books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, March 22, 2015

How Do I Sell My Book? 6 Tips for New Authors

by Anne R. Allen


Ruth and I get lots of email from fledgling authors, both indie and trad-pubbed. The majority ask pretty much the same question:

"I've got great reviews, I'm on social media, and I send out a newsletter—just like [my publisher/agent/a blog guru/this book I read] told me to: why isn't my book selling? It's been out for six months!!!"

In other words, everybody wants us to tell them how to achieve sure-fire publishing success.

But we won't.

That's not because we're meanies. It's because we are fresh out of magic spells. And our wands have been recalled to Hogwarts.

Yes, Ruth has had a number of books on the NYT bestseller list and I've been an Amazon bestseller.

But we couldn't tell you exactly how a brand new author can climb up the charts right now. What we did worked for our books at the time. But times change. What worked even three months ago may not work now. Each new book, each new Amazon program change, and each new search engine algorithm change requires a different strategy.

Here's the thing: there IS no sure-fire formula. There never was. Traditional publishers don't have one and neither do indies.

Anybody who tells you otherwise is lying.  Marketers only know what worked for certain books at a certain time.

I know you've seen dozens of books on Amazon that claim, "I became an instant Kindle Millionaire and So Can YOU!!"

But most of those books offer "formulas" based on old information. Some writers who jumped on the self-publishing bandwagon at exactly the right moment did zoom to the top and made a ton of money. Maybe they knew some handy-dandy tricks for gaming Amazon at that moment or maybe they just had the right book at the right time.

But if they're still selling big, they're probably using a whole new set of tricks or they got themselves a loyal fan base and kept it through a lot of hard work, prolific output, and books with mass appeal.

This year's Amazon is a whole different playing field from what we had even a year ago, and there are other playing fields to consider. As I wrote in January, the Kindle Unlimited program has changed everything.

But "different" doesn't mean "bad."

There's still money to be made as a self-publisher or if you publish with a small press. Success may be harder for indies to achieve now than 18 months ago, and you may have to think outside the Amazon box, but it’s still possible—and plenty of successful authors are doing it.

You do have to think smarter, have more patience, and get creative in your marketing. You shouldn't expect a few tweets, some glowing reviews from the ladies in your Mom's book club and a fancy website to rocket every new writer to stardom. And here are some other things that definitely don't work. 

So what do we tell people who write to us with the age-old question, "how can I sell my book?"

First, authors should be aware of an important distinction I don't see mentioned often enough:

Nonfiction and Narrative (fiction and memoir) have different audiences and you can't sell them the same way. 


A lot of the people who are telling you "there's gold in them thar ebooks" are talking about short, informational ebooks, not novels.

Marketing for nonfiction needs different emphasis. The most important thing to do as a nonfiction author is to establish yourself as an expert. A blog is essential. You can also get a lot of attention through instructional YouTube videos and podcasts as well as personal appearances.

The following tips are mostly for newbie novelists and memoirists. 


But some can be applied to nonfiction authors as well.

These are a whole lot more likely to get your career going than Tweeting 24/7, paying to boost Facebook posts, buying followers and reviews, spamming online author groups, or any of the other gimmicky things way too many authors are doing.

1) Write another book.


I know, I know. You're tired of hearing that.

You've been stalled on that WIP ever since you launched your first book.

All your energy is going into writing those blogposts and Tweeting your book every half hour and sharing cat videos on Facebook and cooking food to photograph for Pinterest and Instagram and sending out newsletters and of course, endlessly begging for reviews…so there's no time to be creative any more.

Here's the thing: most of the stuff people tell you about online marketing just wastes time if you only have one book. What you want to do is build a brand. The way you do that is produce more product.

Remember the classic Saturday Night Live sketch about the mall store that sold nothing but scotch tape? Don't be that store.

Writing your second and third books should take priority over platform building. In fact, I suggest you don't try to publish your first book until you have another in the hopper—that goes whether you're querying agents and publishers or self-publishing.

Nonfiction authors: Your books may take a long time to research, so it can be tough to come out with more than one a year. But you still should be working on #2 as you market #1. You might consider putting some of the material you're working on for #2 on your blog if you're planning to self-publish. For great info on how to blog your nonfiction book, check out Nina Amir's blog  How to Blog Your Book.

NF authors can also put some of your new material into speaking engagements, podcasts and videos.

2) Guest blog


Visiting a blog that addresses your core readership is something that can help sales even if you only have a single title. This is especially true for a memoir or personal journey story.

High profile writing blogs like this one are all well and good, but you'll do much better targeting smaller blogs that address your core audience.

If you've written a cancer survival story or a war memoir or a "wo/man vs. nature" story, Google your subject matter and visit as many blogs as you can find that deal with cancer support or Veterans issues or wilderness travel or whatever. Comment on those blogs. Get to know the bloggers. Then ask if you can be a guest.

Blog tours still work for some authors, so you might consider paying for a professional blog tour for your first book launch. But be aware that reviews that come from paid blog tours can't be posted on Amazon, and the bloggers don't get paid even though the tour organizer does. This means you might not get as much enthusiasm as you think you've paid for. (I've also heard of host bloggers asking for reviews or other quid pro quo reciprocation: stay away from any blogger who makes that kind of demand.)

If you're already here in the blogosphere, you may be able to organize your own blog tour simply by networking with your friends. Want to meet other writer-bloggers who might want to host you? Join the Insecure Writers Support Group, a fantastic blog group started by bestselling SciFi author Alex J. Cavanaugh. 

Nonfiction writers: Guest blogging can be one of your most effective marketing tools, so you can get a lot of milage from networking and visiting other blogs.

3) Get some short work published (and enter contests.) 


Getting your work in a vetted journal or winning a contest gives you a stamp of approval. It shows publishers, agents, and/or readers that somebody besides you and your mom think you can write. It can also make money, as I wrote in my article for Writer's Digest, 9 Ways Writing Short Fiction Can Pay off For Authors.

Some literary magazines take novel excerpts. If you've self-published your book, you can place bits of your book that work as stand-alones and mention they're part of a larger work. (Don't try to do this if you're querying, though, because it may violate a potential contract.)

Winning contests and getting short pieces published can also boost your self-esteem (and sometimes fill your wallet.) This is why I always include "opportunity alerts" at the bottom of each blogpost. These can be stepping stones to a successful career.

And two weeks ago, the wonderful Jodie Renner gave a step-by-step instruction on how to write a prize-worth short story.

If you skip the short story step, you may find it a lot harder to get your work discovered.

Nonfiction writers: Nothing establishes you as an expert better than getting your work published in a major journal in your field. Don't worry about how much it pays or the circulation numbers as much as the prestige involved and how closely it targets your audience.

4) Run a sale or countdown (if you're in KDP Select) and advertise the sale in bargain ebook newsletters. 


Bookbub is the Rolls Royce of bargain-ebook newsletters, but it's very expensive and so selective they reject most applicants. But there are many others to choose from. Try Fussy Librarian, EBookSoda, EBookBargainsUK, Kindle Nation Daily, E-ReaderNews Today, Pixel of Ink or any of the new ones popping up all the time.

Ruth Harris has a rundown of some of the most popular newsletters in her post, Writer's Toolkit #4: How to Sell Your EBook

Here's another great overview from Cheryl Bradshaw .

And Molly Greene wrote an enlightening post about using something called Book Marketing Tools that submits your 99c book to over 30 sites for a flat fee of only $15.

But remember every genre is different. Fussy Librarian does very well for cozies and women sleuths, and another may be better for thrillers or nonfiction.

NOTE: if you have only one book, do not offer it free. Free samples only work if you have other products to sell. Otherwise you're just giving away the store. A 99c countdown works best if you're in KDP Select.

5) Network with your fellow authors for joint promotions. 


One of the best sales tools these days is the multi-author boxed set, joint promo, or anthology. My newly-relaunched career got a huge boost in 2011 when I was invited to be part of the Indie Chicks Anthology, which showcased 25 indie authors.

Later a single weekend 99c promo put on by the "Official Chick Lit" Facebook group gave me the boost I needed to get onto some major bestseller lists. Joining with authors in your genre for a well-organized promo like this will put you on "also bought" lists of other authors in your genre on Amazon, so it can give you a huge ratings surge.

Most recently, I was in the "Six-Pack of Sleuths" boxed set that made some nice money for all of us and gave us all a jump in sales. The month after it came out, my author rank was in the top 150 mystery authors on Amazon.

