My 5 Top Tips for New Authors

Getting back to the posts from the Heart Search Blog Tour, Elaine Hillson was my next fabulous host. She asked me for my 5 top tips for new authors. I could have written more than five to be honest, but I think these are the most pertinent and important.

Writing, like any skill, needs to be honed. You need to study the craft and never stop learning. I could spend ages giving you the benefit of my experiences, and it’s all useful stuff, but I’m going to pass that by and talk about things you need to ponder once you’ve finished your manuscript.

Editing and Beta Reading:

It’s incredibly difficult to see our own mistakes in our manuscripts. We see how we want it to read and not how it actually does. It takes a fresh pair of eyes to take our work and turn it into a polished gem. Editors don’t come cheap yet good ones are worth their weight in gold. There are two levels of editing; copy/line editing and full editing.

A copy/line editor will look at grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. They will also look at overused words and repeated sentences beginning with the same word which are too close together. In addition, they check for inconsistencies within your manuscript. They won’t make the changes for you, but will point out where the problems exist and leave you to correct the mistakes.

A full edit will encompass all the above plus a developmental and structural edit. This is where the editor will look at redundant phrases and paragraphs, timelines and the story as a whole. They will suggest changes based on experience and the way the story reads. Ultimately they want to make your manuscript the best it can be for you.

A good editor will gently guide you in bringing your work to ‘submission ready’ status. You may not agree with all the changes an editor suggests, and that’s okay because it’s your right as the author to take or discard their recommendations. But don’t dismiss them out of hand – never forget the editor has the experience you lack, so consider each comment carefully and be prepared to compromise on occasions.

After all the editing, I would always recommend getting a Beta Reader to go through the novel. Pick wisely. This should be someone you trust to give you good honest feedback and criticism, preferably not a family member as they will feel obliged to tell you how wonderful it is because of your relationship with them. It needs to be someone impartial. Take their critique on board. They are, in a way, representative of all the readers who could potentially buy your book. If they find something confusing, lacking in substance or explanation, you can bet other readers will too, so be prepared to rewrite in places and once again, get your editor to check the changes.

The important thing to remember here is by self-publishing a book (if you decide to take that route) which is full of typos, mistakes and bad grammar, you are setting yourself up for bad reviews and a tarnished reputation. Mud sticks!

ISBN’s:

If you plan to publish your novel as an e-book through Kindle only, you don’t need an ISBN. If you decide to go through one of the ‘print on demand’ companies like CreateSpace or Lulu you can get a cheap or free ISBN. However, you are quite limited by where you can make your book available for sale.

Let’s take CreateSpace as an example. You can obtain a free ISBN when you upload your book, but you are limited to their sales channels. Sure you can pay for ‘Extended Distribution’ which would open up further outlets in which your book can be bought, but you cannot go outside of their network and sell your book wherever you want.

By purchasing your own ISBN (please note: you need one for each medium your book is published so if you decide on e-book and paperback, you will need separate ISBN’s for each), you are in control. You own the legal rights to your book which gives you the freedom to select your own sales channels anywhere.

ISBN’s aren’t cheap, but well worth the investment in my humble opinion. I have bought a block of ten through my publishing group, which has worked out very cost effective.

If you are one of the lucky ones who get picked up by a traditional publisher, this is all done for you, but the publisher owns the ISBN not you!

Social Media Platforms:

If you’re not very social media savvy, you better start practicing before your book comes out. Don’t try and spread yourself too thin – just pick a couple which are manageable and start building a following/friends list. These people are the first ones who will be exposed to news of your book and if they like the sound of it, they’ll keep watching you closely. Feed snippets of news of your progress to keep them interested, make and cultivate new online friendships as you never know where it might lead. You can also pick up useful information from other authors recommending editors or beta readers, plus hints, tricks and tips which you can utilise to your advantage.

Blog:

Start your own blog. This is, by far, your most useful platform and what’s more, the vast majority are free! You can utilise this space to allow your potential readers to get to know you and your writing. The more you engage them, the more they will talk about it to their friends and the wider your reach and potential readership becomes.

