Doing An Excerpt

Have you ever been excited for a new book and gone on an Internet search when you hear there’s an excerpt of it online? Or have you ever just finished reading a book, really enjoyed it, and found the first chapter of the sequel near the end?

Excerpts are great ways to get people interested in your upcoming work as well as work that’s already out there. For each of my books, I make sure to put up an excerpt on my blog prior to publication so that people can see what they’ll be getting should they decide to buy the book. And depending on what portion of your book you use for your manuscript, you can possibly increase your sales tremendously.

But which portions do you pick for your excerpts? Here’s some tips that might help:

1. Should you use the first chapter? Some writers out there reading this will say “Of course you use the first chapter! What else would you use?” That might not always be the best option, though. Take a Stephen King novel: sometimes it takes several pages (occasionally several hundred pages) before things get interesting. And an excerpt is supposed to be interesting. So if your novel is about a haunted house and your first chapter just involves your main character sipping coffee in an outdoor café in Paris and meting one of his fans, it might not be the best choice for an excerpt. (It would be how King might open a novel of his, knowing him).

But if your first chapter is interesting enough that it will entice the reader into reading the story, go for it and use it for an excerpt. If not, then you’ll have to choose a different section of the novel. Now how do you choose that section?

2. Find a section that’s the right level of interesting. What do I mean by this? If you ever watch a late-night talk show (The Daily Show comes first to my mind) and an actor is one of the guests, they will usually play a clip from their latest film. If it’s an action film, then they’ll play a clip with the actor’s character in a bit of a jam. It won’t be a clip from the climax or something that reveals too much about the plot, but it’ll be enough to make viewers wonder what the heck led to this situation, how the character will get out of it, and what will happen after that. If it’s a romance, then it’ll be right as something juicy is about to happen but the clip will end before that juicy thing can happen. If it’s a horror story, the clip will depict a tense moment right before something happens and will end right before the biggest scare yet occurs.

I guess one could call this method “feeding the fans a little bit and making them want more.” It’s quite effective and marketers use it all the time for movies and TV (you should have seen me when I saw a clip from an upcoming episode of this show I like. I freaked out and couldn’t wait to see it on Sunday). And if you can translate the above concept into literature, you can have a wonderful recipe for choosing excerpts.

Now just two more items to recommend:

3. Brevity is sometimes better. I find the best length is somewhere between two-thousand and five-thousand words. Remember, you want to give the readers just enough to get them very interested and make them want to read even more. The best reaction you can get from a reader is “Wait, that’s the end? I want more!” So having a short excerpt can work very well for getting that sort of reaction, especially if the scene in the excerpt is very well-written and has a good hook to it.

And finally…

4. Wait for the final draft to give out an excerpt. The final draft is the stage of the novel when you’ve done all the edits you can and can’t do any more. What you have is the final product and changing anything might be doing the work a disservice. It’s the perfect draft to draw an excerpt from as well. And it’s better than doing an excerpt from a draft with plenty of grammatical or spelling errors or something. Am I right?

Do you have any tips for creating an excerpt? What are they?

Taglines

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

“In space, nobody can hear you scream.”

“Who you gonna call?”

Hopefully not the grammar police. Especially not for that last one. That’s a class-A spelling felony.

The statements above are recognizable to plenty of fans of science fiction and comedy-horror. They are the taglines for famous franchises: Star Wars, Alien, and Ghostbusters. And just saying them brings to mind billions of images, along with associations with and overwhelming emotions of heroism, friendship, screwball comedy, terror beyond imagination, and the possibility that anything is possible.

Based on all that, one could say that taglines are a great promotional tool. and if you aren’t lucky enough to have a publicist, coming up with the tagline for your novel or other creative work usually falls to the author. And it’s important to come up with a great, memorable tagline for your story. Doing so accomplishes two things.

  1. Before the book is even read, it intrigues the reader enough to find out more. Hopefully their investigation to find out more means they’ll ultimately read your book.
  2. After the book is read, the tagline (hopefully) evokes memories of flipping through the pages, wanting to know what happens next; of heroics and romance and terror and joy and characters so vivid, you’d swear they were real.

So with that goal in mind, here are some tips to creating a great tagline that will (hopefully) pull in more readers and create great associations with the book for the fans. And if nobody objects, I’ll use the tagline for my upcoming novel Snake: “How far will you go for love and revenge?”

