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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.

Four Types of Authors Who Shouldn’t Read Reviews

Four Types of Authors Who Shouldn’t Read Reviews

Should authors read reviews?

That was the question Jordan Dane posed at The Kill Zone blog last week. I also saw the same question addressed in an author Facebook group I’m a member of, and (indirectly) on Seth Godin’s blog.

Three times in three days. That must be significant …

I’m not yet a published author, so haven’t yet had to face this decision for myself. But I do have a lot of experience from the other side of the question: as a reviewer. I’ve reviewed around 900 books on Goodreads, and most of those reviews have also appeared on other sites: Amazon, my blog, and other retail sites.

My reviewing experience leads me to believe that not all authors should read reviews of their books. Here are some authors who shouldn’t read reviews of their books.

Authors Who Forget Reviews are For Readers

Reviewers don’t always agree (you can see that by reading the reviews to any great work of fiction). But one thing we do agree on is that reviews are for readers. Not for authors.

As reviewers see it, the purpose of an online book review is to share information which might persuade a like-minded reader to read the book … or not. And either is a valid conclusion. It takes several hours to read an average novel, and a good review takes a while to write, and to post. Especially if you cross-post across several sites, as I do.

Reviewers aren’t doing this to please authors. Reviewers do not exist to promote your book for free (although some do). If they are, it’s skirting close to Amazon’s definition of a “promotional review”, which is then at risk of being deleted.
No, reviewers review for themselves, and for like-minded readers. They do it for fun, for free.

Authors Who Focus on the Wrong Things

As Seth Godin points out, if there 100 glowing five-star reviews and one stinking one-star review (or even a well written three-star review), we focus on the negative. We ignore the positive, even when it’s overwhelming. It’s human nature.

Yes, some reviews are unfair. Some reviews are written by people with issues. Some people should be banned from the internet because they seem unable to communicate online in a mature and adult manner. In an ideal world, everyone would love everything we write and our reviews would be all fluffy unicorns and rainbows.

But life isn’t fair. Everyone has issues. And the world would be a better place if some people were prevented from ever sharing their opinions again (including most politicians, celebrities, and especially reality TV stars). No writer can appeal to everyone. Not even JK Rowling.

The critical reviewers probably aren’t your target reader. So we need to ignore the naysayers and focus on the positive reviews. If we can’t do that, we shouldn’t read reviews.

Authors Who Are Seeking Validation

If we’re reading book reviews to validate ourselves—as a person, or as a writer … just don’t. My worth as a human being is entirely separate from some random reader/reviewer’s opinion of my book (or my blog post). So is yours.

Just because someone doesn’t like your book doesn’t mean they don’t like you. And vice versa. Some of my closest writer friends write fantasy—a genre I have a lot of trouble enjoying. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them as people. It doesn’t mean they aren’t good writers. It just means I don’t enjoy the genre they write.

Authors Who Respond to Reviews

This is one of the first rules of being an author: don’t respond to reviews. Don’t respond to positive reviews—it can look needy and stalkerish (as if you’ve got nothing better to do than read and comment on reviews). And don’t respond to critical reviews—that never ends well for the author.

This should seem obvious. Yet just this week I was checking the Amazon reviews of a book I was considering buying and I saw the author had commented on the top-ranked review. The review basically said the self-help book contained no new information on productivity for writers, and that the author’s suggestion writers give up coffee and chocolate was unrealistic.

I thought this was a helpful review—there is no way I’m giving up coffee or chocolate on anything less than do-it-or-die orders from a doctor. So there is no point in me even considering a book with this recommendation. It’s not helpful.

The author didn’t agree. She copied and pasted a five-star review that said the book had helped the reviewer.

I’d already decided not to buy the book (see above points about coffee and chocolate), but now I’m hesitant to buy or review any of her books. I don’t want an honest review to come back and haunt me if she takes issue with my view should it differ from hers. (As it does. I don’t believe authors should respond to critical reviews. She obviously has no issue with the idea).

So Should Authors Read Reviews?

If you can read reviews of your book without becoming one of “those” authors, then yes. Otherwise, it might be best to ignore reviews, or get someone to vet them for you.

What do you think? Should authors read reviews of their books?

This post is part of the June 2017 #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, a monthly blog hop for authors who want to learn more about being authors. Posts are related to the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, blogging tips for authors, and reviews of author-related products. The hop the brainchild of Raimey Gallant. To find this month’s posts:

 

Best of the Blogs 12 August 2017

Best of the Blogs: 17 June 2017

Best of the Blogs

The best posts I’ve read this week on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing.

The focus this week is on writing craft. That’s not deliberate—it just happened that way. Some weeks it’s a mix, some weeks it isn’t.

