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Author: Iola

I provide professional freelance manuscript assessment, copyediting and proofreading services for writers of Christian fiction and non-fiction books, stories and articles. I also review Christian novels at www.christianreads.blogspot.com.

Understanding Point of View

Point of view is one of the most important aspects of writing craft for fiction, yet it one of the major issues new writers struggle to understand.

This post will:

  • Describe the basic approaches to point of view.
  • Discuss how to choose the right point of view for your novel.

Approaches to Point of View

The basic approaches to point of view are:

  • First person
  • Second person
  • Third person

First Person

First person uses ‘I’ as the personal pronoun. This takes the reader inside the mind of one character. The reader can only think, see and experience from the viewpoint of this one character:

I sit waiting, waiting, waiting. These might be the Royal quarters, as befits my station as Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry VIII, God rest his soul, but it is still the Tower of London. It is still a prison. Amidst the luxurious wall hangings, a warm fire, and the fine food, I sit here, waiting. Waiting upon the pleasure of the popish Queen. Mary. My half-sister.
My enemy.

First-person point of view gives narrative intimacy, the feeling that they are getting to know this character’s deepest thoughts and emotions. In Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Browne and King say:

In order to succeed in the first-person point of view, you have to create a character strong enough and interesting enough to keep your readers going for an entire novel, yet not so eccentric or bizarre that your readers feel trapped inside his or her head. Also, what you gain in intimacy in first person, you lose in perspective [because] your readers get to know only one character directly.

Note that some readers don’t like novels written in first person. Some publishers don’t accept first person manuscripts, so choosing this option might limit your market.

Second Person

Second person uses ‘you’ and ‘your’, putting the reader inside the story:

You sit waiting, waiting, waiting. These might be the Royal quarters, as befits your station as Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry VIII, God rest his soul, but this is still the Tower of London. It is still a prison. Despite the wall hangings, a warm fire and the fine food, you are still sitting here, waiting upon the pleasure of the Queen. Mary, your half-sister, your enemy.

This feels contrived to me. You are not Princess Elizabeth, so are you really going to sit through a 90,000 word novel and pretend that you are? Second person works for instructional non-fiction, and is the mainstay of ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ books. But it’s not considered appropriate for novel-length fiction.

In the words of Newman and Mittlemark (authors of the tongue-in-cheek How Not to Write a Novel):

Certain late twentieth-century novelists used the second person singular successfully—notably Italo Calvino in If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler and Jay McInerney in Bright Lights, Big City. But there it ended. In fact, it was named the “second person” when McInerney became the second person to get away with it and it became clear he would also be the last. Very occasionally, an editor sees past the contrivance and buys such a book—on the condition that the author revise it completely into a traditional third-person narrative.

Unlimited or Omniscient POV

Some people see omniscient point of view as one end of a continuum of a range of third person viewpoints. Others see it as unique and separate from third person. It is written using the grammatical rules of third person, and uses he/she and his/her pronouns:

Princess Elizabeth sat waiting in the Royal quarters of the Tower of London as the guard entered with her breakfast. She should be grateful she hadn’t been placed in a normal prison cell. At least the walls of the Royal apartment were covered in fine tapestries to keep the heat in, there was a large fire to fight London’s cold winter, and the food was freshly cooked and still warm when it was served to her.
He knew many people who didn’t have these luxuries at home, never mind in prison. Elizabeth was waiting upon the pleasure of her half-sister Mary, the Catholic Queen.
Mary was afraid of Elizabeth, afraid of her popularity with the common people, and afraid she might fight for the throne as that wretched Jane Grey had. She was dead now. And Elizabeth may yet join her.

The advantage of omniscient point of view is that the reader gains a level of perspective over the whole story, because the narrator knows what is going on in the minds of all the characters.

This was the favoured point of view in the past. However, it can be confusing for the reader (see how the example moves from Elizabeth’s mind to that of the guard, then to off-stage Mary?). Modern fiction prefers a more intimate point of view where the reader can see inside the mind of the main characters—but only one character at a time.

Many readers dislike the omniscient point of view, because it can lead to moralising author intrusions (‘she should be grateful’), and is thought of as old-fashioned and patronising.

The other disadvantage of omniscient is that it is hard to write well. The above example isn’t true omniscient: it’s third person with head hopping. True omniscient point of view has a separate narrator with a distinct voice, as in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or The Princess Bride.

Outer Limited or Cinematic POV

Outer Limited describes the action through the eyes of an external narrator who sees the external, observable actions and dialogue but none of the thoughts or feelings of the characters. James Scott Bell describes as this as Cinematic POV. For example:

Princess Elizabeth sat waiting in the Royal quarters of the Tower of London. The room wasn’t a typical prison cell: the walls were covered in fine tapestries to keep the heat in, there was a large fire to fight London’s cold winter, and the food was of high quality. Elizabeth sat, waiting upon the pleasure of her half-sister Mary, the Queen, a Catholic, and her enemy.

