books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, April 20, 2014

How to Write Blog Content: 9 Tips to Entice Readers to Your Author Blog


You started a blog. Congratulations!

But nobody’s reading it.

Sigh.

Don't give in to despair. It takes a while to build a readership. Usually a long while. For the first six months I blogged, my followers consisted of my mom and my critique group. The other day I found my journal entry from my blog's first anniversary. I was totally jazzed because I was up to 36 followers. A year later, I had 600. (Now we've got 1652 and 1025 subscribers: thanks, everybody!)

So what happened in that second year?

1) I started commenting on other blogs and got some guest gigs. This is the part of blogging that most beginning bloggers skip. But nobody can follow you if they don't know you're there. You have to get out and meet other bloggers. Commenting on their blogs is the best way to to that. Here's my post on how to comment on a blog.

2) I learned how to blog. That took some trial and error. Lots of error. In fact, I'm still learning. I'm talking about format here, not subject matter, which I've blogged about before and will again soon. Here's one of my posts on What Should an Author Blog About?

Short version of the subject matter question:

  • An author can blog about anything. Just make sure it's interesting to somebody other than your family and your cat. 
  • Don't use it as a personal journal. Everything you say is "in public." 
  • I don't recommend new bloggers start another "how to write" blog, because we've got gazillions of them, and they don't attract non-writing readers. 
  • Fiction usually doesn't do well on a blog, and there could be copyright issues, so it's usually best to make it mostly nonfic. 
  • Write about stuff of interest to the readers you want to attract.

Once you do get a few people stopping by, you’re more likely to keep them coming back if you write content that's formatted for the Web reader.

A blogger is a "content provider"—and writing Web content isn't exactly the same as writing an essay or a magazine article.

Unfortunately most of the info you find on writing Web content comes from marketers and tech people, not novelists, and their stuff can be so riddled with jargon it might as well be written in Klingon.

Like this article I found about using hyperlinks with keywords (#7 below):

"What will help Google disambiguate the #entities - people, brands, places, industry terms, etc. - to which you refer in your copy? Through strong copy, understanding hierarchies and emphasising industry terms (without links), we can ensure that indexers have confidence in our content, thus render it in #SERPs with more certainty."

Uh-huh. I know that's probably solid info, but I'd be so grateful if people would write it in regular English.

For me, learning to blog meant unlearning a whole lot of what we were taught about writing prose back in the 20th century.

  • We learned to use topic sentences and avoid cutting to a new paragraph until there's a new topic.
  • We wrote for people who paid money for our words and read every one.
  • We wouldn't put a title on a serious essay that looked like a cheap tabloid headline.
  • We avoided repetition. 
  • We would never offer an outline instead of an essay.
  • We substantiated our information with footnotes.
  • We never heard of "tags" or "SEO"

Unfortunately, the majority of people don't read on the Internet; they skim. In fact, most people don't even skim the whole article. In a recent piece in Slate titled "You Won't Finish This Article", Farhad Manjoo said only half the people who visit a site read past the first hundred words.

So how do you get them to come by...and stay?

Throw out the rules you learned in school and use a copywriter's tricks for grabbing your audience and not letting them go. Here are some copywriting techniques you might want to add to your writing skill set.

1) Write whiplash-inducing blog headers



C. Hope Clark said in her March "Funds for Writers" newsletter:

"You might be surprised at the key factor I use in deleting or holding to read: The quality of the subject line. Hey, when time is crazy limited...the words have to snag me as I rush by. That means first and foremost that the subject be crisp, sharp, attractive, intriguing, or whatever adjective you want to use that gives me whiplash. It has to shout, "HEY, READ ME OR YOU'LL REGRET IT."

She's right. Headers might be the most important element of your blog content, and it's the one most novelists don't get. We want our blogs to sound creative and literary like our books, not cheesy like a supermarket tabloid.

But tabloid and advertising writers know what they're doing. They have only a moment to grab a reader going through that checkout line, so they need an irresistible hook. 

In our case our headers need to make whiplash Tweets and shares that will snag a reader in the endless stream of content they can choose from.

So how do we do that? 

a) Don't be generic.


"An Interview with…" Isn't going to grab anybody unless it's "AN INTERVIEW WITH JUSTIN BIEBER AND VLADIMIR PUTIN TALKING ABOUT THEIR THREESOME WITH KIM KARDASHIAN" or something else involving trending news. 

b) Make it Tweetable.  


That means avoiding enigmatic, one-word headers. I recently saw a title in the London Review of Books that exemplified the one-word header that doesn't work well in the age of Twitter. The article was called "Ghosting." It turned out to be about Andrew O'Hagan's experience ghostwriting for Julian Assange, a fascinating subject.

But you wouldn't know from the title. It might have been a piece about ectoplasmic apparitions, or a remake of the Dan Ackroyd-Bill Murray movies, so I didn't bother to retweet it since I didn't have time to write a new header. You don't want that to happen to your posts. 

c) Promise a quick read 


Everybody's in hurry online.

In a March 2014 piece in the Web Writer Spotlight, Jillian Mullin wrote

"....you have to compete with Facebook and Twitter, as well as with their family and work. The fact that they managed to land on your site is something to be thankful for. Generally, an average web user only spends 10 to 30 seconds reading Internet content. People rarely read web pages word-per-word. Instead, they scan the page for related keywords, bullet points, subtitles, and quotes."

So one of the best ways to make that promise is with numbered lists. "The 10 Best Ghostwritten Books" or "5 Signs Your Computer is Possessed."

d) Promise solid, helpful information that's YOU oriented, not ME oriented 


Like: "How to Become a Ghostwriter" or "5 Simple Snacks to Serve at Your Next Exorcism," rather than "I'm Making a Living Now" or "Another Sleepless Night in My New Apartment."

e) Ask a question that stirs curiosity 


Try appealing to greed: "Make REAL Money as a Writer!" Or paranoia—sorry, but it works: "Is Your Cubicle Haunted?" or "Who or WHAT is Flushing Your Toilet in the Middle of the Night?".

f) Use keywords in your header


So what are keywords? They're the words that most effectively let the public (and the search engines) know what your post is about. Like this one is about 1) blogs 2) blog content 3) authors

So let's say you're blogging about how you think your new house may be haunted by the ghost of an elderly lady who died there. Don't call it "Mildred Biggins Walks at Night", as much as it appeals to your storyteller's instinct. Call it "10 Signs Your House is Haunted: My Encounter with a Ghost".

That's because "haunted house" and "ghost"are your keywords.

In other words, just tell us what it's about. That's what will draw the most readers and it uses your keywords. (That's called SEO—more on that below.)

2) Put your most important info in the first few words 


Make sure your lead is visible as soon as somebody opens your blog. People do a lot of reading on phones and small tablets these days, so those first words are all-important for today's reader.

