The Road. Indeed. It is a road, a journey, a trek through hell, but is both more and less than that. Less than that meaning: Cormac McCarthy presents bleak as no other writer can. While I was reading it, several times I thought that I’ll never again believe a writer who uses the word “hopeless” to describe the plight of their character. In The Road, there is nothing but hopelessness. Almost. Which leads to where I struggled with this novel.
I have written about grammar checkers and style checkers before. I continue to believe they are a powerful tool in a writer’s tool bag. AutoCrit has revised their editing software product and has an active marketing campaign underway. I signed up for their trial membership for $1 for a week. Yesterday I spent about 3 hours working on my upcoming novel with their tools. In the end, I had two strong opinions about their updated product.
A recent article argued that there is a formula to writing bestsellers. The article says the algorithm is “built to predict, with 80 percent accuracy, which novels will become mega-bestsellers. What does it like? “Young, strong heroines who are also misfits (the type found in The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). No sex, just ‘human closeness.’ Frequent use of the verb ‘need.’ Lots of contractions. Not a lot of exclamation marks. Dogs, yes; cats, meh.”
* Young, strong, heroine — check.
* Misfit — check.
* No sex — this one is an in betweener…you’ll have to read the novel to understand.
* Human closeness — check.
* Frequent use of the verb “need” — hmm… 154 times in a novel of 116k words…I can work on this one.
* Lots of contractions — I probably need more, so this is fixable.
* Not a lot of exclamation marks — I’ve got too many. I can fix this.
* Dogs — Several of them.
* Cats — One. Dead.
Bestseller, here I come!
Traditionally Publish or Self-Publish? This is a more complex question than it first appears. You also have to answer 1) What are your objectives? 2) What are you willing to do/not do yourself to help sell your book(s)?
I have modest experience with both traditional and self-publishing: 20 years ago I wrote a novel, printed it, put it in a box and sent it to what back then was a medium size, independent publisher of military history that was trying to break into the fiction market. I had no agent and put a letter in the box to the effect of ‘let me know if you want to publish this.’ A few weeks later I got a thick envelope back. They loved the book and had sent me contracts for it and two more books. I signed all three contracts and they sent me advances for all three.
As a self-publisher (or indie publisher), you not only have to write well, you have to be good at every aspect of production and marketing if you want to sell any books. I’ve taught myself much about book publishing, but there is much more to learn. One of the most important things I have learned is that picking the right keywords for your title and subtitle on Amazon allow you to tap into the massive amount of traffic that is already on Amazon’s site.
This is really important to understand. Optimizing for keywords may be an arcane science, but keywords are what your potential customers use to find what they want. These are people who are already shopping to buy a book, and if your book is in their genre, the book they see might as well be your book. Much (but not all) of the success summarized in the graph above is because I fine-tuned the keywords in my subtitle to get more interested traffic.
I think about writing like I think about long distance biking. I (used) to do a century (100-mile) bike ride about once every other month and even tried a double century (but only made it 172 miles ). Tour de France rider I am not.
The analogy is this: Writing is a long-haul exercise, just like any endurance sport. And if you are into endurance sports you know you are going to hit really bad times along the way. It’s going to happen. You have to be ready for it, or you will give up when you hit the hard times.
I don’t normally post about WIP (Works In Progress). However, I thought I’d provide an update on how End War: Lonely Hunter is progressing. It is my first full length Science Fiction novel. To be honest, I’m a bit burnt out at the moment. Between a demanding full-time job (that has nothing to do with writing), blogging, relentlessly growing my understanding about how self-publishing works, continuing to promote my first novel (to include finishing up the audio book), and working on Lonely Hunter and its four sequels…I’m smoked.
