Blog Archive

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How To Series: The Art of Editing with Anita Paul

Today I am handing over my blog to author, Anita Paul, also known as The Author's Midwife. She has gained this moniker from her coaching of both aspiring and current authors to write their best. She has also authored  Write Your Life: Create Your Ideal Life and the Book You've Been Wanting to Write.
Today she will be talking about the need and art of editing

Recently, I was completing a submission that I had been invited to include in an anthology. My contribution to this book is an excerpt from the novel I wrote several years ago titled What Goes Around Comes Around. Of course, there was a word count limit. When I completed what I thought was the perfect excerpt to give readers a taste of the characters and the flow of my novel, I was over the limit by 700 words. Oh no! It was time to edit.

Believe me, it was painful to cut those words. It was like making the choice between cutting off my baby’s right arm or her left one. Seriously! Those words were my creations; they came from my gut. To cut them threatened to ruin the very soul of the piece. Once I got through the drama and grief of having to edit the piece, I commenced to cutting the fat; first 400 words, then another 300, and finally I ended up with exactly the number of words required for the submission. In the end, the piece turned out to be much more exact, and it moved the story along just fine without those other 700 words. Imagine that! 

The lesson I learned from that exercise was to write lean. Writers, particularly novelists, tend to rely heavily on adjectives, extra scenes, and dialogue to give readers more insight into characters and the drama of the story. Non-fiction writers sometimes over explain concepts or rely on industry-speak to fill the pages of their book. Memoirists and autobiographers tend to add more detail to the events of their lives than is necessary for the reader to grasp the general lesson or emotion of the scene. For each of these (and other) genres, there is a need to learn the fine art of writing lean.

This isn’t something I instruct clients to do in the beginning of the writing process. In fact, I often tell clients to write with reckless abandon in the beginning. Get the story out, then pull out your butcher’s blade and go back for the cut. What do you cut? Here are some things to consider during the self-editing process:

What is the main theme of your book? Keep that in mind as you read through the content. If you come across a sentence, scene, concept, or conversation that doesn’t support that theme, consider cutting it.

What is the main lesson or moral of your book? When you find sentences or paragraphs that don’t tie in with the ultimate lesson or moral of the book, scrap them.

Why use two words when one will do? Look for uses of the verb “to be” and the accompanying verb (usually an “ing” word) in your writing. Decide if you can make the statement with fewer words, yet keep the meaning. For example: She was beginning to feel that she would never get the answer she had been hoping for. Instead, try: She doubted that she would get the result she wanted. Sometimes it works; sometimes not. But give it a try.

Why repeat the same idea? Often you will be tempted to write a thought, and then reinforce it in different words. It isn't necessary to include both sentences - even if they are both brilliant sentences! Time to make a choice to use the words that clearly convey the message.

In journalism school, I was taught to “Keep It Simple, Stupid!” (KISS). But that doesn’t always work in authoring. However, when you separate your need to be wordy from your readers’ need to get to the meat of your book, you will inevitably find ways to cut the fat. Take it from me, you’ll be a happier, leaner author and you'll find that simple and to the point is much better than the alternative.

Hope you found this info helpful. Anita is also the host of "Book Your Success." She can be reached at Happy editing!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How to Series: Writing Children's Novelty Books - an interview with Salina Yoon

Touch and feel board book

My interview today is with children's book author, Salina Yoon who specializes in doing novelty and board books. She is quite good at it as she has published almost 200 books. My interview today is about her experience in writing in this genre. Hope you will find it enlightening and enjoyable.

You write and illustrate children’s board books and novelty books. I’ve heard some people say that doing a board book is really easy as it is so short. Please dispel that rumor. What does it take to write a successful board book?
You mention two kinds of books here: board books and novelty books. These are two different things. Traditional board books are generally board book editions of previously published picture books. Publishers tend to select these titles based on its success as a picture book, and the appropriate target age.

Board books are generally for 5 and under, so the picture book in a board book edition should be appropriate for the younger market. We see lots of classics and licensed characters in board book editions as well.

Creating a novelty board book has more to do with artistic vision than writing. I create the entire package: the editorial concept, book format, illustrations and design for the book before I submit this to a publisher. Each component should fit effortlessly together. THIS is the true challenge of novelty books.