It's also what Google shows in the search results. And those opening words will help the spiders decide what searches will pick it up, so you need some keywords there, too.

And since most people won't read past the second paragraph, you don't want to save your best stuff for the end.

Half a century ago, journalists were taught to "humanize" stories by starting with a human interest line. "Susie Scrivener shouldn't have a care in the world. She's a pretty 30-something freelance writer living in a gorgeous Victorian triplex in Old Town. She's sitting on the front porch of the house she moved into last month with her cat Hortense. The three-story home was once owned by one Mildred Biggins, who died in 1924…"

The reporter could get to the lead (then known as the "lede" to differentiate from the metal originally used to make type) in the third or fourth sentence, but these days, you've got to give us the facts in the first ten words.

"Susie Scrivener thinks her house is haunted by the ghost of its former owner." Bam. Just say it.

3) Learn to use and format subheaders


Subheaders aren't just for drawing the eye through and letting the reader know what's coming up. They also need to spell out your most important points. And include keywords.

That's because subheads get picked up by search engines too.

So for your Mildred Biggins post, you might use subheaders that contain words like "ghost", "haunted", and "poltergeist", rather than "Who flushed that toilet?" or "Mildred and Hortense".

NOTE: Be sure to use the "subheader" mode in your blog program, and not the "normal" setting. I didn't even know there was a "subheader" category until this year, when I stumbled on it. (Stumbling is how I found out most of this stuff.)

For Blogger users, the subheader menu is on the left-hand side of the toolbar, where you see the word "normal". That window has a menu, where you can choose Heading, Subheading, or Minor Heading.

For Wordpress users, here's the skinny from Romance Author Autumn MacArthur:

 "WP users wanting to use headings and subheadings in a post need to bring up a second toolbar by hitting the "Toolbar Toggle" button on the far right of the toolbar. That adds a second toolbar, with a dropdown box labelled "Paragraph" as the first item. Headings are under there. Whether they act the same as Blogger Subheadings from a Googlebot point of view I'm not sure, but they look pretty!" 

When I started using the appropriate format, our blog stats soared. Why? The Google spiders pay attention to subheaders the way they do to headers and hyperlinks.

4) Break up blog text


No big hunks of indigestible verbiage. Nothing is more daunting to a Web reader.

I subscribe to Publisher's Lunch, the daily report on traditional publishing's latest news. But like so much of traditional publishing, it's stuck in the 20th century. The information on new book deals comes in one in one big, passive-aggressive block of text in a tiny, gray, sans-serif font. I find myself dreading opening it every morning. Recently, I've just been skipping it.

So break up those word hunks. Forget what you learned in school about topic sentences. Don't write a paragraph more than a few sentences long.

I know. Your high school English teacher is rolling in her grave, but skimmers read the first sentence of a paragraph and maybe the last. Make your big points in those two spots.

5) Write blog content in a simple, conversational style


A blog is not the place to show off your encyclopedic vocabulary. If somebody has to click around to look up a word, they probably won't come back.

It's also not the place for the kind of jargon I quoted in my intro. Don't write in geekspeak, legalese, or that "most scholars agree" phony-tony style you used for college term papers.

Many tech people write in a language comprehensible only to them. It identifies them as one of the people "in the know." But an "in crowd" blog isn't going to get as many followers as one that's friendly and welcoming.

I agree completely with Ann Timmons, the Communications Artist who wrote in a March 2014 post about how her eyes glazed over at a conference when listening to:

"...all sorts of undoubtedly English language words used in combinations I could not make sense of. Not knowing the context, I was lost. Some people call this 'insider language'. Others call it 'jargon.' Whatever you call it, it is bound to frustrate people."


Marketers and SEO specialists are some of the worst offenders. I have read dozens of blogs about something called "Google Authorship" but I still haven't got the slightest idea if it's a software program, an app, a Google Plus circle, or the name of Larry Page's cat. Nobody seems able to define it. They only put people down who don't have it.

You're not going to reach the general public if you write in Klingon and act smug.

6) Arrange blog text in a scannable format


Scanning is easier with lists, bullet points, and bolding. Italics can be useful too—anything to draw the eye along the text.

MS Word makes this a breeze. Unfortunately Word formatting probably won't translate to your blog program, so you may have to resort to primitive means like numbering your own lists or using asterisks for bullet points.

*Lists: a numbered list has a three-fold benefit:

  1. It provides lots of white space.
  2. It draws the eye through.
  3. It gives you fodder for your headline. (See the "header" section.)

*Bullet points: Like lists, bullet points are easy to grasp at a glance and they let people know they're just getting the "good parts."

*Bolding: Especially for headers and other significant information.

*Italics: Putting a quote in italics sets it apart from the normal text.

7) Use informative text for hyperlinks


What are hyperlinks? It's okay to ask. I had no idea how to make a hyperlink for the first six months I blogged. 

You make a hyperlink when you turn an ugly url like this: http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2009/07/beware-bogus-literary-agents.html into a live bit of text you can click on like this link to one of my very first blogposts: Beware Bogus Literary Agents. (Where you will see my early urls in all their ugly, unhyperlinked glory.)

You make a hyperlink by selecting the text you want people to click on and going to the icon that looks like two links of chain up there on the menu bar. Or in Blogger it is cleverly identified with the word "Link".

See how I didn't make the link above with the word "here" or "this link"? That's because the words "here" and "this link" don't mean anything to the Google spiders (the reason these robot/algorithm things are called "spiders" is they "crawl" around the Interwebz looking for content.) 

Those algorithms only notice links with identifying text. So either use the title of the piece as I did above, or say something about it, like "the time agent Janet Reid visited my clueless-newbie blog."

That means somebody searching for info on Janet Reid might run into my post. Also searches for "clueless", "newbie" and "blog".

I think the article I mentioned in the intro was trying to tell us that using keywords in links isn't as important as it used to be. But in any case, it's still better than just saying "click here."

8) Use significant tags


The "tags" or "labels" you put on the end of your post look as if they're for helping you organize your archives. And of course that's their primary purpose. But they're also noticed by those all-important spiders. So use as many tags as possible, including all your keywords, plus the names of people you're quoting or writing about.

If they're tagged, those people may get a Google alert that you've mentioned them. That means they may grace your blog with their presence, which is what happened to me with Janet Reid, on my fifth blogpost ever. I had twelve followers, but there was the QueryShark her ownself, telling me I had a "nicely written post." Oh, how I basked!

One caveat: once you've used a tag it's part of your blog for life. They can't be deleted. So now I have a lot of names in my tag list that I probably won't mention again. I'm hoping the number of tags isn't limited.

9) Keep SEO in mind, but don't lard your blog with repetitive words.


