Writing Resources Non-fiction Spotlight: The Author Blog: Easy Blogging for Busy Authors by Anne R. Allen

the author blog book coverI read Anne’s blog sometimes. Not as much as I should because she writes about some very important topics, and she’s a great resource for writers. Every so often I’ll tweet out a link to one of her posts.

So when I saw she wrote a book about blogging, I bought it ASAP, and one for a friend, too.

This book is great for the author/writer who isn’t sure if they should start an author website or a blog. It’s for the blogger who has been blogging for a while and who not seeing results (results like comments, subscriptions). It’s for the blogger that has lost his or her way. It’s also a wonderful source for maybe a more seasoned blogger who may need to get back to basics.

I belong to one or more categories. I’ve been blogging for over two years, and only now just starting to find some traction–and it’s very little. But Anne reminded me of a few things I’ve forgotten along the way. Simple things like tagging your blog posts with the titles of your books, or remembering to tag a photo with a description for your visually impaired readers.

Anne explains SEO and offers us blog ideas. Something we all need from time to time.

blogging for authors book coverI was delighted to see she knows Barb Drozdowich¬†and recommends Barb’s book about blogging.

I know Barb from Rachel Thompson’s #bookmarketingchat on Twitter, and I have also read her book about blogging. It’s just proof that we’re all friends here. ūüôā

If you’re interested in purchasing Anne’s book, click here and this will bring you to her website.¬†She offers links to all her retailers there.

If you’re only interested in buying it from Amazon, you can click here for the buy-link.

Blogging may not be for everyone, but knowing how to start, and how to do it right, can save you time, money, and lots of frustration down the road.

Thanks, Ladies, for writing these awesome books!

 

Callie and Mitch blog graphic

 

How Do You Make Your Book Stand Out?

We all want our books to stand out, and we all go about it in a different way.

Some spend hundreds of dollars on a cover. Some spend hundreds of dollars on a developmental edit to make their story and characters the best they can be. Some authors do fancy formatting.

vellum formatting ad

This is a picture of a formatting sample using Vellum. For more information on the software visit www.vellum.pub

Some authors do all of that.

Some authors do all of that and invest hundreds, even thousands, in ads.

Experts in book marketing would say you need to do it all to help with discoverability.

Readers may say to make them happy, all that would be a given.

And I’m not disputing any of that.

What I’m talking about are the extras.

Some traditionally published books have them already.

Say you have a baker for a main character. Some authors will add their own baking recipes to the back matter of the book along with a short explanation of the family history behind it, or a funny story.

Maps are always popular–especially if you’re world-building like in Game of Thrones. I know that I looked over the family trees a lot when I was reading them to remember who everyone was, and who the members of the families were.

In some contemporary romances, I’ve seen maps of towns where a series takes place.

I’ve never tried a recipe I’ve found in the back of a book, but I could see the appeal of adding a few. You could encourage book clubs to have a baking/cooking night along with their book discussion. Hey, even suggest what kind of wine would make a good accompaniment.

Some writers will add discussion questions. I’ve seen this a lot in traditionally published books, even in “lighter” books where I didn’t think a discussion was necessary. I wanted to add discussion questions to¬†All of Nothing, but I forgot. They may have been a nice addition to¬†The Years Between Us, too, but again, being excited I was finished with the book, I forgot to write them and add them into the back matter.

Something I have seen added to books are playlists consisting of the songs authors listened to while writing the book. I found in one “look inside” of a Kindle book, the author included the actual YouTube links to songs she wanted you to listen to get you in the mood to read the following scenes.

I caution against this for one, you need to make sure the music is free of copyright, and two, you never know how long those links will remain active. If the links are ever broken, will the author know? Or care? Will she edit the book to take them out or replace them? I don’t like to go back and go back fixing things. It’s always the next book for me. I wouldn’t want to keep an eye on my backlist like that. It’s bad enough keeping my own front and back matter up to date.

I’ve also seen back matter that included an interview or question and answer session between an unknown interviewer and the author. I think it was in the last Twilight book Stephenie Meyer answered questions. This could be an interesting addition to back matter as well.

In The Years Between Us, Zia held a showing at a gallery. I created an invitation for the showing in Canva and included it in the front matter of the book. It shows up black and white in the paperback and simple e-readers, but it will show in color on a tablet.

 

 

In this vein, I think I’ll make Marnie and James’s wedding invitation and include that like I did Zia’s gallery showing invitation.

One of my characters, Autumn Bennett, who will be my female MC in book four of my series, is a writer for the town’s newspaper. She writes for the Lifestyles section, but also blogs for their website. During the course of four books, she’ll blog about the wedding, and interview the bride, groom, and guests as human interest pieces. I’m thinking about creating those blog posts and offering them as bonus content in some way. That would be no-brainer newsletter content, but I don’t have one and I don’t want to start one right now. So I’ll be thinking how I want to share that content.

The real question that comes from all this, is . . . is it worth it? Playlists, poems written by your characters, invitations, motivational quotes, even pretty chapter headings–are they all worth it?

They may not be, money-wise. The more photos a Kindle file has, the more Amazon charges you to deliver the file to someone’s Kindle. Those pennies add up. (Hat tip to Mark Leslie Lefebvre for doing some quick math in Killing it on Kobo, as Kobo does not charge that delivery fee.)

Also, if the photo is a spectacular array of color, only a fraction of your readers will be able to see it in color.

Indies are constantly fighting for discoverability and adding bonus content like that hasn’t taken off quite yet. I think mainly because formatting extra content is so time-consuming–especially for a newbie author. And adding extra content would make it more expensive if you hire out formatting services.

I was lucky, and I formatted¬†The Years Between Us with Vellum. The software inserted the invitation with no problem, especially in the paperback. I didn’t have to worry about gutters or margins. All I had to do was make sure the invitation was 300 dpi for printing, and I did that in GIMP.

