The Elevator Pitch: Telling People About Your Book in One Sentence

You may be talking to someone at a party, at work, or while waiting to lead an army of werewolves and asuras into battle to stop the demonic entity Delassi from entering our dimension and consuming it entirely (or is that just me?), and the subject you’ve written or published one or more books may come up. If that happens, there’s a good chance they may ask what your book is about. And that leaves you with the decision on how best to tell them what your story is about without giving away too much or too little.

In instances like these, I prefer to use what’s called the elevator pitch, something I picked up from my job-seeking days (which thankfully are well behind me!). The idea of the elevator pitch is to present the shortest and most succinct description possible for any possible subject. For a job-seeker like myself back in the day, that would be a short description of myself that would give the hiring official an idea of what sort of employee I would be. But for a novel, the elevator would be the briefest description of the story’s plot.

Now, I can already hear some of you saying, “But Rami, my story’s too complex or long to just summarize it in one sentence.” And I can understand that. There are plenty of stories that are difficult to summarize. I’d be hard-pressed to give an elevator pitch for the Song of Ice and Fire series (the closest I’ve ever come is someone making a joke about the series and saying it’s about, “Knights, dragons and boobs,” which is true but probably not the best elevator pitch). However, I find stories that defy the elevator pitch are the exception rather than the rule. Most can be boiled down to their essential nature and used in an elevator pitch.

For example, the Harry Potter books:

A young boy goes to wizard school and discovers his destiny.

Or To Kill a Mockingbird:

A trial with racial overtones sets a small town on edge as one lawyer attempts to give his client a fair shot at justice.

Or Carrie:

A bullied teenage girl discovers she’s telekinetic and decides to use her powers to free herself from her torment, with disastrous results.

When I tell people about my own upcoming novel Rose, this is the elevator pitch I usually give them:

A young woman starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems).

Yes, that’s the plot, and it’s actually getting published. And a lot of people have heard that summary and have asked me to let them know the moment the book is available for purchase.

The upside to using the elevator pitch method is that it takes a big story and condenses all a prospective reader needs to know into a single sentence without bogging them down into unnecessary details like the complex relationship between the Seven Kingdoms, or the blood-purity debate among wizards, or any other details that a reader would be better off learning through actually reading a story. It’s especially helpful if you’re in a place where things happen fast and people come and go quickly, such as in line at a coffee shop, saying hello to the usher you’re on first-name basis with at the movie theater, or, I don’t know, on an elevator.

Another upside to this method is that you can use the pitch with your blog, or short stories you’re submitting to magazines or anthologies, and a whole lot more.

The one downside I can think of, besides that a few stories can’t be summarized in a sentence that easily, a single sentence can’t capture the beauty or the power of a story. The sentence I gave above for Mockingbird can’t impart to the potential reader what a beautiful and emotional coming-of-age story it is, and the one for Harry Potter certainly doesn’t tell you just how awesome those books or the worlds inside them are.

But compared to boring people’s ears off with an entire synopsis or just reading the blurb to them right off the book jacket, this might be the better method, and one I’d highly recommend.

So how does one condense their story to a single sentence? That’s up to the author to decide. No one knows the story better than the author, so they ultimately figure that out. The only advice I can give is to not try to rush it. This can take a while, sometimes several days, to figure out. That, and maybe ask yourself what’s the first thing you think of when it comes to your story. Often, that image that appears in your head is the story at its simplest.

While it may seem a little paradoxical, summarizing a story into a single story and using that as your elevator pitch can make for a great marketing tool in everyday interactions. Who knows? That single sentence could get you a number of eager new readers, if you’re lucky.

Do you use elevator pitches when marketing and submitting your stories? What are some tips you use when coming up with them?

The Inner Dialogue: A Method for Figuring Out Your Stories

So if you didn’t hear, a novel I’ve been working on since college is getting published, and I’ve been working with a professional editor to make sure that the story is the best it can be before publication. During the revision process, we agreed that the number of flashbacks in the story were actually getting in the way of the story, so I should nix them. Unfortunately, that meant a third of the book went out the window, and another third that relied on that first third had to go as well.

Yeah, that got me depressed for a little while, and it took a lot for me to climb out of that funk. But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m actually here to talk about what happened with my story. Because you see, now that essentially the majority of the novel had been chucked out, I had to figure out where to go with the story. I couldn’t go the original direction of the story, because the flashbacks I’d tossed out were so essential to that direction.

Luckily, I was able to come up with a new direction for the story using a method that I’d never used before, which I call the inner dialogue. I can’t remember where I picked this method up,* but it’s stayed in the back of my mind for years, and I figured this was as good a situation as any to use it.

The inner dialogue is where you simulate a conversation with your inner writer (we all have one) when you’re struggling with what to do with a story. This could be trying to overcome writer’s block, figuring out why what a character is doing in the story feels wrong to you, having to rewrite a majority of the story, or any other issue you may be having during the writing/editing process of a story.

Here’s what you have to do:

Get a notebook and pen, or a typewriter and paper, or open up your preferred writing program on your computer. Imagine that you’re sitting down with your inner writer at a cafe, in your favorite writing spot, in a dark basement underneath a seedy dive bar, wherever you feel most comfortable talking to your inner writer. And have an honest conversation with them, writing down what you say and writing down what your inner writer says back. Think of it like texting, only you’re texting with a part of your mind you use for storytelling.

Bounce ideas off them, talk about the criticisms people have with the story, discuss what about the story is bugging you. Something about this method, writing out the problems and some possible situations to remedy this, allows your mind to open up and see new possibilities and solutions.

It might also make people wonder if you’re channeling spirits and doing automatic writing and/or if you’re having some sort of psychological crisis. But I think that’s a risk worth taking for finding what you need to make a story as good as it possibly can be.

Here’s an example conversation of me and my inner writer (who I’ve found to be very sassy during our conversations) discussing a hypothetical book idea I’ve been working on. My dialogue is written normally, while my inner writer uses bold letters:

So we’re doing this again, are we?

Yes, we are. Alright, let’s talk about my idea for a novel I’ve been working on. It centers on a group of cheerleaders.

I’m sure it does, you naughty dog.

Ha ha, very funny. Anyway, we’ve gone over what would happen to them once they arrive at the main setting of the story. But why does it happen? There’s always a catalyst that sets things up. Even if we don’t see it until the end of the story, there’s always something that starts the horror off.

Not always, baby boy. Remember The Haunting of Hill House? That really didn’t have a–no wait, that’s not right. The catalyst was that they entered the house for the investigation, and one of the subjects is mentally still very much a child, which puts her the most at risk to the house’s charms.

Yeah, catalysts in stories can be debatable or hard to pin down sometimes. But what could be a catalyst for this story. Why does this happen to these characters?