So how do you get to be part of these promotions?

You have to be invited.

How does that happen?

You make friends with other authors in your genre. I can't emphasize enough how important this can be to your career.

This is also why you don't want to make a lot of enemies, as I mentioned in last week's post on How Not to Sell Books. Follow Wil Wheaton's Law. Treat your fellow authors as colleagues, not rivals. Acting like a kind, helpful grown-up person doesn't just keep you out of trouble. It helps your sales. If people are choosing between a book by somebody they like and one by an arrogant, infantile jerk, which one do you think they'll choose?

Visit other author blogs, especially high profile ones where lots of people will see your name so they'll feel they "know" you.

It's also a good idea to join some Facebook writer groups or start hanging out in groups on the Kindleboards. Not for drive-by promotion, but to make friends.

Some people have success with Goodreads groups, but I have not. I find the anti-author sentiment on Goodreads to be overwhelming. If you go, don't tell anybody you write. Keep your "reader" hat on.

And never, ever go onto the Amazon Forums (not the same as the Kindleboards.) It's notorious troll habitat. Toxic sociopaths lie in wait for newbie authors, looking for egos to flatten and careers to destroy. Even big name authors have asked Amazon to clean up the filth there. I hope that will happen soon.

Google Plus is a must-join for authors. Not only can you network with other writers in groups like Google Plus for Writers, but you get yourself on Google's radar—a necessity for authors. Google Plus is easy to use and doesn't take much time (turn off most of your notifications, or your inbox will fill up.) I just visit once a day and have made good friends there. I've also had over 7.5 million views. That's a lot of people who saw my book covers and my name.

So how can you do all this if you're madly writing your next book?

Use your social media time wisely: only get involved with a handful of social media platforms where you can make some friendships, but avoid arguments and long discussions. Tweet and share useful information for your fellow authors and retweet their sales and launches,

When it's your turn, they just might reciprocate.

6) Slow blog and forget the newsletter until you have more books out.  


Yes. You read that right. I know every book marketing guru out there tells you to bombard potential readers with weekly updates about getting your carpet shampooed and how tragified you are that your pet gerbil has toenail fungus.

I could not disagree with them more. In fact, if you only have one book, I strongly recommend you do NOT send out a newsletter. You will annoy more readers than you'll get.

Newsletters only work when you have an established fan base that is desperate to know what happens next with your series or characters. You can be compiling a mailing list, but don't use it until you have something to announce. And only use it to announce books and sales. Nobody cares about your carpet shampoo dramas. Trust me on this.

And I recommend only blogging once a week for fiction or memoir authors. You won't wear out your welcome and you'll have more time to write. Blogging once a week or less is sometimes called "Slow Blogging" and it sure has worked for me. Here's one of my posts on Slow Blogging.

Nonfiction authors: The rules are different for you. Your blog is where you establish yourself as an expert, so I'd suggest blogging at least twice a week and incorporating your work on your next book into the blog.

***

You'll notice I haven't said anything about:

  • press releases
  • having a big book launch party 
  • taking yourself on a booksigning tour of the bookstores in your state
  • attending book fairs and festivals 
  • public readings or speeches
  • getting on talk radio and TV shows. 

There's nothing wrong with these old-school methods. In fact the less expensive ones, like getting an interview on a local talk radio or TV show, can be cost effective and raise your local profile a good deal.

But in this era, you should be marketing globally, not just in your hometown. (Unless your book is a nonfiction piece about your hometown. Then you do want to go old-school.)

I do know that book launch parties and personal appearances can boost your confidence as a writer. They may be important rituals you need to mark the event of becoming a published author. I'm not telling you to rule them out. But do them for fun, not because you expect them to be cost-effective.

Ditto book fairs and genre conferences. They can be fabulous for networking and feeling like a "real author." But be aware your costs will far exceed your sales.

Nonfiction authors: One of the best ways to establish yourself as an authority is teaching or presenting at conferences, so again, my advice is different for you. Personal appearances are more important for you and you will probably sell a good number of books at conferences and other venues where you speak on your book's topic.

But no matter what your genre, you need to keep in mind that most successful authors make less than 10% of their income from paper books, which is why I urge new writers to concentrate on selling ebooks.

Now go write that next one!

What about you, Scriveners? Have you hit on the sure-fire key to publishing success? Have you tried any of these tips? Are you a first time author who has had a singleton title shoot to the top of the bestseller list in the last year and can prove me wrong? Have you followed marketing advice and found it didn't work for you?


BOOK OF THE WEEK


No Place Like Home, #4 in the Camilla Randall Mysteries (but easily read as a stand-alone)  is available at all the Amazons and NOOK, Page FoundryKobo and iTunes


It's also available in paperback from Amazon USAmazon UK, and Barnes and Noble, in regular and LARGE PRINT




"A warp-speed, lighthearted comedy-mystery"...Abigail Padgett
"A fun, charming novel about the rich and less so" ...Karen Doering
"A cross of dry British humor and American wackiness, and it all adds up to a fun read." ...Deborah Bayles.
"It's comedy about a dark topic – homelessness – and it succeeds without ever descending into tasteless insensitivity, or tipping over into sentimentality."...Lucinda Elliot at the Sophie deCourcie blog.


And NO PLACE LIKE HOME IS NOW AN AUDIOBOOK

Narrated by award-winner C. S. Perryess and Anne R. Allen (as Camilla)

Set in San Luis Obispo. Great for that morning commute...


The audiobook is only $1.99 if you also buy the ebook or paperback. And it's free with Audible free trial. Nearly 8 hours of hilarious entertainment!
Available at Audible  and iTunes


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


MARK TWAIN HUMOR CONTEST  Entry fees: $12 Young Author or $22 Adult. 7,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions must be in English. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. 1st Prize: $1,000 (Adult), $600 (Young Author). Other cash prizes! Deadline July 10, 2015

Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest. Entry fee $10. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication’s mission: Celebrating America — past, present, and future. Think Norman Rockwell. No profanity or graphic sex. Any genre. No previously published stories, but they can have appeared on your blog. Between 1,500 and 5,000 words. Deadline July 1, 2015

PULP LITERATURE'S The Hummingbird Prize for Flash Fiction $10-$15 ENTRY FEE. Winner published in Winter 2016. First Prize: $300 (Runner up: $75). For unpublished short fiction up to 1,000 words in length. Contest Opens May 1, 2015 and closes June 15, 2015

Ink & Insights 2015
is a writing contest that comes with a detailed critique. Send the first 10,000-words of your book. The entry fee is $35: pricey for a contest, but a fantastic deal for a critique. Each submission is read by four judges who score 18 areas of your novel. This looks like a great opportunity! Over $5,000 cash and prizesDeadline May 31.

Writer's Digest Writing Compeition. This is their biggie. First prize is $5000 plus your photo on the cover of Writer's Digest. Entry fees are a little pricey at $25 for a story, $15 for a poem but there are lots of big prizes. Categories for many genres of fiction, Creative nonfic, essays, screenplays, and poetry. Early Bird deadline May 4th.

WOW Spring Flash Fiction Contest: Fee $10, or $20 with critique. The critique is a fantastic deal. These quarterly contests are judged by an agent. 750 words.  First prize is $350 plus a $500 publishing package, publication and an interview. 20 prizes in all. Enter early. They only take the first 300 entries. Deadline May 31.

The Vestal Review is looking for FLASH FICTION. Submissions are accepted February-May for the Vestal Review, the oldest journal devoted exclusively to flash fiction. 500 words or less. Humor is a plus. Pays $$ plus copies.

WRITER ADVICE FLASH PROSE CONTEST $15 ENTRY FEE. Flash fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction running 750 words or less. First Place earns $200; Second Place earns $100; Third Place earns $50; Honorable Mentions will also be published. Deadline April 21, 2015.

The 2015 Bulwer Litton Bad Writing Contest. Wretched Writers Welcome! This is the "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" Bad Writing Contest! Write the worst opening line you can come up with (about 50-60 words). Must be a single sentence. NO FEE. Small cash prize. Deadline April 15

Sunday, March 15, 2015

How NOT to Sell Books: Top 10 Social Media Marketing No-Nos for Authors

by Anne R. Allen


Let's face it. Authors do a lot of obnoxious things online in the name of "marketing." I think that's because the average author isn't educated in the field and we don't realize that not all marketing is created equal.

