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?

Some Tips For WattPad Users

I’ve been using WattPad for the past couple of weeks, and I thought that an article about it would be fun to write. Also, I found out this blog doesn’t have an article on WattPad yet, so I thought I’d break the ground and do a piece on it.

Throughout this article, I will try to give some sound advice on using WattPad and possibly getting some success through it. If any WattPad users have any additional tips they would like to…well, add in, please let us know. I’ll do a follow-up article with your words of wisdom.

So, first things first: What is WattPad? WattPad is a website where writers can upload and share stories with the public. It’s been in operation since 2006 and it’s been nicknamed the YouTube of storytelling. Writers can upload stories, gain feedback, create covers, and enter contests with their short stories or novels.

What sort of work is published on WattPad? Just about anything is published on WattPad. Novels, novellas, short stories, poems, non-fiction pieces, of all types and genres. Science fiction, fantasy, and YA stories tend to be the most popular, with horror and romance in a close second. There’s also a sizable amount of erotic fiction on the site, though I haven’t personally browsed that in any great detail. And technically erotica isn’t allowed on the website, but I won’t tell if you won’t.

Is it possible to get success through WattPad? Depends on what you mean by success. It is possible to spread your work to other writers and readers, maybe get feedback, and learn something from other writers by both reading and being read. And it is also possible to get the success that every author only dreams about (there’s an example of that in a recent issue of TIME magazine), but like anything in fiction, that is very hard to achieve and what can cause it is very difficult to predict.

How do you spread your work through WattPad? Tags and categorizing your work is very important, because it allows people with similar interests to search out and find your stories (and on that note, make sure to also rate your short stories appropriately. At the very least, an R-rating might deter some nine-year-old from reading a wildly inappropriate story). Also, networking with other authors, commenting on their stories, and even recommending works to authors you make friends with can be very helpful.

What are some ways to keep your readers interested in your work? Besides having interesting work, there are a couple of ways. One is to post frequently new stories or updates. Another is to post a novel on the site, but to do it in serial form. Posting new chapters on a regular basis keeps our readership up and it keeps them wanting to know more (especially if you end every chapter on a cliffhanger).

Should one copyright their work before posting? Well, that depends. Copyrights cost money and take time to process, so if you don’t mind waiting and shelling out money for the fees, then by all means get copyrights. At the very least, you should get copyrights for novels or for works you plan to sell in the future, and do it before you post it on WattPad.

I should also mention that WattPad allows users to post whether a story is copyrighted or not, so take advantage of that when you post a story. It could be seriously helpful.

If you publish a story on WattPad, can you put it on your resume as a publication? Again, that depends. This is a website where anyone can upload a story, so whether or not you want to include uploading stories onto an author’s YouTube on your resume is up to you. Some authors are comfortable, some aren’t. I know a few of both. If you are comfortable with it though, then only do it for stories that you’ve never published before in any way, shape, or form. And if you’re shopping for a publisher, definitely don’t do it!

What are these contests through WattPad you mentioned earlier? Wattpad holds a number of contests throughout the year. Most are small, but there are some big ones, including the Wattys, which are held once a year, and the Attys, which are for poetry and were started by author Margaret Atwood (yeah, she’s on the site. How cool is that?). The contests are open to all users with a WattPad account and who follow the rules of those contests.

If you are a regular WattPad user and have any other tips you’d like to mention, then please let us know. If I get enough tips, I’ll do a follow-up article on the subject with your tips in it.

CreateSpace’s New Distribution Options: Pros and Cons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can And Should You Ask For Reviews?

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

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

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

Guest Post: Marketing on a Budget by Kathryn Jones

Kathryn Jones contacted SPALs with an article about marketing on a budget. Since we believe in the freedom of each author to make their own decisions, we decided to post this guest post for those that may be interested. Please be aware that by posting this, we are in no way endorsing or ensuring the effectiveness of the process presented below.

__________________________

Whether your book is not quite finished or has just begun to see the light of day, you’ve probably been thinking about marketing. Whether you’ve been published with a national publisher or have decided to go the road alone, you know that in order to sell your book you’ll have to tell others about it.

In a recent Verso survey it was estimated that 49.2% of people discover books from personal recommendations and only 11.8% of books are discovered from social networks. Does that mean that you should eliminate social networking efforts altogether?

