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12 More Popular Romance Tropes

12 More Popular Romance Tropes

Last week, I introduced the concept of tropes, and discussed ten popular romance tropes.

Today I’m introducing more popular romance tropes, and giving some examples.

Best Friend’s Sibling

The hero falls for his best friend’s (usually younger) sister, or the heroine falls for her best friend’s (usually older) brother.

This is similar to the Friends to Lovers trope, as the hero and heroine usually have a preexisting relationship through the best friend/sibling. The two often get together after one returns to their hometown (e.g. during an illness, after the death of a family member, after a relationship or marriage breakup, or after serving in the armed forces).

Ugly Duckling

The unattractive heroine finds true love after undergoing a makeover and emerging as a physical beauty.

This can be a difficult trope to make work as a writer, especially as a Christian writer. Readers don’t want to read about a hero who is so shallow that he isn’t interested in the heroine except for her looks, which means the hero needs to see and want a relationship with the heroine even before her transformation.

While the Ugly Duckling is usually the heroine, the story could be twisted so the hero gets the makeover, as in the show Beauty and the Geek. However, the same challenges still stand: readers are not going to relate to a heroine who doesn’t value the inner man.

Other Man/Other Woman

This is similar to the Love Triangle. The hero and heroine meet and start a relationship, which is disrupted by the reapperance of an ex. This could be an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend, an ex-fiance, or an ex-spouse. The ex makes it clear they want to get back together, which often scares off the current partner. The main character has to chase off the ex and convince their new love that the ex is history.

The challenge with this trope is similar to that of the Love Triangle: if the OM/OW is a likeable character, then some readers will want them to get back together. But if the OM/OW isn’t likeable, the readers wonder why they got together in the first place and question the judgement of the heroine/hero for ever being with that person (especially as the OM/OW often ends up being a cheater, drug addict, or other miscreant).

Example: Central to Nowhere by DJ Blackmore

(One tip I’ve heard for authors writing Other Woman: don’t make her completely unlikeable, because your readers and publisher might decide she needs to be the heroine in your next book.)

Marriage of Convenience

The hero and heroine agree to marry out of necessity, then fall in love. This is a common trope in historical fiction, where it can be that the couple are brought together by tragic circumstance (e.g. a widower wants a mother for his children) or forced together by awkward circumstances and cultural norms (e.g. in Victorian times, couples who spent time alone together without a suitable chaperone were often forced to marry to protect her reputation. Or, at least, that’s what fiction would have us believe).

Example: Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke

Secret Romance

The hero and heroine meet and start a relationship, but keep it secret from friends and family for some reason. This isn’t such a popular trope in Christian romance, probably because Christian readers don’t like to see characters lying to each other or to their family and friends without good reason.

Example: Romeo and Juliet

Love at First Sight

The hero and heroine meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after. In real life, some people believe in love at first sight, but others say it’s not possible: that love is a choice, or that love grows as two people develop their relationship. They say love at first sight is attraction at best (and more likely lust), as we can’t truly love someone we don’t know. As such, Love at First Sight has to be managed carefully in Christian romance.

Reunited Lovers

A couple are separated by forces outside their control—overbearing parents, an accident, a war. In some historical romances, one character travels (e.g. to America), promising to send for the other but something goes wrong. Anyway, the two meet again, years later, and have the opportunity to rekindle their relationship.


Two strangers are trapped together in an elevator or a snowstorm (or anything that forces the hero and heroine to spend time together with no interruptions). They form a relationship, continue that relationship after they are rescued, and live happily ever after.

Example: Danger in the Shadows by Dee Henderson

Mail Order Bride

Mail order bride stories are typically set in the American West, between 1870 and 1900. Women were scarce, so men would advertise for brides, correspond with them, then pay their train fares from some eastern city to the West. As such, it’s a marriage of two almost-strangers in the nineteenth century of online dating.

Example: Escape to the West series by Nerys Leigh

Opposites Attract

Two people who appear to be polar opposites are attracted to each other, and have to work out if their relationship can overcome their differences. This is a popular trope, as opposites give instant conflict … which means plenty of external tension.

Example: Then There Was You by Kara Isaac

Bad Girl/Boy

The “good” character (often the heroine) is attracted to someone her parents or friends consider to be an inappropriate choice—the “bad boy”. This gives two levels of conflict—the hero may have to convince the heroine he’s “good enough” (or vice versa), and they both have to convince others that their relationship can succeed despite their differences.

Example: The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers

Soul Mate

The hero and heroine are destined to be together by fate/the gods/some other external and usually supernatural force. If either the hero or heroine is in any other relationship, it is destined to fail. The Soul Mate trope is common in urban fiction or paranormal romance, where it seems that all good werewolves and many other werebeings readily accept that they are somehow supernaturally linked to one other being.

This is an uncommon trope in Christian fiction, perhaps because it shows a preference for predestination vs. free will, and modern Christian fiction tends to avoid such theological questions.


The advantage of using tropes is that readers are familiar with them and often have favourite tropes they will read over and over. The disadvantage of using tropes is that readers are familiar with them, and can become bored because the trope is too predictable.

One solution to this problem is to twist tropes (e.g. have a male Ugly Duckling), or use multiple tropes. Many of the tropes do work well together. For example, a Fake Romance may be coupled with a Belated Epiphany, where the fake relationship comes to an agreed end, then one main character realises s/he actually does love the other.

Can you think of any romance tropes I’ve missed? What’s your favourite romance trope?