Good marketing is not about bullying your customers. It's about enticing them.

A lot of online groups badmouth authors, especially indies, because of iffy social media marketing practices. We can avoid adding to the bad feelings if we learn to use social media correctly and ethically.

Both of these things are "marketing":

  • Robo-calling families at dinnertime with a recorded pitch claiming the recipient has already ordered a product, then tricking them into giving a credit card number to "un-order" (but actually order) the product. (Unfortunately I get these all the time.)
  • Placing a discreet advertisement in The New Yorker with a picture of your product and warm endorsement quotes from Oprah Winfrey, Stephen King and/or Stephen Colbert.

Which would be more likely to get you to want to buy a product?

Yeah.

Here's the thing: if you wouldn't like to be treated a certain way, chances are that other people wouldn't either. Thinking of your readers as "targets" or a generic "them" can lead to wasting time and money as well as just plain bad behavior.

Using hard-sell, intrusive, or unethical marketing techniques doesn't work to sell books. Your only result will be to make readers dislike you.

Ditto swaggering around social media with a literary or techno-nerd chip on your shoulder. Even if you have an MFA so expensive it won't be paid off until you're 93, you've memorized every word written by Marcel Proust—in French, of course—and/or you personally knew Steve Jobs, you're not going to entice readers by telling them you're better than they are.

Treating people with contempt doesn't convince them of your superiority. It convinces them you're a bully with all the erudition and savoir faire of a tomcat "marking territory" on somebody's leg.

These days, anybody with a keyboard and a some text in a Word.doc can upload it onto Smashwords or Amazon and call him/herself an author. (And the worse the writing, the more they will probably feel entitled to have a readership: it's the Dunning-Kruger Effect again.)

Also, a certain percentage of writers—the same percentage as you'll find in any demographic—are mentally unhinged, high, or just plain rotten human beings. Working online as much as I do, I meet people every day who essentially wear a virtual tee-shirt that says: "Hate me. I'm a Jerk."

Bloggers have to deal with them a lot. Suzannah Windsor, at the great writing blog, "Write it Sideways" discussed her encounter with one of the piddling tomcat types this week in her post, Here's the Type of Hate Mail Bloggers Get.

Do not under any circumstances engage with these people, because that's what they crave. If you need to deal with your anger, you can always put them in your stories and find imaginative ways to kill them off. (Although you may have to add a bit of humanity to your fictional version. These people can be so over-the-top in their efforts to be disliked that they'd be unbelievable in fiction.)

But these unfortunates are the reason why the rest of us need to work extra hard to pull away from the pack and present ourselves in the most professional light possible.

Here's my list of the Top Ten things authors do on social media—often in the name of "marketing"—that make people want to feed them into a fictional wood chipper.

They are all in violation of the Ethical Author Code.


10) Forgetting that social media is social.


Social media is for networking, not direct selling. It's for making friends. You are not here to broadcast your message but to engage with potential customers.

An endless Twitter, Google+, or Facebook stream of BUY MY BOOK is not friendly. Neither is barging into forums and groups to leave a drive-by promo without interacting with the other members.

Not only is this behavior annoying, IT DOES NOT SELL BOOKS. Yes, people may buy stuff like a Sham-Wow! or collapsible garden hose sold by screaming pitchmen endlessly replayed on late night TV, but this is because the pitches are designed to convince people they have a burning need for the product and will save a ton of money.

But nobody "needs" a book in that way, especially not a novel.

I once pointed this out to a writer in a workshop, and he said "but that's easy for you to say—you've got bestsellers—I'm just starting out, so I need to market!"

Nobody needs to use "marketing" that doesn't work. That's like saying. "I need to sell books, so I'm going to drive through your neighborhood playing my radio REALLY LOUD while flipping everybody the bird."

I don't know how else to say this: annoying people does not persuade them to buy books.

At least half your followers probably have a book to sell. Wait until you have a sale or a big announcement to tweet about it.

At least 80% of your social media interactions should be non-marketing.

9) Over-hashtagging and robo-posting 


The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created in 2007 as a way to categorise Twitter messages. Their creation is attributed to San Francisco blogger Chris Messina, "the godfather of the hashtag". They can occur anywhere in a Tweet.

In 2013 Facebook started allowing them, and they're also used on Google Plus, Instagram and other social media sites.

They can be very useful. Some of the writing categories I check regularly are #amwriting, #writetip, #pubtip, and #amediting, but there are hundreds. There are also lots for sales and giveaways like #freebook and #freedownload.

Unfortunately, people abuse them. Hashtagged words are a paler color and hard to read. You should use only two or three, tops, or your message will be unreadable and annoying. Your tweet should be at least 50% actual tweet, and less than 50% hashtags.

Ditto your Twitter profile. A profile full of hashtags tells people nothing about you except that you're probably a spammer or a clueless newbie.

Learn to use them right. They really work to reach the right audience if you do.

And I know everybody tells you to automate your tweets and posts, and automating can work for a busy writer if it's done thoughtfully and sparingly. But repetitive auto-tweets (especially ones full of hashtags and "buy my book") seem to dominate feeds these days. It's all so overdone, nobody pays attention to any of it.

It's not marketing: it's just noise.

8) Emotional blackmail in demands for shares and RTs.


Memes with tags like "share if you care about abused puppies" or "If you don't care about child abuse, then scroll on" are usually scams or hoaxes. 

If you put a guilt-inducing tag on your post, it will look like a hoax too. Even a "please RT" comes across as guilt-trippy.

Facebook lists some of the most awful sick kid/abused puppy memes on the site.  Often the child is long dead and the perpetuation of the hoax is terribly painful to the family. Or sometimes they are just photos that have been stolen off somebody's personal page and the child wasn't abused but fell or was in an accident.

Be wary of sharing anything that's emotionally manipulative. There's one meme that's been going around recently that starts out with something like, "I don't have many friends on FB because I'm a stuck-up snob, so I'm going to unfriend you if you don't share this and make a comment to prove that you really know me in real life." I've been amazed at how many very nice people have shared it. One day I had 12 of them in my newsfeed.

It's not smart to share stuff that's going to annoy your peeps. Is the guilt-tripper really more important than all your other followers, fans, and friends?

And always check with Snopes.com before sharing something that's written in legaleze that's supposed to "protect your privacy" or whatever. Those things are hoaxes. There is no such thing as online privacy. We're all living in a fishbowl here, which is why #7 is so important. If you want any kind of privacy on Facebook, start a closed group for friends and family. But realize that's not going to add to your writer platform.

People will share if they like your post. Begging, bullying, or guilt-tripping just makes people less likely to want to share...or buy your books.

7) Projecting a snarky, nasty online persona. 


Always follow Wil Wheaton's law: "Don't be a D***."

Shocking headers may work as "click bait" to get people to your blog, and you may get more initial engagement on Twitter or Instagram if you project a "Mean Girl" image, but it won't work in your favor in the long run.

Reading a book, even a free one, is an investment in time. Strangely enough, most readers don't want to spend their time with jerks.

I know some people love to use social media to say nasty things about celebrities, but if you care about your writing career, you need to act like a grownup online—at least when using your author name.

That means cutting out the tweets about how all bestsellers suck and all readers are stupid.

And never make obscene or threatening remarks on social media if you intend to have a career other than picking up cans on the highway. That stuff is forever.

It's also not a good idea for authors to leave nasty reviews of other authors' books, especially in your own genre. You can say respectfully that you didn't enjoy this book as much as the last or whatever, but if you indulge in name-calling and insults, you're burning bridges you may desperately need later in your career. Even if an author has tons of reviews, they remember the nasty ones.

Do follow the top authors in your genre, but treat them with respect. If you diss a bestselling author, you're dissing all their fans. That's a lot of readers in your potential audience who won't buy your book now.

NOTE: DO NOT RESPOND TO A NEGATIVE REVIEW, EVER!!!

Also, don't say nasty things in response to a positive review. You wouldn't think I'd have to say this, but recently I saw one doofus author rip into a reviewer who gave him a 5-star rave, for no apparent reason except to make sure he will never be reviewed again. I see a great future for this guy in fictional wood-chippers.

NOTE: The "comment" function on Amazon's reviews is for other readers to agree or disagree with the reviewer. It is not a place for authors—even to say thank you. If you want to thank an Amazon reviewer, try friending them on FB or Twitter or following their blog.