You were playing around with the idea of the setting being an illusion, weren’t you? Something created by the characters and the dark secrets in their minds. Can we do anything with that still? Maybe a variation?

You see where this is going, right? But it is very effective. I got ideas for this hypothetical novel just from doing an inner dialogue here in this blog post. And if doing it as a demonstration in this blog post can give me ideas for a novel, imagine what it can do for your work at home.

With that in mind, I just want to leave you with a couple of tips for doing this. You don’t have to use them, but I find them useful:

  • Be honest and write down everything. It may be a lot of work, but you’ll find it helpful to write down everything in these dialogues. Especially if you want to go back and see what you’ve come up with. Any thought, any idea, could prove useful, so write them down, even if your thoughts are kind of weird (mine certainly are).
  • Give your inner writer a voice. Like in your stories, the inner writer is also a character, even if they only exist inside you. That being said, you’ll want to give them a voice, motivations, everything you’d give a normal character. That way, they can speak to you just like any other character, and make the dialogue that much more effective.
    It also helps to give the inner writer’s dialogue some distinguishing characteristic, so it doesn’t get jumbled up with your own. A different font, italics, as long as it helps you differentiate, it’s all good.
  • Mark the dates and times of the dialogues. Often these dialogues can last a while. Mine lasted two weeks while I was trying to find a new direction. So mark the date and times you had these dialogues in the document you’re using. You’ll find it very helpful for later.

Nobody wants to find out a story is flawed or that they can’t figure out how to fix its problems. But there are a variety of methods to overcome these issues. Perhaps the inner dialogue is a good one for you, and will help you write, edit and publish your best work. You just have to sit down, and commit to talking to yourself for a little while. You never know what you’ll unlock.

*For some reason I think it might have something to do with Stephen King, but I think I’d remember if I came across this method in a King novel. If you have any idea where it came from, let me know in the comments. I’d like to give a proper acknowledgement to whoever or wherever I got the inner dialogue.

Creating an Ebook File From Your Word Program That Even Smashwords Can Love

I format my own ebooks using Word on my Apple computer. I’ve been publishing with Smashwords since 2009, and yes, I’ve been through the aggravation of getting rejected for their premium distribution. So today, I thought I’d share a post on how I manage to format an ebook that passes through the process. This format will also work on Amazon. I upload to Amazon and Smashwords. I let Smashwords distribute to all of the other retailers for me. So I don’t personally make an epub file, but Smashwords will make one for you, which you can download and use if you want to upload it to Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple yourself.

This post is intended for people who are new to ebook formatting and want to format using their Word program.

1. Before you start to format, mark down all of your words or phrases that are italicized, bold, or underlined. I like to do all of this during the editing stages.

I like to copy a paragraph that contains any words that are in italics, bold, or underlined. Then I paste all of those paragraphs into another document. I print this document out. I then highlight those words that are italicized, in bold, or underlined. In this way, I save on paperback by not printing the entire book out. You can also save the document on your computer and refer to it later when it’s time to format your ebook.

2. Nuke the entire book.

For those who don’t know what “nuke” means, it basically removes all the formatting from your document. If you’re using a Windows computer, you’ll do this in Notepad. If you’re an Apple user, you’ll use TextEdit. Open this program up. (If using TextEdit, you’ll need to open a New Document.)

New Document

Why nuke the book?

I used to bypass this option, but whenever I did, there would spots where the formatting got unclean in certain places. For example, most of the book would have no spaces between paragraphs, and suddenly, there would be a space between a paragraph. Sometimes, all of my paragraphs had spaces between them, even though I had removed spacing between paragraphs in the document. (This was most often the case.) So I learned it’s just best to nuke the document right at the beginning.

3. Copy and paste the entire document into TextEdit or Notepad.

This is how it should look if you’re in TextEdit. (I’m sure it’ll be similar in Notepad. It’s been years since I used a Windows computer, but the process is similar.)

after copy and paste

4. Remove the formatting.

Step 1 on the Apple: In TextEdit, go to Edit. Select All. This should highlight your entire document.

highlight entire text

Step 2 on Apple: Choose Format. Then choose Make Plain Text.

make plain text 2

Click OK.

This is what you should get:

after stripping formatting

If you’re using Notepad….

It should automatically strip your formatting for you. This is what happened when I tested it on my Dell computer just now. I don’t have a screenshot since I’m doing this post on my Apple computer, but when I copied and pasted the document from Word into Notepad, all of the formatting was stripped right away.

Since I no longer use a Windows computer, if I missed something important, please let me know. I had to dust off old computer to get into Notepad to see what I had to do, and this is the process that worked for me. Newer Windows computers might be different.

 

5. Put the unformatted text back into Word.

Copy and paste the entire text into a NEW word document. This is what it should look like. All of the page breaks, different font sizes, different font types, any bolding, and italics have been removed. Also, nothing is centered anymore.

post unformatting

6. Before doing anything else, save this as a Word.doc (which is the 2004 version).

The last time I checked, Smashwords still only takes Word 2004 files. They might have changed things since then, but this will still work. Amazon takes it, too, though think they accept newer Word documents.

7. First things first, removed the tab indents if you have them.

Some people have it set up to automatically indent the first line of every paragraph. I’m old school, so I still use the tab to indent the first sentence in the paragraph. If you’re like me, this is what you do:

Go to Edit. Select All.

Then Find And Replace.

removing tabs

In the Find option, put ^t.

Leave the Replace option blank.

All of your tabs should highlight.

highlighted tabs

Click Replace All.

And you should get this:

tabs all gone

8. Indent the first line of each paragraph.

Select the entire document again. Then go to the ruler at the top of the document. There’s an hourglass. When you put your cursor over it, it should say “First Line Indent”. You might need to click on the image below, you’ll see “First Line Indent” in the yellow rectangular box.

first line indent

Move the top portion of the hourglass over as far as you want to indent the first line of each paragraph. Notice the black line that is going straight down the page? That is where I choose to make my indents.

making the indent

Release the hourglass, and the black line will go away.

9. Next go to the front of the document and center everything in the title page.

Basically, click on the beginning of the text and “un-indent” everything on the title page. Match up the top of the hourglass with the bottom part. Then center it so it looks like this:

title center

Set your page break to separate this from your copyright page. In case you don’t know how to do a page break, go to the top of the toolbar. Choose Insert. Then Break. Then Page Break.

page break

10. Look through your copyright page to see if it’s the way you want it to look.

You no longer have to use a Smashwords copyright notice. You can put in whatever copyright information you want.

Here’s an example of what I use:

This is a work of fiction. The events and characters described herein are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or living persons. The opinions expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author and also represent the opinions or thoughts of the publisher.

