Write Away

By Kerrie L. Flanagan and Jenny Sundstedt

Write_Away_FrontCoverWRITE AWAY: A Year of Musings and Motivations for Writers combines monthly insightful and humorous stories with tips, tools and interactions that encourage writers to reflect on where they are and where they want to be. From “Writing Naked” to “Writing an Effective Query Letter,” these essays remind readers of the unique nuances in the life of a writer and provide practical advice for strengthening skills and knowledge. Each month opens with a place to record goals and action plans. A back section provides resources and tools to help readers stay on track and stay informed. Inspirational quotes, reflective questions, and short exercises keep motivation and energy flowing. Here are a few excerpts:

“Time to Get Rid of Excuses”

By Kerrie

One of the biggest issues I hear writers bring up is that they find it difficult to find time to write. The bottom line is that if you want to be a serious writer, then you must make the time to write. We all have 24 hours in a day, and we all have the power to decide how we are going to use those hours.

If all you can spare is 30 minutes a day, then commit to those 30 minutes. Don’t let anything get in your way. Think about it—a half hour a day, five days a week, is two and a half hours a week, which then equals 120 hours a year. That is definitely enough time to make a dent in your novel or write a dozen poems or a few stories or a picture book or two or a dozen articles . . . you get the idea.

Here are some quick tips to help you find success in organizing your time.

  • Make a daily/weekly goal for the number of hours you are going to write.
  • Schedule your writing times and mark those times on your calendar.
  • Stick to your commitment. If someone calls to try to schedule something during your writing time, nicely say to them, “That time won’t work for me, I have a prior commitment.” No further explanation is necessary.
  • Reward yourself after one month of sticking to your plan.

What is one way you can be better about honoring your writing time?

“Take A Leap”

By Jenny

Poor February. It’s the little brother of the calendar, never quite matching up to the longer months. But every four years, it puffs up its chest a bit with the addition of an extra day. I love the novelty of Leap Day, even though it occasionally gyps me out of a coveted Friday or Saturday birthday.

February 29 is a bonus day, but, as such, how should one choose to spend it? Is it a do whatever you want because nothing counts day (i.e., whatever happens on Leap Day stays on Leap Day), or is it a day to take a real shot at something meaningful? Or maybe a little bit of both.

We’re told how to celebrate most holidays, whether it’s with candy and flowers, fireworks, or green beer. But I say that Leap Day should be celebrator’s choice. So, writer friends, it’s up to you. If you’ve been working so hard on a manuscript that you’re revising it in your sleep, perhaps your Leap Day should be spent with crossword puzzles and a bottomless cup of tea, or a double feature of completely mindless entertainment at your local movieplex. Cheesecake for lunch is also a viable option.

But if your writerly self has lately been feeling hampered by self-doubts, intimidated by the prospect of success and/or failure, and generally reluctant to strike off in any direction, then perhaps February 29 is your day to take a leap of faith. Send a query. Enter a contest. Register for a conference or sign up for a pitch session. Write a first word, a first line, a first page, a first chapter. You may like it so much that you’ll want to treat every day like it’s Leap Day. Except for the cheesecake for lunch part.

My leap is sending off one of the short stories I’ve been sitting on for a while. What will your writer’s leap be?

For more helpful tips and motivations, get the WRITE AWAY eBook here!

About the authors

Authors Kerrie and Jenny at the WRITE AWAY book launch.

Authors Kerrie and Jenny at the WRITE AWAY book launch.

Kerrie Flanagan is the Director of Northern Colorado Writers (NCW), writing consultant, and freelance writer with articles in regional and national publications including Writers Digest and The Writer.

Jenny Sundstedt is a member of NCW and serves on the creative team for the annual NCW Writer’s Conference. She writes long and short fiction, essays, overly ambitious to-do lists, and since 2010, has been a regular contributor to the NCW blog, “The Writing Bug.”

 

So, About That Cover: Book Cover Design Tips From a Merchandiser

By Shayna Krishnasamy, Kobo Writing Life Merchandiser

As the merchandiser for self-published eBooks at Kobo, my job is to judge books by their covers. Okay, that’s not my whole job, but you might be surprised at how much of my day is spent scrutinizing, arguing about, praising, sifting through, staring at, and judging (oh, and also mocking. Yes, sometimes a cover practically begs to be mocked) self-published book covers. Book cover design is an immensely important part of the digital self-publishing process. I really can’t emphasize this enough. A professional book cover will get your title the attention it needs and will make it more likely to be awarded merchandising space on our website, in email newsletters, and in promotions. An amateur book cover, on the other hand, will do exactly the opposite. That your book’s success depends so heavily on something that has nothing to do with its contents might be a hard nut to swallow, but it’s a reality that can’t be ignored. So, before you sit down to make your next book cover using a photo you took last summer of your friend Matt’s cottage, let me share with you my list of Dos and Don’ts of digital book cover design.

