Archive for the ‘Getting published’ Category

Website Wednesday: Paula Hawkins

September 6, 2017

Hello, Friends.  Not much new to report here, except that I’m back with another Website Wednesday entry.  This little diversion, started in May 2017, has helped me learn a lot about author websites as I think about my own.  As mentioned in past entries, I’ve compiled this from a list of Amazon Best Sellers.  Obviously, this list changes over time, and it may be time to refresh the list.  If you have any author sites that you’d like me to discuss, or would like me to critique your own, please feel free to comment below.  Until next time, happy writing and happy reading!

Paula Hawkins

It may seem like Paula Hawkins, the next on the author website tour, came out of nowhere with her overwhelming ‘debut’ novel, The Girl on the Train.  It would be even more impressive if this was indeed her debut novel—but it wasn’t.  After four successful romantic comedies under the nom de plume Amy Silver, Hawkins transitioned to the thriller genre with 2015’s The Girl on the Train.  The novel spent thirteen consecutive weeks (about three months) at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller’s list, and sold more than three million copies in its first six months after release. Sales surged after the 2016 film adaptation, starring Emily Blunt, and total sales are now north of 15 million copies.

In many ways, Hawkins does not epitomize the New York Times Best Seller. Not only did she transition genres and come out from behind a pen name, she also has transitioned from non-fiction to fiction, including a financial advice book.  Ms. Hawkins is of British-extraction, but was educated in Zimbabwe until she went on to her sixth-form college (much like a post-secondary prep school stateside).

Ms. Hawkins has a visually stunning website, designed by Cal Poly-educated web designer Ilsa Brink.  It transitions across two background themes; at the moment, these both apparently tie in to Hawkins’ current novel Into the Water.  The novel has a basic format across the top, with seven text buttons below the banner.  Two of these highlight her most recent books, but there is no reference to her “past life” as Amy Silver; indeed, if you go on to Ms. Hawkins’ Amazon page, there is no reference to her as Amy Silver, and vice versa.

The Good:

If you’re looking for a modern website with some pop, look no further than Paula Hawkins’ website.  It doesn’t do anything unusual, but it provides well-designed, strong visual cues, including pictures of the beautiful artwork on her book covers.  Due to the need for visual appeal, the website does a great deal to keep writing sparse.  With the exception of “Events,” there aren’t many items that are heavy with text above the fold.

The text, where present, is persuasive.  Not only does she include the copy that one would typically find on the jacket or on the back-cover, she also includes a copious amount of positive reviews.  It seems to come from the philosophy ‘if 9 out of 10 reviewers agree, you must read this book.’

One of the first items below the fold (for each respective book) is a button for a reading guide.  I’ve seen this on a few other sites.  I like the reading guide as a means of continuing the conversation, and of allowing readers to take ownership over some of the concepts in the book.  Many reading guides offer open-ended, judgement based questions, as well as some questions that require higher level speculation; Hawkins’ guides are particularly strong in the former.

The Bad:

I’ve said it several times before, but it bears repeating. Yes, you are using a website to sell your books, but you don’t need to make it so painstakingly obvious.  Hawkins’ homepage goes directly to the books.  Right after you see the covers, you see buttons “Order US/UK/CA.”  Before you know anything about the books (aside from what you brought with you when you decided to visit the site), you’re already asked to order.  There’s a little slugline about Hawkins’ credentials, but not much else in terms of telling you what to expect with the book.

Overall:

The site is beautifully designed.  Beyond this, if I became a Hawkins groupie, I would know where to find her on any given night.  I can’t fault the designer or the author for this site, as they are doing much of what they’re supposed to do.  I guess the problem I’ve seen is that there’s not much to draw me to this site if I’ve already bought the book.  Whereas some authors include games, notes, and other interactive items on their websites, this website does not hide the fact that it is there to sell books.

Advertisements

Mr. Owen Ventures into Podcasting

July 9, 2017

Author’s Note: Apologies for the delay.  The July 4th holiday (America’s Independence Day) has fouled up my schedule, and I am trying to get back on track.  This coming week is going to be very busy for me, but I hope to post another author website feature on Wednesday.

Jim “James” Owen’s podcast appeared on Wednesday, July 5, 2017.  To hear it, click here.

Four months ago, I answered a post on Nanowrimo about being part of a podcast.  A few missed connections later, I was moving forward with my first foray into voice media since I was broadcasting basketball games at my college’s radio station.  I was on my way toward being a guest on The Modern Meltdown (For more about the Modern Meltdown, click here), an entertainment website that has scores of podcasts about everything from books and movies to video games.

It was not necessarily an easy process, as The Modern Meltdown is Australian, and Holly Hunt, the host of the Beyond the Words (click here) podcast, resides in Canberra. Canberra is seventeen hours ahead of the Bay Area, my stomping grounds.  Thus, 12:05AM Thursday here is 5:05PM Friday there, and 7AM here is 2AM the next day there, and so on.  Due to this significant time difference, and the fact that we both work more or less regular hours, either a Skype call or a phone interview would be out of the question.  I had to get creative, as I was looking forward to this opportunity, and I wasn’t about to let a time difference get in the way.  Thus, I had to make my own recording studio.

My Makeshift Recording Studio

Over the years, I have also done some recording for my company’s webinars.  Through this process, I’ve grown accustomed to using Audacity.  Audacity (click here) is a free, open source digital audio recording software package that has editing capabilities.  Designed and released in 2000, this package may not have great aesthetics, but basic capabilities are easy to find and intuitive to use.  All I needed was a microphone.

One of the problems that I’ve noted is that a lot of computer microphones don’t pick up bass nearly as much as they pick up higher registers, which makes my voice sound nasally.  When I was working on the webinars, the best microphone I’d used was a lavalier microphone that we’d simply used as a computer microphone.  Somewhere, I also have a wand microphone, but I haven’t bothered to look for that in years.  The microphone on my laptop picks up too much sound from my fan, and my phone?  Ha ha ha, that’s a good one!  I had a few other workarounds that I couldn’t get working, so I was left with a few interesting alternatives.  By using the microphone on my camera (very good quality sound), and capturing myself on video, I was able to pick up a broader register of sound.  I used another program (Lightworks) to separate the audio from the video by converting an .MP4 file to an MP3, and then used Audacity to clean up the audio.

