Category Archives: writing

Self-Editing – character & dialogue

Hi,

Further to my blog post about how to manage editing and the stages, here are some specific things to review and correct. I have gleaned these through research, reading, and writing experience. Hope they help.

Character

Ensure your characters are active – they must : speak, act, think, decide, react
Not be passive or described through narrative alone. And limit that narrative.

Describe characters briefly through impressions / metaphors and pick out a few personal details relevant to the story.
Don’t ramble on for pages in narrative form about your character’s many attributes.

Each character should have their own voice, agenda and attitudes which come through in how they – speak, act, think, decide and react.
Avoid having each character appear identical in voice, actions, thoughts, agenda etc.

Major characters must have objectives, agendas, something they strive for and these must be made clear to the reader.
Correct and rewrite major characters who appear unfocused, bland, random in action.

Major characters need to develop as your story unfolds. This needs to be seen by the reader in how they change in: speaking, acting, thinking, deciding, reacting. Show the struggle, down points, their resolve, how they change, their actions to overcome, their elation / dejection at the outcomes.
Steer away from major characters who do not change during your story, especially your hero / protagonist and antagonist.

Dialogue

Keep it snappy, focused and get to the point. Less is more.
Avoid rambling dialogue with unnecessary words or topics.

Use dialogue to show key conflicts between characters & how they work things out (or not).
Don’t miss the opportunities to show how characters differ and want different things.

Written dialogue is not the same as real world dialogue, stay lean and pristine most of the time.
Only deviate when an effect is needed to show a reaction or character trait.

Minimize the use of speech attributions and stick to ‘said’ as much as possible. Often it is clear who is speaking without the label. Said becomes invisible to the reader, variations such as (replied, stammered, shouted, cried, retorted etc.) do not.
Steer clear of passages with lots of: he said, she said, he said, she said. It becomes wearing.

Ensure each character speaks in a way consistent with who they are, what they know and how they have behaved so far in your story.
Avoid making random speeches or having characters sound the same.

Use dialogue as a natural interaction between characters to further your plot.
Don’t have a character expose the entire back story or unexpected plot points through dialogue alone – exposition needs to be limited. Such as if characters are reflecting on a clue or next action or piece of information they have discovered.

Remember to leave gaps for the reader to figure things out for themselves. No one tells people everything they are thinking or feeling.
Avoid explaining every detail to tie up all the loose ends. Over reflection or over explanation can soon become dull and can spoil the plot.

 

Note – these are guidelines to improve the quality of what is left on the page. The ‘because’ is always – to polish and improve the quality of the book. There will be exceptions here and there to the above. However, from experience I find these guidelines to be pretty much on the money.

On a personal level, I seek to continually ‘sharpen the saw’ by reading, researching and writing / editing. These blog entries are from the coal face so to speak.

Hope this helps.

Happy writing.

D.M. Jarrett

www.SeanYeager.com

www.seanyeager.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Self-editing your novel

Hi there,

Happy 2017! I’ve been busy lately with family matters and editing my third book – Sean Yeager Claws of Time. Here are some thoughts collated from the arduous task of self-editing and the further research I did before kicking off the same:

What is self-editing?

It seems self-explanatory, but let’s define our scope. You’ve written your first draft from start to finish and now you want to edit to the stage where it is good enough to present to either a) a professional editor b) your agent / prospective agent c) your self publishing platform d) your beta readers.

In the main, I suggest it is a combination of a) to d) depending on whether there is a commercial partner expecting to have approval, and have their editor work with you prior to acceptance of a manuscript for publication.

The nature of the editing will vary from simple typos, to wholesale changes to scenes and structure. In my experience, it is wise to expect a lot of rewriting and improvement until you reach the happy place of being satisfied with the words on the page, and of course the flow. Or until your publisher says ‘yes’ we’re going to publish your work.

Stages of self-editing

Leave it in a drawer edit

Yes, leave your draft to one side and read other people’s work for a while. This will help to create a sense of separation from your work and a mental benchmark of what ‘good’ looks like. Once your mind has absorbed enough outside works and experiences, you’ll be ready to properly read your own work with fresh eyes. This is vital.

Coarse edit

This is the pass where you iron most things out. Typically I expect to remove, reduce, re-phrase, augment or re-write pretty much every page. Only the really good writing remains untouched. If it reads as ‘clunky’ it needs changing / improving / removing / scorching off the face of the planet. Delete as applicable.