 Since novelties tend to be short (10-12 pages), the book must capture the attention of the reader immediately. Most novelties have very limited text. It's all about creating an interactive experience for the reader with the help of "novelty" elements like: lift flaps, tactile elements, pull tabs, pop-ups, special die-cuts, moving parts, wheels to spin, or even a mechanical component with lights and sound. A successful novelty entertains the reader, engages them, and makes them want to read and play with it over and over again.

When you decided to write these small books for children did you send in your manuscripts with illustrations? How many changes did you have to do with the illustrations per the publisher as compared to text changes?
I've always submitted the entire package to a publisher: a book dummy that includes all the elements described above. Revisions are a necessary part of any publishing process. Some require more than others. But almost always, there are more art revisions than there are text revisions, but this is simply because the books tend to be more art-driven. Often times, I will do the art first, and place in appropriate text afterwards. This isn't to say the text is an afterthought. The initial concept drives the text, which is developed early on in the process.

Have you ever done illustrations for other author’s stories? If so how is that handled? Do you just come up with your own ideas or do the author or publisher give you suggestions?
I have only illustrated two books that I did not write, out of nearly 200 published books. I prefer to work with my own concepts and ideas, because I like to make changes to the text as I go and most of my books are art driven. But in the case where I illustrated another author's ms, I didn't make any changes to the text. I create sketches, submit them to the editor, the editor makes comments, I revise, and then the illustrations go to final. There are no discussions directly with the author. The relationship is strictly with the editor.

How long does it take you to create a finished picture that is ready for print? What art media do you use?
Earlier in my career, I primarily worked with acrylic paints on illustration board. Now, I almost exclusively work digitally. The length of time it takes depends on the illustration. It could be as short as an hour, to several days per spread. My style is simple and graphic, so it tends to go quickly if I know what I want to do.

Novelty children’s books are something that has always intrigued me. Do you first pitch an idea for a book style to a publisher and see if they are interested before sending out a manuscript? Or do you the full manuscript with an illustrated mock-up of the book?
I do a full manuscript with an illustrated mock up of the book, sometimes to completion. Since novelties are so short, I feel one or two spreads don't show the concept well enough. The first and last pages are always the most important (intro and finale spreads), but I also like to show how I'd tie them together. Novelties do have a beginning, middle and an end like any other book, and it should show this in the dummy.

How long does it usually take for one of your books to go from publication acceptance to being at the book store?
As early as 8 months to as late as 2 years, though most books fall in the 1 to 1-1/2 year mark.

Kaleidoscope lens in book form!
What drew you to work in this media and age range? Do you see yourself branching out to other age ranges for stories? Have you ever had any tie-ins for your book illustrations for toys or see that in the future?
I love children's book art. It fit with my aesthetic and design sensibilities. Most of my books have been for the 5 and under crowd, but recently, I've published an all-ages book titled KALEIDOSCOPE, with Little, Brown, that appeals to both the adult and children's markets. Click on the word, book to view.     

I've also recently branched out to creating picture books. My first story-based picture book releases with Walker/Bloomsbury this fall, and a second title in that series releases next spring. I plan to do more picture books, but still for my young audience of 5 and under. I have not had any tie-ins for my books with toys and other merchandise, but I'm open to these opportunities.

What suggestions would you give someone who would like to break into writing board or novelty books?
Features cut-out designs of animals
Like any genre someone wants to break into, study the market and do the research before submitting novelty projects to editors. Not all houses create originated novelties. This means that many publishers buy from book packagers, and do not acquire novelties to develop and produce by themselves.  They simply buy the rights to publish.

As far as breaking into writing for board books, this really isn't done. Simple concept board books are either written by the editors themselves, or by the illustrator of the book. My suggestion would be to try and sell it as a picture book first,.. and if it does well and is appropriate for ages 6 and under, it may be printed as a board book edition down the line.

If you would like to learn more about Salina and her books, you can do so by clicking here to take you to her list of books for sale on Amazon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to Series: Creating a Well-Imagined Fantasy World by Guest Blogger, Kenya Wright

As part of my "How To" series today I am handing over my blog to fellow author and fantasy writer, Kenya Wright so she can explain her experiences in writing for that genre. 

