THE WRITER'S DEN
Writing has never been an easy profession. Fortunately, Pandamoon's expert team is here to help!
Every other week, a member of the Pandamoon team will offer views into the craft of writing and publishing. If you've ever wondered how things get done, then keep your eyes on this column! Elgon, Jessica, Rachel, and Seth each provide unique insight into how a novel is written, edited, and published.
Column 1: Enhancing Your Characters
There are many things that I love about working directly with authors during the substantive editing process, but one of the major things is how invested I become in the story and the characters themselves. I especially enjoy working on a series with an author. Once we are done with one of the books in the series, I literally cannot wait to work on the sequel because I need to know what happens next since I have been right alongside each characters’ journey from the beginning. As an editor and reader, I need to know what changes the characters have made. I wonder how their decisions effect the plot and what each character learns about themselves, other characters, and the world around them throughout each book. Sometimes I even find myself making notes to an author asking if a protagonist would act in a certain way because it seems to be inconsistent with that character’s moral code. (Yes, characters do have moral codes and if that character happens to be a villain, maybe a lack of morals, but you get the idea.) Characters need to be complete and multi-layered. They need to be interesting, and they need to have a thought-out arc just as much as a plot arc itself. Otherwise, the story would fall flat. The reader needs to care about the characters or be interested enough in the characters to want to keep reading and find out what happens next.
So how do you create memorable characters? Honestly, there is no one-size fits all formula and most writers will tell you that the characters in their novels end up writing themselves. However, there are a few exercises, (really scenarios) that I like to pose to authors I work with to help them get a good sense of who their characters are and what makes them tick. Here are the top five:
1. Your characters are stranded on a deserted island. What three things would they need to have with them to survive and why?
2. If your characters were to dress up for Halloween, who or what would they be and why?
3. Your characters just won the lottery. What would they do with the money and why?
4. Your characters have the chance to visit anywhere in the world. Where would they go and why? Who would they want to bring with them and why?
5. You are meeting your characters at a coffee shop. What would you talk about? Write it all down and pay attention to cadence, dialogue, tone, etc.
These are just a few of the many scenarios you can use to create those multi-dimensions to your characters to give them depth. You can explore the interests of your characters, what they can and cannot live without, who they can and cannot live without, and how they sound. By creating these scenarios, you are creating your characters and your characters’ world. You are turning your characters into believable beings. The sky is the limit (unless of course you are writing a space opera) and you are the creator of your characters’ destiny. So, be sure to not only create your characters, but enhance them. Compelling characters will make it more fun for you to write their stories down and you will be surprised how the plot can take off from there.
Column 2: Brand Building for Writers
By Elgon Williams, Director of Marketing and Sales,
Author of Fried Windows and The Thuperman Trilogy
It’s a frequently asked question, especially from first time authors. Why isn’t my book selling? It’s usually followed by a litany of the things done to self-promote the work. But despite what the author believes to be a best effort, the book has sold thirteen copies: four to friends, six to family members, and three to friends of friends. And only one person out of all those sales posted a review.
Unfortunately, this is an industry norm.
An author’s focus is writing the best story possible. That may take years, especially for a first effort. But it’s important because each of us must first find our unique writing voice. And the first book baby usually isn’t the best thing we will ever write, but it is essential to establishing the sort of author we will be in the minds of readers from that point forward.
Authors nurture their first story, revising it, tweaking it, and self-editing it countless times before sending it off to selected beta readers for, hopefully, unbiased opinions. At some point, a professional editor needs to comb through it for typos and grammatical mishaps prior to sending it off to a publisher. The first test of an author’s backbone is how he or she responds to being told their first book baby is ugly. Handling rejection is something everyone who writes must master if there is ever to be a second book.
Since the advent of self-publishing a plethora of unfinished work has been thrust upon the masses masquerading as novels. Some of the books contain decent stories that are unfortunately concealed beneath layers of typos and grammatical errors that interrupt the reader’s suspension of disbelief and prevent the enjoyment of the imagination with which it was created. Other works serve only to poison the well from which prospective readers drink, giving a bad name to all work that comes from any source other than the major publishing houses. This is unfortunate for all the worthy voices out there who have great novels that could never make it through a handful of gatekeepers at the biggest names in the publishing world.
The deluge of pretentious fiction does nothing more than create noise through which everyone must penetrate to get the word out about his or her novel. And so, authors who are willing to invest in their art hire professionals to produce covers that attract attention, so that the book doesn’t look like every other self-published book listed on Amazon. They may also pay for professional promotion services, buying ads on social media to help spread the word. These are all steps toward success, but even those who do everything right in advance of publication will sit staring at their Amazon listing wondering why the book isn’t selling.