TITLE OF YOUR BOOK

All Rights Reserved.

Copyright 2018 YOUR NAME

Book Cover Design by: GIVE CREDIT TO WHOEVER DID YOUR COVER.

IF YOU DID YOUR OWN COVER, MENTION THE SITE YOU BOUGHT THE STOCK PHOTOS FROM, SUCH AS DREAMSTIME OR SHUTTERSTOCK, ETC. THAT MIGHT LOOK LIKE “Cover Photo images Dreamstime.com and iStockphoto.com. All rights reserved – used with permission.”

This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without expressed written consent of the publisher/author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

YOU CAN ADD YOUR WEBSITE IF YOU WISH

If you want to use a Smashwords copyright for your Smashwords version, here’s a sample of what I use:

TITLE OF YOUR BOOK – Smashwords Edition

Published by YOUR NAME at Smashwords

Copyright © 2018 by YOUR NAME

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes: This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

GIVE CREDIT TO THE COVER ARTIST OR TELL WHERE YOU PURCHASED YOUR STOCK PHOTOS.

YOU CAN ADD YOUR WEBSITE IF YOU WISH.

11. Then put in the Table of Contents (using Apple’s Word program). 

Joleene Naylor did a post on doing one in Windows’ Word program.

“Do I really need one?” you might ask. I’ve been dinged from Amazon AND Smashwords for not having one. So I strongly encourage you to put one in. Some authors do this at the end of the book. I do mine in the front.

Put in a page break after the copyright page. 

Now to get to the Table of Contents. 

First, type all of the links you’re going to make. Start with “Table of Contents”, then move down to all the chapters, then add links to any back matter you want to add. Here’s an example:

toc start

You’ll notice that my Table of Contents isn’t centered. Right now, it’s indented. Move the top of the hourglass to “un-indent” the Table of Contents. You can do this quickly by highlighting the entire Table of Contents like this:

toc highlight

Now move the top portion of the hourglass over to the left so it matches up with the bottom half.

toc unindent

Now center the Table of Contents.

toc center

Now, put your mouse’s cursor at the beginning of “Table of Contents”. Go to Insert. Then Bookmark.

toc bookmark3

After you click Bookmark, you’ll get a pop up box. I put in TOC in the box. Then I click “Add” at the bottom of the box.

toc add bookmark2

 

Now to hyperlink this bookmark. Highlight “Table of Contents”. Go to Insert. Hyperlink.

hyperlinks

Now toward the center are three options: Web Page, Document, E-Mail Address. You want to pick Document.

document

Then move your mouse further down to Anchor. To the right, is the option “Locate”. Click that button. This box will pop up:

hyperlink box

Choose Bookmarks. Select TOC. Then click OK.

hyperlink Bookmark

This is what you should get:

link to hyperlink

Click OK. And you’ll get this:

toc link done

Now you know the process of creating a bookmark and a hyperlink. If you put your mouse over “Table of Contents”, you’ll see “TOC” pop up in a yellow box. That means you did it right.

I won’t go through this whole process again in this post. But I will highlight what to do with chapter one so you know how to link up everything in this list under the Table of Contents.

12. Time to do the chapters.

After you do a page break, to to Chapter One.

Un-indent “Chapter One”. Center it. Then make a bookmark. I put “C1” in the box for Chapter One, but you can name it whatever you want. We will hyperlink this later.

c1

13. Un-indenting and centering stuff you want to in the chapters.

You will notice I have a ~~~ after my author note. I will un-indent it and then center it. I will also un-indent “October 1819”, but I won’t center it. You can un-indent the first paragraph of your text that starts each chapter if you want.

When you have a division between scenes like a ***, you can un-ident this and then center it. Since I already discussed how to un-indent and center something, I won’t repeat myself.

14. Make page breaks between every chapter. 

15. Make sure each chapter has a Bookmark inserted so you can hyperlink to it later.

16. Make sure you are mindful of your scene breaks during this whole thing. Un-indent and center each scene break that happens within the chapter.

17. At the end of your book, you will have some kind of back matter.

In this blog post example, the first thing to show up after the chapters is “Next Book In This Series”. If you don’t have a series, then I suggest putting in a book you have that is similar to this one. If this is your first book, then I suggest mentioning the next book you’ll have out.

Be sure to set a Bookmark for everything that starts a new page in the back matter. I make a new page for the next book in my series (which I try to have on pre-order), my email list sign up and where people can find me, a list of all of my books, and my author bio (if I add one).

18. Hyperlinking to a website outside of the book.

Before we finish the Table of Contents, I’m going to show you how to do a link to other sites, like your website. The procedure is the same to any website outside the document that you want to link to, so I’m only going to show the process once.

In this example, we’ll say you want to link to your blog. Highlight the text you want to link. Then go to the toolbar. Choose Insert. Choose Hyperlink. Instead of Document, choose Web Page.

blog link2

Open a new tab or window on the Internet. Type in the exact website url in the “Link to:” box. So watch for the https:// at the beginning of the url, and type in the https:// and what follows. Then click OK.

blog link3

Afterward, the blog will be linked up. Click on it to make sure it works. This is tricky. If it doesn’t, type the website (exactly as it shows up on the url) again and test it again. I usually do this more than once, so don’t feel bad if you don’t get this right away.

19. Now finish up the Table of Contents

Remember all of those Bookmarks you made at the beginning of each chapter and each new page, like the Next Book In Series, Email Sign Up, and so on? Now it’s time to hyperlink to them in the Table of Contents. We’ll start with Chapter 1. Highlight it.

toc ch 1

Go to Insert. Hyperlink. Make sure you click on “Document” in the middle of the box that pops up. We’re done hyperlinking to another website. We are now going to hyperlink to stuff within the actual book.

ch 1 hyperlink

Go down the “Anchor” that is further down in the box. Click on “Locate”. Another box pops up, and it should look like this:

box pop up

 

Click on the arrow that is by the word “Bookmarks”. You should see all of the Bookmarks you made in the document. You’ll notice they are in alphabetical order.

toc bookmarks box

My Chapter One is C1 as a bookmark. So I choose that for Chapter One. Whatever you named the bookmark for your first chapter is that you should pick. Then click OK. You should get something that looks like this:

almost done ch 1 link

Notice what is in the “Link To” box at the top. Also note what is in the “Anchor” box. If this looks right, then click OK. And this is what you’ll see next.

c1 linked up

Go through the rest of the Table of Contents to hyperlink the rest of it.

20. Now go back and italicize, put in bold, or underline your words and phrases.

Remember when I said mark down all of your italics while you edit your book? This is why. If you use any italics, or even if you bold anything, this is the stage where you put those back in.

