Saturday, April 5, 2014

Pitfalls for the Older Writer

Pitfalls for the Older Writer

           How to survive writing after fifty

                                               



           Older writers do have advantages: more life experience to draw from, more free time, no 9 to 5 schedule competing with writing, and, writing for most older authors, is not something we expect to support us.
            The older writer faces a few problems that tend to be less challenging for his/her younger counterparts.



1.     Sit-itis – Sit-itis is a chronic disease, which, left untreated, will wreak havoc with things like overweight, arthritis, diabetes and circulation. Take time at least every half-hour to move. Finish a chore, mail a letter, anything that gets you moving for at least five minutes. Set an alarm if necessary.
2.     Techno-impairment – Unlike people who grew up in the last thirty years, we older writers didn’t touch a computer until we were in our forties, and then approached the experience as we would a trip to the dentist. If you don’t enjoy trial and error, take a class. Or enlist a younger relative to help out. Most senior centers have computer classes. Take advantage! Don’t let the cyber world pass you by or drive you to distraction. Exercise your brain a little, it’ll improve your memory.
3.     Peer dumping – Most friends will be supportive and encouraging of your writing career, but sometimes even the most well-meaning will give you a bad case of the ‘I shoulds.’ I should be out golfing, babysitting grandkids, traveling in a motor home, learning to knit, or playing cards at the senior center. Don’t let the ‘I shoulds’ get you down. Make time for the things you love to do, but don’t forget you also love your newborn writing career. Balance is the key!

Dear Readers,
It wasn’t until I retired from my full-time job that I began my writing career. An avid reader since I first learned to read, writing my own book is something I’ve always wanted to do. The things I mention here are those I struggle with. Let me know if I missed some that you find challenging.
I think the ‘peer dumping’ advice is good, writer or  not. We have many friends here whose life styles consist mainly of traveling, babysitting and social events. For me, that isn’t enough. I need to have a goal in life, something to be working toward. Once I accepted that, I was able to ignore the ‘shoulds’ and be happy doing my own thing.
Have a great week and don’t ‘should’ on yourself,
Marla

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What's Luck Got To Do With It?

SELLING eBOOKS

What's Luck Got To Do With It?




             During March, the month of four-leaf-clovers and little green leprechauns, we celebrate the luck of the Irish. Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day and we can all have that luck! The word luck, beaten and bastardized, gets tossed around like a day-old doughnut whenever Indie authors discuss success (or lack thereof) in selling our books.
            The first time I took advantage of KDP’s Select promotion and placed my suspense eBook, She’s Not There, free on Amazon, I only had 8,202 downloads at the end of the two days, compared to a friend’s 26,000 downloads using the same promotion. She told me, for her, there had been a lot of luck involved, and it was due to the fact that a popular eBook site noticed her promotion and highlighted it for their readers. I know firsthand her success is not all due to luck. She’s a devoted marketer, and spends every available moment working to maintain her book’s sales momentum. Me, I’m addicted to things like golfing, playing bridge and watching The Young and the Restless; my marketing ethic is not nearly as fierce!
Luck is more likely to happen to those who go after it.
How to get lucky:
1. Expect the Best
Lucky people believe they will be successful. Research shows that if you believe you’ll succeed, your odds of hitting a lucky streak go up. There’s no magic involved—expectancy is a real driver of behavior. Expecting something as opposed to wanting or hoping for it, will affect your decision-making and you’ll put in more of an effort than you may normally have.
 Writers—find ways to stay positive and expect success—it works!
2.    Notice What Others Miss
Lucky people are more open to random opportunities. They notice chance situations and act on them. Lucky people are flexible in their thinking, and it’s that relaxed, open attitude that allows them to see what other don’t.
         Keep your eyes open for opportunities—they’re out there!
3.    Say “Yes”
 Lucky people do not remain passive. Instead, they seize opportunities as they come without endless second-guessing.
   When chance encounters occur, don’t over-think them, act on them.
4.    Switch Things Up
Lucky people increase their chances of getting opportunities by meeting new people and trying new things. Luck won’t come looking for you or knock at your door.
      The more you put yourself out there, the more likely it is you will find luck.
5.    Practice Bouncing Back
Lucky people don’t let one failure sidetrack their road to success. When you let a bad break get you down, you close the door on new situations that could lead to a lucky break. Closely linked to the first trait, expecting the best, bouncing back means you will have a greater chance of success with each failure, because you’ll be trying more often.
     Regard every bad break as an opportunity to find the right course for you!
           
