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Friday, December 21, 2007

On haitus for the holidays

I'll be back after the holidays! As always, if there are topics you want me to cover, just comment and let me know!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Utilize reader statistics

The Gallup Poll website is fascinating. Okay, I admit, I’m a geek.

However, it’s also useful in gathering information about the book business, which is important for a writer.

Sometimes the statistics are a bit depressing—about 60% (depending on the house, genre, etc.) of all fiction books don’t make back their advance, for example—but other times, the stats can help writers.

This is the poll that talks about readers. It’s from 2005, but I think it’s mostly up to date—especially because the numbers are not much different from the 1999 stats, which are also presented.

Which of the following is the main way you generally select the books you read -- [ROTATED: based on a recommendation from someone you know, by choosing an author whose books you like, based on book reviews you've read, by browsing a bookstore or library, based on an advertisement you've seen, by browsing an Internet site] -- or do you select them another way?


2005 May 20-22

1999 Sep 10-14



By choosing an author whose books you like



Based on a recommendation from someone you know



By browsing a bookstore or library



Based on book reviews you've read



By subject (vol.)



By browsing an Internet site



Based on an advertisement you've seen






No opinion



Few people choose a book based on book reviews (7%) or by browsing an Internet site (3%), and only 2% say they were influenced to read a book by an advertisement.

Most people, 73%, say the Internet has not affected their reading habits, but 16% say that because they spend more of their free time on the Internet, they are reading fewer books. Just 6% say that the Internet has influenced them to read more, by making it easier to find out about, and purchase, books.

Bottom line:

Create a brand so readers buy simply because you wrote it.

If you think of writers like Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Danielle Steel, Debbie Macomber—you know them by the types of stories they write.

You buy them based on the types of stories you like to read.

I don’t like the more intense stories, so I haven’t read much Stephen King or Dean Koontz—the ones I’ve read, I haven’t liked that much.

However, I love Debbie Macomber because her books are light, sweet, and satisfying. Those are the types of books I personally prefer.

You want your readers to automatically buy your books as soon as they come out because they know and anticipate the type of read they’ll get.

Remember that a whopping 30% of readers buy based on the author. Create your brand so that people will buy your books, knowing the kind of story they can expect.

Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth.

Basically, write a good book so people will talk to other people about it.

There’s also a marketing strategy where you make it easy for people who would be most likely to enjoy your book to get their hands on it. If you haven’t read Pyromarketing by Greg Stielstra, go and get it. Or listen to the free audiobook MP3 download on his website,

You target people who’d be likely to like your book, and either give the book to them or give them a portion of it so they want to read more of it.

Those targeted people are more likely to talk about your book to other people, who will go out and buy it.

Also, make it easy for people to describe your book or your brand. My books are Asian chick lit. Robin Caroll is Southern romantic suspense. Cheryl Wyatt is special forces romance. Debby Giusti is medical technology romantic suspense.

Think of how you can brand yourself or your writing to make it easy for people to say, “Oh, I love XYZ author’s books because they’re {fill in the blank}.”

Remember that word of mouth accounts for a huge 27% of people who buy your book. This might be a larger percentage (and the percentage of people who buy based on your name will probably be lower) for debut novelists.

Some of it is not what you can control

Ultimately, there’s nothing you can do to make every Barnes and Noble and Borders bookstore carry your title. That’s up to the corporate offices and your publisher’s sales team.

You have no control over the cover art, even if they give your heroine three arms.

You have no control over the title, most of the time.

You have little control over the back cover blurb, especially if your marketing department has a specific reader demographic they’re targeting with the nature and feel of the blurb.

So while 22% of people buy books because they pick it up while browsing, you have no control over that. Don’t let it keep you up at night. (I’m Christian, so my philosophy is that God’s in control, and that helps when I start getting angsty.)

If you write the best book you can, and work hard to learn how to write even better books, people will start reading your books. That’s really all you can do. And when you get as popular as Diana Gabaldon, then Barnes and Noble will carry an entire shelf of your books.

Use your marketing money wisely.

Debbie Macomber spends about 25% of her book money on marketing. Because she makes a ton of money, that’s a lot of marketing dollars.