You don’t have to blog every single day – I don’t. Some authors do, but that is their choice. Set yourself a goal of blogging, say once a fortnight, to begin with (and don’t forget to publicise each post on your social media platforms). If you begin to feel you can increase it to once a week, then do so. You’re the one in control – just make sure you leave enough time for writing outside of this and the previous activities mentioned for Social Media.

And finally . . .

Marketing:

Whichever route you take to publishing, you are still going to have to market yourself. And if you haven’t done it before, it’s quite a daunting task. Look on social media to see what other authors are doing, read blog posts devoted to the subject, research what is available, what is free and what you can afford.

I have an advantage. I’ve had quite a bit of experience in marketing in my ‘day jobs’, so already have the ethos entrenched in the old grey matter. I’ve followed the advice and tips given to you above and orchestrated a marketing plan leading up to and following on from the launch of my novel. I’m told I’ve created a bit of a ‘buzz’ about it on the internet/social media platforms which is what I set out to do. I know my plans aren’t going to generate humungous sales overnight (although it would be nice), but each person who buys my book and enjoys it is likely to recommend it to their friends. Each reader who posts a good review on Amazon or Goodreads is showing the world that they think my novel is a worthwhile buy. All this adds to my credibility as an author and little by little the network expands.

I hope you find these tips useful and I wish you all the very best of luck in your published career!

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Wading Through the Publishing River

Michelle Birbeck was my next fabulous hostess on the Heart Search Blog Tour. She wanted me to write on the subject of publishing and this is what I came up with.

You’ve spent untold hours writing your story. You’ve lovingly crafted your character and skilfully designed your plot. Having gone through editing and beta reading, your manuscript is now as perfect as you can make it and now comes the hardest decision of all – how to publish it.

As writers, most of us dream of getting an agent and being contracted to one of the ‘Big Six’ publishers, but it’s not as easy as that, is it?

Basically you have three choices; attempt to get an agent who will tout your masterpiece until you get a publishing contract, go through an Indie Publisher, or self-publish.

Traditional Publishing:

These days, it’s even harder to get an agent than ever. They are inundated by manuscripts and you can wait months for a response. The wait is agonising – I know, I’ve been there! You have to pen a killer query letter which will grab them in the first couple of sentences (no longer than one page), write a single page synopsis which will highlight the most exciting parts of your book and send in two or three chapters for them to consider. Writing a query letter which will have the desired effect is, in some ways, harder than writing the book itself. You need to research your potential agents thoroughly and adhere to their submission requirements to the letter with every ‘i’ dotted and every ‘t’ crossed. No mean feat that!

Having done all of that, you send it off with hope in your heart and wait. Several weeks or months later comes the email you’ve been dreading – the rejection. However, if this is your dream, you keep trying other agents and wait some more. It’s like a never-ending circle. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones who gets picked up by an agent, but there’s more waiting in store as your agent suggests possible changes to the book and you may have to re-write sections and then there’s the time to kill while your agent tries to get you a publishing deal. While all this is going on, you are depriving potential readers of your work of art. Still, if that’s your dream you must follow it.

Indie Publishing:

This is a similar process to traditional publishing except that you submit direct to the publisher. Again, you need to do your homework and ensure the publishers you choose want the genre your novel is based in and most of them only accept submission at certain times during the year. If you send your submission in speculatively outside of their ‘open window’, it will either be deleted or thrown away.

Again, it’s important to follow the submission guidelines to the letter, and you still have to wait and be prepared for rejections.

Self-Publishing:

This is, by far, the quickest and easiest way of getting your book out to the public. You can sign up to Kindle Direct Publishing on Amazon and upload your manuscript. It’s a simple process and quite quick. If you want a paperback as well, CreateSpace or Lulu are the best, and again the process is simple. You can get free or cheap ISBN numbers through both (an ISBN is not needed for e-book through Kindle, but it does limit the availability – more on that in a minute). However, you may be limited to their distribution networks only.