Dear readers,
So many of us, myself included, wait for the magical “break,” that will mean success for our novels. You know what magical thinking does—it delays success. Practice the habits of lucky people; they work!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day,
Marla
Note: I seldom repeat a blog, but with St. Patrick’s Day only days away, and the luck of the Irish on our minds, I thought this one would be an excellent repeat! Hope you enjoyed it!


Monday, February 24, 2014

6 Ways to Entice Readers

How Much of an eBook is Read Before It’s Tossed Aside?

            Entire books have been written on the best way to grab a reader’s attention in the beginning of a book. The first sentence, the opening paragraph, and the first chapter have all been touted as the one thing of utmost importance.
What we need to keep in mind as Indie authors, however, is not what  hooks agents or publishers. We need to examine the reading habits of people who buy eBooks.

Things to consider before publishing an eBook:
1.     Amazon, the Indie author’s biggest marketplace, allows people to read a generous percentage of a novel. But most readers only read a page, if that, when deciding whether to purchase or download a book.
Make that first page a grabber and be sure it is mistake-free and well formatted.
2.     The opening sentence is not quite as important for eBooks as it is for books on a shelf, but the opening paragraph is!
Don’t waste it on things like description or back-story.
3.     Be sure your blurb is captivating! Run it by other authors or ask advice on your favorite writing site. A poorly written or boring blurb will not entice a reader to buy your book.
4.     Design the fist page to reflect the blurb!
5.     Early chapters must pull the reader into the story. It is a simple process to delete eBooks from a device! I’ve downloaded many eBooks (series seem to be the worst offenders) that have what can only be described as a boring beginning. I delete them.
Today’s reader is impatient to get to the heart of things. If you doubt this, James Patterson’s book sales should convince you that a fast-paced storyline works!
6.     Don’t perfect your first chapter at the expense of the rest of the book! Check your flow. Read your book out loud or better yet, have a friend do it for you.  Reviewers can be merciless in pointing out when a first chapter is not followed by more with the same level of excellence.


Dear Readers,
Personally, I only read about one out of ten eBooks that I download into my
Kindle. A common error for the Indie writer is eagerness to get his/her book published quickly, a lesson I learned the hard way. My first suspense book, She’d Not There, had to be re-edited and proofed three times after I published it!
I understand the importance of getting one’s work out there, but don’t rush to publish at the expense of turning out a fine product.
Hope you are all having a pleasant winter and staying warm,

Marla

Friday, January 24, 2014

KDP COUNTDOWN PROMOTIONS

KDP COUNTDOWN PROMOTIONS





  

Are KDP Countdown promotions doing for authors what KDP free days used to do?
            There have been some super success stories, but these were in the early days of Countdown and were aided by Amazon. How one gets AZ to give their book a push when promoting is a mystery to me, and, I believe, to most of my fellow authors.
            My recent Countdown promotion for my suspense novel, She’s Not There, was a success in that it paid for the ads I used to promote it and resulted in a modest profit for my efforts. 
            Another author I know, had no success with her promotion at all, but she attributes it to the fact that she did the Countdown with very little lead-time and did not do a lot of promotion.
Suggestions for using Countdown;
1.     When planning for a Countdown promo, schedule it on a week you’ll have time to promote it.
2.     If you’re a Twitter user, schedule tweets every day of the promotion, announcing the daily discount price.
3.     Be sure to promote your sale on every social media site you use.
4.     It pays to plan a Countdown at least a month in advance.
5.     Authors are beginning to price their eBooks higher. As it becomes less advantageous to run a free promo, a bargain price is much more attractive to readers if your book is priced higher to begin with. This conflicts with recent trend that $2.99 is THE price for an eBook.