And never, ever link to a blogger's negative review from any of your social media pages. If your followers bounce over and say mean things to the reviewer, your reputation can take a hit that will last a lot longer than the sting of the bad review. I know of naive authors who have had that happen, and they very much regret it.

In fact, don't make nasty comments, period. You can disagree respectfully, but choose your words carefully when you're wearing your author hat. People usually visit a blog because they like the blogger. If you don't, and say so in unpleasant terms, you've just made enemies of everybody who reads the blog.

Insulting people does not make them respect you or buy your products. It makes them want bad stuff to happen to you. And if they decide to gang up on you, it will.


6) Starting lots of blogs, webpages, and social media accounts 


I've read marketing advice that tells writers to start a new website and Facebook page for every single book, and others suggest you have a Twitter account for all your major characters. I can't think of anything more annoying for your readers (or exhausting for writers.)

When somebody Googles you, they do not want to have to click on 50 different links before they can find your main web page. You need to have one "hub" for your social media presence. This can be a free blog like this one, or a professionally designed self-hosted website, but it should be your primary spot where Google will send people who are looking for you.

That means an inviting site where they can find everything about you and your books and where to buy them. (DO NOT neglect your "About Me" and "contact me" pages!)

If you write for children, you may want your website to have pages for your main characters so kids can interact with them, but I don't think that works for adult fiction, and certainly not on separate websites or landing pages.

A good place to have separate pages for each character, setting, or book is Pinterest, where you have one hub and people can explore all your "boards" easily.

Don't fragment your audience with multiple blogs unless you have separate writing careers with totally different demographics. (For instance, if you write Christian YA fiction as Mary White and BDSM erotica as Marva Whippington, then you'll need an entirely separate platform for each one.)

Authors should Google themselves regularly. If dead and seldom-updated pages come up first, that's going to work against you, big time. People will think you've quit writing or kicked the bucket. Make sure that any dead blog links to your present one.

5) Pop-ups and other annoying gimmicks on your blog or website


Pop-ups are everywhere, but that doesn't mean people like them. Lots of websites won't let you read a word until you deal with that annoying window that demands that you subscribe to the newsletter, buy their ebook, and/or give up your personal information.

How do you know if you want to subscribe when they won't even let you enter the site?!

A pop-up is like an UNWELCOME mat at your front door.

It says, "whoa! You don't get what YOU want until you jump through MY hoops."

Just because you've hired a web designer who knows how to put an automatic pop-up on your site doesn't mean you should. I often click away if there's a pop-up. You just lost a reader. Is that really what you wanted?

 4) Auto Direct Messages in reply to a follow—or advertising in a DM


Direct messages are personal. Get to know somebody in regular tweets or comments on their posts before you cozy up to them with a DM.

This is especially true of messages that say stuff like: "You followed me, sucker! Now go subscribe to my blog, buy my book, like my FB page and pick me up a latte: cashew milk, half caf/half decaf, with half a packet of Stevia, and step on it!!"

Um, how about I just unfollow you?

And never send an ad for your book or service in a direct message on social media unless you're GOOD friends with the recipient.

This is true of a @Tweet as well. Don't tweet an ad to a person you do not know, telling them to buy your book, visit your blog or grant some other favor.

You're there to network, not sell. This is like walking into a Chamber of Commerce mixer wearing a sandwich board advertising your business. Everybody there has a business. You have the one run by the nutjob wearing a sandwich board.

Looking needy, desperate or demanding does not sell books.


3)  Pitching your own book on somebody else's Facebook Page


A person's FB page is like their home. Putting your own ad on their page is like spray-painting your message on their front porch.

This is especially creepy if it's on their birthday or book launch day. Hey, you know people have lots of visits on their page on a birthday or launch day, so wouldn't this be a great chance to piggyback on their following and hijack the peeps over to your website?

"Have a happy whatever, whoever you are, and eff you, because it's all about ME. Here's where you can BUY MY BOOK!!"

Do NOT do this. Ever. It's like putting your own name on somebody else's birthday cake.

2) Buying or trading reviews and trading "likes".


I know it seems as if everybody does it, but it's not ethical.

Lots of authors contact fellow authors on social media saying "I'll like your FB author page/Amazon page if you'll like mine". They're almost always lying about the reciprocation part, and even if they do as they promise, "liking" something you're not actually fond of is a bad idea.

It confuses the algos and can mess up your profile and your feed on Facebook and Amazon.  If you "like" the fan page of an author of gritty thrillers even though you don't read them, you're going to get recommendations for gritty thrillers and miss out on genres you actually read.

And trading or buying reviews is not just morally wrong, it can get you banned from Amazon.

DO NOT TRADE REVIEWS, EVER!!!

This means you should not:

  • Bribe somebody to review your book by offering to review one of theirs
  • Give a book a four- or five-star review, then approach the author for a quid pro quo
  • Ask for a guest blog spot, interview, or other reward for a good review

This stuff is not just immoral, it's violates the Amazon TOS, which forbid, among other things, "Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package "

NOTE: NOBODY OWES YOU A REVIEW. Free ebooks are everywhere these days, so they're not that much of a "gift".

A thoughtful reviewer's time is the bigger gift.

And even if you give a free hard copy, you can request a review, but do not press for it. The reader may hate the book and is doing you a favor by not reviewing it.

Way too many authors feel entitled to good reviews and stage tantrums when bloggers don't review or give a less than enthusiastic notice.

Be a grownup. Some people aren't going to like your work. It stings, but that's the way the world works. Learn to live with it.

This kind of behavior has made it harder for all of us to get reviewed.

I know Amazon has been lax in enforcing its own rules for the last year or so, but that doesn't mean they won't run a big sweep again the way they did in 2012 as a result of the paid review scams reported in the New York Times.

I've heard personally from several big name authors who are working hard to lobby Mr. Bezos to do another clean-up. Don't get caught up in the next sweep. Be ethical even when you think nobody's watching.

Want to do your part to clean up the review system? Write an honest, real review of a book you've loved! It only needs to be one sentence, and you can build up some good review karma and become a respected reviewer.

1) Putting somebody on your mailing list who has not signed up 


This gets my number one spot because it's getting so much more prevalent. There's a huge push to get authors to go back to email marketing. All the marketing gurus are saying "the one with the biggest mailing list wins."

But guess what? That doesn't work if recipients didn't actually ask to be on that mailing list.

The worst offenders don't even have an unsubscribe button, so you have to write them personally to say you want off their list and then you leave yourself open to temper tantrums.

I've seen writers who totally don't get the "street team" idea, and they expect to launch a book using hijacked, unwilling fellow authors to tweet, share and guest blog for them without even asking first. They just send out a list of demands in the form of a newsletter.

Here's the thing: other authors are busy promoting their own books. They're not going to drop everything to work for you for free just because they once commented on your blog or shared your Tweet.

Yes, we would all love to have those "1000 true fans" who read everything we write and will work tirelessly to spread the word about our work. Heck, I'd like 10 fans who wanted to do that.

But you're not going to find them by skimming email addresses off your fellow authors' websites. If you want to have a newsletter, then put a sign-up window on your website and urge people to join. Offer a bribe of a free book or other perk if you need to. If they decline, that should let you know a lot of readers don't want to get one more annoying newsletter.


What about you Scriveners? What "marketing" stuff do you find most annoying? Have you been approached by review-traders? Do you take the time to leave reviews of books you've liked? Have you felt pressured to trade "likes"? Would you like to see Amazon clean up the review system? How do you feel about pop-up ads? 

A SPECIAL MESSAGE FOR EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS:


We love all our email subscribers. You're some of our most loyal readers. It was brought to my attention by several of you in the past couple of weeks that a lot of you don't realize what you get in your inbox isn't the actual blog. It's the text of the blog sent by MailChimp. 

That means that if you want to comment on the blog, you need to click through to this url. You do that by clicking on the header in the emailed version. That's the thing that says "Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris". It should be colored blue in your inbox. 

When you get to the blog you need to scroll down to "comments" then click on that word. The best way to make sure your comment gets through is to sign into Google first. If you have gmail, or a Blogger (blogspot) blog, you have a Google ID and you are probably already signed in. A Wordpress ID should work too, but some people tell me they have trouble. If you do have trouble, email me with your comment and let me know you want it posted on the blog.