This still left me with the issue of where to get the optimal sound.  While working on the webinars, our recording studio is an office with paned-glass doors and windows.  No matter where I sat in the room, the audio would pick up the sound of my voice bouncing off of the glass, giving everything a slight echo (or, if not, then the sensation that I was recording in a tunnel or a bathroom stall).  Luckily, my home office has two small windows and a great deal of solid wall.  Thus, while recording, the only things I needed to worry about were my voice, the content, and my cadence.

I was tasked with addressing the very beginning of a story.  How do I construct an opening?  Well, that’s a long story for me, but Holly Hunt (click here), a fellow author, was kind enough to provide me with a few questions so that we could play off of each other.

For my podcast debut with the host, Holly Hunt, please click here.

What I’ve Learned

Through this process, I noticed a few things:

  1. Mapping this out allowed me to be much more succinct with my answers, and (hopefully) more informative.

2. It’s hard to sound like an authority when the item over which I have authority, my book, is not even published yet.

3. I had a bit of trouble anticipating my audience, as my only experience with Aussies has been discussing basketball video games (as well as a few web comics I’ve followed over the years).  Was I over-explaining a little by describing The Scarlet Letter as if they’d never heard of it? I don’t know.

4. I think there was some broken communication about the intent of the questions, and a few questions were not as I remembered them (funny thing, memory).

5. Ultimately, Holly Hunt was great to work with, and I feel like she did a great job of putting together the final product.  It was an experience that I’d definitely take on again.

I listen to a few podcasts, and one thing that I notice in those podcasts is sound quality, but another is the amount of energy that the participants bring to the table.  If they bring too little, it makes me feel a little bored, but if they bring too much, it’s like listening to monster truck commercials for half an hour.  I think that both Holly and I brought the appropriate amount of energy, and I’m fairly certain that our Audacity-augmented process helped.  What do you think?  Did we do well?  Is there anything else you’d like to know surrounding getting started with a novel?  Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Did you miss that link for my turn on Holly Hunt’s Beyond the Words?  Click here.

About Holly Hunt:

Ms. Hunt, host of Beyond the Words on The Modern Meltdown, is a Canberra, Australia, -based author.  She has published a dozen graphic and written word novels spanning the fantasy and horror genres.  In July 2017, Ms. Hunt published The Devil’s Wife (Click here), a print novel in which Lucifer is alive and roaming the streets of New York City.

About James (call me Jim) Owen:

Mr. Owen, a native of Santa Cruz, California, is an author who is looking to take flight.  Absconded by Sin, his first novel, is currently in closed beta.  A graduate of St. Mary’s College of California (with another stop at UCSC), Mr. Owen has spent the past 6+ years in market research.  Prior to that, he taught high school English… and lived to tell the tale.

Author Sites: Content

June 12, 2017

Last week, I began a long post about author websites.  This all stems from my investigations into creating my own author website, and focuses on the real meat of the developer website: content.  If you’re interested in the visual aspect of an author website, please click here to review my previous post.

Odds are, if you’re following me on Twitter, you’re a fellow writer.  You’ve read through my rants and raves about writing, about sharing my writing in public, and about my efforts to drum up interest for, publish, and market my books.  You’ve probably scoffed at the bare bones nature of my blog, and wondered why I don’t include photos, artwork, or even buttons.  These are all baby steps; they will come, but let’s first point to the first thing an author website should do. If you said “sell my books,” then please take your seat at the back of the class.  In my last blog, I mentioned that most people don’t like to be marketed to (or sold to).  Yes, you create a website with “sell my books” as one desired outcome, but the first thing that the author site should do is introduce your writing to your potential reader.  By extension, you’re also introducing yourself, but the writing is the thing (with apologies to Hamlet)!  There’s a subtle difference between marketing to an audience and informing an audience.  This may sound like talking from both sides of my mouth, but both can be accomplished through a simple advertisement; the only difference is the content of that advertisement.

Yes, up and coming works are a focal point for many websites, but providing an “Order Now” page at the front and center of your website only works if you have hundreds of thousands of adoring fans and you know that you’ll sell out your first edition — maybe even on pre-order.  If you look at Dean Koontz’s site, for instance, you see that he is advertising The Silent Corner.  However, when you click the “Learn More” button, you see two things — one, a brief (and far too marketing-speak) introduction to the book, and two, a brief synopsis.  It isn’t until you get below the fold where you find “Advance Praise for The Silent Corner,” as well as where you can pre-order his book.  Yes, the marketing is there, as are the “sales” links, but Mr. Koontz does not treat his website like the ear piercing booth at your local mall.  No, he saves the sale for somewhere else.

Last week, I promised some opinions on what CONTENT should be included in the typical author’s website.  I’d discussed a little about this when I discussed individual book pages, so please refer back to that for a bit more detail.  However, here are eight (or, would you believe, thirteen) more things that you should consider when you are creating content for your author website.

