Maximum Your Potential by Becoming a Better Writer
This post is geared toward new writers or any writer who want to learn more about writing good fiction.
Lately, I have received a lot of inquiries from new authors with the hopes I can help them with their manuscript, as well as help them to become bestselling authors. Today’s tip is not from all of the inquiries I received, but a portion, and what I saw in that portion prompted me to write today’s article. Writing a bestseller is more than putting scenes together. Instead, it is a linking of chapters that reveal your plot, and written in such an engaging way your reader won’t be able to put your book down.
Here are a few basic tips I’d like to offer. Unfortunately, they are not thoroughly detailed as this will take too much time, but hopefully, I’ll have a solution for those who would love to know more about what I have listed below.
1. Each bestseller has a feel to it, a flow that captures the reader from the first sentence and keeps them reading until the end. This flow is felt like a heartbeat and lets the reader know that this story is alive. There are many ways to how you can bring your story to life. One tip I can offer is be one with your story. When you’re one with your story the reader will be able to visualize everything you write, meaning they can smell the very air; they can see the building or sky or the car you’re talking about; they feel for your characters and hurt when your characters do; they triumph with your character when your character outsmarts his or her antagonist.
2. Be careful of unnecessary chapters. I can give you a good example of this. I recently started reading a published book someone had given me for free. The author was very excited in sharing this story with me, and I, in turn, became excited with them, especially for their accomplishments of writing a book and getting it published. The first chapter was about five friends thinking of going on a much needed vacation. Not bad so far, right? My answer is yes. It was bad and I’ll explain why. The entire first chapter was about five friends discussing where they should go on vacation. Readers read for excitement or to be scared by ghosts and zombies or they want to experience new love. They want to travel to outer space or kick a bad guy’s butt. Give them what they want without offering a single boring page. Another thing I found wrong with the first chapter was the friends’ conversation. The things they were saying sounded like elementary kids bickering and not like adults making conscious decisions. They said things like ‘gee whiz!’ and ‘don’t be a bonehead, stupid!’ I actually started the chapter over to make sure these friends weren’t children. When I discovered they weren’t, I wondered why all of them sounded like ten year olds until I realized that the author didn’t truly know what he wanted these friends to say and focused more on simply writing about going on a vacation, because that’s what his book was about, five friends who get into trouble on a tropical island, but he apparently felt the need to spend a chapter on the friends deciding where to travel to. The second through fourth chapters were of more bickering, and yes, the five adults still spoke like kids, and then finally they reach an island in Hawaii. The fifth chapter was on the island’s history and went into details about the history of the plants and the volcano, of which neither history lesson had anything to do with the plot. The story truly began on chapter six when the friends find themselves caught in the middle of an unexpected, vicious storm, causing them to wonder if they would survive. The first five chapters were unnecessary. When coaching, I always teach new writers to drop the reader into your story at the point where the main character(s) is introduced to a dilemma. Keep in mind that if you want to be a bestseller, the readers who will purchase your book won’t know you personally. Because they don’t know you, you have one chapter or even only one paragraph to capture their interest. Use it to the max. Make your first sentence and each sentence after count. Here's the first chapter of one of my books that reached #54 of all books sold under the genre of sci-fi. It also reached other bestsellers' lists and stay there for more than a week. THE BABISIAN BOX
3. Practice writing dialogue. When characters speak in a book, they should sound like real people and the things they say should sound like something a real person would say. Here’s an example. A burglar breaks into a house, waking the owner from a sound sleep. I ask you, if you were a homeowner and someone broke into your house, what would you do? A) Reach under a pillow for a loaded gun and dare the burglar to still be inside your house by the time you walk out your bedroom? B) Grab your cell phone from the bedside table and call police? C) You become afraid and hide, hoping this burglar isn’t armed and find you? Any of these answers would work and provide for suspenseful reading. But what if the author chose D? D) You don’t reach for a gun, you don’t reach for the cell phone, you don’t hide, but climb out of your bed, walk downstairs, turn on the light, walk right up to a stranger in your house robbing you and you say, “Are you supposed to be here?” Make the characters in your book believable, then make them say things a reader can believe.