The Damnation of Theron Ware, by Harold Frederic, is considered one of the classic novels of American literature. Published in 1896, it is a realistic portrayal of a Methodist pastor (Theron Ware) in upstate New York. Of note, the novel was also published with the title Illumination, which in some ways is a more accurate (if less dramatic) depiction of Ware’s travails. In modern terms, it is the story of a man in mid-life crisis, who makes some bad decisions when he finds himself in a new environment. But just as the proof is in the pudding, the tale is in the telling…
One of my goals this year was to read more indie/self-published novels. Part of my motivation was to study them to help me learn how to better write a book. My own novel is progressing, and I do read about the craft and some classic works of fiction. But sometimes it is good to look at the not so good to better understand what does and does not work. So far I’ve read seven novels and novellas. That is not a huge sample size, but it is big enough that I wanted to provide some summary thoughts. And these books are not randomly selected from Amazon. Let me explain….
At the risk of provoking the popular vs. good debate, aspiring writers who wish to write well should study the novels that have endured (let’s call them the works of “masters” for this discussion), not the forgettable books on the top 10 bestseller list this week.
Free Indirect Discourse (also called Free Indirect Speech) seems a clunky mouthful, but it is also a powerful tool to make your writing more intimate when used in proper measure. Wikipedia says: “What distinguishes Free Indirect [Discourse; FID for short] from normal indirect speech is the lack of an introductory expression such as ‘He said’ or ‘he thought’. It is as if the subordinate clause carrying the content of the indirect speech is taken out of the main clause which contains it, becoming the main clause itself. Using [FID] may convey the character’s words [and thoughts] more directly than in normal indirect.”
No, I’m not selling thousands of books a day. And, no, this is not a huge category. But it is still pretty exciting.
In the US, my book has made it to #6 and #9 in two different categories. And it has made it to #2 in Canada and #9 in Brazil. I’ve also made it to #11 on a list in Australia, and it has cracked the top 100 of several more lists. All that is exciting, but a #1 spot is special and not something I’ll ever forget.
Thank you to everyone who bought a copy. 🙂
I stumbled on a powerful and simple way to make a 3D book cover for free. Several sites offer book cover makers, but they all seem to either want your email address, have poor resolution or offer only a few predefined views from which you must pick. I found one, though, that with a little bit of “post production” work on your part will leave you with a very nice cover, much as you see above and in my sidebar. Let me show you how it’s done.
Most young writers (of all ages) share their manuscript much too often and much too early in the hopes of getting constructive feedback on their work in progress. For instance, I see a lot of writers share their work after just a first or second draft. Some share “Chapter 1” of a novel, even though chapter 1 is all they have written. Even if such drafts are free of spelling and grammatical errors, sharing a draft so early is a mistake.
Are you writing a story (or writing a novel) to be critiqued? If you are participating in a writing group — be it a fiction writing workshop, a fiction class in school, a writing studio, or a writing seminar — there are a few, simple things you can do to help make sure your work is well received. I bring this up because I often see writers do things which predisposes their critique group to dislike their work or avoid it almost immediately. The good news is these are really easy things to do.
Sales of my novella of been good. The story is about young men in combat during the Vietnam War, and how they live with themselves and each other years later. As I promised, I am donating half of what I collect from sales to organizations that help our veterans.
With a match from my employer, today I’ve been able to donate another $500. Last time I donated $150 to the Wounded Warrior Project. This time I have donated to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation.
I have now donated a total of $650.
There is no understating how important it is to get reviews to help ramp sales of your new book. And I’ve previously written about how to get great reviews from some of Amazon’s top reviewers. But I’ve just discovered this: There is a group on Goodreads that is helping authors get thoughtful reviews posted to three sites (Goodreads, Amazon US and Amazon UK) from readers they don’t know. It’s a great and simple system. How much does it cost? No money involved. You just have to pay it forward and review a book from someone else. And there is no limit; you can get as many reviews as you can give.
In a recent blog, Neil Patel shared an article titled: “Modern Online Marketing Education: 18 Courses and Resources”. There are only a few blogs I follow closely, and Neil’s is one of them. I know of no one who provides so much value so clearly. In his most recent post, his intent is clear given the title. Too many writers don’t understand that their success has as much to do about marketing as it does about writing well. That is why most books published on Amazon never sell more than 20 copies. Writing blogs can help you write better, but you have to know who you are targeting to sell.