Story Genius

First up, Myra Johnson visits Seekerville to discuss Story Genius by Lisa Cron. It’s a brilliant book, and I highly recommend it. Myra talks about the “third rail,” the emotional power that keeps our story moving forward.

Using the MBTI for Characterisation

I don’t know about you, but I find getting to know “my” characters (the characters I’m writing) one of the most difficult aspects of writing a first draft. And characterisation is also what makes or breaks a book for me—that’s how important characterisation is.

In fact, Lisa Cron says:

Ultimately, all stories are character driven—yes, all stories.

That’s because great stories aren’t about what happens as much as they are about how the characters react to and make sense of what happened.

In 5 Ways to Use Myers-Briggs for Characters, KM Weiland recants on her previous aversion to using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to profile her characters, and gives five great tips. And do read the comments. One commenter has written a virtual essay, which is informative (and technical).

Inspirational Romance

Jamie Lynn Booth visits Kristen Lamb’s website to discuss Why the World Needs More Inspirational Romance.

This is another post where the comments are as enlightening as the post. Many of the commenters describe themselves as Christians, but say they aren’t writing with the major CBA publishers would recognise as Christian fiction. As one commenter says:

I firmly believe that God has called us to be truth-tellers in a broken world.

I take the point. A lot of Christian fiction is telling the Truth (God’s Truth), sure. But it’s failing to tell it in an authentic way that will resonate with non-Christians. While I love Christian fiction that’s written for Christians by Christians, there is also a need for fiction written by Christians for the general market, but that will still lead people to God.

Part of this is about having flawed characters non-Christian readers will recognise.

Authentic characters.

And that’s what Lanette Kauten is talking about in Writing Authentic Characters (also at Kristen Lamb’s website). Lanette is a Christian, but isn’t writing “Christian fiction”. She says:

My characters are a part of the world they live in and act accordingly.

And her world is messy. Her heroine is described as a confused atheist in a lesbian relationship escaping from her upbringing in a weird Charismatic church. That’s part of the story, but it’s not the whole story. Her message is that our writing must be authentic.

Now for something lighter …

I enjoy humour. Who doesn’t? But I often come across novels where the humour either falls flat, or crosses the line from humour into a cringefest of slapstick.

In this excellent post at the BookBaby blog, Scott McCormick explains why: because Your Story Needs a Good Straight Man. If I think about it, a lot of the humour that didn’t work for me as a reader was because both characters were trying to be funny. And that doesn’t work. As Scott explains, good humour needs a straight man.

The best humour isn’t when one character says something funny and the other character laughs. It’s when one character says something funny, and the other character ignores the humour and carries on with the conversation. Terry Pratchett was a master at this.

McCormick also says:

Interestingly, a straight man doesn’t have to be limited to comedies. A good straight man can make your heroes more heroic, and your tragic figures more tragic.

Worth thinking about …

Do you use humour in your writing? (Or humor?)

I’m currently running a giveaway of Then There Was You, the new novel from RITA finalist (and Christian Editing Services client) Kara Isaac. Click here to enter.

Best of the Blogs 12 August 2017

Best of the Blogs: 10 June 2017

Six of the best blog posts this week in writing, editing, publishing, and marketing.

Writing

Skills Writers Need

Frances Caballo from Social Media Just for Writers visits The Book Designer to share 5 Skills Every Writer Should Develop. I don’t think each point should get equal weighting: learning writing craft is far and away the most important skill. And I think I’d substitute building a website and email list for blogging (I agree non-fiction authors need to blog. I’m not convinced that fiction authors must blog. But they do need an email list).

What do you think?

Writing Effective Backstory

An excellent post with practical tips on how to drop in your backstory, from Kathryn Craft via Writer Unboxed. I especially like her idea about using continuity words—a new term to me, but one I’m going to remember (and apply).

The (Social) Rules

Literary agent Donald Maass visits Writer Unboxed to ask What Are the Rules? When I read the headline, I thought he was going to be talking about writing rules. Because, you know, he writes books like Writing the Breakout Novel.

But no. He’s talking about the unwritten social rules we all live by, and asking which of those we bring into the lives of our fictional characters. Take food as an example. For those stuck in poverty, the main concern is quantity—is there enough? For the middle classes, the concern is quality—did you like it? But for the wealthiest among us, the concern is presentation. Hmm …

Characters

Author Sonja Yoerg visits Writers Digest to share her tips on writing mentally ill characters. As she points out, up to one in five people have some form of mental illness. As authors, we have a responsibility for getting the details right and building a rounded character who suffers from a mental illness:

Mental illness can be debilitating and all-consuming, but it does not define a person. That job still rests with the writer.

