Thrill Me With a Blog!
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How to Start Writing a Novel
You dream of writing, but feel like the task is too daunting. What if I told you it isn’t as scary or overwhelming as you think? I can only speak of my experience, and if writing comes easy for me, hey – it can come easy for you! I have written and published twelve full-length novels and four flash fiction reads. I also have my 13th book that will be released soon. Here’s a pic of the cover.
You can also be a published writer.
The question I’m asked often is, ‘How do I get started?’
The comment I hear most is, ‘I just don’t have time to sit down and write.’
My answer is, ‘Start anywhere. Take a few minutes and simply type.’
But before you do that I can offer a few suggestions that can make the process a little easier and will have readers loving what you wrote from page one. Okay, here it goes…
Start with something exciting, as readers love opening a book and feeling as if they’re beginning a journey.
Make your main characters these three things: interesting, facing some kind of challenge, and make him or her the kind of person that readers care about.
Open with something believable, relatable or compelling.
Hook the reader as early as possible.
If you’re writing nonfiction self-help, address the problem from the first sentence.
If you’re writing a memoir don’t start with the day you’re born. What do you want people to know about you and the life you’ve led? Focus on this and give it to the reader.
Bring the reader inside the world you’re writing about.
You don’t have to use fancy words. What you do have to give is a dilemma the reader hopes will be resolved.
You don’t have to know ahead of time what the next chapter will bring. Trust your inner voice and allow it to lead you instead of you leading it.
Most importantly, open your book with tension. This is true for fiction and nonfiction and is the number one advice I’ve gotten from top notch literary agents I have sat down with.
What is the name of your favorite book? Open the first page and notice what drew you into the story and kept you reading. Writing is so much fun! You – the author – are creating a world for someone to enjoy. There are a lot of things that goes into a book that makes it bestseller worthy. I say don’t worry about any of those things in the beginning and simply write. I’m so certain you can be a writer, for a limited time I’m offering a one page critique. You can send it to email@example.com.
If you want to learn more about writing there are plenty of books on the market. I have also written a writing guide that teaches on writing while you pen your novel. You can check out Anyone Can Write!: Unleashing the Novelist Inside of You by clicking the title. But above everything, don’t let anything stop you from achieving your goal. If writing is your dream, make it your reality. You might find that writing will come easier to you than you believe.
Be Careful With Prepositions!
I have been in the industry a long while and my sporadic relationship with one of the best literary agents couldn’t have helped my writing more than anything else has. Sometimes you don’t learn lessons until after you’ve made many mistakes. This proved true after I discovered I was killing the hell out of overusing prepositions.
We as indie authors want to believe our writing is just as good as authors published through the big five publishing companies. Most of you know I’m very blunt when speaking, so here it goes. We aren’t. What makes indie authors the same as traditionally published authors is our ability to write unique stories with believable characters, and the ability to make readers continue turning the page. We have it all! We have a good and tightly written plot. We have created characters the reading population will love. So what makes us different? Why is our work rejected by literary agents and reputable publishing companies?
The answer is our writing skills.
Do allow me to explain.
Our writing skills are very good. So what exactly is it?
Well, for one, TP authors have fantastic editors to catch things, make revisions and strip away unnecessary sentences. But let’s now look at this from a different perspective, because most of us aren’t TP authors, so there’s really no need to discuss any of their benefits in details. The truth is those who have been involved in the distribution of literature have an eye to see tiny, little, bitty things that most others don’t, including readers. And that is sentence structure and flow. If you've noticed, other TP authors similar to our own writing style and genres use as less words as possible while still conveying a clear picture of what they’re writing about. In the past, word count determined printing costs for new releases. Less does mean more, and in this regard, it means more profit.
What exactly are you saying, Shelley?
I’m saying that although books by these authors still consist of three-hundred to five-hundred pages, if an indie author had written it, the page count will increase by a third.
This is the reason many queries are rejected.
One of the things new authors or authors who want to improve their writing skills are to watch for are those dreaded prepositions: the, of, and, to, a, in, that, it, is, was, I, for, on, with…
These words are commonly used every day in the English language and rank higher than any other during regular conversations and even corporate level communication. In literature these words become a crutch. I’m a firm believer that anyone can write a novel and sell it. I am not contradicting myself by saying overusing prepositions isn’t found in traditionally published work or the work of those who have better creative writing skills. It is up to each author how they wish to improve their writing skills. I, for one, am always up for the challenge of improvement. So let’s look at some examples.