I check for typos, perspective inconsistencies, speech attribution, adjectives, use of language, word flow issues, punctuation, scene progression, dialogue quality, plot points, character reactions, and so on. This is a heavy edit.

Tips – set your objectives clearly and write out your own editing checklist and refer to it regularly. Use a tool to check for overused words such as: that, then, with, like, towards, felt, looked etc. Consider each character’s path through your book – write it out as a brief flowchart and check that it makes sense. If it doesn’t, the chances are you have missed out necessary actions / speech / narrative, or even entire scenes.

My aims in this pass are to ensure that every section is effective and well written. I also re-consider the key plot points to check they make sense. I amend them or remove them if they don’t.

By the end of this stage, you will have a draft manuscript where you are not ashamed of the quality of the writing, and which you have begun to understand as a reader.

Structural edit

Once I have a sense of what I have actually written – as distinct from what I imagined I had written – I take a step back and review the story I am telling. I refer to my notes about each subplot and each character’s progression through the story.

The key question I ask about each sub-plot is – what does this add to the overall story? i.e. Do I need to keep this? Or do I need to move things around? Or should I delete a minor sub-plot lock, stock and barrel?

Tips: Structure – your main character (protagonist) should appear on page 1 or at least early in chapter one. Prologues usually suck and should be burned.

The key question I ask about each scene is – what is the scene’s purpose (action, fear, joy, discovery etc.) and does it work? i.e. is it effective enough or in need of a re-write?

Tips: Scene review – imagine the scene happening in real life and check how plausible it would be for actors to portray it. If it sucks, you need to augment and improve it. If it’s unclear, you may be overwriting and using too much purple prose. Short paragraphs work, pages of narrative by and large do not.

Self honesty is really important, and usually less is more. Also, it is worth recalling the established rules of writing and plotting (web research / books on the same) and breaking less than 30% of them at a time. Unless of course you never want anyone to read or recommend your work.

Removing unnecessary scenes or sub-plots can be really hard, and I don’t do so lightly. However, if you have a sneaking suspicion that the scene about the tree guardian who appears halfway through your story and does nothing except say two lines, is a bit flabby, the chances are it needs to be cut. Unless of course your story is about tree guardians, in which case they should have made an appearance on page one and regularly from that point on.

By the end of this stage, you have a manuscript draft where you are happy with your story, the major plot points and the length of the book. If not, go back and do it again…

Read aloud edit

I print and I read out loud, with a pencil at hand. I never cease to be amazed at how many outright mistakes sneak through until this stage.

The psychology is this – reading is the first pass through your brain, speaking is the second pass, and hearing what you have said is the third pass. The combination means you are much more likely to notice mistakes in your work.

Also, the flow or otherwise of what is written on the page comes across most clearly when you read your work aloud. If it flows, you can imagine what your readers will experience. And where the flow is poor, you will hasten to smooth things out out of sheer embarrassment or even boredom (as a reader). Yes, the section your always hated which dragged on still sucks – so now it’s time to edit it properly…  or cut it.

Tips: Dialogue check – do people really speak like that?  And would your character say those things in that manner? A key way to show a character is through their interactions, therefore what they say and how they say it matters. Provided of course – they had a plausible reason to say what they say. i.e. Action to reaction. What they know and what they don’t know.

By the end of this stage, you have a draft manuscript you are pretty much happy with, bar the detailed proofing. If not go back and do it again… Or if you absolutely hate the book, perhaps you need to park it for a while?

Writer’s proofing

Once happy with all the key ingredients I run the document through a couple of software tools and consider all the corrections I’m offered. Even the stupid ones which seem to make no sense at all. It’s boring and unfortunately completely necessary. The number of times I have found misused words spelt perfectly, or doubled up words in plain sight, is surprising and a relief – provided you correct them early enough. One tool alone is not enough to spot them all – for reasons I’ve never fully understood. (Software rules and such like).

Tips: check out tools in trial form first and see if you like them. Word alone is not enough.

By the end of this stage, you have a manuscript you are willing to share with others.

Professional editor edit

In an ideal world, all books would be further edited by a professional who gets the aims of the writer and is sympathetic to the effect they are trying to achieve. This may take the form of technical editing, structural editing and further proof editing.

It’s a partnership thing. If you find a great pro-editor, cherish them and send them greetings cards. If not, find someone else if you are able to. (Me, I’m looking.)

By the end of this stage, the book is quite different to the first draft – usually for the better, though I dare say – not always.

