Find Your Own Writing Voice

Photo by Gayle Martin

One thing we writers have in common, regardless of our genres, is our own unique writing voice. What’s a writing voice? Simply put, a writing voice is the way you organize your thoughts and put them into words. No two of us do this exactly the same way. For example, some writers are more descriptive. Others are more direct. Danielle Steele and Rosamunde Pilcher are two of my favorite authors. Both are amazing story tellers, but their writing voices are very distinct. I would never confuse a Danielle Steele novel with a Rosamunde Pilcher novel.

The other day one of my Facebook friends posted about having a hard time writing his novel. As writers, we all have our moments. However, he was trying to write like another author. I responded with, “You need to write like you, not like someone else.” He response was to let me know he’d changed the narrative from third person to first person, and he was a lot more comfortable writing in the first person. I’m not a big fan of first person narratives myself, but some readers like them, and if it works for him then thats’s what matters. There is no right or wrong narrative.

So, how do you find your writing voice? The best way I know would be to start writing. Grab a notebook and a pen, and start keeping a journal. Writing classes can also be a big help. Every community college offers writing courses of some kind, and they’re usually very affordable. I also recommend taking the classes in person if at all possible. Having a real live instructor makes a huge difference. Other students can be helpful as well. If you’re unable to take a class in person there are online Master Classes for writing. As you learn more techniques, and become more comfortable with writing, you’ll discover your writing voice.

While other writers can certainly influence us, we should never set out to emulate them. There was only one Mark Twain, one Jane Austen, and one Edgar Allen Poe. No one could ever replace them. Likewise, there is only one you, so write like you.

Gayle Martin

 

From the Writer’s Desk is written, edited, and maintained by a real human being. It does not include content generated by AI (Artificial Intelligence) software of any kind.

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Blogs or Newsletters?

© Can Stock Photo/ kurhan

I saw a Twitter post the other day from another author asking which was best. A blog or a newsletter? I responded by saying I use both. I also have  websites. The Internet is an interesting place. You never know how or where someone will find you. Therefore, I’m of the opinion that you can never have too much online presence.

The Difference Between a Blog and a Traditional Website

Years ago I attended a meeting with the now defunct Arizona Book Publishers Association. The speaker, whose name I unfortunately can no longer recall, was an expert on online book marketing. He talked about how you need both a website an a blog. He described a website as the place where “you wore your business suit.” It should be straightforward and formal. As an author, I use my website to showcase my books.

The speaker then described a blog as less formal and more personal than a website. It was where you wore your sweats. In other words, a blog was where you could talk one to one with your readers. I use my Marina Martindale blog to share excerpts from my books, talk about my inspiration, and discuss my characters in depth.

Using a Blog as a Website

Nowadays many websites include a blog feed. At one time I included them on my website as well. Then one day it mysteriously vanished. I called tech support. They had no idea what was going on, but they couldn’t restore the feed either. I’ll just say I’m glad my blogs and websites use different hosts.

Some people use their blog as their website. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In fact, I recommend Blogger to those authors with limited budgets who can’t afford website hosting. Blogger is free and easy to use. You can customize your template to give it a unique look. The only out of pocket expense would be buying your own domain name. It’s optional, but I highly recommend it.

I use a WordPress blog for my historic cookbook website. Cookbooks are unique as they’re not actually read. They’re used for finding recipes. Therefore, my blog/website is for posting recipes and cooking tips, with a link to buy the cookbook at the end of each post.

One final word about author websites. Some authors like to include a bookstore. I once had one on my website as well. However, I soon discovered that readers don’t feel comfortable buying directly from the author or publisher. They prefer to buy from reputable online booksellers, such as Amazon. I’ve since taken my bookstore down and replaced it with links to where they can buy the books.

Newsletters

My newsletter is where I pitch my books. Each newsletter includes at least one “free sample” article with a link to a book except on my blog. I also have a monthly contest where my subscribers can win a free, author signed paperback edition of one of my novels. All they have do to enter is answer a multiple choice question correctly. The question is always something from the book I’m giving away, and I include a “hint.” The hint is a link to another blog post with with an except revealing the correct answer. It’s a great way to get people to read a sample. It’s an even better way to get a book into a reader’s hands. Back when I used to distribute through Ingram I always opted to have them ship returns to me. I’d much rather use them as contest prizes than have them end up in a landfill. It’s a win win for everyone.