Short, simple statements are the best. The tagline for Snake, as well as the ones I used at the beginning of the article, are all one sentence. This works to the advantage of the book, because it is easy to remember and easy to repeat. And if it’s easy to remember and easy to repeat, it’ll be more likely to be remembered and repeated. Look no further than “Who you gonna call?” for proof.

The statement evokes something in the mind of a reader. When I was writing the back cover blurb and the tagline for Snake, I wanted it to at least get potential readers interested. However, a novel where the serial killer is the main character can be…a little frightening. Somewhat off-putting. I wanted to emphasize that the main character had good intentions, even if his methods were reprehensible. So I asked myself what would I want to emphasize about the Snake in just a single statement? Well, he’s doing what he not out of any awful desires for murder. He’s doing it to save the love of his life, as well as get revenge on the ones who kidnapped her. How can I use that? Well…maybe I can phrase it as a question.

It worked. “How far will you go for love and revenge?” struck me as thought-provoking. It makes you think, “Well, I might go so far. Is the novel about someone who will go farther?” It’s why it’s the first sentence in the back cover blurb, the first image you see in the book trailer I created for it, and what I’ve been using in most of the advertising I’ve done for Snake. Hopefully it entices a few people to read it.

Get a feel for taglines. Most of all, one has to get a feel for taglines, see what works and what doesn’t work. What taglines make you excited, scared, weepy? What just make you feel disappointed? Ultimately, coming up with a tagline, just like creating a story and everything else in the business of writing and publishing, is taking in the work of those before us, and practicing and practicing until you get a feel for what works for you.

Now, you don’t need to have a tagline for your novel. As far as I’m aware, Harry Potter, anything by Stephen King, and the Bible never needed taglines. Their names and authors are enough to get their stories to millions and millions of people. But taglines are helpful. They’re great marketing tools and in some cases they can become a part of our culture and part of our fondest memories (ask any Trekkie about the phrase “Boldly go where no one’s gone before”). And the best part of being a self-published author is that you, as the author, get to create your very own tagline.

What is your favorite tagline? What are some you’ve created for your own 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.

The Length Debate

Lately I’ve been wading into a debate that I thought merited some discussion on. And as you can probably tell from the title of the post, it has to do with length. The length of different pieces of fiction, to be exact. For years, I’ve subscribed to a particular set of guidelines for fiction lengths that go something like this:

•Flash fiction: 1-1000 words
•Short Story: 1000-10K words
•Novelette: 10K-20K words
•Novella: 20K-40K words
•Novel: 40K+ words

(The definitons above are based on many self-help writing books I’ve read and on the submission guidelines for National Novel Writing Month’s online contest.)

Until recently, I had no idea that there was an actual controversy on the lengths of the various forms of fiction listed above. Some people consider flash fiction only goes to five hundred words, while others argue that a short story can’t exceed 7,500 words without becoming a novelette. Most discussion is saved for novel lengths, with many arguing that forty-thousand is too small and leaves readers feeling robbed when they’re promised a novel that turns out to be too short for their tastes.

When I asked a writing group I belong to on Facebook what their thoughts on this issue were, especially when it comes to novels, I got a number of responses. Some said that fifty-thousand was a novel, though they thought it was a short one. Others said sixty or seventy-thousand was an appropriate minimum for novel length, and a few said fifty-five thousand was a good compromise as it’s right between the lowest minimum and the highest maximum values often cited in the debate. (For now, I’ve revised my definition of novel lengths to fifty-five thousand words at minimum, both for the reasons listed above and because my work usually runs much higher than that, so it works for me.)

To be truthful though, instead of making me worry if I’ve been using a bad definition for what constitutes a novel all this time, I’m pleased that authors are having this debate, especially self-published authors. One of the benefits often touted for self-published authors is that they get to write what they want, and this debate is a reflection of that in some ways. Authors are free to use their own definitions of novels and short stories and novelettes and whatever they write, rather than having to listen to what publishers and agencies believe a novel should be. It’s just another form of the freedom self-published authors are afforded.

However if in November you want to take part in the NaNoWriMo contest and decide that the threshold they give for a novel’s length works for you, then go right ahead. You’re just as welcome to exceed it and write as many words as you feel constitutes the creation of a novel. It’s your choice.

What are your definitions for the various lengths of different kinds of fiction? Why do you think that?

Resources For Researching The Unfamiliar

In every writing class and seminar we take and every book on the writing business we buy, they tell us over and over again, the same piece of advice: write what you know. Judging by the content of popular fiction today, either people are very experienced with supernatural creatures, are involved in romances that take on all forms and in all time periods, and have been to dystopias that kill off their own citizens, or authors of all types are disregarding that write-what-you-know rule.

