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.
Anna’s Kitchen was my very first book, and 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 how much hard work goes into publishing a book, and why teamwork is so necessary.
Since I was doing it all myself, I had no one to edit or proofread for me. Therefore, I used my spell checker. Big mistake, I know. It’s how I learned, the hard way, why 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 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’ll need a couple tablespoons of fat if you’re making gravy. However, when it comes to life in general, you may need to add two tablespoons of fate. Just saying.
Sooner or later it happens to us all. We run into 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 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, it 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 that’s the case 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, 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 some rather interesting discussions with authors lamenting that their book isn’t selling they way they expected. So, I’ll 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 is list their book on Amazon, and people will come along and buy it.
“Build it and they will come,” may have worked in the movie Field of Dreams. However, it doesn’t apply when selling books. Nor is your publisher responsible for selling your book for you. They’ll distribute your book to booksellers, but they’re not in the marketing business. You, the author, are the one who’s 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, such as Twitter and Facebook.
List your book on other websites such as Goodreads.
Have book signings.
Send out newsletters
Have contests and giveaways.
Have book trailers.
Advertise your books
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. Or, 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. Either way, 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, Twitter and LinkedIn. 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 make 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, especially 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 do have to get there and do some work.
It’s happened to me twice now. That oh so sickening feeling of going to open a file, only to discover it has somehow vanished off my hard drive.
Computers are mysterious creatures. I jokingly tell people they’re black magic and voodoo, although I sometimes wonder if there could be some truth to this. Both times it happened was after I’d saved the files and shut down my computer properly. Obviously, files can be lost or hopelessly corrupted, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. This is why I have off site storage.
What is off site storage?
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.
What I use
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 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 a flashdrive
Some people tell me they don’t need off site storage as they manually backup their files up on a flash drive. So, what happens if you lose that flash drive? What happens if, Heaven forbid, your home is burglarized? Or if there’s a natural disaster and you lose you home? It happens. In such a scenario your flash 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 once having an interesting chat 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 used their characters.
As I recall, Star Trek conventions got started so the fans, or Trekkies, as they called themselves, could share their fan stories. However, it was a different time. Back then fanfiction authors wrote with pen and paper and they 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, isn’t it?)
Times have indeed changed. Today a fan writer can write his or her own Star Trek story 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 is 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 someone else’s character, for whatever reason, I would get their permission first. It’s only common courtesy. It could also be an opportunity for me to reach out and connect with another author. Most importantly, it would save me the worry of possibly 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. Both of my grandmothers watched 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 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. For many years, soap operas relied on these 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. She instead 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 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 soon the truth comes out. Years ago, Mom had an affair with the father of her child’s love interest. This means 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 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 similar event. He or she is missing and presumed dead, but the body is never found. 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. Or maybe not. Either way, the memories will eventually return. The other scenario is when the character returns after being held captive somewhere. Regardless of the circumstances, no one ever makes it home until after their spouse or lover has found someone else.
And 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, dozens upon dozens of times, to use social media to promote our books. Good advice. Social media is an essential marketing tool. However, just like anything else, it can also be overrated, if not overused.
Some authors go on social media and 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 book advertising.
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 long as you allow comments. Blogger, WordPress and other blog platforms also allow multiple pages, which 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. Trolls are people who apparently have nothing better to do with their time than to harass others or even destroy an author’s career. They’ve done some serious damage to Goodreads, and they can be a problem on other social media sites as well. However, with a blog, you can eliminate trolls completely. All you have to do is set up your comments so they cannot be posted without your prior approval, and bye-bye trolls. You’ve just created a place where people can feel safe engaging with you, and with each other.
Not Everyone Uses Social Media. Many people have either shut down their social media accounts, or they no longer use them due to privacy concerns and other issues. Others never signed up for social media 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
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media sites are great platforms for sharing your blog posts. However, they 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 or other social sharing services.
With Hootsuite you can post on multiple social media accounts at once. This saves time and prevents distractions. Hootsuite also offers you the option of changing your blog post URLs. This can be very helpful if you want to reshare your blog posts at a later time.
So there you have it. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media, when used properly, can certainly help you promote your books. However, in my opinion, there simply is no substitute for a blog.