DO Your Research

Every genre has its book cover hallmarks. While you don’t want your cover to blend in with the rest so completely that it gets lost, you also don’t want to create a cover that is so different from the other books in the genre that it confuses the reader. The book cover, even more so than the title, is the thing that’s going to sell your book. You need to make sure the reader can tell, at a glance, what kind of story you’re telling.

The easiest way to make sure you don’t mislead the reader is to check out other books in your genre, both self-published and traditional, to get a feel for the kind of cover you want for your book.

New Adult Romance covers tend to feature couples and cursive fonts:

Between UsReckless TogetherPerfect RegretWait for You

But not always:

Kiss Me Like This: The MorrisonsDamagedLosing HopeTen Tiny Breaths

The covers of Thrillers are known to have weapons, buildings or vehicles, and apparently orange is a popular colour. Faces are less important:

Panic: A Leopold Blake ThrillerSaint DeathWild StormWasted Justice

Sometimes just author and title is enough:

Act of WarPersonalBad PennyInside Man

Whichever genre you’re writing in, you should incorporate at least some of these familiar elements into your cover to ensure the reader is getting what they expect.

DON’T Make It Yourself

Unless you’re a graphic designer by trade, and therefore know what you’re doing, do not make your book cover yourself. This is where so many authors go wrong. In order to save costs, because of a false sense of their artistic ability, or just due to a misguided belief that book covers are easy to design, so many authors end up designing their own covers, often with disastrous results.
I’ll admit, I did this myself back in 2010. Here’s the cover I originally made for my first novel, Home:

Home CoverI still like a lot of things about this cover. I like the image and the colour scheme. I like the font I found for the title, and the way I was able to fit it between the branches. But this is, very obviously, an amateur attempt at book cover design. Nothing says “I don’t know what I’m doing” like using Times New Roman font for the author name. The novel is a historical fantasy for young adults, which isn’t at all clear from looking at the cover. This cover is a good effort for a first try, but it is definitely not professional. It just isn’t good enough.

 

Here’s another example of the type of cover I come across all the time:

Bad cover (2)There are many things very, very wrong with this cover. To begin with, the dimensions are wrong. The image is obviously a personal photo taken while on vacation. It’s a beautiful photo, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to make a beautiful book cover. The title is in some weird font meant to mimic handwriting. Points are awarded for not choosing Times New Roman and for the nice centering, but that’s about it. The colour of the author name makes it unreadable and it’s also placed way too close to the edge of the cover. And then there’s the cut and pasted dog.

I would never merchandize this book.

You want your cover to represent the brilliant book you’ve written, to draw in customers who might not have considered reading your stuff otherwise, to wow the merchandiser. If you’re considering designing your own cover, ask yourself if whatever you might create will have this kind of power. An adequate cover isn’t good enough for your book. You want your cover to be the BEST!

I’ll say it again: Don’t Make It Yourself. Hire a professional book cover designer.

DON’T Put It On Repeat

If you’re writing a series, it’s a great idea to use the book covers to link the titles in the series together. When looking at a list of your books on the retail site, you want the reader to be able to tell right away which three of your five books are a part of your series, especially since not all readers check if a series name is listed. Similar images, colour schemes and font choices on the covers can do this job quite well.

H. M. Ward (who, incidentally, creates her own covers, proving that there’s always an exception to the rule) achieves this quite nicely with her The Arrangement series:

The Arrangement 7The Arrangement 8The Arrangement 9 (Ferro Family)The Arrangement 13 (The Ferro Family)

What I don’t recommend is getting one cover professionally made and then using it for every title in the series by changing the book title only. I’ve seen many authors do this, and I believe it causes confusion with the reader and makes for ugly merchandising. If the series number (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, etc.) isn’t clear enough the customer can end up purchasing the wrong title. It also implies that you didn’t care enough about your book to get a new cover made.

Though repeat covers are by no means a deal breaker—they are far too common for me to exclude them from merchandising entirely—I feel that series covers pack the most punch if they are similar but distinct.

DO Reserve The Right To Change Your Mind

One of the great things about self-publishing is that the author has complete control over the book cover, which is certainly not the case with traditional publishing. Not only can you decide what your cover will be, but you can also change that cover whenever you wish. Naturally, you don’t want to confuse your readers by putting up a new cover every other week, but if you feel your current cover isn’t working, why not try something different? Do your readers continually mention that they were expecting your book to be more of a romantic suspense, when it’s actually a straight contemporary romance? Are you getting a lot of returns? Have you noticed that it’s hard to read the title when you’re looking at your cover on the retail site? All of these problems could possibly be solved by changing up your book cover. Even better, if you don’t like the resulting sales of the new cover, you can always change it back! Such is the freedom of digital self-publishing.

