Building Meaningful Relationships With Your Readers

I’ve had this post sitting in the draft folder for a year, and I’ve been waiting for the right time to use it.  Recently, I came across this great post “5 Mistakes Authors Make on Social Media” by Michael Cristiano, and I knew this was the right time to make the post below public.

My recommendation is to read the post given at the link above and then read what I have below.

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ID 66249648 © Nickjoo | Dreamstime.com

1.   Guess what, everyone?  I just wrote this fantastic thriller about a group a survivors who need to wade their way through the apocalypse while trying to find a cure for the virus that turns everyone into zombies.  Check it out on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iBooks!   (This is either posted for the gazillionth time on the author’s social media page–or worse–posted on someone else’s page without their approval.)

or how about…

2.  Space Invasion has received a 4.5 star average out of 23 reviews on Amazon.  Check out why it’s so hot!  (Amazon link provided)

or how about…

3.  I know you guys are talking about romances, but I want to tell you about this fantasy I wrote which won the This Book is the Best Ever 2016 Award.  I know it’s not what you were asking for, but it is so well written that you will love it anyway.  Here’s the link!

or how about…

4.  That story about your kid is so funny.  It reminds me of the scene I wrote in my book, Alison’s Fake Fiancé,  when her toddler went into the store and ran into a large display and knocked everything over.  Here’s the link!

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What do all of the approaches above have in common?  They’re a hard sell.  And honestly, I don’t think they work.  We are saturated with ads in one form or another.  (All of the above are ads.  They just weren’t ads someone paid for.)  I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring ads of all kinds.  I don’t really “see” them when they’re there.

A better approach, in my opinion, would be to build relationships with readers instead of selling to them.  It requires a slow build.  It takes a lot of time.  And it probably won’t mean a massive amount of sales in a short period of time.  But I think it can be a very rewarding approach longterm because the readers you meet become real people instead of just numbers, and I enjoy getting to know who is reading and enjoying my work.

Alright, so let’s get to the nitty gritty of this post.

I like to start with this in mind: treat others as you want them to treat you.

I can tell when an author is engaged with me as a person vs when they’re just trying to sell me a book.  I’m inclined to read and buy books by authors who take the time to get to know me and care about me.  Early on (2010), an author was really nice to me, but the moment I read and reviewed her book, she stopped replying to my comments on her posts.  I still remember how that made me feel.  I felt like I’d been used, and I never want anyone else to feel that way.

Be yourself.  Hang out on places that interest you.  Have a good time.  Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Let’s say you’re shy.  Instead of initiating conversations, why not comment in the threads other people have started?  Let others lead and add whatever you can.  After a while, you’ll be more comfortable with some of the people you’re talking to, and you’ll open up.  But let it be a gradual process.

I do think Facebook could be effective for this.  I know Facebook isn’t as effective as it used to be, but it’s still a good way to engage with people who read books.  Just be sure when you are engaging, you’re not out promoting your books.  Be real.  Build friendships.  You can even create a Facebook group to chat with your readers.

You don’t need to be on Facebook.  Pick whatever social media site or sites you enjoy and spend your time and attention over there getting to know people.

I know what some of you are thinking.  “But if I don’t tell people I have a book to sell, how will they find it?”

Make sure your name links to your page on that social media.  Facebook and Twitter highlight your name.  This will take people to your page on that site.  Your page is where you link to your website in your profile.  On your website, you will have your books.  That is how people will find your books.

Another way they can find out is by asking you.  But let them do the asking.  Or, someone else might mention it in passing and arouse the person’s curiosity.  This needs to be someone you didn’t tell to do it.  No gaming the system, guys.  It needs to be honest and real.

Do I have friends who never read my books?  Yep.  There are some awesome people who haven’t read anything I’ve written who have been a huge blessing in my life.  So don’t limit your conversations only to those people that you believe will buy your books.  Be open to everyone.  Just like any friendship, it takes time to develop and involves being sincere.

Does this method take time?

Definitely.  I know it’s hard to wait in our instant gratification culture (at least in the United States where I live).  But anything worth doing often takes time.  When you went through school, you didn’t jump from kindergarten to high school.  You had to go through years to get there.  When you go to college, you don’t get your degree in one semester.  It takes time, effort, and dedication.  But when you take time to do these things, the reward makes all the work worth it.

And honestly, I’ve been far more blessed by people who read my books than they’ll ever be by me.  There were times I wanted to quit (such as this morning, believe it or not), but they were there to encourage me to keep going.  I would have given up long ago if it hadn’t been for them.  Money is just one factor to being an author.  The emotional support you get from your readers is a lot more valuable, in my opinion.  But yes, I do understand we need money in order to eat.  Like my mom used to say, “You can’t eat love.” But I think being your real self with others can lead to a solid foundation that can help you as you look for effective marketing techniques in the long run.  Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

What To Do When Someone Hates Your Book

The older I get and the more books I publish, the more I’ve learned that it’s okay if everyone doesn’t love my work. This wasn’t an easy conclusion to come to. Believe me, I have my share of critics, and I had to trudge through some difficult times as I struggled to keep quiet when people were letting me know how much my books suck. I even almost quit writing several times because I got to the point where I believed I was a terrible writer. So I get it. I know how hard it is to brush off negative comments and reviews when it comes to your work. It is a lot easier to be objective when you see another author’s work being criticized, but when it’s your book that takes the beating, objectivity tends to fly right out the window.

