Tag Archives: reader investment

Fire bad, tree pretty, sequel hard

It seems simple enough, right? You already know a bunch of your characters, you’re comfortable in your world, you’ve got a solid story under your belt, and you know what you’re doing, right?

Oh, no. This is not as easy at it looks.

But you knew that, right? I mean, you’ve read enough sequels to know that getting it right is a dicey business.

Here’s my problem with reading sequels: I read them back to back. I hate waiting to find out what’s going to happen next, and waiting six months to a year?? Oh no. Lack coping skills. So yeah, I have to stick my head in the sand to avoid spoilers, especially on the big ones, but it’s a small price to pay. Equal opportunity binge-er here! I also don’t watch TV and instead wait for the entire season or, preferably, series, to be out on DVD before starting to watch the episodes back to back.

Anyway, when you don’t have six months to forget the details, when you’ve just read the book, tossed it aside, and pounced on the next one, eager to find out what happens, re-reading everything you just read is incredibly frustrating. As the ebook trend grows, as “out-of-print” becomes a thing of the past and more people are able to find all the books in a series, in order, whenever they stumble upon it, this will be an issue for even more readers.

The answer, I think, is to start each book like it’s totally new and fresh. Forget about the previous book and every adorable word you put in there, every remarkable moment you lived through with those characters that you want to reminisce about (but suggesting that they want to reminisce). The reader’s here to find out what happens now.

In the first book, when you’re starting out, you know that you’re developing a character for the reader. You’re not dumping her, her vital stats, living arrangements, most traumatic moments, and grocery list on page one. You’re doling out tidbits as you go, as they become relevant to the story.

Well book two? Same goes. The event of book one are now part of the character, part of the backstory of book 2. You know better that to dump a lot of unnecessary backstory into your book, right?

Objection, your Honor! Relevancy?

Now, in case you haven’t figured this out, this is me, talking to myself. Heroes ‘Til Curfew is kicking my butt. What I know about not bogging a story down with irrelevant backstory and useless detail, and what I seem to really want to write, are two different things.

This is way harder than I thought it would be.

I’ve never written a book two before. I’ve never completed a book one I thought was worth following up on before. So now I’m in this whole new world in which I see this whole series of books before me…

This is a skill-set that I seriously need to learn. And I will.

While I work on this, any thoughts? Advice? Commiseration? Are there book twos you’ve just thrown at the wall because you didn’t want to hear about book one anymore?

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Filed under Heroes 'Til Curfew, Hush Money, story structure, Talent Chronicles, tips, what not to do, writing

Indies: Why I haven’t read your book

The #1 reason is simply that I haven’t found it yet. But since I shop a lot and meet with a lot of buyer frustration, I thought I’d make a list of the most common reasons why I don’t click the buy button. You may have your reasons, and that’s your business. This is one person’s experience and what you do with the info is up to you.

Preface: I’m an avid ebook enthusiast and I DO NOT OWN A KINDLE! Clutch the pearls, I know! You just don’t even know what to do with that one, do you? The fact is that there are a number of people who, for whatever reason, pass on the Kindle in favor of other ebook device brands. These brands include, but are not limited to: Sony, Nook, Kobo, iPad, Cybook… In fact, let me just link you to a list of examples. As far as I know, Kindle is the only dedicated reader device that reads the secure (DRM protected) Amazon format(s).

With ebook sales currently representing such a small percentage of the total book market, I am constantly asking myself why indie authors choose to alienate any part of that population by not offering their books in other formats.

So, we’re already into the list:

#2. You DRM’d your book on Amazon. Amazon has become THE place to shop for indie reads, without question. I go there first. And I try to buy there because I think that buying your book in Kindle format helps your rankings there which will ultimately be more helpful to you than if I buy it elsewhere.

But I can’t buy it there if you DRM it. In the details, it must read “Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited”. That’s the only way I’m going to be able to convert it to a format my reader can use after I buy it. And if I wanted to read it on my PC, I would hardly have dropped a couple hundred bucks on a device, would I? And I’m a reader, not Gadget Girl. I’m not about to run out and tie myself to a cell phone contract, with an extra $15-$30/mo tacked onto it, to get a phone I can’t figure out, so that I can read your book on its dinky display. (Yes, the next shock, I neither have nor want an iPhone.)

#3. You’re not on Smashwords. That’s usually the next place I go to see if you’ve got other formats available someplace else. I search the title first, and then the author. I usually don’t find what I’m looking for.

(If DRM is the deal-breaker for you, if this “protection” is what keeps you from offering your book to ALL ebook device owners, I urge you to do two things: read up on some of what Joe Konrath has to say about ebook piracy on his blog, The Newbies Guide to Publishing [here’s one link, but there are more], and poke around MobileRead forum to see what formats have already been broken [um, all of them?]. Understand that the pirates don’t care about DRM because they’re the ones who CAN and DO break everything. You’re only keeping your books out of the hands of those who wanted to pay you. Do not flame my comments, because I do not want to argue about piracy.)