Like omniscient, cinematic point of view tends to tell rather than show, and doesn’t give the much-needed emotional engagement with the characters. It can be useful in certain circumstances:

  • It is often used in thriller and suspense novels to show what is happening away from the sight of the main characters (e.g. the villains making their plans).
  • It provides narrative distance, which can be useful when describing certain scenes (e.g. physical violence).

Third Person Limited

Third person inner limited puts the reader in the position of observing the action through the eyes, ears, and thoughts of a single character. It’s much like first person, but written in the grammatical third person language of he/she and his/her.

Note that the reader can only know the thoughts of the point of view character: unless the character is telepathic, the character can only observe the actions of the other characters in the scene:

Princess Elizabeth sat waiting in the Royal quarters of the Tower of London. She knew she should be grateful she hadn’t been placed in a typical prison cell. At least the walls of the Royal apartment were covered in fine tapestries to keep the heat in, there was a large fire to fight London’s cold winter, and the food was as fine as any she had eaten in her Hatfield home: freshly cooked and still warm when it was served to her. She sat, bored, thinking of her half-sister Mary, the Catholic Queen who was now her enemy.

This example feels distant as a reader, as if you’re watching a scene rather than being drawn into that scene. You can see some of what is going on inside Elizabeth’s head, but words like ‘knew’ and ‘thinking’ place an invisible narrator between the character and the reader.

Like Cinematic point of view, Inner Limited has some uses in modern fiction, but can feel distant when it fails to engage the emotions of the reader.

Third Person Deep Perspective

Modern readers favour a more intimate third person (especially in genres such as romance and women’s fiction), as this pulls the reader into the scene and provides a degree of narrative intimacy and emotional engagement more like first person:

She sat, drumming her fingers on the desk. These might be the Royal quarters, befitting her station as Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry VIII, but it was still the Tower of London, still a prison. She gazed around the room. Perhaps the view had changed. No. Still the same wall hangings, showing that awful hunting scene. The poor stag. It hadn’t deserved to meet that grisly end at the hands of her father. That was back when he was married to Catherine of Aragon, before he split from the Roman Catholic church to divorce Catherine and marry Elizabeth’s mother.
At least the fire was warm and the food was as good as that served in her Hatfield home. But there was nothing to do. No new books, nothing to sew, and no one to talk with. It was luxury compared with the hovels most people lived in, but it was a prison. So she sat, praying, watching, waiting. Waiting upon the pleasure of her half-sister Mary. The Queen. Her enemy.

The reader should be able to feel Elizabeth’s boredom and impatience. If this was done really well, the reader would also be able to sense Elizabeth’s underlying fear: that she may have to die in order for Mary to secure her throne. That is the beauty of deep perspective: done well, it shows us things the character themselves may not even be aware of. But the example above also shows one of the problems of deep perspective. It takes more words to show than to simply tell.

Choosing The Right Point of View

How do you choose which point of view to use? In modern fiction, the only real choice is between first person and third person.

Genre may play a part in your decision:

  • Women’s literature and cozy mysteries often use first person point of view.
  • Romance novels may be first person or third person.
  • Thrillers or suspense are usually third person.
  • Middle Grade novels are likely to be third person, and may use omniscient or cinematic viewpoint.
  • Young Adult and New Adult novels tend to be first person or third person deep perspective.
  • Fantasy novels are likely to be third person, and may use omniscient.

Overall, most adult fiction uses third person point of view. The more character-driven the plot, the more likely the novel will use third person deep perspective. Browne and King say:

What degree of narrative distance is right for you? Broadly speaking, the more intimate the point of view, the better. One of the most difficult tasks racing a writer is creating believable and engaging characters, and an intimate point of view is a terrific way of doing this.

Using Multiple Points of View

Most novels are written using multiple points of view, as this provides variety and interest. However, multiple points of view can get authors in trouble.

There are three main ways of using multiple points of view in fiction:

  • First person point of view with multiple characters.
  • Combining first person and third person point of view.
  • Third person point of view with multiple characters.

Multiple characters in first person is not a technique for beginners. Done well (e.g. Gone to Ground by Brandilyn Collins), it is excellent. Done badly, it is virtually unreadable. As Browne and King say:

[some authors] write in the first person but from several different viewpoints—with different scenes done from inside the heads of different characters. This technique can be highly effective in the hands of an experienced writer.

Orson Scott Card explains the problem in Characters and Viewpoint:

Switching first-person narrators mid-story is usually ineffective and always difficult, because it violates the illusion that the character is “really” telling the tale.

Gayle Roper uses the technique of combining first person and third person successfully in Shadows in the Sand. She uses first person for her heroine, and third person for two secondary characters and for the villain. This is not a technique for beginners, because the constant change between first person and third person can draw the reader out of the story.

This is why most authors stick with the tried-and-true options:

  • Writing first person from a single point of view.
  • Writing multiple characters in third person point of view.

Choosing Your Point of View Characters

The final question in is how many point of view characters your novel should have.