1) BOOKS – As mentioned before, the books are the things that are really drawing people to your site, and they are also the items that you should be discussing the most.  There are layers to what you can provide on your author website.  Some of the content that I envision for my own book page include:

a) A Brief Synopsis – No, I’m not going to give away the plot twist in the third act, but I will provide something a little more substantial than what I would put on the back of a book jacket. This might include more detail about the plot itself, or more information about the principal characters.

b) Character lists – who are the people in your novel? Who do people need to remember? If you’re a part of a book club, or a lit teacher, you know that people are doing this already as a means of understanding and staying connected with the book.  However, it does help to do a little of the work for them.   I haven’t done character lists of other writers’ books before, except for when I needed to do them for coursework.  That being said, imagine somebody who comes back to a book somewhat infrequently, to the point that they have to remind themselves every time about that Daenarys and Jon Snow don’t really know each other, or have trouble identifying the various other characters that may have some familial relationship to each other.

c) Maps – Another item that comes to mind is a map. I’ve already seen enough maps of Westeros to know that they’re out there, but what about the map of the Harry Potter world? What about a map that identifies the various locations of District Six and where they come from, as opposed to the characters of District Two?

d) Glossaries – If you’re into high fantasy or science fiction, there may also need to be a glossary. Particularly if you’re dealing with technical real-world stuff (or even technical, fictitious stuff, people aren’t going to necessarily know the difference between a jump drive and an FTL drive, even if they’re the same thing in your universe. They might know that a Halfling is approximately half the size of something, but what is it half the size of – are the “humans” in your world really like the humans that you would see in Times Square?  Your universe has its own rules, and it may be difficult for people to remember those rules and how they may be any different from Tolkien’s or Alastair Reynolds’ or Burroughs’ Barsoom.  I sometimes need them for real-world books, even when the only thing I’m trying to figure out is what the difference is between a vicar and a priest.  If you’re prone to reading American books, you better be well prepared for understanding that a fanny is a polite word for somebody’s bottom, and that rooting for something is not vulgar in the slightest (and probably not what you Aussies think it means).   Sometimes, this comes down to very common words or tropisms.  Wizard, witch, and warlock — what does that mean to you?  In some of the fantasy books of my childhood, a warlock was simply a male witch.  In Rowling, a male witch is a wizard.

e) Backgrounds – As for other odds and ends about the book itself, remember that people will be approaching your book for all different purposes. If you’ve written a historical fiction / period piece, you might need some collateral to explain to the modern reader why Thermopylae was an important battle in Greek history, or where the ancient Troas (Troy) was in relation to Crete.  You might need to explain the importance of neck rings in Dinka culture, or why some parts of China would engage in foot-binding.

There may be many other items that relate to an individual book that you’d like to put on your author website.  As mentioned, I’ve discussed a few here.  However, there are many other items that may not directly relate to your books, but rather to you as an author.

2) News – There are several ways of putting out news on websites. Having no headlines to drum up myself, I tend to append my news to the end of these blog posts.  If I had news of more substance, I would have a separate place for all of it.  If you’re generating a lot of news-worthy items (and I mean a lot), you might think about a monthly or bi-monthly newsletter.  I wouldn’t recommend much more than 26 per year (and even that may be a lot).  As much as fanboys might love a given author, even the New York Times Bestsellers don’t have that much news in a given week.  Even if you are the type of author that generates a lot of news, it may be worthwhile to put out the news as it happens.  If you’re releasing a new short story on Smashwords, why wait two weeks until your next newsletter?

3) Blog – Well, of course I would point to this.  After all, you’re reading my blog.  However, a blog is a useful, less formal means of keeping in touch with your readers, your friends, and other writers.  I try to blog about twice per week, but I wouldn’t blog nearly as much if I knew that I was under deadline for some great opportunity.  A few of the authors that I’ve examined over time put out a blog 1 to 2 times per month, but many of those authors are also of the sort where writing is their full-time profession, and they hardly need to build their audience.

4) Reviews – This can go both ways.  It is useful to put up reviews of your own books, particularly if they’re thorough.  It may also be useful to put up reviews of books that you’ve enjoyed.  At the same time, if reviews are too detailed, they might give away too much information, and you don’t want to be on record as absolutely slamming another author – no matter how much you think they might deserve it.

5) Appearances – Are you the errant author?  Will you be in Seattle one weekend and San Diego the next?  Are you doing book signings at your neighborhood bookseller, or having a reading at your local library?  If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you will want to share this with your audience.  If you’re the type of writer that is speaking at a charity function, add that, too, even if it has nothing to do with your books. If you have a following, they will want to see you in the flesh, and they will be wondering why your Awesome Book: Volume IV remains in the development stage.  (By the way, I’d laugh so hard I’d cry if I saw Awesome Book: Volume III on a book rack!)

6) FAQs – There’s a reason why you’ll see FAQs on numerous websites.  If there are stock questions that you always get asked, you might want to address them all at once on your website.  At the same time, you need to be careful.  Not all questions deserved to be answered, and some of them fall into the realm of personally identifiable information (PII) or “password questions.”  Sorry, nobody needs to know your mother’s maiden name, unless you’re Melanie Griffith (her mother is Tippi Hedren of The Birds).  If you’re Melanie Griffith, you might want to share your pedigree with the World.

7) Bio – As much as that website might say AntonioSaavedra.com or AngelinavanHeusen.com, the website is not about you, it’s about your writing.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a little something about you in store for the reader.  Many of the top authors that I’ve researched have little bios.  These bios are much like what you’d see on the back of a book, but some get into a bit more depth, discussing former professors, other occupations held, inspirations for writing, and other life details.  My own bio is very sparse, which is probably just a force of habit.  It isn’t as if you’re not getting enough about me through this blog!

8) Contact Information – Keep this brief, and don’t give away the whole enchilada.  I have some thoughts about why you might not want to share much, but there are a few items that you might want to share: Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram accounts are useful, as they are not nearly as personal as Facebook.  If you have a P.O. Box for fan mail and the like, this is also useful.  I wouldn’t provide a street address, for obvious reasons.  If you’re from a small town (like Jenner, CA), you might not even want to use a P.O. Box at your closest post office.  Instead, as is the case with Jenner, you might want to have a P.O. Box in Bodega Bay or Guerneville – they are not exactly the big city, but they’re both ten miles further away from where you sleep at night.  If you have a little bit more time, then creating email forms can be useful.  These allow people to quickly and conveniently contact you, but do not give away your email address.

Thanks for tagging along for this whopper of a post. Expect another post later this week, but I can’t promise the timing!

—–

Is there anything that I missed? Please feel free to add it in the comments below.

