathrow.’ Not bad, but unless you travelled by helicopter – or are a bird – you could just say ‘we landed at Heathrow. Short and to the point; all that’s needed, unless the action of your novel revolves around the plane and Heathrow. But do new novelists exercise such restraint. Oh dear me, no. For them the plane is more than plane, it becomes a twin-jetted, silver-winged Boeing; it doesn’t land, it gently touches down and Heathrow isn’t enough, it has arrived at London’s invariably busy primary airport, Heathrow.

If you want your fiction to hit submission editors, or even better…. a paying public, between the eyes, cut the waffle. Tell it as it is. Be brutal with your prose. Reserve your colouring-in for picture books. In your fiction, tell your story with words that focus on the plot and the those aspects of your characters that drive the book onwards. When your child is about to stick its fingers in the barbecue, how many words do you use – if you are ten foot away? One, two, ten? I bet just the one. His or her name, at the top of your voice. No waffle. Just an honest, animal call to catch the attention. Do that with your prose, and your readers will thank you. But often they won’t know why.

photo credit: Harpersbizarre via photopin cc

How to Write A BookHow to Write a Book or Novel by Jonathan Veale

This is an article by Jonathan Veale the author of How to Write a Book or Novel. Jonathan has worked as a professional editor and has successfully published several books. If you like his style and want to know more then his book on the subject of writing is where you need to be.

It is a concise, no nonsense account of what you should and shouldn’t do when writing a book with some great insider tips on the best way to get your book published, whether that is taking the traditional publisher route or if you prefer to be an independent author and publisher.

Still not sure? Then you can find out more about Jonathan and his books on his author page.

The First Rule of Marketing – Never Give Up

October 2, 2014 in Articles, Book Marketing, Book promotions

virtual book shelvesHow many authors put true blood, sweat and tears into writing their books. Hours of research, editing and re-editing, proofreading and formatting. Finally their book is ready to publish and then it is all systems go.

Friends and family are enlisted to help promote the book, reviews are sought and provided (hopefully of the verified purchaser variety) and some initial sales are made. Then the ideas run out, the social media buzz goes quiet and what looked like a promising start seems to wither on the vine……sales stop altogether. Months go by and there isn’t a single sale.

So what do you do now, Give Up?

For a hard copy book sitting on the  shelves of book stores, this would have been the death knell, the books would be removed from the shelves to make room for more popular varieties, books that are actually selling. Even publishers and bookstores need to make a living and a book that is not selling does not turn a profit – they have to go.

Traditional publishing is where books, printed in large quantities at equally large cost, must either sell or become door stops. Also if the demand for these books has waned, a commercial decision has to made about whether a further print run is likely to result in a profit or it is simply time to take them out of print.

But that is not the case for ebooks or print on demand, there is no physical stock to carry or to take prime spot on a bookshelf. These books sit on a virtual bookshelf that is of unlimited size and are always, as they say analogically…..in print.

Authors and publishers of ebooks and print on demand books have a huge advantage over traditional publishing for this reason and that is why you must never give up promoting books that are still available in digital format or can be printed on a one off basis at reasonable cost.

It has to be said, the best chance you have of taking a book to best seller status, with Amazon in particular,  is in it’s early days after initial publication, getting a second or third wind underway is always more difficult. But not impossible.

Marketing ebooks successfully is about having a marketing plan, one that takes into account the initial launch and then, equally importantly, ongoing and long term promotion.

Initial Considerations for Marketing eBooks Successfully

eBooks are like any other products that need to be sold, they have to appeal to a specific market and be visible to that market. So how do you do that exactly?

First of all, whether you are writing a reference or a fictional book, you need to think about exactly who will want to read your book. In many ways that is easier to do for reference books, because you are writing about a topic of specific interest and if you do it well, so that you answer questions and solve problems, then there is a good chance with enough visibility that people will buy those books, especially in a highly sought after topic.