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So today for those of you who are struggling with this issue, I thought I’d share things that helped me over the years as I’ve had people tell me why my work belongs in the city dump.

The first step is to be objective about criticism.

1. Understand that taste is subjective.

Honestly, you can’t make someone like your book. Trying to explain why you handled a conflict in your story a certain way or why your character did something someone doesn’t like is a fruitless endeavor.

Why? Because people will think whatever they want. Everyone who reads your book will be doing so with their personal bias already in the back of their minds.  Think of a book you hate that was massively popular. This is the book that makes you ask yourself, “Why do so many people love this horrible story?”

I’ve certainly had this question pop up in my mind.  There is a traditionally published book (which I will not name) that I hate. My hatred of this book was so strong that I actually felt like I was going to vomit while I was reading it. It got so bad that I had to stop halfway into it and throw it out. For the life of me, I can’t understand why this is a bestselling book. When I talk to others about this book, an overwhelming majority praise it. They encourage me to finish it. “It is so worth it when you get to the end,” they say. Personally, I don’t care how much they loved it. They aren’t changing my mind. I don’t care what motives the main characters had. To me, one character was stupid and the other character was undeserving of a happy ending.   Nothing could redeem them to my satisfaction.

Does this mean the story truly sucks? No. Of course not. All it means is that I think the book sucked. It’s just one person’s opinion. That’s all.  The same is true for people who don’t like your books.

2. The reason someone hates your book says a lot more about that person than it does about your book.

The book I mentioned above, the one that I hate more than anything else I’ve ever read, reveals my own likes and dislikes. It reveals an aspect of my personality. The hero and heroine have personality traits I absolutely despise. They did things I would never do in a million years.  Those characters represent the antithesis to the kind of person I want to be and the kind of people I want to hang around.  So all that book really did was reveal the kind of people I admire and respect.

The very qualities a reader likes or doesn’t like about a book are a window into the reader’s soul. You can gain insight into a person by their praise or criticism of the work. So take that into consideration when you come across the comments people make about your books.

Now, that we took an objective look at criticism, what should we do about it?

1. Ignore it.

The longer I’m in this business, the more convinced I am that ignoring criticism is the best way to handle it. Trying to defend your book is pointless. Instead of answering your critics, the best thing you can do is cater to your fans. They’re the ones you’re writing for anyway. They understand your vision for what you do, and better yet, they are already supporting and encouraging you.  They enjoy your work for a reason.  Why change what you’re doing to please the critics when the fans already love what you’re doing?

2. Choose to think on good things.

Recently, I’ve learned that the more attention I give something, the bigger of an issue it becomes. If I dwell on negativity, after a while, I start getting depressed or angry. I stop being as productive as I want to be. Negativity drains you of your energy. On the other hand, if I focus on positive things, I feel happier and freer. I find it easier to focus on my work. I’m more relaxed. I smile a lot more. I’m pleasant to be around, and believe me, my family is a lot happier when I’m pleasant.  So by focusing on positive things, you’ll probably attract a lot more pleasant people into your world.

To be honest, I used to think there wasn’t a correlation between what I was thinking and how I felt, but the more I’ve experimented with focusing on the positive, the more convinced I am that what we think about definitely impacts how we feel. It’s not easy at first. Breaking the old habit of dwelling on the negative takes time to do. But the more I do it, the easier it gets. Life is short. You have to decide whether you’re going to spend it in misery or whether you’re going to spend it in joy.  The choice is yours.

3. Be thankful for what you have.

A spirit of gratitude has a tremendous impact on our mental and emotional wellbeing. When something bad happens, I take a step back and start to list out things that are good in my life. If nothing else, the fact that I have food on the table, a roof over my head, and clothes on my back are huge. The fact that I can walk to the car or type on the computer or that I even know how to read are huge. Sure, I have problems. We all do. But no matter how grim a situation is, there is always something you can be thankful for.  Or, to put it another way, there is always someone out there who has it worse than you do.  So taking into consideration your blessings when problems start to pop up can help buffer you from the negativity when it rears its ugly head.

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In conclusion

If you reach a wide enough readership, you will have your share of critics. When this happens, do not engage with them. I know it’s hard, but it’s necessary. There’s no need to try to defend your book to someone who hates it. Your time and energy will be better spent focusing on your fans.