Commenting on blogs is a good way to get noticed by search engines and other commenters, so if you're just starting out with this platform thing, it's a good place to start. For more on commenting on blogs see my post: Are you Ignoring this Simple Platform-Building Tool? 


BOOK OF THE WEEK



9 Months on Amazon's Humor Bestseller list!
only $3.99 on Amazon
The first three books in the hilarious Camilla series for 99c each.

GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY #1 in the series: Camilla meets a bogus agent, a hot cop and a ghostly killer at a California Writer's Conference. SHERWOOD LTD #2 Camilla runs into a gang of outlaws at a small UK publishing house near the real Sherwood Forest. and THE BEST REVENGE #3, the prequel, which takes Camilla and Plantagenet back to the "greed is good" 1980s, when Camilla is accused of killing a pastel-wearing, coked-up TV star.

Get ready for Camilla mystery #5, SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM, due in May, in which Plantagenet is accused of murdering the Duke of Buckingham and meets the ghost of Richard III, while Camilla has two bad boyfriends to deal with.

The Camilla Randall Mysteries Box set is available at all the Amazons. Kobo, iTunes,Smashwords, Inktera, NOOK, and Scribd.

If you've been thinking of taking a look at my loopy, but oh-so-polite sleuth's misadventures with murder, mayhem and Mr.Wrong, here's a chance to read the first three cheap.





"The Best Revenge, Ghost Writers in the Sky and Sherwood Limited are hysterical. Anne Allen will keep you laughing throughout, but in the meantime she dabbles her fingers in some topics worth some serious thought: sexism, weightism, lechery, murder, duplicity, homelessness & poverty to name a few. If you love to laugh, you'll like these three books. If you love to think, ponder AND laugh, be ready to fall in love"... C.S. Perryess aka the Wordmonger

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


MARK TWAIN HUMOR CONTEST  Entry fees: $12 Young Author or $22 Adult. 7,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions must be in English. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. 1st Prize: $1,000 (Adult), $600 (Young Author). Other cash prizes! Deadline July 10, 2015

PULP LITERATURE'S The Hummingbird Prize for Flash Fiction $10-$15 ENTRY FEE. Winner published in Winter 2016. First Prize: $300 (Runner up: $75). For unpublished short fiction up to 1,000 words in length. Contest Opens May 1, 2015 and closes June 15, 2015

Writer's Digest Writing Compeition. This is their biggie. First prize is $5000 plus your photo on the cover of Writer's Digest. Entry fees are a little pricey at $25 for a story, $15 for a poem but there are lots of big prizes. Categories for many genres of fiction, Creative nonfic, essays, screenplays, and poetry. Early Bird deadline May 4th.

The Vestal Review is looking for FLASH FICTION. Submissions are accepted February-May for the Vestal Review, the oldest journal devoted exclusively to flash fiction. 500 words or less. Humor is a plus. Pays $$ plus copies.

WRITER ADVICE FLASH PROSE CONTEST $15 ENTRY FEE. Flash fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction running 750 words or less. First Place earns $200; Second Place earns $100; Third Place earns $50; Honorable Mentions will also be published. Deadline April 21, 2015.

The 2015 Bulwer Litton Bad Writing Contest. Wretched Writers Welcome! This is the "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" Bad Writing Contest! Write the worst opening line you can come up with (about 50-60 words). Must be a single sentence. NO FEE. Small cash prize. Deadline April 15

INDIE AUTHORS: Here's a list of 50 contests open to self-published books. If you've always wanted to be "an award-winning author," this is a good place to start. List compiled by the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

How to Write a Prize-Worthy Short Story: A Step-by-Step Guide

by Editor Jodie Renner


Writing short stories is a great way to test the waters of fiction without making a huge commitment, or to experiment with different genres, characters, settings, and voices.

Even if you've published a novel or two, it’s a good idea to try to release a few high-quality, well-edited short stories between books to help with discoverability and growing a fan base.

Also, today's busy readers (especially the young ones) have more distractions and temptations for their time, therefore shorter attention spans, and they're reading on smaller devices, so a short story is a nice escapism-byte for increasing numbers of people.

As our multi-talented host Anne R. Allen said in an excellent article in Writer's Digest magazine, "Bite-sized fiction has moved mainstream, and today’s readers are more eager than ever to 'read short'." For a brief mention of each of Anne's "nine factors working in favor of a short story renaissance", see her article, Short is the New Long and there's more in her post, Why You Should be Writing Short Fiction.


31 STEPS TO A WINNING SHORT STORY


Here are 31 concrete tips for writing a compelling short story that is worthy of publishing or submitting to contests, magazines, and anthologies. Of course, these are only guidelines—like any good cook with a recipe, you'll tweak them to suit your own vision, goal, genre, and story idea.

When referring to the main character, I’ll be alternating between using "he" and "she", so just fill in the gender of your own protagonist.

PLANNING STAGE:


1. Keep the story tight. 


Most short stories are between 2,000 and 7,000 words long, with the most popular length between 2,500 and 4,000 words. Unlike a novel or even a novella, a short story is about just a small slice of life, with one story thread and one theme. Don’t get too ambitious. It’s best to limit it to one main character plus a few supporting characters, one main conflict, one geographical location, and a brief time frame, like a few weeks maximum—better yet, a few days, or even hours.


2. Create a main character who is complex and charismatic, one readers will care about. 


Your protagonist should be multi-dimensional and at least somewhat sympathetic, so readers can relate to him and start bonding with him right away. He should be fascinating, with plenty of personality. But give him a human side, with some inner conflict and vulnerability, so readers identify with him and start worrying about him immediately. If readers don’t care about your character, they also won’t care about what happens to him.

3. Give your protagonist a burning desire. 


What does he or she want more than anything? This is the basis for your story goal, the driving force of your story.

4. Decide what your character is most afraid of. 


What does your heroine regret most? What is she feeling guilty about? Give her some baggage and secrets.

5. Devise a critical story problem or conflict. 


Create a main conflict or challenge for your protagonist. Put her in hot water right away, on the first page, so the readers start worrying about her early on. No conflict = no story. The conflict can be internal, external, or interpersonal, or all three. It can be against one’s own demons, other people, circumstances, or nature.

6. Develop a unique "voice" for this story. 


First, get to know your character really well by journaling in his voice. Pretend you are the character, writing in his secret diary, expressing his hopes and fears and venting his frustrations. Just let the ideas flow, in his point of view, using his words and expressions.

Then take it a step further and carry that voice you've developed throughout the whole story, even to the narration and description, which are really the viewpoint character’s thoughts, perceptions, observations, and reactions. This technique ensures that your whole story has a unique, compelling voice. (In a novel, the voice will of course change in any chapters that are in other characters’ viewpoints.)

7. Create a worthy antagonist. 


Devise an opposition character who is strong, clever, determined, and resourceful – a force to be reckoned with. And for added interest, make him or her multi-faceted, with a few positive qualities, too.


8. Add in a few interesting, even quirky supporting characters. 


Give each of your characters a distinct personality, with their own agenda, hopes, accomplishments, fears, insecurities, and secrets, and add some individual quirks to bring each of them to life. Supporting and minor characters should be quite different from your protagonist, for contrast. Start a diary for each important character to develop their voice and personality, and ensure none of them are closely modeled after you, the author, or your friends.

But don’t fully develop any very minor or "walk-on" characters, or readers will expect them to play a more important role. In fact, it’s best not to name minor characters like cab drivers and servers, unless they play a bigger role.

9. To enter and win contests, make your character and story unique and memorable. 


Try to jolt or awe the readers somehow, with a unique, enigmatic, even quirky or weird character; an unusual premise or situation; and an unexpected, even shocking revelation and plot twist.

10. Experiment – take a chance. 


Short stories can be edgier, darker, or more intense because they're brief, and readers can tolerate something a little more extreme for a limited time.

WRITING STAGE:


11. Start with a compelling scene. 


Short stories need to grab and emotionally engage the readers right from the first paragraph. Don’t open with a description of the scenery or other setting. Also, don’t start with background information (backstory) on the character or an explanation of their world or situation.

12. Start right out in the head of your main character. 


It’s best to use his name right in the first sentence to establish him as the point-of-view character, the one readers are supposed to identify with and root for. And let readers know really soon his rough age, situation, and role in the story world.

