One of the first things you think about when you’re writing fiction is — how long is this? Then you (if you’re like me) track your word count obsessively, because you know that your milestones determine the success or otherwise of a piece of fiction.
4. New Novelist: Write A Selling Novel With One Simple Strategy
Although the halcyon days of the Kindle gold rush are over, self-publishing still provides great rewards, even for a brand new author.
Just a few days ago a jubilant author who’s been writing for less than a year sent me an email message with a screen clip. In the first 18 days of November, her two books (I promised not to mention the genre) earned over a thousand dollars. At the rate her sales and KENPC are going, I can see her doubling that thousand within a few weeks.
Until November, her books were selling just a few copies a month. Then they took off.
Self-publishing is STILL a goldmine, if…
Why did her books suddenly take off? She’s been doing all the usual things like building a list, and spending a little money on Facebook ads. Mostly, the gods alone know, but two things she did are clever.
Here they are:
She’s writing in a very popular genre, and is following genre tropes which readers love;
She’s writing a series.
So let’s look at some self-publishing tricks especially for new authors. Established authors can learn from them too.
One thing I should mention… if you’re a new author: be patient. Overnight successes can take quite a few nights until they happen.
1. Write in a popular genre: the more readers, the more potential sales
Pay attention to your genre. Popular genres like romance, with all its sub-genres, have masses of readers who love to read, and are hungry for new books and authors.
What if your favored genre has few readers?
That’s OK. As long as you believe in yourself (see the fifth tip), and write characters YOU love, keep going. Who knows, you might be an author who drags your genre out of obscurity. 🙂
If you can’t — you’re not sure how to turn a book into a series, or your mind doesn’t click and go hey, this world could support a series… Write short stories.
I love writing short stories for the marketing benefits, and also because I can play with many different worlds and characters. Most of my novels had their seed in a previous short story.
3. A little marketing really does help: it can be minimal
Whenever I mention “marketing” new authors have lots of objections. They don’t know how, they don’t want to blog, etc.
As I’ve always said, a little marketing can go a long way. You needn’t spend hours on it. A few minutes a day is fine.
4. Use your back matter to promote your books: add an excerpt
Use the back matter of your books to promote other books.
I’m always amazed when I mention this to authors (established authors, as well as newbies) and discover that they aren’t doing it, because it’s so simple.
When you’ve written the second book in a series, edit Book 1 to include the first scene or two of Book 2 in the back matter. Also at the end of Book 2, mention “Book 3 coming soon” and add a link to your website or Facebook page.
When Book 3 comes out, edit Book 2, to provide an except of Book 3 in the back matter. And so on and so forth.
It takes just 20 minutes to edit a book, and republish it.
5. Believe in yourself: write in a genre which is fun for you
Which genres of fiction do you read for fun? If you’re not reading a genre with pleasure, you’re unlikely to be able to write successfully in that genre. Your reading tells you what readers of the genre want.
When your writing is FUN for you, it’s likely to be fun for readers, as well. Please don’t torture yourself, trying to write in a genre which bores you, or which you actively dislike. It won’t work.
(Bonus tip) Avoid freebies and 99 cent ebooks
“Free” isn’t a guarantee of anything, least of all readers. Today, readers have so many freebies offered to them that they no longer trust “free.” They tend to look on 99 cent ebooks as trash too.
If you’re uncertain about pricing, price at the upper levels of the indie authors in your genre.
Readers have asked for more fiction writing tips on what to include when they’re outlining a novel. Here’s a big tip: connect with your plot, and with your characters. Sometimes, when we’re outlining, we focus on the plot so much that we forget why readers read.
Recently I’ve been working with an author who shocked me. She told me that she’s self-published three novels over three years, and has made NO sales at all. When I checked her books’ blurbs on Amazon (she’s published ebooks and paperbacks) I saw the problem immediately.
Plot, plot, and more plot, and no real connection to be found. Your stories need to connect with readers. This connection can be subtle, but as the saying goes, you know it when you see it. 🙂
Readers read for connection — they want to be drawn in to your novel, or short story… that connection MUST be there, in your blurb, and of course, in your outline, and in your books.