Photo Attribution: Unsplash on Pexels. Creative Common 0 License

Author Sites: Aesthetics

June 9, 2017

Get out your color wheels, design fans; it’s time to talk about website design!  This was initially intended as a single post, with smaller follow-ups, but the information has since exploded, and I had to segment this off into two posts.  Check in soon for the second part, where I talk about content!

But first, let’s talk about the beauty of website design (as it relates to author sites)!

Just so we’re on the level, I should be one to talk — this is my website: plain, simple, and as of June 2017 black text on a white background with a blue band across the top.  This is a basic template for WordPress, and it has served me well over the past several years since I started blogging under the “jowenenglish” banner.  It isn’t intended as a complete site, and I will update this someday.  In fact, this post (and, now, at least one more post in the series) has come out of some of my research into creating my own website.

I’ve learned a lot from my colleague, David, on the matter, and I wanted to share some of the thoughts that have crossed my mind as I not only research other authors’ websites, but also research websites as part of my day job.  At some point, I might apply this knowledge and build out my own site, but it’s fun to take a look at what I’ve seen.

Aesthetics (or Can You Judge a Website by its Cover?)

1) Orientation

How many of you have gotten frustrated with a website because you still can’t find what you’re looking for?  Worse yet, you’re scrolling through something that has so many graphics and individual pages that you get the feeling that you’re being sucked into a click-bait site.  The orientation of a website is important.  I won’t go into mobile sites, as I generally prefer full sites, and many website building tools allow you to have responsive design with the so-called hamburger menus off to one side.

2) Pull-down Menus / Hamburger Menus

Pull-down menus, or those buttons that appear below the banner, are important.  As far as I can tell, there is no sure-fire combination as to what should appear in a menu, and in what configuration, but there are three basics that I generally see within author websites: My Books, About Me, and Contact Me.  Some authors have much more, and having a few more items works, as long as the main items do not get lost in the clutter.  Pull-down menus are among those aspects of a website that fit into both the aesthetics category and the features category, as pull-down menus ultimately show you what yo need in a palatable format.

3) Banners

One of the main things that has held me back from building out my site is the lack of visual appeal.  Whether it’s the banner itself or just below the banner, I don’t have the right images to entice the reader.  This has a bit to do with a lack of Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator skills, and a bit to do with everything else being up in the air. However, I have observed a number of websites that work in this respect, and the items that work are typically the items that make the website itself unique.  Cover art, such as the full cover art that would fit on your dust jacket, sans writing, is one way of going about this, but some authors (or, presumably their design teams) tailor this even further.  I think what this art entails is very genre specific.  The stark and hard-boiled look might work for a mystery writer, but it won’t work for writers in other genres, or for the literary fiction crowd.

And then there’s the rest of the bunch…

Within an author website, there are generally seven items that I look for in terms of aesthetic or visuals.  I’ve already discussed a little about the orientation, the banner, and the pull-down menus.  The other four are what appears “above the fold,” the visuals that represent the books themselves, the author photo, and the text.  These aren’t nearly as appealing to discuss.  There’s definitely meat to them, and some people can fill up pages just talking about the physical appeal of fonts themselves.  I’m not one of them, but I do have my opinions on the matter.

Above the Fold

Many times, the only thing people will see about a new website, unless they’re very interested, is what occurs above the fold.  The term (sometimes called “above the crease”) comes from the newspaper industry, and refers to any item that you can see when you unroll the newspaper and see the stories that appear immediately above or below the banner.  Websites have this, too.  If people do not need to scroll up or down to see the content, it is considered “above the fold.”

When it comes to what appears above the fold, I think about this as an orientation consideration, a visual appeal consideration, and –most importantly — a content consideration.  Yes, it is great to have an appealing visual above the fold, but readers who base their book choice on beautiful visuals are bound to be disappointed.  You can judge a book by its cover, but only to a point.  If your site does not have much appeal except for a brilliant visual above the fold, then readers will not be as compelled to dig into the rest of the site.  Having buttons to show them other site features (book synopses, character charts, interviews, readings, or whatever you would like to offer) is essential to your site’s success as an informational vehicle.

5) Visual Representations for Books

Okay, so you’ve published your novel, what image do you use to represent this on your site, and how do you share that?  Amazon does one thing well in this regard, as they have a simple image of the book’s front cover on the left, and then a synopsis or blurb on the right.  If you click onto the cover, you usually get a few sample pages.  I prefer this physical orientation, and prefer the book cover rather than some other related image.  When it comes to what that visual representation does, the “button” format is fine, but I would recommend that you go a step further.  Use that book as a mouse-over button, if you can, and include a list of numerous features that supplement the book.  I’ve mentioned a few of these above, and I generally think that these forms of collateral are a good place to start.  You might also have essays that you’ve written about your book and what it means to you, and these would be perfect for your book site, but aren’t necessarily a top-level item.  Another item that comes to mind is information for book clubs or educators.  You might think it is presumptuous, but these items can pave the way for broader discussion of your novel, and help the readers approach your book with all of the right tools in hand.

6.) Author Photo

The author photo is an important consideration, but don’t think too long about it.  We’ve all seen the glamour shots at the back of popular trade paperbacks.  These are fine, and professional glamour shots are probably preferable if you want to be taken seriously as a writer.  However, if being good looking was the a prerequisite for selling books, then many of the great writers of our time wouldn’t be making much money at all.  Your professional photo should be subtle; even if you’re as arrogant as they come, you don’t want someone to look at the back of your book and think “wow, that guy probably never passes up a chance to look at his own reflection.”

7.) Font 

Finally, the last item I’ll talk about in terms of aesthetic is font.  Generally, font size doesn’t matter, as people can adjust as needed.  However, I wouldn’t venture too far off of the defaults that come with your given tool (unless you’re going straight from the CSS — if that’s the case, huzzah!  I generally don’t pay much attention to fonts.  My preference is for serif fonts in print media, however the prevailing wisdom is that sans-serif fonts are easily readable because they are less visually complex.  The fonts that I’ve heard bandied about most often are Verdana, Arial, and Helvetica.  Experts in visual design will wax poetic about the benefits of one over another.  I’m a writer, not a type-setter, so I don’t particularly care as long as I can read it.  Comic Sans might be the exception.