…each of them spurred into action.
…each spurred into action.
She touched his hand with her own.
She touched his hand.
If you look at the first example, we can remove ‘of them’ without the sentence losing value or understanding. In the second example – I mean really look at this sentence then ask yourself who else’s hand is she going to touch his with? Has someone lost a hand and it's lying around for her to pick up and use? When I find myself doing this I make the face Amy is making in the pic, and then I tell myself, 'Really, Shelley? With her own hand? Geesh!'
Many indie authors over explain, mostly because we want the reader to get it. Trust me. I get it! I’ve made the same mistakes in the past. For those of us who want to improve, while writing we should often ask ourselves this question. Are those few words that include a preposition and pronoun necessary? If they aren’t and the sentence can stand without them, let’s ‘kill those darlings’ and get back to writing out our fantastic plots.
I hope today’s blog helps you as much as it has helped me!
Before I get to the title of today's article, allow me to say a few things. Okay, all writers everywhere. You've written that latest manuscript and now you're wondering what to do with it. If you're like the rest of us, you're hoping this manuscript will surpass all the others and get you on the New York Times Bestsellers List and a movie deal! Admit it. All authors dream of seeing their work being read by millions and being seen in a movie, hopefully, that didn't cut too much content and stayed true to the novel. That's the dream, but what is the reality?
I have said time and time again how I learned much from powerhouse literary agents and editors in chief of the big five. What did I learn? Most queries from new authors are turned down. Why? The main reason is budget, but there are also other reasons. Think about it. A literary agency doesn’t make money if they can’t sell manuscripts to publishing houses. Since the emergence of eBooks, I’ve seen some of the large agencies drastically cut down their staff to maximize their capital, keeping only the agents who has an eye for talent and can get them the contracts that can keep the company afloat. So with that in mind, agents ARE looking for manuscripts, even from unknown authors. So how do you make your query stand out? Good question. I suggest meeting these agents face to face and giving them your 25 word pitch. By meeting an agent face to face you can earn the golden ticket of an Exclusive query. This is given when the agent is interested in what you had to say during your pitch, and they share with you what subject to list on your email when you query them. This tells them when they see your email arrive that they have talked with this person and an opportunity might await. The second thing you must do, and listen to me when I say this, is send them a very compelling opening chapter that has all of the elements of a bestseller! The sample pages should be edited well, as any mistakes can have your manuscript turned down regardless of how well your storyline is. All agents I have ever met personally have expressed their stern disapproval of errors found in the opening pages, because errors appearing in the beginning of the manuscript mean many more errors will follow in the remaining pages. You may think, well, if they’re going to edit it anyway why should I pay someone to edit my sample? We’ll get to that in a moment. You also want to make certain that your mss is a current trending genre and possibly on a trending subject matter (this includes fiction). Sending blind queries is a sure way to get your manuscript rejected. Now here’s the flip side. I know several authors who have attended multiple conferences, because it’s easier to meet an agent at one. These authors spent good money on conference’s tuition, hotels, food, transportation, and still were rejected. Don’t give up! If you think you have the next huge bestseller, follow your dream until it becomes reality.
Here are more flip sides. An agent receives countless queries a day. What does this mean to you? It means your synopsis should be as compelling as your manuscript. First you have to hook them with the synopsis, only then will they even read the first page of your mss. If an agent is reading dozens of queries a day, I would think that pretty soon all of the queries will start sounding the same. This is another reason why you want permission to send an Exclusive query. The agent will take more time with those than they do with blind queries. Here’s something else you need to keep in mind. The Bible had it right. There’s nothing new under the sun. The same book idea you have come up with, a hundred other authors have come up with it too, so never think your idea is original, although… it very well may be original, especially if the author has thought outside of the box and offer readers a different take on the same story that’s been told a million times. Let’s say you’ve done that. Now, how do you get your work noticed? At writing conferences that showcase guests from the top literary agencies and publishing houses and also allow attendees the opportunity to meet these people one on one.