Marketing 101: Book Cover Design

Marketing 101: Book Cover Design

Some proverbs or old sayings are eternal (like the Book of Proverbs in the Bible). Some have less longevity … like this old saying:

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

That might have been true when all books were hardcovers with little more than the title and author name. But in the modern age, the book cover is valuable marketing space—the book marketing equivalent of a highway billboard.

Because we do judge books by their covers. I’m a freelance editor, so I’d like to be able to say that the most important aspect of a book is the writing and editing. But that’s not what I think.

Observing as a reader and potential buyer, I have to say that the most important aspect is …

Cover Design

Why? Bad or insufficient editing can be so annoying that readers react by not finishing the book, leaving critical reviews, or not buying your next book. Even worse, they may report the book to Amazon as being of poor quality, which leaves the author rushing to find and make sufficient changes that Amazon accepts the book again.

But all that assumes the reader has picked up the book (or downloaded the Kindle sample). And they won’t do that if they’re not attracted by the cover.

It’s Not About You.

True story:

An author posted her book cover in a Facebook group. She may or may not have been looking for feedback (the group allows book cover posts if people are looking for feedback, but not as a new book cover announcement). Anyway, the group offered her feedback on how she could improve the cover. Several people commented that the cover image didn’t look professional, and didn’t reflect the genre.

It was good feedback. But the author rejected it: her son had painted the cover image, and she loved it.

That was her mistake. Whether you like the cover isn’t important. It’s a bonus if you do (of course), but if you’re the only person who loves your cover, it’s likely you’ll be the only person who wants to by your book. Because cover design isn’t about the author.

It’s About the Reader.

Cover design is about the reader.

And not every reader. Just as no book will appeal to all readers, no cover should appeal to all readers. Your cover needs to appeal to your target reader. (You do have a target reader, right?)

So your book cover has to be designed to appeal to the kind of people who read books like yours.

More specifically, cover design is about genre.

It’s About Genre.

Your cover needs to look like the covers from the leading books in your genre. You need a cover that functions like a freeway billboard: the reader who’s skimming past will immediately know the genre and know whether it’s a book they might be interested in.

Not like a black cover with yellow writing I saw recently. It was for a young adult Christian novel based on the story of Daniel. I shows the cover to a couple of friends without telling them the genre, and they couldn’t even tell whether the book was fiction or nonfiction, let alone the genre or target reader age.

Your book needs to blend in to the Amazon shelf as a book that looks like it belongs. You don’t want to be the author of the book that stands out because it looks wrong. That’s like turning up to school in a blue dress and realising the school uniform is brown. You stand out, and not in a good way.

At the same time, you want your cover design to be unique.

You don’t want to use the stock image of the 1880s woman in the blue dress peering through the curtains out the window. Or the stock image of the woman in the white dress and hat holding a tea cup and saucer. Both are lovely images, but they’re overused.

Hint: if you’ve seen the image on a cover before, you don’t want to use that image. It’s overused. Keen readers in your genre will recognise it … and possibly ignore your book because they think they’ve already read it.

Check out the books in your genre. Know the trends. Follow the trends enough so your book fits in, but not so much that it looks like every other book in the genre. Brand your book covers, so people who see a thumbnail in passing on Twitter will stop and click, because they recognise the cover.

It’s About Brand.

Here are a couple of examples: Rayne Hall and James Scott Bell both write books about writing craft. Rayne Hall’s books on writing craft are consistently branded:

Books by Rayne Hall

James Scott Bell’s books are not:

James Scott Bell writes great content—probably better content that Rayne Hall. But the branding isn’t consistent, which makes his books harder to spot in an overcrowded online store. And even harder to spot on social media.

The same holds true for fiction covers. The best fiction cover shows the genre clearly, and is consistent across a series, or across all the author’s books.

Know the Trends

Book cover trends change. You’ll need to watch the trends and update your covers accordingly.

For example, Robin Jones Gunn’s Glenbrooke series has been through at least five cover designs since Secrets was first published in 1995:

If you want to learn more about cover design without actually becoming a designer, then you’ll need to watch the trends. I have two favourite places to watch cover design trends:


Amazon is the world’s biggest bookstore, which means it has the world’s largest selection of covers, old and new. Check out the new releases or the Top 100 books in your genre for ideas.

The Book Designer

Joel Friedlander of The Book Designer has a monthly cover design contest, showcasing submitted covers along with a brief critique about what’s good or bad.

If you’re traditionally published, then you may not get a lot of say in cover design.

But you need to know enough so that you (or your agent) can go into battle if the publisher gets it wrong. And publishers do get it wrong: the ugly black and yellow cover I mentioned above is a cover from a small traditional publisher.

If you’re self-published, then you have complete control over your cover design.

Complete control to get it right … or wrong. My advice? Make sure you find a cover designer who knows your genre (e.g. one who has designed covers for other authors in your genre), and follow your designer’s advice. If they tell you yellow on black isn’t a good look, then they’re probably right.

What cover design tips do you have?

Should I Hire Someone to Build my Social Media Presence?

Dear Editor | Should I Hire Someone to Build my Social Media Presence?

I often see variations on this question: An agent liked my manuscript, but said I needed to build my social media presence. 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 …

Dear Editor, An agent liked my manuscript, but said I needed to build my social media presence. I work full time. Should I hire someone? #BookMarketing #SocialMedia Click To Tweet

Let me explain.

I don’t have an agent. I’m not seeking representation from an agent. I’ve lurked on a lot of agent blogs over the years, and one thing I’ve found is that agents are all different.

  • Some only accept electronic submissions; some only accept paper.
  • Some want a query letter first, others think a query letter is a waste of time and want a full proposal.
  • Some seem to think numbers are the only important aspect of a writer’s platform, others make no mention of the subject.