But her philosophy holds for lower advances, too—use only 25% for marketing.

Because the poll indicates that only 2% of people buy based on an advertisement, I choose not to spend money on ads.

Because the poll indicates that 27% buy based on word of mouth, I choose to spend more money on book giveaways and contests. People who want to read my book will enter the contests, and some of them will win a copy and hopefully tell other people.

In order to help spread word of mouth about my books (and me), I also spend time making myself available to readers and developing a relationship with them. The internet is great for this, especially blogs. My main blog, Camy’s Loft, is both inexpensive and helps develop a sense of community with my readers. I can also use it to promote Christian fiction and draw more readers to my blog to become part of my community.

My website costs a bit more (design, hosting, domain name), but it’s an easy, relatively inexpensive way for readers to find me. It’s my business card on the web, and people can explore me and my books on their own time, in their own way. They can decide if my novels might interest them, if they want to buy them.

I also am very careful about what types of promotional items I buy to give away.

While Post-It notes are useful, people use them and they’re gone. Pens are done by almost everyone, and I myself have thrown away a number of author pens because we don’t have the space for them. I’m not sure how many people actually use promotional keychains, and while there are lots of other really neat promo items—flashlights, bags, water bottles, etc.—they don’t always fit well with my brand and my novels.

Bookmarks have been handy for me because they’re inexpensive and many readers will actually use them. I also had my mom create some beautiful ribbon bookmarks with a special charm I custom-ordered that has my website on it—people are less likely to toss the ribbon bookmark, and hopefully they’ll use it, be reminded of me, and want to get my next book.

I might get other promotional items depending on demand or on any special events my publisher plans for me. For example, I ordered custom-engraved chopsticks to give away at my booksigning at the International Christian Retail Show. They were a bit pricey, but worth it because people remembered me and even went to stand in line in order to get the chopsticks (in addition to my book).

So think about how you want to spend your marketing money. Like I did with the chopsticks, try to find something unique—and hopefully usable—that people will keep and remember you by.

If you have any other comments, suggestions, or question, feel free to comment. I’m always open to discussion or other ideas for marketing and promotion for poor writers.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Characters – external conflict

Your main character’s story problem should be a big enough problem to carry them through the entire story and not be resolved until the climax. If the story problem resolves in the middle, it’s not a strong enough problem.

For romance, you also want strong conflict between the hero and heroine so they can’t get together during the story without some serious consequences. There has to be some type of relational conflict keeping them apart.

For non-romance, there should be strong conflict between the protagonist and an antagonist. Again, it should be strong enough to keep them from resolving their differences halfway through your story. They should be pitted against each other—with good reason to fight each other—all through the book, not resolving their differences until the climax.

The story problem should be deep and personal. Beyond external events, the characters have deep motivations that drive them to fight each other.

My friend Janet Dean quoted me this, which she got from bestselling author Susan Wiggs:

Think of your heroine (or protagonist), then think of her worst nightmare and make that the hero (or antagonist).

In Bayou Justice by Robin Caroll, the heroine, CoCo, is a strong woman who works fearlessly in the Louisiana bayou. But her greatest fear is being hurt again by the man she loved, Luc Trahan. The story problem is that she’s a suspect in the murder of Beau Trahan, who had been about to evict her family from their home, and who happens to be Luc’s grandfather—thus throwing her together with the man who could rip her heart out again.

In When Dreams Come True by Margaret Daley, the heroine, Zoey, fears a disruption of her life just as she and her children have settled into Sweetwater. The story problem is that her husband, who had been believed dead and who had been estranged from her before his disappearance, shows up on her doorstep and needs to be reassimilated into his own family.

In Sushi for One?, my heroine fears a relationship with a man and makes a stringent list from Ephesians to weed out undesirables—a type of personal coping mechanism. The story problem is that she keeps being thrown together with Aiden, who doesn’t meet any of the requirements on her list.

So think about your protagonist and antagonist. How can you tweak things so that the story problem becomes deeper and more personal?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Growing attraction between characters

I love romances—I write them and read them—and so I tend to be picky about how romance develops between characters.

I got two tips from a workshop given by Jennifer Crusie:

Trigger pleasant childhood sensory memories.