Don’t Feed the Trolls

Wow! It’s been ssssooooo long since I wrote a post here (looks like sometime in 2013), even though I’ve continued to lurk around checking things out.

For whatever reason I just got an image of Batman, or would that be Batgirl, slinking around?

Anyhoo, there are so many new people here that I feel the need to introduce myself again.

Hello! *dorky grin and wave* My name is Stephannie Beman, I’m a writer. I write books.

And yes, I’m this awkward in person, possibly even more so.

Actual picture of me so you know who you're talking too. :D
Actual picture of me so you know whose talking.

Okay, now that the introductions are out of way, we can focus on the important stuff. The reason I decided to break my long silence and write this post.

Storytime

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there lived a group of people terrorized by Trolls. These were not the normal kind of trolls with an ugly countenance, giant tusks, long claws, and sharp teeth. These Trolls were the covert kind. The ones that looked like everyone else, hiding in plain sight. It was only through their actions that the truth of what they were was revealed.

These nasty, mean, awful beasties thrive on stalking their prey, destroying lives, causing self-doubt, and ruining the dreams of the people. But then the people started to learn an important secret about the snarling creatures.

Don’t feed the Trolls. It only makes them stronger.

By feeding the trolls ego the people were giving the trolls what they wanted. Control. These people learned a few ways to weaken the noxious influences of the trolls in their lives by….


Knowing That It’s About Them

Those who go around behaving in an abhorrent manner that reminds you of a raging toddler in adult form are trolls and you should tell yourself that it has very little, or more likely, nothing to do with you personally. Yes, I know the attack was probably personal in nature, they usually are. But it’s not about you. It’s all about them. It’s about who they are, their past experiences, their unmet desires, their inability to communicate in positive ways, their fears. Anger is just fear indulged and magnified in an unhealthy and hurtful manner.

That Sometimes It’s About You

Yes, sometimes you did or said something to contribute to the incident. However, that doesn’t mean you are to blame. If you said or did something they didn’t agree with, they could have taken their mom’s advice and walked away without saying a word. Nothing says that anyone has to agree with everyone’s opinions, but the trolls are the ones that feel justified in pointing it out in great and insulting detail why you are wrong. They want you to see it their way because it is the ‘only way’. It doesn’t mean it’s the truth, or even your truth.

Some trolls find insult in the smallest things, like the woman who was angry at me for “destroying the Persephone myth” in one of my stories by not following the myth to a ‘T’. Not only did she point it out in great detail what I did wrong, but she brought a few of her friends along to do the same. At the time I was a newbie author who took what she said to heart and it crushed me.

Why? Because I was afraid that she was right about my ability to tell a good story, a deep-seated fear that was created long before she came along. I was afraid that everyone would hate the mythology that I created and that the books would fail miserably. I really had to take a good look at that fear and ask myself if it’s justified. Years later I can say, I told the story that I wanted, in the way I wanted to, and as a fiction writer it is my right to screw it up royally if I want.

Either Way, You’ll Never Know The Whole Truth

Even if you ask. There rarely is a good reason for trolls to do what they do. They are no better than the schoolyard bully trying to feel better about themselves or impress the other bullies by attacking “the little guy” to make themselves feel important

If some of the troll attacks I’ve had over the years are anything to go, it probably won’t make sense even if they tell you the problem they have with you. I’m still scratching my head over one woman’s scathing remarks over my author bio which I won’t go into detail other than to say that for two days she personally attack me and all those who commented on the blog post that had nothing to do with the bio. I came back from the weekend to 120 comments.

Years later, she apologized for her behavior and being curious as to what started it I asked her in the hopes of understanding why something so simple had set her off. It only triggered another bout of personal insults. Needless to say, I still don’t understand her reasoning and probably never will.

So Remember The 1/3rd Rule

When I was in the 2nd grade I came home crying because some of the girls didn’t want to be my friend because I wasn’t girly enough and I was kinda weird. My mother told me that there is no way to please everyone I met and to try would only twist me out of true. That rather than change to be their friend, I should surround myself with friends who loved me for who I am. I learned early that people will try to change those not like them and demand that they bend over backward to please them.

Later I learned the 1/3rd Rule. 1/3 of people you meet will love you, 1/3 of people you meet will hate you, and 1/3 of people you meet won’t care one way or the other about you. So I guess the question is, do you really want to spend your life trying to impress people only to fail? Or would you rather strive to impress the person you have to live with the most, yourself?

Because Resistance Is Futile

Yes, I love Star Trek. And I do use this phrase on my kids regularly, although the circumstances usually involve cleaning their rooms or doing their chores. Mom is the Borg and resistance is futile. You will be assimilated, kids.

Surprisingly, it also applies to trolls. You can’t change the minds of bullies. They will think what they want no matter what you do. Sometimes you can teach them a hard lesson, but I wouldn’t suggest it. It has the horrible potential of backfiring and causing you more harm.