I know SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is one of those eye-glazing Klingon-jargon things—and a lot of people think it means repeating the same words over and over.

But search engines actually favor using regular speech, so you don't usually need to do anything that strange to "optimize" for a search engine. All you have to do is use simple keywords to help Google and other search engines find you with those algorithmic spider thingies.

Using keywords just means using the most basic words about your topic. So when you're writing your copy or header, think of what words somebody might put into a search engine on the topic you're writing about. Can you tell which would work better for SEO?

#1 My Cat Hortense is a Genius
#2 Can Your Cat Learn to Use the Toilet?"

If you're catching onto this keyword/SEO/header thing, you chose #2.  A person looking for information on cat hygiene is more likely to type "cat use toilet" into Google than "Hortense" and "genius."

So if you want somebody to read your piece about how Hortense learned to flush the toilet, leading you to believe there was a poltergeist in the bathroom of your new apartment, use a header that the Googler might think up if she had an interest in toilet-flushing cats.

Alexis Grant wrote a great post on Robert Lee Brewer's blog last year called "SEO Myths that Scare Writers" that helped me understand a lot of this stuff.

She suggests you just "write like you always write, and then go back later and look for ways to optimize for search traffic.

So check after you write to see if you have keywords in the following:
  • Headline
  • First paragraph
  • Subheaders
  • Anchor text for hyperlinks. 
  • Tags 
And don't worry a lot if you can't cram them all in there. Treat the list as helpful guidelines, but don't obsess, or your prose will sound stilted and boring. 

Writing for a blog isn't hard, but it does require developing a slightly different skill set from what you use as a journalist or fiction writer.

And you may find the new "skimmable" prose style can help your fiction as well. According to new reports, skimming on the Interwebz has changed our reading habits. So next month I'll be talking about 21st Century prose and how even fiction is evolving in the age of skimming. (Whether we like it or not.)

What about you, scriveners? Do you skim on the Internet? How about fiction? Have you been using any of these tricks to get more people to your blog? Any other tips to suggest?  


BOOK OF THE WEEK

In honor of all the chocolate delivered by the Easter Bunny this morning, Food of Love is only $2.99 in ebook on Amazon US or Amazon UK, Amazon CAiTunes and at Barnes and Noble . It's available in paper in the UK and in the US for $8.54.



A hilarious romantic-comedy thriller about dieting, friendship, and a small nuclear bomb.

After Princess Regina, a former supermodel, is ridiculed in the tabloids for gaining weight, someone tries to kill her. She suspects her royal husband wants to be rid of her, now she’s no longer model-thin.

As she flees the mysterious assassin, she discovers the world thinks she is dead and seeks refuge with the only person she can trust: her long-estranged foster sister, Rev. Cady Stanton, a Christian talk show host who has romantic and weight issues of her own.

Cady delves into Regina’s past and discovers Regina’s long-lost love, as well as dark secrets that connect them all.

"I loved everything about this novel, the quirky humor and larger than life characters above all. The plot took me in unexpected directions and I could not guess what would happen next. This is a delightful surprise package skillfully bound by the author's immaculate writing. And like all stories involving a princess, it has a happy ending. HIGHLY recommended!"
...The BookKeeper


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


The Literary Hatchet: Paying market for Dark Fiction and Poetry - Pays $15 a story. They welcome prose and poetry that scares and shocks readers. Open to horror, paranormal, and speculative fiction. Word length: 500-3000 words/story, and under 100 lines per poem. $15/story, $5/poem. Deadline is July 1, 2014 for the August issue. Read guidelines here - See more at: http://writingcareer.com/

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

The Golden Quill AwardsEntry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Entries accepted from April 1-June 30th.

NOWHERE TRAVEL STORIES $15 ENTRY FEE. $1000 prize plus publication. Award-winning literary travel magazine, Nowhere, is teaming up with Outside Magazine for the first Nowhere Spring Travel Writing Contest. Stories can be fiction or nonfiction. Entries should be be between 800-5,000 words and must not have been previously chosen as a winner in another contest. Previously published work is accepted. Deadline June 15

E. M. Koeppel Short Fiction Award: Entry Fee: $15 A prize of $1,100 and publication on the Writecorner Press website is given annually for a short story. Submit a story of up to 3,000 words. All entries are considered for publication. Visit the website for complete guidelines. Deadline April 30th

Amazon’s literary journal Day One is seeking submissions. According to Carmen Johnson, Day One’s editor, the litzine is looking for “fresh and compelling short fiction and poetry by emerging writers.” This includes stories that are less than 20,000 words by authors that have never been published, and poems by poets who have never published before. To submit works, writers/poets can email their work as a word document, along with a brief description and author bio to dayone-submissions @amazon.com.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The 10 Commandments of Social Media Etiquette for Writers


When I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the importance of commenting on blogs to raise your social media profile, I forgot to say one essential thing—probably because I figured it's something your mom told you—but for those who've forgotten, here it is…

If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it.

That's true even in a thread where a lot of people are being snarky and you're simply going along with the crowd. I've done it myself and ended up hurting good people's feelings. Remember when you're online, you're "in public" and anybody can see what you've written. 

If you're planning to publish traditionally, the reason to follow mom's rule is simple. Editors and agents will Google you (often before they decide to read your pages) and if they find a bunch of nasty Tweets, forum flames, and bullying blog comments, your career is going nowhere.

Why do they Google you before reading your writing sample? The same reason any prospective employer Googles you. Most people prefer to work with level-headed, rational human beings who are not prone to drunk-posting, dissing their co-workers, or dancing naked with tighty-whiteys on their heads. Just the way it is.

Remember, "free speech" means you have a right to say what you want in public (not necessarily on private property) but it does NOT shield you from the consequences of what you say. 

Even if you self-publish, or are planning to—establishing a reputation for being nasty, closed-minded, or self-centered can still damage your career. The indies who do best are the ones who respect fans, guest blog, do joint promotions, and generally play well with others.

It's fine to disagree and/or add new information to a discussion—in fact, that's a great way to raise your profile—but do it like a grown-up, civilized human, not an entitled adolescent with a vocabulary limited to barnyard words.

The tech world was invented by young, rule-breaking types, mostly males. So an early Internet culture evolved that tended to be adversarial, snarky, and intolerant of newbies—more like posturing teenagers than adults doing business.

But the publishing world is the opposite. It's a business that has always been powered by the gentlemanly art of the schmooze.

Making people angry may drive people to your blog, and you may hear that "troll posts" and creating controversy is a way to get traffic. But it's probably not the kind of traffic you want, even if you self-publish.

Remember everything you do or say online is public. That includes your snarky @tweets to your BFF (DM instead) and those party photos your idiot friend took at the Mardi Gras party and posted to FB (ask him politely to take down that tighty-whitey photo, or "untag" you.)

