I was an art major in college, and one of my painting professors once told our class, “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 contemporary romance novel, The Deception, to illustrate my point.
I was near the end of the story. I’d resolved the main conflict. I was tying up remaining the loose ends, and then I discovered that I’d left a huge opening for the antagonist 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 before, 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. I 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.
My very first book was a historic cookbook called Anna’s Kitchen. I produced it entirely on my own. I did my own writing and editing. I did my own proofreading. I did my own typesetting and cover design. (Okay, I had an advantage there. I was a professional graphic designer before I became an author.) I’ll admit that in hindsight, it was an incredible learning experience as I soon realized just how much hard work goes into producing a book. I also learned why teamwork is so necessary.
Lessons learned the hard way
Being a newbie, I used my spell checker as my editor and proofreader. At the time I honestly believed it was all I needed. Later on, realized I had made big mistake. It’s how I learned, the hard way, why every author must have an editor.
Before my book went to print I went over my manuscript many times. Everything looked fine, at least to me. However, once the book was printed, I found all kinds of errors. Murphy’s Law really is a thing. All those errors were well hidden, until the book was printed. Then they jumped off the page as it to shout, “Ha ha! You missed us! You missed us!”
As fate would have it
One of my friends came across something in a gravy recipe he found 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, it’s not a bad idea. I pray over the little everyday things much more than the big things. In this case, however, it was a typo the spell checker had missed. The word, fate, was spelled correctly, but what it should have read was, add two tablespoons of fat.
This is why every author needs an editor and a proofreader. We simply cannot be objective when it comes to critiquing our own work. Perhaps someday someone will invent an AI book editor, but even then, a machine cannot make a judgement call like a real person can.
Suffice to say that you need a couple tablespoons of fat if you’re making gravy. However, when it comes to writing and publishing a book, you may need to add two tablespoons of fate, along with a good editor and proofreader. Just saying.
Sooner or later it happens to all of us. We hit the 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 turn it on and off whenever we choose. This can be particularly frustrating for fiction writers having 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, this may not always work. Or, if you’re like me, and you only work on one story at a time, it doesn’t apply. If this is the case try stepping away from the computer. Go do a project that’s been on your to-do list for too long. Those nagging issues really can affect your creativity.
If that doesn’t help, try something else. Take a break and do something you enjoy doing. 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 the 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.
From time to time I get into interesting discussions with other authors lamenting about how their book isn’t selling they way they expected. The first thing I ask is what have they done to market their book. Most of the time they haven’t done anything. Many authors, especially newbies, honestly think all they have to do is list their book on Amazon, and people will buy it. Or they think someone else, such as a third party publisher, or distributor, will market their book.
“Build it and they will come,” may have worked in Field of Dreams. Unfortunately, it doesn’t apply to selling books. Nor is your publisher responsible for marketing your book. They distribute your book to booksellers, but they’re not in the marketing business. You, the author, are the one responsible for marketing your book, and not taking the initiative means 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 blog, or both, about your book.
Promote your book on social media.
List your book on other websites.
Have book signings.
Send out a newsletter.
Have contests and giveaways.
Create a book trailer.
Advertise your book
If you can only do one item on this list, make it a having website. If you’re on a tight budget, you can create blog on Blogger for free. Blogger has an array of nice-looking templates and it’s very easy to use. Godaddy, Wix and WordPress, offer templates so you can build your own website. If you have the means, you can hire a webmaster and have them create a state of the art website will all the bells and whistles. Whichever way you go, it’s up to you to promote your blog or website. This is where social media comes in.
Of you’re an author, social media is an absolute must. It costs nothing to open account on most social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 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 through social media, or with newsletters.
If your budget allows it you can hire a publicist, but be sure he or she has experience in book promotion. Book promotion is quite 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. This is especially true in a time when anyone with a computer and access to the Internet can upload a Word file to Amazon 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 it’s listed on Amazon. You really have to get there and do some work.