13. Put your character in motion right away. 


Having her interacting with someone else is usually best—much more dynamic than starting with a character alone, musing. Also, it’s best not to start with your character just waking up or in an everyday situation or on the way to somewhere. That’s trite and too much of a slow lead-up for a short story—or any compelling story, for that matter.

14. Use close point of view.


Get up close and personal with your main character and tell the whole story from his point of view. Continually show his thoughts, feelings, reactions, and physical sensations. And take care not to show anyone else’s thoughts or inner reactions. You don't have time or space to get into anyone else’s viewpoint in a short story. Show the attitudes and reactions of others through what the POV character perceives – their words, body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, actions, etc.

Even the narration should be expressed as your POV character's thoughts and observations. Don't intrude as the author to describe or explain anything to the readers in neutral language. You want to keep your readers immersed in your fictive dream, and interrupting as the author will burst the bubble of make-believe they crave.

15. Situate the reader early on. 


To avoid reader confusion and frustration, establish your main character immediately and clarify the situation and setting (time and place) within the first few paragraphs. On the first page, answer the four W’s: who, what, where, when. But as mentioned above, avoid starting with a long descriptive passage.

16. Jump right in with some tension in the first paragraphs. 


As I mentioned, there's no room in a short story for a long, meandering lead-up to the main problem, or an extended description of the setting or the characters and their background. Disrupt the main character’s life in some way on the first page. As Kurt Vonnegut advises, in short fiction, start as close to the end as possible.

17. Show, don’t tell. 


Don't use narration to tell your readers what happened—put them right in the middle of the scene, with lots of dialogue and action and reactions, in real time. And skip past transitional times and unimportant moments. Use just a few words to go from one time or place to another, unless something important happens during the transition.


18. Your character needs to react! 


Continually show your character's emotional and physical reactions, both inner and outer, to what’s going on around him. And to bring the character and scene to life on the page, evoke as many of the five senses as possible, not just sight and hearing. Scents or smells are especially powerful and evocative.

19. Every page needs tension of some sort. 


It might be overt, like an argument, or subtle, like inner resentments, disagreements, questioning, or anxiety. If everybody is in agreement, shake things up a little.

20. Withhold key information. 


This adds tension and intrigue, especially when a character has secrets or regrets. Hint at them to arouse reader curiosity, then reveal critical info bit by bit, like a tantalizing striptease, as you go along.

21. Dialogue in fiction is like real conversation on steroids. 


Skip the yadda-yadda, blah-blah, “How are you? I’m fine. Nice weather,” etc., and add spark and tension to all your dialogue. And make the characters' words and expressions sound as natural and authentic as you can. Avoid complete, correct sentences in dialogue. Use plenty of one or two-word questions and responses, evasive replies, abrupt changes of topics, and even a few silences.

22. Each character should speak differently, and not like the author. 


Each character's word choices and speech patterns should reflect their gender, age, education, social standing, and personality. Don’t have your kids sounding like adults or your thugs sounding like university professors! Even men and women of similar cultural backgrounds and social standing speak differently. Read your dialogue out loud or role-play with a friend to make sure it sounds real, has tension, and moves along at a good clip.

23. Build the conflict to a riveting climax. 


Keep putting your protagonist in more hot water until the big “battle,” showdown, or struggle—whether it's physical, psychological, or interpersonal. This is where they're challenged to the max and have to draw on all their courage, wit, and resources to avoid defeat and/or reach their goals.

24. Go out with a bang. 


Don't stretch out the conclusion – tie it up pretty quickly. Like your first paragraph and page, your ending needs to be memorable and also satisfying to the readers. Try to create a surprise twist at the end – but of course it needs to make sense, given all the other details of the story. It should be unexpected, but also, in retrospect, inevitable.

25. Provide some reader satisfaction at the end. 


It's not necessary to tie everything up in a neat little bow, but do give your readers some sense of resolution, some payout for their investment of time and effort in your story. As in novels, most readers want the character they've been rooting for all along to resolve at least some of their problems. But be sure the protagonist they've been identifying with succeeds through their own courage, determination, and resourcefulness, not through coincidence, luck, or a rescue by someone else. Keep your hero or heroine heroic.

REVISION STAGE:


26. Hook 'em in right away. 


Now that you've got your whole story down, go back and grab the readers with an opening that zings. Write and rewrite your first line, opening paragraph, and first page. They need to be as gripping and as intriguing as you can make them, in order to compel the readers to read the rest of the story. Your first sentence and paragraph should arouse curiosity and raise questions that demand to be answered.

27. Cut to the chase! 


The short story requires discipline and editing. Trim down any long, convoluted sentences to reveal the essentials. Less is more, so make every word count. If a paragraph, sentence, or line of dialogue doesn't advance the plot, add intrigue, or develop a character, take it out.

Also, use strong, evocative, specific nouns and verbs and cut back on supporting adjectives and adverbs. For example, instead of saying "He walked heavily" say "He stomped" or "He trudged." Or instead of "She walked quietly," say "She tiptoed" or "She crept."

28. Make every element and every image count. 


Every significant detail you insert in the story should have some significance or some relevance later. If it doesn’t, take it out. Don’t show us a knife or special character skills, for example, if they don’t show up later and play an essential role. You have no room for filler or extraneous details in a compelling short story.

29. Make descriptions do double duty. 


When you're describing a character, for example, rather than just listing their physical attributes and what they're wearing, search for details that reveal their personality, their mood, their intentions, and their effect on those around them, and also the personality and attitude of the character who is observing them. And there’s no need to go into detail on everything they're wearing. Just paint in bold brush strokes and let readers fill in the details – or not, as they prefer.

30. Stay in character for all descriptions. 


Filter all descriptions through the attitude and mood of the main character. If your POV character’s aging father shows up at the door, don't describe him neutrally and in detail as a brand new character. Show him as that character actually sees her own father arriving at her house.

Similarly, if a teenage boy walks into a room, don't describe the room as an interior designer would see it – stay in his viewpoint. He is most concerned with why he entered that room, not all the details of what it looks like.

31. Pay attention to word count and other guidelines! 


As I mentioned earlier, short stories are generally between 500 and 7,500 words long, with the most popular length around 2,500 to 4,000 words. If you want to submit your short story to a website, magazine or contest, be sure to read their guidelines as to length, genre, language no-no's, and so on. Also, for your own protection, do read the fine print to avoid giving away all rights to your story.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you write short stories? Or are you like me and keep getting bogged down in big novels? Can you work on stories when you're in the middle of a novel? Have you ever won a story contest? Are you going to run out and enter one now? (If so, do scroll down to our "opportunity alerts".) Do you have any questions for Jodie?...Anne

Giveaway: Jodie will be giving away an electronic copy of her new writing guide, Captivate Your Readers, to the first four people who request it below, and she'd love it if winners wanted to leave a review at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca. Also, if you haven't read any of Jodie's writing guides, mention that in the comments! You'll be eligible for a grand prize of all three books, in mobi, ePub, or PDF (your choice).

Jodie Renner (@JodieRennerEd) is a sought-after freelance editor and award-winning author of writing craft books: Fire up Your Fiction, Writing a Killer Thriller, and Captivate Your Readers, as well as time-saving clickable e-resources, Quick Clicks: Word Usage and Quick Clicks: Spelling List. You can find her at JodieRennerEditing.com, JodieRenner.com, and the award-winning Kill Zone Blog. When she’s not editing, reading, or writing, Jodie loves to pursue her two other passions, photography and traveling. In fact, Jodie loves traveling so much, she’s considering changing her tagline from "Let’s work together to enhance and empower your writing" to "Have laptop, will travel".


BOOK OF THE WEEK


Captivate Your Readers – An Editor's Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction Amazon.com Amazon.ca Amazon.co.uk





This third guide to writing compelling fiction by respected editor and award-winning author Jodie Renner provides concrete advice for captivating readers and immersing them in your story world. It’s all about engaging readers through techniques such as deep point of view, showing instead of telling, avoiding author intrusions, writing riveting dialogue, and basically stepping back and letting the characters tell the story.

Today’s readers want to lose themselves in an absorbing story. Renner shows you how to provide the immediacy and emotional involvement readers crave in fiction, the direct, close connection to the characters and their world.

This book is available in both e-book and print form, through all Amazon websites. Available soon in print through Ingram and at many independent bookstores and libraries. 