No matter what you say or do, defending yourself against a bully will only makes things worse because if they don’t “hate” you for one thing, they will find another “fault” to hate about you. Haters hate.

And Hate Is Contagious

Trolls ‘hate’ you for anything and everything you do, and that hate can contaminate you if you let it in. If you aren’t careful their hatred might become yours. Don’t own that.

Hate is like an infection that spreads and consumes the person. A better use of your time would be to learn from what they say, and if changes need to be made (like improving my horrible grammar), then it is better to put energy into improving yourself rather than hating the trolls. It’s not like they care if you hate them, it only gives them more power.

Just Wait 24 Hours

Don’t respond to them. Stop responding to them. Ignore them.

If I learned one thing from the schoolyard, bullies hate to be ignored, and nothing angers them more than your apathy. It’s actually the perfect revenge. If you don’t feed the trolls, they’ll eventually lumber off in search of easier prey who will respond to them and feed their need for control and conflict.

Another thing I’ve learned over the years is that most things, even the vilest of rumors, die within 24 to 72 hours. It might be Hell during that time but there will always be juicer gossip for people to consume.

Or Delete Them

If it’s an offensive blog comment, delete the comment or post a note that their comment was “deleted for offensive behavior”. It sends a message to the other Trolls that see it that your blog isn’t their stomping grounds and their attacks will not be tolerated.

Regardless if you can delete them or not, don’t speak to people who are bad for you. You deserve better than their venom. They aren’t worth the breath, or words you’ll write, to answer them. Don’t become the thing you hate in the mistaken belief that you are combating them.

Either way, Don’t Respond to Them

I get the need to defend yourself by creating boundaries and lines that trolls can’t cross without consequences. I’m not saying ‘turn the other cheek’ or ‘let them use you as a doormat’, I’m suggesting fighting them in a way that hurts them most, by not giving them the attention they want.  I found that if I do or say something, even if it’s calm and rational manner, I’ll eventually say something they will later be use against me.

In the grand scheme, ignoring them and removing them from your life is the best advice I can give you.

Eventually, Time Heals all Wounds

Anger and hate ultimately passes if you let it and you will heal from what was said. In time, you might even be able to shrug it off as an unfortunate learning experience or laugh about “that one time when that one person told me…” or you could use that anger toward the troll in your next story. What better way to relieve the pressure then by using that energy to fuel your story? You can even make your troll into the villain and proceeded to kill them horribly and violently.

And yes, I am that vengeful. However, the idea came from other writers who have used strong emotions to create emotional charged scenes in their books and from time to time even immortalized their enemies by making them the villains in a story. 😀


In Summary, Trolls are bad

Nothing makes their attacks right or excuse their behavior. Feeding the trolls makes it worse. Letting them into your lives is like bathing in toxic waste. You will not get superpowers. You will get burned. Keeping them around like allowing a feral Mountain Lion to sleep at the end of your bed. You’re likely to wake up one morning with a Mountain Lion gnawing on a body part. Really not smart.

Be smart. Don’t feed the Trolls.

Writing a Series

A lot of authors write series. Some make all their money writing long series rather than stand-alone novels. A few are even paid by their publishing companies to keep writing series even after the story has gotten old and there are no new ideas or places for the characters to go (*cough* *cough* James Patterson and the Alex Cross books *cough*). But writing a series is a lot tougher than it looks. Rather than keeping a reader’s interest for about 300 pages, you have to keep it for several times that amount and over several books too.

While there is no one way to write a series (is there ever “one way” to go about anything in this business?), there are some tips and strategies that can make writing a series a bit easier. Here are some of mine, gleaned from years of writing various different series in my teens and publishing one of them once I got into college.

Decide who your main characters are and what sort of story you’re going to write with them. I feel that it’s important to nail down who your main characters are pretty early on, because they often end up influencing where the story goes through their actions. You don’t have to go into each character’s entire history at this early stage, but you should have an idea of who they are, what they like and dislike, maybe what sort of environment they grew up in, and what they want and what you from them in this series. That information will come in handy when you’re planning out the series.

Make a roadmap. When you have your characters (and if you’re writing this story in a world different from the one you and most of your readership live in, a general idea of this world), then you should plan out the series and what is going to happen. You don’t need to go into every single detail on what happens in each book, you can save that for when you write each individual book. Just have a general idea of what will happen in each book, how that might fit into a greater arc if you have one in mind, which characters you might introduce or kill off or whatever, etc. It’s kind of similar to outlining a novel, in a way (for tips on outlining, click here), only for several books. Creating a roadmap can also be helpful in keeping a record of what and when you need to research a subject and can allow you to keep notes of what’s happened in previous books in case you need to refer back to something for the current book.