A few words of caution regarding newsletters. People have to opt in. Never sign anyone up without their permission. You also need to limit how often you send them. I limit mine to one newsletter a month. The only exception is when I’m launching a new book. I will send them a short, to the point announcement with a link to where they can buy the book. I save the rest for the next newsletter. The number one reason why people unsubscribe to a newsletter is because they’re receiving too many of them. So when it comes to newsletters, less is more.

 

 

 

 

The Trouble with Twitter

© CanStockPhoto/ShutterM

Someone I follow on YouTube recently posted a video about why he finally left Twitter. He made some interesting points. Twitter has an unusual dynamic. While most Twitter users are well educated people, he noticed they all seem to behave like middle school kids.

I use Twitter to promote my books and photography. However, I don’t engage as much on Twitter as I do on other social media platforms. I’ve always found their platform odd. Twitter used to call their tweets, “mini blogs.”  When I first signed up posts were  limited to 140 characters, which I found too limiting. I’m a writer. I want to express myself. They’ve since doubled it to 280 characters, but it’s still pretty limiting. Therefore, I mostly use Twitter to post links to my blogs and websites.

I use third party websites to post my Tweets. One is Hootsuite, the other is Buffer. Both offer free accounts with some nice features, such as shorted URLs for your links. Hootsuite has a nice dashboard where you can see how well your tweet performed. Buffer gives you preselected time slots to schedule your tweets. It too is a nice feature which can save you valuable time. However, both limit how often you can tweet per day. If you want to tweet more then the limit, you’ll have to upgrade to a paying account.

The YouTube vlogger also talked about Twitter “tribes.” Like other social media platforms, Twitter algorithms suggest people for you to follow. It also recommends you to people with a similar interests. Interestingly enough, my tribe is other writers and photographers, so I’m adding new hashtags, such as, “#romancereaders” and “#photographylovers,” to my tweets. Hopefully, this will attract more prospective readers and art buyers.

From time to time I’ll log on to Twitter itself, but certainly not every day. If a major news event is happening, particularly in my local area, Twitter is the best platform for real time updates. My tribe mostly tweets about their writing. So if someone asking a question about their writing, and I think I can help, I’ll send them a reply. I honestly enjoy helping other writers whenever I can.

Even though my tribe is a friendly one, I’m still very cautious about what I say on Twitter. If there is anything which could possibly be perceived as, “controversial,” then rest assured, someone will get pissed off and start screaming and name calling. Hate to say it, but the vlogger was right. A grown man or woman will indeed behave like a middle school kid. This is why Twitter is, unfortunately, a hostile platform. I find it very sad. It has the potential to be a whole lot more.

Gayle Martin

 

 

 

How to Create a Book Video

photo by Gayle Martin

One of the perks of being a novel writer is learning new skills, and one of the new skills I learned was video production. Book videos are a must-have tool for building your brand and marketing your book(s). They’re like a TV commercial or a movie trailer and they’re used on websites, blogs, and social media. There are several different ways to go about producing a book video. The most common are slideshows, author readings, and book trailers

Video Slideshows

Back in the mid 2000s, when I wrote my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers, Internet videos were a new technology. Video editing software was expensive and difficult to use. So, back then, many authors produced video slideshows, which were easy to create in Powerpoint. My first two book videos were simple PowerPoint presentations that I produced myself for very little money.

Even today, you can still create a nice video slideshow without having to spend a lot of money. Powerpoint has come a long way, and nowadays you can animate slides, record voice overs, and add music tracks to your presentation. Or you can take it to the next level and produce your slideshow in iMovie or one of its Windows counterparts. Whatever approach you take is entirely up to you.

Author Readings

Thanks for smartphones, we all have a camcorder in our pocket. Those authors who wish to make a more personal connection with their readers may opt to read a portion of their book to their readers. Such videos are inexpensive and easy to produce. All you need is a smartphone, a tripod, and some basic video editing software, such as iMovie.