4. Each chapter should draw the reader closer to the plot and should hook the reader further into your story. Stay focused on the plot. Have each chapter make readers wonder what will happen next and if your character will survive the ordeal they’re going through.
5. To become a better writer, you must read other books. Purchase a bestseller and pay attention to how the author wrote each chapter, and what they included in each chapter to make readers want to continue reading. After all, if you want to become a bestseller, you must write like a bestseller.
If you’re a new writer and you want to learn more about writing, try picking up my writing guide, Anyone Can Write (click here). This writing guide will help you start and finish your book and offers a free critique of your first chapter. The best thing about this writing guide is, as your learning how to write better, you’re actually penning your own book at the same time.
I hope these tips helped. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me on my Newsletter page. If you don’t want to be added to my Newsletter, no worries. Just ask your question and I’ll be happy to answer it as soon as I can. Be that next bestselling author. You’ve dreamed about it long enough. Now it’s time you do it.
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Poor Reviews and How to Handle Them
If you’re an author and have received a poor review, you are ‘official!’ I say this with a smile while being genuinely upbeat. Welcome to the club. All authors receive poor reviews. I’m talking New York Times best sellers as well. Who is your favorite author? Pull up your favorite book and see how many poor reviews they have. Perhaps you have received one negative review. Compare that with Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl. The last I looked she had two thousand for this book. Some of the most successful Hollywood movies were made from books with negative reviews. This alone should pick your spirits up.
I love readers, because I'm also an avid reader. Readers read for many reasons, and when they read they like to be taken, momentarily, from their every day lives and into a fictious place of entertainment. What one person finds as enjoyable entertainment, another may not. Finding the right audience is hard at times. Finding good entertainment can be equally hard.
I recently read a book by an author that was unknown to me. His name is Robert McCammon. Kudos to this guy. He has about a couple of dozen books on Amazon. I came across him on the Donald Maas Literary Agency website. If you’re looking for an agent, this one is one of the best in the literary world. I met Donald and Cameron McClure through literary agent, Elizabeth Pomada. If you can get in with this agency, you have surpassed the minor leagues and have jumped into the majors. This is my opinion, of course. Robert is one of the Maas agency’s clients. I decided to purchase his latest release after I read the Amazon sample pages and could NOT live with myself if I didn’t purchase it, because the sample pages were more than good. I was totally captivated. The book is titled The Border.
The novel opens by cutting to the chase. There’s action from the first sentence, and it continues until the very end. As soon as it downloaded to my Kindle, I started reading. I stopped in the wee hours of night for a little sleep, woke up, then reached for my Kindle to finish it. I was utterly blown away. I thought the characters were realistic, and the plot believable enough (what’s truly believable in books and movies?), and the pacing riveting. It had been a while that I felt excited to leave a review.
I jumped on Amazon, found the book and just as I hit the ‘leave a review’ button, I noticed one stars to the left. Of course, I was curious to see why the book received one stars when I thought it was, perhaps, the best book (other than my own – LOL) that I’ve read so far this year. I think there were four such reviews, and I read each of them and learned something I should have when I received my first one star review. Before I get into that, I thought to myself, What did I miss??? The low ratings looked to be given by fans of this author. The things they listed, I didn’t agree with them, which is fine since everyone’s viewpoint differs. The point is everyone has a point. Ten people can read the same book and get different things from it. This is perfectly okay. Sometimes readers get things out of a book that aren’t there. This is also okay. Art is funny this way, and authors are artists if nothing else.
Here is a list of reasons I’ve noticed for one star reviews for GOOD books.
