When to Use a Pen Name

People ask me if I write under my real name, or a pen name. I actually write under both. There are many reasons why some authors choose to write under pen names.  

  • The author wishes to keep his or her privacy.
  • The author writes controversial or sensitive subject matter, such as erotica.
  • There is, by coincidence, another author with the same name, or a similar name.
  • The author has a name that is confusing, hard to pronounce, or with an unusual spelling.
  • The author writes in more than one genre, and wishes to build a separate brand for each.

The latter two apply to me.


When I wrote my first book, Anna’s Kitchen, I thought my legal name, Gayle Martin, was perhaps too common. So, I included my maiden name, Homes. However, there was a problem. Before I married Mr. Martin, I spent my life having both a first and a last name with unusual spellings. Gayle Homes. I was constantly having to spell my name for people, and they were still getting my name wrong. They all thought I was, “Gail Holmes.” And no, it didn’t exactly do wonders for my self-esteem. 

Once Anna’s Kitchen was published, I realized that the troubles of the past had come back to haunt me. The name, Gayle Homes, with or without, Martin, simply left too big of a margin for error for a keyword search. Had I not picked up the name, Martin, along my life’s journey, I would have used a pen name from the get-go. That said, we learn from our mistakes. So when I started publishing my Luke and Jenny series, I dropped the name Homes and published as Gayle Martin. It worked, and I successfully built my brand as a children’s book author. Then came the next problem.


As much as I loved my Luke and Jenny books, I wanted to branch out into the romance genre. And most readers in this genre expect some steamy love scenes. This would present a real problem if young Luke and Jenny fans, or their parents, bought my newer books, thinking they too were written for younger readers. So, I created a pen name, Marina Martindale, which is simply a play on my middle name, Marie, and my last name, Martin.


Ultimately, it’s up to each author to decide whether or not to write under a pen name. And if you opt to do so, I highly recommend creating one that’s easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and memorable.

GM
or is it
MM?

How to Create an Interesting Villain

© Can Stock Photo / Ostill

It seems like I spend so much time thinking about the good guys that I forget the bad guy needs love too. Plot lines revolve around conflict. So, there must be a source behind that conflict. And that would be the antagonist. More commonly known as the villain.


There are different approaches to creating a villain. One is to have him or her truly evil and completely irredeemable. Think Count Dracula. Your readers will hate him and root for the good guys to wipe him out. This is the villain you can kill off at the end of the story, and leave your readers feeling relieved and satisfied.


A more interesting approach is to create a conflicted villain. Instead of Count Dracula, you have Barnabas Collins, the reluctant vampire from Dark Shadows. Barnabas had been a good guy until a witch placed a vampire curse him. This leaves him despising what he’s become. I think of Barnabas as a “hero-villain.” He’s an antagonist we can root for. We want to see him cured of his affliction and end up with the girl. In the interim, however, he’ll wreak plenty of havoc.


Some storytellers like to take chances and have their hero go bad. Interesting approach, but it can be tricky. If you’re going to attempt it, your character will need plenty of redeeming qualities. If not, your readers won’t make a connection, and they won’t root for him or her. By the end of the story he or she will have to renounce all the bad things they did earlier. They must also be willing to make up for the sins of the past. If not, your readers won’t be satisfied with the ending, assuming they stayed with your story until the end.


Another way to conclude your story would be to end a tragedy with a tragedy. This works well when your villain has done things that simply can’t be walked away from. At the end of the original Star Wars saga, Darth Vader renounces the emperor and turns away from the dark side of the force. He has to sacrifice his own life in order to save Luke. This made a dramatic, and satisfying, end of the conflict.


So there you have it. With a little imagination, and a few character quirks, you can create interesting and memorable villains who’ll keep your readers engaged. And that’s what good storytelling is all about.

GM

How to Write a Good Description of Your Novel

From time to time I get emails from other authors announcing their latest book, This included one from someone who’s been writing novels longer than I have. It had the usual announcement, along with the book cover and a description. The description, however, was problematic, to say the least. It was at least five hundred words, if not more. And it described the entire plot. Once I finished reading it I had no incentive to buy the book. I knew the story from start to finish.


One of my mentors taught me to write descriptions of ten to one hundred words, and nothing longer. Over time I’ve discovered that a fifty to one hundred word description works nicely. I also write teasers, not plot summaries. The whole idea of a book description is to give a potential reader a general idea of what the story is about. It should also entice them to read more. In other words, it’s ad copy


I’ve pasted the descriptions for my Marina Martindale novels, The Journey, and The Stalker, as examples of effective teaser descriptions.


GM

The Journey

Cassie Palmer’s world is shattered when a car crash leaves her hospitalized and fighting for her life. Her husband, Jeremy, begins his own frightening journey when he meets Denise, one of Cassie’s nurses. Denise seems familiar, but while he may no longer remember her, she has neither forgiven nor forgotten how he jilted her, years before. Denise seeks revenge and Jeremy soon vanishes under mysterious circumstances, leaving his grieving wife behind. As Cassie struggles to recover her life will take another strange turn, when an unexpected visitor reveals that things are not as they appear.

The Stalker

Rachel Bennett may have attended her ten-year high school reunion on a whim, but fate intervened once she saw Shane MacLeod. No longer the shy, gawky teenager she remembered, Shane has matured into a handsome and successful man, but her perfect evening ends when another man from her past suddenly reappears. Craig Walker had been her mentor until he became jealous of her talent and success. Now he intends to either have her, or destroy her at all costs. As Rachel’s family pressures her to take Craig to court, she can no longer ignore her nagging feeling that a tragedy is about to strike.