If you purchase your own ISBN number, you have the flexibility to place your novel in so many more sales channels for either your e-book, paperback or both, and is something I would recommend. However, if you don’t have the time to place your book on Smashwords, Kobo, Barnes & Noble et al, you may be content to go with the distribution packages offered by these print on demand companies. Your choice!

One word of caution – don’t think about putting your novel out there before getting it professionally edited. Readers will be put off by typos and inconsistencies and ultimately this could be the kiss of death for your work. The money spent on getting your novel edited will pay off in the long run when weighed up against a tarnished reputation which is unrecoverable.

I’m lucky – I have the best of both worlds! I’m self-published under the banner of an Indie Publisher, Myrddin Publishing Group. This means I own the legal rights to my book and not the publisher, but I have the support of the team behind me.

Whatever you decide to do, you will still have to be prepared to market your book yourself. This takes time and dedication and where some authors fall down – they have no idea where to start. My advice is to look around on social media platforms and see which individuals or companies offer advice on marketing to authors and learn fast. Marketing is a whole different post so I’m not going to go into that now.

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At the end of the day, only you can decide what’s best for you and your book. I have one or two theories of my own which are yet to be put to the test, but ultimately you need to follow your dream. Good luck!

I hope you found this useful!

Characterisation

This post was hosted by the lovely Madeline Dyer during the Heart Search Blog Tour. She asked me to write on something I’m quite passionate about – characterisation. Here it is:

There’s no easy way of saying it, so I’ll be as blunt as a spoon. It doesn’t matter if your story is character-driven or plot-driven; if you don’t breathe life into your main cast then your story is like a decapitated chicken – dead from the neck up! So how do we make sure our main characters come alive for the reader?

Okay, so here we have our two main characters. Let’s call them Paula and Fred. At the moment they are like cardboard cut-outs. Sure we could add a bit of colour by saying Paula has black hair and hazel eyes, and Fred has ginger hair and blue eyes, we could say they are tall or short, thin or chubby or variations in between. We could go one stage further and include that Paula has a tiny scar above one eyebrow or Fred has a wart on the tip of his nose; it’s a start – it gives the reader a little something to picture – but is it really breathing life into them? The simple answer is, no.

We need to give them personalities, emotions, hopes and dreams, in short we need to make them realistic and relatable.

You need to spend some time getting to know Paula and Fred; find out what makes them happy or sad, angry or soft and gooey, what their aspirations are, whether they are essentially good or bad and what makes them tick. Once you’ve gone through this process of building a personality profile for them you then need to make that personality come alive.

The most effective ways are through dialogue and through showing their emotions.

So if you were writing a scene where Paula was angry about something Fred had done and she was giving him a serious tongue-lashing, the worst thing you can do is just pen the obvious drivel some writers call dialogue. Put yourself in Paula’s shoes and make the dialogue realistic to fit the scene. It’s okay for Paula to stutter in her anger and call him names. It’s fine for her to get her words a bit mixed up in the heat of the moment. Isn’t that what happens in real life? Now think of how Fred might defend himself (if he does at all – that’s your call. He might be the type of guy who holds his hands up, admits he’s dropped the ball and wants to make things better) and make his dialogue as realistic as hers.

Now we’re getting somewhere. But what is the magic ingredient? Showing!

Think about the expressions on their faces and describe them. No you don’t have to go to the nth degree, but a phrase like ‘her flashing eyes narrowed and her voice was laden with venom’ paints a very strong picture for the reader to get hold of. Now think about body language or gestures they might be using. ‘Fred held his hands up as if to ward off her words, taking a step away from her’- again this allows the reader to form an image of what is occurring in the scene. Using small phrases to show how your character is feeling and reacting to a given situation makes them much stronger, which culminates in a story which is now much more interesting than two-day old dishwater.

The vast majority of readers want to connect with the characters in your story, they want to feel their emotions, be able to picture the scene and see how each person is behaving, some even want to imagine themselves as either Paula or Fred. But they can only achieve this if you bring those cardboard cut-outs to life.