But what if you want to write about something you don’t know very well? What if you’d like to know more about the White House, neuroscience, or the life of Leonardo da Vinci, and incorporate it into the plot of a story? Then as an author, the thing to do is to research the subject in question. It may be one of the least exciting parts of the writing and publishing process, but often it is one of the most important parts and usually highly necessary.

Here I would like to offer some ideas for resources an author may use for their research, as well as some tips on things to watch out for or some smart habits to do when you do your research. First, I would like to point to some resources and ways of going about researching a topic:

If you’re researching something, visit it. If you’re planning on setting a story in Florida, then take a trip to Florida and do a little sightseeing. If you want to do a story involving an anthropologist as your protagonist, then meet with a few anthropologists and interview them on their jobs. If your latest thriller involves a modern art caper, visit a few museums and galleries to learn a little bit about what they display and sell.

Of course, this suggestion isn’t always feasible. Most self-published authors can’t take off on a research trip when they want. Luckily they are alternatives:

•Read about the subject. One of the best things about authors, we are voracious readers, which is an asset when it comes to research. Read as many books as you feel you need in order to familiarize yourself with a subject. When I was researching my science fiction novel Reborn City, I read several books on gang violence and the Islamic religion in order to be as well versed as I could be on the subjects.
And it’s not unusual for writers to read more than just a handful of books. Some authors will read one thousand books, letters, manuscripts, diaries, and other sources in order to find information that both agrees with and disagrees with a point they will make in their story.

This brings me to my next subject:

•The library is your new best friend. Whether it’s a university library with thousands of tomes in its stacks, a city library with branches all over town, or a local library that hasn’t changed much since it first opened, libraries are great places to go and get your research materials. It costs no money to join or be a part of a library, and you can often hold onto the books you need for long periods of time.

And should your local library not have the books you need, many libraries these days have InterLibrary Loan programs, which allows your library to ask other libraries if they wouldn’t mind lending out the book you need. You won’t believe how many books I’ve been able to find just by using InterLibrary Loan.

•Ask the experts. I’ve often consulted with experts on subjects for details both minute and major in my stories, and you can find them just about anywhere. I’ve asked teachers at my university about various subjects from healing loss to psychogenic fugue to Russian transliterations, and they always seem happy to help.

And you don’t have to limit your inquiries to university professors. When I needed help with creating the psychological profiles for my novel Snake and learned that none of the professors at my school dealt with that sort of thing, I contacted a clinical psychologist at a local psychiatric firm and asked if he wouldn’t mind helping me. Sure enough, he gave me excellent psychological profiles which I incorporated into the story and which also saved me from using pop psychology to explain my killer (which apparently would’ve been so off the mark, it’s not even funny).

Other experts you can ask for help in understanding unfamiliar subjects include doctors, lawyers, clergy, and anyone who’s experienced with a field or business to the point they can answer obscure questions about the field. And they’re usually glad to help without any compensation (though it’s considered polite to cite them if they contributed significantly to your research efforts).

•Use the Internet. Yes, I know using the Internet isn’t always the safest way to get information, but if you know the right websites, there is plenty of useful information that you can use, even if it’s just quick facts you’re looking up.

And now for some tips that help with the research process:

Be careful what websites you use. Yes, I know I just said using the Internet isn’t as hazardous as it’s made out to be, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that one must be careful with websites, especially with websites like Wikipedia, where anyone can create an account and edit an entry or article on the website. You could read about Elvis Presley on that site and read a passage that says he was investigated for Communist ties in the fifties, never realizing that was added in by a conspiracy theorist in his mother’s basement.

In addition, sites that seem reputable may not be. The website martinlutherking.org claims to be the site for Dr. King, but in actuality the site is run by a white supremacist group. The real site for Dr. King is actually thekingcenter.org, though most people don’t realize. Like I said, be careful what websites you look at and who you listen to on the Internet. Otherwise one risks looking like the girl from the State Farm commercial below.

Check your sources. When I was researching Snake, I read a book about psychopathy and mental illness called The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. I thought it was awesome and I learned a lot from it. I was devastated to learn later on that Ronson, the book’s author, edited or made up several of the interviews he used in the book in order to further his point. So whenever you use any book/person/website/etc., make sure there’s not a scandal behind it or there’s any other reason you shouldn’t use the item in question. You’ll save yourself my embarrassment.