Creating an urban fantasy world can be extremely fun. There are so many paths and possibilities. Granted, a lot of this information will probably not be included in the book, but it will be in your mind as you write your story.  Sometimes the process of creating the world changes or expands the story.  Here are the three concepts I believe all authors should consider when they create their world.

Whether you have made a new species or not, I believe it is important to think about how your species developed. One example of this is vampires. How did your vampires come to be?  This popular species offers a wealth of potential that an author can use or revise. Some authors have utilized Christianity to explain their vampires’ existence by saying that the species is Cain and Lilith’s children. Others have explained the species through magic. 

In my book Fire Baptized, vampires were formed when demons bit humans and infected them with a virus. This is one of the many reasons why humans have forced supernaturals to live in caged cities. Additionally every species in my world has their own story of evolution. My fairies created shape-shifters by experimenting with human and animal genes. My pixies began as small magical organisms within the fairy realm that was accidentally transported by several trolls. Most of this information is not in the story, but these details formed the plot and characters.

Obviously, your characters will speak English, but are there different dialects? If you have many magical creatures do they all speak English? Consider assigning your species foreign languages. Perhaps, the werewolves in your story are all from Spain, and the elves are from South Africa.  Furthermore, you can invent a language or dialect for certain groups. Maybe your mermaids put the verb at the end of the sentence, when they talk. I believe an author should have fun with this and push the limits of their imagination. However, the new language should be close enough to English so that the reader can understand what the characters are saying.

In Fire Baptized, there are a group of shape-shifters called Rebels. They are revolutionaries that protest the humans for putting them in caged cities. They have chosen to reject everything that is similar to human culture; therefore they established their own dialect, coined Lib Lib. Instead of “I”, they say “me.”  There are a lot of other differences between Lib Lib and English. In order for the reader to understand what the Rebel characters are saying, I have another character present in the scene that is not familiar with the dialect and requires a translation. This way, the reader knows what is happening within the story.

Every magical group within your world should have their own beliefs, values, religions, arts, etc. You can create your own culture for each species or you can use the many cultures that exist or have existed within our world.  

Most of my supernatural groups’ beliefs and values are based on Afro-Cuban culture which is a combination of African and other cultural elements found in Cuban society. The caged city that my supernaturals live in is called Santeria. The Santeria religion originated in West Africa and was imported to the Caribbean by African slaves that later merged many of the beliefs with Christianity. This religion is practiced in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Columbia, and so on. 

I spent several months researching the religion and used what I learned to created Fire Baptized’s world. My entire caged city is divided into five districts. Each district is themed after a Santeria god or goddess’s colors, powers, and animals. Throughout the book, my characters are involved with festivals that are traditionally celebrated by Santeria practitioners. Additionally, my mystery plot was derived from the religion.
In conclusion, authors should push the limits of reality during the world building process. Taking the time to consider your characters’ evolution, languages, and cultures is what will separate a well-imagined story from another one riddled with cliché and seen before settings.

Here’s a mini excerpt of Fire Baptized displaying how I used the Afro-Cuban culture to create my world.

The rush of wind lessened to a breeze. I opened my eyes and peeked over his shoulder as we turned out of Shango District. The habitat was divided into five districts. Each district was named and themed after a popular Santeria god. I lived in Shango’s flaming orange district. Zulu lived in Yemaya.

We entered the sapphire gates of Yemaya. A life-size statue of the goddess stood near the entrance, carved from spelled ice that could not melt. It shimmered in the moonlight, giving the effect of wavering liquid. Blue and white flowers lounged at her sandaled feet.

Even though it was in the middle of the night, Supernaturals kneeled in front of her, chanting. Their voices rose above the jeweled gates. Teal silk robes covered them. Cowrie shells, dyed in blue ink, draped around their necks. Gone was Shango District’s smell of death and blood, poverty and depression. The soothing scent of the sea hovered in the air and seized me, stirring up memories of Orisha beach during the summer, salt on my tongue, sand between my toes, and the calming waves of the ocean pushing me forward. 