A quick tip to help you with characterisation is to people watch (and no I don’t mean for you to stare at people until you get a punch on the nose or a visit from someone wearing a uniform and carrying a badge). Take snippets from what you see and hear around you. When you’re out shopping or at the movies or wherever, watch how people relate to each other and listen to extracts of their discussions. Make mental notes or even better, carry a notepad around with you and if you see or hear something you think you could use, jot it down.

All your characters need to be given life; they need hearts and minds to make them relatable and speech to make them realistic.

 

Self-Marketing My Way

The third post to appear on the Heart Search Blog Tour was hosted by the lovely Maree Ward-Russell in New Zealand, home to the film sets of the fantastic Lord of the Rings films (among others, of course, but this series is probably the most famous one filmed in that lovely part of the world). Maree asked me to write about marketing tips and this is what I came up with.

Being an Indie published author means you have to do all your own marketing, right from day one and it’s a daunting task if you’ve never done anything like it before. Although I’ve done a great deal of marketing in my day jobs, marketing yourself online is a whole different story. However, some of the same general rules apply, which are:

1.         Word of mouth / recommendations are the best form of advertising

2.         All consumers (and books/e-books are no different) consciously or subconsciously have one thing in their minds when they see advertising – “what’s in it for me?”

3.         You need to create demand for your product

I’m going to start off with number three first (just to be different) as it’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last couple of months.

I’ve been talking about Heart Search a great deal on Twitter, Facebook and my blog. I’ve also had some really cheap but good quality postcards printed with the book cover on one side and on the reverse are the book blurb and my contact details. These have been handed to people during conversations – as soon as I find out they like to read they get the card shoved in their hands. Even during a recent trip to the hospital, I got chatting to some of the staff and ended up handing out about six cards and one said they would pin it on the staff notice board.

Secondly, I’ve been leaking teasers in advance of the book launch. About three or four weeks prior I revealed the cover and blurb and publicized it and two weeks before I revealed the book trailer, making sure I created anticipation with teasing blog posts leading up to it. But I haven’t done this alone. I decided, the best way to get a buzz going and get people to know about and talk about my book was to run a Blog Tour. I did this well in advance so the people who signed up could also participate in the pre-launch unveilings too.

Obviously, the more people who sign up, the more the word spreads and the more people get to hear about it. The majority of those who signed up for the tour, have also revealed the cover and trailer on their sites/blogs, and publicised it through social media channels. Now if we stop for a moment and think of reach, just from Twitter, let’s assume for a moment that every person who is on the blog tour has 1,000+ followers and there are twenty people of the tour, straight away you’ve reached twenty thousand people. Now if ten per cent of those twenty thousand retweeted the post(s), that has reached the followers of another two thousand people and so the cobweb or network grows of people who now know my book exists.

During the blog tour which is running from 8-31 October, there will be a minimum of two and a maximum of four different blog posts appearing every single day throughout the tour; reviews (which will be posted to Amazon and Goodreads as well), interviews, excerpts and guest posts like this one, plus a giveaway (and everyone loves to get something for nothing! Yes I’ve had to spend some money to put the giveaway together, but I believe it’s money well spent, especially if it has the desired effect of bringing my book to the attention of more people). Each posted blog item will be publicised and so the cobweb/network grows again.

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Okay, let’s now look at number one – Word of Mouth/Recommendations. This is something I have little control over. If people love my book, they will tweet about it or share it on Facebook/other social media platforms and they will tell their friends. Hopefully, this will result in more sales. What I can do is use social media platforms to publicise good reviews. If someone gives me a five star review, you can bet I’ll be sharing it on all my social media sites and the more I get the more I’m going to share it. I’ll be taking a key phrase from a review which showcases the book at its best and tell everyone what this reviewer said – after all, a five star review is a recommendation and I have to capitalise on it!