Immerse your reader slowly. This is something I’ve learned over a long time, but it’s useful to remind some writers of it every now and then. Let’s say your story takes place in a fantasy or science-fiction universe and you’re the only one who knows the entirety of the world, its various pieces and factions and groups and aspects. You’ll have an urge to make sure that your reader is immediately caught up with everything, so that they know all there is to know about these worlds. I’m telling you now, resist that urge! Updating them about everything in this world of yours too early would be overloading them with information. They wouldn’t know what to do with it and they’d put down that first book before getting very far in it.

Immersing a reader in your world is like teaching a kid to swim.

The best way to go about introducing readers to this world is to imagine it like teaching a young child to swim. Naturally you don’t start with the deep end. What if your pupil drowned? Instead you start with the shallowest end of the pool. It’s good to start without overwhelming the kid, and they can get a sense and a working knowledge of how swimming works. Later you move them into deeper waters, teaching them new techniques and watching them adjust to the greater depth of the pool. As time goes on, your pupil moves deeper and deeper into the waters, learning new knowledge along the way, until they’re swimming fine in the deep end and able to handle all you’ve given them.

In a similar way you should treat the reader. Slowly take them in, giving them the bare minimum to get along in this world and how to live and maneuver through it. As time goes on, you’ll add more information and they’ll be better prepared to handle it all, so by the end of the series they’ll be able to handle all that information really well.

Keep a guidebook. This can also be helpful, especially for series in fantastical worlds. A guidebook (or whatever you want to call it) contains information on the many aspects of your world, from characters to places to objects to story points and everything in between. If you need to organize a very complicated world, a guidebook can be helpful. Or if even the world is very simple, having a guidebook could help you keep track of things. I recommend using some sort of 3-ring binder for your guidebook, so you can add more information as time goes on. Dividers will also be helpful, so get those and categorize entries as you need. Using a guidebook can also prevent any ret-conning that could annoy and upset your fans.

Writing a book, and writing a book series, is often like this.

Remember the bigger picture. This is always important in writing, but it is especially important in a series. Writing a series is like working with several hundred or even several thousand puzzle pieces, but you have to focus on both the puzzle as a whole as well as the smaller pieces. It’s not easy, keeping track of the smaller stuff as well as keeping aware of the whole arc of the series, but it’s something you’ll have to do if you want to successfully pull off a series.

Each book has a purpose. If your series has an overall story arc, then not only should each book tell an interesting story (or a segment of the larger story), but it should maybe serve a purpose. For example, the first Harry Potter novel introduced us to the Wizarding world, and to the boy we root for the whole series; Book 2 hinted at the existence of Horcruxes, explained the concept of Wizarding blood purity, and introduced other important elements that would later appear in the HP books; Book 3 gave more information on the night Harry’s parents died and their relationship with Snape, as well as introducing how Voldemort would come back to power; Book 4 brought back Voldemort in an elaborate plot as well as hinted at the denial the Ministry would be famous for in Book 5; and so on and so forth. You don’t have to, but it might be helpful to think of assigning your books a purpose in the overall story arc of the series.

What tips do you have for writing a series?

Writing a Blurb for Your Book Cover

“Blurb” is such a funny word to say, but it’s a word that writers everywhere should know, because the blurb can have so much influence on who and how many people buy or download your books. According to Wikipedia (not the best source I know, but it’s quick and convenient, so what are you going to do?), a blurb is “a short summary or promotional piece meant to accompany a creative work.” In the context of a book, a blurb is usually the summary text on the back of the book describing the story, but it can also refer to reader reviews, promotional taglines, and author biographies. For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on the summary text on the back of a book, since that is what often plays a role in any reader’s decision to buy a book.

Generally blurbs are at most a paragraph or two, and give a brief idea to the reader what they can expect before they open up the book to read it. This brief idea is given in three parts: the explanation, the mystery, and the promise. Here’s what I mean:

Nathaniel is a magician’s apprentice, taking his first lessons in the arts of magic. But when a devious hot-shot wizard named Simon Lovelace ruthlessly humiliates Nathaniel in front of his elders, Nathaniel decides to kick up his education a few notches and show Lovelace who’s boss. With revenge on his mind, he summons the powerful djinni, Bartimaeus. But summoning Bartimaeus and controlling him are two different things entirely, and when Nathaniel sends the djinni out to steal Lovelace’s greatest treasure, the Amulet of Samarkand, he finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.

The Amulet of Samarkand, US edition

This was the blurb on the back of The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book of the Bartimaeus Sequence by Johnathan Stroud. I was maybe ten or eleven when I first read this book. I was just coming out of my Harry Potter junkie phase and wanted something new to read. I wasn’t at first really interested in the book, but then I saw the blurb on the back and I was immediately hooked. I ended up reading the entire trilogy and the prequel, really enjoyed them, and I’ve been influenced by it ever since. And just based on that one blurb it got me to read the first book.