I sighed.

“You’re lucky to live here,” I whispered. Zulu’s body tensed under my arms.

“Luck has nothing to do with it," he said as we stopped at a light. "It’s a way for my mom to pay me off. To make sure I don’t call her Mommy in front of her Pureblood friends.”

If you would like to learn more about Kenya and her writing, here's a link to her site. Or you can find her on Goodreads.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Giving Away Books to Sell Books - Part 2 of 2

Today we'll be continuing with the second part of E.G. Lewis's detailing of his experiences with KDP select. Please read on...

In our previous post we discussed the KDP Select program, its promotional opportunities, and the preparations I made for my Free Days Campaign. With everything in place, there was nothing to do bet sit back and watch things unfold.

I’ve created two graphs. The first details the cumulative total of free eBooks downloaded over the two-day promotional period by hour. The downloads totaled 21,200. With the exception of a couple of spikes, the hour-by-hour downloads generally showed a steady increase. I can’t explain why we had those two outliers around the middle of the second day. It may have something to do with the timing of tweets, Face Book posts and simply time differences.

Rather than throw numbers at you, let’s first try to bring them into focus by comparing them to what other books were doing during the same period. On the second day, Promises reached its highest ranking, placing 6th among the top 100 free books on Kindle. It held that position all day and well into evening. It also ranked 2nd in the Romantic Suspense category and 3rd in Contemporary Fiction.

Okay, so you’ve worked hard, done everything right, and promoted like crazy. Now comes the reward. My second graph tracks the after effects of the promotion, the resulting sales and borrows. In the first post I mentioned our attempt to cross-promote Promises and Lost. I tracked the number sold and borrowed for both books to see if it worked.

I had someone else’s stats and they reported follow-up sales of 2.37% of the free copies downloaded and borrows of 0.46%. I adopted those percentages and my goal became 503 copies of Promises sold and 98 copies borrowed. My free campaign ran 4/11-4/12/12, making Day One on the sales graph Friday the 13th, 2012. Fortunately, I’m not superstitious. During the next 16 days we sold 550 copies of Promises, or 2.59% and it was borrowed 134 times, or 0.63%. At its peak, Promises ranked 19th in paid Romantic Suspense and 37th in Contemporary Fiction. We exceeded both goals.

The brightest spot in the picture was the surge in sales of Lost. This was, after all, a book that wasn’t directly promoted. During that same 16 day period, Kindle users bought 138 copies of Lost and borrowed it four times, giving us a grand total of 826 paid transactions. Looking at it another way, without Lost we would have exceeded our combined goal by 13.8%. With Lost, we exceeded it by 37.4%.

I also wanted to know if this campaign boosted sales of my Seeds of Christianity Series and/or my Nonfiction titles. [We automatically include a link list in each eBook to all other eBooks. If you aren’t doing this, you should.] The Nonfiction titles couldn’t be evaluated since two of the three are seasonal. However, April sales of the Seeds Series were three times an average month, which makes one assume this is due to the Promises/Lost promotion.

The returns from a KDP Select campaign came very quickly. The three vertical red lines on the graph record the cumulative percentage of total sales of Promises after 3, 5 and 9 days. I believe the reason for the rapid falloff in sales can be traced back to Amazon’s ranking system. Many people peruse the top 100 lists, etc. Being in them makes the sales more or less self-sustaining, and dropping out of them leads to further declines. This is the same phenomena I mentioned in regards to free downloads.

It’s also interesting that on two occasions sales of Lost equaled those of Promises and on two other days Lost outsold it. The one unanswered question is why 138 people were willing to purchase Lost, but only four borrowed it when borrowing is free.

What all this means for the future is hard to say. But I do know one thing; most companies advertise their products continuously. If you have free days, don’t let them go to waste.