Do you have a favourite book cover designer to recommend? Let us know about them in the comments!

Shayna's PhotoShayna Krishnasamy is a Montreal author of literary and young adult fiction by night and the merchandiser for Kobo Writing Life by day. Shayna’s books are available on Kobo.

Click here to visit Shayna’s website!

How to Beat Boxed Set Burnout: Making the Summer Lovin’ Series

By The Summer Lovin’ Authors

Being an author means more than writing a book. Authors are businesswomen, just like any other person who creates a product for sale. Part of our business is delivering a high-quality product—in our case, a great book!—and another part is finding ways to enhance the reading experience for the reader.

When our group first began talking about writing a project together, it was in response to the prevalence in the romance market of themed box sets. Since box sets are a fabulous waysummer lovin to introduce readers to new authors at a bargain price, we started off considering that approach. However, the conversation quickly changed after we talked about how some of our readers were experiencing what we called “box set burnout,” which meant that they either purchased a box set but never read all of the stories because they simply found the number of books overwhelming, or they felt the set wasn’t as fulfilling a read as a single author’s series featuring recurring characters in the same setting.

After a little more discussion, we decided to address box set burnout by writing a linked series instead. The Summer Lovin’ series features six category-length works by six different authors, each releasing two weeks apart. All books are set in the same location—at Stone Cliff Resort in the fictional town of Deerfield, Canada (modeled after Banff)—and each book has overlapping characters with at least two other books, but could easily be a standalone read, as well.

Crashing Down, New Adult RomanceLosing ItLoving Lies

This approach allows us to create a better reading experience, not just by offering a fun way to introduce readers to new authors, but also by giving readers time to read and digest each book without feeling overwhelmed. We each came up with a synopsis and a cast of characters, (even the town itself became a character) then we used Springpad to set up an online group data storage system to make our bible. Using all this information, and sharing ideas back and forth on a daily basis, we honed the story lines until we felt we had built a solid world! Then, it was writing time. We each wrote independently, based on the plots we had discussed, and then read over one another’s work, tweaking characters and setting descriptions to make sure everything in the books flowed together. Writing this way can be a challenge, since everyone is very close to their own story, but we were all willing to make changes to ensure description/characters fit with the rest of the stories because we all cared about the final produce, and ultimately the reader experience.

Our cover artist, Croco Designs, created covers with the same Summer Lovin’ logo and summer-by-the-lake theme, and before we knew it, the linked series was ready to go!

Taming Tess, New Adult RomanceSurviving NikkiSaving Sullivan

We’re so excited to offer this series of six books by Cathryn Fox, Audra North, Renee Field, Jan Meredith, Lilly Cain, and Sara Hubbard.

Check out the Summer Lovin’ Series here!

Connect with the authors on Facebook here!

One Fictitious Moment: Two New Videos

By Angela Misri­, author of Jewel of the Thames

Writing mysteries is one of those specialized crafts that requires a constant escalation – in tension, in speed and in exciting your reader. There are two key ways to do this – by Creating Tension and by Writing Great Dialogue – check out some key tips below!

 

Watch for more writing videos on this blog, or you can subscribe to my Youtube channel One Fictitious Moment.

Amgela MisriAngela Misri is a Toronto journalist, writer and mom who has spent most of her working life making CBC Radio extraterrestrial through podcasts, live streams and websites. Her first book Jewel of the Thames, was published by Fierce Ink Press in March 2014 and is the first in a series called A Portia Adams Adventure.

Dear Writing, I Hate You: How To Be A Writer In The Real World

By Shayna Krishnasamy

Whenever I’m asked what I’m most passionate about, I answer, automatically, writing. I feel a certain amount of pride in being able to give a confident answer to this question that often stumps a lot of my friends who are still searching for their “thing.” I am a writer. Writing is my passion. It sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it? Of course, this easy answer doesn’t tell the whole story, and it’s the inevitable follow-up question that makes this clear. Here it comes:

frustrationSo, what do you love about writing?

Love? Who said anything about love? I hate writing with a passion. That’s where all the passion comes from—hate.

I realize that not all writers feel this way. Some writers live in a bubble of serenity in which words flow from their fingertips to the page with ease, ideas are plentiful, inspiration is constant, and self-doubt? Such a thing doesn’t even exist. But the rest of us, the non-bubble dwellers, who live in the real world of mortgages and stress and uncooked dinners, the act of writing can sometimes, not all the time, okay maybe about half the time, be a little unpleasant, and other times, once in a while, okay maybe half the time, be downright painful.