I don’t think so. More than giving up on one marketing idea over another, I think it’s more important to balance your time to the degree readers discover books. That means that first and foremost, you must:

Talk your book up. Say I’m at the grocery store and waiting in line. What do I talk about? My book. I’ve just finished eating at a restaurant. I want to compliment the cooks on the meal I’ve had. I ask to talk to the manager. We discuss the great meal and then I thank the manager by handing him/her a postcard about my book. You get the idea.

If you’re excited about your book, others will be, too. And I’m not suggesting getting overbearing about it, just to mention it. If the person is interested, they will ask you questions, if not, so be it. There will be plenty of people out there that want to hear about your book.

Bookstore and staff recommendations are pretty high too, 30.8%, but not all self-published authors are able to get their book into a large store like Barnes & Noble (though they can usually get it in Barnes & Noble.com). Here’s what many do instead:

  • Place their book on consignment in an independent book store. Give the store 40% of the profits for every book they sell.
  • Be a part of a side-walk event, conference, or other endeavor that brings in large numbers of people interested in books.

Advertising makes up 24.4% of the pie, but it doesn’t have to cost you a cent. Try advertising your book through book blogs on others’ sites, interviews, YouTube, contests, free press release sites, and more. It’s amazing what is out there in free advertising, especially if you’re willing to do something in return.

Get your book in the library. This is a tough task, one I’m working on right now. But recently, through listening to others I have discovered some juicy tidbits.

  • Take your book in as a donation with some marketing material such as a press release and a list of reviews.
  • Have trusted friends and family call the library near you and ask for a copy of your book. I will be talking about my new book at a book group, and there are no books yet available within the library system; this has made it difficult for some readers of the group who rarely buy fiction. I’ve got to get working!

Blogs take up 12.1% of the pie, so it’s nice to have a blog/website. If you’re not sure how that looks the main idea is that you want to have a site that continually changes and updates, at least once a week. If not, folks may stop by once to see what you’ve got going, try again a second time, and when they see nothing has changed, stop coming back.

Book Reviews are also important. Readers will discover your book 18.9% of the time here. I have worked pretty heavily on book reviews; maybe more than I should have, but my goal was to have a minimum of 10 reviews on Amazon. I currently have 9.

In addition, online algorithms take up 16.0% and search engines, 21.6%. These two topics are important to your listing when people search for your book title or name online. You want to be high in ranking—either first or second at all times—and come up numerous times after that. The more you are seen the better.

When it comes to book marketing, the more you believe in yourself and the book you have written, the more others will get interested in what you have to offer. It is never enough to merely publish a book, you must get out there and spread the word.

______________________________

Kathryn has published various newspaper stories, magazine articles, essays and short stories for teens and adults.  She is the author of: “A River of Stones,” a young adult fiction novel dealing with divorce published in 2002, and “Conquering your Goliaths—A Parable of the Five Stones,” a Christian novel published in January of 2012. Her newest creation, a “Conquering your Goliaths—Guidebook,” was published in February of 2012.

Visit her website at http://www.ariverofstones.com/

Check out her books at http://www.ariverofstones.com/books.html

You Want to Brand Yourself? Do What Tom Does.

We talk about author branding and I think most of us get how to do it in cyberspace. But what if you are in a supermarket and someone recognizes you? Or a friend introduces you as “that writer”. What do you do?

Well, I had a great lesson.

As you know I have been researching merchandising. I have a shop on Zazzle and the products are good. But a bit on the expensive side. When I ordered my buttons so I could see how they were made. I was impressed with the quality, but not the price. Two buttons cost me fourteen dollars with shipping and handling. The same size buttons I could pick up anywhere for two to four dollars. So I started to look locally.

Enter King Weasel Custom Buttons and Shirts. I found them through a mutual friend on Facebook. Its a local company. And I already was familiar with the work because I have the RESA buttons from when I helped with their fund-raiser. But I dragged my feet about approaching them for design work. If you look at the website, you’ll notice its a bit of a niche market.

Last Friday, my husband and I went out with a friend for drinks. And guess who walks into the bar. The owner of King Weasel: Tom.

I knew who he was right away. How? Through our facebook contact and his personal website, that is connected to the King Weasel site. And he wore a denim jacket with his face screen printed on the back, that said Tom Around the World.

My friend made the introductions, turns out she’s known him for years. We talked for a bit. As soon as I said “I am looking to get merchandise made to promote my books…” he had his business card out.