Knowing When to Quit, Part One

(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / tomasfoto

 I was an art major in college, and I’ll always remember one of my painting professors said.


“Every painter needs to have someone standing behind him to shoot him when he’s done. Otherwise, he’ll overwork the painting and turn it into mud.”


It’s extremely difficult for us as artists to see our work objectively enough to know when it’s finished. And once we realize we’ve overworked something, it may be too late to salvage it. Fortunately, when it comes to writing, there are warning signs that we can look for. One would be redundancy. I’ll use my Marina Martindale novel, The Deception, to illustrate my point.


I was near the end of the story. I’d resolved the main conflict. But as I was tying up remaining the loose ends I suddenly discovered a huge opening for one of the antagonists to go after the protagonist a second time. This left me with two options. One was to write a sequel. Tempting thought, as I loved my cast of characters. However, in this instance, the conflict would have been virtually the same as the conflict in the first book, thus making sequel redundant. In other words, it would have been a boring, “been there, done that,” story. So, rather than waste my time, and my reader’s time, with a bad sequel, I wrote a definitive ending and killed off the antagonist, ending the feud once and for all. 


Does your story feel like it’s getting stale? If so, go back and look at your conflict. If it keeps repeating itself, or if the results of your character’s choices are always the same, it may be that your story has become too redundant.


GM

Just Add Two Tablespoons of Fate

Anna’s Kitchen was my very first book. I completely produced and published it on my own. I think every author should be required do this at least once. It’s an incredible learning experience. It makes us extremely aware of just how much hard work goes into publishing a book, and why teamwork is so necessary.


Because I was doing it all myself, I had no one to edit or proofread for me. So, I used my spell checker. Big mistake, I know. It’s how I learned, the hard way, that every author must have an editor.


Once the book was printed I found all kinds of errors. One of my friends came across one in a gravy recipe he thought was particularly amusing. It said, “Add two tablespoons of fate.” He laughed and laughed. Then he asked me if it meant that we were supposed to pray over the gravy as it was being prepared. Now mind you, that’s not a bad idea. I pray over the little everyday things in life much more than the big things. In this case, however, it was a typo that the spell checker had missed. The word, “fate” was spelled correctly. But what it should have read was, “add two tablespoons of fat.”


Yes, you need a couple tablespoons of fat if you’re making gravy. However, when it comes to life in general, you might need to add two tablespoons of fate. Just saying.

GM

The Cure for Writer’s Block

Graphic by Gayle Martin

It happens to all of us at one time or another. We run into a proverbial brick wall and suddenly find ourselves unable to come up with something to write about. Ugh!

Creativity is a funny thing. We can’t always turn it on and off whenever we choose. This can be particularly frustrating for fiction writers who have to juggle their writing time between jobs and families.

 
Sometimes switching gears and writing about another topic can help. I have friends who work on two or three different books at the same time. If they get stuck on one, they simply set it aside and work on another one. However, if that doesn’t work, or, if you’re like me, and you only work on one story at a time, then try stepping away from the computer. Go do a project that’s been on your “honey do” list for too long. Those nagging issues really can affect your creativity.

If that doesn’t help, then take a break and do something you enjoy. Bake cookies. Play a round of golf. Go to a movie, or a ball game. Take a day trip somewhere. Read a book you haven’t had time to read. Call a friend or relative you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Taking a time out and doing something you enjoy gives your mind  a chance to focus on other things. It also gives your creative muse a rest. Don’t worry about your story. It’ll come back. And when it does, you can pick up where you left off. 


GM

So Who’s Responsible for Marketing Your Book?

From time to time I get into some rather interesting conversations with authors lamenting the fact that their book isn’t selling they way they expected. So, I ask them what they’ve done to market their book. Oftentimes they haven’t done anything. Many authors, especially newbies, honestly think all they have to do was list their book on Amazon, and people would come along and buy it.


“Build it and they will come,” may have worked in the movie Field of Dreams. However, that mindset doesn’t apply when selling books. Nor is your publisher responsible for selling your book for you. They distribute it, not market it. So, unless you, the author, go out and do some marketing, your book won’t sell. Fortunately, there are many things that you can and should be doing to help promote your book. 

How authors can promote their books

  • Have a website or a blog, or both, about your book.
  • Promote your book on social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.
  • List your book on other websites such as Goodreads.
  • Book signings.
  • Newsletters
  • Contests and giveaways.
  • Book Trailers.
  • Advertising.

If you only do one item on this list, make it a website. If you’re on a tight budget, you can do a simple, do it yourself blog on platforms such as Blogger, virtually for free. And if you have the means, you can hire a webmaster and have a state of the art website will all the bells and whistles. Either way, however, it’s up to you to promote your blog or website.


Social media is an absolute must as well. It costs nothing to open account on most social media platforms. Keep in mind, however, that it takes time to build a following on social media, so don’t expect instant results. I’ve also found contests and giveaways to be a nice marketing tool. You can do giveaways on Amazon, through social media, or in newsletters.


If your budget allows it you can hire a publicist. If you do, be sure that he or she has experience in book promotion, as book promotion is different from other kinds of public relations. Also be sure to talk to him or her about the cost. Some firms may charge as much as $3000 a month for their services. Others may charge much less, and may do just as good of a job as the higher-priced publicists.


No one ever said marketing a book would be easy, especially in a time when anyone with a computer and access to the Internet can upload a Word file onto Amazon Kindle and call themselves an author. However, unless your name is Stephen King, James Patterson or J.K. Rowling, don’t expect people bust down the doors to buy your book just because you’ve listed it on Amazon. You really do have to get there and do some work.

GM