Vellum even allowed me to add the pretty chapter starts to Summer Secrets that I tried to do the first time around. I was too new and lacked the experience to insert them using Word and CreateSpace.summer secrets chapter starts

I also carry that image onto the back of my paperback books, and I’m really proud of that, too.

Summer Secrets Novellas 1-3 New Cover

But when it comes down to it, should you take the time to offer more content? Could that time be used to make another editing sweep, or start a new book?

Readers may appreciate the extras, but only if they enjoy the story.

The book’s recipes won’t matter if your baker’s story falls flat (pun intended) and your reader doesn’t make to the end to see them.

What readers want is a good story that pulls them in, and characters they’ll grow to care about.


 

As a side note, while I was typing out this blog post, I came up with another reason why indies don’t want to offer bonus content to the backs of their books.

Indies focus on a CTA, Call To Action. Indies want their readers to leave a review, or sign up for a newsletter, or buy the next book. Back matter is valuable real estate, and I don’t think most indies format their books with a lot of gunky back matter to get in the way of their important call to action.

And for what it’s worth, you need to be careful how much extra “stuff” you put backBe careful when considering adding bonus content to your book. there. We don’t hear much about the bookstuffers anymore, those pesky indies who would load up a Kindle file with 5-10 books to make a crap-ton of money with the KU page reads. But even if we’re not hearing about it much right now, it’s still happening. They know it takes a while for people to catch on to their new pen names.

Anyway, I wouldn’t want you think that offering bonus content was a fabulous idea and to get in trouble in any way for it. Offering a bonus novella in the back of your book, or offering the first half of a second book in a series, is too much. Put the novella for sale separately. Only add the first scene of the new book. It’s just a word of caution. Bonus content can be taken too far.

Please read KDP’s guidelines for adding bonus content.

While adding character profiles and outlines of the book before it came to fruition can sound like a great idea, keep in mind that as the guidelines states, it should enrich the reader experience.

I think that’s sound advice, especially since the reader experience begins with the story.

If you can hook them with a fantastic story, then all that extra content will be exactly that . . .

A bonus.

And maybe they’ll leave a five star review, too. Who knows?

Moving my books to IngramSpark. So. Much. Fun.

going wide girl on tracks blog post

If you’ve been following my blogs about going wide, I’ve been filling you in on what a pain the butt it’s been to move stuff over.

With my ebooks situated where they need to be (except for Smashwords, and are they worth it? I tried to look for a link to give you guys, but nothing came up since 2016? I don’t now if that speaks to their relevancy or not and it will have keep for another post), I’ll explain just what is going on with Ingram and if they are worth the hassle.

As always, you need to think of your business plan. If you are wanting a store to carry your books, or you want to hold a book signing, you may find some places that will take your books on consignment (meaning you buy your own author copies and give them to the store and you get paid when a book sells). This isn’t such a bad thing. But if you’re wanting to plan a book signing at a Barnes and Noble and they ask you if your book is available in Ingram’s catalog so they can purchase copies at the discount, if your books aren’t in there, you’re going to have to say no, and that looks unprofessional.

Anyway, so I began the process of moving my books over. Read on to find some differences between KDP Print and IngramSpark, and you can decide if it’s worth doing it in both places.


kdp print logo

KDP Print is a dream. I love it. They still aren’t as good as CreateSpace used to be. They held your hand, walked you across the street, opened the door to Starbucks, and bought you a cafe mocha. But KDP Print is pretty good, too. No live people to help you anymore, but if you upload a decent cover file and formatted interior of your book, there’s nothing to worry about. It was the hand-holding CS used to give you that everyone counted on. They fixed things for you when you didn’t even know it! I know they fixed a couple covers for me without telling me and pushed my files through the review process. That was awesome, but also scary as hell because holy crap was it a surprise when “my way” didn’t work anymore.

That was almost three years ago, and if you want to look at my disastrous attempts at making covers way back when, look here for a good laugh. Since then I have found better ways of doing things, but even with all I’ve taught myself, the transition from KDP Print to IngramSpark wasn’t easy.

Big differences between KDP Print and IngramSpark

The Templates are Different

The biggest difference is the cover templates are different. This is only because the paper they use is different, making the spine thinner when IngramSpark prints them. This makes the templates just a little off on the spine.

Can you fit your KDP Print cover over an IngramSpark template? Yes, yes you can. But be prepared for your book from Ingram to not look exactly right. The text for All of Nothing on the back cover is off center a little, and it is for Wherever He Goes too. Not so much that you notice it right away . . . but just enough that it’s probably nothing you’d want to sell, or in large quantities like a book signing.

Here’s All of Nothing. Can you tell which is which? I did fix the spine on the one so it matches the front cover (that was part of my consistency stuff was talking about before).¬† And the prices on the back covers are updated, too.

 

 

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I make my covers in Canva and I don’t have a good way yet of using a KDP Print cover on an IngramSpark template. There are just enough differences to make your cover out of whack. I have heard of authors doing it without problems, so maybe give it a try if you don’t mind being out 3.00-7.00 dollars for a proof copy.

If you can’t see the difference–IngramSpark’s copy is on the right. The text on the back is to the left a bit, and the pink color is brighter. Besides that, the books were the same as far as I could tell. I’ll go back and fix the text on the back cover . . . some day.

I don’t own Photoshop and I don’t know GIMP well enough to build my covers from scratch using it. Besides, why would I learn when I can make beautiful covers in Canva? I’ll continue to experiment and report back. (It takes a lot of work to be this lazy, yo.)

ingram all of nothing template for blog post

This is what IngramSpark will send you when you download a template for your book.

5.5x8.5_Cream_290

This is what KDP Print sends you. Very different.