Final, final edit

More of the same until a) it’s done or b) someone say’s it’s getting published next week. Quite often a beta reader will raise an important omission or mistake. Sometimes this reaches the writer in time… I jest, the more complex your story the more edits will be needed all the way through to published editions, and corrections to published editions.

When is it good enough?

Never. Provided a writer keeps improving as a writer, they will always want to go back and revise a lesser work until they are sick of the sight of it. Incidentally, by the fifth round of editing I am usually sick of the sight of my own work. When this happens I call a break and go and write or do something else for a while.

Golden tip?

Fresh eyes are essential, as is a sense of detachment.Take a break and read other people’s work – ideally writers who are better than you are. Edit often and in hour chunks.

If you can forget you wrote the first draft manuscript and polish what you see in front of you, you can self-edit. Once you can no longer do this – take a break and/or get help.

 

Hope my insights help. Best of luck with your writing projects. Next time, I plan to write about plotting your book, click your bookmark or subscribe and please feel free to comment.

In due course, I will publish Sean Yeager Claws of Time. Having hurried on previous books, this time I’m following all my own advice and plenty of other people’s. Please check out my website and consider the younglings in your life who are missing out by not reading Sean Yeager Adventures. They are just a few clicks away on Amazon and elsewhere, somewhere between Harry Potter, Star Wars and James Bond.

Enjoy.

D.M. Jarrett

www.SeanYeager.com

Hunters Hunted Text 2l

 

Choices to improve your writing

Hi there,

We all make choices when we write and the decisions we take fit together to shape our style. Becoming aware of these choices helps the author when planning to write and when writing. Here are some further thoughts and learnings from the coal face of an active writer who is writing while learning to improve the craft of his writing. I hope you find these ideas useful for your own projects.

Perspective

First person, third person or omniscient?

Whose head do you want to get inside when you write? And who are you most comfortable writing about? This makes a big difference to whether you enjoy the writing process and also how convincing the outcomes will be. Expressing motives, thoughts, emotions and characters’ voices are vital to building sympathy or antipathy for the main characters. Of course the writer builds up the story and chooses who to build up in their written characters – the question is – can you be convincing as the part you are portraying in the first person?  Or would it be better to observe their actions from a third person viewpoint?

Balance of parts

How much narrative, descriptive, speech and internal voice?

Seasoned authors move between the different parts of writing with ease, at least in their finished work. The key choice here is what is needed, when and how long to stay with each part of writing. A long narrative can quickly become dull, too little action and the plot will not move forwards. Also be aware that an internal viewpoint can help build depth, but too much deep thought can also become tiresome. In other words it’s all about choosing the balance point for the work in progress. Pieces build up into a tapestry and readers need some space to fill in with their own imagination.

Emotional journey of your protagonist & antagonist

To drive the story you need plot points (events) and an emotional arc to support the main characters’ development. It’s essential that the hero / heroine has an emotional journey at the heart of the plot or the reader will not feel sympathy or pathos for their plight. In other words they need to go through hell and back metaphorically. As writers we need to map out this journey and show how it affects them, then review it in flight to ensure it makes sense and has plenty of twists and turns as the writing on the page develops. I find it useful to have an outline and to allow myself to evolve that outline as the characters react to events in the written story. I also constantly review whether it makes sense how the characters react or adjust to each situation they face. In this way the characters becomes alive on the page or demand a better script – and that’s when you know something is happening…

What to leave out

As writers we choose what to show and we choose what to hide or skip over. This applies particularly to twists, love scenes, violence and how much of the story our chosen writing perspective allows us to show. Often, hinting at events and writing around the outcomes can be as powerful as taking the reader to those places. Then again we have to decide what the book genre needs and how to keep the writing engaging. Wall to wall action, description, erotica and such like can quickly become dull, hence our need to choose what needs to be left out and what is essential to the telling of our story.

Choice of words & structures

Obviously the words on the page can be written in many ways. I recommend reading widely and choosing a style that sits comfortably with your own preference for reading. It is often said that creators create primarily for themselves. That being the case, we choose what kind of book we would like to read and set about writing in a style we would like to read. As a personal check if I find myself reading back work that is clunky or dull, I cut or rewrite. If I don’t recognise that I wrote a paragraph and I like it, that for me is a kind of success. I also recommend collecting lists of words, phrases and structures that you enjoy and to set about using them in the appropriate context.