#4. Rarely, but it does happen, I will do a web search for you and your book, in hopes that you have a website at which you offer your book for free download (ok, I can hope), or offer the various formats through a service like Payloadz.

#5. Your book is too expensive. It’s not about what your work is worth, it’s about my budget. (It’s not you, it’s me.) We’ve gotten past the auto-no part of the list that’s just about availability, but now you’ve priced yourself out the market–the market of me, anyway. What I want to spend on an unknown is $.99. I will spend up to $2.99. I probably won’t spend more.

I rarely spend over $5. If I do, it’s because someone else really liked your book and told me I have to read it, or there was something so incredibly intriguing about the concept that I pretty much had to. But that is sooooo rare. Seriously, if you’re not selling like hotcakes, please don’t count on this. A 70% royalty x no sales = $0. A 35% royalty on $.99 is more than that.

What if you got me to read that first book for $.99? What if I bought your next 3? What if I told my friends?

(Those of you who have given your books over to epublishers who are trying to price you like NY books, while not making you look like NY books…I’m sorry. It’s just too high. If I wanted to pay that, I’d buy from an established name.)

#6. Your blurb/product description didn’t grab me. More than likely, if I take a pass on your book because of the product description, it’s because it actually turned me off. Maybe it wasn’t well-written. Maybe it failed to describe the story or made it seem like you and I wouldn’t be a writer/reader match. Often I see product descriptions that look like the author just didn’t try.

#7. I couldn’t get through the excerpt/sample. Now, I do a lot of impulse buying, but I’m really trying to get in the habit of taking the time to read at least a page or two of the free samples provided. This will save me a lot of pain. I’ll admit that I read and pay attention to the excerpts A LOT more when the price is higher than $.99. Because that purchase is a bigger decision.

This is finally where it gets to the point about your work. It may not be that I think it’s “bad”. Sometimes I just feel that it’s not for me. If your language is the really…flowery or purple, if it feels overwritten to me, or clumsy, or drags… These are things that make me suspect I’m not going to enjoy the book and it’s going to be a pass for me. I do the same thing to paperbacks in the bookstore when I can, so you’re getting equal treatment.

#8. Only after all that do I even get down to the reviews. Seems odd because reviews are something I go to right away for trad published books. And part of that is because trad published books are all pretty much equally available to me through various outlets, priced at about the same rate, generally have more compelling descriptions, and may or may not have excerpt material. I read reviews of trad published books because, again, the price makes the purchase a much more significant buying decision and I need to be careful about it.

To be honest, I’m hardly buying any trad pubbed books since the Agency pricing model for ebooks put the smackdown on discounting and made trad pubbed books in my price range practically extinct. I’m getting a lot more of my reading from the library than I was before Agency pricing. (The library and Adobe DRM support: the reason I don’t own a Kindle, now you know.)

Last word on reviews: by the time I’m looking at reviews, I’m looking for reassurance and a reason not to buy.

Other factors:

Cover art- A lot of people say professional cover art is a big deal. It’s not so much, for me, but I know it is for a lot of people. If your cover is really good, it may have a better shot at grabbing me. I don’t know.

Length- I like to know how long the book is, and I’m more likely to buy if I know the word count and what I’m getting into. The likelihood of me buying an indie novel over 100K words is very small. I prefer shorter novels, between 50K and 100K. I have a hard time believing that novels over 100K won’t be full of tangents, thoughtologue, redundancy, and an overall lack of editing and author attachment to every precious word. Maybe yours is different, but it’s probably not for me. I’ve read too much filler in the realm of “full-length” traditionally published novels.

Paper only!- Again, an availability issue. I understand why indie books cost what they do, and I do not hold that against you. But I won’t take that kind of risk with my money. Plus, I don’t want to read paper anymore. I’m in the process of getting rid of my paper books. The only thing I buy in paper anymore is manga/comics, some non-fiction stuff, and books for my little one. There’s just no way I’m spending $15-$20 on a book. But if you put it up in an eformat, at a reasonable price…

If I like your book, I will tell my friends. I’ll probably leave you a review. Maybe post about it somewhere. If you have other stuff, I’ll probably buy it all up.

If you can refrain from arguing with me about DRM and piracy (understand that I do so rabidly detest DRM, and how I feel it’s being used by the distributors to manipulate me as a consumer, and offers you, the author, no substantial protection against piracy–I actually can’t talk about it without getting worked up, so I won’t), I would love to hear why you’re in print only, or only in Kindle format, or how and why you chose your price point, etc.

And for readers, what makes you pass on books? What’s your price-point? What device are you using?

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Filed under self-publishing, tips, what not to do, writing

Blueprint Series Part 9: Fleshing Out Part 1

Thanks for visiting part 9 of the series. We’re really going to start fleshing out your story this week. In keeping with the 4-part structure we’ve been discussing, we’ll be going over one story section each day and working on some of the things that will help you build your outline. I’ve added a section into the Blueprint that deals with following up with your different threads and subplots. Check the download page to get the latest version. And if you’re just finding the series, click here for part 1.