It takes time and bit of know-how to figure out how to use the PDF that IngramSpark gives you. If you hire a designer and tell them you are publishing to both platforms, they will give you two files. I asked in a¬†Facebook indie book cover group, and it’s a good one to join if you want feedback on a cover or your blurb. There’s also¬†Indie Book Cover Design Group 101¬†that focuses more on how to make covers rather than just giving you feedback. They are both closed groups, so you’ll have to ask to join, but they don’t seem discriminatory. I mean, the let me in. Just kidding. They are very friendly, and I suggest you join both.

Anyway, I have read where you can cover up the ISBN that Ingram gives you with the template and they will add it for you, wherever you leave room on the back cover. I added mine in GIMP. This is definitely the hardest and most time-consuming part of the process.

The proofing process isn’t the same.

IngramSpark will send you an eproof of the cover that looks exactly like what you sent them. They certainly do not give you the bleed lines that I have come to expect from KDP Print.

2019-04-16

If you scroll down in the PDF, they’ll show you the interior, as well. But this is the proof of the cover they sent me. Kinda looks like what I sent them. So. Thanks?

Here’s KDP Print’s online previewer:

2019-04-05 (2)

For someone who has never submitted before, knowing where the bleed lines are would be a big help. I think this is so much better than what IngramSpark gives you.

When you submit your files to Ingram, be very careful. I was used to the way KDP Print does things, and they urge you order a print proof to look over your book in person. With Ingram, my book was already in distribution, and when I ordered a copy of my book, I thought I was getting a proof, but it was really an author copy. This could be a very bad thing for a new author who was counting on being able to look at their book first.

I can take responsibility for not reading clearly (or more like, not understanding what I was reading, wherein, it’s still my fault I wasn’t asking questions) but IngramSpark does not make things very easy, either. After a quick chat with an Ingram rep, it appears there is an option to not put your book into distribution. I suppose this is their way of making the book available to you so you can purchase ARC copies before the book goes live. This is just one area where it pays to read read read. Don’t do this in a hurry, and if you don’t understand something, bring up the chat box ASAP and ask.

Price Changes Take More than 72 Hours (and we all know that KDP’s 72 hours is really like . . . 4).

With IngramSpark, if you change the price of your paperback and you have the price on the back cover, they have to match. If you change your paperback price and then redo your cover to reflect the change, your cover may be unapproved because the prices won’t match. Price changes used to take effect on the first of every month. I recently read an article that said they changed this to weekly. I didn’t know this, and the submission for my cover of Wherever He Goes stalled because the prices didn’t match. They did on my end, but not on theirs. You can get around this by not putting the prices on your book. It’s not really necessary, and it gives you more freedom to change your prices if need be. I changed mine because I wanted to remain consistent and have a plan. I hope to have a big back list, and I needed a system I was going to remember.

KDP Print doesn’t care what’s on your cover. You could have a US price of $199.99 and sell it for $7.99 and no one is going to say anything to you. I know because my prices were all over the place. Ingram taught me professionalism in consistency, so that is one thing I can thank them for.

What else can help?

  • Keep communication consistent. If you have a general question that isn’t answered in their FAQs, the chat box is great. But if they email you, they want you to email them back. I tried to chat regarding my price discrepancy, but the rep told me to answer the email they sent me so information stays with the same person. That’s good to know so you’re not wasting everyone’s time.
  • Take your time and read.
    I have a ton of patience, but I had five books to move over and for some reason, I wanted it done yesterday. Even if my friend would have helped me with the covers (she ended up having a family emergency), what I didn’t know would have given me (and her) problems, anyway. Though not having proofs beforehand would have sat easier with me, since she knows what she’s doing. I know I could have slowed down. I would have known better about the distribution process had I asked questions and read that part better. I had kind of a “f#ck it” attitude with them that I’m surprised I had. I’d heard so much about how working with them was difficult, I got myself all worked up and caused problems for myself I might not have had otherwise.
  • You might get color warnings.
    IngramSpark likes CMYK. GIMP likes RGB. And that’s fine. Photoshop uses CMYK. I received color warnings and was told that because my covers were in RGB they may not print correctly. With the five author copies that came from IngramSpark, none of the colors came out weird. Clicking the “I know my cover could print like crap” box didn’t hurt the quality of my books. But the warning is big and bright and red, and it scared me. Just remember that Print on Demand isn’t the best in quality with either IngramSpark or KDP Print, and printing errors can occur no matter which service you use.

 

I was lucky and did all this in the month of March when they were running a free promo for NaNo participants. I was able to upload all my files for free.¬† If you are going to (re)submit files, I would look for some kind of code otherwise fixing mistakes you didn’t know you were making will be costly. Look for promo codes to bypass the fees, or¬†join the Independent Book Publishers Association. It states clearly that free title set up and revisions through IngramSpark are part of their benefit package. They offer a lot of other things too that are worth taking a look at. I’ve also heard that free title set up and revisions are free through The Alliance of Independent Authors, but their benefits package is not so clear, so you may want to email them and ask first.

I’ll keep offering all my books through Ingram. I want to perfect my cover process–the easier, the better. If you’re wondering why I never mentioned the interior of my books, I format using Vellum. Out of everything I do for my books, at least I know the formatting will come out looking good.

If you don’t think you’ll ever ask to have a local bookstore carry your book, or if you think you’ll never do a book signing, I can’t say for sure if Ingram is a benefit. I like to try things. Partly because I’m curious, partly because I’m stubborn, and partly because I like to pass information along.

But one thing is for sure–no matter who prints your book, it’s a thrill to hold it, isn’t it?


Still working on my Wedding Party Series!

Callie and Mitch blog graphic

My Going Wide Adventures–ebooks (and last post)

I started the process of going wide some time ago, and I can say that for now my ebooks have been successfully published wide.