Publishing

What Authors Earn

Written Word Media share the results of their latest survey into author earnings. The result which surprised me was how little people claim to spend on editing (often less than they spend on cover design). I get that cover design is important to attract a potential reader, but it takes a lot longer to edit a novel than it does to design a cover, and it’s the quality of the writing and editing that turns a casual buyer into a reader and fan.

Amazon Book Sales

Last week I commented on the kerfuffle around Amazon’s changes to the buy button. Kara Isaac visited Australasian Christian Writers this week to share her view in Buy New, Get Secondhand? If you’re buying a paper book from Amazon, make sure the book ships from and is sold by Amazon. If you buy from a reseller, it’s likely that the book is secondhand. This means the author doesn’t receive a royalty on the sale.

Or buy the ebook—the author probably earns a higher royalty on the ebook sale. Or ask your library to order a copy, or borrow the ebook from your library if you have that option. Remember, authors are paid for library copies and some are even paid more if the book is borrowed more.

Want more current news on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing? Follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Best of the Blogs 12 August 2017

Best of the Blogs: 3 June 2017

The best blog posts I’ve read in the last week (or two. Yes, I missed last week’s post. Apologies!)

Writing

Writing Scenes

Beth K Vogt visits Novel Rocket to share her 5-5-1 method of planning a scene. She makes it sound easy … and effective.

Characterisation

In Shame, Shame, We Know Your Name—Or Do We? Kristen Lamb makes the point that shame is an important element of good fiction, that our characters don’t just need a secret. They need a secret that shames them.

I hadn’t thought of that … and I almost dismissed it. Except that the same day, Christianity Today published a related article: Shame, Guilt, and Fear: What 1,000 Americans Avoid Most. Hmm …

Publishing

Carla King at Bookworks has another article on the perils of vanity publishing. She specifically addresses how to re-publish your books (aka self-publish).

Marketing

Branding

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has started a series on branding. I value her opinion on all things related to writing, publishing, and marketing, so this is definitely a series I’ll be following. The first posts are:

In the latest post, Brand Identity, she talks about branding the book, branding the series, and branding yourself as a writer. My view is that the last is the most important—especially for pre-published authors.

Branding is obviously a current theme, because romance author Barbara O’Neal visited Writers Digest to share her take on developing an authentic brand: Your Writing Platform: Letting Readers Know the (Sort of) Real You 

Social Media Marketing

Neil Patel from Quicksprout shares his daily online marketing routine. Yes, you have to sort out brand first, and you need to have your website and social media set up properly. If you don’t, click here to sign up to be notified when my Kick Start Your Author Platform email course starts.

Do you have a daily social media routine?

Inspiration

Melanie Dickerson visited Seekerville to share her six tips to Take Your Career from Whine to Shine. It’s an inspiring post, and requires us to take action. Check it out!

 

 

That’s all for Best of the Blogs this week. What blog posts have you read that inspired you?

Best of the Blogs 12 August 2017

Best of the Blogs: 20 May 2017

The Best of the Blogs for the week ending 20 May 2017 …

Publishing News

There were two major stories in the publishing world this week.

Harlequin Closes Five Lines

Harlequin confirmed they are closing five fiction lines to new acquisitions. One of these is the Love Inspired Historical line, which publishes 4-6 Christian romance novels each month. Romance Writers of America report that the final Love Inspired Historical titles will be published in June 2018.

Love Inspired (contemporary romances) and Love Inspired Suspense (contemporary romantic suspense) do not appear to be affected.

Harlequin (knowns as Mills & Boon in the UK) have long been best known for their short category romances. But the increasing rise of self-publishing and cheap ebooks means many publishers are facing financial problems.

But knowing something is inevitable doesn’t change the reality for the stable of established Love Inspired Historical authors who are now without a publishing home. Some of these authors have been writing for Love Inspired for twenty years.

Amazon Changes Buy Buttons

Publishers Weekly report Amazon have changed the “buy” buttons for books. This means that when you buy a book from Amazon, you need to check who you are buying it from.

  • If you’re buying it new from the publisher, great. That means the author is getting a royalty from your purchase.
  • If you’re buying a new book from anyone other the original publisher, it’s likely the title is a review copy, remaindered, or perhaps even stolen. This means the author won’t receive a royalty from the sale.

Royalties have never been paid on used or second-hand books, so there’s no change there.

So be sure if you’re buying what the seller says is a new book that it actually is a new, unread book—not read carefully, not a remaindered copy (which might be marked by a black line across the pages), and not a review copy (also marked).

Writing

Writing Emotion

Screenwriter Art Holcomb visited the StoryFix blog to share What an Actor Wants You to Know About Your Novel. This is important, because:

Since the majority of movies are adaptations of novels and other materials these days, the problem lies as much with the sort of characters in novels today as they are in screenplays.

Writing Scenes

Randy Ingermanson is the author of several novels, as well as Writing Fiction for Dummies, and his website has lots of great advice for writers (including his famous snowflake method for plotting a novel, which I’ve talked about before).

