New Year’s Day I posted a brief “In a Nutshell” about my one goal for 2014: 1) to put my fingers to the keyboard and write.
I also made a 6 point list of things I had learned in 2013 that minimized the enormous amount of information my brain has digested over the past year. This post addresses #6. “Books are books.” Honestly, it wouldn’t fit in a nutshell, so I have decided to post some of this information in hopes that it might offer to you some insights on the vast amount of information that is out here and how to apply it to the process of writing, publishing and marketing your story. ***Warning***This is a very long post. I picked just three things about each of these three aspects. I do believe this is the longest post I have ever made.
First, writing has rules. Rules offer guidance, but they are not the be all and end all of the writing process. Some of the best literature the world has ever seen breaks the rules. So why have them?
Rules offer a foundation for getting started. We all have to start someplace. Obviously there are books and books of rules, but these three have special significance to me. Before I list these three rules, I want to stress to you that these rules are simply someone else’s opinion. They are not carved in stone. Don’t let them cramp your own style.
1. Show not tell. We hear this a lot. I get this. Telling a story is like having it unfold as if it were a movie on a screen, whereas showing allows for more imagination in the reader’s mind to develop from your words a mental image of what is taking place. For example: Instead of saying, “She angrily slapped his face and he reeled from the sting. He grabbed her wrist,” you might say, “Her reddened cheeks danced with fire as she looked directly into his icy eyes and drew her hand sharply across his face. He recoiled in that instant, shaking off the sting, and grasped her by the wrist.” Don’t state the emotion, but show how it plays out in action.
2. Minimalist versus eloquent prose. This is a preference thing. While the example above describes the difference between show and tell, it also introduces another topic. Details; how many do you need?
Icons, in particular, generally need no lofty description:
“He wore a long yellow slicker and a wide brimmed hard hat that draped down his back. He snapped his red suspenders as he reached for the hose. He smelled of ashes and soot.” He is a, “fireman,” for Christ’s sake, and the building is burning down while he is being so thoughtfully described.
“It was a great machine, red and covered in grainy brown dust, with yellow paint peeling back from its wheels and dry rotted tires long flattened by labor in the fields.”
Come on…wouldn’t, “Rusty old tractor,” suffice?
Is it enough to say, “Roasted pig?” Or do we need, “The porcine product lay on the silver platter with brown, crispy skin curled back to reveal the tender, moist, steaming flesh inside?”
Admittedly, this is a matter of what your reader audience prefers, but it is something to consider.
On the other hand: I would like to know what color hair she had. It occurred to me with a recent book that I read, not once did the author describe the protagonist’s hair color or features. Throughout the entire book…something critical seemed to be missing. I couldn’t get my mind around the character. Maybe the author did that intentionally, perhaps it was an oversight. But, as a reader, it left a gaping hole in my experience.
I am not saying that one way is right and another wrong, but the reader audience must be taken into consideration. Just like fifty dollar words are not going to make sense to children, an audience of forty year old rural farmers is not going to appreciate the same things that an audience of thirty-something urbanites would, or the same things that a college degreed group of 50 year old world travelers would, or the same things that teens coming of age would. This sentence brings me to my next topic.
3. Same words. Don’t use the same word in the same sentence…the same paragraph, on the same page if you can help it. I understand that this rule is important in preventing redundancy. Sometimes redundancy is necessary for emphasis, but nobody wants to read four sentences on one page describing the fog with the word “fog”.
The fog cast an eerie glow to the lamplight. The valley below was obscured by the fog. They walked through the fog across the bridge. The thick fog began to rise and then the fog lifted with the coming of the morning light.”
Perhaps a page that includes the following sentences, “The lamplight cast an eerie glow as morning mellowed its light,” … “A white blanket shrouded the valley below,” … “Wispy tendrils surrounded their ankles as they walked across the bridge,” … “Sunlight melted the mist of darkness.”
It might be acceptable to describe fog four different ways, but it might warrant moving away from once you’ve made your point. Once you have established that it was foggy outside, need you say more?
One sentence might be plenty enough for making your point. I get it. It was foggy outside.
Then again, if we NEVER used redundancy, we would not have such great classic statements as, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” (“Tale of Two Cities”).
In general, once you’ve made your point, it is best to move on; else you may lose your reader in the fog. Basically, it boils down to setting the scene and then allowing the reader’s imagination to do the rest.