What it comes down to is this: you get out of a Countdown promotion what you put into it. Don’t expect to reap benefits without effort and planning.

Some sites I used to promote my Countdown:
Book Goodies
eReader News Today
eReader Café,
Bargain ebook Hunter
Kindle Book Review (this one now has a Countdown feature)


Since many paid ads only run one day, I promoted most heavily on day one, when the book was at $0.99.  My usual price for my books is $4.99.



Dear readers,

I’ve been in somewhat of a writing slump. It’s really not a block, because days I do get into it, I’m able to write! Maybe it’s the extremely cold weather we’ve been having here in Wisconsin. Reading is much more enjoyable than writing, especially on a couch with a fur throw and a warm cat!
Stay warm and safe,

Marla

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

IS DUST COSTING CORNWELL READERS?


IS DUST COSTING CORNWELL READERS?


I used to eagerly await each new release by Patricia Cornwell. But her most recent books all seem to follow the same formula: Marino drives Scarpetta crazy although she is very dependent on him, her niece becomes more like a comic book heroine with every novel, Scarpetta loves Benton but their marriage is always competing with his job. And worst,  in Dust, like the last , the entire story takes place (with the exception of the last chapter) within a twenty-four hour time period. And also as usual, the killer and the main plot are tied to Lucy and to one of the other main characters.  
The formula is getting old. When will Cornwell come up with fresh material?
Points for the new writer:
1.     Beware of repetition. Only authors with immense followings can get away with a hackneyed formula book after book. If you’re writing a series built on one character, keep it fresh. Cornwell’s  current ratings reflect an unhappy following. Give your audience what it wants!
2.     Cornwell’s claim to fame is in the technical, forensic details. However, many of her readers feel like these details are now being overdone. Your readers will be aware of your expertise. Don’t drown them in too much of a good thing whether it is too much forensic detail, historic background, or setting descriptions.
3.     Many of Dust’s readers complained about Cornwell’s use of flashback scenes in order to educate new readers about her characters. This may work for new readers, but is a total turnoff to her ardent followers. Crafting your series’ characters to satisfy both new and loyal readers is a difficult job. Don’t get lazy and employ long flashback scenes; it may lose you loyal fans.

Dear Readers,
I keep threatening to quit reading Cornwell. Like many of her fans, I so loved her earlier books that I continue reading her new releases, hoping she’ll return to her former writing style.
Her overuse of technical detail reminds me of a common compliant by Simon Cowell on American Idol regarding contestants’ song choice. “Your choice was self-indulgent.”  Often contestants would sing something they enjoyed, or their mother loved, rather than a song they knew would appeal to their fans and it ended up costing them votes.
As in music, a writer needs to satisfy his audience. Attempting to make sure your readers know the extent of your vast knowledge or extensive research is not the way to do it.
Hope you had a wonderful holiday season! Stay warm,
Marla