Pace of your writing

It is often said that the middle of a book can drag or be flabby. I have found this to be true even with genuine bestselling authors. There are remedies available, such as speeding up the pace or introducing new twists at the point where this becomes apparent. In truth, any part of a book could drag and as writers we choose the pacing of each book we write. Too much and heads can spin, too little and they hit the pillow. Perhaps we should start at the end and race to a conclusion? At least it’s an option when plotting out a book or working out how to write in an engaging way.  Personally I am easily bored by detailed everyday life accounts when nothing much is happening in the plot. Then again if the writing includes insights and expressions I enjoy, where’s the harm.

Humour and darkness

What overall tone are we seeking to put across?  Further choices are how we balance light and darkness and the extent to which we introduce humour and horror. My suggestion here is to identify points at which light relief is needed and to crank up the intensity where a climatic sequence is due. Surprising the reader can work, but too much of a good thing can quickly become wearing. Comedy only works when someone is having a bad day, horror only works when it is a contrast to the setting. Much like real life. A series of choices lead to the sequence of scenes and tone that we write, being aware of those choices is therefore the starting point.

Twists and surprises

Clearly we design the slights of hand, the twists and surprises that we include in our work.  A recent trend I’ve noticed in some bestsellers is excessive use of these devices to the extent that nothing that’s left is reliable or plausible. Sometimes the work can become too clever clever for its own good. This may be a good thing for movies, but I suggest choosing a balance and keeping the surprises as big shocks with little or no clues because this can be more effective. Also taking lateral leaps beyond the well trodden path and taking an alternate view can be refreshing.

Editing

As writers we first edit ourselves and then submit to whatever it takes to be published. We should remember the choices that we are willing to accept and reject those that have no proper basis in improving the work. Anything that improves quality and reduces flabbiness is most likely a good thing, but there is a line that someone needs to understand implicitly for each piece – i.e. what makes it work? Perhaps the detail makes the work or the depth of a character. We need to understand this of the work on the page and choose to ‘direct’ the improvement of the work from that perspective. As the saying goes, you can only serve one boss. For me that’s the reader. Editing out all the good bits would of course be a bad thing. The question is – what are the good bits? And are there enough of them?

That’s all for now folks. I hope these ideas help your personal writing journey. I’ve been busy of late writing Sean Yeager Claws of Time, which will see the light of day when my own choices have run their course.

D. M. Jarrett

Hunters Hunted Text 2l

Readers love Sean Yeager Adventures books

Sean Yeager books are written to inspire and excite readers. I often hear feedback from parents and I ask what their child likes and ‘why?’ Here are some highlights.

If you are considering buying a present for a child in your life (8 to 15) take a look at a free sample of the first chapters: DNA Thief and Hunters Hunted .

Verbal feedback about DNA Thief:

Mike:  My son raved about the DNA Thief, he said it was the best book he’s read. He loved the action and insisted on writing his own Amazon review. He’s quite selective about what he reads and he took his time reading it because he didn’t want to miss anything. I was taken aback, we’ll buy the second book as a special present.

Alison: Our son was up until late reading DNA Thief and he wouldn’t put it down. He finished the book within two days. He says it’s his second favourite to Percy Jackson. He loves all the gear and gizmos. He asked if there can be more machines and gear in the next book? He wants to know what happens next.

Anne: My son read both books from cover to cover in a few days. He’s now read it twice and raves about the characters. He’s been designing pictures of craft and bases inspired by  the book. He can’t wait to read the third book. He’s asked if there can be more jokes and lots of incidents. He loves the characters and wants to know more about what happens next.

Here are some Amazon.co.uk reviews in the words of the reviewers:

It is sci-fi and an action thriller rolled into one, and centres on Sean Yeager, who believes he is fairly ordinary until a burglary at his home reveals he is anything but. The boy is spirited away by a protector he didn’t know he had – The Foundation. From there the plot unravels at terrific speed, and reveals secrets about Sean’s Dad and his own status.
My only comment would be that the title and cover graphics might not be as enticing to kids as they should be – this book deserves to be read! The other character names, such as Major Clavity and Greerbo – are certainly spot on.
Both tongue-in-cheek and seat-of-your-trousers thrilling, it is cleverly written ‘take’ on the ‘Boy Fights World’ philosophy of more well known titles and, in my view, stands up just as well. Love2readuk