I got tired of waiting for my trilogy to drop out of KDP Select, so I took some advice and emailed Amazon and asked them to be taken out. I made it easy by giving them the ASIN numbers for the books. They were very prompt and my trilogy was taken out of Select the next day.

canceling select blog post picture

I didn’t waste any time publishing my trilogy on Draft2Digital and Kobo. When I uploaded them onto those platforms, I priced Don’t Run Away for free. Amazon won’t let you do that; they prefer you enroll in Select and use their free days in your marketing plans. Kobo and Draft2Digital had no problem with pricing my book for free, and after Don’t Run Away was published, I emailed Amazon with the buy links to Kobo and Barnes and Noble proving Don’t Run Away was free, and they price matched. blog picture kdp free book

don't run away free amazon buy page

This will be my permafree book to hopefully draw readers in to my other books that they’ll want to buy. I hate that Don’t Run Away has so few reviews, and I still have that one stinker of a review saying she hated it because of the swearing. So I think I’ll be concentrating a little bit on some cheaper promos to see if I can’t bump up those reviews a bit. While this blog post is about my process of going wide, not marketing strategy, I have to remember that Amazon isn’t the be all end all of my sales any longer. Any promo is good though, so I’ll still throw a little money at it anyway. The trilogy is strong, I think, and when it was in KU I got decent read-through. So we’ll see.

books on draft to digitalbooks on draft to digital2

You can see I haven’t made any money, but going wide is a process, and I haven’t done any marketing yet.

Kobo is the same.

books on kobobooks on kobo2

Besides emailing KDP to pull¬† my books out of Select, things went fine, and emailing KDP wasn’t even a big deal–I just felt bad doing it. But as I tell my friends, this is a business, don’t take things personally. I’m sure the KDP rep who pulled my books out of Select didn’t give a crap what I was doing, he was just waiting to go to lunch. So, no harm done.

The Years Between Us will be released soon. The pre-order ends May 1st. I needed a bit of time to get ahead with my series, and I hope by the time The Years Between Us is released, I’ll have book two almost done.

I don’t have the paperback loaded into Ingram Spark yet, only KDP Print. I’ve already gone over the proof, so all I need to do is hit publish when the ebook is released. The Years Between¬†Us is on pre-order through Draft to Digital as well as Kobo, and you can pre-order it at any retailer here.

The Years Between Us Paperback Cover

I use Universal Book Links¬†to create buy links for my books. They’ll pull from everywhere your book is sold and when a reader clinks on the link, they will be directed to a retailer page so they can choose which vendor to purchase your book from. When I clicked on the buy link for The Years Between Us above, this came up:

universal book link result

Then all your reader has to do is click on the logo of the store where they want to buy your book. That way you don’t have to have a million different buy-links when you do an ad or something. You can thank the team at Draft2Digital for putting that together for us indies.

The other thing I did was email Kobo and ask for access to the promotions tab. The promotions tab is for Kobo readers only, and allows you to ask the Kobo Writing Life team for consideration for certain promotions the website hosts. You need to email them for access though, as it doesn’t automatically pop up when you list your books for sale there. I’m excited to start making use of those promotions, and now that I’m done with some administrative work going wide created, I can spend more time marketing.

I only put my six contemporary romances wide. I did that because 1) The Corner of 1700 Hamilton was my first book and could use a good editing sweep, which I’m not willing to take the time to do right now, and 2) Summer Secrets is erotica and not the genre I’m going to write ever again. They aren’t in Kindle Unlimited, either, because I didn’t want to get anyone grumpy at me for only have part of my library in KU. I could always put them wide and make them permafree, but I don’t think that would do much for me as I don’t intend to write those genres again, and while Don’t Run Away will always be free, the main point of going wide and writing in one genre is to find a readership and sell books. Selling books usually, if you do it right, means making a bit of money, and who doesn’t want that?

If you have any questions for me about going wide, please let me know! I’ll cover paperbacks in another blog post.

Thanks for reading!

Callie and Mitch blog graphic

 

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Suspending Belief in Fiction. How much is too much?

Suspending Belief in Fiction. How much is too much_

As authors, we ask our readers to open their minds and believe the unbelievable. Writers of fantasy and sci-fi, paranormal and horror wouldn’t make a penny if readers couldn’t put aside reality and enjoy a good story. The Martian would never have taken off, and we would never know who Luke and Leia and the rest of their universe are, never mind them being household names.

Writers who write in those genres have a flexibility not all of us have–yet they are still held to some kind of realistic expectation. Why do characters behave the way they do? Why are things the way they are? It’s why in comics and huge worlds like Game of Thrones and Star Wars, origin stories are so popular. Knowing why helps us understand.

Writers who write contemporary fiction stories that take place in the real here and now struggle with this, too. More so.

When I wrote All of Nothing, I struggled with what I could get away with and what I couldn’t. If you read my reviews on Goodreads, you’ll see that to some people, I failed. Jax Brooks accidentally shot someone, and I made him suffer for it–for 15 years. I got called out on it. No one would suffer for that long, or to that extent, for 15 years. Or would they? Did I make him suffer for too long? Should I have shortened my timeline?

Raven Grey was homeless for 13 years. That’s a long time to be homeless. I didn’t write her with a mental illness or a drug addiction, so anyone who wasn’t afflicted with something like that . . . would they have let themselves live on the streets for that long?

I asked the reader to believe she would have. I’ve never been homeless, or feel that hopeless. So I guess I truly don’t know if someone would drift through life that way when they had resources at their disposal to help them. But when she did turn her life around, it made it that much more poignant. Did making Raven homeless for so long add to the story, or did the implausibility of her situation take something away?