So here are ten tips for online behavior for people planning a writing career. (Unless your life goal is to be a professional extremist ranter—then ignore everything here. Being a person people love to hate can make you rich and famous—if you want that kind of fame.)

But for the rest of us, here are 10 basic rules: (This is not meant as dogma. My Moses impersonation is done with tongue firmly in cheek):

1) Thou shalt not spam.


I realize I'm repeating myself, and some authors will continue to post endless book spam to every social medium until the whole thing has gone the way of MySpace, but here I go again:

What is book spam? 
  • Repetitive links, blurbs, and quotes in your Twitter stream.
  • Compulsively posting your book blurbitude in 100s of FB, GR and Google+ groups and forums.
  • Putting somebody's address on your mailing list when they haven't subscribed.
  • Posting endless, non-news, non-informational promos for yourself or other authors. A little promo is good. Nothing but promo...is nothing but annoying.
People want news and personal connections on social media, not robotic advertising.

But I realize some anti-spam rules can be tricky and counter-intuitive. For more here's my post on How Not To Spam

But here's the short version: if you'd ignore it in your own inbox, FB page, or Twitter stream, it's probably spam.

2) Thou shalt support other authors.


Your fellow authors are not "rivals".  Authors who band together do better than antagonistic loners. In fact the number one thing a beginner should be doing on social media is getting to know other authors in your genre and subgenre and making friends.

One of the hottest sales tools in the business right now is the multi-author bargain boxed set with several titles by different authors. These boxed sets are getting on to the bestseller lists and raising visibility for all the authors. Yes. The NYT and USA Today Bestseller lists. 

Another is the joint 99c sale. I participated in a 99c sale with other chick lit authors last year and it got my boxed set on the humor bestseller list where it stayed for 8 months.

Authors who band together get their books in front of the fans of all the authors in the group. Supporting each other is fun and profitable. 

But note: "Support" does NOT involve demanding that other authors market your book for you by spamming their Twitter stream or FB or Google+ page. There's very little evidence that spam sells books anyway.

It also does not mean tagging other authors as members of your "launch party" on Facebook or asking them to play moronic games. (If you let people know you have time to waste on FB games, you're saying you're not writing. You might want to keep that under your hat.)

It also should not include begging for a "mention" on somebody's blog or other social media if you have no relationship with them. And it doesn't mean trading reviews and "likes". Review trading is unethical, and fake likes are pointless.

I've seen indies whine that their fellow authors weren't doing enough marketing for them and hadn't bought their books. That's not asking for support—it's being a brat. Unless you have a "how to write" or book-marketing title, your fellow authors are not your audience. Go find your own readers. 

3) Thou shalt practice tolerance.


The Internet is global. That means primitive, insular thinking will only drive away most of your potential audience. Within a few years, experts predict most ebook sales will be outside of the US.

Hurting people because they have different customs or beliefs from yours has been a human pastime since Zog bonked Gog on the head because Gog's fertility goddess had bigger boobs than his fertility goddess. 

But guess what? Zog couldn't actually make own his beliefs "more true" or Gog's "less true" with violence or cruel words. And neither can you. 

If you're insecure in your own beliefs, go talk to your pastor, shrink, precinct coordinator, Belieber club president or whoever will guide you back to the light.

And if you are secure, other people's belief systems won't affect you one bit, so they're none of your business.

But remember tolerance isn't just about religion, ethnicity, or politics.

Saying rude things to writers who choose a different publishing path from yours is just as ridiculous. Want to prove your path is better? Go write a bestseller, and stop wasting time being snarky on the Interwebz.

I realize this stuff happens because primates are tribal. We instinctively fall into us/them, black/white, either/or thinking.  It's easier to demonize the "other" than to understand them.

Plus we feel safer if we're part of a tribe. Especially if the tribe has a strong leader.

But no matter what chieftain/dear leader/blogger you follow, you'll be happier if you accept that people are different. Some are independent jacks-of-all-trades who can do it all. Others prefer to work as part of a team. Saying one is more "correct" than another is like saying chimpanzees are more "correct" than baboons.

Evolve. I promise you'll find better ways to spend your time.

4) Thou shalt not whine about the stupidity of the reading public, your lack of sales, or the unfairness of the industry.


If you constantly go on about how stupid romance/paranormal/fantasy/chick lit readers are, or how ebooks are the worst thing that ever happened to civilization, be aware you're alienating a huge segment of your potential audience.

Yes, you have an MFA and you've read Proust in the original French and you're furious because you're flipping burgers even though you've written the next On the Road/Ulysses/Work of Staggering Genius. But putting down readers won't change that. Save that stuff for the local coffeehouse where you can commiserate with your fellow proto-post-post-modern-neo-Beats.

This caveat includes detailing rejection woes. I see lots of writing blogs that chronicle the writer's history of rejection. Guess what? Agents see them too. That can be an automatic reject. You'll look like a potentially troublesome client. 

And if you end up self-publishing, that stuff will make you look as if you chose your path because your book wasn't good enough, not because you embrace entrepreneurship.

This is a tough business, no matter how you publish. Most authors go through 100s or even 1000s of rejections before they get a book deal, and most self-publishers spend years building a substantial readership.  

Whining will not sell books. Get off the Internet and go write.

5) Thou shalt remember: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog".


That quote is from the 1993 New Yorker cartoon by Peter Steiner, the most reproduced cartoon in the magazine's history. 

It became iconic because it speaks the basic truth of Internet culture:  you never know who you're actually interacting with. 

This is not only because some people/dogs are masking their identity.

It's also because humans tend to assume others are like ourselves unless we have information to the contrary.

So if you're a fresh, eager newbie, you'll assume everybody you meet is new to the writing profession, too. Or if you're a jaded system-gamer, you assume everybody is gaming the system right along with you. And trolls see other trolls under every cyber-bridge.

This can lead to lots of embarrassing faux pas and unpleasant encounters, especially since superstars and/or newbies can show up commenting on a blog thread along with the regulars.

You really don't want to find yourself telling @Neilhimself Gaiman that when he grows up and publishes a real book then he'll understand why all agents are useless parasites.

And you might look bad putting down a Christian grandma for being naïve about BDSM slang. Or a 12-year-old in Mumbai for not getting your references to 1980s US TV shows.

So look before you snark. Pay attention to the person you're communicating with. 

Otherwise, you're only revealing stuff about your own faults and failings you probably want to keep to yourself.

6) Thou shalt not respond to reviews.


No matter how unfair. Just. Keep. Quiet. You can't please all the people all of the time.

We need reviewers, so treat them with respect. Even if you've paid for a review on a blog tour and were led to believe the review would be positive and it isn't. Honest reviewers can't guarantee a rave. (And BTW, the blog tour organizer may be paid, but the reviewer isn't.)