That’s an extended way of saying that for every agent who reads this blog post and thinks I’ve got something right, another will think I’ve got it wrong. The right answer to this question depends very much on the agent you’re talking about.

What is a Social Media Presence?

If your potential agent thinks a good social media presence is 100,000 engaged Twitter followers, then it’s possible the agent is out of touch. Absolute numbers are not as important as they once were—it’s all too easy to buy 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000 followers on any platform.

It’s not even important how many people Like your posts (as Likes can also be bought).

While there are a lot of readers, writers, and reviewers on Twitter (and I definitely recommend having a Twitter account), you may be better building a following on Instagram or in a Facebook Group (as Facebook have announced they will be placing more emphasis on Groups and Events, as apparently these are their two most popular features). Facebook knows Groups and Events get engagement in a way that Pages don’t.

Engagement is important.

Engagement is how many people read and respond to your posts—whether by sharing an emotional reaction (e.g. a heart or wow reaction on Facebook), by adding a meaningful comment (something more than “great post!”) or by sharing.

Engagement comes from authentic two-way conversations. That means you have to be present on social media to build relationships and engage with those who engage with you—responding to comments, liking and commenting on posts. Being present and real and authentic. You can’t hire that out.

What does this agent expect in terms of building your social media presence?

But this might not be what your dream agent means. So you need to know what the agent means before you invest your time or your money in developing a social media presence. Does the agent mean social media only? Or does the agent mean your author platform—your entire online presence including social media, your website, and your email list?

Also, what manuscript did you submit?

  • Fiction or non-fiction?
  • What genre?
  • Was it written for adults, teenagers, or children?

These questions are important. If you’re going to build a social media presence, you need to focus on the platforms your target reader uses. There is little point in building a Facebook Page if your readers are all on Instagram.

I’ve discussed the basics of author platform in previous posts:

I’ve also built the Kick-Start Your Author Platform marketing challenge, an email course to help authors develop a basic platform.

Build Your Brand

How you do this will depend on what you are writing, and who you are writing for. You need to decide who you are, and build your author brand around that persona. Then you need to attract and engage with potential readers.

I believe you should do this yourself.

Why? Because you can’t hire someone to tell you who you are.

Should you hire someone to build your social media presence? I believe you should do this yourself, because you can’t hire someone to tell you who you are. #BookMarketing #SocialMedia Click To Tweet

Once you know who you are and who you want to be online, you can hire someone to help you broadcast that message. But you’re going to have to do some of the hard work up front.

It’s generally agreed that a non-fiction author needs more of an author platform to interest an agent than a fiction author. That’s especially true in the case of true-life stories—for example, I’ve read that agents aren’t interested in cancer stories. They’re all too common.

Once you’ve decided who you are, and once you know what kind of platform your dream agent wants you to build, then you have another decision: is that what you want to do? Is it what God wants you to be doing?

Should you hire someone to build your social media presence?

The answer is going to depend on the answers to other questions:

  • What does this agent mean by “build a social media presence”? This is the most important question.
  • What manuscript is the agent interested in? What’s the genre? Is this the same as the books you’ve previously published, or different?
  • What is your brand? In other words, who are you? How do you want people to see you?
  • What does God want for your writing? Is this closed door a challenge for you to get past, or is it a door God doesn’t want you to open? Is chasing this agent God’s plan for you and your writing?
  • What is more important to you (and to your dream agent)—numbers or engagement?
  • How much is hiring someone going to cost? What results will you get? Is that return on your investment worth it to you?
  • Could you find a way to do this yourself, perhaps by investing in online tools such as Buffer or Hootsuite? Or by signing up to my Kick-Start Your Author Platform marketing challenge?

Once you’ve answered those questions, then you can get back to your original question: should you hire someone?

I suspect the answer is no.

That might change in a couple of weeks or a couple of months, when you find the answers to some of my other questions. By then, I suspect, the answer to your original question will be obvious.

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.

Avoid Social Media Time Suck by Frances Caballo

Book Review | Avoid Social Media Time Suck by Frances Caballo

I bought this because it was on sale and I’m a keen reader of Frances Caballo’s blog.

The first part is excellent, as she takes readers through her four-step approach to social media: content curation, scheduling, being social, and analysing your metrics. This is all in the first few pages, so download and read the free Kindle sample.

The middle part contains lots of links to social media apps to help automate content curation and scheduling. Some are free, but others are not (and the prices have increased considerably since Caballo published this book). The end of the book touches on the important topics of planning a blog content calendar (because blogs are also part of social media), and a schedule of daily, weekly, monthly, and annual tasks. This is similar to my own mental list, so it’s good go have the confirmation I’m on the right track!

The problem with Avoid Social Media Time Suck is the publishing date. Caballo says:

“A few years on the Internet is almost equivalent to a millennium.”

Avoid Social Media Time Suck was published in 2014—a millennium ago. While the principles outlined in the first section of the book haven’t changed, a lot of the specific advice in the middle section is now dated. Instagram barely gets a mention, and Tailwind doesn’t exist.

And that’s a potential problem if someone who isn’t social media-savvy reads the book. It’s not recommending the best apps. Some of the advice on the more established social networks is now dated to the point of being against the terms of service. New social media users won’t know what information is good, what is outdated, and what could get you kicked off Twitter or sent to Facebook jail.

Basically, the book has some excellent tips, but needs updating for the new millennium.

The best part was the plan:

(Which, of course, should be adapted to your individual needs.)

Daily tasks

Post to social media channels
Follow new users on Twitter [and Instagram!]
Check responses to blog posts and reply
Thank Tweeps for RTs
Review notifications on other social networks and respond where necessary.