Let’s look at this blurb using the parts I named above. First, we have the explanation, which tells us what the novel is about. Judging from that, the reader learns that the main character is Nathaniel, he’s a magician’s apprentice, and he decides to send a djinni named Bartimaeus to get revenge for him by having him steal an amulet from Nathaniel’s enemy. The explanation stops at telling us what happens next and how it leads into “a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.”

That’s what the mystery is for. The mystery’s purpose is to say that although a little bit of the story has been revealed to you in the explanation, the rest of it you’ll have to read the book to find out. All we can tell you is that there’s a lot of cool stuff there, in this case magical espionage, murder and rebellion. Usually the mystery is held off until the last sentence, meant to leave the reader intrigued enough that they’ll open the book to find out more.

Last but not least, the promise is found throughout the blurb, and it is as it’s called: a promise. In this case, the promise is telling us that this is an awesome story geared for readers just like the person reading the back cover, and that they will miss out if they do not open the book. This should be the main goal of the author when writing their blurb.

Of course, there are some things you should and shouldn’t do when writing your blurb. For instance, it may be tempting to make it seem like your book is the greatest thing that’s ever been written. For all I know, it has. But if the message from your blurb is “It’s new! It’s great! You should read it and make sure everyone else around you reads it!” and that message is too obvious or strong, it might turn away readers rather than make them want to read more. We want people to read our works of course, but coming on too strong never got anyone anywhere.

The best way to do is let the blurb and the story it’s summarizing do the talking for you. Instead of coming on strong, let the blurb subtly entice the reader into wanting to check out the story and find out more. Another way of looking at this could be like thinking of the blurb as a free sample in a grocery store or shopping mall. You get a small taste to begin with, but if you want more, you’re going to have to buy the whole product.

Another thing to keep in mind is not to put too much information in the explanation part of your blurb. Give them just enough information to form an impression, maybe give them a few images in their heads, but not too much that they’ll have a basic idea of where the story is going to go and what will happen, so why bother picking the story up? Make sure to leave some room for the mystery in the story to hint at what’s to happen so the reader will be intrigued enough to open up the book to page one.

And finally, try to do all this in as few words as possible. The blurb above is less than a hundred words and still manages to grab your attention. You should aim to write an effective blurb around a similar length that does the same thing. This isn’t just because keeping it brief is good for giving hints and mystery, though that’s part of it. It’s also because practically speaking you only have so much room on the back of your book, so you should try to keep the word count around one hundred so that the printed summary doesn’t feature tiny, tiny letters that make it difficult to read. And if the reader has difficulty reading the back cover, what are the chances they’ll want to read what’s on the inside?

What tips do you have for writing blurbs?

How To Write An Epilogue

In my last post, I wrote about writing prologues. I thought I’d follow that up by writing about epilogues. I would like to begin this article by stating that prologues and epilogues, while at opposite ends of the book, each require different needs to be fulfilled in order to be written effectively. Let’s explore that, shall we?

First, what purpose does the epilogue serve? In a way, it serves as an enhanced last chapter. If the prologue serves to set the tone of the story and usher in whatever journey that the main character or characters are about to go on, then the epilogue serves to let the reader know, usually on a very happy note, that all is well and that the characters have moved on from the journey. This is why JK Rowling only used an epilogue in the final book of Harry Potter: during the previous six books, Harry was still very much in conflict with Voldemort, even if he wasn’t always aware of it. The epilogue in Book 7, when the next generation is sent off to Hogwarts in a more peaceful era, lets us know that the conflict between Harry and Voldemort is over, and that “all is well”.

Does an epilogue have to be one chapter? Depends on the writer. Some writers prefer to have only a chapter-long epilogue, while others have written epilogues that have taken up to two to four chapters. Snake, if I remember correctly, has around five chapters in its epilogue. Like I said, depends on the writer and what they want to do with their story.

How much wrapping up do you do in an epilogue? Preferably you want to wrap up all your loose ends at the end of the book, and especially if you’re doing an epilogue. Most authors, unless they’re writing a series, will try to get rid of loose ends as they can before they get to the final chapter, so that they’ll be able to wrap things up in a neat little bow at the end. Figuring out how much wrapping up needs to be done should usually be done in the plotting stages of writing your novel, though. This helps reduce stress and any unexpected problems or questions from cropping up at the end of the book.

Of course, some authors will have an epilogue that will have a happy little scene, and then tie up their loose ends or open questions in supplemental materials after the last book, but the authors who do that usually are big-name authors with traditional publishing houses like Charlaine Harris or JK Rowling. If you would like to do the same thing though, ask yourself one question: do you have a big enough fanbase that would be interested in a lot of supplemental material released after your book? It’s an important question to answer before you start writing.

What should the tone of the epilogue be? Most epilogues I’ve read tend to end on a happy or hopeful note. “We’ve gone to hell and back, but we survived, we conquered, and we’re stronger. Things may not always be great, but they’re not always terrible either.” Of course, there are probably epilogues that let the reader know that things aren’t as nice as they could be. I sort of wrote the ending to Snake to be that way. Once again, it depends on the writer, what sort of story you are writing, and how you want to go about writing it.