Sites Advertising Free Kindle Promotions in No Particular Order)
All Things Kindle (FaceBook)
Pixel of Ink
Kindle Boards (under Book Bazaar)
Digital Book Today
World Literary Café
Free Ebook Deal (FaceBook)
Free Kindle Books & Tips (FaceBook)
Christian Specific Sites:
Inspired Reads
Family Fiction – Christian Books
Christian Fiction Gathering (FaceBook)
Christian Fiction (FaceBook)!/ChristianFiction

A detailed search will surely turn up additional sites willing to plug your promotion. Also be sure to create an event on GoodReads, do FaceBook posts, and mention it on your Blog, Twitter, etc.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Giving Away Books to Sell More Books - Part 1 of t

For today's post I'm handing my blog over to a guest blogger and prolific author who will be telling you all about how he is promoting his books to get results. I  hope this topic will give you insight to improving your book sales.. Today's guest blogger, E. G. Lewis is a former newspaper editor and publisher. His articles have appeared in regional and national magazines and he has also authored of nine books. His latest, Martyr, Book Four in his Seeds of Christianity™ Series, was released in February of this year. He lives on the Southern Oregon Coast with his wife, Gail, also a writer. Now here's his tips.

If you’re an author with one or more books in the Kindle Store, you’ve undoubtedly heard of KDP Select. And, if you’re like me, you had more questions than answers about the program. Today’s post is dedicated to sharing what I’ve learned about KDP Select and the promotional opportunities built into it. In a subsequent post, we’ll examine the results of my recent eBook promotion via Amazon’s KDP Select Free Days.

Amazon Prime members get free shipping for an annual fee. KDP Select moves an eBook into a Digital Lending Library where Prime members can borrow eBooks at no cost, thus making membership in Amazon’s Prime program more attractive.

In order to enroll a book in KDP Select, the author/publisher must give Amazon exclusive digital distribution rights for a series of self-renewing 90-day periods. This exclusivity, by the way, applies only to the digital edition. Print copies of your books will still be available everywhere.

To get this catalog of borrowable books, Amazon pays a royalty each time an eBook is borrowed. The payment is volume-driven (Your Borrows/Total Borrows X $600,000). Monthly payments have ranged from $1.60 to $2.18. They further sweetened the pot by providing up to five promotional free days each 90-day period. About now you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, I thought my goal was to sell books, not give them away.” It is, but tests prove that giving away free eBooks generates word of mouth, resulting in sales and borrows.

At first I shied away from the program, viewing it as a thinly disguised attempt by Amazon to reassert its monopoly on eBooks. Their first attempt was the Kindle, which worked well until Sony, Apple, B&N and others introduced reading devices. I also resisted because I didn’t want to forego sales on these other platforms. An in-depth analysis of my sales reports changed my mind. I write in three genres, Contemporary Fiction, Christian Fiction and Christian Nonfiction.  For reasons I don’t claim to understand, my Christian books sell equally well across all platforms, but Amazon is far and away the best market for my two contemporary novels, Promises and Lost. Armed with this insight, I moved them both into KDP Select. After all, what’d I have to lose?

When you enroll one or more Ebooks in KDP Select, the first thing you have to do is unpublish them everywhere else. I used this as an opportunity to re-edited Promises. It’d been on the market going on three years and I wanted to tighten and tone the content. Next, we re-formatted both digital manuscripts. I wanted the books to be as error-free as possible. And, since Claudia Monet, the MC in Promises, appears in ten chapters of Lost, we inserted a book promo and sample chapter of the other book in both of them. I hoped that by stimulating interest in Promises, I’d encourage the reader to buy Lost…and vice-versa. We also include a link to all of my Kindle books in every eBook…if you haven’t done this, you should.

Maybe you can’t tell a book by its cover, but a good cover sells books. Since you’ll be uploading new files anyway, this is the time to critically examine your cover art. Don’t make a change in the eBook without also changing the print edition; the covers should match. You may also want to revisit your pricing strategy. The eBook market follows the high volume-low margin model. Prices are trending lower and, according to a recent study, 40% of Kindle eBooks list for $4.99 or less.

While redoing things, visit your genre classifications too and fine-tune your choices. It’s important to choose categories which accurately reflect the content of your book. This is, after all, the search criteria most people will use to find you. Clearly, you can’t help yourself by lying. Tagging a cozy mystery a crime thriller, or a sweet romance erotica may generate additional uploads, but it won’t satisfy readers.