Weekly Tasks

Write a 500-word blog post
Comment on industry blogs
Participate in LinkedIn Groups [I’ve been on LinkedIn for so long that I thought it was a business tool, not a social network … so this isn’t something I’ve ever done]

Monthly Tasks

Write a 1,000-word blog post
Mail a newsletter

Quarterly Tasks

Conduct an author interview/podcast/video

Six-Monthly Tasks

Update website
Create a downloadable white paper from a series of blog posts & offer on Scribd [I think the more contemporary advice would be to offer it as a free download to entice people to sign up for your email newsletter.]

Annual Tasks

Teach a webinar

It’s a lot … but it’s also manageable because

About Avoid Social Media Time Suck

How You Can Avoid Social Media Time Suck and Still Have Time to Write

The question everyone asks is, “Can I really manage my social media in just thirty minutes a day?” My answer is yes, you can. This book explains the four-step process to effective and efficient social media marketing for writers.

  • How to curate content.
  • What and how to schedule your tweets, posts, updates and shares.
  • The importance of scheduling time to be social.
  • Analyzing your metrics.

Social media is no longer an option for writers – it is a required element of every author’s marketing platform. And using social media to market your books doesn’t need to be time-consuming.

Whether you consider yourself a seasoned social media user or you are new to the social web, this book will introduce you to posting schedules, timesaving applications and content-rich websites that will help you to economize your time while using social media to market your books.

Find Avoid Social Media Time Suck online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

You can read the introduction to Avoid Social Media Time Suck below:

Book Review | Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour by Donna Huber

Books on book marketing often date quickly, which is something newbie authors have to watch out for. After all, the rules on sites such as Amazon change, and authors can find themselves reading outdated and bad advice without knowing it’s outdated and bad advice.

Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour was published in 2013, so I was pleasantly surprised not to find any outdated advice.

Instead, it’s jam-packed with excellent advice for any author planning a blog tour as a way of getting the word out about a new release.

The book isn’t long—just 60 pages. But it’s full of useful advice and tips.

As a blogger, I only found one piece of advice that I disagreed with: to use GoogleForms to conduct your tour signup. Yes, GoogleForms is a great way of keeping all your information organised (which is a must). But bloggers are busy, and it has to be a book I *really * want to read before I can be bothered filling out a Google form with three kinds of social media profiles and other proof that I’m a legitimate blogger rather than some fly-by-night free book seeker.

I will admit that blog tours perhaps aren’t the book publicity powerhouse they were in 2013.

Some of the bigger publicity firms offering blog tours have folded, but I suspect that is more about the difficulty in finding reviewers and bloggers, and the fact arranging a blog tour can be a time-heavy exercise (that therefore costs a lot when someone is paying by the hour), but may not deliver an immediate and measurable return.

Bloggers are busy (and unpaid), and none of us have the time to read every book we want to read, let alone every book we’ve promised to review. As a result, many bloggers (me included) are now looking at other ways of featuring books rather than the traditional review, like book blasts and social media takeovers (Instagram is especially popular for this, but is barely mentioned in the book. Well, it wasn’t as big in 2013)

Recommended for any author planning a blog tour.

Especially recommended for any author considering hiring a book tour company or VA. It will be a few dollars well spent to make sure you know what questions to ask a potential tour company, and so you understand what work you’ll still have to do (most of it. After all, a tour company might be able to find you hosts, but you’re still going to have to write the posts).

About Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour

Get the info you need for a successful blog tour in this easy to follow how-to manual for authors.

From the publicist who introduced the world to Fifty Shades of Grey, Donna Huber is now revealing her secrets to successful blog tours. She shares tips and tricks learned through organizing over 30 tours, blasts, and promotional events for nearly 50 independently and traditionally published titles.

Secrets revealed in this quick read include:

  • Planning stage decisions
  • Different types of tours
  • Recruiting bloggers and keeping requests organized
  • Best practice communication tips
  • Tricks to making a great guest appearance
  • How to organize a fun (and legal) giveaway
  • Actions to take during the tour
  • Next steps once the tour is complete
  • Virtual tour and other promotional opportunities
  • When to hire a professional

In this easy to follow manual, Donna does not stop there. She spills even more of her blog tour secrets to help authors get the most out of their events by providing:

  • Tour checklist
  • Tour invite tips
  • Step-by-step guide to creating tour graphics
  • 10 broad guest post topics
  • 25 sample interview questions

Find Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

Don't Sell Me Tell Me

Book Review | Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me by Greg Koorhan

Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me is a short book encouraging business owners to use stories as part of their marketing toolbox. These ideas are reminiscent of what Lisa Cron says in Wired for Story, but reworked for a business audience. Koorhan says:

We are predisposed to learn from stories. “Tell me a story” is a familiar phrase to most parents. “Teach me a lesson” is said by no children.

Avid fiction readers know a lot of this information, either from reading Lisa Cron, or other fiction teachers, or from their own intuition. But there is a large group of people who won’t read fiction, because it’s just stories. And stories aren’t real. That’s true. But it ignores another truth: that we learn better from stories than from bland facts, because stories make us feel.

This is important for anyone who owns a business, or who works in marketing or communication. We can use stories to tell people about our business and our brand. People relate to stories, so we can use our stories as a subtle way of showing our target clients they can relate to us.

There is a lot of good information in Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me.

There are also some exercises to help you find your brand stories and brand voice. Koorhan also touches briefly on Carl Jung’s twelve archetypes (for a more in-depth understanding of how to use archetypes in building your author brand, I recommend Author Branding by Rayne Hall).

Overall, Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me is a short and easy-to-read book which demonstrates the importance of story, and gives some great tips for finding and telling your brand stories.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review.

About Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me

You cannot underestimate the power of a good story.

Learn how to apply the fundamentals of storytelling to your business and you can uplift, inspire and connect to the hearts of your audience. You can move them to tears, to laughter, and most important, you can move them to action!

Packed with advice you can put to use right away, you’ll learn how to keep your audience eager and ready to hear from you.

  • What pragmatic and actionable tactics will you learn?
  • How to quickly communicate your unique value.
  • The secret to connecting with the emotions of your desired audience.
  • The foolproof method for standing apart from your competition.
  • The most common marketing mistakes even smart business owners make and how to avoid them.
  • The singular best way to create an authentic, consistent brand.

Also the following insights:

  • The 4 critical elements you must have in place to keep your audience engaged.
  • Six different ways you can use stories in your business.
  • A step-by-step guide for finding your most powerful brand voice.
  • How to structure a story so that your audience feels compelled to listen.

PLUS, examples to jumpstart the process!

Here’s what this book ISN’T: this isn’t about picking new colors, redesigning your logo or developing your website. This is about building a consistent, unique and authentic brand that attracts your most profitable customers.

Find Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

Read the introduction of Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me below:

Email Lists Made Easy by Kristen Oliphant

Book Review | Email Lists Made Easy by Kristen Oliphant

Email Lists Made Easy by Kristen Oliphant is a short and easy to read yet comprehensive introduction to the importance of email lists for authors. In the book, Oliphant takes readers through:

  • Why we should have an email list (because it’s OURS).
  • Choosing an email service. She recommends ConvertKit, but I think MailChimp or MailerLite are sufficient for most authors.
  • Optimizing your signup (give people an incentive to share their email address).
  • Using autoresponders for onboarding.
  • Creating content that will give people a reason to open and read your emails, and getting the timing right (i.e. how often you send emails).
  • Increasing engagement, including learning what not to do.
  • Growing your list by getting traffic to your content.
  • Creating freebies and content upgrades that relate to your other content.
  • Keeping your list clean.
  • Planning autoresponders.

As I write this, I’ve just signed up for a new email list because I was interested in the freebie. They sent me six emails in the first fifteen minutes … including three sales emails. People, that is the wrong way to do onboarding and creating content.

One lightbulb moment for me was this quote from ConvertKit:

All email marketing providers determine opens based on whether or not a 1px transparent image was loaded in the email.

I don’t know about you, but my iPhone doesn’t automatically open images. That means anything I read on the iPhone isn’t tracked as an open unless I also click to download the images. If you’re concerned about your online privacy, then reading on a mobile device might be a good idea.

As a list owner, it does mean that your mailing list provider might be understating your open rate … unless you can persuade readers to click a link or download the images, so their open is tracked.

Kristen Oliphant on social media:

To sum up a social media strategy: Consider what platforms you want to utilize and then rock those platforms. Post new content. Post links to your older content. Share your work. Period. Note: Sharing links to Amazon over and over is not a social media strategy.

Top Tips

  • Make sure the email comes from you (e.g. iola @ iolagoulton.com).
  • Ask questions (and respond).
  • Use a plugin like What Would Seth Godin Do or Bottom of Every Post to add a subscription signup request (I use Bloom from Elegant Themes).
  • Download the CSV file of your email list every month (to provide a backup).
  • Try something new every few months.

Finally, Oliphant points out that people unsubscribing isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is deleting without reading (or adding your email address to a service like Unroll.me).

The one possible complaint is that this book was published in 2016 (and hasn’t been updated as far as I can tell). That means it doesn’t discuss GDPR, and autoresponders are now free with MailChimp, as are landing pages and signup forms.

If you already have a mailing list, then it’s possible you already know most of what Oliphant covers in this book.

But if the whole ideas of mailing lists is new to you, then Email Lists Made Easy is a great introduction.

About Email Lists Made Easy

Email is the most powerful tool authors and bloggers can use. Period. This is THE book that authors and bloggers need to make the most of email marketing.
Email Lists Made Easy for Writers and Bloggers is the missing piece to get your list on lock. Far from a boring read on “email marketing,” it will speak in terms that writers and bloggers understand.

Personal Connection – Email is far more personal that any other social connection you can have with your followers. Learn to harness that power.
Permanent Connection – You can literally download your subscribers’ emails and hold them in your hand. Try doing that with Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Powerful Connection – The ROI of email beats the pants off anything else you’ll try. A 2016 study from Campaign Monitor found that for every $1 you spend, you’ll get $44 back.

Get specific training on how to create and grow an effective list, from that very first signup form to more advanced tools like autoresponders series. With a free workbook you can download upon purchase, this book will be more than just ideas. It will be a practical guide that will help you learn to love (and get the most from) your email list.

Plus, you’ll also get a glossary of terms you need to know and a section with the most frequently asked questions about email lists. The accompanying workbook also includes a checklist for setting up your list so that you won’t miss an important piece.

No one ever says they are glad they waited to start their list. Let your email list work for you. Starting … NOW.

Find Email Lists Made Easy online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

You can read the opening to Email Lists Made Easy below:

Author Branding: Win Your Readers' Loyalty and Promote Your Books by Rayne Hall

Book Review | Author Branding by Rayne Hall

If you read my post last week, you’ll know that on Monday 4 March 2019 I’ll kick off my annual March Marketing Challenge: Kick-Start Your Author Platform. This is the third year I’ve run the challenge, and it’s been great to see writers take their first steps to building an online platform.

As part of my preparation I’m reviewing and updating the challenge, removing references to Google+ (yay! One less social media network to worry about!), and adding information about GDPR and Gutenberg.