To have a successful book launch and continue to sell books long after, an author must have a solid marketing plan that begins long before the book is ever conceived. You see, one of the problems is that authors tend to be introverts who panic at the thought of going out in public and asking for the sale. They may work up the nerve to post buy links to their social media accounts, but even that is embarrassing. But they see other authors doing it, so they need to do it too, right?
If you are a new author, it is highly unlikely that you’ll sell many books by posting some variation on the “please buy my book” theme to social media. Why? It is ignored as part of the background noise of being online with everyone else who is trying to sell a book, the good along with the bad. Believe it or not, a picture of someone’s dog romping in a park is more interesting to the average social media user than your shameless plea for book sales. The reason your book isn’t selling has nothing to do with the quality of the book or how nicely worded your pitches are. It is a failure to brand yourself as an author. You aren’t famous until everyone knows you and to become known you must have something with which most people associate you.
A brand-new author must establish his or her brand months or even years prior to releasing a first book. It may seem crazy or a least counter-intuitive to think you need to establish yourself as an author well before publishing anything, but there are several things you can do well in advance to gain attention and exposure. The following list is by no means all inclusive, but merely a few essential steps.
1. Peruse social media channels looking for successful authors. Follow them. Comment on their posts. Read their books and review them. Build rapport and turn it into a solid relationship. Look at their list of followers and follow them. You will discover other successful authors and many of their readers who may, eventually, follow you.
2. Establish a personal blog on a website and begin posting regularly. Your posts may or may not be about your writing. You may be a subject expert, for example. Perhaps you have recipes to share or you’re an auto enthusiast. The point is, you’re not one-dimensional. People need to know that.
3. Set up social media accounts in support of your writing career. DO NOT set up a page for your book unless you plan to only ever write the one book. Instead, create an author’s account, in your name (or pen name). Ensure that all your social media accounts reinforce your brand – they use the same picture of you and the same graphics for your book(s), so that there is visual consistency across your various promotional platforms. If you have a logo, establish it as a focal point on all your social media accounts. Once the components of your brand promotion are created, post regularly. You can use your social media to inform followers of progress on your book, post links to your blog, and to invite others to contact you directly to discuss your book(s), insights about writing, or other areas of your expertise.
4. Interact with community groups whether related to writing, reading or your other interests. Your relationships with others in your community establish a base of support for any of your endeavors. Join writing groups and participate. Give presentations if possible – this will enhance your image as a subject expert as well as build your self-confidence. To become a successful author, you will need to become comfortable speaking to a group of people. If you have causes or charities you actively support, use them as a platform to promote interest in your other activities, including your writing. Become an expert in everything you do.
5. Create a list of local media outlets (newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations) and, if possible, contact anyone associated with book reviews or interviews and build rapport. Your brand is best built locally first and expanded from there. Become a local celebrity. Few become known nationally or internationally who have not at first been well known locally.
6. Become a patron of your local library (if you aren’t already). Befriend the librarians. Offer your time and support for reading programs. You will be marketing your book to libraries at some point, and most local libraries will support local authors, provided the books meet their standards. They want to increase borrow-rates and if your book attracts local readers to borrow your books, they will give it space.
7. Establish contact with the management/owners of our local bookstores. Eventually you will want to schedule readings and book signings. Knowing who to contact and having a personal relationship will facilitate this. Also, getting your book displayed in a store is a challenge even for successful authors. But local stores will give space to local authors, if they believe the book will sell.
8. Create a Street Team. This can be an online group of friends and followers who commit to helping promote your book(s). Or it can be a close group of friends who will help your book gain attention in your local community. A Street Team serves as a surrogate for promoting your brand. And if they post something online about your book, it is seen as a recommendation, not shameless self-promotion.
Everything you do in advance of your launch that builds your brand will increase the likelihood of sales. Another thing you may want to do is publish short stories, poems or articles in magazines and anthologies. This will increase your credibility as an author. Attend writing workshops and panel discussions to hone your craft. Someday you will sit on panels. It’s always good to know what to expect.
Any attention you can gain prior to your book launch the greater the success of your launch, but don’t stop after publication. Submit your book for professional review and awards. A caveat here: Do not pay for reviews or for entering contests or for consideration for awards if you are guaranteed to receive a positive review, or anything else of value. This is in violation of Amazon’s policies and may result in your book being removed from Amazon.
Always reach out to other authors for support. The relationships you make through any means of contact will aid your quest for reviewers and book blubbers. But also, be willing to return the favor. When other authors approach you, be helpful. Remember, the reviews are one of the first things prospective buyers look at when they are considering your book. You’re expecting a potential reader to take a leap of faith on your book, investing money and time to read it. They will be more inclined to make the purchase if they recognize your name and your book has dozens of positive reviews.