Sunday, December 15, 2013

Jo Nesbo's POLICE


Jo Nesbo's POLICE

A superb Scandinavian suspense novel




The Scandinavian suspense novels aren’t popular with every reader. In direct opposition to the ever-popular Patterson reads which feature short chapters and to-the-point dialogue and prose, they are loaded with rich description of locale and setting, and sprinkled with dozens of characters whose names tend to be confusing to the American reader. One of Jo Nesbo’s chapters would equal about ten of Patterson’s!
Having recently read Nesbo’s disappointing, The Bat, I was excited to find with Police, Jo Nesbo’s writing once again captivated me with its intensity and rich characterization. Amazingly, Harry Hole himself, Nesbo’s series’ protagonist, does not appear in the story until nearly halfway through the book. The other characters fill the gap perfectly while the plot leads up to his entrance.
Bodies of police officers have begun turning up at former crime scenes. In order to solve the puzzling case, a retired psychologist is brought back to join the task force, along with our hero, Harry Hole.
Definitely Nesbo at his best in this one! A highly recommended (by me) suspense read.
Things new suspense writers can learn from Nesbo’s writing:
1.                     There is an audience for all types of writing. While some readers dislike books with too many characters, writers like Nesbo prove these naysayers don’t represent all readers.
2.                     If you’re a series writer, tread carefully with things that are risky! Only a seasoned writer with an established following can get away with omitting his main character until the middle of the book.
3.                     A successful series is built around one or more characters that readers form a bond with. Harry Hole manifests both the bad and the brilliant in his crime solving. Keep your characters multi-faceted.

Dear Readers,
Like all of you, I’m feeling rather overwhelmed with trying to get all my holiday chores accomplished and still work on my writing. It’s difficult to relax and let myself feel it’s okay to take a break from writing. I always find time to read though; for me, reading is the most relaxing thing of all!
            Take a break and pick up a book. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn by reading others’ works. And remember, books make the best gifts!
            Have a wonderful Christmas season,

Marla

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What new authors can learn from reading Storm Front

John Sandford’s Storm Front

What new authors can learn from reading Storm Front







            I’ve been a Sandford fan from day one. His Prey series has been my favorite; I eagerly awaited each new release. Unfortunately, some of his later works have not been favorites, and with Storm Front, Sandford’s latest, the author has hit an all time low. If I hadn’t been a long-time fan, I’d never have finished the book.
            Since The DaVinci Code became a blockbusting success, everyone’s writing books about an ancient relic that if made public, would change the world of religion, as we know it. For me, most of them are nothing but 400 page chase scenes. Not my personal taste, but they have become extremely popular.
            Who could imagine Sandford fitting this type of storyline into a Virgil Flowers novel! Storm Front stars Virgil Flowers, a character who, like Lucas Davenport before Sandford married him off, is a super-sleuth, and super-successful womanizer. The story opens when Flowers is assigned a case involving an ancient inscribed stone, whose message, if shared with the world, would create chaos in the middle east. The man who stole the stone from a dig in Israel is from Minnesota and is known to have returned to the US with it. Flowers is assigned the case, begins looking for the man, finds the thief missing (of course!) and within a matter of days, he encounters at least four factions (all armed and dangerous) that are also in pursuit of the stone, which is estimated to be worth millions of dollars.
            Now, despite the theme of the book, the story does captivate the reader. Flowers is an interesting character, and I did enjoy his investigation and interplay with the people seeking the stone. About halfway through, however, something happened, that if I weren’t a devoted Sandford fan, I would have quit reading the book.
            When Flowers finally gets the stone in his possession, did he find a vault to put it in? A bank? A police station? A Brinks truck? People have been shot at, nearly killed, assassins are part of the chase, (not to mention, once more, the thing is worth millions), and Flowers takes it home with him and stores it in his dishwasher. The reader is expected to believe this character, solver of all crimes, would be that stupid. It’s no surprise to the reader that the stone is stolen during the night.
            After that I had a hard time forcing myself to finish reading the book, but I finally made it through, extremely disappointed with the story.
            I couldn’t help but think of the valuable lessons new authors can learn from Storm Front.
1.    Sandford’s writing has two huge strengths: interesting characters and rich dialogue. These two things that can go a long way toward making a so-so story an interesting read.
2.    No matter how hackneyed the theme, Sandford, at least in the first half of the book, captivates the reader, proving once again the old adage: there are no new stories—just new ways of crafting them for the reader.
3.    Be warned that the John Sandfords of the literary world are the only ones who can get away with a character doing something as idiotic as storing the relic at home. Beware of making your characters behave as if they had an IQ the size of their waistline, or as a fellow writer puts it, too dumb to live.