What did this teach me? (and other good points)

1. You have to slip into your “brand” no matter where you are. We were at a bar at ten at night. I would not have thought about bringing something with my books there (in fact I didn’t, I left my business cards at home.)

2. Always carry business cards. Make sure those cards promote you, not your latest book. It’s okay when you have one book, but more than one and it doesn’t work.

3. Do something to make yourself stand out. Tom had his jacket. It doesn’t have to be an article of clothing. But thats the easiest. Maybe you have a favorite necklace. Wear it in every photo you have taken as an author. A person might not remember the face, but they might remember the necklace. Find something that a person that has seen your name will make the connection to you quickly.

4. You are an author. Repeat. You are an author. This is hard for us that work another job to pay the bills. It is so ingrained into us that we are what we get a paycheck for, that this is hard to accept. I have recently started to introduce myself as an author. It opens up more conversations than saying where I get my paycheck.

5. You never know where the next connection will be made. My husband got recognize in the grocery store for a play he did a year ago. Just because you think you can run down to the bakery, doesn’t mean you might not have an opportunity to promote yourself.

6. Get involved in events that fans of your genre would like. If you write romance, attend a romance convention. Horror writers could go to a horror movie marathon. You can have fun while promoting yourself as a brand.

Branding is not a scary word. Its putting your game face on all the time. Sounds daunting, but we are writers all the time, why not show the world that.

An Article About Balancing your Social Media Efforts

I’m one of those people who are out of balance in the social media forum. Maybe I’m not utilizing them very well, but then again I think it’s a nearly impossible task without repeating over and over again the same message and run the risk of being removed from our readers/followers media streams. No one likes spam and when you use the micromedia forum, that about what you have to be to stay on top.

I joined Twitter, Digg, Stumbleupon, LinkedIn, Tumblr and Facebook because I was told by other writers that these were the places to market and promote on. I had to have these accounts because it would help me succeed. I’ve since removed my accounts from all places except Facebook and Twitter, neither of which I update all that often, usually because I forget or I’m really busy with my other efforts, like writing and publishing a book.

I found this article Expand Your Social Media Mix: Twitter Alone is Not Enough by Jeremiah Owyang who briefly mentions that all our efforts maybe out of balance if we only use micromedia places like overloaded Twitter to market instead of focusing our efforts on things that should be longer lasting, higher impact, and larger form content. These would be better places to focus our efforts (ie writing new books, blogging, and/or article writing) and balance it with the micromedia of our choice. And lastly he calls for a Mindset Change and a way to rebalance your social media mix. This leads me to the second article.

Why 150 Followers Is All You Really Need  isn’t the original article I found, but I like it just the same. The gist of the article talks about devoting  most of your time to creating a backlist of books, then to your blog, and lastly choose one social networking site and utilize it to the best of your ability. If that site is Twitter, then focus on following the rules of Twitterverse. If it’s Goodreads, make sure you participate in an acceptable way. Facebook the same, etc.

Spreading yourself all over the different networking sites means that you’re less effective in your message and connecting with people. The article went on to say that we can only have meaningful relationships with about 150 people, not sure how true that is, but I know from experience that having a relationship with more than 20 starts getting hard for me.

What do you think about your social media efforts?  Do you have any articles that you would like to share on social media?

The Mystifying Press Release

When you publish a new book, do you “bother with” a press release? I looked into it for my last book, via links from Smashwords, but even after reading the one example post, I didn’t know what to write, so I kept putting it off until it was no longer relevant.

Has that happened to you? Or have you tried your hand at a press release only to have no one show any interest?  If either of those apply to you, you may find this article by Alexis Grant helpful:

How to Write a Press Release for Your Book

Just wanted to share!

 

 

Daily Samples

In the spirit of sharing the Indy Love, several authors have come up with an idea called “Daily Samples” (hashtag #DaSample on Twitter) where we post samples of other authors work on our blogs – and I’d like to invite you all to join in!

What do you need to do?Send me (or other authors) your excerpt, along with relevant information like buy links, your bio, or even a blurb for your book.  Excerpts should be between 500 – 1,000 words. Having a hard time choosing what to send? Edie Ramer posted a blog with some great advice on how to pick your excerpts!

Not interested in submitting, but you want to read the posts? you can find them listed here on the mysterious paper.li (I call it mysterious because as of this posting I know nothing about it, but intend to look into it further)

For more info on submitting to my blog check out this post.

Other participating authors as of this posting:

Here’s hoping everyone has a Great New Year!