Let’s face it, writing can be hard. To begin with, unless you’ve already hit it big, you’re doing it on top of working a full-time job, which means any time you devote to it is cutting into your time with your husband, your kids, your friends, your fun. You have limited time to actually write, and when you do find the time, you need to make it happen on the spot because there’s no time to dilly dally around waiting for inspiration. Now it’s summertime and your friends are all off at the beach or the park or Mexico, and you’re stuck inside, writing. On top of which you think you’ve lost track of the plot, your characters aren’t fully-formed, you’re pretty sure you aren’t any good at this, the book you self-published last year isn’t selling, like at ALL, and nobody, I mean nobody you know actually understands WHY you’re spending so much time on this “book” when you should be training for that marathon and making sure your kids eat balanced meals.

First, let me just say: I know. I’m here for you. Let’s avoid writing together by going out for coffee to discuss it.

Or, even better, for all the miserable writers out there, here are some tips from me to you to help you make your life as a writer just a little, not completely, but maybe about 10% less miserable:

You’re Overworked and Underpaid – Tell Everyone!

It can be hard for non-writers to understand the agonies of writing, and more specifically the amount of time it takes up in your life. Friends may become irritated when you have to turn down their dinner invites and Friday night get-togethers because you have to write. Imagining your buddies having fun together while you’re holed up in the basement hunched over your computer isn’t much fun for you either.frustrated-writer-4-e1322631376404

To combat the idea that you’re blowing everyone off and wasting your time, start telling yourself and everyone else that you have two full-time jobs. If you have kids, you can even boost that to three. Three Jobs! That’ll shut them up.

If you’re serious about writing, never call it a hobby or a side-project or a pastime. Writing is work, hard work. Sure, you’re doing this work voluntarily, but that doesn’t make it less difficult or deserving of respect than your salaried job. As a writer, your free time is precious and limited, and anyone who gives you grief about how much you have or how you spend it should go out and get a few extra jobs first. See how they like it!

Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper, Mister

It’s really difficult to stay positive about your writing when you’re always comparing yourself to other writers. Sure, it’s important to read great novels and aspire to that kind of greatness yourself, but only if it doesn’t turn you into a weepy puddle of self-doubt. Thinking you’re not good enough is a common problem for writers and can be crippling.

To keep your confidence up, remind yourself that the book you’re reading is a finished product. You don’t know how many awful drafts there were before it was published. Maybe this book you think is so spectacular went through 20 drafts and a few severe edits before it became the tome you know so well. It isn’t fair to compare the second draft of your novel to a polished book, so don’t even go there.

That goes for writing speed as well. Many of the more successful self-published authors are releasing four or five books a year, and here you are slaving away at your manuscript for a third year. Nothing good will come of comparing yourself to these speedy authors, so why do it? There are plenty of famous authors who wrote more slowly (J. R. R. Tolkien, for one, ever heard of him?). The important thing is to write the best book you can, no matter how long it takes.

Be Trendy Only If You Really Love The Trend

writers-block21When you hear reports that authors are really raking it in writing about vampires or apocalypses or naughty sex, it can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon. There’s nothing wrong with branching out—I’d even say it’s a good thing—but trying to force yourself to write a book about time travel for teens when your niche is really historical romance can be disastrous. Some writers are good at genre hopping and can write equally well in a variety of styles, but it’s not for everyone, and writing in a genre you don’t enjoy can suck the soul out of you in a jiffy. If you really want to be a happy writer, ignore the trends altogether and write what you want to write. You never know, maybe your idea will end up spurring a trend of its own!

Give Yourself a Break

Write every day. You’ve heard this rule, we all have. Given the famous tendency of authors to procrastinate, I understand why the rule is useful. You’re never going to get the book done if you keep marathon-watching Mad Men instead. But the rule can also be confining and has lead me to feel that I was failing as a writer because I couldn’t manage to get my butt in that desk chair two times this week, or because I took the day off to take my nephews to the amusement park, or because I wanted to go shopping.

Life doesn’t stop because you have a book to write, and I don’t believe you should cut yourself off from all human contact just to get your book indexwritten. You’ve heard of work/life balance? Well, I believe in life/write balance. You may not be able to hang out with your friends and family every night of the week if you want to finish your book, but you don’t have to stay home every night either. You can pick and choose.

I’m not saying don’t try to write every day, because you absolutely should. I’ve found it much more difficult to get back into my book when I haven’t engaged with it for several days in a row. What I’m saying is beating yourself up when you have to skip a day is a waste of time, and giving up everything else in your life to write your book, though it might get the book finished pretty quick, isn’t the best formula for a happiness. Your writing should be a priority in your life, but so should your life. If you stop living to write your book what in the world will you have to write about, anyway?