Books against personal morals. Readers who do not like reading about specific issues get offended if those issues are mentioned: profanity, sex, murder, vigilante justice, weak portrayal of women, politics, religion, and abuse of any kind. I write suspense-thrillers and mysteries that include erotic scenes between characters that are involved in relationships. My book, Plain Dealing, touches on the subject of BDSM. Some are not offended by this subject. Others are. I tell people constantly, regardless if you like tight plots, humor and an all-around good storyline, if you don’t like reading sex or profanity in a book, please don’t purchase my novels. I’m totally fine with this. My books are not for everyone.
First book 'high' repeat. A reader can read something specific in a book that touched their heart in some way. With each book they purchase, they look for that specific quality again. If they do not believe it’s there, they are disappointed. I'm a good example of that myself. I thought Destiny was the best book ever. The author put out several novels afterwards, and I still find that I love Destiny the best.
Comparison to previously written novels. This one is similar to the one above, but slightly different. For example, if you’re a writer who includes erotic content in one book and not another, again the reader is disappointed that the author strayed from what they consider to be the writer’s formula. Very important this one.
Graphics. Let’s say you’re a crime writer and include graphic murders in your novels. New readers might find this offensive.
Repeat phrasing. All of you should know this one, as E. L. Woods, in my opinion, made this famous. The Fifty Shades of Grey series was a commercial success. Some of the readers that left reviews were annoyed by Anastasia’s constant sighing or the expressions she made when her anxiety levels were high. I can add to this one (I actually loved this series and I’m not ashamed to say so). I rolled my eyes each time Christian said, “Cum for me, Ana.” LOL. I don’t know why. I just did.
Review trolls. This one can take a page of its own. My definition of a review troll is someone who purposely leave negative reviews because they find it self-gratisfying. The ones I've seen are authors reviewing other authors' works. Never take these to heart. Nine times out of ten, buyers purchase books from promotions/advertisements or word of mouth, so don’t fear these or get offended. Many readers won’t even know these reviews are there.
Promotion let downs. Promotions are usually character sensitive when it comes to words. Authors would love to include everything about the book, but aren’t allowed most of the time. Readers see the book’s cover or how well it’s doing and purchase the book with high hopes only to open the book and discover it has subject matters they prefer not to read about.
Impulse buyers. Impulse buyers buy for many reasons, and usually don’t read blurbs. Maybe they thought they were buying a book about gardening only to discover the book was actually about how to get down and dirty romantically in gardens. This is a poor illustration, but I think you get the point.
Wannabe authors offering critiques. Many want to become authors, but doing so is a challenge. For whatever reasons, getting a book out is too hard for them. They read books then writes negative reviews based on how the book should have been if ‘they’ had written it when the book is perfectly fine the way it is.
Hole pokers. I like this one. Avid readers are the same as connoisseurs. These readers, most times, select books with as much care as someone would expensive wine. These readers are highly opinionated and have read enough novels to see the tiniest holes in plots. Ah ha! They got the author and must mention their findings in the review.
Plot secrets not mentioned in the book description. A good example is my all-time favorite novel, Destiny by Sally Beauman (yes, mentioning this one again). Some reviewed it as sweeping. Another reviewed it as a paradox. It was the plot secret that made this book even better for me. To be blindsided with such a twist in the plot, I thought it was brilliant. A reviewer thought it was heartbreaking and sickening. Sally received a million dollar advance for this novel, and it stayed on the best sellers’ lists for quite some time. I can also include my novel Plain Dealing in this one. Once the secret was revealed, some readers were offended by the subject matter. Many liked it, as this book has bounced on the best sellers list on an international scale. Still, others found it offensive.
The author didn’t find the cure to cancer. Some readers want answers. They want realism so real make-believe has been obliterated. As an author, I agree with these readers. I would love to write a novel so tangible, life has been created. I think other authors also feel this way, and we feel it deeply when we let the reader down.