There was so much action in this fast-paced thrill ride that I kept seeing it as a movie in my head. Never sure where the story was going, I decided to sit back and enjoy the ride. What would have helped was to have put on some popcorn first! Although I understand that this is the first in the series I wanted to know more about Sean and indeed his mom who is quite the character and I laughed every time she shows up. I hope we see more of her in the series. What I also really liked was the fact that the bad guys really are bad guys and not some laughable buffoons like we tend to see in so many other kid stories. DragonOne

Sean Yeager and the DNA Thief is a fast-moving action-packed novel containing lots of exciting, humorous and thrilling scenes. This book is a must-read and a worthy competitor for James Bond. The story is about an organisation that has set out to protect a boy named Sean Yeager, who has special powers. Although he is only a boy, a lot of trouble was spent to kidnap and protect him and it’s fun finding out why. This book has really excited me and I can’t wait until the next book comes out!:-) LavaMitts

And a review from Goodreads USA:

I will put this book into my reading cupboard for my high school students as they will enjoy it. This story had action and an interesting storyline and I want to know what is going to happen to Sean and why he is so important to the Founder. How do I get this next book?  A, Goodreads

 

Wishing you a great holiday season and a Happy New Year!

I’ll be busy preparing for the celebrations, while finding time to develop book 3 Claws of Time which is now plotted and in progress. There are so many ideas I’m struggling to fit them all in!

Happy reading

D.M. Jarrett

www.seanyeager.com

 

 

 

Sean Yeager Adventures website

Buy Sean Yeager Adventures books

Son inspires Father to write children’s book series

It all began on a foggy Saturday morning one autumn. I was driving my son to a football match along a winding country road. The fog was so thick we could hardly see the next bend, let alone the trees standing silently on either verge. Fortunately, the traffic was light and there were no wild deer wandering around. It seemed so surreal and closed-in that it made me feel like we were completely alone in the world. Two explorers on an empty trail.

‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we were kidnapped by aliens?’ I joked.

My son laughed and asked me what kind of spaceship they had. I invented a story as we drove along. It was a bit corny and very Close Encounters, but my son loved it. A huge ship with bright lights levitated our whole car into the sky, swallowed us whole and sped away into space.

‘And then what happened?’ asked my son.

We arrived a little late for the football match and I think the result was a hard-fought draw. On the way home my son again asked about the aliens. Over the next few days he asked for more  details, which I dutifully made up on the spot. And he drew pictures of the aliens, their home world and their ship. The mushroom headed aliens from the orange planet had been discovered!  As a surprise, I wrote a short story about an elaborated version of the adventure and printed it out, My son was only 5 years old and it seemed like a great way to encourage his reading. Sure enough, he read the twenty page story several times over and asked for more. He continued to request more information about the aliens and wandered around the living home inventing elaborate details. He invented their home world, their food, how they communicated and where they lived. A creative professor was appointed.

We still talk about that first story to this day. I have the printout tucked away in a folder somewhere. Over the following months I wrote several other short stories. A fairytale, a mystery and a spy story. Each was studied and my son acted as editor and critic. He was honest and articulate. We also shared the stories with one of his closest friends. Two of the stories stood out for them. The aliens and spies. They enthused about them and developed intricate details of the gear they used and how they outdid their enemies. It dawned on me that these two boys enjoyed nothing better than reading about gizmos, gear, ships and of course adventures.

Fast forwards several years, I am in the process of plotting Sean Yeager books 3, 4 and 5. My son, now 10, introduces inspired ideas. Sometimes accidentally, often with great precision and deep thought. He is the self-appointed ‘chief designer’. If a craft or building is referred to in a scene he designs it. Factions, tactics and missions are declared regularly with requests to talk about the ‘Golden Era’ or the ‘Foundation Commandos’. A timeline was invented pitching the  first two books firmly in the middle of an epic saga. So far so Star Wars and yet not at all.

We are both fans of James Bond, Star Wars and numerous films and characters. Monty Python and Johnny English for example. With a twist. Many are the times we debate where all the Stormtroopers have suddenly arrived from and why they can’t hit a barn door at five paces? Austin Powers is another favourite for making fun of the baddies and their huge private armies. We are convinced that every base must be wired with self destruct devices from day one.

Without giving away plot spoilers, it is true to say that my son has now inspired at least three major plot points in book 3 and most of the outline plot for book 4. Book 1 was drawn in part from two early short stories, while book 2 was I have to say mostly my own creation to surprise and stretch the genre. I have long since decided to stretch the SY world as far and deep as I can. With some humour and plot twists thrown in for good measure. The back story is about spies and two factions attempting to defeat each other and leave Earth. Hence the tagline James Bond meets Star Wars. Of course Sean Yeager Adventures are also original with a flavour of their own.