This is also a good time to change any fonts or font sizes that you want. I keep my stuff simple. When it comes to Smashwords, I learned the simpler, the better. But you can play around with different fonts and sizes.

21. If you want to put an image into your document, this is what you can do.

In this example, let’s say you want to add the book cover for the next book in your series. Go the page. Leave about three spaces between something like “Don’t Miss the Next Book In This Series!” and the book description. So the page will look something like this:

next book

Notice my cursor is right under “Don’t Miss the Next Book In This Series!” I left one space above it and one below it. This will make sure your cover isn’t right up against the text.

Now go to Insert. Choose Photo. Choose Picture From File…

pick picture

Pick the image you want to insert.  Now, don’t panic when you see how big the picture is. You can resize it. When I inserted mine, this is how large it was:

huge pic

If you click on the picture, a box goes around it. Go to the top right corner of the image, hold down the button of the mouse, and move the cursor to the center. This will make it smaller. Adjust the size until you’re happy with it.

Like this is mine when all is said and done:

done with pic

Yo don’t want to make them too big because the ebook will most likely be read on a eReader. In a paperback, I would make the picture larger.

*************

Was there something I missed? Was there something I did that might confuse someone and you’d like to offer them an easier way of doing it? I tried to be thorough, but I probably missed something along the way.

Feel free to chime in. I’m not the most tech savvy person on the planet. I get by okay, and my ebooks look clean when I upload them, but I’m sure there are better ways to do this.

To those following the instructions to format your ebook: be sure to check the comments below. Someone might be able to offer you a better way of doing something than I did.

The Continued Tale of Trademarking A Commonly Used Word

I struggled with how to title this post. When I first heard about this whole trademark on the word “Cocky” thing, I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say. Then, after a few days, I grew worried over what this will mean for the future of being a writer because this kind of thing of trademarking commonly used words stifles creativity. Over the past couple of weeks, I became aware of other words that were in the process of being trademarked, and I just shook my head in disbelief this was even happening. Then I found out about someone trying to trademark the word “Forever” yesterday, and that’s when something snapped inside of me. I also heard something about “shifter world” being possibly trademarked, but I didn’t see too much about that. (As a side note, it looks like the author isn’t going to go through with trademarking “Forever” so that’s good.)

But anyway, now I’m mad. It’s taken some time for me to soak in the ramifications of what this whole #cockygate thing really means. It’s not just about the word “Cocky”. It’s not just about Falenna Hopkins. I had no idea who Falenna Hopkins even was until I found out she had trademarked the word “Cocky” and was threatening authors with C&D letters to change their titles just because she doesn’t want other authors to use that word in the title of their books.  Kevin Kneupper sent in a petition to cancel the trademark on the word “Cocky”, so I thought this was all going to go away.

Then this morning, I wake up to the news that Faleena Hopkins (and her company) has gone to a lawyer to take legal action against Kevin Kneupper, Tara Crescent, and Jennifer Watson. Now, I have no legal background at all. I don’t know what a Temporary Restraining Order against Kevin’s Petition of Cancellation means. I also don’t know what this means for Kevin, Tara, or Jennifer.

In my gut, I don’t see how Faleena is going to win this in court. It might be dragged through the courts for a long time. It might get expensive. From what I’ve seen so far, it doesn’t look like she intends to quit. But I don’t think she can prove that she has the sole right to trademark that single word. Again, I don’t have a legal background. All I’m using is common sense. And common sense tells me that this is just crazy.

The reason I’m upset is because this should never have gotten this far to begin with. I can’t imagine why any author would think they can have ownership of a single word that has been used for a long time in the English language. Then this author threatens other authors with C&D letters, and now she’s blown this even further out of the water with legal action. It boggles my mind that this is even happening.

The reason we need to care is because innocent authors are being hurt by this. I have noticed that Faleena hasn’t targeted the big name authors who might have deep pockets to fight back. I love this particular video that Suzan Tisdale, so let me share it with you really quick:

I almost forgot about Faleena going after the Cocktales Anthology. I don’t know enough about how she’s going after the anthology to talk about that particular situation, but here’s a link for more information on the anthology itself. I watched the video at the bottom of the post that I just linked to, and I agree that this issue is much bigger than the trademark of one word. It is about one author preying on others. If we sit by and let one author silence the rest of us, then our creative expression is in danger.

That’s why I’m making this post. I’m not shocked anymore. I’m not even worried about it anymore. At this point, I’m mad. Sometimes you have to say, “No, this is not appropriate. This isn’t right.” One author should not take one word that is commonly used and forbid others to use it. That is bullying behavior. It’s wrong.

One thing we have going for us in the indie author community is that we understand how precious words are. We use them to touch the lives of our readers. We are blessed by them as we write them. I can think of no other activity I’ve ever done that has fulfilled me as much as writing has, and I think most writers would agree with me. We write because we love it. And I think freedom to write what we want and title our books however we want are extremely important. It’s very encouraging to see how authors are coming together right now. This isn’t just about a single word. It’s really about creative expression. No one should have the right to squash it.

If you would like to buy the Cocktales Anthology, here’s the link for more information about it.  *ALL* net profits will be donated to: 1) Authors already impacted by creative-obstruction (10%), and 2) Romance Writers of America (RWA) (90%) as a general donation intended for their Advocacy Fund. (Disclaimer: This anthology is not being conducted on behalf of RWA, nor does RWA endorse this anthology or effort. They have, however, graciously agreed to accept the funds.)

Only You Can Write Your Story

only you can tell your story blog post image
ID 110705309 © Ivelinr | Dreamstime.com

I was listening to a song that was sung by someone other than the original artist, and I went through my music library because I wanted to hear the song sung by the original artist. Why? Because there was a certain “edge” in the way the original artist sang the song that the other person couldn’t get right. It’s the same song, but the artist brought their own style to it that makes me like the song a lot more.

Then I started thinking of how important our writing voice is. Writers, just like musicians, have their own style that they bring to the story that no other writer can do. This is what makes us unique. It makes us different. This is why I think it’s crucial for writers to embrace their creativity. Creativity is what helps writers explore their voice. It’s the natural flow of the story. It’s all in “how” things are worded. The “how” is key.

This is why I’m not a fan of critique groups. When critique groups come in, they often kill the writer’s voice because they impose their own voice into the story. I know that using critique groups is a safer way to go, but I think it can end up ruining what makes a writer unique.

The reason a certain reader is going to be attracted to your story is because you wrote it. A readers becomes a fan of a certain writer based on how strongly the writer’s voice has connected with the reader. There’s a reason why some readers put you on their “auto-buy” list. You bring something to the table no other writer can. You bring your own way of telling the story. You are using words in a way that no one writer can do.