"Jodie’s books are packed with practical writing and editing advice. Get ready to improve your manuscript today." – Steven James, author of Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules

"Want to write solid, marketable fiction? Read this book. Regardless of your experience level, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS gives you clear and concise tools that will help you create a believable story world and spin a good yarn."  – DP Lyle, award-winning author of the Dub Walker and Samantha Cody thriller series

"Jodie Renner nails it! Captivate Your Readers should be at the top of every new and experienced writer’s arsenal, as well as a preferred resource for every teacher of writing. Her no-nonsense, easy-to-understand approach is perfect. Bravo, Jodie Renner!" – Lynn Sholes, bestselling author of the Cotten Stone series and The Shield


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


MARK TWAIN HUMOR CONTEST  Entry fees: $12 Young Author or $22 Adult. 7,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions must be in English. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. 1st Prize: $1,000 (Adult), $600 (Young Author). Other cash prizes! Deadline July 10, 2015

The Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize, Managed by Australian Book Review. Entry fee $20 (AUS). First prize of $5000 and supplementary prizes of $2000 and $1000. Stories must be 2000-5000 words. Deadline May 1st.

Writer's Digest Writing Compeition. This is their biggie. First prize is $5000 plus your photo on the cover of Writer's Digest. Entry fees are a little pricey at $25 for a story, $15 for a poem but there are lots of big prizes. Categories for many genres of fiction, Creative nonfic, essays, screenplays, and poetry. Early Bird deadline May 4th.

The Vestal Review is looking for FLASH FICTION. Submissions are accepted February-May for the Vestal Review, the oldest journal devoted exclusively to flash fiction. 500 words or less. Humor is a plus. Pays $$ plus copies.

The 2015 Bulwer Litton Bad Writing Contest. Wretched Writers Welcome! This is the "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" Bad Writing Contest! Write the worst opening line you can come up with (about 50-60 words). Must be a single sentence. NO FEE. Small cash prize. Deadline April 15

CANADIANS! The Kobo First Book Contest is for you! Did you publish your first book in 2014? Do you have a Canadian passport? You could win $10,000! Literary Fiction, Genre Fiction and Non-Fiction categories. Winners will be announced in June. Deadline March 31.

INDIE AUTHORS: Here's a list of 50 contests open to self-published books. If you've always wanted to be "an award-winning book author," this is a good place to start. List compiled by the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Artistic Freedom vs. Crowdsourcing, Censorship, and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

by Anne R. Allen


Ruth and I often get requests to censor our posts when a word or link or piece of news has offended somebody. We usually comply. We don't want a minor distraction to interfere with our purpose—which is to share information about the writing business in a straightforward, lighthearted, encouraging way.

But the complaints are getting more frequent, and we're beginning to feel a little battered.

I'm not talking about our helpful readers who point out typos, errors and broken links—we're sincerely grateful for that kind of help, and we never pretend to be infallible. Keep it up. We really appreciate our watchdogs!

But I'm kind of scared by the number of permanently "offended" groups who think their needs trump all others. They seem to believe that one offended person—whether or not an offense has actually been committed—is more important than our creative freedom, or indeed, the creative freedom of the entire artistic community.

I fear we're moving to a sort of neo-Darwinism: survival of the whiniest.

Self-pity and self-righteous rage have become the drugs of choice in the Internet age. (And both ends of the political spectrum use them to maintain government gridlock and fill their coffers.)

This week I had to remind myself that self-righteousness doesn't make a person actually right. And self-pity is a bully's most potent weapon. Most abusers feel sorry for themselves.

Our complainers come from all points of the sociopolitical spectrum, and they contact us by email, Tweet, DM, G+, FB, etc. but they all have one thing in common: they advocate censorship.

But personally, I'm not a fan of censorship and I feel the need to take a stand. This post is probably going to lose us a few readers and I'm sorry about that.

But enough is enough.

It's not as if this blog is particularly edgy or pushes a political or religious agenda. (Ruth and I have never discussed our political or religious affiliations, even with each other.) But we think we (and our guests) have a right to our own unique voices.

Unfortunately, a handful of people find reasons to object to pretty much everything we  do:

  • We've had complaints from people outraged by our use of humor and irony, because individuals with certain brain configurations can only understand words on a literal level. (These complainers would be blissfully happy in China, where recently the use of puns and wordplay has been banned in journalism.) 
  • They also don't want us to link to blogs that use vulgar language or don't support a particular sociopolitical or religious belief system. (We will include warnings in the future.)
  • Some people think we shouldn't be allowed to give advice to those who want to publish traditionally. 
  • Others think we shouldn't write about self-publishing. 
  • Some argue we shouldn't talk about publishing at all, since not all writers care to be published.
  • Some don't want us to list writing contests that charge a fee or include magazines whose submissions are competitive. (I do vet the contests and only list ones that seem to be a good deal.) 
  • People complain because the heroine of my comic mysteries uses things like hairspray and a well-placed stiletto heel (and excruciatingly good manners) to battle the bad guys. They say "she sets women back 1000 years," because she doesn't behave like Arnold Schwarzenegger in a dress. (Which I agree would be hilarious, but it's not my story.)
  • Some object to the fact that I have LGBTQ characters in my books. Others say they're not LGBTQ enough.
  • We've also been asked to change the wording of posts or eliminate paragraphs because of some personal meaning or power the complainers have assigned to those words. 
  • I've been called "ageist" for saying we Boomers have more trouble dealing with technology than Millennials who were born into it. (This is where actual Boomers are totally ROTFL.)
  • I got complaints when I compared gangs of online bullies to the Taliban—from people who believe that criticizing the Taliban is an insult to Muslims. (Of course the complainers are the ones insulting Muslims. That's like saying dissing the Charles Manson Family is an insult to Americans.)

It struck me recently that a lot of these complaints are examples of something called The Dunning-Kruger Effect. Dunning and Kruger are scientists at Cornell University who proved that people who are the most confident and vocal are generally the most ignorant and incompetent.

In other words, the loudest complaints usually come from the least-informed people.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being uninformed. We were all born uninformed. But some of us are more open to absorbing information as we move along in life.

Yes, of course we need guardians and watchdogs and whistleblowers. The Internet can feel like the wild west and people who work to keep the general discourse respectful are doing everybody a favor. But there are others who go way beyond this. They want everything censored to reflect their own world view...even if that view is not based on facts or infringes on the personal freedom of others.

Does Censorship Improve a Community?


As far as I know, America's morals weren't improved by banning Lady Chatterley's Lover; teen angst wasn't eradicated by banning Catcher in the Rye; and Islam didn't get a PR boost from the psychopaths who slaughtered the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo and murdered a free speech advocate in Denmark.

Here's a list of the most commonly banned books in the US. From The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it looks like a reading list for a basic course in American literature.

Yes, people should be allowed to choose what they put in front of their eyeballs. I thoroughly dislike ultra-violent books and movies. I lasted about 45 minutes into Game of Thrones before I wanted to throw up. But do I think George R. R. Martin should be banned? Of course not! I think he's probably a genius.

I don't know of any instance in which censorship and suppression of the arts has made a society safer, more prosperous, and/or content.

I get it. Art is scary. Art is messy. Art is diverse...and its diversity may not fit into your sociopolitical comfort zone. But consider the alternative.

Do you really want to be like those thugs from ISIS who destroyed the 2500 year-old artifacts in the Mosul museum?

Physician, Heal Thyself


The Political Correctness Police have always seemed pretty silly to me, even when I agree with their intentions. Usually the people most in need of  political correction are the ones trying to "correct" others.

I remember a time—at the height of the 1970s women's movement—when a male friend turned on me in fury for calling his 3-year-old "a bright little girl".

"She's not a girl, she's a woman!" said he. "The word 'girl' is insulting."

I told him no, the word "girl" is not insulting unless you believe that being a girl is a bad thing.

This was the same era when a boyfriend ordered me not to wear a bra because otherwise people might think he wasn't a feminist. He wouldn't appear in public with me if I wore anything to support my 36 C chest.

My health and comfort didn't matter. His ego did. Talk about unclear on the concept. (No, the relationship didn't last.) 

Most religions and philosophies teach a version of what the Gospels say about how it's better to ignore the dust mote in your neighbor's eye and deal with the big old log in  your own eye. I think the world would be a better place if more people—religious or not—could get their brains around that.

Humor vs. Censorship: Which is More Effective?