Everybody gets rotten reviews. You have just joined a club that includes every successful author who ever lived.

So go read the rotten reviews of great books and hilarious one-stars of the classics. Then go offline and do your mourning in private. Go to the gym. Buy chocolate and/or wine and call your BFF. Go out to your local pub and imagine the reviewer's face on the dart board—anything but respond online.

You'll not only embarrass yourself, but you may attract vigilantes who will try to destroy your career if you complain—even if it's on your own blog or FB page. The review community has its own brand of extremist ranters who demonize authors and keep honest reviewers in a state of terrified paranoia of the dreaded "badly behaving author."  (Authors can be bullies too. Don't be one of them.)

And yes, we even have to put up with the sadistic trolls who call themselves "reviewers" but don't read anything they "review".

Unfortunately, there's a gang of sock-puppet bullies who play Amazon reviews as if they're a video game. They set up thousands of accounts under fake names so they can leave hateful one-stars of books they haven't read. They often buy an ebook and immediately return it so they can get an "Amazon verified purchase" seal of approval. And they usually know how to keep inside Amazon's guidelines, so Amazon seems to feel helpless to stop them in spite of pleas from publishers and bestselling authors.

It's got so bad that some authors are quitting the business. The Good E-Reader reported the growing phenomenon this week in their piece on "The Bullies Win". Let's not let them. Hang in there and keep reporting these people to Amazon until they put a stop to it.

A new retail site called Screwpulp is trying to combat the Amazon troll culture by offering books free until they collect 25 HONEST reviews. They have a vetting process that claims to be able to detect when a reviewer hasn't read the book. (Great idea, although I'm not in love with their name.)

The best way to fight troll reviews? Write an honest review yourself! Big-name authors get troll reviews even more than indies and newbies these days, so even somebody famous can be helped by your review. Go write one for your favorite book right now!

If the troll makes a personal attack—dissing the author rather than the book, report it. Goodreads has done some housecleaning and will promptly remove ad hominem attack reviews. (Thanks for getting it together, Goodreads!!)

Amazon, not so much—but do report obvious sock puppets. Or sign an anti-sock puppet petition. There are a number in circulation. If the reports reach critical mass, maybe the Zon will finally crack down on them, the way they did with paid reviews a couple of years ago.

If a reviewer obviously got a bad download of your book, you might contact him/her privately and offer a better copy. But even there, you're treading on dangerous ground, and it may be a trap. I almost offered a reviewer a new copy, since a bad download was her only reason for a one-star, but then I saw she'd left the identical review on dozens of ebooks. Either she's  troll or she doesn't know the difference between a book review and Kindle tech support.

Most reviewers are hardworking, helpful people who genuinely love books. (And reading books takes time!) We can't survive without them. Don't confuse the sock puppet trolls with real reviewers.

7) Thou shalt not badmouth beloved authors.


When you diss Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins online, you are alienating a huge percentage of your potential readership. These authors are successful because lots of people love their work. When you call these people bad writers, you're criticizing the taste of all their fans. They won't reward you for it.

If you're also a book reviewer, you certainly can say King's latest book isn't up to his usual standards, or Divergent is no Hunger Games—that's your job. But if you're thoughtful, you'll realize you don't have to say it in sour grapes terms that make you seem like a whiner and a wannabe.

8) Thou shalt check facts before you share.


If something going viral on social media is so outrageous your emotions get triggered, take a deep breath and go to Snopes.com and check news sources. 99% of the time it didn't happen or it's been twisted to make you react.

And no, Bill Gates is not going to give a charity a billion dollars if you "like" some picture of a dying child or an abused puppy. That child and puppy have been gone for 20 years and you cause pain every time you share those pictures.

I have to admit I've fallen for a few scary, untrue Internet memes and I've shared or commented posts that were based on false accusations. I seriously regret that.

Now I avoid blogs that tend to make over-the-top accusations of "bad behavior" or "piracy" and I always check Facebook's watchdog pages like Facecrooks and  Check Scam and Spam on Facebook before I share any of those hysterical "protect your privacy by blocking all your friends from seeing your pages" posts.

I repeat: anything done online is IN PUBLIC. Do not expect privacy here. 

9) Thou shalt not feed trolls.


Trolls are part of Internet life. Kind of like those bloodsucking black flies (midges) in the Maine woods where I grew up.

Why are there trolls? A new Canadian study finds that trolls are "everyday sadists" who get pleasure from other people's pain. They're the people who like to torture kittens and abuse small children. Trolldom is less work than going the serial killer route. It's also equal-opportunity: the report found as many female trolls as males.

The anonymity of the Internet allows these otherwise closeted sociopaths to revel in sadistic behavior. It is simply fun for them.

YouTube and the Huffington Post are battling trolls by banning anonymous comments. Let's hope some more of the big sites will follow suit.

But remember that trolls feed on attention the way black flies feed on blood. So the only way to get rid of a troll is to give it no attention whatsoever—no matter how obnoxious and wrong he/she/it is, because your attention—good or bad—is its food. You must starve it by ignoring anything and everything it does.

Don't think of a troll comment or "review" as an exchange with a fellow human capable of rational thought. Think of it as a pile of poo you don't want to step in.

Unboot from the Interwebz and phone a friend, read a book, or walk the dog. Anything you say online will make things worse.

10) Thou shalt follow Wil Wheaton's Law.


Actor Wil Wheaton first coined the dictum, "Don't be a d**k" at a gaming conference in 2007. He was talking about interactive online game etiquette, but it is a good rule for anybody using the Internet.

In fact, it's a good rule for anybody participating in life itself.

In more polite terms, it can be called The Golden Rule: have empathy and don't do stuff to other people that would feel bad if it were done to you.


What about you, Scriveners? Any commandments to add to these? Have you ever fallen for an Internet meme before checking it out? Have you been a victim of the Amazon trolls?

BOOK OF THE WEEK

No Place Like Home 
99c this month on Amazon USAmazon UK, and Amazon CA, and Nook






"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.


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...


$17.46 for the audiobook or free with Audible free trial. Download of Audible is free for your PC or Tablet. Nearly 8 hours of hilarious entertainment!
Available at Audible  and iTunes

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


The Literary Hatchet: Paying market for Dark Fiction and Poetry - Pays $15 a story. They welcome prose and poetry that scares and shocks readers. Open to horror, paranormal, and speculative fiction. Word length: 500-3000 words/story, and under 100 lines per poem. $15/story, $5/poem. Deadline is July 1, 2014 for the August issue. Read guidelines here - See more at: http://writingcareer.com/

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

The Golden Quill AwardsEntry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Entries accepted from April 1-June 30th.