Writers always need help with editing, so this is pretty damn cool: Two of my favorite tools are now working together for free. The Hemingway App has always been free, and Grammarly has a free version. But now, with the Grammarly Chrome extension, not only can you use both of them, you can use both of them together. Let me explain…
I believe we live in a universe governed by laws of causes and effects even though we don’t yet fully understand all the causes and all the effects. When it comes to art, in particular, it is immensely difficult to know what cause will result in which effect. So it is tremendously difficult in the realm of words to know which sentence, which metaphor, which plot device will resonate with a majority of your targeted genre’s readers and turn a bunch of words into a great story. Though we don’t know these things with precision, I do believe that there are quantifiable causes and effects in play.
Wired for Story is Lisa Cron’s assertion that we do in fact have (some) science in the realm of writing that enables us to understand the causes and effects of good storytelling.
When I published my short novel about combat in the Vietnam War and how it affected the participants, I promised to donate half of the proceeds to organizations that help our injured veterans. At the time I published it, I was hoping to sell 1 copy a day at a price of $.99. It was my first publication, so I wanted to keep my expectations in check.
When you sell through Amazon, if you price below $2.99 you only get to keep 35% of the sales price. Borrows through Kindle Unlimited and sales of my paperback are at different rates. So there are a variety of formulas in play, and I’ve changed the price of my book a few times. But in short, I was expecting to only collect about $125 dollars for the year, of which I’d give half to such organizations.
The great news is that my book has sold far better than expected — actually cracking the top 10 of several of Amazon’s Bestseller lists — and I’ve stabilized on a price of $1.49.
In short, I’ve now collected over $500 in revenue in less than 9 months. Though my total production costs (editing, some modest advertising, etc.) are close to $600, I’m keeping my promise and sending half of all I collect to organizations that benefit our Vietnam War veterans. Above is a screenshot of the first check.
In the grand scheme of things it is not a fortune, but I’m sure every dollar helps, and there will be more coming. When I hit a total of $600 collected, I’ll send another $150 check.
If you want to help me raise more money for our Vietnam veterans, please buy a copy of my book — which is dedicated to our veterans — and forward this link to those who care because there are soldiers who still need our help. This check went to the WWP, but that is not the only veterans group I’ll donate to over time.
Thank you, and thank them.
My first novel has been the #1 bestseller in its category in the UK, and it has made it into the top 10 of eight Amazon bestseller lists worldwide. My sense is that when most US authors post their book to Amazon, they don’t think twice about their overseas or international sales. This is a mistake because there are a lot of big markets outside the United States. You can fall further behind or you can ramp your sales. About 10% of my volume is now coming from non-US Amazon sites.
I have not translated my novella into any other languages, and I have spent less than $10 on advertising outside the United States. Here are a few things you can do in about an hour to help ramp your own international book sales…
Apocalypse Now is one of the “best” movies ever made, in my opinion (acknowledging that “best” is in the eye of the beholder, though there are a lot of people that think this). More than that, it is a brilliantly told story, albeit the storytelling is via a movie. Of course, it is a retelling of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In case you have missed it, the story is about the descent of one man into insanity to confront another who has already descended to that place. Who knew there is an exceptionally thoughtful review of it on YouTube?
So this was cool… Last night one of my 12-year olds asked me what was my favorite book when I was her age. I told her Dune. The other book I thought of, though I was a bit older than 12 when I read it, was one of the few books I’ve read several times. It was Leon Uris’ Battle Cry. It is the story of Uris as a young man in the Marine Corps in some of the most vicious fighting in the Pacific during WWII. Though the book rambles a bit and is a bit choppy, I was deeply impressed by his depiction of coming of age in combat. I was also engaged by how he showed the development of the unit. A bunch of young men became an unrelenting fighting force.
My Vietnam War novella is small in size and stature compared to Battle Cry, but my story is also about young men coming of age in battle. In some ways, I’m sure, my novel is a product of Battle Cry and many other stories and life events.
For those of you who don’t remember him, Leon Uris was one of the big names of fiction in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. His books consistently hit the New York Times Bestseller lists and were made into movies.
I never imagined I’d see my first novel side-by-side with his on Amazon’s bestseller list, but it happened today.