In the Sean Yeager world nothing is what it seems. For a start it is superficially just like the town you live in. Things break and go wrong. There are no massive armies or heroes who survive certain death for implausible reasons. You see, none of these plot angles would survive my number one muse and critic. And I find that the confines of constraint are far richer veins to explore than heroes and enemies with infinite resources. Perhaps those are variations on the ‘unstoppable force and immovable object paradox’? Or the similar ‘slap shot syndrome’.

Looking ahead, I am pleased to have entertained my son and his friends. Long may it continue. They have pretty much demanded book 3 with helpful hints such as: ‘more gear and vehicles please’.  They have role played the heroes and villains and taken them far further than the existing plot lines. Lego ships and paper drawings abound. We once made Kimbleton Hall in plan view out of basic Lego bricks. It was great fun. Book 3 is overdue and the plot is already well-defined. All that remains is the many hours of writing, refining and editing. LOL.

It seems that inspiration is circular, from author to readers and around again. From father to son and now son to father. One day who knows we may be watching a Sean Yeager film together and debating the finer points scene by scene. Now that would be fun.

D. M. Jarrett

Sean Yeager Adventures website

Buy Sean Yeager Adventures

Amazon reviews:www.seanyeager.com

Fast-moving, action-packed and humorous

Make this into a movie now!

Buckle your seat belts!

This story reads like an action ride and I enjoyed the ride

 

Pros and Cons of Self Publishing

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This article is based on my experience writing and self-publishing two titles to date. My research cuts across many sources: published books, online learning, social media groups, verbal sharing of experiences and lessons learned at the coal face. It is my intention to ‘tell it  how it is’ and of course this is my perception to date.

Pros:
1)      You have complete control

You can choose what you write, how you package, how you market. Everything. And you can retain all your rights, provided you are wise to not signing them away to a vanity publisher or service company along the way. You don’t need to, so don’t. Read every letter of every agreement and if it looks ‘bad’ for your interests find a better route to market. Self publishing means that you own all of your book rights, that’s the deal. If you decide to sell some of them, make sure you take legal advice and receive payment.

2)      You can sell your own product in the market

No one can stop you selling your works directly to the public. For example, if your ‘Memoirs of a Frog Prince’ is complete, you can publish pretty much everywhere via Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords etc. without anyone else approving your work. You can also publish for relatively little outlay in e-book and print. (But that does not mean you will necessarily sell many copies, most titles sell less than 100 ever).

3)      You can sell product to readers (almost) directly

It is possible to sell product from your own website, but you will probably reach a far greater audience via Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords etc. These platforms will take a cut, but that cut is far less than a traditional publisher would take if you were signed-up. (However, your book would be likely to reach far more sales outlets and territories in print with a good deal at a good traditional publisher).

4)      It is possible to succeed

If your work is good enough and you work hard enough to find your audience, you could succeed all by yourself. However, not all books will be good enough and not all reader audiences can be found online. The proportion of ‘winners’ in this game is relatively small. You will need luck, a strong sequence of products and a lot of hard work to succeed commercially.

Before you write I suggest studying BookBub’s advertising rate chart for several days. See it here: http://www.bookbub.com/advertise/pricing.php

I wish I had seen it a lot earlier. Basically, this is as close as you’ll get to understanding the real potential market for your books, pro-rata. Of course the total world market is bigger than this, but the proportions are valid and representative for the UK and US markets. For example, you may wish to compete in a more widely read e-book genre than ‘Teen and Young Adult’ if you are just starting out. (I wish I had).

5)      You can achieve commercial success without the gatekeepers

The definition of ‘success’ is probably a case by case matter by writer and genre. Certainly, there are (some) professional self-published writers who make a decent living from writing books. They tend to be writers of multiple books for adult genres. They tend to be very hard working and strong minded, as well as good, solid writers.

For many writers, self-published (or indeed traditionally published) books are likely to be an additional source of income rather than a primary source, at least for the early part of their careers. And this is not unusual historically. Many famous writers held substantial jobs while writing their major works. J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis being two notable examples.

Cons:

1)      It is all down to you

The flip-side of control is that you have to do it all yourself. Or you need to find people you can pay who can assist you. Editors, cover artists, e-book designers and print book designers being essential services you will need. Most of your competitors will be using professional help as well, so be aware. You are all competing for repeat readers!