E. M. Koeppel Short Fiction Award: Entry Fee: $15 A prize of $1,100 and publication on the Writecorner Press website is given annually for a short story. Submit a story of up to 3,000 words. All entries are considered for publication. Visit the website for complete guidelines. Deadline April 30th

Amazon’s literary journal Day One is seeking submissions. According to Carmen Johnson, Day One’s editor, the litzine is looking for “fresh and compelling short fiction and poetry by emerging writers.” This includes stories that are less than 20,000 words by authors that have never been published, and poems by poets who have never published before. To submit works, writers/poets can email their work as a word document, along with a brief description and author bio to dayone-submissions @amazon.com.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

10 Ways Pre-Published Writers Can Start Establishing Their Careers NOW


Today's guest post is from freelance writer Sarah Allen (no relation that we know of, but we do have a lot of things in common, including the agreement that Colin Firth is THE greatest Mr. Darcy, and a tendency to knee-weakness at the sight of Benedict Cumberbatch's cheekbones). She is still in the query process with her novels, but has published numerous articles and short stories. She also has a great blog and is working hard on establishing her career. 

She'll be answering your questions on Sunday while I'm making some of those important in real life (IRL) connections. I'll be speaking at an event given by our local chapter of Sisters in Crime. 

If you're anywhere near Morro Bay CA this afternoon, drop by the Coalesce Bookstore (inspiration for Camilla's bookstore in NO PLACE LIKE HOME) and meet some great mystery authors and join us in a glass of wine, some of my famous Tuscan white bean dip, and some chocolate-dipped strawberries...Anne

10 Things Pre-Published Writers Can Do To Boost Their Careers

by Sarah Allen



There is a long (sometimes a LOOONG) period of time between the moment a writer decides they’re serious about this writing thing and starts writing their book and the moment when their first book finally hits shelves.

A writer can easily go through several years and several manuscripts before they are picked up by a traditional publisher or make the decision to go the indie route.

This period can be frustrating for so many reasons. One of the biggest frustrations about this waiting period for me personally is that even though the most important thing is the writing and writing and better writing, I still have this strong desire to start building an author career for myself.

Except, how does one do that without a published book? How can we start building ourselves this writerly life from the very beginning, without waiting until things work out for us in publishing?

I’ve come up with 10 things pre-published authors can do to boost their careers. Again, even though the most important thing is to just keep writing, and hone your craft, these are some practical things a new author can do to get the professional wheels moving. And even though the tips are targeted to pre-published authors, I think they can be easily adapted for writers at any phase of their career.

1. Write and submit short stories. 


This may be the most important and directly applicable way writers can start building a professional career. 

Publishing short stories is a great way to get your writing and name out there, and show agents and editors that you’re serious as you start querying them. 

It’s also a great way to become a better writer. This is a long-haul and huge-effort journey of its own, but with some hard work it can potentially serve as a quicker way of getting your work out there while you work on the Big Novel Project. You can find great lists of literary magazines at Poets&Writers or NewPages.  

(For more info on this very wise tip from Sarah, see my post 10 Reasons Why Short Stories are Hot..Anne)


2. Pitch articles to consumer magazines. 


Similar to tip 1, but also another fantastic way to get your name and writing out there. I love picking up the latest Writers Market and seeing the insane number of possible venues. It can be a little intimidating, like going in to the Bellagio buffet and realizing how many exotic yet yummy options there are. (Calamari is surprisingly delicious). 

But pick a subject that interests you and start researching a couple magazines in that area. And believe me, you can find lots of tasty options. Some of these magazines reach hundreds of thousands of people, and rather than paying for an advertisement, you get paid (usually) and get your name and bio right there in front of possible future readers.

3. Promote other writers. 


This goes deeper than "I scratch your back, you scratch mine". Yes we want readers for our future books, but promoting other writers comes down to making genuine and lasting connections. It’s more than simply getting your name out there, although promoting other writers on your social media accounts is one of the best ways to do that.

It’s about joining a great community, and becoming someone who those in that community know, like, and trust. Be a friend first, a salesman second. And this pre-published waiting time is the perfect opportunity to do that, by promoting your fellow authors on Facebook, Twitter, and whatever other sites you use.

4. Enter writing contests. 


This, again, comes down to getting your name and writing out there even before you have a published book. Don’t be intimidated by writing contests, and don’t take anything too personally. (Remember, even J.K. Rowling got rejected). But if you keep at it, contests can be a great way to build up some street cred as well as make connections within the publishing world. Awesome contest lists are easily accessible at Writers Digest, P&W, NewPages, and FreelanceWriting.com.

(Another great resource is C. Hope Clark's Funds for Writers newsletter...and the "Opportunity Alerts" at the bottom of this blog...Anne)

5. Use your hobbies. 


I think it’s important to keep in mind that readers are not ONLY readers. They also have many other interests, including some that may overlap with yours (like kettle corn and all things Pixar...that’s not just me, right?).

So even if you don’t have a book out yet, you can still talk to future readers about things you both love. For example, if you’re a stamp collector, you could start a Philately Friday on your blog. If you’re a Victorian Era fan, do reviews of Jane Austen movies (and who doesn’t need another excuse to look up pictures of Colin Firth?). If you’re an artist, photographer, musician, singer, video-editor, anything like that, use your other skills and hobbies to start making connections in as many ways as possible.

I personally love movies and video editing, so I had a blast making a fun little stop-motion video (with my socks) and putting it on YouTube. (This is the most adorable love story about socks you've ever seen--Sarah sure is multi-talented!...Anne)


6. Use Social Media itself as an artistic outlet. 


This one is just fun to me. It seems like authors are constantly told to push and push on every social media site like the world depends on it. No wonder it all seems weird and intimidating.

However, if you think of social media as an artistic outlet in and of itself--another way to publish your work--then hopefully it’s not only less intimidating, but can provide a way for us to use the best tool we have: our words.

Let me get more specific about what I mean here. Sites like Tumblr and Pinterest are growing incredibly fast, and provide a great way of tapping into new readers. And as I said, it doesn’t have to be super intimidating if you think of social media as another way of telling stories and being published.

You can use your words and creativity to tell stories on sites like Tumblr and Pinterest. There are some hilarious examples out there, like Yacht Cats on Tumblr and My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter on Pinterest. And many of these story-telling social media accounts (including MIWDTD) have been picked up as books.

So be creative, and just think of social media as another way of “getting published.”

7. Go to Conferences. 


Conferences are great places to get good writing advice, learn about the publishing industry, and make connections. It’s as simple as that. I’ll be going to my first conference later this month, and I’m super excited! (If anybody’s going to the Las Vegas Writers Conference...wanna have lunch?)