I’d love to hear your opinions on font, but I plan on leaving these considerations to typesetters and designers.

Content is King! (But I’ll Save This for Another Blog)

I initially didn’t think that I would have much to say about aesthetics in the more abstract sense, but I soon realized that this post is getting pretty lengthy.  This will cap out at over 1,500 words, and I don’t want to bury the topic of content under that volume of words.  I will say this, before I provide a few more updates: first, the most brilliant aesthetics will hide a lack of content, but they cannot entirely overcome a lack of content.  Content is at the heart of your author site, but even the most brilliant content will disappear if you’re mired in poor aesthetics.

****

Writer’s Update: I don’t feel like I’m busy, but it seems like I always have something to do.  Right now, I have a checklist that’s about twenty items long, and many of these are time consuming projects. On top of it all, this doesn’t include work duties.  In recent weeks, my supervisor has been leaning on me to get a lot of writing projects done.  The hours spent agonizing over reports has made for a few late nights.  I have been better at getting home before dark lately, but that isn’t saying much as we approach the solstice.

Their Sharpest Thorns is still in early edits.  I’ve worked through about a quarter of the book already, but I’m primarily taking a postmortem of where my story deviates from my notes, and attempting to correct any inconsistencies.  There’s still a good month’s worth of work in editing, and it is likely that I will not have enough to call this a “complete” draft until late summer.

Thanks for tagging along for this doozy of a post.  In my next post, I’ll discuss the content of an author site, and hopefully have a few more updates along the way!

 

Putting Together a Web Page / Blog Post for Your Book

June 5, 2017

Over the past several years, and particularly the past several months, I’ve shared my writing journey and my thoughts on writing, with you.  Over this time, I’ve discussed a little but about my process, my search for publication, and my various misadventures.  Today, I wanted to share something about other processes.  As you have no doubt seen from this blog, I’ve been working on this blog as a means of building a community and “marketing” myself.  I hate that word, marketing… even though that’s part of what I investigate for my daytime job.  Of course, there are benefits to marketing, if you approach it from the right way.  If you don’t “market” yourself, then nobody will know about who you are, how great you are, and the stories that you have to tell.

One of the easiest ways to share something about yourself today is via a website. The only thing you’ve seen from my website so far is my blog. That’s because I have one major thing holding me back from putting together a fuller site: visuals. I’m working on that, but I spend a lot of time researching websites through my primary employment, so I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do in order to get a successful website in place.  I was thinking about sharing some of that with you, but I decided that I should start a little smaller.  What do I need to do in order to successfully put together a blog post or a web page that specifically markets my book?  For this, I thought I’d share a process that David, my colleague, has shared with me and with our many clients.

My employer frequently shares what it would take to sell development tools to clients, so this isn’t exactly what we explain to clients (and we usually show an idea rather than tell it), but there’s a lot of crossover here.

Before we start, let’s take an example. Michael Wallace’s Quill Gordon Mysteries, because he is already doing a lot right when he introduces “The McHenry Inheritance.

Introduction

The first thing you want to do is introduce your book.  He does this with a slugline “It’s scary, and so wrong,” and then goes into the content that you’d find on the back cover.  This introduces the stakes and a few of the main characters. Mr. Wallace gives about two paragraphs of content, mostly summarizing the content of the book.  What he’s given is good.  The only thing that I might change is spending a bit more time toward the end taking a more distant view of the book.  “This is a mystery in the vein of [comparable author].” or “The McHenry Inheritance takes you on a ride through the sordid underbelly of Harperville, wherein everybody has reason to be suspicious of outsiders.”  This isn’t the best means of pulling away from the stakes, but it does leave a little more to the imagination.

If this is your only book, then it might be useful to share a little bit about you, but this is probably better left fro a dedicated “About the Author” page.  You’ll have plenty of places to share who you are, anyway.

Short Reviews

Okay, so you’re probably low on reviews if you’ve just recently released your book.  There’s ways around this.  You can ask your beta readers for some kind words (but, by all means, don’t give away their identities unless they want you to do so!).   You can wait for some positive reviews on Amazon, and then ask for permission for those.  Mr. Wallace has a review off in the corner.  It is a solid review, but he only needs a sentence or two from that review to let visitors know that his book is a worthwhile read.

If you have a positive review in your local paper, this is the ideal place to put it.  Not everybody will garner this attention in their early career, so if you have something here, might as well put it to good use.

Book Trailer

In an earlier post, I referred back to Mr. Wallace’s book trailer.  I think his trailer works on many levels.  It tells a little bit about Mr. Wallace himself, adding some credibility in the process; it talks about his process; it talks about the book itself; and, perhaps most importantly, it tells readers where they can pick up his book.

I think there’s a few nice balances Mr. Wallace makes here.  He keeps it simple, while still providing a glimpse at the setting.  He’s made a professional video, hiring professional videographers and video editors to make the short piece — I’m not saying you should go for pros every time, but he’s done so to good effect. Finally, he’s used original content.

This last little part, about original content, isn’t necessary — there’s plenty of content in the public domain that will work nicely — but it is important to show that he is the genuine article.  I’ve been gathering ideas for my own book trailer, and one thing that I’ve noticed from other production-quality book trailers is that they’re borrowing from movies (either stills or even short, live action sequences) that are not in the public domain.  This is very risky, as there are items that are covered by “fair use,” but taking an image of Sean Connery from Highlander may show the reader something about your book, but it also is something that others can recognize comes from somewhere else.

Passages

You don’t want to give away too much about your writing content, but it helps to give away something, so people can know what they’re getting into. If you’re nervous about this, you can always provide copyright notice.  Considering how much space these passages might take up, it wouldn’t hurt to hide them via a “spoiler” option if you have it in your given website.  It’s fairly common for BBscript, if that’s available.