 

So, as you can see, when I say I hate writing, I don’t really mean it. It’s not writing that I hate, but rather all the challenges that come along with being a writer today, challenges which can ruin the act of writing for us, if we let them. It’s hard enough coming up with a great story idea and making the written product actually resemble that idea, and be coherent, and brilliant, and marketable, and exactly what you want it to be. Doing it while also missing out on all the fun things in life, being resented by your friends, feeling like everyone is writing better and faster, writing a story you don’t even care about, and feeling like crap because you aren’t writing enough—well, I’d say that’s practically impossible.

Being a writer in the real world is hard, but it doesn’t have to be miserable. Next time you want to punch writing in the face, maybe go get an ice cream cone instead. And remember, if you really are a writer, there is no cure. You can give it up and become a circus clown and believe that’s the end of it, but writing will always come back to haunt you. It’s like an ant infestation that way. So, buck up, soldier, you’ve only got about 50 or 60 more years of this to go.

Now, didn’t that make you feel better?

Shayna's PhotoShayna Krishnasamy is a Montreal author of literary and young adult fiction by night and the merchandiser for Kobo Writing Life by day. Shayna’s books are available on Kobo.

Click here to visit Shayna’s website!

Oh, the Mistakes We’ve Seen!

By BlueInk Review

In our mission at BlueInk Review to review self-published books, we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. While it’s difficult to explain how to create stellar prose – as there’s always a touch of genius involved in the best literature – there’s no secret about where writers go wrong. As our reviews show, authors tend to commit the same writing crimes, book after book.

Below, we have compiled excerpts from the more than 2,000 reviews we’ve done, each of which expose common writing blunders. So what makes the bad review rear its dreaded, beastly head? Here are five traps you should avoid at all costs:

1. Writing rife with spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors

The fact that this is at the top of the list is both discouraging and heartening: discouraging because, let’s face it writers, a book should be free of all spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors long before it’s reviewed or even published; heartening because this is one of the simplest problems to remedy.

Mechanical errors detract from the plot by forcing readers to wade through a veritable pool of inaccuracies in an attempt to decipher meaning. Don’t punish your supporters for reading your book; reward them with flawless mechanics.

Simply put: Hire a professional copy editor. And when he/she is finished, don’t rest easy. Proofread, my friends, proofread.

Here’s a sample of what our critics said on the subject::

“More frustrating, however, is the inundation of spelling and punctuation errors in the novel, specifically the incorrect use of the question mark, which is employed improperly in countless sentences. The seeming lack of any proofreading leads to an exasperating reading experience that is made even more challenging by a storyline that is disjointed, aimless, and, at times, self-indulgent.”

BlueInk Review2. Fiction containing overpowering agendas

Readers don’t appreciate picking up a romance novel or thriller, only to be inundated with an author’s opinions about abortion or saving the rainforest. Yet authors often feel it’s appropriate to hammer a political or social message home through their characters.

It is perfectly acceptable for a character to have strong opinions,  provided that this point of view is in keeping with the character’s overall persona. But if readers can tell that the character is simply acting as your mouthpiece, they will feel used and manipulated, and your story will collapse under the weight of your agenda.

Before you write, ask yourself: Is this my character’s opinion or am I simply trying to get a pet message across?  Am I focused on telling a story, or presenting a diatribe? Let the story lead the way, not your politics, your religious beliefs or your social attitudes.

3. Mixed genres

You don’t go to a Chinese restaurant for tacos. Readers have similar expectations when picking up a book. If your book cover promises a mystery, science fiction novel, romance or other genre story, only to deliver an odd mash-up of fantasy, erotica and young adult, readers aren’t likely to appreciate – or in many cases – even understand your book.

Before writing, study highly regarded books in your genre. Read, read, read!  And then read some more. This will help you understand the plot elements, character requirements, and pace that readers will expect of your story.  And if you’re tempted to mix genres in the interest of creativity, without the skill of a professional with decades of writing experience behind him/her, think again.

Here’s what one reviewer had to say about that:

“At heart, (title deleted) is a brash mash-up of kung-fu flicks, superhero capers, and airport thrillers that skews along the lines of John Carpenter’s cult bomb ‘Big Trouble in Little China’.  The narrative is immature at best, while unwieldy dialogue and overlong expository sequences hinder the book’s pace.  Ultimately, the story’s atmosphere of spiritual mysticism is overpowered by childish notions of heroic fantasy that often feel out of place in the midst of an adult-oriented thriller.”

4. A lack of focus

It seems to us that many authors simply sit down and write whatever comes to the top of their heads, leaving readers baffled at the book’s ultimate purpose. When writing, every word you choose must help you make your overall point. Ditto every sentence, every paragraph and every chapter.

Ask yourself: What message am I conveying with this book? How does each chapter – in fact, each and every word – help convey this point? Here are some review excerpts:

“The weakness of the book is its lack of cohesion. The author jumps from subject to subject – farming methods, family reminisces, tangents about personal interests, people with no connection to (the author’s) story – without a clear thread or progression. Information about (the author’s) disability is interjected at intervals that lack the chronology or firm contextualization to be of real benefit to most readers.”