8. Make IRL connections. 


Wherever you live, it’s probably a good idea to get involved with the local writing community. Get to know your local booksellers, and use MeetUp.com and other sites to find local writing and book groups. You can also use LinkedIn to make real life publishing industry connections.

And if you can’t find any, maybe you can make your own!

9. Blog to join the conversation. 


Yes, I know writers are already told to blog, blog, blog, and I mostly agree with that advice. If social media are spokes of outreach, a blog or website is your hub. And I do think every writer needs a hub.

However, I want to take it one step further.

I suggest looking at a blog not as a way of bringing people to you, but as a way for you to reach out to other people. Especially in the beginning. One of the great things about a blog is that you can make it whatever you want it to be, but keep in mind what type of content will be valuable to your readers.

And use your blog to join a community conversation by reading lots of other blogs and leaving thoughtful comments. Join blog-hops like the A-Z April Challenge currently going on.

Personally, I feel I have learned more about the publishing industry and being a writer through reading some of the amazing blogs out there (like this one...thank you Anne and Ruth) than I have in any other way.

10. Be you.  


I mean this in a practical way. There is a certain combination of interests, skills, and connections that is completely unique to you. Be creative and use what you’ve got and you’ll be able to come up with your own strategies that will work for you in ways they couldn’t for anybody else.

Think of the unique connections you already have, and the unique services you have to offer. Put yourself out there and offer up whatever it is you’ve got (even if it’s mostly just an excessive ability to go on and on about Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheek bones). People are attracted to sincerity, and if you give them you, they’ll stick around for the long haul.


I’m working on these things as much as anyone, but hopefully this gives you some practical ideas to incorporate in your own writing career, whatever phase you’re at. If you’re a pre-published author struggling to get things going, keep working hard, and I have faith it will work out for all of us in the long run!

Sarah Allen is querying two novels (one adult, one YA, both magical realism) and drafting a third. She has been published in several literary magazines and placed in several writing competitions such as the Utah Arts and Letters Original Writing competition and the Writers Digest 77th annual competition. She received her English degree from BYU and currently lives in Las Vegas where she works as a grant writer for Best Buddies Nevada. 

You can find her at her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and a myriad of other places. Her short story collection, Cross-Eyed, is available on Amazon.


What about you, Scriveners? Are you pre-published? Are you taking advantage of any of these ways to jumpstart your career? If you're published now, are there any things you wish you'd done before you started publishing? Anything to add to Sarah's list? 


BOOKS OF THE WEEK

OUR BOOKS OF THE WEEK ARE AN AUDIOBOOK AND A MOVIE!!

Every writer who's ever been in a critique group has to see this one.

An ensemble comedy about a weekly critique group of unpublished writers whose fabric is threatened when one member scores an agent, a book deal, and a movie deal in quick succession. Starring Kaley Cuoco of the Big Bang Theory and the late Dennis Farina. (And written by SLO's own Dave Congalton) 

Authors Anonymous 


Available to rent or buy from Amazon and iTunes. It's also at Charter on Demand, Dish TV on Demand, and a whole lot of other Video on Demand sites. Although it's not yet on Netflix, you can save it to your queue. It will be shown in select theaters across the US starting April 18th, including the Fremont Theater in San Luis Obispo (afterward it will move to the Downtown Center).

and this just in...

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...


$17 for the audiobook or free with Audible free trial. Download of Audible is free for your PC or Tablet Nearly 8 hours of hilarious entertainment!  Available at Audible and coming soon to iTunes



OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


The Golden Quill AwardsEntry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Entries accepted from April 1-June 30th.

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award. Entry fee £15. This is a biggie. Stories in English up to 3000 words in any genre from anywhere in the world. £3000 First Prize. Judges include iconic mystery author Lawrence Block and Whitbread & Orange short-lister Jill Dawson. £4500 ($7200) in total prizes. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Deadline June 30th.

E. M. Koeppel Short Fiction Award: Entry Fee: $15 A prize of $1,100 and publication on the Writecorner Press website is given annually for a short story. Submit a story of up to 3,000 words. All entries are considered for publication. Visit the website for complete guidelines. Deadline April 30th

Flash Prose Contest $15 ENTRY FEE. WriterAdvice seeks flash fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction running 750 words or less. Enlighten, dazzle, and delight us. Finalists receive responses from all judges. First Place earns $200; Second Place earns $100; Third Place earns $50; Honorable Mentions will also be published. Deadline April 18th.

Amazon’s literary journal Day One is seeking submissions. According to Carmen Johnson, Day One’s editor, the litzine is looking for “fresh and compelling short fiction and poetry by emerging writers.” This includes stories that are less than 20,000 words by authors that have never been published, and poems by poets who have never published before. To submit works, writers/poets can email their work as a word document, along with a brief description and author bio to dayone-submissions @amazon.com .

Sunday, March 30, 2014

8 Tips for Writing that Killer Blurb

by Ruth Harris

You’ve written a book!

Or:
  • You’ve started the first draft. 
  • You’ve finished the first draft.
  • You’re waiting for your editor’s comments. 
  • You’re thinking about writing a book.
  • You’ve got a great idea for a book.
  • You’re making notes for a book.
  • You’re outlining a book.

No matter what stage you’re in, the fact is it’s never too soon to start thinking about your blurb. 

(Also known as the sales pitch, the back cover copy, and on Amazon, the "product description".)

Writing or drafting your blurb at an early stage or even before you start writing can serve as a brief outline and help you stay focused as you write. 

Coming up with the perfect headline for your blurb will also give you a head start on honing that all-important elevator pitch.

The cover is the first thing that grabs the reader’s attention and tells him/her what kind of book s/he is looking at: romance (sweet or steamy), women’s fiction, mystery, thriller, horror, sci-fi.

But once you have the reader’s attention, then what?

Then you have to make the sale.

We’re talking blurb here, and don’t think you can get away without a killer one. Every book—no exceptions—needs blurbing. These days, even the Bible has one. Don’t believe me? You can look it up.

The blurb is crucial, it’s essential. It's the message that seals the deal and tells the reader why s/he absolutely, positively, MUST buy the book.

Blurbs are a little bit art, a little bit craft, a little bit commercial poetry. They are (or should be) quick and easy to read but they are time-consuming and challenging to write—certainly for me and, I suspect, for most writers.

In another life, I wrote paperback blurbs, probably thousands of them over several decades. Back in TradPub days, blurbs had to be short (paperbacks only have so much space on those covers) but comparing the reader who’s browsing in a bookstore to the person who’s surfing the net is the difference between a leisurely stroll and NASA rocket flight. As a consequence, my definition of short has radically changed: Now it’s just about as short as humanly possible.

Here are some ideas about getting from here to there: 

1) Research. 