If you have visual media, this is also a good place to show some artwork or whatever other pictures or charts you might have on hand.  If you’re going for the George R.R. Martin type of saga, a family tree is always helpful (provided it doesn’t give away too much about your book).

Links

In my daytime job, I’d recommend this if you have technical resources that help people see what your product can do, and how to do it.  With writing, it’s a little different. You could link to relevant items about your book within your site.  If you have full reviews, this is a great place to put them, as well.  Anything that is germane to your book can fit here.  If you’re writing a period piece about ancient Hippo (Annaba, Algeria), then perhaps a link to the Confessions of St. Augustine of Hippo would be relevant, or perhaps there’s a book, site, or society that is dedicated to ancient Hippo.

For Mike Wallace’s book, this might be something about his notes for his fictitious mountain town and some of the landmarks, such as Harry’s Tavern.  He might also provide some of the history of the quill gordon lure in fly fishing, or some other angling sites.  He has some media coverage that would fit in well here, such as this spotlight from our local Santa Cruz Sentinel.

This would also be a good place to provide links to your book in online booksellers. If you’re looking at American booksellers, Amazon has to be on there.  B&N, Lulu, and others are all important, but nothing does as much volume as Amazon.  There’s an important item to consider here: as much as you might want to feature where to find your book in bookstores, it really needs to be embedded in the rest of your post.  We, as readers, know why we’re looking for books, so it doesn’t do you any good to be pushy in getting people to buy your book.  By passing along your purchase information as just that, information, rather than overt marketing, you’ll attract more people who are on the fence.

Finally, if you haven’t attached links or widgets to your social media, then this should be at the bottom of your post.  It’s not critical to a blog / webpage dedicated to your book, but it is yet another way that you can connect with your audience.

****

I haven’t been able to apply the above to my own site.  As mentioned, I’m still missing visual media, including a book trailer and any sort of cover or collateral pictures, but these are items that I’ve been considering, and items that I must take into account as I put this information together.

As if I haven’t stressed this enough earlier, the blog post or website is a means of introducing others to your book and introducing yourself to your audience.  Thus, while I do make mention of telling people where they can find your book in the usual bookstores, I didn’t mention anything about telling readers to “buy it now.”  If you use those three words, you must be very subtle, as using that phrase as a command is bound to turn others off.

A big thanks to David for the idea.

Is there anything I missed? Please feel free to add them in the comments below.

Photo Attribution: Unsplash on Pexels. Creative Common 0 License

Unfinished Business (Part Three)

April 12, 2017

Note: This concludes a three part series about unfinished drafts of famous and not-so-famous works.  For the previous items in this series, see: Part One and Part Two.

Over the past few entries, I’ve mentioned some famous examples of novels that were left on the side of the road (or in the side drawer of a writing desk) due to frustration or illness, as well as a few examples that were left incomplete due to more dire circumstances.  As mentioned, Robert Burns made the phrase “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry” a part of the public consciousness, if he didn’t coin the phrase himself.  In the third installment of this series, let’s take a look at some examples of my own work that are sitting there, incomplete.

Corporate Decree (2012) – “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / a stately pleasure dome decree.”  These are the opening lines to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan, a short poem that is arguably a long metaphor for the writing process.  The lines of this poem inspired me to draft out what became Corporate Decree, in which security guard for a massive live-work-play must investigate a suspicious death on his own, while his boss frets over the state of his company.  This has remained unfinished and untouched since September of 2013.  I still have most of this story, which clocks in at 56,000 words, but it is the last in a line of novels that I have started and hope to finish.

48 Minutes (2013) – Inspired from an idea given to me by my grandfather, this is the story of a man who mysteriously retires from professional sports, the circumstances that led to his retirement, and the path that he follows after his retirement.  I briefly workshopped aspects of this story with my friend, Adam, but it didn’t get much farther than NaNoWriMo 2013.  I abandoned this story in January 2014 with more than 76,000 words committed to the tale, but may return to it at some later date.

Untitled Disaster Story (2014) – This story is the tale of a group of mismatched parts who struggle to survive before, during, and after the first “man-made” natural disaster.  This was a long story, with many secondary and tertiary characters.  I abandoned this story in March of 2015 with 67,000 words spread out over several documents.  As of now, I am not certain that I will continue this one.

Untitled Robert E. Howard-style Novel (2015) – In 2015, I began an epic story that follows a group of adventurers through a foreign land, where an unlikely hero has to vanquish an evil queen.  I was having so much fun with this one that I was planning to break it into multiple books, and had to carefully consider how I addressed this.  Unfortunately, an unknown percentage of this one was lost due to the fact that one of my flash drives suffered irreparable damage.  I was able to locate a backup copy of this, which has about 56,000 words, but my full notes and most robust draft of this project were lost forever.  As far as incomplete manuscripts go, this is second among my priorities.

Their Sharpest Thorns (2016) – I workshopped this one recently at a writer’s group, shared some of this on Facebook Live, and committed to write 20,000 words for this during Camp NaNoWrimo.  It is still very much alive, so it might not be fair to say that this one has been abandoned.  However, this is the project that has sat in various stages of neglect as I try to beef up my blog and get my first novel, Absconded by Sin, published.  From November 2016 to March 2017, hardly any words had been committed to this work, and it has been just about two weeks since I picked this project up again.

Thanks for letting me share something about my own unfinished projects.  If you’re interested in any of these, or would like to see any other topics discussed in my blog, please comment below or reach me through your regular channels.

Photo Credit: Glory Cycles, Creative Commons 2.0 license via Flickr, 2012

Unfinished Business (Part One)

April 5, 2017

Note: This is the first in a three part series about unfinished drafts of famous and not-so-famous works.  The second part of this series is scheduled to go out during the week of April 10th.