What’s the best way to write an epilogue? No two writers are alike (thank God for that), so it depends greatly on the writer. The best way to write an epilogue is to practice it each time you include one in a novel, and also see what works and doesn’t work for you when you read an epilogue in someone else’s book. This will allow you to figure out how best you can write an epilogue and include them in as many novels as you desire.

Now, not every novel has to have an epilogue, just like not every novel has to have a prologue. But if you decide to put an epilogue in your novel, I hope you’ll find this article and the advice it gives rather helpful. And please let us know in the comments section if you have any more advice on creating epilogues that resonate with audiences. We would love to hear from you.

How To Write A Prologue

Not too long ago, someone commented here asking for an article on writing prologues. I was saddened to reply that we did not have any articles on the subject (I checked), but I promised we’d have one soon. I’m making good on that promise now.

Many authors start their novels with prologues, which they use to set up the story of the novel. The fact that they set up the novel though helps to make prologues very different from other chapters of the novel. So here is some advice that will (hopefully) make writing a prologue easier:

What makes a prologue different from Chapter One? Good question. Sometimes there’s not much difference, but most often there’s plenty of difference. Usually though a prologue is a special scene at the beginning of a story that is set aside from the main body of the story. The events that occur in it often contain a catalyst that propels the events of the novel along. In the book Eragon, for example, Arya is attacked by agents of the Emperor and has to jettison Saphira’s egg with magic to a safe location. This allows Eragon to come across the egg in Chapter One, which begins his journey to become a Dragon Rider.

Does the prologue need to feature the protagonist or other major characters in the story? Not necessarily. Depending on how the author chooses to plot the story, the prologue may or may not feature any major characters. The example I used above only featured Arya and Durza the Shade, a supporting character and the antagonist. Eragon and Saphira don’t show up till later in the novel.

Of course, there are prologues that feature main characters. In my recently-published novel Snake, my protagonist shows up in the prologue, helping to give the story the mood and cementing the Snake as not the kind of guy to be trifled with. Like I said, it depends on who’s writing the story and how they want to write and plot it.

Can a prologue be more than a single chapter? Most prologues tend to be a single chapter. However, I’ve read several books where the prologue is divided into a couple chapters. This usually occurs in books where a single story is divided into certain parts, each part detailing a different section of the story. I actually wrote Snake that way, with the prologue covering the first four chapters before moving into Part One.

Like other aspects of writing a prologue though, it’s all dependent on what the author decides to do in writing his/her story.

How should a prologue set the mood of the story? Let me use a bit of an unconventional example: when Igor Stravinsky’s ballet and orchestral concert work The Rite of Spring was first performed, it began with a low bassoon, followed by several other woodwind instruments. For a ballet/orchestral concert at that time, it was a very unusual introduction, but it fit in considering that for its time, The Rite of Spring was a very unusual production (so unusual in fact, that a riot nearly broke out in the audience when it first premiered at a Parisian theater in 1913).

Similarly, the prologue of your novel should set the tone of the story. If you’re writing a horror story, the prologue should let people know that something awful is going to happen soon and it’s going to be quite terrifying. If you’re writing a fantasy story, the prologue should either give some history on the world the characters inhabit (al a the opening of the Lord of the Rings films) or explain straight away that this is a fantasy realm and that someone’s going to be going on a journey soon. In short, make sure the prologue is what you use to say, “This is the kind of novel I’m writing. It has such-and-such an atmosphere, such-and-such characters, and you can expect more of this throughout the story”.

What makes a good prologue? Now that’s not an easy thing to pin down, and depending who you ask, you’re going to get different answers. The best advice on that I can give you is that in order to write a prologue, read plenty of novels with prologues. See what works and what doesn’t work for you. And then write your own prologues, seeing what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.

If that reader who asked the original question on prologues is reading this post, then I hope that you found this article helpful. Prologues can be very important for your story, because they set up the rest of the novel. I hope that after reading this article, you and anyone else reading this article, can write excellent prologues for your stories.

CreateSpace’s New Distribution Options: Pros and Cons

Recently, CreateSpace added several new free distribution options to their distribution channels. This includes distribution to bookstores like Barnes & Noble and your local bookshop, academic institutions and libraries, and to CreateSpace Direct. These options, once available only to authors who were able to afford them, are now available to self-published authors with all sorts of incomes, writing styles, and fan followings.

Now there are definite perks to doing this. Authors would love more readers, and if they are able to reach readers in places previously unavailable to them due to monetary concerns, this can only be good for them. And bookstores, which have been suffering with the rise of the e-book and online distributors, will probably benefit being able to cater to the fans of authors whose works were before only available on certain online retailers. In a way, it’s a symbiotic relationship, both for authors and booksellers.