This week, he’s answering a question from a reader: How do You Know When to Start and End a Scene?

Marketing

Penny Sanseveri at Author Marketing Experts posts that This One Thing Will Encourge More Book Sales. It’s a clickbait-y title, sure, but the advice is good. Her One Thing? Consistency. She says:

My homework for you is this: choose 3 things you can do better to promote your book over the next 30 days and hold yourself accountable to be consistent.

No, there are no easy answers.

What’s caught your eye in the blogs this week?

Best Book Marketing Websites

#AuthorToolBoxBloghop: 9 Best Book Marketing Websites

This post is part of the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop, the brainchild of  Raimey Gallant. There are over thirty authors participating in the blog hop this month, each sharing on a topic related to writing, publishing or marketing. There are three great ways to follow the blog hop:

  1. Check out the list of participating websites on the main blog hop page
  2. Follow the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop hashtag on Twitter and other social media sites
  3. Visit the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop board on Pinterest

So … on to my 9 favourite book marketing websites.

I’m not yet published. Well, not in a book sense. I’ve got thousands of words published online in the form of hundreds of book reviews and blog posts–my book review blog will hit 1,000 posts in a couple of months, and at least 80% of those posts are reviews.

Even though I’m not yet published, I’ve been studying the art and science of writing, editing, publishing, and marketing for several years. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on the road to publication, it’s this:

Marketing starts a long time before you publish.

Which means everyone who wants to publish should have at least a passing awareness of current marketing trends. And there is a lot of marketing advice out there—some excellent, some good, and some downright misleading.

(I think the worst was the one which advised readers to add everyone they knew to their “opt-in email list”. Had she heard of the CAN-SPAM Act? Did she understand the meaning of the words, “opt in”? I can only assume not.)

Anyway, today I’m sharing the nine websites I find most useful when it comes to identifying book marketing trends.

1. BookBub

BookBub is the gorilla in the room of book marketing. They charge authors hundreds of dollars to advertise in one of their genre-specific daily emails, and turn down more potential advertisers than they accept. I’ve only heard of one author who didn’t make her money back on a BookBub ad (the book was middle grade fiction, so it doesn’t altogether surprise me. My kids are on their devices 24/7, but still prefer paper books).

But the power of BookBub’s featured advertisements isn’t why they are on my list. BookBub analyses their sales and other data to provide detailed articles on what sells, and what doesn’t. And that’s worth reading.

Chris Syme

Chris Syme is the owner of Smart Marketing for Authors, and the author of Sell More Books With Less Social Media, and the soon-to-be-published Sell More Books With Less Marketing. She also co-hosts a book marketing podcast with her daughter, bestselling romance author Becca Syme.

Reading Sell More Books with Less Social Media was a lightbulb moment for me, one of those times when someone says something that seems obvious, yet I’d never seen it before:

Not all authors are at the same level when it comes to writing and publishing, and our marketing needs to take that into account.

Dan Blank

Dan Blank is the owner of WeGrow Media, who help authors connect with readers. He has recently published Be The Gateway, where he shows authors how to research and understand their target audience, then work out how best to connect with those people. It’s about playing the long game in an industry where many people are looking for quick wins.
Be the Gateway
I like Dan’s philosophy of marketing—it’s similar to Tim Grahl, and is one I can embrace as someone who hates asking for the sale (something I’m working on). I enjoy reading his blog posts and newsletters—like his recent post reinforcing the importance of word-of-mouth marketing.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran is the author of Let’s Get Digital (why authors should consider digital self-publishing), and Let’s Get Visible. He was the first author to show me the importance of understanding and using Amazon algorithms to drive sales. The books are a few years old (and I read them both as new releases), so the information may have dated a little.

The other reason I like and follow David is because of his personal war against the vanity publishing, and the valuable information he provides on their various schemes. You might not think so, but this is marketing as well: it’s part of Product, one of the four Ps of marketing strategy.

Joel Friedlander

Joel Friedlander is The Book Designer. He hosts the monthly Cover Design Awards, where he critiques author-submitted covers. He also hosts a monthly Carnival of the Indies, a round-up of what’s new in indie publishing (and writing, and marketing). He also attracts guest posts from some of the top names in digital publishing.

Rachel Thompson

Rachel Thompson of BadRedHeadMedia is the mind behind #MondayBlogs and the weekly #BookMarketingChat on Twitter.

She’s also the author of The 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge, which was the inspiration behind my own KickStart Your Author Platform challenge. Rachel doesn’t pull her punches, and brings twenty-plus years of pharmaceutical sales experience to her marketing advice.