Early in childhood, we develop sensory memories tied to pleasant events. The cottony smell of Mama’s sewing room, or the buzzing sound of Dad running the saw in his workshop. Happy times linked to smell, sound, touch, taste, or specific visual cues.

When two people start to fall in love, one person will trigger one of those pleasant sensory memories in the other.

For example, Jenny Crusie gave a scene from her book where the heroine fried eggs in butter for the hero for breakfast. The smell of the butter brought back happy memories of the hero’s mother cooking for him.

Another example was when the heroine first glimpses the hero, and he reminds her of the one person she trusts in the world, an old mobster named Joey—the visual cue triggered pleasant memories for her because she loves Joey.

In your romance, think about how you can start to develop the romance by triggering sensory memories.

The hero and heroine start to mirror each other’s actions.

Jenny Crusie mentioned this was something a college anthropology or sociology class discovered. In a bar, couples who were successful in “hooking up” started to mirror each other’s actions. If she leaned on the bar, he did too. If he crossed his legs, she did too.

Have your characters start to mirror each other in subtle ways to indicate the advancement of their relationship. It doesn’t have to be obvious and in the reader’s face, but little things will help the reader start to track the progression of the romance.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pacing, part two

There are certain elements that can slow your pacing too much, especially in Scenes. While none of these are absolute no-nos (there are few rules in writing that are completely unbreakable), most of the time, these things slow pacing too much in a story and gives the reader a chance to put the book down.

Too much introspection.

In a Scene, give your character a scene goal and make it happen. Don’t spend too much time in the character’s head, ruminating over things. Focus on action rather than thought.

You can have the character emotionally react to things that happen in the scene, but keep it short. Save the introspection for the Sequel.

Too much backstory.

While you might think the reader needs this information about the character’s past in order to understand the scene, most of the time, the reader can figure things out pretty well.

Keep backstory to a minimum. Pepper it into the scene in a single sentence here and there rather than having a paragraph or three all at once. See my article on Hook, Description and Backstory for more detail on how to pepper backstory into a scene.

Too much narrative or description.

Pacing is always stalled with a paragraph of description. While it’s important to let the reader know where and when she is in the story, you also don’t want to sacrifice pacing for description.

Description can also refer to description of a character, as well as a place, so watch for that, too.

As with backstory, pepper description into the scene and focus on the action taking place. You can describe a bar just as easily with the action that takes place inside of it as with a paragraph passively describing it.

Also, don’t just describe the setting or the character—show your viewpoint character’s emotional reaction to the setting or character. It’s always more interesting to the reader when you show a character’s emotion in conjunction with description.

Too many words.

While we like a nice poetic phrase or a wonderful metaphor, sometimes excess words will slow pacing. This is where you need to take out your most critical editor and tighten your prose to the minimal words needed to get the story across.

Poetry is nice, but unless you deliberately want to slow the pacing (as in a Sequel), don’t use it in Scenes. Be ruthless. That flowery description might be Pulitzer Prize-worthy, but if it’s slowing your pacing too much in that Scene, save it for another place in the story.

If your manuscript seems slow-paced in some areas, compare it to this checklist. Your pacing problem might be an easy fix.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Pacing, part one

First off, pacing is often a bit subjective. What one reader considers un-put-down-able could be too fast to another reader. What one reader considers lovely, poetic prose could be boring and slow to another reader.

You are not going to please everyone. Get used to it.

So how do we find the right pacing for our books?

Aim for a pace that is right for your story—fast enough to keep the reader enthralled, with “sequels” so that they can catch their breath.

Be your own critic in this case. Analyze your story’s pacing and figure out if it needs to be faster, or if it needs more breathing room.

Also depend on your critique partners. Often, an unbiased third party can tell you if the pace is too fast, too slow, or just right.

Utilize Scene and Sequel.

Dwight Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer says that pacing is dependent on Scene and Sequel. A strong, goal-oriented Scene will increase the story pace because the reader is following the character’s scene goal. The following Sequel allows the reader to catch their breath. By utilizing Scene and Sequel, you’ll keep up a strong pace for the novel.

Length of Scenes and Sequels can affect pace, so make sure you don’t have Sequels longer than Scenes or vice versa.