Fewer is better:

  • If you are writing in first person, the ideal number of viewpoint characters is one (unless you’re an expert writer).
  • If you are writing in third person, the number of viewpoint characters will vary depending on word count and genre.

The purpose of point of view is to create intimacy with the characters, to make the reader care about what happens to the character. These guidelines are based on what I see as a reader:

  • Category romance (e.g. Love Inspired, approximately 60,000 words) has two points of view: hero and heroine, with approximately a 40/60 split between the two.
  • Contemporary or historical romance, women’s fiction (90,000 words) has two or three points of view: hero, heroine and significant other character. This may be a best friend, or it may be the heroine of the planned sequel.
  • Romantic suspense (90,000 words) has between two and four points of view: hero, heroine, significant other character and villain.
  • Thriller (90,000 words) may have up to five characters hero, heroine (if there are romantic elements) and two or three seemingly-unrelated viewpoints, one or two of which will be the villains.
  • Science Fiction or Fantasy (up to 120,000 words) will have up to five characters: hero, heroine, sidekick, mentor, villain

Each character is someone you want your reader to get to know, to understand. If you have too many viewpoint characters, you reduce the ability of your readers to know and understand your characters and their motivations. As Ronald Tobias says in Twenty Master Plots:

The more characters you add to the mixture, the more difficult it will become to keep up with all of them and to keep them in the action.

Three Golden Rules of Point of View

The general rules of Point of View are:

  1. There must only be one point of view character in each scene (more than one is referred to as ‘head-hopping’).
  2. The point of view character should be the individual most affected by the actions in that scene.
  3. The first name mentioned in a scene should be that of the viewpoint character.

In almost every case, the viewpoint character should be one of the main characters. It won’t be a minor character who only appears on one or two scenes in the entire book. The exception might be if you’re setting this character up to be the protagonist in the next book in a series.

I’ll be back next week to discuss the most common problems new writers have, and how the correct use of point of view can help. Meanwhile, what’s your biggest struggle with point of view? Let me know in the comments.

Best of the Blogs: 1 April 2017

No, not an April Fool (although you might wonder if you watch the YouTube videos on Change Blindness below).

Writing

Narelle Atkins visits Australasian Christian Writers to challenge us to make writing a Lifelong Learning Process … and shares the news that Margie Lawson will be speaking at the 2017 Omega Writer’s Conference in Sydney, in October.

If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, this is a fabulous opportunity to hear from one of the best writing instructors I know of. Are you planning to attend any writing conferences this year? Which one?

Tina Radcliffe at Seekerville shares the best-ever explanation of GMC, The Why of Motivation. It’s all about ice cream, people.

Editing

Seven tips to tighten your writing from writing coach Lisa Tener, and a video shared by editor Joan Dempsey that illustrates why none of us can edit our own writing:

Did you spot the change? What about this one?

These two videos illustrate one of the problems of editing our own work: we see what we thought we wrote or what we meant to write … not what we actually wrote. Even worse, we don’t notice obvious errors if we’re not looking for them.

This is why we need to make multiple passes through your manuscript when editing. If you read through the manuscript looking for point of view violations, you’ll find them. But you’ll probably miss all but the most obvious spelling and grammar errors—and vice versa.

It’s fascinating to know there’s actually a name for it: Change Blindness.

Social Media Marketing

Rachelle Gardner at Books & Such Literary Agency shares on managing Your Social Media Persona. Basically, balancing being authentic with not coming across as a self-promoting whiner. This should be obvious, but I’ve seen two instances of online whining today so I guess it’s not as obvious as I thought.

Note: poor-me whining is not the same ascommenting about the world-news weather system that’s closing schools and threatening your home. That’s being real, and my thoughts are with the people of Queensland as they deal with the aftermath of ex-tropical cyclone Debbie.

Inspiration

It’s time to turn your question marks into exclamation points. No, the editor hasn’t gone mad. (Although I will admit I clicked in this blog post because of the intriguing title). Kaye Dacus explains in Writing with Exclamation Points Instead of Question Marks.

Reader Question: How do I Find a Christian Literary Agent?

Reader Question: How do I find a Christian literary agent? And what does an agent do?

If you’ve read Christian Publishing: A Guide to Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction*, you’ll have seen that many of the big name Christian publishers state that they only accept manuscripts submitted from recognized literary agents.  Unsolicited paper submissions are likely to be returned unread (or, worse, trashed unacknowledged and unread). Electronic submissions go to the virtual trash can.

*If you haven’t read Christian Publishing: A Guide to Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction, you can get a free copy by signing up for my mailing list using the signup box on the right.

How do I find a Christian Literary Agent? - via Christian Editing Services

 

What does a Literary Agent Do?