There are so many reasons for one star reviews on good books. Readers are vital to the book industry, and no matter the review they leave, they should be appreciated. The key point is reviews are based on personal reading preferences. They are not the be-all-tell-all of a book, but one person’s views on what they’ve read. Authors cannot please all people. If authors could, every book would sell millions. Authors also cannot please their fan base all the time. One title is likely to disappoint a reader. This is the reason some authors use pen names to separate genres. If you’re a reader and you’re reading this, please continue to leave reviews. Authors appreciate them! If you’re an author, keep writing. You’re an artist, for goodness sake. The letters in the middle of earth spell art. We’re nothing without art. Art provokes, enlivens and touch deep emotions. It can make you smile, laugh, cry, become sad, make angry, infuriate, as well as soothe. The world can use more of that.
Ever thought of attending a book festival?
If you're an indie and ever considered giving a book festival a thought, here's a few things to ponder.
1. Do not expect to sell 1000 books. Is it possible? Anything's possible. Why would I say this then? Pick your festivals with care. Will the festival have readers looking for books in your genre? What will the age demographics be? If a quite older crowd, are they looking for non-fiction and your books are fiction? If it's family with small children there's no hope for the author whose genre is adult based.
2. Is the distance of the festival worth the trip? You've paid your booth fee. Check. You got your books. Check. You have your 'swag.' Check. Your hotel room is booked. Check. Your transportation costs are paid for. Check. These things adds up and if your sales doesn't return the cost, then of course the trip becomes an expense. If you ask me, it's a well worth expense. Most people who attend festivals are looking for books. It's like one huge book store that your books are being displayed in. You get to engage with readers, meet other authors and share experiences, what works for you, what works for them, all sorts of things. And even if no one purchases one of your books, with the right pitch and handing out swag, you may catch a purchase later on. I say go for it! Festivals are lots of fun.
3. To maximize your selling power, your booth and swag must be spot on. What's swag? Business cards, personalized book marks, advertisement cards, etc. James Moushon has great advice on these items. See them here. http://bit.ly/1BNLyyV
4. Do not hand out flyers that are 8x10 if you can avoid it. Most flyers are thrown in the trash, which is the reason why you want to give a lot out, as the more lines you sink the more chance you have of someone catching the bait. I prefer an index card size flyer for several reasons. Women can fit them in their purse to save for later, or someone can stuff it in their pocket. You might be saying people can do this with an 8x10 as well. Nope. You fold it, toss it to the side and forget about it. I don't even unfold papers I've shoved in my purse before I toss them, because my thinking is if it was important I would have handled it better. I've attached the picture of the flyer I use at festivals. It's colorful, gets to the point, has contact details and sales details.
5. Set a goal in what you would like to achieve and do all you can to achieve. Do not get frustrated if you fall short of the goal. Stick with it, get more ideas, better your pitch, and with each festival you attend, increase your goals. You're an indie, which means you are in control of your marketing. No marketing. No sales. Improvement should always be number one.
6. Think positive! Your success is what you make of it.
7. Keep your receipts for tax purposes!
Just a little food for thought. Make sure to click James' link. Very strong information there. Have a good evening!
How to Create a Writing Inducing Atmosphere
When I attended The Howl at the Moon Writer's Conference put on by the High Desert Writing Club, one of its guests speakers was the renowned James Scott Bell. James Scott Bell is a #1 New York Times Bestselling author. One of the things he said was he makes it a point to write no less than 6K words a week. This obviously works for James, but it wouldn't work for a writer like myself. I write no less than 20K words a week. My novels are typically 120-140K words each. I'm not a fan of short fiction, but I will read them if it's something that interests me. You may ask how do I write 20K words a week?
I have been writing for many years. I have 8 completed manuscripts, 4 incomplete and 2 more in the works. I have published 2 books and have a 3rd coming out next week, and a 4th coming out within 4 weeks after that. As an Indie author, we all know that time is money. It takes me between 3-4 months to complete the final draft. At that point I simply focus on editing for grammar only. If this is a time frame you feel you can be comfortable with, here are my tricks to creating a writing inducive atmosphere that also doubles as preventing writer's block.