(If you can’t join us on Monday or if you’re reading this post after Monday, don’t worry. The challenge is available throughout the year. The only difference is we won’t all be working through it together. Click here to find out more and sign up.)

I’m also reading a bunch of books about marketing to see what else I can or should add to the Challenge, and I’ll be posting several reviews over the next few weeks.

For this reason, I was thrilled to be asked to beta read Rayne Hall’s newest craft book: Author Branding: Win Your Readers’ Loyalty and Promote Your Books.

Understanding author branding is the beginning of creating your author platform.

Author Branding by @RayneHall is a must-read for authors looking to build an authentic and manageable author platform #AuthorPlatform #BookReview Click To Tweet

I read a lot of writing craft books, and I’m always impressed by Rayne Hall’s way of giving readers a step-by-step approach to an issues, whether it’s writing, editing, or something broader like using Twitter as a writer. Her book on author branding is no different.

Hall explains the importance of consistent author branding, then takes readers through twelve archetypes. These form the basis of her approach to branding—we should each pick one archetype and develop our brand around that. Just as we should pick a target reader, we should pick a single archetype and “be” that person when marketing, whether online or in person.

I found this approach both refreshing and freeing.

Refreshing, because there were enough archetypes that I could “find” myself (unlike other books I’ve read, where I was supposed to choose from five), but not so many that the decision was difficult. And freeing, because it gives us permission to ignore what others are doing.

Once you’ve identified your archetype, Hall takes you though how that might apply in different areas of branding e.g. how we present ourselves online, and what we might choose to share on social media (yes, she states we don’t have to share everything on social media. We get to choose).

Freeing, because Hall points out that we should only share material that’s consistent with our archetype. We don’t have to be everything to everyone. We don’t even have to be everything to our target reader. So I don’t have to share what authors A and B and C are sharing if they’re obviously a different archetype.

Instead, I can focus on sharing what fits my archetype and do that well.

(Which is what I’ve been trying to do, but it’s great to have someone else validate my approach and give a solid rationale for it).

The Kindle version of Author Branding by Rayne Hall is currently on a pre-order sale–just 99 cents (click here to buy).

It’s a bargain and a must-read. It’s also a quick read, so you have time to buy it now, read it over the weekend, and use that new knowledge as you develop your author platform.

And if you don’t have an author platform yet, maybe now is the time to start. Click here to check out the March Marketing Challenge, and I’ll look forward to helping you kick-start your author platform!

Endorsement from Carolyn Miller

Dear Editor: How do you keep God first in marketing?

Dear Editor | How do you keep God first in marketing?

Yes, this is another post taken from a question I saw in a Facebook group:

How do you market your books in a way that shows humility and points to Christ?

The fact you’re asking this question means you’re already well on the way to making sure your marketing is focused on God, not you. That’s great.

But I suspect it also means that you’ve bought into the common lie about what marketing is—that marketing is the annoying and sometimes smarmy push-push-push used to make the sale.

It isn’t.

Making the sale is selling. That’s important, but it’s not marketing. Marketing is about creating a product or service a segment of people will want to buy, then bringing that product or services to the attention of that segment.

Traditional marketing focuses on the four P’s: Product, Place, Price, and Promotion.

Even when I studied marketing, back in the dark ages of the early 1990’s, promotion was merely one aspect of marketing. And that was for traditional consumer goods marketing.

Now I believe there are seven Ps for the Christian author to consider: Prayer, Product, Package, Place, Price, Promotion, and Platform.

Let’s take a brief look at each:


As Christians, our marketing should begin in prayer. It should end in prayer. It should be bathed in prayer. We need to be seeking God to know what he wants us to write—what topics, what formats, what word count. We need to know how and when he wants us to publish—publish a physical book or share our writing on a website or blog? Traditional publication or self-publishing?

(The only wrong answer here is vanity publishing; I believe that for 99% of authors or more, a vanity publisher is a bad deal because it’s bad stewardship of our financial resources. Having said that, even the owners and employees of vanity publishers need to hear the gospel, so if that’s the job God has given you, do it and do it well.)


Traditional marketing starts with Product: offering a product (or service) customers will want to buy.

For writers, this means writing the best book or blog post we can write. It means learning to write, and learning to write well. Learning, learning, learning. Then writing, writing, writing. Writing the book or the blog post God calls us to write. It doesn’t matter whether we write fiction or non-fiction, literary or genre. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a book or not. Marketing our writing starts with writing well.

Seek excellence, because excellence honours God.


Package is about taking that product and turning it into something the reader can access.

For a book, this means hiring the best editor we can afford—someone who will take your book apart and put it back together again, only better. Then we hire the best cover designer you can find, someone who will design a cover that appeals to your target reader. Package also includes the formats in which you sell your book: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook, podcast.

But not all writing has to be published in a book. Letters, blog posts, magazine articles, devotionals … all are valid ways of writing in obedience to God’s call. Consider how these shorter offerings can be packaged for the reader.

Place and Price

Traditional marketing then moves onto Place and Price: distributing our Product to our target customers (Place) at a Price they are willing to pay.

For traditionally published authors, the publisher will control Place and Price.

If we self-publish, then our big decisions are Place (sell ebooks exclusively through Amazon or do you go “wide” and sell through other retailers as well) and Price (largely driven by what readers expect to pay, which is related to what other authors in your genre charge). Remember, the worker is worth his or her hire, so there is nothing wrong with charging for our work. Paul supported his missionary journeys by making tents.

We might decide to give our work away, either as a free book or by writing for a blog. That’s a valid decision if we’re writing for God, as “free” removes one of the barriers to making a sale. But making our writing freely available doesn’t mean our writing is read—that’s going to come back to Product and Promotion.