Off-site storage, sometimes called the cloud, is just that. Your files are backed up to a third party server. So, heaven forbid, your computer gets lost or stolen, or an important file gets lost or damaged, you can easily download a backup. Some people may worry about privacy, which is a legitimate concern. However, any reliable off-site storage company will encrypt your files.
My personal choice
I use Carbonite, but there are other offsite backup services out there. Carbonite costs me a little over $50 per year, and it’s money well spent. It runs in the background and it automatically backs up my files. I never have to stop and do a backup. On those rare occasions when I’ve had to use it, I found it very easy. The first time was to recover missing a Word file. I got all but the last two paragraphs back. More recently, I had to recover an InDesign file that mysteriously vanished. Carbonite downloaded it completely intact.
But I back my stuff up on an external hard drive
Some people tell me they don’t need off site storage as they manually backup their files up on an external hard drive or a flash drive. Okay. So, what happens if you accidentally drop your external drive, or if you lose your flash drive? What happens if, Heaven forbid, your home is burglarized? Or if there’s a natural disaster? It happens. In such a scenario your external drive may be lost as well. You can replace your computer, but the data will be gone forever, unless you have an off site backup.
Stuff happens, and it can happen to you. Carbonite has saved my rear-end, not once, but twice. I’m now a customer for life.
I recall an interesting chat I once had with a fellow author at a writer’s convention. He was telling me about another writer he knew who apparently got into serious trouble with Paramount. This other writer had allegedly written a very adult oriented Star Trek story, and Paramount had apparently taken issue with the way he’d used their characters.
As I recall, Star Trek conventions got started so the fans, or Trekkies, as they were called at the time, could share their fan stories. However, it was a different time. Fanfiction authors wrote with pen and paper and kept their stories in their notebooks. Self publishing didn’t exist. There was no Internet, no blogs, no Kindle. I know. It’s hard to imagine.
Times have indeed changed. Today a fan writer can write his or her own Star Trek story and publish it in their blog or post it on a fan forum. Their motive may be sincere. However, their devotion to their favorite TV show could, potentially, put them in legal hot water. I’m not an attorney, nor am I giving legal advice. That said, it’s common knowledge that the rights to any artistic creation, including works of fiction, belong to the person or persons who created it.
I write my own unique stories with my own characters. However, if I were to include a character someone else created, for whatever reason, I would get their permission first. It’s only common courtesy. It would also be an opportunity to reach out and connect with another author. Most importantly, it would save me the worry of getting a nasty letter from someone’s attorney.
For more information on copyright law, or if you have questions or concerns about something you may be writing, or may have published, please consult with a copyright attorney.
Once upon a time, my friends and I were soap opera junkies. We loved our soaps. I taped my favorite soap everyday for years. How times have changed. I don’t watch soaps anymore, and neither do any of my friends. We stopped watching them years ago. I don’t think it’s our age. My grandmothers were watching their favorite soaps when they were well into their eighties. I think it has to do with the fact that today’s soap operas are so poorly written.
Soap operas used to be about love and romance. Then one day the producers decided they wanted younger, more hip audiences. As a result, the writers began writing outrageous story lines. Demonic possessions. Frozen cities. Characters buried alive. UFOs. Good plot lines for shows like The X Files, but certainly not what we wanted to see on Days of Our Lives.
Those of us who write romantic fiction know basic plot structure revolves around conflict. Two characters meet and fall in love, but there are obstacles to overcome before they can live happily ever after. For many years, soap operas relied on classic plot lines which consistently worked and kept viewers watching.
The Romantic Triangle
Boy meets girl. They fall in madly love. However, another girl is in love with the same boy, and she won’t go quietly into the night. Instead she plots and schemes, relentlessly, to break them up, thus becoming, The Girl We Love to Hate.
Extramarital Affairs and Illegitimate Children
The occasional side effect of the romantic triangle. Soap opera writers kept audiences riveted for months, sometimes years, wondering when an unsuspecting husband, or ex husband, would finally discover that his son or daughter actually wasn’t his son or daughter.