We’ve all read books that ask the reader to set aside real-life expectations. But how much is too much depends on the reader. I stopped reading Stephanie Plum at number 15 because after so many books, I just didn’t find the character believable anymore. She fumbles around as a bounty hunter suck in a love triangle, and she never changes. After so much time you’d expect her to take self-defense classes, or at the very least, learn how to shoot her gun. But she doesn’t do anything because Janet Evanovich relies on Stephanie’s ineptness as a bounty hunter to give us a laugh. And that’s great. I did enjoy the first fifteen books, and the couple of books that took place between the numbers. But eventually, and this is where real-life comes in, people need to grow and change. Most writers who aren’t writing a series only have one book in which to show us that their characters have changed, grown up, learned a lesson. That Stephanie Plum hasn’t grown, changed, in 15+ books (I think Janet’s up to 25, but I lost interest a long time ago) just makes her character worse.

stephanie plum

Katherine Heigl as Stephanie Plum. Her expression says it all. You can read the article and see more pictures at cinemablend.com or by clicking here.

No one is going to believe that in all the time that goes by, if Stephanie really wanted to take a real stab at being a bounty hunter she wouldn’t try to improve her skills.

But do readers care?

Janet Evanovich is a bestselling author, so I’m guessing most readers are along for the ride and don’t care Stephanie still can’t shoot, still can’t choose a man, and still blows up every car she drives.

I read something once that said as writers, right away we’re asking our readers to believe in a coincidence, an act of fate. Like the man meeting just the right woman at the beginning of a romance. Or a man killing the wrong person at the wrong time at the beginning of a mystery, or a child kidnapped just as a famous detective travels through town on vacation. How was it that Hercule Poirot happened to be on the Orient Express?

coicidence and fateAlmost every inciting event will be a coincidence, and readers accept that because that’s how a story starts.

But anything you ask her reader to believe after that just builds up until the reader throws the book across the room in disgust because the writer has asked them to believe too much.

Readers aren’t stupid, and you can’t write to them as if they are, yet some writers can get away with asking their readers to believe the impossible.

In 50 Shades of Grey, Christian Grey is a self-made billionaire at twenty-seven. Doing what, who knows. It is possible, but not likely. Not unless you’re working from your mom’s garage creating the next big thing that will replace Facebook.

Anastasia Steele was the same way, professionally. Would she really be an editor at an distinguished publishing house because her boss was fired? Probably not. She majored in English Literature. A publishing degree is a real thing.

How do you know how much is too much?

Unfortunately, you probably won’t know until you get feedback. Hopefully that is in the form of beta reader feedback and not bad reviews.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  1. How old are your characters?
    If you have a 20-year-old who is running a million-dollar company, ask yourself why. Why is your character 20? Is he a genius? How does his age contribute to the story? Could he be 30? 40? Could he have a different occupation? Are you writing the next Doogie Howser?
  2. Keep technology in mind. 
    All of Nothing Paperback Cover

    Do you want to check out All of Nothing? It’s now WIDE and you can click here for your favorite retailer.

    Today, anyone can know anything with a touch of a few buttons. If you’re keeping your characters in the dark about anything they could find out online, you better have a good, and believable, explanation.
    I walked a thin line of that myself in¬†All of Nothing. Jax didn’t know the identity of the person he shot, and Raven’s parents didn’t know the identity of the policeman who killed their son. How did I explain that? The city paid Raven’s parents not to ask questions, and they kept Jax in the dark to help him put the accident behind him. That’s why I put the accident so far in the past. I didn’t need social media¬†interfering in my story. These days, everything is splashed everywhere online. Especially police brutality. Everyone knows everything in an instant. Maybe even with a video. I couldn’t afford that because the whole premise of my book were the facts Jax didn’t know whom he shot, and Raven’s family didn’t know who took her brother’s life. Yeah, this blog post revealed a big spoiler, but did I pull it off? You’ll have to let me know.

  3. Keep your timeline in mind.
    Unless you’re writing the next 24, your characters are probably going to need time. People don’t fall in love in a day. Murders aren’t solved in a day, or even a week. People trapped in a cabin during a blizzard with no food won’t live two weeks without something to eat.
  4. Because I said so.
    If you have to say this, or any derivative of this phrase to someone asking about details of your story, you’re covering up lazy, sloppy writing. Because I said so is for children who don’t want to eat their vegetables. If you have to explain any aspect of your story, you’re doing it wrong. You can’t be over every reader’s shoulder trying to validate and justify all your choices. Your reader may come away from your story loving it or hating it, but they should always¬†understand it.

    Suspending Belief in Fiction. How much is too much2

Human nature is weird. There are things people put with for years and years, and in the same situation, a different person would tolerate it for only a moment.

Sometimes you can get away with it. Soap operas do. After a few years watching Days of our Lives, I finally asked, “If living in Salem was so miserable, why didn’t they just move?” You can’t tell me Bo and Hope wouldn’t finally have found some peace and quiet if they would have moved out of Salem and away from Stefano DiMera.

When I was writing The Years Between Us, I confronted this possibility as well. The whole book depends on blackmail and lies, much in the vein of a soap opera. I had a few beta readers read it and I asked them if it was too much, and all of them said no. I hope it isn’t. I hope the plot is still believable. I hope that what people willing to do for love is enough of a reason to carry the story along. You’ll have to decide.

Your readers will only accept so much. You can’t please everyone, of course, but at some point you are going to have to keep an eye on what is believable and what is not. You’ll have to decide if inconsistencies and discrepancies are intentional or the byproduct of lazy writing. Plot holes are never okay, and explaining why a character did something by saying “She was crazy, that’s why!” isn’t good enough. Even crazy people live on their own plane of reality, and it’s your job as a writer to show us that.

Suspending Belief in Fiction. How much is too much3

As writers, we are always going to be asking our readers to believe something that has a small chance of happening in real life. But after that initial leap, keep your story grounded in facts, otherwise you are going to lose them.

Fiction is fiction, we read to escape, but your story needs to make sense, or the next thing you know, your bounty hunter will have been on 25 jobs and still won’t know how to shoot a gun.

And that’s just not realistic.

Callie and Mitch blog graphic


picture attribution:

Andy Meyer from Pixabay” cellphone with castle

coincidence and fate

woman with books, canva.com

woman on stability ball, canva.com

Writing is a Bitter Business

I was talking to a friend the other day about blogging. I enjoy her blog posts and I asked her why she doesn’t blog more. She said, “I think I sound bitter.” I thought about that, and while I didn’t think that was true, I realized she had a point.