Step 9: Part 1

  1. What is the hook or question that happens within the first few scenes?
  2. How will you introduce the hero? What will allow the reader to connect with the hero?
  3. How will you introduce the heroine? What will allow the reader to connect with the heroine?
  4. When and how do the hero and heroine meet?
  5. What is the theme(s) of the story?
  6. How will you allude to the theme(s) in Part 1?
  7. What events will you foreshadow and how?
  8. What are the hero’s inner demons? How will you show that?
  9. What are the heroine’s inner demons? How will you show that?
  10. What’s at stake for the hero? When the FPP happens what does he have to gain and lose?
  11. What’s at stake for the heroine? When the FPP happens what does she have to gain and lose?
  12. Are there other characters introduced in Part 1 who will continue through the story? List them, their relationships to the characters, their functions in the story.
  13. How does the FPP come about?
  14. How does the FPP unveil the antagonistic force?

Part one of your story is all about setup. It’s showing us what your character’s life is like before everything changes and she is pulled into the story proper. This is the place where you’re really doing a lot of planting and foreshadowing. You’re showing us what your characters want and need, what they’re afraid of. You’re planting elements that seem like background now, but may become oh-so-important later. When the FPP comes around at the end of part 1, a lot of these pieces will take on new significance for the reader, as she will automatically be in a position to understand how the FPP changes everything. She’ll know, without having it spelled out in exposition, what your character has to gain, what she’s afraid to lose, and why she must move forward into her story. Because you’ve shown all that in your setup.

Opening Hooks: Questions are important to me at the beginning of a story. What will happen next? Will she or won’t she? Why does she feel that way? How did this circumstance come about? What kind of a world is this, where things like this are possible? … Whatever it is, the books that really draw me into a story are the ones that give me some kind of a question that makes me want to turn the page and find out more.

Perversely, nothing turns me off of a story like feeling strung along and left in the dark. There’s a balance between creating intrigue and creating reader confusion. Good critique partners and beta readers will be invaluable to you in deciding if you’ve done your job right. For now, just remember throw the reader some breadcrumbs and answer some of these questions while you create others.

Getting readers invested: Readers follow your story by identifying with, and investing emotionally in, you characters in some way. Figure out what it is about your characters that will make your reader root for them and want them to succeed, whether it’s some need or trait we all tend to have in common, or something compelling that your character really cares about and needs to accomplish. Once you’ve figured out what that is, remember to find a way to show (not tell) it in your setup.

Theme: Some people hate the idea of theme. I love it. I believe in it. And no, I don’t believe writers always have a theme when writing or planning, but theme emerges all the same. I can usually find one in anything that’s been worth reading. It’s really about the question What is this story about? and the answer that doesn’t just summarize the plot. It could be about finding your place, discovering or embracing who you are, the places where Truth hides–this is the place to think a bit dramatically, I suppose. It’s about what you’re saying, beyond simply telling a series of events. It’s about why you’re passionate about telling this story. You may not know what your theme is at this point, but once you find it, you’ll be able to craft details and dialog to enrich the thematic experience for the reader.

Inner Demons: This goes back to your character arc stuff. These are the things your character needs to get over in order to win at the end of the story. In your setup, you can choose to show us what the character is afraid of and why, or you can save the why for later. You can present us someone who’s so distrustful of others that he’s never going be able to be the kind of team player your characters need to achieve the story goal. You can show us someone who is so beaten down by past failures that they can’t even conceive of trying again. Lots of different kinds of demons to slay out there.

Stakes: FPP’s Happen. Should be a bumper sticker. When yours happens, what’s at stake for the character? She must move forward. Why? What will happen if she doesn’t? What will she gain if she succeeds in gaining the story goal? Of course, she’s reluctant to go forward. Why? What will she lose if she tries and fails? Set it up and show us, so you don’t have to tell us.

Other Characters: Since these are notes you’ll be using to develop your part 1 scenes, it’s a good idea to list all the players you need to introduce, so that you can start thinking about at least giving them a mention or a walk-on in your setup.

FPP: If you don’t have some kind of an idea of how your First Plot Point happens by now, you really should. This is the most important moment of your story. The moment that makes it a story. If you’ve got no idea how it happens, make figuring that out a priority.

You might have introduced your villainous character somewhere in your setup. At the FPP, something else is revealed about him. He’s not just the mean, he’s evil. He’s not just greedy, he’s a demon (literally). He doesn’t just casually hate your main character, he actually has a plan in place to destroy her.  What new thing about the antagonistic force are you going to show the reader through the FPP?

There are a lot of questions to think through here, but that’s what makes Part 1 the easiest chunk to put together. By the time you get all of this stuff answered, it pretty much builds itself. Good luck with it.

Tomorrow, we’ll be on to fleshing out the first half of the middle.

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Filed under Blueprint, goals, tips, what not to do, writing