Promotion is the final aspect of traditional marketing. Traditional promotion was a combination of push and pull marketing—pushing advertisements out to the world at large, and hoping to Pull customers into the store to buy your product.

Now we’re a little more sophisticated. We can target our advertisements on sites like Amazon and Facebook and Goodreads, to (hopefully) focus only on our target customer. We can cross-promote with other authors in the same genre. And we can promote ourselves and others using our Platform.


Platform is my preferred method of promotion because it reflects the approach I believe we need to take to marketing: to identify our audience, and seek to serve them.

Platform allows us to emulate Jesus by serving others, not ourselves.

What does this mean? Well, serving ourselves is easy to identify: it’s the author who tweets “buy my book” every six minutes of every hour of every day. It’s the author who constantly pins her own book covers. It’s the author who constantly posts quotes from her own books on Facebook and Instagram. It’s the me-me-me author who never talks about anyone but herself, who never responds to comments or social media mentions because her “marketing” is all on autopilot so she can focus on obsessing about her sales (and grouching because she’s in Facebook jail for self-promoting her book in a hundred Facebook groups in quick succession).

Serving others is harder. It requires more up-front thought, and more effort than scheduling the same 1,600 Tweets each week.

Serving others is about:

  • Identifying our target reader.
  • Working out what subjects our target reader is interested in.
  • Serving our current and potential readers by finding and posting content about those subjects.

There is a name for this: content marketing.

The principle of content marketing is that we don’t directly market ourselves. Instead, we share information that serves others, and use that as the way to attract potential readers. It’s about being real and authentic, about engaging with our readers and turning them into fans.

Good content marketing follows the 80:20 rule:

  • 80% of what you share is information (content) that will interest and engage your target reader.
  • Only 20% of what you share is direct self-promotion. And even that should still be designed to interest and engage your target reader.

If we’re actively marketing to a Christian audience, then some of that content will point directly to Christ. For instance, we can share:

  • Bible quote memes.
  • Inspiring Christian quotes.
  • Devotional posts.
  • Deeper thoughts on God and the Bible.

We can still point to Christ even while marketing to a mainstream audience. For example, one Christian author I know who writes general market romance has a link to Bear Grylls advertising the Alpha course on the bottom of her website. Another is a pastor’s wife, and often posts about church services or events. Others are more subtle—you can see their Christian faith come through in their writing. It’s not overtly Christian, but it still points to Christ for those who have ears to hear.

Our focus on on serving your audience.

God has given us a message to share through our writing. He therefore wants us to share that message. To do otherwise would be to hide our light under a bushel.

And we can share that in humility and in a Christ-like manner. Jesus was the Messiah, yet didn’t promote himself. He said very unpromotional things, like the least shall be first. He pointed to His Father in all things. We can do the same.

This method of marketing isn’t going to produce instant results.

It’s playing a long game. So is God. It’s giving without expectation. As Jesus did. It’s about delivering the message God has placed on our hearts, and trusting the Holy Spirit to get it to the people who need it.

At the end of the day, if we are focused on God, if we are writing and publishing what you believe He has called us to write and publish, then we’re going to have to trust Him with the results. Bathe our writing in prayer, sow our seeds, serve others, and trust God to bring His harvest in His time.

Meanwhile, if you’d like help in establishing a Christ-centred Platform, click here to check out the Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge.

What content can you share that will promote your writing and point to Christ?

Common Author Questions about Reviewing

Reviewing 101 | Common Author Questions about Reviewing

Today I’m answering three questions I often get asked in relation to reviewing:

  • Should I recommend books I haven’t read?
  • Can I copy my reviews?
  • What can I do if my reviews are deleted?

Should I Recommend Books I Haven’t Read?

Can you review books you haven’t read on Amazon?

Yes—just look at all the people who’ve reviewed Three Wolf Moon T-Shirts or Bic For Her ballpoint pens (I only wish I was joking). I’m sure they haven’t all bought the shirt or used the pen. And that’s okay. Amazon doesn’t require people to have experienced a product or read a book in order to review.

But should you review a book you haven’t read? I think that depends. If you started the book and didn’t finish it for valid reasons (e.g. the “Christian” novel has a sex scene in the first chapter), then it might be good to write a review explaining why you didn’t finish the book so other people don’t have the same problem.

But if you’re wanting to use Amazon’s book review space to vent about the latest Clinton or Trump biography or memoir, then you might consider venting on a blog post instead. Or going to the gym and venting in a boxing class. It’s healthier, and your words won’t come back to bite you.

Should you recommend books you haven’t read to your readers?

Many authors use their newsletters to recommend books by other authors. These are often part of a “newsletter swap”, a marketing technique used by many authors to grow their mailing list. They dont’ actually swap email lists (that would be illegal). Instead, they cross-promote their books: Author A recommends This Book by Author B in his newsletter, and Author B recommends That Book by Author A in her newsletter.

I’ve come across situations where an author I know of recommends an author whose work I’ve read and consider sub-par. I’m left wondering if the author didn’t read it, or (worse) if they did read it and didn’t notice the issues. If so, what does that say about their writing? I’m also left wondering about the quality of the books by the authors I don’t know of. Are they as bad?

Personally, I’d rarely recommend a book I haven’t read. If I did, I’d say why I haven’t read it, and why I still think it’s worth checking out. However, I know not all authors hold this view. They say they can’t possibly read all the books. I agree that we can’t read all the books … but surely we can at least crack open the Kindle sample of books we’re effectively advertising to our readers?

Yes, you can review and recommend books you haven’t read. But should you?

Can I Copy My Reviews?