This is why one person will like a book by one author but hate a book by another author. Sure, there can something to do with the content in the book itself. Some readers, for example, love strong heroines while others prefer them to be softer. That speaks more of the reader than it does the writer. You can’t worry over stuff like that. The reader’s preference is out of our control. If you try to write for every reader out there, you’ll end up with mediocre stories. (I know because I’ve tried this, and looking back, I wish I had done a couple of stories differently.)

Being true to your voice is going to require some risk. You’ll have to go into the story knowing that not everyone in this world will like your book. You won’t even please everyone who likes the genre you’re writing in. But, you will find some people who will fall in love with your stories because of the way you tell the story. They will seek you out. They will want your other books. They will prefer your books over another writer’s because of your voice.

It’s like the singer I was listening to. This singer doesn’t appeal to everyone. My husband, for instance, hates this particular artist because of the way she “sounds”. But I love her because of the way she sounds. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to producing a song any more than there is to producing a book. The more you write, the more you will discover your voice. The more you embrace your voice, the more authentic you’ll be to your ideal reader. So don’t fret over elements out of your control (like “why” someone won’t like your book). Instead of focus on elements you can control, like the way you tell a story. You’re the only one who can tell a story in your style. There will be someone out there who will love it.

The Beauty of Point of View

point of view
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The other day, a friend and I were reading the same blog comments left by two people with distinct points of view. One argued in favor of something, and another argued against it. I was surprised when my friend said the people were being a bit mean and condescending. When I read those comments, I didn’t think that at all. To me, it seemed like both were steadfast in their beliefs and presented them in a rather neutral tone.

As I was thinking on how differently she and I interpreted the exact same comments, it occurred to me that she and I are looking at these comments through our own perceptions. We are taking our background, our personalities, and our biases in making a judgment about the “tone” these commenters were using while presenting their case.

And that is what makes people “real”. For all I know, we could both be wrong on our interpretation. The two commenters could be friends and having a fun discussion. Neither she nor I picked out that they were having “fun”, but they might have been. You see, these commenters have their own backgrounds, personalities, and biases, too. Too many times we look at things and think we know exactly what’s going on when in reality, we might be wrong.

That is the beauty of point of view. When we’re writing our stories, point of view is what characters “real”. It makes them come alive. It makes them three-dimensional. They have their own backgrounds, their own personalities, and their own biases. All of that impacts their point of view. It is the lens they will at things that happen to them in the course of the story.

The more I study point of view, the more I’m fascinated by it. Every character has a point of view. No two characters in a story should see things the exact same way. They might agree on something, but it should be for different reasons, even if those reasons only vary slightly.

For example, if both characters don’t like the villain, they agree the villain is a jerk. BUT Character 1 may say the villain is a jerk because the villain stole something from her. Character 2 may say the villain is a jerk because the villain killed her sister. Both characters can have the same focus/goal, which would be to defeat the villain. They’re going at it from different angles (for different reasons). It’s possible the villain could have killed both of their sisters. This would be especially true if Character 1 & 2 are sisters. But even then, there could be a slight variation in perception. Character 1 could be the personality type that is quick to act, and this will affect her point of view. (She’d be the one that would want to jump at the villain right away.) Character 2, however, might be more cautious. (She’d want to make a plan to take down the villain before acting.) That would impact how they both perceive the situation they’re in, and it would lead to some conflict between the sisters while maintaining the conflict these sisters have with the villain.

The example above could be worked out a lot of ways. The characters’ point of view will determine the way the story plays out. That means every writer reading this could take that scenario, and each writer would have a different story. The writer creates the characters, so the writer is bringing his/her own point of view into the story. The writer already has it set on what kind of story this setup will be. It could be a short story, novella, a novel, or even a series. The writer could then break it down according to genre and sub-genre. So even at the writing level, we have the beauty of point of view. But then the writer creates the characters and the world, and from there the characters bring their own points of view to the table. That’s why even with the same set up, no two stories will be alike. There might be some similarities, but they will be distinct because they will all play out differently.

And this is good. It means there are many ways that stories can be told. It allows for creative freedom. Point of view is a wonderful tool at our disposal. Instead of trying to be like another writer, I think we should embrace the writer we already are. We can use our characters to explore new ways of looking at the world that we never even considered. We should allow the characters to be true to themselves instead of telling them who they are. We, as writers, set the initial stage for the stories. The characters are the ones who take the main set up and run to tell the actual tale.

I never know what my characters will say and do until I’m writing in their point of view. I go into the story thinking I know what will happen, but I’m rarely ever right. I’d say 95% of the time, I’m wrong. The characters take the reins, and they end up telling me what they’re going to say and do. All I do is sit back and record everything down as it plays out like a movie in my mind. The best way to do is by getting deep into the character’s point of view. I don’t agree with everything my characters do. I wouldn’t do things the same way some of my characters do it. But I’m writing the characters’ stories, not my own. So I let them lead the way. There are times when I think the characters are taking the entire story off course, but I have learned to trust the process because every single time, they end up making a better story than I would have.

This is a huge reason why I can’t plot ahead of writing a book. When I tried, the characters ripped up my outline, threw it away, and did their own thing. If I forced them to stick to my outline, the story fell apart, and I hit a dead end. Now, I know some writers plot and do it well. I’m not one of them. This post might be primarily for those writers who are pansters. The reason I say this is because I can’t know my characters until I’m writing in their point of view. I can imagine what they’d do all day long, but none of makes any difference until I’m writing.

My way,  obviously, isn’t for everyone, but I thought I’d share it because I was excited to learn something new about point of view I hadn’t really thought about before. But I’m also bringing my own point of view to this topic. Take what you can use and toss the rest out. Only you can write a character’s point of view according to your own unique style.

Writers Shouldn’t Have to Fear the Future

Edited May 9, 2018: Author Kevin Kneupper has a legal background, and he explains the details of this situation which sums things up much better than I ever could.

This post is inspired by a very unfortunate situation that has developed recently in the indie author community. An author took a commonly used word and trademarked it. I won’t go into specifics, but suffice it to say now this author wants other indie authors (as far as I know she’s only gone after indies) to remove this specific word from the titles of their books.

I’m not affected by this because I’ve never used this word in a title of one of my books. However, it does make me concerned about the future of indie publishing. Are we to expect more of this stuff to happen in the future from other authors? Will we wake up one morning to an email sitting in our inbox from the author or Amazon telling us we’re in violation of a trademarked word because we used it in a title?

That scares me. I’ve been doing this since 2009, and I have never come across anything that’s scares me like this, which is why I feel like I need to write a blog post addressing this topic.

A title change Is NOT simple.