Fiction is a little more difficult because they are made up stories, but they still need to be approached in the same way. For example, if you are writing for children, young adults, lovers of horror or action adventure. The book should be written to appeal to those audiences and not alienate them in any way. For example you cannot write a children’s book and then include some explicit sexual content, a bit of an extreme example admittedly but used to make the point. Mistakes of this type will mean you cannot market to your intended audience. So when you are writing a book, stay true to the theme, if it is intended for young adults or is in a specific genre try and make sure it meets that objective for the entire book.

Identifying Search Keywords

The second aspect of book marketing is about visibility, or being found by your target audience. Here there is a need to consider a little bit of search engine science i.e. it is necessary to think about how people search for books on the Internet, even on sites like Amazon or Kobo.

One of the simplest ways to find a book is to search using specific words. In search engine world, these are called keywords (or sometimes tags). It is always a good idea to identify keywords that people use to search for books that are relevant to your book. One way to do that is to make a list of keywords that you think are relevant to your book and then go to an Amazon site and start to type those words into the search box. Below there is an example of how Amazon use predictive text, based on previous searches, to try and lead you to the product you are searching for.

Marketing Ebooks

You don’t know how many people type the specific search terms listed, but you do know they are real searches that have been entered previously. So if you can find the best ones i.e. the ones highly relevant to your book, you can list them ready for potential use confident in the knowledge that people are using those terms to look for products. I say products because the searches relates to all of Amazon not just books, so just be sure you are selecting book related terms.

The second part of this exercise is to find out how much competition you are up against. So when you have your list of keyword phrases you should go back to Amazon and find out how many search results the keywords return.

Successful book promotion You can see from the result for the search term ‘The Whistleblower Affair’ that there are 49 results for that term.

Why is that important?

It is important because that is the number of books you are competing against for that specific search term or keyword phrase. What you should be trying to do is to find a mix of low to medium competition, especially for a new book. In other words you want to be more visible in the search results and a way to ensure that is not to be competing against too many other books.

Clearly as you make more sales, get more reviews and achieve more success for your book, your sales rank will increase and then you can consider going up against more competition. But until then it is better to operate in the low to medium competition arena.

A further aspect of this exercise is ensuring that your book is associated with a search term or keyword phrase. There are a couple of ways for doing that. The first is to use an allocated ‘search keyword’. Amazon allow you to add seven search keywords to your book details when you add it to the bookshelf. When you do this you will always be returned for that search keyword in the search results, the critical aspect though is in what position?

This, as previously alluded to, will depend on the competition you are up against. Both in terms of how many but also in terms of sales rank. Amazon like to push books that are selling to the forefront, for obvious reasons the better sales rank books will be returned first. So the fewer books you are competing against the more likely it is you will be listed in a more visible search position.

The second way to get your book associated with a search term is to use those search terms in titles, headings and descriptions. There is no guarantee with this method, but it is a way to get your book listed beyond the seven allocated ‘search keywords’. Don’t be tempted just to stuff keywords into your descriptions and titles however, because you still want to appeal to a human audience and not alienate the people who actually buy the books. Just use this technique if it can be done naturally and, even better, provide you with an attention grabbing title or description.

Choosing Categories

Amazon allows independent publishers to select 2 categories from their large list of available categories. This is another key area for gaining much needed visibility. The best way of gaining a good position in a category is by being specific rather than adopting general categories. As with ‘search keywords’ you need to consider what is relevant to your book and how much competition you are up against. The reasons are once again to try and ensure you get that critical level of visibility where enough people actually see your book and are hopefully drawn into making a purchase.

romance competition Take ‘Romance’ as a category for example, you can see here that there are 170,462 books in the romance category. That is a lot of competition and unless your book is a top best seller it is unlikely that it will ever be given the light of day if this category is chosen.

romance-military-competition Military romance on the other hand immediately brings the competition level down to a more reasonable 3,186 books in competition. Still a big number but at least a half chance, if you get some sales, of being visible and there are other categories with even less competition. But remember you book does need to fit under the category chosen, so go for the at least one category that is relevant with the least amount of competition and select another that is possibly even more relevant but has more competition. That way you get a good mix for advancing the number of potential sales and for ensuring you gain at least some visibility.