Dear Readers,
Long before I became an author myself, I was a reader, and still am. I love suspense and follow most of the great suspense authors. I’m making an effort to learn from the books I read and to share these lessons with you.
Thanks for visiting and have a wonderful Thanksgiving,

Marla

Monday, November 4, 2013

DO FREE-DAY eBOOK PROMOTIONS STILL WORK?

DO FREE-DAY eBOOK PROMOTIONS STILL WORK?
 

The death of the free days benefit


  



  
I’ve watched my free downloads during a three-day KDP free-days promotion drop from totals as high as 20,000, to as few downloads as 9,000 in my most recent attempt last month. The first few times I used free days, I sold as many as 500 books post-free-days, and my latest promo sold almost none. And since I’ve been an advocate of paying for ads which promote these free days, this latest one not only sold no books, it cost me money!
            Why aren’t the free-day promotions benefitting authors anymore? There are multiple reasons for this change, among them:
1.     More and more authors are becoming independent publishers of their books. The competition for eBook sales has increased exponentially over the last two years.
2.     All the doomsayers who were against using free promotions began to see the amazing results other authors were getting and jumped on the bandwagon. The bandwagon crumpled!
3.     New online sites promoting free eBooks have sprung up like a crop of mushrooms during the rainy season. Readers looking for free books have become overwhelmed with choices.
4.     This wild expansion of promotional sites for free eBooks diluted the benefit of advertising free-day promotions.
5.     Over time, readers who’d been snarfing up free books by the dozens, discovered their eReaders packed with choices; why, they asked themselves, should I keep adding titles when I don’t have time to read the ones I have? The exhilaration of accumulating free eBooks has waned with the over-saturation of free eBooks.
6.     Since the inception of their KDP Select free day promotions, Amazon has changed how it calculates the benefit of free sales versus paid sales. I cannot tell you how Amazon does does it, as they hold this information rather close to their large vest!
Is all lost for the independent author? It’s hard to say, although as it becomes more and more difficult to promote one’s work, the pendulum will likely swing the other way as many authors get discouraged and drop out of the sales arena. Those who prevail will be the ones with the fiercest determination, the thickest skin, and the best product.
            Amazon’s KDP Select program is trying to help authors by instituting a new promotional plan called the Countdown. Rather than promote books free, authors will be able to promote them at discounted rates over the period of a few days to a week, until the cost of the book resumes its original price. Will this bring new life to book sales?

Dear Readers,
Many of you are fellow authors with the same marketing struggles. It’s easy to get discouraged, if not downright depressed. It’s an ugly place to be. I know, because I’m stuck in that place right now.
My spouse has reminded me that any business, (which we are if we’re trying to sell our writing) will have its ups and downs. Success is seldom on a constant, upward plane.
            I’ve picked myself up with this thought; now is a good time to focus on my writing, my newest novel and my bi-weekly blogs. It may be a good time to step back, regroup, and develop a plan for 2014!
Stick with it!

Marla

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Art of the RT.



To RT or Not to RT?
 

That is the question.



Many authors use Twitter to make friends in the book industry and to promote their writing. Do endless RT’s, given and received, sell books?
            When I began marketing my first suspense book, She’s Not There, I quickly became overwhelmed by how many avenues were available for promotion. It didn’t take long to come to the realistic opinion that it was not feasible do every type of social media and still have time to write. I came across an eBook by Kathy Lynn Hall called Blog and Tweet, advising authors to focus two things, Twitter and Blogging. This instantly appealed to me, since those were two formats that I actually enjoyed doing. Since then, I’ve accumulated 225 blog followers, and more than 800 followers on Twitter.
            I spend a lot of time RTing for my fellow authors and Twitter friends. While it is impossible to tell if this practice actually promotes book sales, it does do the one thing everyone says in necessary— it helps build an author platform.
            A few things I’ve learned NOT to do when adding RTs.
1.     RTing junk. I only RT a tweet that will aid the other person. RTing something they’ve RTed for someone else, or a piece of a conversation isn’t helpful. Take time to find the right one!
2.     RTing multiple thank you’s I’ll never understand why some people send out thank yous to multiple recipients. Seems like a waste of time to me. And RTing those things? Right up there with junk.
3.     Don’t use an automated RT service. Yikes! These will RT anything, even a simple “Thank You for following.” message. Another time waste.
4.     Don’t do too many RTs at any given time. It could result in a Twitter shut down for you, and you cannot tweet anything for hours. If this matters to you, keep your RTs to about ten every half hour.
5.     When building a following and a group of fellow RT tweeps, it might make sense to focus on authors of your own genre.