Writing is a bitter business.

When I say writing, I mean all aspects of it. Finding the time to write, the building of your writer’s platform, publishing, and finding readers.

Why is writing a bitter business?

Let’s explore:

  1. Writing is hard.
    No one appreciates what you go through on a daily basis. Writing words is hard, and lonely. And no one can make you do the work. It’s not like going to a real job where you get paid every two weeks, and you can get fired for not showing up. Sometimes it takes months to earn royalties; sometimes it takes years. Sometimes the only payment you receive for your writing is your own sense of of accomplishment. If that isn’t enough for you, how do you keep going? What makes you turn on your laptop or open that notebook or open that Google Docs app on your phone day after day after day? Besides raising children and being a faceless trash collector, I can’t think of a more thankless job.
  2. There’s no pay.
    I touched on this a bit in number one. Not only is writing hard, you’re not getting paid. I’m not getting paid for writing this blog post. I’m not getting paid for the books that are on sale on Amazon right now. I don’t get paid to tweet, update my Facebook author page, or write a long description to go with a photo on Instagram. If you feel bitter because money isn’t flowing to you, you need to think about what you can do about that.
    Do you not have books for sale? That should be your main priority. Do you offer helpful, evergreen content on your blog? Maybe sign up for Ko-fi and ask for consumers of your work to tip you for it, or start a Patreon account. The problem is, when you’re new and just starting out, getting paid is hard. No one knows who you are. But to be fair–this happens in every profession. They are called interns.

    intern joke

    taken from pinterest

    And they work for free. Sometimes if the internship is a part of their university curriculum, they PAY to intern for credit toward their diploma. I pay to blog. I pay for my domain name, and I’ve upgraded my WordPress plan.
    I’m doing the opposite of getting paid, and probably so are you.

  3. No one cares.
    This is a big one, and the one that trips up my friend. In a sea of writers and free content, no one cares what you’re doing. I feel this myself when I release a new book. I press Publish and get on with my day. There is no big cover reveal, there’s no blog tour, there’s no FB author page takeover or FB party. There are a couple reasons why I do this. One, I’m building a back list; I’m always writing the next book. And two, I know on certain platforms like Twitter, that’s not where my readers are, and announcing it won’t do anything for me. Sure, there might be a couple of people who will congratulate me, and that’s nice. But anyone cultivating their social media accounts hoping for sales will come away bitter. So I publish and keep writing.
  4. You feel like you’re screaming into the void.
    Let’s be real–that’s what blogging is at first. You blog to no one. You have zero followers, and when you check your analytics, you have zero visits.
    But that happens to absolutely everyone who starts a new blog. Everyone. It’s made even worse when you don’t have a solid social media presence to announce your blog on. Blogging is hard for writers. Do we blog for other writers? Do we blog for our readers? How do we do that if we don’t have a book out yet? What do we blog about that hasn’t been said a million times? You put in a couple of hours writing, making graphics in Canva, push Publish . . . all for nothing. It’s very easy to become bitter. To read my thoughts on starting a blog, look here.
  5. You don’t have support at home.
    Your significant other says you’re not making money, so you’re better off investing your time somewhere else. Like at a real job. Your kids want you to play. Your husband won’t help with chores. No one wants to walk the dog or scoop litter. You get accused of wasting time online when you’re trying to build a social media platform and/or write through a sticky scene in your story. Laundry needs to be done. You feel like a trout swimming upstream and some days you feel like there’s no point in fighting all this resistance.
    The problem with this is everyone needs their own life outside of who other people perceive them to be. You’re more than just a partner, a mom, a dad, a daughter or a son. People can’t see you writing, or rather, they can’t see the results. When you relax in the bath, you’re taking an hour to yourself. When you go for a run, you are doing something for your health. When you spend an hour doing almost anything else, people can see that. Appreciate it. Why is writing different? You spend an hour in front of the computer for months, sometimes years, and you walk away with your hands empty. Never mind that during that time you might have published two books digitally on Amazon. It still looks like you’ve wasted all that time. And if you don’t have sales, it’s easy to agree with the crabby husband who wants you to get a job, already. Yeah, it feels like all that work was for nothing, and bitterness takes hold.
  6. There are too many of us.
    Holy cow–the writing community has exploded on Twitter in the past couple of months. There are more writers online than lice on a kid’s head during an outbreak at school. It’s easy to feel invisible. What’s worse is we all want the same thing. We want agents and book deals and readers. And it hurts when we see other writers

    candle quote

    picturequotes.com

    earn those things. (I do say earn, because querying is hard work!) We’re told over and over again there’s only so much shelf space at the bookstore, there are only so many agents, so many publishers. While Writer Twitter is supportive, no one can deny there’s a current of competitiveness underneath the goodwill. We’re competing against each other. The saying is true–lighting someone else’s candle won’t put out your own flame–but it’s hard to watch someone get what you want. Especially if you are really trying your best.


What can we do to shake the bitterness?