Seth Godin

Seth Godin invented the idea of permission-based marketing, that we should work to grow a tribe of people who support us and our work. He posts a short blog post each day, and all are worth reading.

The Buffer Blog

I love Buffer. I loved their free version, and I love the Awesome plan even more. Buffer enables me to manage my social media sharing without going mad. Hootsuite has similar functionality, but I find the Buffer interface much more user friendly.

But that’s not the reason Buffer is on this list. They’re on my list because of their blog. They share millions of social media posts, and collect information on the performance of those posts. That enables them to write meaty blog posts that answer a lot of social media questions: when is the best time to post? How many times a day should you post? Do you need to use hashtags? Images? Which social media networks perform best?

Buffer knows, and Buffer tells us.

Tim Grahl

Tim is the owner of Outthink Group. He is the author of Your First 1,000 Copies (which preaches the importance of building an email list and using those connections to market your book), and The Book Launch Blueprint (which reinforces the importance of building an email list, and using those connections to launch your book).

He’s not about sell-sell-sell. He’s about building meaningful connections, about getting permission to contact people (through the email list), delivering relevant content, and outreaching from there.

It’s been several years since I read Your First 1,000 Copies. I’ve recently realised that while I’m doing Permission and Content reasonably well, I need to work on Outreach.

That’s my list of the best book marketing websites. What are yours?

 

Best of the Blogs 12 August 2017

Best of the Blogs: 13 May 2017

Best of the Blogs: the best posts I’ve read this week on writing, publishing, and marketing. Lots of marketing!

Writing

Stephanie Dees visits Seekerville to talk about critique partners, and shares her tips for finding a great partner (or group).

Publishing

Tim Grahl has published a length post on the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. It’s comprehensive, but there is one thing missing: vanity publishing aka co-operative publishing, partnership publishing, subsidy publishing and even traditional publishing.

I recently met an author who was talking about her published book. She said the publisher was a traditional publisher … but later said she’d paid the publisher $10,000. Sorry, but that’s not traditional publishing. It’s all the cons of traditional publishing with none of the pros. And all the cons of self-publishing with none of the pros.

Children’s Fiction

Publishers Weekly report growth in the religious children’s books market, including young adult novels (a genre Christian fiction has yet to crack).

Marketing

Amazon Also Boughts

Two linked posts from David Gaughran, author of Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible (if you’re self-published or planning to self-publish, you should read both—you can buy them from Amazon using the above links, and they’re currently showing as $2.49 each for me. There are also audio versions available, if you prefer to listen).

Please Don’t Buy My Book explains the mysteries of the Amazon Also Boughts, and why it might not be a good idea to ask your friends and family to buy your book.

The second post, Who’s Pointing at You?, goes into more detail about Also Boughts and introduces a clever tool called Yasiv (www.yasiv.com) which shows which books on Amazon are pointing towards your book.

His point is that having a famous book show up in your Also Boughts is nice, but doesn’t do anything for your sales. The important thing for sales of your book is for your book to show up in the Also Boughts of a book with high visibility.

Gaughran also promises a future post on finding your Ideal Reader and using that information to hack Amazon advertising. I’ll be watching out for it …

Amazon Keywords

An in-depth post from Penny Sansevieri at Author Marketing Experts on how to research the best keywords for your book … which might mean thinking outside the box (excuse the cliché).

Craft or Platform?

It’s one of the conundrums of writing. Which is more important—craft or platform? Dan Blank of WeGrowMedia attempts to answer the question: craft comes first.

I agree.

But nor can we ignore platform. If we want to publish (whether traditionally or self-published) and be read, we need to identify our target audience or ideal reader. Dan gives some useful questions to answer, saying if we can’t answer them, we have work to do:

1. “Someone who would love my book (or creative work) already loves theses three books: ____, ____, and ____.”
2. “My ideal reader loves this person: ______ and reads everything they write, would see them speak in a heartbeat, and really respects their opinion.”
3. “Where to find my ideal reader? This conference or event: ________, and this online blog/community: ___________.”
4. “What resonates with my ideal reader? What gets them to stop and take notice? This: ________.”
5. “What repels my reader? What gets them fired up? This: _________.”

Christian Fiction

The internet is full of posts announcing the end of bookstores or paperback books or ebooks or … the list goes on.

This post questions the doom-mongers: Christian Fiction: Heading Towards Extinction? Or Adapting to a New Market?

Even better, it suggests how readers can help ensure Christian fiction doesn’t become extinct.

 

What do you think? Is Christian fiction dying? Or is it reinventing itself to be more relevant to modern reader?