You also need to learn as much about online book marketing and promotion as you do about how to write a quality book. Omit this step at your peril. If you hope to sell in volume, you need to know how to oil the gears of your own selling machine. And that learning continues for years…

2)      Big companies will block you

It is a fact of the world we live in that big businesses will block out smaller businesses until the start-ups somehow ‘breakthrough’. At which point, they will consider buying them out, if they can. Sorry to kill off the romance, but you are basically selling a product which the world does not  want to know about until it sells a lot of units. Yes, it is a catch-22. So to slay some more dreams in the bud while I’m on a roll:

  • Chain stores will resist all attempts by you to stock your books in preference for their deals with established publishers and authors. (Independents are still an option.)
  • Libraries will resist attempts by you to stock more than a handful of ‘local books’ in their county.
  • Online libraries will refer you to their partner – probably Overdrive – who will refuse to deal with you directly and will refer you to an ‘aggregator’ such as Smashwords.
  • Bookbub will refuse to take your advertising unless you meet their criteria or are very fortunate. (They won’t elaborate on why) This is because they have plenty of other paying customers for their advertising space and can afford to pick and choose their customers (lucky them).
  • Agents will send you standard rejection letters (or emails) unless you are incredibly diligent and lucky. Because they have plenty of other books to sell. By the way ‘Not suitable for our list’ means ‘we don’t think we can (or want to) sell your book’ . It’s a sugar coated ‘no way’. (And many of them also rejected J.K. Rowling – so what do they know?)
  • Publishing companies will likewise reject your work, unless you are incredibly diligent and lucky. Because they also have plenty of other books to sell. And they listen mostly to Agents.
  • Publications will blank your attempts to request reviews in print or online. Because they have plenty of other published books to review and are (probably) paid in kind for such reviews. (It’s easily done in this world).
  • If you have personal contacts in any of the above use them!!!!!!!  (And then share them with me please)

3)      You will have to give away and heavily discount your product

Because everyone else does. Therefore you will end up giving away hundreds or thousands of units in the hope of picking up ‘visibility’ on Amazon and climbing sales charts. The precise details of ‘why’ vary with the manner in which Amazon compile their sales charts. However, the premise is simple – your work is unknown and will remain so until it appears on some ‘best selling’ lists. If it is seen and reviewed well, people will buy it. To achieve that push you will need to give away some copies and discount some copies. (Ouch!)

You will also have to provide an incentive for people to subscribe to your newsletters. A discounted or free book being an appropriate ‘gift’.  Likewise to gain those illusive online reviews, readers and bloggers will expect free books in exchange for their time and (hopefully) their kind words.

4)      It is also possible to fail commercially

You may succeed in writing a great book, your best ever book etc. However, commercial failure is entirely possible. Even if you learn and work hard at marketing and promotion, it is not a certainty that enough people will buy your books to make you more than 100 sales. Life is not fair, there are no guarantees and it does hurt. Sorry, but that is the truth.

It is also possible that you may not be cut out to be a writer in a commercial sense. That is not to say that you have ‘failed’ as such. No. Simply, that you will need to have other income available to live on while you write for your own pleasure or for other goals. At some point, a competition win or a big name review could change your fortunes as an author, but until that time….

Consider this: A writer produces a quality book that is well presented and does not fit easily into an established genre. They try all the regular routes to self-publish and promote. However, what they may not realise (ever) is that their work might be an acquired taste or a niche work. That is not to say that their writing lacks merit. It simply means that – like the vast majority of books – it will sell in trickles rather than floods, because that book’s market is relatively difficult to find or is quite small.

Or this: A writer markets their work to the hilt and writes for a genre that sells well. They produce a few books, promote them well etc. What they may not realise (ever) is that their work basically ‘sucks’. It falls short of the standards their potential readers require to pass on a recommendation. This may be incredibly tough to accept, but it happens. And no one will tell you for fear of causing offence. (You may not believe them anyway). On the plus side you can always improve! And in time, you will recognise on reading back your own work how good it really is. Meantime, keep up the day job!

Luck, hard work and persistence remain key factors for any ‘overnight success’ and writing is no different. (I’m very much at this stage right now).

As an informed guess, you will need at least three titles to make a serious impact and probably four. The first will likely fail, but you will learn from it. The next two will be better quality and you will be better placed to promote them. By the third you have enough product to ‘sacrifice’ to giveaways and heavy discounts. And you will gain in cross-sales with your other titles. Plus, you will have built a name within your reader population. Blog followers, subscriber lists, twitter followers etc. all add up and provide better chances for you to directly promote your books to interested readers.