I think the original Saturday Night Live did more to raise awareness of gender bias when Dan Aykroyd used the opener, "Jane, you ignorant slut" than anybody who wants to ban the words slut, broad, chippie, hussy, minx, ho, tart, skank, bimbo, tramp, floozie, demimondiane, streetwalker, hussy, trollop, doxy, bawd, jade, harlot, strumpet, and all their disrespectful cousins. (Did I forget any?)

Making fun of people who use words to hurt takes away the power of those words. But burying the words under taboos makes them stronger.

I used to be upset when people called me fat. Now I own it. I quit smoking and slowly became a fat lady, in spite of strict diet and exercise. (The high-carb "low-fat" diet may be the greatest cause of obesity every invented.) But I'm strong and healthy and I've outlived most of my skinny boyfriends. If you have trouble with fat people, you can stay out of my way. And if you're skinny, you do NOT tell me what I can call myself.

Dealing with insults can be like a game of whack-a-mole. Get rid of one and a nastier one will pop up somewhere else. What we need to change is not the way other people talk, but the way we think about ourselves.

I believe the great Richard Pryor gave a stronger message about dignity for all races in his iconic 1975 Saturday Night Live sketch when he delivered the line "dead honky" than all the censorship in the world.

I believe humor, not censorship, is the more powerful weapon for change. And laughter has been proved to be good medicine.

Censorship in the Age of CrowdSourcing


But the Internet age has brought a whole new kind of censorship. As Kathleen Parker said in her column this week, we now must obey a collective "Twitter Conscience."

She asked "will our uber-sensitivity eventually render us humorless robots uttering pre-approved giblets of meaningless verbiage?"

It has already started. Technology has liberated us in many ways, but it also invites the general public to provide input for creative work and shape that work according to their own opinions, tastes, prejudices, and level of (in)competence.

This can be through "enhanced ebooks" that allow a reader to contact an author directly through the reading device. (This is supposed to be coming soon. Maybe it already has. I still have a second generation Kindle, so I'm behind the curve on this.) 

They also do it with comments on blogs, news stories, forums and in customer reviews.

There are also communities created for the purpose of giving feedback. These communities, like Wattpad, Readwave, Readership and many others, allow writers to post work as they write it and get immediate feedback.

These communities seem good for newer writers who don't have an in-person critique group, and I've recommended them.

But veteran publishing industry journalist Porter Anderson wrote a warning about these writing communities recently at Thought Catalog, and his piece struck a chord with me.

He asks "if it takes a village to write your book, is it your book?"

Some people take to these sites and enjoy using them for critique, and that's great. For writers who are able to cherry-pick useful comments, and don't feel forced to make changes by the crowd (or the most vocal members of the crowd), it's an inexpensive way to learn to write, and I still endorse them.

But I fear all this has created a sense of entitlement in the general public, who now think they have the right to change and mold the work of professional artists to their own tastes and world view.

And of course the Dunning-Kruger Effect people are the most likely to feel that entitlement.

So there are two things to consider here:

1) Do We Really Want Our Art to be Created by Consensus?


What immediately pleases the most number of people is not necessarily the best or even the highest-earning work over time. Yes, of course we have examples of authors like Shakespeare and Dickens who created great art that instantly appealed to the masses, but they are exceptions, not the rule.

How many people remember the bestselling novel of 1903, Lady Rose's Daughter by Mary Augusta Ward? Books that were also published in 1903, but didn't sell so well were: The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler, The Ambassadors by Henry James, and The Call of the Wild by Jack London.

Nathan Bransford had a great post on the subject last year.  He provided a list of bestsellers of the last century or so. It seems the bestselling novel for 1933 AND '34 was something called Anthony Adverse, by Hervey Allen, and in 1972 through '73 the bestseller was Richard Bach's immortal Jonathan Livingston Seagull. (What? You don't have a copy on your nightstand?)

How many people are still reading Lloyd C. Douglas or James Gould Cozzens, sales-toppers of mid-20th century America?

These authors were popular at a particular time, but they didn't prove to be more popular in the long run than slower-selling authors who were more innovative or had individual vision.

In other words: instant mass appeal doesn't mean long-term success.

And remember Fox cancelled Firefly after only 11 episodes because it "didn't have an audience". Yeah.

2) Almost all Innovative Art is Initially Rejected.


Here's the thing: our most popular art was generally disliked by the public when it first appeared.

Everybody hated the Sound of Music when it came out. It got terrible reviews everywhere.

Thornton Wilder's Our Town—the most-produced play in U.S. history—was initially hated so much the audience walked out on opening night.

Edouard Manet's paintings were considered ridiculous by his peers.

John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath was universally panned, banned and burned  across the U.S., even in Steinbeck's own hometown.

In a crowdsourced, market- and consensus-dominated world, we might squelch the Thornton Wilders, Manets, and Steinbecks...and end up with nothing but Sharknado #27, paintings of big-eyed kids, and Fifty Shades of Boring.

Right now, we are living in a golden era of television. From Breaking Bad to Downton Abbey to Orange is the New Black and How to Get Away with Murder, we have amazing art being made for the small screen. And what makes these shows so brilliant?

Because of the smaller audience of cable TV and streaming services, the writer-creator has been allowed more artistic control. Writers like Vince Gilligan, Julian Fellows, Jenji Kohan and Shonda Rhimes are bankable, star-power names because their shows reflect their own unique artistic vision.

Do we really want to give those up for endless reruns of  Real Housewives Dancing with the Biggest Loser?

Your Loudest Critic May be the Least Competent.


Being offended has become a competitive sport in many areas of the Internet. You can see whine-offs happening on book review sites, forums, and comment threads everywhere.


  • "I'm so offended that this book has no gender-neutral green Albanian squirrels!" 
  • "Where are the Christian/Jewish/Muslim/Buddhist/Hindu/ Mormon/Baha'i gender-neutral green Albanian squirrels?" 
  • "Not one gender-neutral green Albanian squirrel in this novel has a gluten sensitivity!" 
  • "How dare this author write about gender-neutral green Albanian squirrels when ze is a gender-neutral blue Albanian squirrel?!" 
  • These gender-neutral green Albanian squirrels have no moral character. They copulate like vermin. 
  • This story is cruel and heartless to people who suffer from musiphobia, the fear of rodents.
  • "The word 'squirrel' is an insult to the rodent community. People use the word 'squirrely' to mean mentally deranged. Your use of this word is is hurtful. From now on, call them 'agile, tree-dwelling rodents with bushy tails'!"


There is no way to please people like this. And now I realize I've been wrong to try.

Why? Because they LOVE being offended. It's what they live for.

In trying to please them, I've been robbing them of their source of joy.

I was being cruel and heartless.

Ruth and I don't want to water down our posts for a handful of readers. We average about 90-100K hits a month. There's no way that every post can appeal to every single one of those people.

If you have something different to say, please chime in with a comment. We welcome respectful discussion. (But if it's bullying or spammy or contains ad hominem attacks, we'll delete.)

It's our blog and we reserve the right to express opinions, keep discussion civil, and occasionally laugh at ourselves.

My advice to all of our readers is to do the same: follow your own muse, no matter where it takes you. Listen to criticism, but don't let yourself be bullied by it.

The world needs unique voices!

And most of all: don't censor yourself because a few complainers high on self-righteous rage think the world should revolve around their personal belief system or unresolved psychological issues.

I've written before about how taking too much advice from beta readers or a critique group can lead to some pretty awful writing.

But when I wrote that piece last summer, I hadn't yet learned about the Dunning-Kruger Effect. I didn't take into account that, although it may seem as if the whole group wants you to do this or that, the negative critique may only come from one or two confident, but less-than-informed persons.

The wiser readers may be afraid to speak up. That's the Dunning-Kruger Effect, too: The more you know, the more you're likely to hesitate or question yourself.

Learn the basics, listen to criticism, then follow your instincts and ignore the noisy incompetents. It's your work. Don't let anybody bully you out of your right to follow your own artistic path.

Some people think there is only one path: right in back of them, with your lips firmly attached to their behinds.

Those people do not matter. Your art does.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you prefer that your book reflect your own vision, or that of a group or community? Do you think humor is dangerous? Do you think people should be allowed to decide what to call themselves even if somebody disapproves? How much input should other people have in an artist's work? Have you felt pressured to censor your work? How did you react? Do you have an attack of the vapors when you hear the word "strumpet"?

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