When I was in teacher training, I had no fewer than three mentor teachers.  I worked with one teacher per semester for three semesters.  For the fourth semester (second, chronologically), I assisted another teacher in an unofficial capacity before replacing her as a long-term substitute. The last of these three (or four) mentor teachers was a sharp-witted man named Nick.  Nick introduced me to a little tidbit that I’d either never learned or had already forgotten about John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. The title of that short novel stems from a few lines of a 1785 poem, “To a Mouse,” by Scottish poet Robert Burns:

“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley, / an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / for promis’d joy!”

(frequently as “the best-laid plans of mice and men oft go awry…”)

Let’s leave that last portion alone for a second, and think about the phrasing for “the best-laid plans” (one of Nick’s favorite phrases).  When I am writing at my best, I have a firm outline of where I want to go with my narrative.  I generally view it by act, following the same five act format that was popular in Shakespeare’s time.  At times, those five acts are reduced to four, and I group the denouement and the conclusion together. This doesn’t mean that I’m exactly successful at carrying these narratives out to the end.  In fact, only three of my novel-length works (and only two in my adult life) can count as completed first drafts — or beyond.

I’m not the only writer who has left something unfinished, either due to frustration, illness, or death.  Let’s take a look at the writers who stepped away from a novel, and were never able to complete it.

The Long Goodbye – Harper Lee – The woman who brought us To Kill a Mockingbird apparently had a follow-up that long predates her Go Set a Watchman “sequel.” The Long Goodbye was apparently 110 pages of what happened after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, but I have not found out where it is in relation to Go Set a Watchman. It is among three known books that Harper Lee never completed during her lifetime, and abandoned long before her illness and death.

Dark America – Junot Diaz – Diaz is a darling for many contemporary lit teachers due to his economy of words, and the clever use of the words that he does use. His collection of short stories surrounding Yunior and Rafa, Drown, has graced many shelves since 1995.  However, Diaz has abandoned at least two novels, including Dark America. This, a sci-fi story about mutants, was something that, per the New York Times, Diaz found “stupid and convoluted.”

The Mysterious Stranger – Mark Twain – Over a period of nearly 21 years, Mark Twain tried and failed to complete The Mysterious Stranger. Each time, one of America’s most famous humorists, had to start over.  There are three vastly different drafts floating around somewhere, a fourth fragment that represents his earliest attempt, and who knows how many other false starts have vanished with time? They each follow the tale of a demonic figure, who is explicitly named Satan in at least one of the drafts, but the setting and story itself change from one draft to the next.  Each time, Twain set his story down, and there is no evidence that he attempted to publish any of those drafts.  The last version takes place in the same St. Petersburg, MO, a partial setting for several of his well-known books, was apparently “finished” in the sense that there is a beginning, middle, and end, but there are enough holes to make analysts highly dubious about its completeness.

Fountain City – Michael Chabon – If anybody knows the frustration of an incomplete work, it’s Michael Chabon.  Chabon started Fountain City, a book about architects who want to build a baseball stadium in Florida, and continued writing about it for 1,500 pages, before realizing that he hadn’t found the right way to end it.  He abandoned this book, but the experience inspired him to write the 1995 novel Wonder Boys, which was then optioned into a 2000 movie with Michael Douglas.  What is Wonder Boys about?  An author who cannot finish his 2,611 (gulp) page novel.

Eamon Diaz and the Vampire Queen – Larry Hama – You might not know the name, but comic book fans know his work.  Larry Hama is responsible for such titles as G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero and Bucky O’Hare, and has been an editor (as well as a writer and artist) on a number of Marvel projects.  A quick Google search does not yield anything about the content, but Hama’s oeuvre is enough to make this one notable, as if a Hiberno-Latino vampire hunter does not.

Bonus: The Cannibals – Stephen King – Stephen King is famous for the volume of books that he produces.  Because of his prolific nature, King was forced to publish several novels under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman.  However, Stephen’s consistency in delivering 2,000 words per day (a good sized novel every two to three months) has had a few misfires that he was unable to publish.  One of those misfires, The Cannibals, a project that King started in 1982, plagued him for years.  However, he was able to return to the book and, after a “partial” rewrite, he published the story as Under the Dome in 2009.

There are plenty of other well-known authors who have famously set aside a novel and never completed it.  Are there any big ones that I’ve missed?  Feel free to leave some examples in the comments section below.

Short Recommendations: Books to Help You Write Books

March 1, 2017

I remember hearing somewhere that there is more money in books on how to publish novels than there is in publishing novels.  This is clearly not cited, verified, or quantified, but there’s no doubt that there’s money in “how to” books, and one of the most meta how-to books are books about publishing books.  In this brief blog post, I wanted to highlight three of the books that I’ve used through the years.  These are in no particular order, as I’ve used all of these, and found them all to be useful.

The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published – Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry

My wife gave me this book as a gift several years ago.  It has helped me map out the route between a completed manuscript and publication.  Time and again, I hear subject matter that I first learned about in this book, and it is a great reference for deciphering “agentspeak” and “publisherspeak.”  I’ve primarily used it as a resource for creating my author packet.  In essence, what do publishers and agents see when I submit my query letter?

David and Arielle’s site: http://www.thebookdoctors.com

Story Engineering – Larry Brooks

It has been a few years since thriller-writer Larry Brooks has published an entirely new novel.  Instead, Larry has paid a particularly keen focus over the past several years toward helping other writers provide their best possible product.  Story Engineering is one of the first in a line of books that aims to do just that.

A lot of us have worked on projects where we have to clearly understand the requirements, and then we design the project around those requirements.  Story Engineering explains the purpose that engineering plays within writing. No, you’re not going to need to learn any JavaScript or Python, but you are going to need to learn about your book before you actually start your narrative.