Read (and study) the blurbs for the bestselling books in your genre so you will start with a solid idea of what you’re aiming for in your own blurb. Make note of the exact words that pique your interest. Pay attention to the headlines, body copy and formatting of blurbs that particularly appeal to you so you can be inspired by them.

2) Keep your reader in mind. 


Speak directly to him or her. You wouldn’t speak to a rowdy sports fan in a raucous bar the same way you’d speak to your child’s Sunday school teacher, would you? (At least I hope not.) Blurbs work the same way and keeping a clear picture of your reader in mind will help you find just the right tone for your blurb.

3) Refine, rethink, rewrite. 


You are looking for the most potent way to compel your reader’s attention, not a winning time in a track meet. Look at your blurb on your computer, your phone, your tablet. Print it out in a large font size and post it on the fridge or the bathroom mirror. See if viewing your blurb in different way exposes any weaknesses or triggers any ideas for improvement.

4) Every word counts. 


As you work on your blurb, cut flabby, wishy-washy words (you know me and my love of the delete button!). Ditch meaningless hype like: the most exciting thriller ever written or the best romance you’ll ever read. Instead use power words such as: beautiful, shocking, exciting, scandalous, terrifying, sexy, hilarious—words that evoke an emotional reaction.

5) Use short sentences and lots of white space. 


Don’t confront the reader with a dense block of text. Remember that s/he is probably skimming so make it easy for him or her. I also try to make sure my blurb on Amazon is short enough to be seen in its entirely without the reader having to click read more. Apple is stingy about space for the blurb so be prepared to do even more cutting if you are uploading to iBooks.


6) Use italics and bolding sparingly. 


Too much or too many and they just cancel each other out.

7) Don’t marry your blurb. 


Especially if you’re e-pubbing. I view my blurbs as WiPs and constantly change, tweak, refresh and revise them. Just remember that if you change your blurb on Kindle via Author Central, you won’t be able to make changes through your KDP bookshelf but will have to go back to Author Central if you want to do further tinkering.

8) Stay true to your genre and your voice. 


Contemporary romance, historical romance, and Victorian-era mystery with a female version of Sherlock Holmes each set up different expectations. So do humor, horror, sci-fi, pulpy noir, steamy romance, sizzling coming-of-age stories, and action-adventure. 

Make sure your blurb meets your prospective reader’s expectations and write your blurb in the same voice as your book.

More professional advice on blurbing


Bestselling author of romances set in New Zealand and former copywriter, Rosalind James, talks about how she had to re-learn the art and craft of copywriting because all copy is not the same. She has a great piece about her approach to the kickass romance blurb on her blog.

Ace blurb-writer, Amy Wilkins, Assistant Manager of Digital Content and Social Media at Harlequin, is a member of the acquisition team for Carina Press. Amy discusses how much plot to reveal, the importance of conflict, and describes different ways to hook a reader. She offers details about her method of writing romance blurbs at Romance University.

YA author Sarah Juckes breaks down the daunting task of blurb-writing into clear step-by-step directions.

Mark Edwards, a friend of the blog and a superstar #1 Amazon UK author, thinks the power of the blurb can sometimes be under-rated. Mark tells how he doubled the sales of his co-written book, Killing Cupid, by rewriting the blurb in a guest post on our blog, 5 Steps to a Great Product Description.

Joanna Penn, author and book marketer, was voted one of The Guardian UK Top 100 Creative Professionals 2013, and voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers 3 years running. Joanna offers tips about writing an effective blurb (aka sales pitch)in her blogpost, How to Write an Effective Back Blurb.

Marilynn Byerly, who teaches on-line writing courses, breaks down blurb-writing by genre: romance, romantic suspense, sci-fi and fantasy, mystery and suspense. Marilynn also explains how to do the precise cutting required to make a short blurb even shorter.

Sarah Webb author of chick lit and children’s books, shares her recipe for the brilliant blurb here. Sarah also explains the power and importance of the shout line or tag line.

Other resources


Want advice from other writers? Post your blurb on Writers’ Cafe, ask for help, and get input from peers.

Fed up with the whole thing and want to pay someone to do the heavy lifting? If you’re looking for experienced help with your blurb, Ella Blythe, who has a background in corporate copywriting, offers a range of services from a touch-up to an entire blurb. Ella usually charges $25 for a blurb, is willing to negotiate depending on the job, and guarantees satisfaction.

***

Scriveners, are you as blown away as I am by all these great links? How do you approach blurb writing? Would you think of using a blurb service (At $25 it looks like a good deal to me.) I think it's fabulous that Writers Cafe has a blurb critique forum. Any other advice to add?...Anne 

Next Sunday, we'll have a guest post from friend of the blog, freelance writer Sarah Allen (no relation.) She'll be talking about what things a pre-published author can be working on NOW to jumpstart your career. 

Meanwhile, on April 6th, Anne will be signing books and giving short talk at the Coalesce Bookstore on Main Street in Morro Bay, along with her fellow members of our local Sisters in Crime chapter. If you're in the area, come by on April 6th from 1 PM to 3 PM, for wine and goodies and lots of fun book talk. 
 
BOOK DEAL OF THE WEEK

Ruth Harris's New York Times bestseller Love and Money is Marked down from $4.99 to 99c this month!





"Richly plotted and racing to a shocking climax, this glittering novel is first-class entertainment." --New York Times 

"Fast-paced, superior fiction. With a crisply precise and descriptive narrative style and an unerring ear for dialogue, Harris has written a terrifically satisfying 'good read.'" --Fort Lauderdale News Sun-Sentinel

"Ruth Harris has done a miraculous job of entwining the lives of two women in a believable and fascinating way. You won't have to hide if someone asks what you're reading." --West Coast Review of Books

"Sophisticated and entertaining. I couldn't stop reading." --Rona Jaffe, author of The Best Of Everything


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


The Golden Quill AwardsEntry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Entries accepted from April 1-June 30th.

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

Fantasy Scroll Magazine is a new paying-market, upscale SciFi online literary magazine. Now taking submissions for flash, micro-flash and stories up to 5000 words. They are also launching a kickstarter campaign to obtain funding to maintain this as a paying market. They're looking for highly original work in SciFi, Horror, and Fantasy.

Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award. Entry fee £15. This is a biggie. Stories in English up to 3000 words in any genre from anywhere in the world. £3000 First Prize. Judges include iconic mystery author Lawrence Block and Whitbread & Orange short-lister Jill Dawson. £4500 ($7200) in total prizes. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Deadline June 30th.

Flash Prose Contest $15 ENTRY FEE. WriterAdvice seeks flash fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction running 750 words or less. Enlighten, dazzle, and delight us. Finalists receive responses from all judges. First Place earns $200; Second Place earns $100; Third Place earns $50; Honorable Mentions will also be published. Deadline April 18th.