Keep a list of the sources you use. If you do a lot of research on your story, the kind that involves more than ten books, keeping a list to cite your sources so you can add them to the end of your book will not only show how much work went into the research and writing of the book, but it’ll keep the people who go to great lengths to fact-check and disprove your book that you’ve got your bases covered.

Research is an important aspect of writing, and if one goes about it correctly, one can create a wonderful story. And even if it’s a pain to do sometimes, it is well-worth the effort when people say they loved your book and thought the level of detail seemed so real.

Good luck with future research projects, everyone.

* If there are any other resources or tips you think should be included in this list, please let me know. I’ll add it in at a later time and date if I think it could be useful.

{Question} Planners and Organizers for Writers: Yes or No?

I’ve been looking into buying a new planner, since my old one died at the first of August and it’s something I need. However, I’ve been having a hard time finding one I like and I’m curious to know:

How many of you are using day planners?

What are your favorite formats? Monthly? Weekly? Daily? Horizontal or vertical?

What do you look for when you choose a day planner?

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?

Organization for a BETTER Writing Life

Yes, I just yelled ‘better’ at you. And yes, I know some of you subscribe to the “It’s an organized mess!” group. I know I spent the better part of 16 years thinking the same while the stacks of paper grew around me. However, the ‘organized mess’ really should be an ‘unorganized mess.’

Don’t believe me? How much time do you spend looking for things when you could be writing? Do you forget things because the paper you lost it on is lost in the craziness? For those who don’t have a dedicated writing space. How long does it take you to locate a paper when you sit down to write? Do you have to go to a different room to retrieve things you need?

It’s probably not surprising to most that writers and creative types aren’t the most organized person, after all, many of us appear flighty daydreamers to most people. It’s kinda part of the job description. It shouldn’t be a surprise that organizational systems that work for some don’t work for us. Our needs are as varied as any other business.

Streamlining one’s working life can go a long way toward better productivity and more writing time. Organization in your writing life can make it less stressful and better. Why? Because when you have a place for everything and everything is in it’s place (Oh! Just quoted my mom!), life is easier.

So my question is, what kind of organizational systems do you use to make work easier? Are you interested in learning to organize your writing and business life?

World-Building In Fiction

In fiction, the world the story takes place in is called the setting. And in all forms of fiction, setting is a key element in telling the story. More than just a backdrop, setting can influence the behaviors, fashion choices, and histories and backgrounds of the author’s characters, as well as how those characters can grow and evolve within a story. That being said, a good setting is essential to creating a great story and an author cannot afford to be sloppy when it comes to the worlds they create.

Luckily, there are several techniques in the writing trade that allow authors of all genres to carve out a wonderful world for their setting. By using them as guidelines to create the setting of your novel or short story, you can bring your world to life in ways reminiscent of your favorite authors.

1. Make your world believable. This is more important than one might think, and especially in speculative fiction such as fantasy, science-fiction, and horror. If a world is unbelievable and the reader has trouble investing in it, they may lose interest and the story itself will suffer.

A good example of this would be if someone were to write a short story with the premise, “In the future people are given pocket watches with time-traveling abilities at birth but it is a taboo to use them. Until someone actually uses their watch.” Well, that doesn’t make much sense, does it? If you have time travel technology and you give it to everyone, why forbid them to use it?

And it’s not just big things that can derail a story. In the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, the titular organization is tasked with hunting down aliens in Great Britain, particularly in the Welsh city of Cardiff with a large alien population. Unfortunately, I lost interest in the show when I found it ridiculous that a branch of an organization in a major metropolitan area such as Cardiff with high amounts of alien activity would only have five very laid-back members on the payroll. Thrilling story, but the lack of people makes me suspicious and causes the illusion that is fiction to wear off.

2. Do your research and be as accurate as possible. After believability, this is probably the most important point. Mainly this deals with anachronisms, just as digital watches during the Vietnam War or other little things that a discerning audience would pick up on and point out.

This is also a call to do research if you’re writing on a subject you know little about. If you are writing a romantic thriller set in Nazi Germany, it would be good to do plenty of research on Nazi Germany, its government, its culture, and everyday life, and not rely on just the few WWII movies you’ve seen and Wikipedia. After all, your audience is often very clever, and they will notice when things don’t add up, if there’s only mentions of Jewish persecution or if Hitler’s the only Nazi official we actually hear about.

Of course, you don’t have to be accurate to the point that you have to be perfect. Dan Brown’s novels are filled with several inaccuracies, most of which are so minor that it’s too much of a bother to verify them. However for major elements that could heavily influence the plot, it’s important that one do their research, even if it is tedious to do and their least favorite part of writing.