Also don’t constrain yourself to fiction only, if your book is relevant to a non-fiction topic and that looks like a better opportunity, give it a try. If it doesn’t produce any sales you can always change it after a reasonable trial period.

Why this is important, for Amazon anyway, is that you may be able to achieve  the much coveted top 100 listing, that gives your book higher standing and extra visibility through being included in list promotions for Amazon’s best sellers.amazon-best-sellers

If your sales are flagging or have dried up completely it is not too late to go back to basics and if you haven’t performed these exercises then why not do it now? You may just stumble on some way of sparking sales, even if it means a new title, description or choice of search keywords and categories. It really is never too late to get these basics right.

More information on successful book marketing can be found in these articles:

 

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Writers’ Block – like Global Warming – An Excuse for Waffle Time

September 14, 2014 in Articles, Writing & Publishing

writers-block

Image courtesy of photoXpress.com

Ever heard of Talker’s Block. Always keen for fame, just by writing this I’ve copyrighted the phrase. But could such a thing exist? Yes – so I gather, but it’s invariably a medical condition prompted by either physical or mental trauma. So, pull yourself together, writers, and forget about writers’ block. If all you are doing is waiting for ‘spontaneous combustion’ in the form of great literature transferring itself effortlessly from your brain to the keyboard, think again. It’s not going to happen.

Think about it! Did Mr Hoover (the ‘keep carpets clean’ campaigner) come up with the idea for his vacuum cleaner ‘out of the blue’ – a notion that just flew in through the window one morning – and had he never previously entertained a thought about dust, brushes and machinery that could make his wife’s life easier. He was a doer as well as a thinker; a man constantly imagining how to improve machines and through them, make life better for us all. Not for him, countless hours sitting in front of a drawing board praying for inspiration. His mind was always full of projects. And so should yours be!

Of course there are days, and sometimes months, when writing is just not on the cards; not something that suits, for a variety of reasons. But this isn’t writers’ block, it’s the human condition that conspires occasionally to make us apathetic. In such times, it’s pointless to sit in front of a keyboard. In fact, I’d go further and say it borders on the insane. If ones’ mind and body are at a low ebb, what could possibly be worse than sitting before a blank screen awaiting salvation. Even idiots have more sense – and walk around talking to themselves. Perhaps that’s a better answer. At least some words are coming out. If you want to write and publish a book, you will, but first, release your mind and get on with something else, anything else, if you are currently going through a ‘can’t think of anything’ stage.

No – the solution to this ludicrous notion of writers’ block is to come at the problem from an oblique angle. Set yourself a task, or a series of tasks that will have the effect of releasing energy rather than damming it up. Take on physically draining tasks, even if it’s only cleaning the bath, and release your mind to think about themes you feel passionate about. Any theme, any passion. If you are down in the dumps you have to climb out of them – perhaps by kidding your brain that the worst is over, and soon you will be OK again. A clean and sparkling bath is a great improvement on a still-empty screen or blank sheet of paper. And while you are scrubbing away as though your life depends on it, let the mind wander abroad. It will. They always do.

I remember as a boy, riding to school on my bike, (yes – I’m that ancient) and passing an old horse that stood motionless in a paddock. Week after week I swear it never moved more than a foot from the spot. And it was getting progressively thinner and weaker, too, staring into the distance, taking nothing in. And yes, I’m afraid, there was no happy ending. It was seeing life out – literally – and one day all that remained was a bare patch in the middle of an otherwise fertile field. Don’t be a donkey – get on with life. A writer you will be, once your mind is released.

  Voice Of The Tiger – A Book Review by Samantha Ford

August 30, 2014 in Articles, Book Reviews

Samantha Ford Romance NovelistSamantha’s Review of the Voice of the Tiger

This delightful story is told against the backdrop of the lush jungles of the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. The authors knowledge of the ways of the aboriginal people is particularly impressive giving a unique insight into their cultural ways.

The main character in the story is Vince, a young soldier from New Zealand who has joined thousands of other young men to fight in the war against communism at the end of the “Emergency” in the early 1960’s.