Reading is a subjective experience. These are just a few writing rules that I have seen mentioned time and time again, and my personal thoughts on them. I could spend hours on the many writing techniques that are illustrated on the many writers’ blogs, but these are a few that struck me over and over again. Reading what you most enjoy is the best way to develop your own writing style. It also helps you see those methods that simply don’t appeal to you.
“Rules” can be intimidating. The best thing you can do is glean that which you truly feel might be useful to you and let the rest fall off like water on a duck’s back. Develop your own writing style, a comfort zone, and don’t let opinions and “rules” alter your style to the point that you are no longer happy writing.
I can’t stress the importance of READING enough.
Second, publishing has become a very simple process in consideration to how it has occurred in the past. Are you ready? That seems to be the question that plagues most writers.
1. I have already mentioned that I published before I had a blog, before I was influenced in any way by all the writer rules. My writing was influenced more by the work I had read than any set of rules. I have also indicated that I would most likely have been far too intimidated to publish if I knew then what I know now. Is that to say the writing is not worthy? Did it require revision and editing? No, and yes. Is it my best? Probably not.
I recently reread some of the novels published traditionally by Anne Rice under the names of Anne Rampling and A.N. Roquelaure. Being an old lady, I have had the pleasure of watching this 72 year old author evolve over time. I saw her come into her own. I saw her hit her stride. I have seen her falter, and I have seen her rally back. It has been a fascinating journey. There is nothing that she has not written that I have not read. She is one of the most fantastic contemporary authors the world has ever witnessed. Also, one of the most successful. Success did not happen with her first books, or Stephen King’s, or Charles Dickens’. The serial publication of The Pickwick Papers gave Dickens the opportunity to test his audience while he honed his craft. Bloggers have that same opportunity.
Editing, revision, proofing…they are all necessary…mandatory! Professional editing, copy and line, as well as having beta readers will greatly increase your potential for success. There are things that only other eyes are going to find…hear in your words. However, picking the pieces to pieces is probably not going to help your progress.
There does come a point when you have to let it fly. You have to do the best that you can with the knowledge you have and let it go out into that great big wide world!
2. Traditional or self-published? I don’t think that there is a right or wrong here. I am a big proponent for the sense of control that self-publishing offers, but at the same time I can see many benefits that traditional publishing provides. I won’t go into details here, but I would advise any writer to examine carefully what it is that they hope to achieve and what resources they have at their disposal. There are risks with or without a contract.
3. When do you know it is time to publish? If you have already edited your edits, and revised at least once, and you find that you have proofed it and it has passed…it’s probably ready to publish…as ready as it will ever be. Perfection is not going to happen. It isn’t. If you think that it is, you are kidding yourself. Why? Different people have different tastes, and you will never please them all. Hopefully, you have written something that is marketable and will please an audience, but do not ever expect to make everyone happy. It is not going to happen in life or in writing.
I spent last week in a serious examination of reviews of books available online. It was almost laughable that some reviewers loved things other reviewers hated. Generally, you could see if it was a make or break novel, but it was profoundly amusing what some thought made the books and others thought broke the books.
I would highly recommend any potential author to go to the reviews and read both good and bad. Not only will you come to understand and value the significance of being imperfect, you may also find your audience before you push the publish button.
Here is one review that I personally took to heart in consideration of my own type of writing. It was a book written about a family of sisters who were socialites in the 1930s and 1940s:
“Yes, these sisters are all rich and/or famous, but I found it very hard to care. Maybe because I found them boring. I’m too old to care about Paris Hilton and too young to find the era these sisters lived in very interesting.”
I found this review, as simple as it was, full of valuable information to me as a writer. There is an audience of people who prefer interesting over famous. There is, perhaps, an era in time that is neglected. People want to be able to care about their characters.
I was also amazed to see books published years ago holding a high sellers rank in the single digits, yet displaying a majority of scathing reviews. Likewise, it was amazing to see books published within the past year with hundreds, even thousands, of stellar reviews ranking around #800,000. I have yet to figure out these phenomena, but I do think marketing is a significant factor.
Finally, marketing, should it be so complicated? I don’t know if I can answer that question but I am going to share with you a few of my ideas on the subject.