This would be a nightmare if someone asked me to change one of my titles, and I only have ebook and paperbacks. So we’ll forget how much authors spend on making audiobook versions for a moment.  Let’s just think about how much other work and money would go into changing a title.

You have to redo the ebook and paperback covers. Then you have to fix the interior files (the actual book itself). You’d have to update the title page, the copyright page, and any headers with the title in it. Then (this is where it really gets time consuming and scary), you’d have to change the back matter in all of your other books, including the one you just changed the title on.

I currently have sixty-nine romances published. Some will have the book with the title I need to change in the back matter. I’d have to search through them to find out where they are, change them all, and republish them. While D2D updates back matter for you, Amazon and Smashwords don’t. I don’t know if Kobo, iBooks, or Barnes & Noble do since I rely on Smashwords to go wide.

Then you have to update your blog and/or your website to reflect this change. You’d also have to update all of your swag material such as bookmarks and pens. Then, as if that isn’t enough, you’ll have explain to anyone who asks you, what happened and why the title is now different.

This is time consuming and can get expensive.

Also, since I have registered my copyright to all of my books with the US Copyright Office, what happens to the copyright?  Will that copyright still hold up? I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know.

I’m just a writer who publishes my own books. I don’t have a lot of money. In fact, I’m losing money overall. I could seek out an IP lawyer and get a consultation, but how would things shake out? Is this a slam dunk win for me since I never set out to copy another author by taking a commonly used word and putting it into my title? Or would this result in tons of money being spent in court–money I don’t have in order to prove my innocence?

Do you see why this kind of thing could be a nightmare for authors if this becomes a trend? Every single author could be vulnerable. That’s why I’m addressing it.

The nature of indie publishing

I’ve been publishing on Amazon and Smashwords since 2009. And I’ve noticed some things along the way.

Similar (or even the same) titles get used a lot. Stock photo images from places like Dreamstime.com and Shutterstock.com get used a lot. Same/similar character names get used a lot. Certain fonts get used a lot. Plot ideas (such as a hero and heroine who are forced into marriage or “the beauty and the beast” scenario) get used a lot. Aliens attacking earth, a hero going on some kind of quest in a fantasy, or vampires falling in love with mortal women get used a lot. These types of things are broad. There’s lots of room to move within these basic plot ideas. The authors then take the basic premise and spins a unique story from it. As long as the story is spun in their own way, everything is fine.

Now, here’s when red flags should be going up. If someone plagiarizes your book or if someone outright steals it, then yes, you have a problem. If someone takes your exact cover and uses EVERYTHING in it the EXACT same way you did, yes, that would be problematic. If someone uses your actual series name word for word, you have a problem. If someone uses all of your characters’ names (the first and last) in their books, you might have a problem. (I would be super worried if the other author took multiple characters that were in one of my books. Just one or two with the same first name would not bother me.) If someone takes your author name and uses it as their own author name, you could have a problem. (You have to really look into this one.) You’d have to see if this person’s name is legally theirs, too. There are people who have the same first and last name out there. My suggestion is to either have a unique name (one that isn’t common) or use your middle name to help make you distinct. Ruth Nordin is very common. So I put in Ruth Ann Nordin. The chances of you and this other person have the exact first, middle, AND last name would be suspect.

My personal experience

In the past, I have gotten emails from a few readers who thought someone stole my book because there was a similar cover. The cover was a bride holding flowers. It wasn’t my exact cover, but it was something I could have picked. Keep in mind, there were A LOT of romance books with brides holding flowers back in 2010-2012 when I was getting my feet wet in indie publishing. Now, it’s mostly the hero and heroine in some kind of embrace. And often, the same models are used in these covers today. This is very common. And it is acceptable because the license for that stock photo allows other authors to use those photos. If you want to make sure no one uses that exact picture, then you’d need to get exclusive rights to it. But even then, you might end up with other authors using the same models in other poses.

Anyway, I think it’s only been about five people (a low number) over the course of my indie publishing career that thought another author was stealing my work and putting it under a similar cover. I went to check the books out to see if the readers caught another person stealing my books. Most of the time, the author name’s was different, the actual cover was different from mine (though it was “similar” or had the same model(s), and the title wasn’t one I had used. Fortunately, most these weren’t my books. It had the same “look” but a lot of covers in romance have the same “look”, esp. when you narrow down the sub-genres. It’s just the nature of the romance market in general. Upon looking inside these books, I saw the stories were totally different from mine. So no, these were not a violation of my copyright.

However, I actually have had a couple of cases where my books have actually been plagiarized or stolen. It does happen on occasion (unfortunately). So it’s smart to investigate these cases. Sometimes readers catch something we need to know about.

Also, I’ve have other authors who used my name in a keyword so their books come up when someone searches for my books. This happened early on in my writing career. (Like back in 2011 and 2012 when I hit the radar of the indie community. Since then I’ve pretty much faded into oblivion, so this doesn’t happen anymore.) I’ve heard marketing gurus tell new writers to mention popular authors in their genre order to attract their target audience. So I’m not surprised a new author would put a popular author into their keywords in the meta data for the book or in an ad they’re running. This is common practice. Some authors will even put, “If you like POPULAR AUTHOR A or POPULAR AUTHOR B, then you’ll love my book” in their book description. Usually, they put in traditionally published authors like JK Rowling. Sometimes, they’ll put the popular author’s book title or series instead of the author’s name. So it would read, “If you like Twilight or The Hunger Games, you’ll like my book, too.”  As long as the authors aren’t copying your actual book, I wouldn’t worry about it.

Bottom line:

I don’t know what the future of indie publishing is going to look like. Will trademarking a popular book series, which will then be used as an excuse to tell other authors to change their titles, become a trend in the future? I hope not. But I don’t have control over what another author does. I can only control what I do. I’d like to say this isn’t going to happen again, but I can’t.

The main thing comes down to support. If indie authors supported and cared about each other, it would be a nicer place. I think understanding that readers have a lot of authors they love to read is important to keep in mind. There’s no reason why a reader can’t enjoy Author X’s AND Author Y’s books. There are more readers than there is a single author who can write books for them all. This is especially true in romance. As soon as I publish a book, a reader finishes it within a day or two. What is that reader supposed to do while they wait for my next book? They read other authors’ books. This is why I don’t think we are in competition with each other. There’s enough room for everyone. Sure, some authors will pick up more fans than others. I write more for a niche within romance anyway, so I don’t appeal to the largest fanbase.

My advice (for what it’s worth) is to focus on your own books. Concentrate on writing the best stories you can. Don’t worry about what another author is doing with their titles. Your fans will find you. They will stay with you. The world is big enough for all indie authors.