“Unfortunately, the book’s bland recitation of history continues, without benefit of a theme or thread to tie together or promote the author’s slant. When readers finish this book, they won’t know the ideology of either major party, let alone how each evolved to the present day.”

 5. Unsubstantiated arguments

When writing nonfiction, self-published authors often feel that presenting their opinion is enough. But you can’t expect readers to buy your argument if it’s not backed up with coherent logic and/or research.  Why, after all, should your readers just take you at your word?

Successful authors lead readers through their thought process logically.  They cite credible sources to back up their arguments, along with facts and examples.  Don’t simply share your thoughts and/or opinions.  If your argument is to make a lasting impression on your audience it must be properly supported.

What not to do:

“The authors cover everything from 12th century BC Arabian trade routes to proper coffee roasting temperatures, but without giving the context or explanation that would affirm their expertise. They emphasize that, while critics focus on the risks of consuming caffeine, coffee has antioxidants and many other beneficial components, but they do not cite studies that prove these benefits in any detail. Stronger claims are hedged (“There is a lower incidence of type II diabetes among coffee drinkers …”) and difficult to fact-check, given that there are no footnotes.  Ninety-seven of the 101 chapters have exactly three sources referenced for each.”

“He might be justified in claiming credit, but readers will find little persuasive evidence here to validate these undocumented assertions.”

BlueInk Review offers credible and unbiased reviews of self-published books exclusively. Visit  http://www.blueinkreview.com to learn more.

Publishing Literary Fiction Independently

By: Piers Alexander

Piers Bearne author photo“I did not need reminding that my place in the world was to be the cutpurse, to show my pistol and witness murder while others played the honest craftsman.

“Garric Pettit, Cassie Barcus, Calumny Spinks: ours was the bitterest trade of all. Hiding in other people’s clothes, tricking and beating our thorny way through the world, and for little more than another day’s bread and water…” - from The Bitter Trade

Sometimes book marketing can feel like that! Writing is a big commitment even without promotion: in my case three years, five drafts – at one point the manuscript was 250,000 words long – until my agent Meg told me that the German version would weigh about 8 kilos… and I sliced 40% of it out. Ouch.

After winning the Pen Factor last year, I finally realized that it was time to stop drafting, put on the clothes of a publisher and get The Bitter Trade  to market. But the novel is literary historical fiction: it’s not genre, there aren’t 30 of them in a series, so it’s not a typical self-pub operation. I know literary writers who’ve been actively discouraged from publishing independently because it’s considered hard to find readers.

So I decided to do things differently, and reach out directly to readers with a few innovations. In my other life I am co-founder of three media businesses, so I’m hoping to bring some ideas in to help promote The Bitter Trade, which is an adventure story set in London’s coffee rackets during the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

First of all, I decided to work with epubli to distribute and promote the eBook. There are a lot of entry-level blogs and courses on digital publishing, but epubli’s author relations team are sophisticated, up-to-date, available and passionate about their writers. I am working long hours just to keep up to date with their recommendations, and the way they think about SEO and social media presence is very sophisticated.

I also asked the voice actor Roland Bearne to produce some high quality audio snippets from the story – they are up on SoundCloud and we will be using YouTube and other rich media channels to find people who prefer to listen to stories.

Then I took the rather radical decision to distribute the paperback nationally through bookstores. It’s a fairly serious investment, especially in typesetting and design (thank you www.thecurvedhouse.com and www.twoassociates.com), but I think the bookshop presence and ebooks will complement each other, with paperbacks leading people to Kobo and the other platforms. More importantly, a really nicely-designed book makes other potential marketing partners take you much more seriously – I walked the aisles of the London Book Fair in April and found I could have proper conversations with people.

The most radical thing I’m doing is working with very niche interest groups, like the London coffee scene (launching and selling the books at one of the leading coffeehouse groups), and historical reenactment societies. I had a lovely moment last week when a member of a Luxembourgish 17th century historical society kindly refused to take a review copy and insisted on paying for an ebook instead. The best part about this is the opportunity to connect with people who love coffee, and people who are as passionate about the historical period as I am.

the-bitter-tradeSo it feels like a good marketing plan is coming together – wish me luck! The Bitter Trade is up on Kobo already, and I still have a handful of free review copies available on Goodreads for friendly readers.

Wishing you all happy marketing… and more importantly, the time and freedom to write your hearts out.

 

 

Kobo and Kobo Writing Life are proud to be sponsoring the 2014 Penn Factor again this year. They are actively contributing to the success of new and talented authors like Piers. The winner will be offered a one year access to TLC literary and publishing events at Free Word Centre, editorial and advisory support.