Dear readers,
I spend too much time on RTs! In order to get more writing time in, I’ve been forced to cut down. You can set Twitter to email you any time someone RTs you. As your following increases, responding to them all by RTing back can become extremely time consuming. I’ve mainly been returning RTs now with people I’ve known a long time on Twitter, and on writers of my genre, suspense. Sorry, but I can’t promise that RTing will reap huge rewards. It will make you some Twitter friends and get your name out there. Do it wisely.
Have a wonderful week,

Marla

Monday, October 7, 2013

Pitfalls of Writing Books in a Series

Serial killer or Serial Books?

                

What happens after your first novel is published? Is it set aside, thrown into solitary like a serial killer who’s gotten the ‘book’ thrown at him? Or is your first thought the one fan who wants to read more about your characters?
            Serials and trilogies are all the rage. As a reader, I tend to be quite judgmental of them, since they are difficult to do in a manner satisfying to both the people who requested the sequel and also to new readers who have yet to bond with the characters.
            The four major challenges of writing series books:
1.     The easiest to quit reading is the second (or fifth!) of a series that assumes the reader has not only read all the others, but has read it yesterday. The author of a series needs to find the right balance of information for the reader to make each book readable.
2.     Worst is the sequel that spends 50% of the book in a giant laxative dump, explaining every detail of the first book. Again, balance is everything. Add necessary back-story sparingly and when relevant to the plot.
3.     Another terrible-twist is the dreaded killer who manages to survive to make a comeback in every successive novel, managing to be more annoying to the reader than post-nasal drip.
Patterson is fond of this in his Cross series and I’m not sure Patricia Cornwell could write a book without a villain from the past in a starring role, or at the very least, the son, daughter, cousin, mother, father, or adopted child of said killer stepping in to repeat the pattern. Their are always exceptions, but the most successful series are those where the main characters remain the same but a fresh plot is introduced. Jonathan Kellerman does this brilliantly in his Alex Delaware novels.
4.     No matter how well written, unless a reader has read every book in the series, he or she will not have the same connection with the characters and their relationships. Often the relationships feel hollow because of it. One way to avoid this is by giving the relationships new problems, so readers can get involved in the characters' personal lives.
5.  Readers are annoyed by endings that are crafted with the next book in mind. This seems to be true more so in trilogies than series. A reader doesn't like to feel at the end of the story  like he's just been set up to buy the next in the series!

Since, as a reader, I’m so darn picky about them, I’ve been timid about doing a series. I'm working on my third suspense novel, and though not really one of a series, it does star a character from the first book, She’s Not There. My critique group has assured me I’ve added just the right amount of back-story for new readers. Unfortunately, my first beta-reader, even though she’s read She’s Not There, wanted more detail about the past! Proving, once more, how difficult it is to both maintain original readers and attract (and keep!) new ones.

Dear readers,
Please keep in mind the above suggestions and commentary are from my point-of-view as a reader. I’ve been an avid reader all my life, long before I became an author, and still find time to read. So, many of the above comments are personal opinion. Please give all of us the benefit of your thoughts and expertise on the topic by adding a comment.
            Hope you are all finding time to enjoy the wonderful fall weather.
Till next time,

Marla