  1. Define your success.
    What does success mean to you? For some people that simply means finishing a book. For others, it’s pushing the Publish button. Still for others, it’s their first five-star review. The thing with success is you need to be realistic. We all know EL James didn’t become famous over night, nor did Hugh Howey. We all start somewhere, so you need to start small and celebrate the small successes, no matter how tiny they are. That might mean buying a bottle of Prosecco for your first ten blog followers, or going out for a night of dinner and dancing with friends when you finish the first draft of your book.
  2. What do you want from social media?
    I know a few people with a love/hate relationship with Twitter, and I understand the struggle. I do. You put all this time in engaging with other people, tweeting, connecting, networking–and for what? That depends on why you’re on there. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. It will show in your lack of engagement and lackluster content. If you don’t like Twitter, focus on a Facebook Author page or cultivate a following on Instagram. Because the fact is, you may hate social media, but even if you do the bare minimum and only have a website for an author landing page, you still need somewhere to announce you have one. This is especially true if you’re not publishing and you don’t have back matter in a book to use to direct your readers to your website or newsletter sign up.
    So what do you want from your social media platform? Twitter is a great place to connect with other writers. A Facebook Author page can give your readers a place to find you. Start a Facebook reader’s GROUP and form a book club or place to talk about books. If you live in a cool place like my friend who lives in Hawaii, or you have lots of pets–whatever you think will interest an audience–if you’re more visual, maybe post pictures on Instagram. But the sooner you realize that social media is more for being social and networking than selling whatever you’re peddling, you may form a truce with start to enjoy yourself. I like Twitter. I keep up care about other peoplewith industry news that way. A ton of agents and book bloggers hang out on Twitter. If you ever plan to query, befriending agents and creating a professional connection can’t steer you wrong. Social media is about caring about other people. Think of the 80/20 rule. 80% of your content needs to be about other people. If you care about other people, other people will care about you.
  3. Realize that writing is a long game.
    No one got famous overnight for writing. It just feels like they did. That debut that turns into a blockbuster is few and far between and usually has a team of people behind the launch. This year will be my third year in indie publishing. I don’t make much in sales. I only have 226 people subscribed to my blog. I have barely 100 likes on my FB author page. I have 14.7 followers on Twitter, but when I tweet something I’m lucky if I can get five likes. I could get bitter about it, but why?

    In fact, in a delicious piece of irony, on Twitter I asked writers what made them bitter about the writing/publishing industry. No one answered.

    I love to write and all of the stuff I mentioned would just be a bonus. But I’ll get there. Three years might seem like a long time for someone who wants instant gratification, but guess what? Publishing doesn’t work that way. I’m still a baby in this industry and I’m smart enough to realize it. If you’ve been writing for a year with nothing to show for it, realize this is common. People have wildly exaggerated expectations when it comes to self-publishing and while 12 years ago it could have made you rich like Amanda Hocking, it’s not true anymore. There are too many of us and times have changed. It doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel, but it does mean you have to change your way of thinking.
    If it helps, think of the intern. She might be an intern now, but in ten years she could be CEO of the company. But she’ll never make it that far if she quits.
    Or lets all those coffee runs make her bitter.

  4. Remember this is about craft.
    Sure, those people who are selling crappy books might have a sales bump every once in a while, but are they are selling to new people all the time, or are they cultivating a loyal readership with well-written stories and lovable characters? It’s easy to get caught up in the other stuff–Facebook, blogging, Twitter likes, but the fact is, none of that matters if you aren’t working on your craft. Build a foundation on good stories.
  5. People may be cheering for you without telling you.
    You could have fans without knowing it! People who want to see you succeed. They follow your blog, look for your tweets. They’re disappointed when you don’t update your author page on Facebook. You can’t assume you’re in this alone, because that probably isn’t true. Snowstorms begin with a single snowflake. Your core readership will begin with one reader. Don’t disappoint her by being bitter.

In closing, I know it’s hard. I’m right there with you. I entered All of Nothing into the RITAs, and it didn’t advance. I tried not to be bitter. Especially since I think All of Nothing is my strongest book so far. And especially since I compared it to the books I had to judge as part of my entry, and¬†especially¬†when I read the list of finalists.

This isn’t anything a writer wants to admit. We should all be supporting each other and be happy for one another. And I’m delighted for the finalists. But I wish I had been one.

women helping women

It doesn’t mean I’ll never have the chance to enter again, and that doesn’t mean I won’t advance in a different contest some day.

But if I let my bitterness win out, then no, there will never be other contests in my future, or other books, either. So I need to keep my focus on why I write.

Because I love it. Simple as that.

And that may not be the case for you. There’s no judgment here. If you can’t write without the support of a loved one, if you can’t blog because no one has subscribed to it, if you don’t want to finish your book because when you tweet about it no one encourages you, then don’t.

Writing isn’t for everyone. Circle back around in a couple of years when circumstances in your life change. Circle back around when your priorities have shifted. Circle back around when you’re ready to put in the time and the work.

Writing is between you and your readers. That’s it.

And there’s nothing bitter about that.

bitterness

Antagonists: Who, What, When, Where

I rarely give out writing advice, preferring to focus on indie publishing, promo results, and my own progress. I feel those topics are a lot more useful than writing tips. After all, you can finding writing tips anywhere. But I was thinking about antagonists and how ambiguous and subjective they are.

cruella de ville

Cruella is a perfect example of an evil villain. Who would want to kill cute puppies for a coat?! picture from pixabay

Antagonists in a story are usually the villains. The bad guys. Twitter chats center around them. What is their favorite color? What are they doing right now? What makes them bad? What makes them evil? What do they eat for breakfast? The hearts of their enemies, of course. Which is everyone.

There are some pretty famous villains in books and movies:

Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes
Lady Tremaine, Cinderella
Annie Wilkes, Misery
Sauron, Lord of the Rings
Darth Vader, Star Wars
Joker, Batman

**For more examples, since I could list them forever, look here, and here.

These are tangible characters; in these stories they are flesh and blood. They do cruel things to our main characters. Who they are is pretty cut and dried.

But sometimes things that aren’t always people can be the antagonist in a story, and sometimes the protagonist will be his own worst enemy, which will also make him the antagonist.

Let’s explore that one first.

When the protagonist is also the antagonist

woman with demons

Characters who have to battle inner demons can be their own worst enemies. photo from pixabay

This happens a lot in romance. Characters have been burned before and refuse to fall in love again. Or they don’t believe they deserve to be in love, of having someone care for them. They’ve done naughty things in the past and they believe they need to atone for those sins for the rest of their lives. This is actually a pretty popular trope in a romance. Where the hero has been in the military and something happened to his team, or the detective/cop whose partner is killed on a case and our hero blames himself. He doesn’t feel worthy of love, or he thinks why bother because he’ll just fuck that relationship up too, or worse, get her killed through his own negligence.