How long should each be? It depends on your writing style and your story. Again, your own critical analysis and your critique partners can help you with this. Your own read-through or another reader can point out when introspection goes on for too long, or if a car chase scene is getting monotonous.

Make sure to include conflict at all times.

Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel emphasizes conflict to drive the story. Even in Sequels, there is some type of minor conflict going on during the emotional reaction,

Conflict will differ according to your story, your voice, and your genre. For chick lit, conflict might be the heroine’s mother’s nagging. For a suspense, it might be a stalking serial killer. The conflict that fits with your story will be what drives the pace.

A strong conflict during Scenes and a minor conflict during Sequels will keep your reader turning pages, but will still allow them to breathe during Sequels. It will be a good pace that makes the reader stay up late to finish “just one more chapter.”

Look at your own manuscript. What does the pacing look like? Do you have Scenes and Sequels following them? Do you have some sort of conflict, whether minor or major, in every Scene and Sequel?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Before you query: To finish or not to finish

You’ve heard the saying from dozens of industry professionals and published authors: Finish your manuscript before you query an agent or editor.

But I’ve heard the very valid point from writers that often it takes 4-6 months before you hear back from a query. Why not do 3 chapters, then query, and finish the manuscript while you’re waiting? Why not get the idea out there while you’re working on it?

Here’s the reason—the agent/editor may not take 4-6 months to get back to you. They might take 4-6 DAYS. And in this industry, timing is everything.

If an agent/editor reads your query and wants the story, they might be thinking, “I know an editor who would want to see an idea like this right now,” or “This type of story idea would be perfect for an empty slot in our line.”

If you can’t send them the partial or full manuscript as soon as they ask for it—say it takes you 3 months to finish the manuscript, or let’s be optimistic, say it takes you one month. That one month might already be too late. The editor might find another idea similar to yours and contract that instead. Or the agent finds another idea similar to yours and sends it to an editor she knows is interested.

Repeat after me: Timing is everything.

Another thing to think about—you don’t want to leave an editor or agent hanging. Their time is very valuable and if they ask for a manuscript, it’s because they have time to read it and a possible slot in their stable for your writing. If you don’t send the manuscript in a timely manner, you don’t look as professional as someone who sends them the manuscript the next day.

Question: But what if you have three different ideas and want to query agents with all three ideas? Wouldn’t that be better than waiting to write three manuscripts?

Answer: What if three different agents each want one of your three ideas? Which one do you finish first? And if you choose one, your chance for the other two might be lost because it takes you 4-6 months to get the other agents the other completed manuscripts.

Question: What if an idea crashes and burns—wouldn’t it be better to know that before you write the entire manuscript?

Answer: Don’t set yourself up for disappointment and assume your idea won’t fly. Also, don’t query something if you don’t honestly think it’s a good idea.

If you need to “test drive” an idea, a contest is an easier, safer, and faster way to do it. You’ll also get more feedback from a contest than an agent or editor about what aspects of your idea might need work.

Go forth and write that manuscript!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


In real life, people interrupt each other all the time (especially in my family). Why not have your characters do it, too? It adds a bit of realism and depth to the dialogue, making it sound more natural.

Interruptions can also create more variety in your dialogue rhythm. It adds a nice change of pace without being too much of a hitch in the reading flow.

Now, don’t go overboard and have people interrupt each other all the time (even though we know that in real life, that can happen). Moderation is the key, as with any writing style.

Finishing a sentence:

This is a fun type of interruption, when the other character finishes the person’s sentence for them.

“This is a private Christian school, kiddo. You sure you’re supposed to be saying that kinda word around here?” Joel asked.

Bradley jerked his head around, his eyes rapidly scanning the perimeter as if they’d just come under enemy fire. “N-no. I ain’t supposed to. Good thing my teacher’s not—”

“Right behind you, Bradley?”

--From A Soldier’s Promise by Cheryl Wyatt

Cutting someone off:

This is a great device to heighten tension and conflict in a dialogue. Again, use this judiciously or else your character will sound like a jerk/witch for always cutting the other person off.

She snorted. “Some things never change. I made a mistake calling you, Luc. You’re too much like the old man to see reason.”