Long Lost Half Siblings
Boy meets girl. It’s love at first sight, but one of their mothers is dead set against their relationship. She does everything in her power to break them up, and before long the truth comes out. Years ago, Mom had an affair with the father of her child’s love interest, and they’re half brother and sister. Fortunately, this always comes out before the romance is consummated.
Sometimes the writers will create a plot twist. The other mother will come forward later on and say no, so and so wasn’t her child’s father after all. Therefore, they were never half siblings. However, this only happens after the would-be lovers have moved on to other relationships. The fun never stops.
The Big Frame-Up
From time to time a villain has to be killed off, so why not frame a favorite character for a crime they didn’t commit? Of course, they would eventually be found innocent, but not until they’d gone on trial, been convicted and ended up in prison. This plot line can be easily adapted to 21st century technology by having the real killer tamper with the DNA test results.
Catastrophic diseases or injuries
Hodgkin’s Disease. Brain tumors. Comas. High risk pregnancies. All were common soap opera maladies. Tripping over a waste basket could cause a miscarriage, and how many times did a favorite character go blind or deaf? Luckily, in Soap Opera Land, everyone recovers, only to be struck down with another malady a few years later. However, soap opera characters are all immune to one disease. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
A rare medical condition in the real world. At one time, however, it was quite common on soaps. Having a favorite character lose his or her memory and wander off somewhere, with everyone else thinking they were dead, made for great soap opera watching.
Returning from the dead
A favorite character is involved in a plane crash. Or they lose control of their car and it crashes over a cliff and into the sea. The character is then missing and presumed dead, but the body is never found. Thus the character leaves the show, only to return later, oftentimes with another actor assuming the role.
This plot line has many possibilities. The character may be recovering from the aforementioned amnesia. (Their memories will eventually return.) The other scenario is the character escaping after being held captive somewhere. Regardless of the circumstances, no one ever makes it home until after their spouse or lover has moved on and found someone else.
So there you have it. Any romance writer worth his or her salt knows such stories of star-crossed lovers have worked since Romeo and Juliet, and they work just as well today. I use variations of them in my Marina Martindale romance novels, and my readers tell me they can’t put my books down.
As authors we’ve all been told, many times, to promote our books on social media. Good advice. Social media is an essential marketing tool. However, just like anything else, it can be overrated, if not overused.
Some authors post nothing but, “Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book!” To which I say, “Enough already!” We all want people to buy our books. However, social media was never intended to be a vehicle for free advertising. You’re also missing out on another valuable marketing tool. The blog.
Why I think the blog is still king
You Can Engage One on One with Your Readers. Like social media, a blog allows you to connect with your readers on a more personal level. You can share ideas, have contests and promotions, and build your following. In fact, a blog is a form of social media, as you can allow comments. Blogger, WordPress and other blog platforms also allow multiple pages. This means you can also use a blogging platform to build your website. That’s a whole lot more than I can do with my Facebook business page.
No Trolls Allowed. Unlike other social media, you can eliminate trolls completely with a blog. Simply set up your comments so they cannot be posted without your prior approval, and bye-bye trolls. You’ve created a place where people can feel safe engaging with you, and with each other.
Not Everyone Uses Social Media. Thanks to censorship and privacy concerns, many people have closed their social media accounts. Others never signed up in the first place. However, anyone with an Internet connection can read your blog. This makes you more accessible to your readers, especially if you include your blog address in your books.
A word of caution regarding social media
Unfortunately, social media platforms can also be extremely distracting, and they can easily take up too much of your valuable time. Try not to spend more than ten to fifteen minutes per day on any one platform, and don’t feel that you have to post something on social media everyday. Better yet, use Hootsuite, Buffer, or other social sharing services.
Social sharing services allow you to post on multiple social media accounts at once. This saves time and prevents distractions. They also change your blog post URLs, which can be helpful for resharing posts later on.
So there you have it. Social media, when used properly, can certainly help you promote your books. However, in my humble opinion, there simply is no substitute for a blog.