The role of a literary agent is varied. While they are best-known for their role in selling manuscripts to publishers, they have other responsibilities:

  1. Provides structural and developmental editing advice to clients in regard to new projects.
  2. Line edits and copyedits manuscripts prior to submission to publishers.
  3. Submits manuscripts to appropriate publishers and follow up as appropriate.
  4. Negotiates publishing contracts on behalf of clients
  5. Guides clients through the publishing process as required.
  6. Work with clients to develop and implement marketing plans.
  7. Offers career coaching for authors, determining the direction for their writing career and taking industry changes into account.
  8. Acts as liaison between the author and the publisher on any and all issues.
  9. Reviews royalty statements for accuracy and consistency with the publishing contract, and follows up any discrepancies with the publisher.
  10. Recruit new authors and agrees terms of working as per the agency contract.

Not all agents will undertake all these tasks, which should be no surprise. Agents have strengths and weaknesses, and you need to ensure you are getting the best possible advice. That might well mean paying a professional for additional support (e.g. an editor, or a intellectual property attorney).

How do you find a Christian literary agent?

Literary agents receive far more requests for representation than have time to accept, so they are selective in choosing new authors to represent. A reputable literary agent is unlikely to take on a writer who needs a substantial amount of coaching and nurturing, as this work is unpaid.

Agents are paid a percentage of advances and royalties on projects sold, usually 15%. This means agents often turn down authors or projects that might sell in favour of authors or projects they know they can sell. After all, they receive no payment for merely having an author on their books. Agents also need to balance their desire to take on new authors with their ongoing commitments to their established authors.

Check out Michael Hyatt’s List

Michael Hyatt has a list of literary agents available from his website (click here). You’ll have to sign up to his mailing list to receive it, but you can unsubscribe. The list isn’t completely up to date, but will provide you with a solid starting point.

Check out Books in Your Genre

You can also find a potential agent by checking the copyright and acknowledgements pages of your favourite books—many publishers include the agent’s name on the copyright page, and most authors thank their agent on the acknowledgements page.

Check out Books from Your Target Publishers

If your ultimate goal is to be published by Bethany House, you want an agent who has previously sold projects to Bethany House, and has a good working relationship with the acquisitions editors at Bethany House. You don’t want an agent who has only sold to small publishers who aren’t represented in the major Christian book stores, to digital-first or digital-only publishers, or to publishers who don’t require an agent. So check out new books from your dream publisher, and see which agents made those sales.

Check out Christian Writing Conferences

Another way to find potential agents is to review the list of agents who attend prominent Christian Writer’s Conferences each year. Many conferences feature agents as speakers, panel members, or offering agent appointments. Take note of the agent’s name, and their agency (if stated). Seekerville has a list of Christian Writing Conferences.

I’ve Created a List. Now What?

Once you’ve done your research and identified some potential agents, how do you go about getting their attention?

Interact on their Blog

Most reputable literary agents have some form of online presence, such as a website, so the next step is to Google the agent and/or their agency. Good agent websites contain a lot of useful information:

  • The names of the authors they represent.
  • The names of their agents (most agencies employ a group of agents, and they can range from new graduates to agents with decades of publishing experience).
  • Whether the agency or specific agents are open to new submissions, and their particular areas of interest.
  • How to submit to each agent. Some prefer email, others only accept snail mail.
  • The information the agent wants in the submission. This may be a query letter, proposal, or (less likely) full manuscript.
  • A blog, which will include information on how to write a query letter or proposal.

Follow and read the agent’s blog, and when you feel comfortable, comment on the posts. This will help you determine which agents or agencies could be a good fit for your books, and will give you an indication of the personalities of the individual agent: is this a person you want working for you?

Enter Christian Writing Contests

Writing organisations such as American Christian Fiction Writers conducts regular contests for unpublished authors. In most major contests, the final round entries will be read and judged by an agent or acquisitions editor, which can lead to an offer for agent representation or the offer of a publishing contract.

 

Attend a Christian Writing Conference

Meeting a prospective agent at a conference can be good way to get a ‘soft’ introduction so you aren’t approaching them cold. Many conferences offer formal pitch appointments with agents. Some agents will request submissions after getting to know you at a conference, whether through a formal appointment or an informal conversation over a meal.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in a future blog post, please email me via www.christianediting.co.nz/contact, or tag @iolagoulton on Twitter.

Best of the Blogs: 25 March 2107

Best of the Blogs from Christian Editing ServicesBest of the blogs: the best posts I’ve read this week on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing.

Writing

Kristen Lamb is back again this week, asking: Do Some People Lack the Talent to be Authors?

Does writing take talent … or just a whole lot of practice and a willingness to learn? What do you think?

Marketing

Book Descriptions

Why is it so easy to write 80,000 words, yet so difficult to condense that down into a brief book description which sells? BookBub have eight hints to help write a book description which sells. Well, it sells books for BookBub. It might not sell on Amazon, which permits longer descriptions.

Cover Design

Joel Friedlander has published his monthly cover design awards. James Egan and Damonza solidify their reputations as the cover designers to save up for.

Possible trends to note included several covers with characters turned away from the reader or in silhouette, and one which used an italic font. There were also a few covers with yellow or orange. Joel warned against this a couple of years ago, but I’m now seeing a trend for thriller or suspense novels.

As usual, it’s worth looking through the full list (100 covers) to see what works, what doesn’t, and why.