Ouch, that stung. “I’m sor—”

“Consider yourself warned. My family will fight you Trahans.”

--From Bayou Justice by Robin Caroll

Punctuation review:

When someone is interrupted, use an em-dash, like this: —. It’s a long dash, the length of the letter m on an old-fashioned typewriter. The short dash is called an en-dash (the length of the letter n), and that should not be used to indicate an interruption. If you don’t use an em-dash, use two short dashes like this: --

Do not use ellipses to indicate someone is being interrupted. Ellipses (three periods like this: ...) are used to indicate when someone’s voice is trailing off, but no one is speaking to fill in the gap of silence.

”It’s him, Ma. We know our own pa!”

“It’s ... it’s ...” Sophie struggled to let go of the wild surge of hope that was building in her.

--From Petticoat Ranch by Mary Connealy

Look at your dialogue passages. Can you add an interruption to vary the pace or increase tension?

Monday, December 03, 2007

When to use italics in first person POV

When do I use italics in first person POV?

The beauty of first person is that it’s immediate. It’s like constantly being in the person’s head, constantly hearing their direct thoughts.

In third person POV, direct thoughts are indicated by italics. For example:

This is from Only Uni. My heroine, Trish, has just showed up for a New Year’s party.

Here’s the original with lots of italics.

She glanced down at her dress. Well, at least the cut makes me look curvier and slender at the same time. Ha! I love how well-tailored clothes ensure I don’t have to work as hard to look good.

She kicked off her sandals—Oh look, my toes have turned blue from the cold—and they promptly disappeared in the sea of shoes filling the foyer. She swatted away a flimsy paper dragon drooping from the doorframe and smoothed down her skirt. She snatched her hand back and wrung her fingers behind her.

Here’s the revised version:

At least the expert cut of her dress made her rather average figure curvier and more slender at the same time. Trish loved how well-tailored clothes ensured she didn’t have to work as hard to look good.

She kicked off her sandals—Oh look, her toes had turned blue from the cold—and they promptly disappeared in the sea of shoes filling the foyer. She swatted away a flimsy paper dragon drooping from the doorframe and smoothed down her skirt. She snatched her hand back and wrung her fingers behind her.

No, that’ll make your hips look huge.

She clenched her hands in front.

Sure, show all the relatives that you’re nervous.

She clasped them loosely at her waist and tried to adopt a regal expression.

“Trish, you okay? You look constipated.” Her cousin Bobby snickered.

The first two paragraphs in the revised version are essentially direct thought, but in third person past tense rather than in first person present tense and italics.

I used italics for when the thoughts go deeper, and Trish is thinking to directly to herself.

A rule of thumb in novels is to use italics as little as possible. If you use italics very lightly, then when you do use them, the italics have more impact, such as in the example above. The italics serve to impact the humorous punchline at the end of the example.

In order to use italics lightly, I tend to only use them when the character is speaking to him/herself. Other types of direct thought can easily be written as third person past tense, as shown above.

In first person, the principle is the same. Use italics lightly, and only use them for emotional impact and when the character is speaking directly to him/herself.

Here’s an example from my current WIP, a young adult chick lit. It’s Amelia’s first day at a new school and she’s just met Glory, who seems nice, but Amelia can’t explain why she doesn’t warm to her:

Glory glances at my backpack. “Nice bag.”

“Thanks.” It’s leather and heavier than a suitcase. I also think it’s kind of old-person-ish, but Mom got it for me.

“What do you parents do?”

“They’re both engineers. How about y—”

“Where do they work?”

I blink at the question. Well, this is Marshall’s School for Excellence—maybe the smart kids are more career oriented than normal folk. “Mom’s at Google, Dad’s at Intel.”

Glory’s eyes widen so much, her (fake, I think) eyelashes brush the bottom edge of her bangs. “Wow.”

Her reaction causes that same zapping thing with my back, and I take a deep breath to make the muscles loosen. Stupid, what are you doing? She’s a nice person.

Most of the chapter is void of italics. The only time I used them is here, when Amelia scolds herself for being unreasonable.

Look at your own manuscript. How often do you use italics? Can you rewrite them into the narrative as non-italics?
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