First and foremost, no interruptions. Party invitations, phone calls from loved ones, a quick trip to the store, etc. There are no exceptions other than extreme emergencies. This sounds cruel, but it's not. If people know you are a writer they should understand that it is the same as a full-time job. Do you accept personal phone calls at work? Party invitations? Explain to your family and friends that you will be working and unable to respond until after work is over. No one will take your job as a writer seriously if you don't. It doesn't matter if you're published. You are working on a goal and the only way to reach that goal is by dedicating the hours needed to achieve it.
Second. Music. This is very important. Holing up in a room of complete silence will trigger your brain that you are in an unnatural environment. People are not meant to be alone or quiet, so why create this atmosphere? What happens in silence is you are drawn to any little noise that has disrupted your unnatural world, partly because your brain wants to investigate the source of noise, which it has determined is natural. I found that a silent environment can induce too many distractions. How do you minimalize this? Music! As a writer of thriller-suspense, I target music with a harder edge. For some reason the band, Blue October, works well for me. On the novel I'm currently working on, Blue October's Debris sends a jolt to my fingers to type, type, type. The lyrics, the gritty yet soulful singing of a woman that can't be replaced, the riffs from the guitar, the desperation of loss. This song is right up my ally for the novel I'm creating. I put it on repeat and adjust the volume so that it's not the focus of my attention, but loud enough to create the atmosphere needed to write the next bestselling novel in thriller-suspense. I always add a little erotica to my novels. When I write these scenes, I change the song to a love song, something that moves me whenever I hear it, something that makes me want to love. I use those feelings to type out that blockbuster love scene that makes my women readers want more and more. If you're writing a story that takes place in Paris, listen to Parisian influenced music. You get the point! Trust me, it helps.
Third. Be alone, but not alone. If you are the sort of person that have no problems being alone, skip this section. If you are like me and have a family or constant people in your home, being alone is 'unnatural', which once again, can trigger distractions. How do you be alone and not alone? Television. Don't let me lose you here. Keep reading. Angle the television so that it's not a distraction, and preferably not in visual sight. Tune to an insignificant channel. Turn the volume down exceptionally low. During the moments you are absorbed in writing, you won't even know the television is on. This little trick is for the moments when your fingers stop typing and your brain is once again investigating your surroundings. Hearing a woman's voice, or a child's, or hearing someone laughing (low volume) tricks the brain into believing you are in your normal environment. And if you don't have music, you can use the television for the same purpose. Pop in a movie similar to the genre you're writing in. When your fingers stop typing, the sounds of tires squeaching or guns popping can and most likely will get your fingers typing again. Writer's block? What is that? I rarely have this problem, hence my ability to type 20K words or more per week.
Fourth. READ! Before I allow my fingers to flow over the keyboard, I read a few pages of my favorite author, the one that inspired me most to become a writer. Why? The answer is flow. What's the point of writing thousands of words you can't use, because the flow is off? Being prepared before typing is key. Pop open your favorite author of the genre you're writing in, read a few pages. Not too much or the book becomes a distraction. If it's a book that you're familiar with, go directly to the pages you know will get your creative juices fired up. Read only enough to feel the flow, close the book and set it to the side. After you have typed for some time and your fingers stop, because your characters have run amuck and you are unsure of where to go next, pick up the book. If you're stuck in emotion, go to the book's most emotional scene. Read enough to figure out how the author dealt with the situation, and then use the same technique. By no means am I telling you to plaguerize the author in any way. Here's an example of what I am referring to. Let's say your character is running for his life and it seems he's pinned in on every side by the antagonist and his goons. For some strange reason, you don't see a way out so you feel your character is stuck, and now your fingers have stopped typing. Time is money and money is time. READ. You'll be surprised at how quickly you will put down that book you're reading, because the answer for YOUR situation has suddenly come to you, it seems almost out of the blue. There is something about reading that unleashes the writer in you. Most writers finds this to be true.