Lighting, however, may be a challenge, so you should definitely take some test shots of your set before you begin shooting. If you have the means, consider hiring someone to shoot the video for you. A professional will know how to light the scene and can determine which camera angles are the most flattering. Either way, be sure to read a sample that’s interesting and action packed, but don’t give too much of your story away.

Book Trailers

Book trailers are like movie trailers. You shoot a few scenes from your book, but like the author reading, you don’t want to give too much of your story away. The idea is to entice a potential reader.

Unlike slideshows and author readings, book trailers are more expensive to create, and in most cases you’ll need to hire a professional to produce the video for you. Be sure to read their contract carefully before you sign. You may also need to hire actors. If so, they will need to sign a release form, granting you their permission to use their image. There are many release form templates available for download on the Internet, and oftentimes they are free.

Whether you are creating your video yourself or hiring a pro, there are a few things you need to be aware of when it comes to producing a video.

Royalty Free Doesn’t Mean Copyright Free

Some people think royalty free means copyright free. However, this isn’t the case at all. Royalty free is a term for a particular type of licensing agreement. Simply put, it means you don’t have to pay the right holder each time their image or music is used. You still have to pay a one time licensing fee up front to use the footage or music. There may also be limits on how the footage or music can be used. For example, it may be limited to editorial or non-commercial use only, so be sure to read the fine print carefully.

Other Sources

Pond5 is my go-to company for video production. You name it, they probably have it. Stock footage, music, photos, and whatever else you may need. Shutterstock and Can Stock Photo are also good sources. All of these companies will charge a fee, so you may want to shop around. Be sure to read the licensing agreement before you buy, and be wary of any website giving you “free” stuff. The quality may not be that great, and you may be buying pirated materials.

And finally

Whether you’re doing a simple slideshow video, or hiring a professional and doing a full board production, it’s important to remember that content is king. You want viewers to take an interest in your books, but you don’t want to give them too much information either.

I’ve posted one of my  book trailers below. It’s for my Marina Martindale contemporary romance novel, The Deception. I’ve come a long way since I created my first book video. Instead of a simple Powerpoint slideshow, I’m now producing book trailers.

Gayle Martin

 

Consistent Book Cover Design

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, building your own unique brand as an author is essential. For those of us who’ve written more than one book, this includes having consistent covers. After all, what’s the first thing a potential reader sees? Your book cover.

Five Star Publications, Inc., published Gunfight at the O.K. Corral: Luke and Jenny Visit Tombstone, the first title of my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers, back in 2006. As publisher, Five Star took care of the cover design. The illustrator and cover designer created a beautiful book cover, and I was quite pleased with it.

Unfortunately, when the time came to publish my second book, Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War: a Luke and Jenny Adventure I found out that the person who designed and illustrated the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral cover was no longer available. Thankfully, we were able to find another illustrator with a similar drawing style. However, no two artists are exactly the same. I loved the Billy the Kid cover illustration, but it didn’t match the O.K. Corral illustration closely enough to make the two books look related. I now had to make a decision. I could either have a book series with one cover which looked like it didn’t belong, or I could have the original Luke and Jenny book cover redone with a new artwork from the new illustrator. I opted for the latter. It really was my only option.

My covers were now consistent, which, in turn, made it that much easier to build my brand.

A few years later I published updated editions of the Luke and Jenny series, this time with my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC. I could have redesigned the covers with new illustrations, but opted not to. My brand had been well established by then, and other than new ISBN numbers, and some minor copy editing, the books were essentially the same as the Five Star editions. The only change I made was to add the brown borders to distinguish them from the earlier Five Star series.

After completing my Luke and Jenny series I changed genres and started writing fiction for adult readers. This meant starting all over from scratch and building an entirely new brand, including creating a pen name, Marina Martindale, but the same rules for my covers applied. While I now write stand alone novels, I still work with Wes Lowe, who did the Luke and Jenny cover illustrations, and I still have consistency in the cover designs. It’s all about building your brand.

Gayle Martin

 

 

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 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 reasons 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 was married to a 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 of historical novels for young readers, 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.

Why I switched to a pen name

As much as I loved my Luke and Jenny books, I wanted to branch out into the romance genre. Most readers in this genre expect some steamy love scenes. However, 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. If you opt to do so, I highly recommend creating one that’s easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and memorable.

Gayle Martin
or is it
Marina Martindale?