3. Know how much you need to describe your setting to paint the picture. Depending on what sort of story you’re writing, you may need to do a lot of description or very little to create the image in your reader’s mind. For example, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby takes place during the Roaring Twenties, which is a well-known and well-documented era. Because of this and because that era was still fresh in his audience’s memories, Fitzgerald didn’t need to use a lot of description to bring 1920’s New York to life.

However, stories such as Harry Potter, while similar to this world, are very different form our own. JK Rowling had to devote a lot of page space to showing how vastly different our world is from that of the Wizarding community. And even more so for writers like George R.R. Martin or George Lucas, whose worlds might as well be alternate universes to ours. In the Game of Thrones novels and in the novelizations of the three Star Wars movies, whole sections would’ve been spent on explaining and exploring the strange and alien worlds of the characters within.

Knowing how much description is needed for a setting can help an author not only utilize their setting to its utmost fullest, but also help an author hone their skills to the point where they know how much is needed to describe the setting of a story just by thinking it.

4. A full history is helpful, but it is not always necessary. When I started writing my dystopia novel Reborn City, I devoted a full chapter to how the world of RC developed from one any reader of this blog could easily recognize as their own to one full of independent city-states, countries few and far-between, and rampant Islamaphobia in certain places. However during the second draft, I cut out the chapter because while it was informative, it took attention off the main story and I thought it would be better to leave those events up to the imagination.

In my opinion, this was a good move. Without the history I created, there are huge realms of possibility for the events that led to the world of my characters, and I’ll have plenty of room to experiment and create in later books.

However, that is not necessary for other authors. Some authors prefer to have a complete history of how the worlds that are the settings of their stories came to be, even if they don’t include all the details in the stories themselves. Others prefer not to have those histories, giving them room to experiment and to go in different directions, although this leaves the possibility of retcons occurring.

In the end, it is the preference of the author that is important. Just remember to find a balance between explaining the world’s history to strengthen the story and explaining the world’s history to the point that it is only entertaining to you.

5. Don’t be afraid to go in new directions and try something never done before. In the end, the author knows what’s best for their story and should create the setting that best serves them. Sometimes, that involves exploring new territory for the author and trying things not usually done in fiction. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it can lead to whole new trends in fiction and end up influencing writers for years afterward.

The most important thing, of course, is that what you do with your setting serves the story you are writing.

Blogging, Social Networking, Answering Emails – Hey, when do I get the time to write?

Are you blogging? How often? Once a week, 3 times a week, every day?

Are you on social media? What ones? Are you posting every hour? Once a day? Are you talking about about what you ate for lunch? Or a link to your latest book?

How about answering emails? Are you answering them, or ignoring them? Do you read through all the email you get from newsletters and blog subscriptions or do you find yourself deleting them?

Now that you’ve answered some of those questions and I’m sure asked some of your own, here’s another: When do you get the time to write? Are you writing regularly?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d bet money that most of you are busy people with a day job or two, family, kids, and/or other commitments to take up your valuable time–like food, friends, and sleep. So fitting writing and book marketing into an already full schedule isn’t so easy. But it can be done. I’m going to share with you one way to help you.

The 80/20 Rule

First, I want to mention the 80/20 rule. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s basically 80% of your time should be on Marketing and 20% writing and other business related work. I’ve also heard some people say that the 80% is all business related work  that is not writing including marketing and the 20% is writing only.

Now some of the writing/publishing gurus tell you that you have to do this to succeed as an author, if you read authors like Dean Wesley Smith you’ll find his approach is very different. I’m going to suggest that you spend 80% of your time writing new fiction for your backlist, 10% of your time researching and book setup such as editing, rewriting, and setting it up for publishing, and 10% of your time on business related work like marketing, blogging, and emails. Before anyone protests, yes, it’s a slower process to making money, but if you aren’t writing, editing, and publishing new work then social media and blogging are doing you no good.

Hey, this is Ruth here. Stephannie’s letting me add my two cents to the post, so here it is. The important thing to remember is that you want to build a solid foundation.  Once you build a fanbase (even a small one), you want to get more books to that fanbase.  Why will someone keep coming to your site if you don’t have something new coming soon?  While it’s good to reach new readers, you shouldn’t neglect offering something new to your current ones.  