Branding

Jenny Hansen shares a fabulous post on author branding at Writers in the Storm. Read Helpful Hacks to Build a Strong Online Brand.

Twitter

Andrew Pickering visits Social Media Examiner to share 7 top tips for using Twitter to Drive More Traffic to Your Blog. I’m only doing three of these. I’m sure I can add three more with only a few tweaks to my sharing routine. One might be a little more trouble—anyone want to guess which of the seven I’m least keen on?

Award Finalists!

The 2016 Grace Award finalists have been announced, and Kiwi Christian author Kara Isaac is a finalist in the Romance/Historical Romance category.

And Romance Writers of America have announced the finalists for the RITAs, the romance world equivalent of the Oscars … and Kara Isaac is a double finalist—First Novel, and Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements. Congratulations, Kara!

Reader Question: Should I Hire Someone to Build my Social Media Presence?

Today I’m visiting Australasian Christian Writers to answer a question from a reader:

Building Your Social Media Presence

An agent liked my manuscript, but said I needed to build my social media presence before he’d consider representing me. I work full time. Should I hire someone?

Short answer: Maybe. Long answer …

Maybe. It depends on what your agent means by a social media presence, the kind of books you write and plan to write, on your brand, and on what God wants for your writing …

To read the rest of this post, click here to visit Australasian Christian Writers.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in a future blog post, please email me via www.christianediting.co.nz/contact, or tag @iolagoulton on Twitter.

Best of the Blogs: 18 March 2017

Best of the blogs: the best posts I’ve read this week on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing.

Best of the Blogs from Christian Editing Services

Writing

Plot vs. Character (the Rematch)

Last week I shared a blog post from James Scott Bell on why plot is more important than character. This week, Kristen Lamb takes the opposing view: that Character Determines Plot.

Discover Your Writing Voice

Jeff Goins tells us that the way we discover our writing voice is by reading and copying others. Lots of others. Who do you copy?

Editing

Do you use editing tools? I tried Grammarly for about a week, and while I liked the idea, it’s an online programme … which means it slowed down Word too much for me to work with, and I couldn’t use it at all when out of wifi range.

Anyway, April Bradley visited Writers Helping Writers to give an introduction to ProWritingAid, which sounds good–especially as it can apparently be used online, with Word, or as a separate desktop application.

Have you tried ProWritingAid? Do you recommend it? Read more here: ProWritingAid: A Useful Tool.

Publishing

Attorney Susan Spann visits Writers in the Storm to share 10 Questions to Ask before you sign a publishing contract.

I’ve covered several of these in Christian Publishing: A Guide to Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction. If you don’t already have a copy, sign up for my monthly newsletter and I’ll send you a copy.

Networking

I’m an introvert, so I never felt comfortable networking in the corporate world. The writing and editing world suits me so much better, because it’s full of introverts, and most of the networking is done like this, using the written word. This week, Kaye Dacus has a post on the importance of Networking for Building Name Recognition in the writing world—especially important in the small world of Christian fiction.

I’ve come across several other writers who have been published because of their connections, for better or worse. Romantic suspense author Dani Pettrey thanks Dee Henderson in her acknowledgements. Forensic thriller author Carrie Stuart Parks thanks her BFF’s husband who coached her in writing until she earned a contract—a guy named Frank Peretti.

Marketing

Book Reviews

As a long-time Amazon reviewer, I try (try!) to keep up with what’s changing in the world of Amazon reviews. In fact, it’s something I must write a blog post on, because a lot of what I wrote in my last series of posts is now outdated. Anyway, here is Big Al at Indies Unlimited commenting on one of the changes: how customer reviews are displayed on Amazon.

Improving Your Reach

Nina Amir at How to Blog a Book posts on How to get Better Mileage Out of Your Blog Posts. Basically:

  • Deliver them in different formats (video, audio, written)
  • Make them shareable
  • Share your posts (you can automate some of this using a tool such as Buffer).

I haven’t yet tried video or audio. Would you watch a Facebook Live question-and-answer session? Let me know in the comments. And add your questions!

Websites for Writers: Which Platform is Best?

Writer websites - Christian Editing ServicesWhy have a website?

It’s your “space” on the internet. It needs to be a space you control, because otherwise you’re at the mercy of ever-changing algorithms and terms of service.

(This is also why marketing experts recommend developing an email list. Because you own it.)

I recommend having a self-hosted WordPress.org site rather than a free Blogger or WordPress site.com. There’s nothing wrong with Blogger or WordPress.com, but the point of a website is that you own it. And you don’t own a free blog. As I found out …

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Blog

One day I woke up to find my Blogger site, Iola’s Christian Reads, had disappeared. Instead, there was a message to say my site had been removed because of “inappropriate content”. It was a book review blog. Of Christian novels. What could possibly be inappropriate about that, beyond a few critical reviews of books I didn’t enjoy because of dubious theology?