Fifth. If you know nothing else, KNOW your main character(s). I am a pantser. I do not 'operate' under an outline. I hate the limitations that an outline 'brings'. I love meeting new characters who introduce themselves on page fifteen and you have no godly reason why. But then you have reached page one hundred and two, and guess what? That little problem you have at tying two loose ends together has been solved with Mr. Mystery from page fifteen! You may need to go back and rewrite page fifteen, but you're moving along with nothing to stop you. Knowing your character is important, because no matter what he's faced with YOU know how HE/SHE will react! This means you can put him through any situation, so don't fear typing that incredible scene that just came to your mind. It may just be the one part in the novel that your readers will remember most. This ties in with my next point...
Six. LISTEN TO THE VOICES! Some of you may not call them voices. I do, but as a writer you know exactly what I mean. Tap into the 'energy' that is fueling you on your manuscript, those ideas that are coming to you at times so quickly that you can't type them quickly enough. Always keep paper and pencil nearby to jot down things you don't want to forget. If you suddenly start hearing dialogue that you have not reached yet in your manuscript, pull up a new page and type it out. These 'voices' must be adhered to immediately. Trust me, if you let something slip it is hard to remember it later on. How many times have you had an idea and didn't write it down, beause you believed you will remember it? Type them out as they come and put them to the side. You can always go back to them later, if necessary. If you do need it, all you have to do is copy and paste! You may have to adjust it a bit, but the 'idea' is there and therefore you don't have to come up with it. This helps your manuscript move along smoothly versus spending hours trying to remember an old idea that you can now use, an idea that you know will be perfect for the scene you're on.
Seven is last, but not least. TYPE. For all of you who do write from an outline... Okay, you have spent weeks, months coming up with the perfect story. Now you're sitting in front of your computer/laptop and nothing is coming to you. Just begin typing. The reason I say this is because good stories are in the 'atmosphere' and one of them has chosen you to be its vehicle of getting out. Some of you have chosen genres because of their popularity, but it may not be the true genre you should be in. What I mean by that is, yes, you can write a mediocre story and have little sales, because you stayed true to the storyline you have spent so much time on . Whose to say that your bestseller is the story that you keep suppressing? I wrote The Blood Feud from one single idea, and that idea spun itself into 500 pages of a novel. Most of my fans feedback is about TBF. People areTALKING about this book and encouraging others to buy it, so I encourage you to listen to the voices. If this is not appealing to you, don't worry. I have another suggestion. Write out the scenes in your outline that are most interesting to you. Who says we must start with page one? Why not start with the ending, the middle? As long as in the end the manuscript is 'complete', the way you reached THE END shouldn't matter. I personally start with page one and simply keep going, but I have been writing a long time and have plot and structure tightly down. I allow my characters to run amuck and know how to tame them when necessary.
This article is not for everyone. It of course depends on where you are in your writing skills. Still I challenge you to try these techniques, as they work for me. They are techniques that I came up with and learned that they work well for me. Use the ones you want. Come up with others that may better fit your needs. The point is if you can type 20K words a week think of how many books you can market. I, myself, work a full-time job as well as write fiction. I work from 10 A.M. - 7 P.M. on my day job. During my commute home I refuse to speak with anyone on my cell phone. This time is dedicated for coming up with new ideas or figuring out dilemmas that my characters are currently in. I get home around 8 P.M. I spend a few minutes on social media and my website, then around 9 P.M. I write and don't stop until midnight. If I'm not writing, I use this time to edit. The point is, you're a writer so go write something.
Editing, Critiques, Reviews, or Simply Questions
I run into so many people looking for help or that gentle push to assist them in achieving their goals of becoming an author. This page is dedicated to them. My first suggestion - I give this to everyone - is make time to write. It doesn't matter how much time you spend doing it. Just do it. Soon you won't be able to stop the creative juices inside you. For writers who have started or completed a manuscript and you're wondering what to do next, I have attended several writer's conferences. I have met powerhouse agents in the field. All that I have learned over the past eleven years, I am more than happy to share with you. If you need a beta reader, a critique, or have published your novel and need a review, simply send me a message. As people have blessed me to be where I am today, I in turn, would love to be a blessing to others.