There’s a good side and bad side to everything. I’ve heard New York Times bestselling authors tell me of their disappointment in the contracts they received. If you’re an indie author like myself, and you have interacted a lot on social media, you will notice that many Middle of the Road traditionally published authors are also turning to self-publishing to make a better profit off their work. You may even notice that their book sales are better than the average indie author. But why is that? The answer is money. Show me a USA bestseller or New York Times bestseller and I’ll tell you thousands went into their budget while they were doing promotions, which leads to this next comment. MOTR (middle of the road) traditionally published authors get with each other to offer a book bundle at the low price of $.99 and the bundle reaches the USA bestseller’s list. Why are they doing this if the profit from each copy sold is pennies? For the bragging right of saying they are a USA bestseller. They can now list this on their work and readers will notice it and pay attention, which in turn becomes a good marketing tool.
There’s so much more I can say on this subject and I will, but at a later time. If you ever wanted to know what an editor at a publishing company does all day, check out this link written by Erica Verrillo here.
Stay knowledgeable. Keep writing. Don’t know what elements a bestseller includes in its first chapters, trying picking up my writing guide titled Anyone Can Write. Even if you don’t, keep coming back to this page to discover more about the writing world and how it will affect you as a writer.
In this article, I discuss my recent experience with online eBook promotion sites. These are my experiences and yours may differ. During each promotion I used only the online promotion services listed, of which I tweeted and posted about the promotion continuously on Twitter and Facebook, of which I have a good following on both. I did it this way to track the progress of sales; therefore, I did not stagger promotions on the same day. I did, however, arrange for sister companies of the online site to also perform promotions during the same week, but on separate days, as this also allowed me to track progress more efficiently.
Here are the results.
AWESOMEGANG – the fee to use this service was $10. The promotion ran on a Friday. The package included being listed on the home page and tweets done on Twitter the entire day of the promotion. I can’t remember if this site had an email list and if my book would be distributed to readers who preferred the genre of my book. This company has been around since I’ve been published, and the owner, along with his partner, owns several online promotion sites. I have used Awesomegang in the past, but always staggered the promotion on the same day with quite a few other promotion sites, so tracking the results of prior promotions was too difficult. This was the first time I used Awesomegang solely for a day with no other promotions arranged around it, other than another from one of what I call its sister companies, but on a different day. The results were six books sold that day. Unfortunately, the title I was promoting had been discounted to $.99, so if we do the math, I paid $10 and got $.35 for each book sold, which totaled $2.10 for the day, which was a loss of $7.90.
BARGAIN BOOKSY – I will definitely try this company again in the future, because their fees are a little higher, but if you do not reach an adequate amount of sales during the promotion, this company will actually refund your money, as they did with me. Choosing the right day to promote a book can be tricky all in its own. Couple that with how well your cover competes against other authors’ covers that are also promoting on the same site that day plays a role in how well your promotion go. That being said, the package was $100. The services included being listed on the company’s homepage, as well as being distributed to their email listing. All Indie authors know the importance of using email listings during promotions, so I thought surely this promotion will go quite well. Unfortunately, and I place no blame on the company, as I only used them once and I’m not sure what happened, but I didn’t receive any sales on this day, although their email listing was an adequate number for the genre I was promoting. My cover was good, and this particular novel had done quite well since its release, so I’m not sure why I had the results I got. Like I said, I will definitely use this site again, as I think this was a one-time occurrence and perhaps something went wrong that neither the company nor I had caught which led to this result.
BKKNIGHTS ON FIVER – I liked this promotion service, as it doesn’t cost much to use. For $11 I was listed on the homepage of a website the person of this service uses during promotions. I had a total of 6 sales that day, and in my opinion, this was a successful promotion, as I earned back the fee paid plus a few bucks profit. Hey, I didn’t lose at all, so I consider this site a good one for me to use again in the future, especially if I stagger them with other online sites for maximum sales in one day.
BOOK PINNING – this particular site is on Pinterest and is absolutely free to use. Authors are allowed to pin the covers of their books onto the homepage on the day the book is discounted. I thought what the heck and gave it a shot. I didn’t see any sales that day, but it didn’t cost me anything. I mention this service because I will use them again in the future. I’m not sure how long they have been around, but hopefully, they are increasing their daily traffic, and when that happens, this site will see more progress the longer they are up and running.