Who knows? Anyway, I followed Google’s instructions and Google must have agreed with me, because my site was soon restored. No harm done. Even if I had lost material, I could have recreated the site. I have Word copies of all the reviews. Most of them have also been posted to Amazon and Goodreads, so it’s not like the content will disappear forever.

But that story could have had a different outcome.

And that’s why I recommend having a self-hosted site: because then you’re not at the whim of Google (or some disgruntled reader who’s reported you for being “inappropriate”). And I’m not alone in this: every book marketing expert I know of recommends the same thing, including Michael Hyatt, Jeff Goins, Kristen Lamb, Joanna Penn, Nick Stephenson, Chris Syme, and more.

What does Self-Hosted Mean?

Hosting refers to where the site is stored online. It means you either have to host the site yourself (and I have absolutely no idea if that’s even possible, let alone how much it would cost). Or you have to use a service like Bluehost or Dreamhost to host your site. And that does have a cost—$5-$10 per month depending on the size of your site and how much you pay in advance, but a cost nonetheless (Bluehost is US $3.95 per month if you’re prepared to pay three years up front).

You can often tell from the website address whether it’s a hosted or self-hosted site:

Experts say you look more professional if you have your own site name rather than a Blogger or WordPress address. It says you’re serious—a Blogger address says this is a hobby. And I’m fine with that for my book review blog, but not for my professional sites. (Yes, you can use your own website address on a free Blogger site, but there is a charge for this.)

If you want to understand hosting options better, then I suggest you listen to this podcast episode from The Novel Marketing podcast: Website Hosting for Authors (13:58 long).

What Are My Website Options?

The main options are:

  • Blogger
  • SquareSpace
  • Weebly
  • Wix
  • WordPress.com
  • WordPress.org

Blogger

Blogger is owned by Google, and it’s more basic than Weebly, Wix or WordPress, which means it’s an ideal first website for many people (including me). But Blogger has limited ability to change the blog’s appearance (which limits your ability to brand yourself), and has limited functionality.

SquareSpace

SquareSpace has a free trial, but appears to cost USD 12.00 per month (when paid annually). It’s another simple platform, which makes it easy to use, and the themes are apparently among the best. All themes are mobile responsive, and it integrates with mailing programmes such as MailChimp.

Weebly

Weebly is a drag-and-drop platforms. This means you get to choose how your site looks. The basic site is free, but runs off a subdomain (so your website address is www.yourname.weebly.com), has a 500MG storage limit, and displays Weebly advertisements. And running a site though Weebly means it’s their site. Not your site. Only some themes are mobile responsive.

You can have up to ten pages on a free Weebly site (and I don’t know if that includes a blog or not). That might seem a lot when you’re first setting up a site, but in time you’re going to need a page for your books, and a page for each individual book. You don’t want to get to the stage of launching your third or fourth book and realize you need to move your website. Better to think longer-term now.

Paid Weebly plans start at USD 8.00 per month (when paid annually), and allow for a custom domain and no advertisements. See https://www.weebly.com/pricing for prices.

Wix

Wix is similar to Weebly, in that it is a drag-and-drop platform, and the free version runs off a Wix subdomain (so your website address is www.yourname.wix.com), and displays Wix advertisements. Themes are not mobile responsive, which is a big issue as mobile use grows.

Paid Wix plans start at USD 4.50 per month, and allows a custom domain name but still display advertisements. See http://www.wix.com/upgrade/premium-plans for prices.

If you use Wix and you’re planning to develop an email list and have a newsletter, then you won’t be able to use MailChimp or any of the more common email programmes. You’ll have to use ShoutOut, Wix’s email programme, and this will mean more work for you when it comes to building your email list.

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is a free site, hosted by WordPress. While it has a lot of the functionality of WordPress.org, it also has all the disadvantages of free. And free can cost … as social media Jedi Kristen Lamb recently found out when she migrated her website from WordPress.com to WordPress.org. Kristen’s web dude was able to migrate all her posts, and she now has a fabulous new site.

But she lost 21,000 followers in the process. Yep, read that again. Twenty. One. Thousand.

Some of them (including me) will find her new site because we’re following her via Feedly (web dude must have done something clever there!). Others will find her because they follow her via email, or because they are members of her #MyWANA tribe.

As she says, learn from the mistakes of others. If you’re serious about being an author, start as you mean to go on. And that means a WordPress.org website.

WordPress.org

All the experts recommend self-hosted WordPress sites, which is what I’ve gone for and what I recommend for this challenge. The main advantages are:

  • You don’t have the telltale .blogspot.com or weebly.com or wix.com or wordpress.com address
  • You have a lot more options around customising your site so it doesn’t look like everyone else’s sites (when I first started my book review blog I used a theme with books in the background—and so did every other newbie book blogger. That’s not good branding).
  • There are hundreds of free and premium (aka paid) plug-ins available for WordPress sites.

A plug-in is basically an app or program that adds some kind of useful functionality e.g. automatic site backups, or contact forms. If you’re on a hosted site (WordPress or other), you won’t be able to access a lot of this functionality.