Not only that, but the books of self-published authors are sometimes rejected by libraries and academic institutions because they are self-publsihed in the first place, or their self-published status means that the books don’t come from certain distributors. If authors are able to get their works into libraries, that means people who don’t own e-readers or who can’t afford to buy books online can now read the books of self-published authors through this new distribution system.

And, using the expanded distribution channels means a potentially higher royalty rate for every copy sold.

However, there are drawbacks to this. Amazon, which owns CreateSpace and it’s print-on-demand services, determines minimum prices for all works published through them. They calculate these minimum prices by determining the length of the book, how much it’ll cost to print, how much they get from the sale of the book, and how much they need to give the author. Recently when I published my novel Reborn City, I saw that the minimum price they gave me was a little less than nine dollars, much higher than I’d expected. I wasn’t happy about it, but I decided to go with it and make the best of it.

When today I decided to try these expanded distribution options on RC, I found out that in order to use these expanded distribution channels, the list price would go up to at least thirteen dollars. In other words, the increase didn’t cost anything for the author, but it did cost extra for the reader.

I decided not to take these extra distribution channels because of the price hike it’d require. Some of my friends and family would not be able to afford a paperback copy because of a list price, or they’d be much more reluctant to buy it because is it not  their genre in addition to being over thirteen dollars. Plus, I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t want to make people pay too much for his work more than he wants them to actually read his work. Terrible character flaw, I know, but I live with it.

However that’s my own personal choice. If you wish to, go right ahead and sign up for these new channels. It’s your choice, which as I’ve said before is one of the best perks of self-pbulishing.

And who knows? You could see your sales go up dramatically, and your fanbase expand like a hot-air balloon. Not to mention the joy of telling friends and family that your work is now available in bookstores and libraries.  That’s always something to make you feel good. And for some books, the increase in the list price might not be too high, so if you have my problem with pricing books too high, it may not be so bad after all. I might still use these channels for my collection of short stories, which is already very low-priced.

What do you think of these new distribution options? Are you planning on use them? If so, why or why not?

*Note: Since this post’s publication, I’ve had a change of heart and I’ve decided to try distributing my books through these new channels in the hope of reaching more readers. Whether or not I’m successful, we shall see. Wish me luck, as well as everyone else using these options for the first time.

Can And Should You Ask For Reviews?

Lately it came up in a writer’s discussion group I belong to on Facebook about whether or not it was considered acceptable to ask friends and family for reviews. One author, who was new to the group, had written a novelette and published it on Amazon, but he hadn’t received any reviews for it yet. He was considering asking for reviews from people he knew, but he was afraid it would come off as tacky or as rude to ask for a review.
The consensus of the group seemed to be that asking for reviews wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, several of us had already done so and had received reviews that way. What mattered, we believed, was how you went about asking for a review. Asking in a nice manner, such as saying, “If it’s not too much trouble, after you’ve finished reading my book would you write a review for it?” is perfectly acceptable and is much more likely to garner a positive response for both you and possibly your book than if you said something like “Give me a review or I won’t ever do anything nice for you!” Remember, people are taking time out of their hectic schedules to read your book, which they are under no obligation to read even if they know you. In a way, they are doing you a favor, and the review is like an extension of that.

However, if you’re still uncomfortable with asking people for reviews, try reviewing the works of authors you are friendly with. If you read their work and you write a review of it, positive or negative, they may want to reciprocate by reading your work and then writing a review of their own. I know a few authors who have received reviews or the promises of reviews that way.

And if you are still uncomfortable, think about it this way: most publishing houses actually pay magazines and newspapers to have their critics read their books and write a review of them. Compared to having to gather up the fees to pay a critic to read and review your work in even a small circulation magazine, asking for a review from some friends or family isn’t too difficult, is it?

What Readers want….Are you sure?

Not sure why, but there seems to be this idea that readers want a certain type of book. That if a writer pulls away from the pack to write the story they have passion for, that it will be hated and not sell. I’m going to throw down the bullshite flag on this. It’s a myth. A writing myth. (Of which there seems to be a bushel full.)

Once upon time, when the only way to be published (yeah, I know there is more to that story) was go through a publisher, writers were forced to follow certain rules for the type of books that were acceptable by the publishers. As with anything, this grew into a fact of life that is mere mythology now.

If you are reading this blog then you are either self-published or you think of it. Self-publishers don’t have to follow this rule of the industry. They aren’t publishing for anyone else besides themselves, and possibly readers. This doesn’t mean you can’t follow the rules of storytelling, or have it edited for typos. You want to put out the best book that you can.

What you can do it experiment. You can try out new ideas. You can mix genres. You can write the strangest story ever.

There are readers out there for every type of book. Trust me, if you write the book and market it to the audience who wants it, it will sell. It might not sell like blockbusters, but it will sell and you will be happier for it.