I Had to Give Up Writing to Market in Order to Find My Passion Again

It’s been ages since I posted anything on this blog. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any ideas. I had a lot of them. But as soon as I sat down and wrote a paragraph or two, my mind came to a screeching halt. I waited and waited…and waited some more for inspiration to come so I could finish the blog post. But inspiration never came. I deleted most of those drafts. Why? Because my heart wasn’t “in” writing anymore, much less trying to figure out how to tell other authors how they might sell more books.

I had lost my creative edge, and the scary part is that I didn’t even know it. Writing had started to become a chore. I was doing good to chug along and write my books. It’s like I was running on a gas tank that was almost empty. All of the gas left in my tank was going to my books. I had nothing left to give to a blog post.

feeling trapped
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I got some criticism for writing a blog post on here about losing income. But it’s true. I did lose income. I lost about 1/3 of my income from 2015 to 2016. I barely remained steady in 2017. I was even tempted to go exclusive with Amazon by putting new books in KDP Select so I could take advantage of page reads in Kindle Unlimited. I had to spend serious time in prayer and talking with a couple of friends in order to make the best decision for me longterm. (KU is not a good longterm plan.) I knew this, but I had started to focus on short-term plans.

Which is why I was writing to market when 2016 came around.

I wrote to market for two years. Fortunately for me, I happen to love historical western and Regency romances, which happen to be popular genres anyway. But what I did was pick heroine types, hero types, and plot types that I felt had the best chance of selling well. I broke this rule with one book (which is now one of my all-time favorites). That book didn’t do as well as the others. The thing is, I know what is popular in my corner of the romance market. I know what pleases the most readers. How? Because of all the feedback I’ve gotten over the years and watching what other (very successful) romance authors were doing.

I always picked plots I was interested in doing. I could never bring myself to write something I didn’t like. But after two years of writing as fast as I could on projects that I felt would sell, I realized I had used up all of those ideas. I was exhausted. I knew I was burning out. Still, in January, I wrote another romance to market. Then February came. By this time, I was wiped out, but I already had a pre-order set for an April release, so I went through that month and pushed myself to finish that book. Thankfully, this book wasn’t a “write to market” book. It was a passion project. I was venturing into new territory I was excited about. If it had been a “write to market” book, I don’t think I would have survived the month as well as I did. Because even though it was a passion project, my joy for writing had already been hit hard.

And yet, as I write this, my income is still dropping. Writing to market was not a long-term solution to my problem. It was a temporary one. I don’t know if it’s because the market is saturated, or if my readers from early on were tired of the new stuff I was doing (since it was not longer my passion projects), or if it’s because I never went into KU, but my income never did return to what I made in 2015. Ads had minimal effect, and quite frankly, with tax payments based on last year’s income, I don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of money on ads, which are the latest promotional tool. (I’m sure the effectiveness of ads will run out in due time, just like the effectiveness of free, $0.99, and other tactics have diminished over the years I’ve been indie publishing.)

Anyway, when I saw my efforts were not paying off, I asked myself, “Why am I pushing myself so hard?” And it all came down to money. I wanted to make more money writing books. But the thing was, I wasn’t making more money. I was making less.

Early this month, I caught myself thinking, “I hate writing. I wish I could leave the computer and never write another word for as long as I live.”

And that scared me. When I was in the 6th grade, I first discovered how fun reading was, and from there, I started writing. I had always loved writing. Up until 2015, I couldn’t imagine never writing because I loved it so much. When I died, I was hoping I could continue writing in Heaven. So when did it all stop? Looking back, I realized it became “work” in 2016 when I started to seriously write to market. I stopped taking story ideas I felt was risky. I was no longer putting myself into every story. I was playing it safe.

My stress level went through the roof. Whenever I wrote, I was asking myself, “Will someone object to this? Will someone give me a 1-star over that? Will someone stop buying my books because I put this in it?” Everything I wrote (with the exception of two books) revolved around what I thought the market wanted.

I didn’t realize I was paying attention to something Dean Wesley Smith calls “critical voice”. I just got through reading his book Writing into the Dark last week (scroll down the page to find it). Anyway, the book mainly tells writers how to write without plotting, but in it he mentions how harmful critical voice is to writing. And he’s right. Critical voice was in full control when I was writing to market. Critical voice stepped in and stopped me from pursuing books I really, really, really wanted to write because, “No one is going to buy it because of (insert reason here).”

I had a good list of things I had to avoid writing while I was focused on the market, and because of this, I ended up having to work within a narrow parameter of what my critical voice had told me was acceptable. I still picked things I was interested in, but I wasn’t able to go beyond the box I had put myself in. And that was slowly killing my creative voice. I didn’t even know this was happening. That was the scary part. It’s only now as I’m looking back that I can see what was going on. I shake my head and wonder, “How could I not see it?”

This is something all authors are probably going to have to come to terms with at some point. Yes, writing to market can yield high income. (I’ve seen writers do it.) But is it possible to do this for the long term? Can they keep producing these books in a way that is fresh and new? Can they keep doing this at breakneck speed?

This is a bit of a side note, but I’ve noticed that (at least on Amazon), in order to stay relevant, I had to get more books out. Romance authors are now putting out two or more books a month. I’ve seen a couple of authors doing one book a week. Yes, they’re novellas, but still…  And the other day, one author was going from one book a week to two books a week. How long can this momentum stay up? I’m a firm believer that it’s possible to write fast and write quality, but even I can’t see how going that fast is a manageable long-term strategy.  But I’m not the only one who noticed this trend on Amazon. Cait Reynolds did a post on Kristen Lamb’s blog called “Kindle Unlimited: Good Plan or KU Hamster Wheel of Death?” (The post is hilarious, especially with the hamster pictures.) I have this article on my desk and read it at least once a month to remind myself that KU (and Amazon) is built for speed. You must constantly have new books out to keep income up. And there’s a point where I can’t write any more books that I currently do each year.

So I need a long-term strategy because I want to love writing. I want to keep writing. And more importantly, I want to love what I’m writing. I want my passion back. I want my creative voice to flourish again. Just recently, I finally decided I’m going to stop writing to market. I have officially dropped out of the rat race. I’m going to start embracing projects that I can give my whole heart into. If it fits the market, fine. If not, fine. But I’m not going to let that critical voice rule over me anymore.

It was amazing how quickly this single decision changed things around for me. I took a few days to decompress and re-evaluate my life. I did a lot of self-reflection.  But within a week, something magical happened. I got the joy back. I got my passion back. Finally, I have fresh and new story ideas again. I have characters who are exciting to write about. I didn’t expect this to happen so fast, but it did.

And last week, for the first time since 2015, I wrote because I “wanted” to. I had no idea there was such a huge difference between writing because I “had” to and writing because I “want” to, but it’s a huge difference.