When doing research on how others utilized their Free Days, I found out that a successful promotion yielded what marketers call a tail. In other words, the buzz generated by putting all these free copies into circulation creates ongoing word of mouth that (hopefully) moves your book into an extended string of sales. Keep in mind that the numbers from earlier campaigns may be skewed. An enormous number of people received a Kindle for Christmas. Along with them Amazon offered a 30-day free trial in Amazon Prime. So, if you happened to be lucky enough to schedule your free days in the early part of the year, you no doubt got a boost in borrowing from the trial memberships and additional downloads from people wanting to load up their new Kindle.

Now it’s time to lock in some days. The first piece of advice I got was promote early in the week because Friday and the Weekend are prime selling days. I did a two-day promo on Wednesday and Thursday. Had I done three days, I would’ve added Tuesday not Friday. Another suggested you book your days individually rather than as a block. That way, if the promo opens on a Tuesday and belly flops, you can easily cancel the other days. This also allows you to instantly make a two-day campaign a three-day campaign if things are going good.

Booking individual days is a good idea, but when we study my graph you’ll notice Promises started slow and gradually built momentum. Why? Did a competing book hold it back at first? Does it take time for readers to become aware of your title? Was it influenced by the timing of tweets and posts? The moral here is don’t be too quick to pull the plug. My experience seems to say that once you earn a high ranking, the momentum is somewhat self-sustaining. You’re king of the hill and it’s up to someone else to knock you off, or wait until your campaign ends.

As the time for your free days rolls around, you want to try to gin up as much publicity as possible. Make posts on your Facebook page, utilize Twitter, Linked-In, etc. There are also websites specifically dedicated to free Kindle Books. (I’ll include a link list with the second post.)

You can, and should, ask your friends to help spread the word. Remember, success is seldom a solitary effort. Friends, good friends, whom you may have never met and probably never will meet face-to-face, can provide immeasurable assistance by taking time to share your Face Book posts and spreading the word via their blogs, tweets, etc. As tiny ants in a world of publishing giants, it behooves us all to extend a helping hand whenever we can.
Next time, we’ll examine the results of all this work.

Next time, we’ll examine the results of all this work.
If you would like to know more about E.G. Lewis and his work, here are some helpful links..

Come back on Thursday for his results!


Saturday, June 2, 2012

In Pursuit of an Achievement

It's the start of a new month and a new CW blog chain. This month's topic is pursuit. In the attached photo these folks are at the start of a race in the pursuit of being the winning runner or in many cases just proving that they can finish the race.

One of my favorite memories is a day that began with a 5K run. I had decided to do this with a few of my friends. Other friends would be cheering us on along the way. As it was my first running event outside of the mandatory runs in high school, I didn't know what to expect, but having run laps at my heath club, I thought it would be simple enough to do.

What I didn't expect was the mass of people who would show up for this event.We were all lined up according to the speed that we said we could do. That meant that my friends and I were about three-quarters of the way back in the line up as we were recreational runners. All we could see was runners before us and behind us. When the shot rang out at the start of the race, we all started moving together as if a single living organism. As I ran I clipped the heel of a runner near me, which did not seem to affect the runner at all as he just moved forward. It was quite a different story for me. It was enough to flip me around and have me falling backward. All I could see was a rolling wave of people heading towards me and getting ready to run over me. Yet in just a few seconds other runners turned me around and aligned me in a running pace without seeming to break their own pace.

As I continued my run, the space got further apart between runners. Complete strangers were happily cheering all the runners on and offering them cups of water. That encouragement was definitely enough to keep me and the other runners going who knew they were far from the early finishers. Once we each finished the race, we each got tickets to pick up our photo finishes. Feeling totally hot and sweaty, I still felt a sense of accomplishment for finishing the race. I still have the race t-shirt I got from completing the event. To me it's like a trophy or a sign of an achievement. It was a day of camaraderie with my old friends and my temporary new friends who had also achieved the pursuit of their goal.

What is the race that you are running? What are you pursuing in life? Are you giving it your all or are you just along for the ride? Run the race and achieve your goal!

For more thoughts on pursuit tap into the other posts this month from the blog chain as noted to the right of this post.