DISCOUNT BOOK MAN – this site is also owned by the person that owns Awesomegang. I paid $15 and the package included being the sole book promoted on the page it was listed on the company’s online website. The results were a total of 3 books sold that day. I liked this site in that I didn’t have to compete against other authors’ covers. I’m not sure what kind of traffic this site currently has or its click rate, but hopefully, they will increase their daily traffic and future promotions will fare better amongst their readers, but for this particular promotion I paid $15 and earned $.35 for each book sold, so if we do the math $15 - $1.4 = a $13.60 loss. Another thing I want to mention was this promotion was actually a four-book boxed set that I promoted on other sites and earned anywhere from 60 – 200 downloads per day, so I’m on the fence about using them again.
EBOOK LISTER (not to be confused with Ebook Booster) – this company is different from Ebook Booster and there's more than one company using this name! The Ebook Lister I used charged me $25.00 in return for them listing my book on twenty-five websites on the same day. They do provide a disclaimer that warns authors that they submit the books to other websites, but it’s up to the websites to approve and list your book. I thought since they were submitting to twenty-five sites, at least some of the sites will approve the promotion because I had used many of them in the past and had positive results. I arranged the promotion to last from Friday to Sunday. Ebook Lister sent me a list of sites they submitted my book promotion, along with links to the websites. I checked from Friday to Sunday and not a single site on the list promoted my book. Of course, this resulted in no sales, as readers visiting these twenty-five sites did not see my discounted book promotion. I contacted Ebook Lister and gave them my complaint of not being listed on a single site, and further explained that since I had only used them for the entire weekend my Kindle Countdown tanked and had zero sales. The reply I received was a mention of the disclaimer this site gives to authors before they submit their promotion details and make payment, which in all fairness is true (the disclaimer is listed for authors to see). I went back to them and explained that I had seen the disclaimer and that I expected some of the twenty-five sites to list my book. It took some doing, but my money was finally refunded. Needless to say, unless I hear positive feedback from other Indie authors who have used this site, I will not use them again in the future.
FREE DISCOUNTED BOOKS – The first thing I want to mention about this site is when I had used them when I first became an Indie author, along with three other sites, of which I staggered the promotion on the same day, I ALWAYS hit Amazon’s top 100 bestsellers under the genre of Thriller-Suspense. Any of you who know anything about genres, you know that to hit this list is hard since I’m competing against New York Times Bestsellers, such as Stephen King, James Patterson, Janet Evanovich, etc. The list is endless! BUT, when I used them in the past I always hit the list and stayed on it, usually peaking around #40, and in one case ranked #14 right smack in the middle of James Patterson and Stephen King (J). This company was bought out by the partner of the guy who owns Awesomegang. Since the changeover I have used them two or three times and the results were exactly the same each time, which was I had 2 sales by early morning and nothing else for the rest of the day. I think what made this site more successful before the purchase was they were a sister company to other sites, and also submitted your promotion to quite a few sites, allowing your promotion to have more exposure. But since the purchase, I haven’t seen that they do this any longer, and instead offer a list of websites for you to list your book on multiple sites on your own. I paid $10 and had a loss of $9.30.
JUST KINDLE BOOKS – this was the first time I used this particular site, so if anyone has used them in the past, please do let me know what your results were, as I’m on the fence of using them again in the future. To leave me a private message, simply go to the tab that says Newsletter. Don’t worry, I will see that you’re simply replying to this article and won’t include you on my email listing. J Anyhow, the fee was $35 and I was promoting a 4-book bundle set at $.99. I had a total of 3 sales for the entire day, so this was not a successful promotion in my opinion. Keep in mind that when I do online promotions I choose to promote on the days of the week I see the most sales on, so I don’t believe this part played a fact in how poorly this particular promotion did.
READ FREELY – this site is absolutely free to use and I think they also offer paid packages. I chose the free listing on the home page, where it stayed a total of about 3 days. No sales came from this promotion, which was a single title being advertised at $3.99. I will definitely use this site again in the future, as pricing is a big issue, along with genre and how well your cover appears and competes with other covers. This site also allows you to do an author interview and includes buttons on the page so you can share the interview immediately on just about all social media outlets.