Vince meets the lovely Audrey, in the Cameron Highlands, but their relationship seems doomed after she falls into a deep coma. Reluctantly he leaves her to continue his duties but promises to return.

Whilst out on patrol Vince becomes separated from his platoon and finds himself lost in the jungle. By chance he saves a young fisherman’s life and, with gratitude, he is welcomed into the secret and fascinating ways of a small aborigine community.

tigerHere he moves into a completely different world unlike anything he has ever known before. Although teetering on the realms of fantasy it somehow works very well. I particularly loved the rather posh tiger.

The story of Vince takes the reader through the world of steaming jungles, the secret lives of the aborigine people and his encounters with various women along the way. But despite these brief affairs he remains true to his love of Audrey.

The story ends in a most satisfying way and leaves the reader with one thought.

Is there more out there than we could ever imagine? Is there life after death, in one form or another?

The possibilities seem endless…

You can buy the book with this link The Voice of the Tiger or if you need more information you can find it here

Samantha is no slouch either when it comes to writing books, her’s is a Romantic Novel From Africa and you can find out more about Samantha here Samantha Ford

Tiger Image courtesy of photoXpress.com

The Video Review

Goodreads – A Good Choice for Authors

August 5, 2014 in Articles, Book Marketing, Book promotions

social media for booksIt has to be said there are social media sites and there are social media sites for independent publishers, authors and writers. Goodreads fits into the latter category. Why? Because that is where book lovers hang out, writers and readers.

Now if you are a writer then there is one thing you will be desperate for and, yes, that is readers.

Goodreads then should definitely be on your list of social media sites, because in reality that is the biggest social media site for book readers. Yes of course you will also find them on Facebook, Google+, Twitter etc. But they could be on those sites for any number of reasons. For example they may be there to stay in touch with family or be keeping up to speed with friends old and new or they may simply be promoting their business or looking for services.

But one thing you know for sure, if they are on Goodreads, is that they have either written or published a book and are promoting it, or they are there looking for the next good book to read. They are not going to be there discussing the great family party the night before, or asking you to play Candy Crush. No, there is only one reason people register on Goodreads and that is books.

Don’t get me wrong, you can find groups on all the social media sites that talk about and are interested in books and of course you can try and interact with those groups to see if you can find readers. In fact when you have time you should probably do that.

But on Goodreads you know you have an audience that is genuinely interested in books, a captive audience for all intents and purposes. Plus you have all the Goodreads tools at your disposal, you can for example:

  • add your books with all the relevant information
  • share the status of the book
  • recommend it to groups of friends or followers
  • create custom shelves for specific genres
  • create posts for your own blog
  • start discussions about a book
  • create quizzes for a bit of visitor interaction
  • share your book news using the various widgets that are available to embed it in your own blog or website

All this is completely free of charge. Plus of course you can be talking about, recommending and categorizing the books you like or have published and adding them to Listmania lists so readers can find them, not to mention the review feature of Goodreads which is the most basic function of the site.

Goodreads Social Media for Books

Authors can even sell their books on Goodreads or upload an epub or pdf file to allow Goodreads members to read the whole book or an excerpt from the book. This functionality is found via the author page, which you can only have if you have written and published a book.

Of course you have to remember that the site is primarily intended for book lovers to share and recommend their book experiences and no-one wants to be bored to death by a writer with only one obvious and sole intention - to sell their book.  I am afraid that even on a social site for books you will have to behave appropriately, perhaps even share your opinion about someone else’s book ~ heaven forbid ~ so that people can see you actually have an interest in books beyond your own or just trying to sell them.

I am sure I have probably forgotten some of the services that Goodreads offers to both writers and readers, but you should be getting my gist. If you have a genuine interest in books and want to find other people that share that interest, then Goodreads is a great place to do it. Plus if you approach it in that way i.e. show you have a real interest in books, then you will soon find that people warm to you and, after a while, they might even buy some of your books.

So if you are a writer or publisher and you have books you would like to promote – what are you waiting for. Goodreads is one of the best marketing tools you have available.

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