We are looking forward to meeting you all at the 2014 Writing in a Digital Age Conference, which starts tomorrow in London.

 

One Fictitious Moment Video: Writing a Great Villain

By Angela Misri­, author of Jewel of the Thames

Who are your favourite fictional villains? I’ll bet that they share some common traits and I’ll further up the ante in saying that their creators are as careful about developing their villains as they are in developing their heroines. Your villain needs to have more than the goal of committing the crime – they need motivation, they need the ability and most of all, they need a back story of their own. Here is how I write compelling (mysterious) villains.

Watch for more writing videos on this blog, or you can subscribe to my Youtube channel One Fictitious Moment.

Amgela MisriAngela Misri is a Toronto journalist, writer and mom who has spent most of her working life making CBC Radio extraterrestrial through podcasts, live streams and websites. Her first book Jewel of the Thames, was published by Fierce Ink Press in March 2014 and is the first in a series called A Portia Adams Adventure.

Conquering Editing Ennui: How to Break Out of the Slump and Finish Your Book

By Shayna Krishnasamy

Every author gets there eventually. It’s your fourth time working on chapter sixteen, which you started hating two drafts ago. You know Jill needs to get into the room, cry about her dead brother, and decide to go on a date with the guy who will end up disappointing her. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong.

Keeping the words fresh and flowing while editing and rewriting is one of the hardest challenges authors face. How can you stay inspired, or even remember what inspired you to write the damn book in the first place, when you’re five or seven or twenty months into writing a novel? Is it even possible? Before you start obsessively searching online for statistics on how many authors abandon their books halfway through the editing process—a word of advice: Don’t ever go down this thorny road! It’s fraught with danger and depression—here are a few tips on how to get through the dreaded Editing Ennui. (Alternate names for this condition: Drafting Doldrums, Second-draft Slump, The Dismals, Weary Writer Syndrome, Longhand Lethargy, I-Should-Have-Listened-To-My-Mother-And-Become-An-Engineer Disease.)

Go To Your Happy Place

One of the things I hate about spring is how much it rains. That’s because I like to take a walk before I sit down to edit a new chapter of my book. I find this time alone with my thoughts helps me clear my head and get ready for the task ahead—namely, hours and hours of sitting at my computer hacking away at my book. The walk puts me in my editing mood.

Of course, not everyone likes to take walks (though I’m not sure WHY). You might like to listen to a particular song before you start working, or drink a nice cup of tea, or maybe do some exercise. The point is to do something, anything that gets you in the writer mindset. It’s basic Pavlovian conditioning. If you do this thing every time right before you begin editing your mind will get accustomed to it, and hopefully it will make the editing a little easier. It also helps if your walk or tea or exercise or whatever puts you in a better mood and gives you a chance to think about your book. Watching TV isn’t the best choice right before you start rewriting because your mind will be occupied with the show instead of your story. That’s called PROCRASTINATION. I could write a whole other blog post about that one! (Preview: The thorny road of useless internet searches lies within the kingdom of Procrastination.)

Refocus

A piece of advice you’ll often find in articles about conquering writer’s block—a similar but slightly more torturous condition to Editing Ennui—is to make sure you understand what you want to write completely before you start writing. So, you know you can’t stand Louisa’s holier-than-thou attitude in this scene. Louisa has to be different. Good start, but you can’t just sit down and start writing a whole new Louisa right this second. If you try to rewrite Louisa without thinking it through you might find yourself staring at a blank page for hours as your faith in your writing abilities dwindles away. What you need to do is refocus.

Before I start rewriting a chapter, I like to jot down the essential elements of the chapter first. What do I want to keep from the scene that’s already written? What needs to be changed? What absolutely needs to happen in order for the next chapter to make sense? I might even include some dialogue I want to put in there. And if I’m making any major changes, I like to put down on paper what they are, what it means for the character on the whole, and why it’s important. Making a mini outline of the chapter also can’t hurt. Once I’ve done this, it might be time to begin writing. Maybe. Unless every sentence I put down still sucks.

Steal

Every writing teacher I’ve ever had has said a good writer has to keep reading. Read the greats. Read your favourites. Just make sure you keep reading. It’s very, very important. What they failed to mention is that reading also facilitates another hidden, less-often recommended tactic that can help you through a bad case of Editing Ennui, namely stealing your inspiration from others.