All very well, I’m sure you’re thinking… but how do you CONNECT?
Fiction writing tip: your fiction MUST connect with readers
Blurbs (book descriptions) to which readers connect sell books.
For example, the blurb for Nora Roberts’ novel Blue Smoke, begins:
Reena Hale has always understood the destructive power of fire.
Fire burns. We can relate. Just yesterday I burned my hand on a cast iron skillet. Ouch! (We’ll get to the senses and connection in a moment…)
Here’s another example, from the blurb for Joseph Finder’s novel, The Switch:
Michael Tanner is heading home from a business trip when he accidentally picks up the wrong laptop from security.
Have you ever picked up someone else’s bag? I haven’t, but last week I strolled into the supermarket car park, right up my car, and kept pressing the key in my hand in irritation.
Curses — why wasn’t the car unlocking?
Finally I realized. Heh, right color, make and model, but not my car…
We’ve all made similar mistakes. Finder makes a connection with readers, as Roberts does, in the first sentence of the blurb.
Want another example? Just check bestsellers. I defy you to find me a blurb which doesn’t connect with readers in some way. Here’s another example, this one is from David Baldacci’s End Game: A Will Robie Novel 5. And again, we find connection right in the first line of the blurb:
London is on red alert.
We connect with that. We watch the news of terrorist attacks in London, and we feel vulnerable too.
In this article on outlining fiction, I suggested that you start outlining with an image:
… start with an image: an image has built-in emotion – if you choose the right image. Fiction is all about emotion. No emotion? You’ve got nothing. Your idea, no matter how wonderful, will fizzle out. Or you’ll have a bunch of weird emotions tumbling around, which you can’t get a handle on… and the novel or short story fizzles out.
Let’s add to that: start with an image to which you respond.
1. Outlining: connect via conflict — remember emotions
Fiction is all conflict, all the time. It’s easy to forget the reader connection, and create melodrama.
Let’s say that you’re great with conflict. Everyone’s upset in your novel, and fighting with everyone else.
Good work. Now make an emotional connection with your character, a highly intelligent, 30-year-old, brand new detective. She’s been taken off a case. How does she feel? Add a note about those feelings, right in your outline for the scene.
Add another note: how do you want the reader to feel? If your detective is your primary point of view character, you want your reader to empathize with the character.
2. Look for opportunities for sensory writing in your outlines: connect via the senses
Readers will connect with your fiction if you provide sensory details.
Take a moment, and glance around the room, or around the plane or around the park… You’re somewhere, aren’t you? And as long as you’re awake, you’re aware of your environment, on some level. You’re using your senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch.
The madeleine anecdote is considered one of the key passages in À La Recherche du Temps Perdu or In Search of Lost Time. It is at the heart of the book’s main theme of involuntary memory…
Readers will connect if you make it easy for them to experience your characters’ environment, via the senses. Don’t describe everything, but do choose sensory details which connect with readers.
From Georgette Heyer’s Frederica:
Wiser counsels had not prevailed with Jane: she had been determined on roses and pink gauze; and as she had inherited her mother’s shrewish disposition, and was capable of sulking for days together, Lady Buxted had allowed her to have them.
If Heyer had written: “Jane sulked until she got a dress with roses and pink gauze,” it wouldn’t have the same impact. Nevertheless the “sulking” makes a connection with readers; we all know people like Jane who want their own way.
3. YOU are your fiction: connect to your characters, and to the events in your plot
You’re your fiction. No one else has your emotional makeup or experiences. You perceive the world differently from everyone else. So, in order to connect with readers, connect with your characters, via your imagination. Then get that connection onto the page. Readers will latch onto your fiction — you helped them to make a connection.
An author’s biggest danger when we create characters and plot, is forgetting to make a connection with our characters, and the disasters we create for them.
Once you begin looking for connections readers might make, you’ll find them in your writing and in others’, and will create them deliberately.
You’ll know that you’re doing it right when you have fun with your fiction. 🙂