The main reason I’m suggesting WordPress is because I found a fabulous 5-Day Challenge which enables you to build your own self-hosted WordPress site from scratch. I built both my sites with it, and absolutely recommend it,.

Which platform is best is going to depend on what you want to do with your site.

But I’m going with all the experts and saying that if you’re a professional author, your best option is self-hosted WordPress.

Best of the Blogs: 11 March 2017

Best of the blogs: the best posts I’ve read this week on writing, editing and marketing.

Best of the Blogs from Christian Editing Services

 

Writing

James Scott Bell on Plot

James Scott Bell visited Writers Helping Writers® to discuss the chicken-and-egg of fiction writing: Does character drive plot? Or does plot drive character? He’s the author of Plot and Structure and Write Your Novel from the Middle, so his answer is no surprise. Read Conflict and Suspense Belong in Every Kind of Novel to find out why.

Bryn Grenwood on Productivity

Bryn Greenwood posted on Hot Bunking for Writers at Writer Unboxed. I read the post because the title caught my eye—what on earth did she mean? I’ll let you read the article and find out for yourself: Hot Bunking for Writers.

I love the idea. Productivity experts do recommend knuckling down into a task rather than flitting between a variety of tasks. Apparently, multi-tasking is not good for productivity. Who knew? Hot bunking is a solution which also addresses writers block—and anything that stops us staring at a blank screen is a great idea!

Editing

Kathy Edens on Writing Aids

Kathy Edens shares at LiveWriteThrive about her experiences using ProWritingAid, and what it’s taught her about how to improve her writing. Have you used a writing or editing tool like ProWritingAid? The free or paid version? What has it taught you? Would you recommend it?

Marketing

Kristan Higgins on Organic Marketing

I missed this post when it first came out, but  found it after it was shared in one of my Facebook groups. If you’re one of the many authors who loathes marketing because it brings to mind images of scammy, spammy and smarmy self-promotion, you’re in the right place. In this article, Kristan Higgins visits Romance University to share about Organic Marketing aka passive marketing. It’s about getting the foundations right.

She also makes a unique and funny distinction between a writer and an author—and reminds us there is a time and a place for each.

Penny Sansiveri on Amazon Author Pages

If you’re a published author, you should already have claimed your author page at Amazon Author Central. Did you know you can also claim your page on international Amazon sites as well? Book marketing expert Penny Sansiveri explains how in The Most Overlooked Amazon Sales Tool:

Inspiration

And finally, Laurie Tomlinson visits Novel Rocket with a challenge: are you a real writer? Or are you letting Impostor Syndrome lie to you and say you’re not?

 

Should I use a Pen Name? Why or why not?

 

One dilemma many authors face is the decision over what name to use as their author name. Do they use their own name, a variation of their name, or should they use a pen name?

Pen Names - www.christianediting.co.nzMost authors use some version of their own name. This could be:

  • First name-last name
  • First name-maiden name
  • First name-middle name-last name (or similar)
  • First name-initial-last name
  • First name-maiden name-last name
  • Initials-last name

First name-last name is probably the best option. Married women have the option of using their maiden name or their married name. Although if your married name is Jones or Smith … you’re probably better going with your maiden name. Or vice versa. (If you’re Grandma Megan, who was born a Smith and married a Jones … you may have a problem.)

Many authors with common-ish names use a middle initial or middle name to distinguish themselves e.g. Jerry B Jenkins, Kristi Ann Hunter. Other use a middle name which might be their maiden name or other family name, e.g. Lisa Karon Richardson.

But some authors don’t want to use their own name for one of many possible reasons:

You Write in Multiple Genres

Many authors choose pen names for writing in multiple genres. Well-known general market examples of this are:

  • Victoria Holt (gothic romance) also wrote historical romance as Jean Plaidy and the epic Daughters of England series as Philippa Carr.
  • Nora Roberts (romance and women’s fiction) who also writes thrillers as JD Robb.
  • Jayne Ann Krentz (contemporary paranormal romance) who writes historical paranormal romance as Amanda Quick, and science fiction/romance as Jayne Castle.
  • Joanna Penn writes books on writing and publishing, and publishes her thrillers as JF Penn.
  • JK Rowling writes thrillers as Robert Galbraith.
  • Stephen King published a few early novels as Richard Bachman.

Someone Else Has Your Name

You might want use a pen name if your name is John Grisham or Karen Kingsbury or Nora Roberts or Stephen King—because those names already have strong brands associated with them. You might make a bunch of sales by writing as Karen Kingsbury, but you’ll also pick up a bunch of stinking reviews from readers who feel duped.

You Want to Disguise Your Gender

Authors sometimes use their initials to disguise the fact they’re writing in a genre dominated by readers who expect their authors to be female (e.g. romance) or male (e.g. thriller). Examples include JK Rowling, JD Robb, JF Penn, and EB James. Or there’s LM Montgomery, who may have used initials to avoid the prejudice against female authors (as did the Bronte sisters, who were originally published as Acton, Currer and Ellis Bell).