Christian Authors Unite by Antonio L Crawford

Book Review: Christian Authors Unite: Challenging the Way Writers Write, Publish and Think

Christian Authors Unite is a compilation of articles on marketing for Christian authors. There are seven chapters by seven different authors. Each chapter covers points on a specific topic related to writing, publishing, and marketing Christian books. The chapters cover

  1. Building your author platform
  2. Targeting your market
  3. Keeping your writing on track
  4. Writing a book proposal
  5. Automating your author platform
  6. Launching your book
  7. Marketing your book internationally

It’s an eclectic mix of topics.

Topics like writing a book proposal are most relevant to those seeking traditional publication. (Those seeking to self-publish would do themselves a favour by knowing this information). Other topics seem more focused on the self-published author.

Antonio L Crawford comments that most writing conferences fail to offer current training about modern marketing techniques or distribution channels.

(I will say the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference is ahead of the curve in this! But there is another conference where I’ve never even seen the value in buying the session recordings, because so much of it seems to be focused on outdated publishing ideas.)

This is a short book, and isn’t going to give you all the answers about marketing your books.

But it will give you some ideas and inspiration, whether this is the first book you’ve read on marketing or the fiftieth. (I think my number is towards the higher end of that range.) No matter. I’m sure you’ll learn something—I did.

And yes, you will be challenged to think.

Thanks to Antonio L Crawford for providing a free ebook for review. You can read the introduction to Christian Authors Unite below:

Best of the Blogs 12 August 2017

Best of the Blogs: 6 May 2017

Apologies for missing the last two Best of the Blogs posts. I had a long wifi-free weekend away with my husband, then I was at the New Zealand Christian Writers Retreat—I had a great time!

Congratulations!

INSPY Award Shortlist Announced

Congratulations to the finalists in the INSPY Awards—especially Kara Isaac, who made the shortlist in two categories with different books (Close to You in First Novel, and Can’t Help Falling in Contemporary Romance/Romantic Suspense). Now it’s up to the reader judges to decide! Kara’s next book, Then There Was You, is due out in June. If you like contemporary romance, you’ll love it.

ACFW Genesis Award Semi-finalists Announced

And American Christian Fiction Writers announced the Genesis Award semi-finalists—these are the names you’ll be seeing in Christian fiction in years to come.

Publishing

Updates on Tate Publishing

The Oklahoma Attorney General has filed charges against father and son Richard and Ryan Tate of Tate Publishing. This follows over 700 complaints from as far away as Europe and South Africa. The pair have been charged with extortion, embezzlement, racketeering, and extortion by threat. Further charges may follow as the investigation continues.

I’ve long been against vanity presses such as Tate, who claimed to be a traditional royalty paying publisher. Traditional royalty paying publishers do not require payments, do not offer a contract until they’ve seen a manuscript, and only publish the best manuscripts. In my experience, Tate scores 0/3 on this simple test.

If you published books or music through Tate, you can contact the Consumer Protection Unit at the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office to submit a complaint.

Blogging

Nick Thacker at WriteHacked shares nine tips for Writing a First Blog Post Perfectly. Actually, the tips work for any blog post—I guess the takeaway is to start as you mean to go on.

Shane Arthur at Smart Blogger teaches us How to Write Spellbinding Introductions. It’s a long post, but there are lots of nuggets to mine!

Inspiration

Karen Swallow Prior visits The Gospel Coalition to remind us that Only One Platform Will Last.

I don’t agree with everything in this blog post. Some of it I don’t even understand (I’ve never voluntarily listened to The Rolling Stones, and if I’ve ever heard “Mother’s Little Helper”, I don’t remember it and I have no idea what it’s referring to).

But there are some great quotes. Especially the last line. Check it out.

 

Cutting the Diamond (Self-Editing Your Novel)

Cutting the Diamond

In our series on Creating Diamonds from Coal (aka self-editing):

Today we’re going to work on what might be the most difficult part of the self-editing process: cutting.

Yes, there are words in our manuscript that have to be cut in order to allow us to see the final shape of our diamond, to allow it to shine.

And that last sentence is the perfect example. There’s nothing wrong with it—the spelling, grammar, and punctuation are all correct. But it could be improved with a little judicious shaping and cutting to turn our blah to brilliant:

We must cut the unnecessary words and allow our manuscripts to shine.

Thirty words to twelve.

What Needs to Go?

Back Story

Back story is what happened before the novel began, the events that formed our characters, that led them to believe a lie.

Writers need to understand this back story so they can write a convincing character arc. After all, if we don’t know where the character has come from, how can we show readers why they need to change?

We don’t need to tell the reader every detail of back story—especially not in the beginning. Going into the past can halt the forward motion of the plot, and I’ve read novels where the back story goes back generations. There is a writer maxim that we should leave back story for the back of the story and there is an element of truth in that statement.

We don’t the beginning of our novel to be bogged down with back story, but we also don’t want to leave our readers wondering why the main characters are the way they are.

There has to be a balance. The trick is to reveal back story a piece at a time. Margie Lawson says to think of back story like a pane of glass.