1. I don’t believe establishing a huge fan base and a reader market before you publish is necessarily going to keep selling your books. I am not saying that it isn’t helpful, it is the greatest support a person can have in this world of many writers and readers, but even that becomes saturated…and where do you go from there? Write more books!
2. The more eyes you are able to put your title in front of the greater your success will be in getting it read. There are 20 million plus books on Amazon alone. We are grains of sand on the beach. If you have a fan base and a reader market already established, you are at least going to sell some books and have your material read. Beyond that, you are going to have to find ways to get your book noticed as broadly as possible, utilizing your fan base and reader audience to promote your book. Have blog tours, reblog other author’s work, offer guest posts, and ask for interviews. Again, it may not sell hundreds of copies of every book you produce, but it is a start at getting your name noticed and establishing yourself as an author. The most visible authors out there have more than one book. Did I say, “Write more books?”
I am reminded of how I felt when I went from my little hometown’s bookmobile into the University library with my mother as a small child. Online bookstores are comparable to a whole world of University libraries and the search feature may not be as effective as the Dewy Decimal System if you don’t know what you are doing. Where do you start once you have your book, your blurb/book description, cover image and all of the elements of a good product to market?
3. Keywords and advertisements. I haven’t published thirty books, or even three, but I do know that nobody will see your book if you can’t even find it. Before you title your book, do a search and see what comes up. If your title is too very similar to others, you may find yourself a small fish in a big pond. I have a friend with a book that has so many similar titles that I have to put in both her title and her author name to pull up her book.
Also, while studying those reviews, look at the categories of similar reads posted at the bottom of the page. How are these books categorized? This is helpful information to know when selecting your keywords. If you would like more information on keywords and how they aid searches, you may start with this post, http://sknicholls.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/keywords-and-visibility-on-amazon/
And keep clicking through until you have found what you need to know to categorize your book effectively. Selecting the most suitable genre is only half the battle.
Once you have figured out how to set your book up where it should be, just how do you get others to notice that it is there? These are the folks who are not in your fan base or the reader audience you have established. These are total strangers in the greatest sense of the word. How do you get exposure to a greater audience?
Book signings, independent bookstores, brick and mortar magistrates and/or newspapers if you are traditionally published or have already sold 3000 copies and published through contracted sources, online platforms, magazines, book reviewer processes, contests, offer promotions (but not too many), library groups, book clubs, online advertisements, (This link might be helpful: http://sknicholls.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/ad-your-book/), writer conventions, societies, schools, book fairs, as many of these methods as you possibly can…and few are free. Most are labor intensive and can be expensive. Some methods work better for some genres than others. Oh, and write more books!
It’s a Catch 22. The more books you sell, the better your rankings, the better your rankings, the more books you sell.
Reviews can also make or break you. Some people are going to love what others hate and some people are going to hate what others love. You can have great reviews but few of them or you can have many reviews but they are poor. When I reviewed book reviews, I looked for common threads/themes, whether there were many or few…both in the good reviews and the not so good. I believe most readers who are seriously looking to purchase will do the same. Pay attention. Take action. One of the glorious things about self-publishing is that you CAN easily correct things that need attention, or at least put some effort into it…or into future writings. At the same time, some of these common threads/themes may just be differences in style preferences, so don’t over react. Balance poor reviews against good reviews, criticism against praise, before you make any dramatic changes.
NEVER, EVER respond to a reviewer on a selling platform, either favorably or unfavorably. On a blog, it would be acceptable to thank a reviewer for their time and consideration, but to engage a reviewer in debate would be unprofessional and totally unacceptable. Many feel to even show a presence is somewhat distasteful. I suppose it would depend on how well you know the reviewer and whether or not you already have a relationship with them. Personally, I would not post a review if I could not give it at least three stars. But that’s just me…somebody is going to give you a one or two star review, and that’s okay. That person gave you their time…or as much as they could of it.
This is my nutshell cracked open. Did I say, “Write More Books!?”
Writing, publishing and marketing ramblings of a mad woman. It isn’t all encompassing. I am not an authority on anything at all to do with books. These are my observations as a writer, reader, and author of one fiction book that has managed to pay for the cost of publishing it. Now, if it could just pay for the cost of promoting it and hiring a publicist, I could move easier onto the next project.
In the end, books are books. Ha!