What about you? Have you had any revelations about your own writing lately?

Slaying Giants

This blog post will contain some Christian references, but it also focuses on writing.

Sunday’s church sermon was on how David killed the giant, Goliath. The visiting pastor talked about how big and tall Goliath was, and how he wore heavy battle armor. This Philistine was intimidating to the Israel people. Who could defeat this menacing giant?

To urge someone to come forward to fight Goliath, King Saul offered one of his daughters to marry and for the family to be exempt from paying taxes. Still no one answered the call until a shepherd boy expressed his interest in 1 Samuel 32-33:

“‘Don’t worry about a thing,’ David told him [Saul]. ‘I’ll take care of this Philistine.’”

“Saul replied. … ‘You’re only a boy and he [Goliath] has been in the army since he was a boy!’”

However, David was not deterred even when he threw off the weighty armor Saul gave him to fight the giant. David would slay Goliath on his own terms.

The odds were against David. But with one swift swirl of his slingshot, the rock hit Goliath on his forehead, and the giant fell dead to the ground.

This reminds me of our own writing battles. We work hard to make our work the best we can do. We edit and edit, research and research for historical accuracy, we promote and promote to secure readers and yet at times we feel just like the Israel people – intimidated and hopeless.

This year I made an oath that I would depend upon God and not worry. There are a few days that hopeless feeling returns once more within me, such as this weekend at a writers’ conference.

It took a couple of hours for me to set up my booth, so I could sell my books during Saturday’s lunch and conference breaks. I had practiced reading from my recent historical, clean and Christian romance, When Hearts Rekindle, wanting to entice those hearing my Friday night reading to visit my book booth on Saturday.

For all my efforts, I sold one book, my first book, Seasons of the Soul, which includes a spattering of personal accounts of my two different autistic sons. It took me time to get over my sinking feeling of all my efforts to result in one sale; however, grateful I am for that sale. But to be honest, I had hoped for more, not a lot, but perhaps three to four sales. At least with that, the $10 booth would have paid for itself.

The next day I shook myself awake from my despair and renewed my commitment to God. As a Christian, I must believe the word of the Lord, “all things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mark 9:23) That does not mean there are not troubling times.

However, overall, each year gets better and so, I say to you, keep trudging along. Do not let your fret overtake you and continue to write, tweak your manuscripts and move forward. You are doing better than when you started. Why? Because you have learned from your past mistakes and so you are more prepared today than you were yesterday. Grab your pencil and paper – or should I say your word program and computer? – and  type and write! God bless.

 

Lengthening Your Story

I know it’s about three months too late to say this, but Happy New Year, everyone!

Now, to the main topic: has anyone ever told you your story, one which you might have worked months on and is already tens of thousands of words long, is good, but needs to be longer? I have: back in my senior year of college, I had written a novel called Rose for my senior thesis. Near the end of my last semester, I met with my thesis advisor to discuss the novel one more time (at that point in its second draft). We talked about a number of qualities with the novel, its strengths and weaknesses, and where I could go with  the next draft. One of the most memorable suggestions? Make it twice as long as it was already.*

At that time, the novel was about forty-thousand words long, so doubling it seemed like an impossible task. However, two years later I did somehow manage to add about that many words, and it actually did help the story. How did I accomplish this feat? Well, here are some of the steps I took to lengthen my story, which might be of some help to you if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

1. Figure out if the story really does need lengthening. Every story, like every person, is unique. And some are meant to be shorter. If your story works at about seven-thousand words, don’t expand it to twenty-five thousand because you feel it won’t do well that short or to fit an anthology’s needs. Instead, think long and hard about whether the story itself would be better if longer. And if you’re not sure, ask for a second or third opinion. It wasn’t just my thesis advisor, but two other early readers from Ohio State who told me to make it longer, so that’s what I did. See if anyone in your writing circle can give you an objective opinion on the story and if it needs to be longer.

If you get a positive on that question, then here are some strategies you can try.

2. Try expanding a scene.  In two instances in Rose, there were parts where the protagonists remembers episodes in her life that had a lasting impact on her. In between the second and third draft, I felt that those scenes should have more happening in them in order to maximize their effectiveness. Sure enough, those scenes were made more powerful by going deeper into them and expanding the action.

And speaking of expanding:

3. Add a new chapter. This one, I’d treat as a sort of last resort. In Rose, it was necessary: I needed to reveal a ton of information to the reader, and couldn’t put that info into a previously-established chapter. A new chapter was necessary. So only write a new chapter if it is absolutely necessary, and if adding the new scenes or information can’t be done in any previous chapter.

4. Go deeper into a character’s character. Some characters might benefit from going deeper into their personalities or histories. Perhaps you can expand on what a character is thinking in a certain situation, showing us what thoughts lead to their actions. Or maybe you’ll want to go into why another character is very passionate about something, and relate it to something in their past. In Needful Things by Stephen King, one character is passionately against gambling. This is partly due to religious reasons, but later it’s revealed his father was an alcoholic gambler who abandoned the character’s family several times due to drinking and gambling debts. It’s an interesting reveal, and added depth to an otherwise stock character as well as a few more words.

5. Add a new character/expand a minor character’s role.  In the first and second drafts of Rose, I mentioned two characters who had a big impact on the antagonist. However, they’re only mentioned by other characters and never actually seen. In the third draft, I not only added scenes featuring these two characters, but created a third character who also had a big impact on the antagonist. Doing so added a new level of depth to the antagonist, which my beta readers loved.

6. Add a new element or two to the story. I did not do this with Rose, but it’s still a legitimate strategy. For example, in 2007 an anime adaptation of Romeo and Juliet aired in Japan and later was released internationally.  It was twenty-four episodes, and part of the reason an anime based on a two-hour play was able to be that long is because they set the anime in a fantasy universe complete with flying horses, a rebel army, and magic trees (I haven’t seen it yet, so I have no idea if that works, but apparently a lot of people like it, so I guess it worked for some people).

You can do something similar with your own stories, though it doesn’t have to be so dramatic as changing the entire setting and genre of the story. What would happen if you added drag racing to your story about lovers from different social classes? Or what if your protagonist is given a disability that they must overcome along with whatever obstacle faces them in the story? The only limits are your imagination, and you can create some interesting new scenarios when you add new elements to the story.

 

Not all stories need to be longer than they already are. But in the event that they need to be, there are several ways to go about doing that. As long as you do it well and it’s not shoehorned in awkwardly, anything you add can only add to the story. Both in word count and in story quality.

What tips do you have for expanding a story? Have you ever had to make a story longer? How did it work out?

*At least, I think that’s what he said. It may have actually been add another ten or twenty thousand words, but I’m pretty sure he said double it. Not that it really matters, in the end.