Write everything we know about the character, all their back story, on that pane of glass.

Then smash it.

Now we can pick up the pieces one at a time and insert them into the story, sliver by sliver, at the place where reader needs to know that sliver of back story. Nothing more, and nothing less.

If cutting your backstory makes you bleed, consider two things:

  • Cutting is going to make your story better.
  • You can repurpose your deleted backstory for marketing.

For example, you could use your deleted back story as the basis for a series of blog posts introducing your characters, or as a lead magnet to incentivise people into signing up for your email newsletter.

Clichés

You’ve probably heard the advice that writers should avoid clichés like the plague. But has anyone told you why?

Because clichés are predictable.

And we want to avoid predictable writing. We want to write (and read) fresh, original writing. Writing that encourages us to keep reading, because we don’t know what’s coming next. If we read the start of a cliché, we know what’s coming next … so what’s the incentive to keep reading?

If you’re going to use a cliché, twist it. Change it. Make it your own—better still, make it your character’s own. A twisted cliché isn’t predictable, so it keeps the reader engaged (and perhaps gives them a laugh).

Dialogue Tags

Dialogue is an area new writers struggle with, both with the actual words the characters speak (the actual dialogue) and with the way the is identified (the dialogue tags).

There are several common problems with dialogue:

  • The ‘dialogue’ isn’t dialogue at all: it is back story, with two or more characters telling each other what they already know. This slows the story down.
  • The dialogue is too formal for the character.
  • The dialogue is monologue. Dialogue exchanges should be brief—no more than two or three sentences at a time.

Know your characters, and ensure their dialogue is consistent with what they would say in terms of vocabulary, sentence construction, and tone.

Many authors overcomplicate the speaker attributions—how the author indicates which character is speaking. Browne and King say:

  • Start the paragraph with dialogue, not an action.
  • Ensure the words in your speaker attributions are the right way around—he said, not said he.
  • Avoid creative speaker attributions (e.g. Beth clucked, Beth chided).
  • Avoid using adverbs in your speaker attributions (e.g she said smilingly).
  • Don’t explain your dialogue (e.g. Beth said, astonished). If Beth’s dialogue hasn’t shown the reader Beth is astonished, telling us won’t solve the problem.
  • You can use a speaker attribution (Beth said) or an action beat (Beth nodded), but there is no need to use both (Beth said, and nodded).
  • You don’t need to add any dialogue tag if it’s obvious who is speaking.

You can also use a dialogue cue. Writing instructor Margie Lawson coined this phrase to refer body language and vocal cues (such as volume and tone of voice) which show subtext in the character interactions.

Getting the dialogue tags right is an easy way to improve your manuscript.

Repetition

The deliberate repetition of words, phrases or ideas can be used to great literary effect. However, most of us have words, phrases or stylistic habits we tend to repeat unconsciously (for example, I have a bad habit of using ‘however’, and tend to use parentheses too often).

There are several kinds of repetition:

Repetition of a single word

This could be using the same word twice in quick succession, or repeatedly using an unusual word or one that doesn’t fit in the style of the novel.

Repetition of an expression or movement

Many characters do nothing but nod or shrug or smile or sigh. In The Word Loss Diet, Rayne Hall says:

If your novel contains four smiles, each of them creates strong emotions in the reader. If it has a thousand smiles, the effect wears off.

It makes us wonder if the character has had Botox, that they can’t manage any other expression. It makes the character seem as genuine as The Joker.

It’s good to use actions to show us how a character is feeling. It’s not good to use the same action over and over and over. Brainstorm original ways of showing emotion. Invest in a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglasi. Write fresh.

Repetition at the beginning of sentences or paragraphs

Common issues include starting sentences with -ing words, with he or she, or with the character’s name

Repetition of an image or idea

Many authors give two different images to describe a scene or an object. This is the most difficult to spot, but the most important to notice and delete because it can weaken your writing.

Revise any repetition that is not specifically intended for emphasis or effect.

Weasel Words

Weasel words are words we don’t need, words which drag down our manuscript and make it more wordy than it needs to be. To illustrate, the second clause in the previous sentence (everything after the comma). The first seven words were sufficient to make the point.

Common weasel words include:

It

Either unnecessary or confusing. If you can cut it without changing the meaning of the sentence, do so. Otherwise replace ‘it’ with the noun it is referring to. (Can you see the potential for confusion?)

That

If you can cut that without changing the meaning of the sentence, do so. I find I can cut at least half.

Adverbs

An adverb is describing a verb, attempting (and failing) to make the verb stronger. Instead of using an adverb, replace the weak verb with a stronger version. Or cut the adverb.

Adjectives

Instead of using a string of similar adjectives, use a single strong adjective that best describes the noun.