Larry’s Site: http://www.storyfix.com

On Writing – Stephen King

As you well know by now, Stephen King is my favorite modern author.  He is my favorite in the pantheon of modern storytellers, and I’m sure I’m not alone there.  At one point, I was reading from this book every day.  There are some items from this book that I took to heart.  One of which was the 2,000 word per day rule.  I strive for this during NaNoWriMo, and was attempting to do this every day in my down period between careers.  By using this dictum, I’d complete a manuscript in 50 days, if I put my mind to it.  Of course, not everything goes as planned.  There are some other interesting discussion points for this book that are worth mentioning, with one of my favorites being “the road to Hell is paved in adverbs” (paraphrased, as I, sadly, don’t have the book in front of me at the moment).

Stephen King’s site: http://www.stephenking.com

Paring Knife

January 5, 2017

Hello and welcome to 2017.  We’re still less than one week in, so I figure it’s safe to provide that welcome.

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on a number of different projects, with the chief project, which has consumed many hours since Christmas, being getting a final pared down edit of my current manuscript, Absconded by Sin, so that I may meet submission criteria for many of the publishers out there.  Right now, I’m focused on one publisher, which has been so gracious and so understanding as I have worked to reduce my novel from 187k words to just under 122k.  That’s right: a third of my novel is on the cutting room floor. Today, with one third of that novel in the ether, I officially submitted my novel for consideration.  It’s the first time I’ve submitted any work of fiction to anyone in more than five months.

It was a difficult task, trying to pare my novel down and still have the same cohesion.  A lot of characters lost much of their depth.  In particular, one scene that called for two characters (and was one character’s swan song) was reduced to one character talking to himself.  Another scene, meant to illustrate the conflict plaguing one of the two antagonists in the story and provide a motivation for that previous character’s swan song, is also no more.  The character, modeled after the Indian in the Scarlet Letter, is now reduced to a bit part, just like his predecessor.

In the mean time, I have been working on a lot of work related projects.  My Nanowrimo project from 2016 is still on my mind, but I have two lengthy reports on the horizon. We’re under NDA for both, but they’ll amount to about 600 pages when all is said and done.  I have another project, a series of autobiographical vignettes, that I’m working on for a friend.  I still have quite a ways to go on those, and I was hoping to have them done by Christmas.  Oops!

At least I’m doing something I’ve intended to do for a long time — writing in my blog.  It’s not much, but hopefully it will keep coming in the new year!

Going on a Diet

May 15, 2016

There are a number of situations where bigger is better.  Here’s just a few examples, and I’ll try to keep them safe for work:

1.) Sodas – For just x (% of original price)  more, you can get (x*2)% more soda.  Sure, it’s not good for you, but the volume discount adds up quickly.  This happens with a number of foods, and they’re just dying for you to do the math and think that you’re coming out ahead.  In instances such as soda, the added cost is mostly for having a larger container, as the cost of the soda itself isn’t that much per ounce.

2.) Trucks (or so I’m told) – “I have no need for your flimsy four cylinder engine.  I have a V-12, and I could tow the space shuttle, if I was asked.”  Okay, while I know people who are like this, I’m just fine hauling my bike with my puny four cylinder, thanks.

3.) Movies – Imagine a deep voiced dude saying this: “Twice the explosions. Twice the superheroes. Four times the gore. Ten times the love.  This summer, spend enough to feed your family for a week to take your family and see…” The sad reality is that this advertisement, given the right backdrop and the right actors, might just draw people to this movie in droves. A movie trailer with the flavor of the month in a spaghetti strap top will almost guarantee it.

4.) Food – If you’re absolutely starving (and eat meat), which of the following sounds better to you — everything else being equal: a 16 ounce porterhouse steak or a 6 ounce cut of veal?

5.) Football – A general manager has a choice between two tight ends who performed identically in the 40 yard dash, caught as many passes in the combine, and have a very similar percentage of body fat.  Which one are they more likely to choose: 6’2″, 220, out of Sacramento State; or 6’4″, 260, and out of Ohio State?

Why aren’t books the same?  Yes, there are many notable exceptions to the rules, but the books that sell, or at least the books that sell to publishers, fit a somewhat precise model: a certain length for a certain genre.  The problem with having these hard and fast rules for new authors (because, let’s face it, the Danielle Steeles of the world can do what they want, when they want) is that so many of the truly exceptional authors don’t adhere to these rules.

For instance, I was told that my novel should be between 90,000 and 100,000 words.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this measurement, this is somewhere in the realm of 290 to 330 pages, average text size.  As you consider this figure, consider the books that you’ve read recently.  Also, consider that my book is targeted toward adults (definitely not for the kiddies).  How many books have you read that are less than 290?

Here’s just a small sampling to try on for size:

George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones, 298,000 words (the shortest)
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s / Sorcerer’s Stone, 76,944 (the shortest)
John Steinbeck, East of Eden, 226,741 (one of his longest)
Stephen King, Cujo, 126,685 (one of his shortest)

The preceding list are all good books, all popular books, and each greatly varies in terms of word count.  I can see where Martin is a bit long for some, but the first book is one of the shortest in the Song of Fire and Ice cycle. I might be in the minority here, but books like the Sorcerer’s Stone and Cujo feel like sprints to me.  Meanwhile, I can invest more in the worlds of King’s longer works, which top out at nearly 500k apiece.

There are many books — many excellent books — that top out at 50k.  Animal Farm, for example, is under 30k (by some estimates). I wouldn’t dare compare myself with a titan like Orwell, or put his work down in any way, but there are times where I want a book that I can finish in a couple of days, and there’s times where I want to return to a book, week after week.  If binge-watching shows on Netflix has taught us anything, it is that people like to invest in a story, and often like to do it so much that an episode or two is not enough.

I am in the process of querying agents. I hope to write more on this process later.  In the mean time, I’m going on a diet; I need to lop off a gigantic portion of my book in order to fit into most agents’ criteria.  In doing so, I will have to take away the depth of some of my characters.  At least one will go from a strong secondary character to a blip on the radar.  It’s an interesting exercise nonetheless, and makes me hope that someday I can publish it “complete and uncut.” And I’m doing all of this because bigger isn’t better.  No, not at all.

Just ask the publishing industry.