You Want to Keep Your Privacy

Some authors pick pen names because they want a degree of privacy or anonymity. This could be to preserve the privacy of others (e.g. if they’re writing about real people), or to preserve their own privacy (EL James is a pen name). I’ve heard of authors using pen names because they write children’s fiction and erotica—two genres you wouldn’t want to mix. Or they could use a pen name because their writing reflects opinions their employer (or government) might not approve of.

But be wary of picking a pen name as a way of ensuring online anonymity: if JK Rowling couldn’t keep her pen name a secret, it’s unlikely you can. You’ll need professional legal advice and NSA-level IT skills to keep your pen name separate from your true identity long term.

You Want Your Writing Name to Reflect Your Genre

Other authors pick a pen name to reflect their genre and author brand. I suspect these are pen names:

  • Regina Darcy (Regency romance)
  • Lorna Faith (Christian Western romance)

Or you may need a pen name because your real name doesn’t reflect your genre (e.g. a thriller author with the surname of Love or Hart).

Picking a pen name which reflects your brand could be good marketing—as long as you ensure all your social media reflects that brand.

Picking Your Author Name

Here are some other tips for picking an author name, whether a pen name or a version of your real name:

  • Try and make it unique, but easy to remember.
  • Try and make it easy to spell. Yes, I failed on that. Blame my father.
  • Is the website available?
  • Are the social media account names available e.g. Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest?
  • Be consistent.

If the .com site is taken:

  • Can you get .net, or the site in your country (e.g. .co.uk or .co.nz or .com.au)?
  • Could you add -writer or -author to your name (e.g. www.goins-writer.com)?
  • Could you add a middle initial (e.g. johnpsmith.com)?
  • Could you add a hyphen between your first and last names (e.g. www.john-smith.com)?

I’ve seen some people add a number to the end of their user name to make it unique. I’ve also heard it said not to do so—it apparently looks unprofessional. Or perhaps because too many people use their birth year, leaving them open to identity theft.

You can use www.namecheckr.com to check whether social media account names are available. (A unique name isn’t as important on Facebook, as it allows multiple users with the same name.)

Again, if your chosen name isn’t available, you can try adding -writer, -author, adding a middle initial, or putting a hyphen (-) or dash (_) between your first and last names. This wouldn’t be my preferred option, because it might be hard for fans to remember, but it’s better than nothing.

I’d also suggest being consistent—if www.johnsmith.com is available but you can’t get @JohnSmith on Twitter or Instagram, you might need to reconsider. (Okay, that’s easy for me to say. For some unknown reason, Iola Goulton was available on every platform I checked.)

Final Points

Belinda Pollard has an excellent blog post on choosing a pen name, if that’s your decision. And Helen Sedwick has blogged on the legal implications of using a pen name. Her examples are based on US law, but similar principles will apply everywhere.

Overall, I think it’s easiest if you keep to some variation of your own name, but I understand why some authors decide they need a pen name.

If you do decide to use a pen name, I recommend seeking professional legal advice from an intellectual property attorney on how to set up your new name and keep it secret. It defeats the purpose of having a pen name if anyone with an ounce of Google-fu can uncover your real identity in a few clicks of a mouse.

Best of the Blogs: 4 March 2017

Best of the blogs – the best posts of the week on writing, editing, publishing and marketing your books. And a little inspiration to encourage you.

Best of the Blogs 4 March 2017

Writing

Jami Gold talks about the importance of writing that immerses us in the story—or, more often, what takes us out of the story. She’s right. As usual. (I’m not a fan of the genres she writes, but I love her writing advice.)

Larry Brooks at StoryFix shares some depressingly good advice about The Bermuda Triangle of Storytelling (depressingly good because it’s easy to read, yet difficult to implement).

Beth Vogt visits Novel Rocket to share Donald Maass’s Freeze Frame technique for writing strong fight scenes.

Can you use song lyrics in a novel? It’s a common question, and Helen Sedwick gives the answers in this post at BookWorks.

And for some fun, Kari Lynn Dell visits Writers in the Storm to share 5 Things Rodeo Taught me About Writing.

Editing

Do agents edit? Should agents edit? Rachelle Gardner shares to what level she edits books for clients, and why in How Much Should Agents Edit?

Publishing

Chandler Bolt at Self-Publishing School has a great post on choosing the Perfect Book Title.

And Judith Briles visits The Book Designer to warn us to Beware of Sharks in Publishers Clothing in light of the recent demise of Tate Publishing (of course, if you’d downloaded my free guide to Christian publishers, you’d already know how to tell a shark from a minnow. If you haven’t downloaded it … sign up to my email list in the box on the right).

Marketing

This is a step or three ahead of me for now, but those of you with two or more books published might be interested in this article. In it, Alexandra Amor visits The Creative Penn to talk about using Amazon advertisements (and Facebook tracking pixels) to drive newsletter signups.

Encouragement

And finally, some words of encouragement from DeAnna Julie Dodson (aka Juliana Deering) at Inkwell Inspirations: we are Chosen. And equipped to serve.

That’s all for now. Have a great week!