In these cases, the protagonist is also the antagonist. They are battling inner demons. There is a lot more to the plot than that, but in the end your hero’s love interest is supposed to help them see they are worthy of love. S/he feels they fail toward the end of the book and the hero/ine realizes if s/he doesn’t get his shit together, he’s going to lose out on the love of his/her life.

Memories, nightmares, the ex still in the picture, precinct cops who blame your hero for the death of their team member, a child left behind, they are secondary antagonists used to enforce your character’s beliefs about himself.

Gone With The Wind

Scarlett and Rhett photo taken from huffington post

Scarlett O’Hara had a couple things working against her, namely her immaturity, selfishness, and her love for her family’s plantation, Tara, not to mention, Ashley Wilkes. She wasn’t ready for Rhett to love her, and she had to live through the deaths of her father and two husbands, plus a war, before she grew up enough to understand Rhett. We all know his famous last line, and by the time she gave a damn, he didn’t.

What are other things that could be an antagonist?

Animals

Jurassic Park is a good example of this. There was no antagonist, per se. John Hammond wasn’t evil–he just wanted to open a theme park where people could enjoy seeing dinosaurs. (This brings about the ethical question, “Just because we can, should we?” But that would be the theme of the story, which is a little different than what I’m talking about here.) There were a couple of people around who were selfish and greedy, but they were not the cause of the problems in the story. I’m thinking of the first movie–the old original with Sam Neill and Laura Dern.

Other books/movies that have used animals as antagonists?
Moby Dick Herman Melville
The Birds Alfred Hitchcock/Daphne du  Maurier
Cujo Stephen King
Anaconda director Luis Llosa
Jaws Peter Benchley
Piranha director Joe Dante

It’s important to note that in most cases, humans were not ordering or forcing these animals to attack. They were not weapons. Be it survival, nature, self defense, or rabies, these animals were acting on their own accord.

Disease

Disease is a popular antagonist. In Outbreak, a man who wants to sell a monkey on the black market passes along a fictional Ebola-like virus, Motaba, and all the characters spent their time doing damage control. As with the animals, it’s important to note that in cases where disease is used as the primary antagonist, it is not being used by a human as a weapon, in which case the human using biological warfare for power/revenge/etc would be the antagonist and the disease would be the weapon. In Outbreak, I’m thinking of the movie with Dustin Hoffman and Renee Russo, there were other people who wanted to contain the disease in a different way than our characters, and others who wanted to keep past illegal activity a secret and would do anything to make that happen. Does this make them antagonists? Sure, and they provide more conflict and more hurdles for our main characters to jump over. But the main antagonist is the disease. Without it, there would be no story.

Other stories that use disease:
Andromeda Strain Michael Crichton
Two by Two Nicholas Sparks (a secondary character dies of cancer)
The Fault in Our Stars John Green
Five Feet Apart Rachael Lippincott
My Sister’s Keeper Jodi Picoult

I was taking a look at some other opinions about whether disease could be an antagonist, and I found rather snarky blog post saying of course not. I think she missed the point of using disease as a plot device, and you can read it here.

Nature

The setting of where your book takes place can be a powerful antagonist. When your characters are trying to farm land that won’t grow crops and your characters are dying of hunger, or your characters are involved in a plane crash and they have to escape a mountain covered in snow to survive.

The weather can be a powerful antagonist, as well. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters that will put your characters in harm’s way are fabulous antagonists.

Books/movies that use the land and weather as antagonists:
Twister director Jan de Bont
The Mountain Between Us Charles Martin
Alive director Frank Marshall
To Build a Fire Jack London
We Are Unprepared Meg Little Reilly
For other books that use nature as an antagonist, look here.

Mental Illness/Addiction

This may be unfair, but a character with mental illness can be the antagonist. This might take the form of an alcoholic like The Girl on the Train, or a character being a complete psychopath like Gone Girl. I read a book by Lisa Unger where her male MC went completely delusional, living his “perfect life” in his head while his real life fell apart. Characters who believe they are going crazy like The Woman in Cabin 10 are their own antagonists. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a human antagonist, as the case with The Woman in Cabin 10, but the plot is even murkier and the characters harder to trust if they are suffering from a mental illness or addicted to drugs.

Unreliable narrator is what this writing trend is called, or Grip-Lit as Tara Sparling likes to call it. To read her blog post about the subject, click here.

Other books where the character is also a psycho, I mean, antagonist, and/or battling addiction:

The Shining Stephen King
American Psycho Bret Easton Ellis
The Flight Attendant Chris Bohjalian


Antagonists aren’t always cut and dried, like a kidnapper in a mystery, or a serial killer in a murder thriller, but that doesn’t make the story boring when the antagonist deviates from what we normally think of as the villain. I frequently use blackmail and secrets in my stories.

As a new writer, you may not fully realize that an antagonist does not need to be a real person, and you restrict yourself if you feel you need to put a human into this role.

I just finished A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult and while there was a real flesh and blood antagonist holding those people hostage, the women’s center where the story takes place is just as much the antagonist in the story for the feelings, emotions, ideals and heartbreak that building stands for, for the people being held in that clinic.

An antagonist is anything that works against your character to keep them from what they want. If you don’t have a flesh and blood human to do that, what do you have? A cemetery like in Pet Semetary?¬† A sinking ship like the Titanic? A concept like freedom in The Purge?

Open your mind to what a good antagonist can do for your story. Maybe it will be an AI like Hal, or maybe it’s infertility like The Children of Men.

Whatever you choose–make it hurt.

Those make the best antagonists, and those make the best stories.

Thanks for reading!

jared and leah for end of blog posts

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