People get so hung up on authors who made it big like Amanda Hocking, but what they don’t remember is that she had a backlist already out there when she went into the social networking part of her career as a writer.  She didn’t just write one book and keep marketing it.  There are some authors who hit it big on one book, but if they can’t get the next one out there, then how will they satisfy their current fanbase?   Will you sell like Amanda Hocking if you have a backlist and social network like crazy?  The odds are against you.  We’re not promising that.  I have a little over 40 books total published, and I’m nowhere near making Amanda Hocking sales.  But I do know I wouldn’t have gotten to where I did if I never wrote the next book.  Plus, I started writing because I loved creating stories.  Little writing and all social media would ruin my joy.

This leads us to the second point…

Don’t Neglect your Writing

Writing is the most important aspect of business, your book is the life blood of your career. It should be your main focus. It’s why I suggest focusing 80% of the time you have on writing.

Now I’m not the most productive writer or as self-disciplined as I would like to be. I love researching and reading stuff on the Internet. I’ve also gotten in the habit of opening my emails in the morning when I start the day. Once I finished checking emails, reading blogs and newsletters, sending or answering requests for guest posts and book reviews, answering emails and comments, writing a (daily?) blog post, leaving a meaningful comments on blogs, interacting on my favorite social networks, updating my website, etc., I’d lost a valuable chunk of time from my day. And lets face it, if we aren’t writing that book or the next book after that, then all the marketing and promoting we do on social networking and blogs won’t help.

My word count goal for the last few months has been about 300 words throughout an 8 hour day. Horrible, I know. I decided I needed a change this and recently downloaded a productivity app I’d heard of called Cold Turkey. This app doesn’t allow you to access certain sites and you can add your time wasting websites to it. I highly suggest it and I get nothing from if you download it.

Since I like to write in the mornings, each night after I finish working on business for the day, I set the app up for the next day. I can still access research sites I need, but everything else is closed to me. Which means I get more writing done in a day. I’ve been averaging about 800-1000 words in a 4 hour day. I’m hoping for more when I get into the groove of things.

Ruth: What I started to do is limit the days I’ll respond to blog, Facebook, and Twitter comments.  I take 3-4 days a week to answer them.   I’ll do it less often if I’m especially busy.  I’m not as active on Facebook or Twitter as I used to be in terms of interacting with people, but I do link up blog posts to those places.  Linking blog posts can help you social network with no extra effort on your part.  That’s why I like to set up my Twitter and Facebook accounts to WordPress to link automatically on those sites.  I hit publish or schedule to publish, and WordPress does the work for me.  I also link my blog posts (from my author blog) to Goodreads.  I will share a blog post I’ve done for a deleted scene or inspiration for the book or sample scene to Pinterest.  These are time savers for me.  I love those share buttons at the bottom of the blogs.

I also love those share buttons and suggest that everyone who writes blogs and have websites install them on their website and leads into my last point.

Don’t Neglect your Author Platform

Please don’t neglect your author platforms to carve out more writing time, that’s not the point I was trying to make above. Your author platform is very important, not as important as the next book, but a close second. Why? Because your website, Twitter, Facebook, other social media sites, and blogs are your way of telling the world, both readers and fans, that you are writing a book. It’s a way to get them excited about what you are publishing and it’s counterproductive to do a disappearing act to write. It can set back your marketing efforts.

What I am suggesting is plan you platform activities carefully. I’ll use my efforts as an example.

After I finish my writing for the day, I check my emails, reading through and answer those that need to be answered. Those from fans, people wanting to guest post, answering comments on my blog and other blogs, and answering questions from authors who need book cover designs done. I wait for Saturday to read through blog posts and newsletters. Since I find social media distracting, I wait for the blog muse hit and spend a day writing blog posts and tweets. I don’t schedule them ahead of time because I like to read through them one last time before they go live. I spend about 10 minutes in the late morning and evening on Twitter (posting tweets, retweeting, talking to people, etc), about 10 minutes on Facebook (updating my status and talking to others), and about 30 minutes rereading and publishing blog posts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Once a month I like to update my website, though since me website and blog are one, every time I post I’m updating it too. LOL

I’m hijacking this post again. I’m not as organized as Stephannie on this one.  I love her idea, though.  It might be helpful to have a timer nearby.  Ten minutes on Twitter, Facebook, or another social network site is easy and doable.  The problem comes in when you get sucked into looking at pictures or reading articles that look interesting (this is where I end up spending a lot of time that takes away from my writing).  If there’s an interesting article off Twitter (a lot of good ones come from there, esp. ones that help authors), I suggest marking them as “to read” when you schedule time to do it.  (And this is all stuff I am going to mark down to do since my approach has been lacking in this area.  :D)