5)      You will still need to negotiate with ‘gatekeepers’

It would be great to think that ‘gatekeepers’ with approved ‘lists’ will go away when you self-publish. (Agents, Publishers and PR people run a ‘list’ of work they represent or are trying to sell for). Unfortunately the ‘gatekeepers’ won’t go away, instead they morph and change.

To succeed as a self-published author you will still need endorsements and acceptance for your work from a number of people. Not all of who will be as open minded to the merit of your work as you are. These include:

  • Book bloggers – generally they want genre and quality consistent with their values and interests. (Vampire bloggers are not ‘into’ sci-fi for example)
  • Book advertisers – ditto with their audience goals and their income models.
  • Amazon – can (in theory) reject/take down works which have reader complaints against them. It may be rare, but it can happen.
  • Customer book reviewers – need an angle to want to like your work. It is not a level playing field (sorry) An ‘okay read’ will not usually result in a review. A high profile book will attract far more sales and therefore far more reviews. Not all of them good I hasten to add.
  • Your first readers – will obviously judge your work against their own likes and dislikes
  • Your social media contacts – will generally want to associate more with ‘rising stars’ than ‘unknowns’
  • Your potential ‘fans’ – by definition will like the work that ticks their boxes. If they are ‘your’  fans you will want to look after them. Nurture them. Hug them even.

In conclusion, while there is no one recipe for success in an ever-changing world of book publishing (thank goodness), there are some truisms:

  • The winners take almost all of the cake – see the published book sales figures for any given year
  • The harder you work, the luckier you will become
  • Success breeds success – fiction books (like pop music) is a very polarised market with a very ‘long tail’ of low volume selling titles.
  • Successful titles come from the most popular genres – which is de facto a statistical certainty and relates also to demographics.

Good luck and happy writing

David Jarrett

www.SeanYeager.com

Sean Yeager and the DNA Thief Cover, available now at Amazon, Kobo

Sean Yeager and the DNA Thief available now at Amazon, Kobo

Sean Yeager Hunters Hunted. Available now at Amazon, Kobo etc
Sean Yeager Hunters Hunted. Available now at Amazon, Kobo etc

Ingredients for a hit novel

Print

Recently I’ve been considering ‘what makes a hit novel’? And here are my thoughts:

1) Characters we care about

A hit novel contains a handful of great characters that you grow to love and want to follow. And there are many examples we can all call to mind: Darcy, Harry Potter, James Bond, Hannibal etc. If we care about the characters, we’ll want to know what happens next to them.  And if we don’t, we may well put the book back down.

2) Plenty of incident & twists

To keep us awake and stop us from skipping ahead or worse switching off. A hit novel contains plenty of action, regardless of the genre. Things happen, challenges are faced and our hero has to overcome stuff. Otherwise it can become ‘interesting’, but basically dull and uneventful. Spicing things up with events we can’t predict also helps a lot.

3) A quirk or three

People become bored with formula pretty quickly. Most hit novels contain at least a few grains of ‘uniqueness’. Whether it be: dark threats and scandal in Scandinavia; allegorical animals in a boat; an orphaned wunderkind wizard; dystopian gladiators on TV; or rich man, innocent girl and a heap of sexual experiments (or smut).

4) Ease of reading

You notice I did not highlight ‘elegant writing’. That may win prizes and be a worthy aim in itself, but readers want to be able to read easily. They want to be able to enjoy the story without reaching for a dictionary.

5) A place you want to visit in your head

In my view novels are escapism. Along the way we learn things about the world of our characters and ultimately ourselves. A hit book asks questions of the reader in a subtle way, such as ‘what would you do in this situation?’ It also takes the reader to a place they want to learn about and experience from the safety of their reading location.

6) Visibility

Of course none of the above would matter unless readers were talking about a book and recommending it to their friends. As with the Fifty Shades series, that recommendation may be more a viral ‘you need to read it to believe it’ kind of thing or a ‘but is it actually any good?’  In my view that particular series is written in an okay manner and is highly effective as titillation and for provoking interest. And clearly it is a massive hit.

That’s all for now

Happy reading

D.M. Jarrett

Sean Yeager and the DNA Thief Cover, available now at Amazon, Kobo

Sean Yeager and the DNA Thief Cover, available now at Amazon, Kobo

Hunters Hunted Text 2l