I’m not saying actually plagiarize. That would be unethical, very lazy, and let’s face it, you WILL get caught. But is there a law against stealing inspiration? Nope, not that I’ve heard. When I really can’t get the words flowing, I like to grab my eReader and bring up THAT book. You know the one. It’s the book that made you want to write this book. It’s the book that made you want to become a writer in the first place. It’s the best book ever written. You love how this author writes. You love every chapter, every paragraph, and every sentence. My advice to you is to disappear into that book. Read and read and read until you can feel the words themselves rolling off your tongue, until you believe you wrote the words to begin with, until you can hear those characters talking in your head. Not only will put you in a better mood—you might see a theme here. There’s a reason I called it Editing ENNUI—but reading the great words might just get some great words out of you! Read the book whose rhythm you want to copy and that rhythm may make it to your page. Read some hilarious dialogue and you might find yourself coming up with the best jokes of your life. Steal some atmosphere, some writing style, and even some confidence. I promise, I won’t tell on you.

And Cheer Up, Dammit

Getting down on yourself isn’t going to help you. In fact, I can almost guarantee it will destroy your will to write and crush any inspiration that was percolating inside you. Writing a novel is a grueling task and if you’re going to finish your book—and I believe you ARE—you need to stay positive and believe in yourself, just like your mom always said you should (when she wasn’t pushing you to become an engineer). You’re never going to be able to make that crappy chapter better if you’re in an even worse mood than you were the first time you wrote it. So put a smile on your face, focus on the goal of that finished manuscript, and get to work!

And remember, nothing is more awesome than reading an amazing book, the best book you’ve read in a long time, and being able to say, “I wrote that.” Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.

Shayna's PhotoShayna Krishnasamy is a Montreal author of literary and young adult fiction by night and the merchandiser for Kobo Writing Life by day. Shayna’s books are available on Kobo.

Click here to visit Shayna’s website!

Writing Advice from Author Graeme Simsion: Do the Hard Yards

It has to be every writer’s dream: Knock out your first novel, sit back, and let the accolades and money pour in.

Graeme SimsionThat’s more or less what it looks like happened to author Graeme Simsion, whose first novel The Rosie Project  that  has taken up almost permanent residence on bestseller lists worldwide, has been optioned for a movie, and spawned a deal for a second novel called The Rosie Effect, due this fall.

He calls The Rosie Project a “romantic comedy”, offering a clue to his background as a screenwriter; he is also a former IT guy, where he found inspiration for his socially challenged lead character Don Tillman.

Simsion visited Kobo recently, and we took the opportunity to ask him how he did it – how he landed publishers in 21 countries, and what his writing process is.  Turns out, it isn’t as easy as it looks to create a beloved bestseller.

Here is what he told us:

You’ve had so much success for a first-time novelist, do you have any tips for new writers?

First off, it takes a lot of work. To write something successfully, you need to put in the hard-yards that you would do with any other task in your life.

Another thing I tell people is, join a writer’s class or a writing group. These aren’t going to guarantee that you’ll become a writer, but if you go in with the right attitude you’ll get all kinds of things out of it: Discipline, writing theory, feedback, support. I found a writer’s group fantastic to work with, especially for The Rosie Project. Another tip I would give is, write for publication. So write short stories. Get some practice. If you do get published, it feels good!  But more importantly, when you’re looking for an agent or a publisher and your opening letter starts off with ‘I have had the following short stories published, this one has won such-and-such prize, etc.’ it  says this person is not mad, they are actually capable of writing and getting published, and that means heaps.

The third thing I would say is, you can always make it better. Put whatever you’re writing aside for a month or so, come back to it, and you’ll be able to lift it up a level. That attitude really helps with getting a fantastic final draft.

The+Rosie+ProjectWhat was the process like of writing The Rosie Project? You went from screenplay, to novel, to screenplay once again.

When I started out, I didn’t think I had it in me to write a novel. But once the screenplay The Rosie Project was finished I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got plot, I’ve got characters. I’ve got dialogue, I’m almost three-quarters of the way there… maybe it’s not such a big jump.’  I found writing it as a novel was much more satisfying because I was able to get into Don’s head. In a screenplay everything has to be externalized. But Don is so cerebral that I needed his voice to be expressed directly to the audience – and that was so much easier to do in a novel.

What did screenwriting teach you about writing novels?

Screenwriting teaches you story. Having also studied prose writing I’ve noticed there’s an emphasis on writing something beautiful and less on writing a good story. It’s almost a bit like the attitude about melody in music; people view a song that has a good melody being less of a fine piece of music. But in the end, melody is not a bad thing! And melody is equivalent to story. There’s no reason why the most beautiful piece of writing can’t hang on the structure of a great story.

You say writers come in two types – the planner, and the “pants-er” who flies by the seat of same. What kind of writer are you?

I am a planner — and so should you be. HA! What I say to people who write by the seat of their pants is, if it’s working for you, don’t let me tell you to write any other way, you just keep going, and win that Pulitzer Prize Donna, and I’m not going to argue with you. But most writers need to uncomplicate a story with a plan.  If you get to 30,000 words and things fall apart and you don’t know where the story is going, that’s classic ‘seat of the pants’ writing problem. With a plan, you never get writer’s block.

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