Yes. When you post a review online, you give that website (e.g. Amazon) a non-exclusive licence to use your review, but you retain the copyright to the review. Here’s the exact wording from Amazon:

If you do post content or submit material, and unless we indicate otherwise, you grant Amazon a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, and display such content throughout the world in any media. You grant Amazon and sublicensees the right to use the name that you submit in connection with such content, if they choose.

This legalese essentially confirms that you retain copyright to your reviews, but give Amazon permission to use your reviews, for example, to cross-post a review from Amazon US to international Amazon sites, which have fewer reviews. This can lead to the situation where my review is featured twice on an Amazon UK book page.

You can also post your review on as many other websites as you like, as long as their terms are similar to Amazon’s. You shouldn’t post reviews to any website that claims ownership of your copyright.

Some people read these Conditions of Use as meaning Amazon owns the copyright on your review:

All content included in or made available through any Amazon Service, such as text, graphics, logos, button icons, images, audio clips, digital downloads, and data compilations is the property of Amazon or its content suppliers and protected by United States and international copyright laws.

This is incorrect. The statement must be read in full: “Amazon or its content suppliers”. By writing a review on Amazon, you become a content supplier in the same way as an author or publisher is a content supplier (if this wasn’t the case, no one would sell books though Amazon. No publisher is going to allow a retailer to claim copyright).

But I didn’t mean reviews I wrote. I meant reviews on my book.

This is often what authors mean when they ask if they can copy ‘their’ reviews. The answer is straightforward:


You can’t copy reviews of your book, because they are not ‘your’ reviews. They belong to the reviewer. They are the intellectual property of the reviewer, in the same way as your book is your intellectual property.

You might argue that their review is only 300 words, while your book is 80,000 words, and surely it’s okay to copy 300 words?


What’s important isn’t how many words are copied, but what proportion those words comprise of the full work. Copying a 300-word review is copying 100% of the entire work. The reviewer quoting 300 words out of your 80,000-word novel is 0.4% of the entire work—which is allowable under the doctrine of Fair Use.

You can’t copy a review in its entirety without the permission of the reviewer. Ever. You can’t copy a critical review to your blog and refute it point-by-point. In doing this, not only have you breached the reviewer’s copyright, you have made yourself look petty. Yes, I’ve seen that blog post.

You can’t copy passages from the review without permission or attribution. Ever. Not to use the review to brag on your Facebook page, and certainly not to criticise the reviewer in your next edition of the book.

So what can I do?

What you can do is name the reviewer, copy the first line or two of the review, then link back to the full review on the reviewer’s own website, or on Amazon. As a reviewer, I’d like you to link to my blog site to improve my traffic and possibly get another subscriber. As an author, you might be better linking to Amazon, so if the reader is impressed they can purchase your book immediately. For example:

“Falling for the Farmer is just perfect” – click here to read a new five-star review on Amazon!

Or go one better and create a meme you can share on social media.

Besides, linking looks more professional. It shows an unknown person wrote the glowing review, and that you haven’t just quoted your mother, sister or BFF (or made the review up yourself).

What can I do if my reviews are deleted?

Reviews can be deleted in two ways, by Amazon, or by the reviewer. Amazon can—and will—delete reviews which fall outside their reviewing guidelines in some way:

  • Paid reviews
  • Reviews written by someone with a financial interest in the book
  • ARC reviews where the free book has not been disclosed
  • Reviews where the author has gifted the book to the reviewer and this hasn’t been disclosed.

A review may also be deleted if it includes specific words (e.g. ‘nazi’) which Amazon does not permit to be used on the site. This might be difficult to avoid if you were reviewing a book about, say, politics in Germany in the 1930’s. In some cases these reviews will be deleted automatically, in others they will be deleted if enough customers Report Abuse on the review.

Amazon will edit but not delete reviews where the review links to an external website, or where the reviewer has linked to their own book (which is seen as promotional, and therefore against the Reviewing Guidelines).

Review deleted without reason

If you believe a review has been deleted without reason, you can contact Amazon and ask them to review their decision. This usually results in a standard email saying the review was deleted because it was against the Amazon Community Guidelines. No, they don’t tell you which guideline.

The other way reviews can get deleted is if the reviewer deletes them (e.g. because they are closing their Amazon account).

I didn’t mean reviews I wrote. I meant reviews on my book.

There’s nothing you can do about reviews written by other people. They are not your reviews, so you can’t ask Amazon why they have been deleted. If you remember the reviewer name and have their contact details (e.g. if it’s a review you solicited), you could ask the reviewer to ask Amazon, but they’ll probably just get the standard email (and may be threatened with having their review privileges revoked if they keep asking).

You can take some proactive steps to ensure reviews of your book aren’t removed by Amazon:

  • Don’t review your own book
  • Don’t ask/allow family members to review your book
  • Don’t ask/allow editors or your publisher to review your book
  • Don’t gift your book to potential reviewers through Amazon (this proves to Amazon that you have a relationship, which Amazon might interpret as you being friends). Post them a hard copy, or email the pdf or mobi file.
  • If you do give a copy to a reviewer, ask that they include an appropriate disclosure statement (e.g. “Thanks to the author for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes”).
  • Ensure reviewers don’t use their review of your book as a platform for promoting their own book, either in their reviewer name, through links, or by mentioning their own book in the review.

Finally, ensure reviewers don’t say they received a free copy of the book “in exchange” for a review. That’s against the Amazon Community Guidelines, and will trigger a deletion (and reviewers can no longer edit and repost reviews of the same book or product).

What is the most useful thing you’ve learned from this series? Is there anything else you’d like to know about reviews and online reviewing?