If I get messages from people saying how much they enjoyed my book, I’m going to ask them politely if they would recommend it to their friends and maybe even write a review. A review doesn’t have to be 200 words long; it can be one or two sentences just saying something like “I loved this book and would recommend it to everyone” and ask them to give me a star rating. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, right?

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Right, now let’s look at number two, which in some ways is the hardest. Everyone has different expectations from a book; some like lots of suspense, others like twists and turns, and some like lots of description so they can connect with the characters and scene. I have no way of knowing what people’s expectations are, what drives them toward a particular book so again reviews play a part in this. A well-written review is worth its weight in gold as it will usually say whether they loved the suspense/twists and turns/description, so by taking those phrases and publicising them, I’m going to be meeting the needs of those people who look for that particular characteristic.

The rest of this one is guesswork. I’m going to be picking out key sentences or phrases from the book which will address the main needs of the consumer and publicising them. I’ll be mixing them up so one day I’ll pick something descriptive, another day a little suspense and so on. One of those is going to strike a chord with someone who’ll be interested enough to want to look at the book blurb and then you have a potential sale.

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I think networking plays a large part in getting your name and your book out to a wider audience. I have joined groups who are only interested in Fantasy and Paranormal. I’m making friends within those groups and publicising my book with them. Lo and behold, I begin to create another set of cobwebs within each group, just like with the Blog Tour.

I also think making myself accessible to my readership is very important. I will never turn away or ignore a reader who takes the time to contact me. If they’ve had enough faith in me to spend their hard-earned cash buying my book, the very least I can do is give them some of my time in return. In fact I’m seriously considering setting up a page on my website for that very purpose.

Finally, I will be running a few special offers and doing a little bit of advertising on those sites where I feel I’m going to get maximum exposure without it breaking the bank!

This ‘list’ is not exhaustive and I’m sure I’ll learn more as I progress, but I happen to think it’s a damn good place to start.

What are your thoughts on marketing? Have you got any marketing tips you’d like to share?

I Am Blessed! (Blog Tour – week 3)

It’s not until you undertake something like a Blog Tour that you realise just how supportive the writing community is and what good friends you’ve made during your journey.

Every single cast member of my Blog Tour have gone out of their way to promote not only their own posts, but those of others in the tour. Each person has presented their posts in a wonderful and appealing way to give followers and readers the best experience they can. Some have been rather creative in their presentations too, which is only to be expected really as we writers are a creative bunch! [chuckles]

On social media platforms, mainly Twitter and Facebook, information has been shared and retweeted by other authors not taking part in the Blog Tour – such is the ethos in the writing world: Authors Helping Authors. I’ve been gobsmacked by the support I’ve received thus far and we still have a week of the tour to go! What other surprises have they in store for me? I can’t help but wonder.

I truly feel blessed to be part of such a wonderful community and thank everyone for their fabulous efforts on my behalf in bringing news of Heart Search: Lost to the world.

We’ve only got one week to go until the climax of the tour on All Hallows Eve, so let’s finish this as we started, with lots of noise and an almighty BANG! And if you haven’t entered the fab giveaway yet, get in quick! The answer you seek is in my previous post and the link for the giveaway is in the sidebar! Good Luck!

Humbling Experiences

Hi Everyone,

They say ‘curiosity killed the cat’, but not this feline! In fact it’s quite the opposite. Let me explain.

I decided to go onto Amazon UK earlier and was gobsmacked to see two 5-star reviews posted against my book. http://amzn.to/SRygGD Then I visited Amazon.com and lo and behold I found another two 5-star reviews http://amzn.to/RfqpU8

To find these just two days after Heart Search: Lost was launched was an amazing yet humbling experience. Just the thought that my work had brought sufficient joy to the reader that they would take time out of their busy lives to post reviews, caused a lump in my throat.

Of course I want people to love my book, that goes without saying, but I’m not the egotistical-type who now thinks the sun shines out of my butt, quite the opposite! It’s an experience I will treasure for all time and I sincerely thank those kind readers for their wonderful words.