Weasel Phrases

There are also weasel phrases:

  • She nodded her head (what else would she nod?).
  • She nodded her head in agreement (nodding rarely signals anything other than agreement).
  • She stood up (no one is going assume anything else).
  • She crouched down.
  • He clapped his hands (a small boy might clap his feet. Otherwise, we’re going to know what you mean).
  • She thought in her head (yes, some people say this. But it still sounds silly).

 Overused Words

New writers often overuse words like look and turn (and their synonyms: gaze, watch, glance, study, observe, peek, peer, stare, and glare). I’ve never counted, but Rayne Hall says:

A bestselling novel by a top author contains around five ‘look’ and five ‘turn’, while a new writer’s book uses them five hundred times each.

Writers also use unnecessary words like begin and start. As a rule, we are either doing or not doing. I am either writing or not writing. I am not starting to write.

Remove Qualifiers

Instead of saying really well, find a single strong adjective that gets the point across. Weak or meaningless qualifiers include absolutely, actually, basically, certainly, completely, just, literally, much, only, quite, rather, really, somehow, somewhat, that, therefore, totally, very, and well.

Most of us have a unique set of weasel words. I recently read a manuscript where the author used some variation of magic five times in the first chapter—magic, magical, magically. Used once, magic is an interesting word. Used five times in one chapter, it feels out of place in a novel that’s not about magic.

Find your weasel words, and cut them.

Telling Words

Many authors use words like saw or felt or thought. These words are telling where you should be showing. They’re a sign you’ve slipped out of deep perspective point of view and telling the story yourself, rather than showing the story through the point of view character.

If you’re using point of view correctly, the reader knows anything seen is being seen from the perspective of the viewpoint character. To say the viewpoint character noticed something is unnecessary. So instead of:

Beth saw Jan wore a long black trenchcoat and knee-high boots.

If we already know Beth is the point of view character, the ‘Beth saw’ is redundant, and adds unnecessary narrative distance. We only need:

Jan wore a long black trenchcoat and knee-high boots.

Telling words to watch for include past, present and future tense versions of:

  • See (notice, watch)
  • Feel
  • Think (ponder, wonder, realise, understand, consider)

Sentence Structure

Many new authors want to vary their sentence structure from the traditional subject-verb-object. Many hit on the idea of starting sentences with ‘as’ or with present participles (-ing words). This introduces two other issues:

It can weaken your writing by making it less active. Browne and King explain:

Two common stylistic constructions are:

Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him.

and

As she pulled off her gloves, she turned to face him.

Both of these constructions [as and –ing] take a bit of action (“She pulled off her gloves”) and tuck it away into a dependent clause (“Pulling off her gloves”). This tends to place some of your action at one remove from your reader, to make the actions seem incidental, unimportant.

Starting a sentence with ‘As’ or an -ing word

This implies the two actions are occurring at the same time, as in the examples above. But many authors use this sentence structure to describe what becomes an impossible series of consecutive actions:

Climbing out of the car, she ran up the steps.

Not even Superman can run up steps while he’s still climbing out of a car. Our sentences need to reflect the correct order of our character’s actions:

She climbed out of the car and ran up the steps.

Sentence Structure

This is the standard sentence structure of noun-verb-subject (she-climbed-car), with the added modification of conjunction-verb-subject (and-ran-stairs).

Using the same sentence construction all the time can feel repetitive. But it’s better to use the correct repetitive sentence structure than an incorrect alternative (verbing, noun subject) that leaves the reader wondering what you meant.

Instead, use a combination of simple, complex, and compound sentences to vary your writing. Add sentence fragments

Consider sentence length. Short sentences feel fast. They increase pace. Long complex and compound sentences slow the pace as they meander across the page, which means you can use varying sentence lengths to increase or decrease the pace of your scene, or to manipulate the reader’s perception of time.

Writerly Words

‘Writerly words’ is a Margie Lawson phrase, meaning something that doesn’t sound natural, something that sounds as though a writer wrote it. This makes it a subtle form of author intrusion—where the author uses a word they like, but that’s too formal to be consistent with what the point of view character would say or think.

Conclusion

Cutting unnecessary words and phrases will tighten your writing and reduce your word count—in a good way.

These are suggestions, not rules. You don’t have to follow them all. In fact, you don’t have to follow any of them. But every time you’re tempted to leave an adverb in, or explain an emotion, think:

Does this make my story stronger?

Be honest. If you’re not sure, save your darlings somewhere then delete them from your manuscript. You can always add them back later if you get feedback from readers or editors that something is missing.

You’ve put the pressure on your diamond, examined the rough diamond, shaped the stone, and cut the stone. Give your manuscript one final polish, to make sure you’ve got the spelling, grammar, and punctuation right.

Now let it shine!