Some of you are probably reading this thinking I suck at marketing on online websites. Haha! There are several sites I use often and always have positive results even when I promoting a discounted book at $.99. Those sites are Addicted to Ebooks, Bargain Ebook Hunter, Ebook Booster, Ereader News Today, Free Booksy, Pixel of Ink, and the Fussy Librarian. I would also like to mention Steamy Romance Books, as this was one of the sites I used to use in the past and always hit the top 100 on Amazon, but I believe this company is now owned by the same person that purchased Free Discounted Books, so I have not used them since then. However, I do plan on using Steamy Romance Books again in the future.
I hope my experiences helped you. Feel free to leave feedback if you’d like.
When a book usually starts off bad, it usually continues in this 'eye-rolling' vein until the very end. Some of these books, at most, have a good plot, but the poor writing is to the extent that it drives the reader away, looking to find something more worthwhile to spend hours with.
I'm very blunt, as you can see, but try and stay with me. If you are an aspiring writer or an indie author who has published but your book isn't selling like you thought it would, please continue reading. I'm a fiction coach who has helped others, as well as a published author whose debut book has reached Amazon's top 100 paid bestsellers. I'm also an avid reader and book reviewer with a decent rank on Amazon.
What makes a poor book beginning? I will give you several taken from recent books I have purchased. Unfortunately, these books were written by indie authors. However, I have read some fantastic indie books which I have rated 4 and 5 stars!
Examples of a poor beginning:
1. Too much narration.
These are the books where the author feels they can't get to the storyline until they explain every little thing about the main or sub characters mentioned in a scene. Picture someone at an amusement park, will you? They've waded through the books to purchase, have stood in line or paid online to begin reading. Once they crack open your book, they want to be entertained by a thrilling ride. Imagine them buckled into the seat of a rollercoaster, and instead of the rollercoaster operator (the writer in this case) hitting the switch to shoot them forward into mind-boggling glee, the operator is on the loud speaker explaining what type of rails the coaster will be moving on, the scenery to pay attention to while they're traveling at g-force speed, who built the craft and how they felt when they built it.
Get to the action. I beg you. Explain things as you go along, and only if it needs explaining. If you're unsure if you need to explain something, remember that your readers are quite intelligent and have the ability to figure some things out for themselves.
2. Horrible Flow
FLOW is very important to each book. It should be smooth. While reading, your reader should glide like a fish in calm water. Have someone who reads often preview your story for feedback. An avid reader will tell you why your book is different from other books they've read. I listen to all of the people that offer me feedback on my novels. Feedback, at times, can be crucial and are very important. Not adhering to them may be the difference from a 2 star review and a 5.
Milieu is the physical background of the scene you are writing. Never start your book off with a character sitting in a room or a car or anywhere thinking of what happened in the past or the present day. The reader hasn't gotten to know your character long enough to care. It makes a slow and bad beginning and nine times out of ten, the reader will put your book down to begin on another with a more captivating start.
What makes a good book opening? Action, great dialogue and the type of flow where the readers feels from the first words that they are in for an interesting ride.
Poor Beginning Examples:
Peggy sat in a chair in the library with a cup of tea in her hand thinking about everything that happened the day before. (This lacks tension, excitement)
How can you make this better, you ask?
"If you don't get out of my face right goddamned now, I'll put my cigarette out on your cheek and scar that pretty face of yours!"
The teacup rattled in Peggy's hand as Vanessa's words slammed into her brain like a big rig colliding into a Ford Festiva.
Do you see the difference? Tension is key. The right flow is necessary. I'm giving small examples. If you need just a little more, contact me on my contact page. I provide one-on-one coaching all the time.
Another example of a poor beginning...
Jack stood at the dock. His dog, Fido, who he'd first gotten when Fido was 2 weeks old and haven't left his side since, stood when he saw the tall man approaching. Jack turned to the guy. He was very tall and looked familiar. Once he recognized him, he thought to himself that he would have rather ran into anyone else that early morning. (Too much narration which interrupts the flow)
How to make this better?
His dog, Killer, leapt on hind legs, baring teeth sharper than the devil's tongue, growling as Remo got way too close to his master.
Do I even need to add more? The difference is obvious. Flow wins over narration any time.