Monochrome or Colour?

 Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a monochrome world?

Photograph by Sheila Smart

It’s hard to imagine isn’t it?! Everywhere we look, we’re surrounded by colours; from nature, vehicles, advertisements, shops, soft furnishings and even our own clothes, and we take all this for granted because it’s always there. We don’t have to search it out because it’s everywhere we look.

 

 

But, indulge me for a moment . . . shut your eyes and try to picture everything around you purely in monochrome. It would be beyond boring to live in a world like that, with no colour to bring everything to life. It would be depressing to the nth degree!

That is what your writing is like if you don’t bring ‘colour’ into it.

There are so many ways you can do this:

Your characters

Physical descriptions. You don’t have to go overboard, but your readers want to have an image in their mind of what your main characters look like. Is your protagonist a slim, hazel eyed brunette or a chubby blue-eyed blonde? This is better than nothing – at least you’ve given something for the reader to work with, but by taking it just a little further, you can write a picture of how they appear. Imagine them in your mind’s eye then write what you see. You can always cut superfluous information (which would happen during the editing process anyway), but you’ve brought your character to life just by adding some colour. And don’t forget your characters don’t have to be flawless; they’re more real if they have a small defect or two (like a scar from a childhood accident, or a lazy eye, or one lip being out of proportion with the other).

Emotions. You need to show that your characters are ‘real’ by the way they react to certain situations – SHOW being with operative word here. “He was angry . . .” this phrase TELLS us something, but it has no colour. Now consider, “His skin flushed purple as his eyes narrowed, blazing with an icy fury and he clenched his fists so tight you could imagine the bones breaking through the skin . . .” Now you are showing the reader; you are giving them colour and an image they can relate to.

Gestures. I’m an observer of people and I tend to particularly watch expressions and mannerisms. Some people use their hands a lot when they talk, some pull on an ear lobe when they’re lying, some run their fingers through their hair when they’re thinking. Some people bend forward when they’re vehemently trying to get a point across or arguing. Imagine telling a friend a secret when there are others around and you don’t want them to hear – what do you do? You lean towards them and whisper in their ear – right? The point is people don’t just tend to stand like mannequins, with no movement at all apart from their lips when they speak. Use these sorts of things to add colour.

For extra examples and help, look back at my three-part series called Describing People;

Part 1 http://wp.me/p1UhOl-1K Part 2 http://wp.me/p1UhOl-1Y

Part 3 http://wp.me/p1UhOl-2N

Immediate surroundings

Again you don’t want to overdo it, but give your readers a flavour of where your characters are. Are they in a 17th century mansion? Are they in a 1960’s semi-detached house? Are they in a café or posh restaurant? Are they in a park, wood or forest? Pick out one or two features and describe them a little so your readers can picture the scene.

World Building

When you write fantasy or sci-fi, you especially need to bring your world to your reader as it’ll be somewhere they can’t relate to. Is the sky always purple during the day? Is the grass blue? Do the trees have strange coloured leaves? Do the flowers talk?

 I’m going to use a small example here from Tower of Bones by Connie J Jasperson and her world of Neveyah. Her main characters are on a quest and they are approaching a place called Mal Evol which has been taken over by a dark God. She describes the Mountains of the Moon where some of the face is as shiny and smooth as glass. The land approaching Mal Evol has been turned from fertile to poisoned soil which will only sustain thorn bushes and trees higher than the head of the tallest character on the quest. She describes strange Rat People who seem part human yet are vicious and attack for no reason, Thundercows which cannot be eaten by humans and will only eat the thorn bushes. And so the list goes on. Through her brilliant depiction and use of ‘colour’, she had brought her world of Neveyah to life. But the best thing is she hasn’t overdone it. She gives the reader just enough description in each place for them to form a picture, without detracting from the action.

A thorn forest

 All these elements brought together in your writing will add the colour a reader looks for. So from now on, is your writing going to be Monochrome or Colour?

My thanks to Connie for allowing me to use information from her novel to emphasise my point.