Ask the Authors: Final Answers

Books and Coffee

We’ve reached the final segment of Ask the Authors, which will bring our series to a close. This has been a fun series and we’ve covered a lot in regards to writing. In this segment, our panel members will answer follow-up questions for each segment and wrap things up, so let’s get started. We’ll skip over the introductory segment, as there are really no follow-up questions as to the panel members identity, but if you missed that one, you really should pop in and check it out.  Our panel had a great line up, with DeAnna Knippling, Chris Dibella, Carol Riggs, Cynthia Vespia, Tim Baker, Janet Garber, Art Rosch, Margareth Stewart, Chris Barili and Jordan Elizabeth.

I want to thank each and every one of our panel members for their participation. This blog is a labor of love for me, which means I can’t pay for guest posts, etc… The time and energy each author took to respond to all of my, sometimes lengthy and open ended questions is greatly appreciated. When asked if they would be up for another round in the fall, many said yes, so it looks like we have another round of Ask the Authors still to look forward to.

Our first segment takes A Look at the Writing Process, where each of our panel members found different things most challenging, from sharing and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to self confidence, to marketing and finding readers, to the actual act of writing. The process is never the same for any two authors. Some prefer to write without distractions, while others like to write with music or other things going on in the background. Many authors like to write in public places, such as coffee shops, while others like Tim Baker find this too cliche or just need their privacy for writing, like Carol Riggs. We approach our writing in different ways, as well. While Janet Garber writes in vigenettes, Cynthia Vespia writes her first drafts by hand, and authors like DeAnna Knippling just let the characters go and see what happens, and most of our panel members are morning writers, like Chris Barili. Most of our panel members claim to lean toward character driven stories, but I’m with Cynthia Vespia in thinking that all stories must be a little of both. Most, like Art Rosch and Chris DiBella say the titles of their books just come to them, usually before actual writing begins, while the book is still in the design stage. Be sure to check it out and see what each of our panel members’ best pieces of advise for upcoming authors.

The follow up question for this segment is: What are your top five writing rules for success?

Cynthia Vespia: 

1. Write what you want, don’t follow the trends

2. Characterization is key

3. Have fun with world building

4. Think outside the box

5. And of course show don’t tell

Chris Barili

1. Learn your craft. Whether through college studies, mentorship, reading a lot, whatever. Learn what makes good stories.
2. Learn the business of your craft. All the writing in the world does you no good if you don’t know how to get it sold.
3. Find your writing tribe. A support crew of fellow writers is crucial for keeping you going.
4. Submit. Everywhere. You don’t get published if you’re not submitting.
5. Get your ass in the seat and do the work. Don’t wait for the stupid inspiration fairy or muse to sit on your shoulder and whisper bullshit in your ears. Write. Then write some more.

Janet Garber: 

1. Jot down phrases and ideas when inspiration hits no matter where you are.

2. Work on making the language sing.

3. Submit like crazy

4. Don’t take rejections personally. Just move on.

5. Don’t ever give up!

 

Art Rosch: 

One, be yourself.  Write to please yourself.  There is no other way to achieve authenticity other than to make your writing a means of exploring yourself, your humanity and the nature of your life experience.

If you’re writing fiction you need a great villain.  Nothing propels a story like a character that you hate, someone whom you want to see brought to justice.  I pay special attention to writing my villains.

Write with feeling or your readers will not feel anything.  Emotion is the fuel of story.  Be a storyteller, engage readers with plots that invoke high stakes.  The ultimate investment in a story can be the life or death of the characters, or the survival of a society, or the triumph of a civilization.  All the elements of story break down into conflicts of virtue versus destruction.  What makes a story interesting, however, is when it’s difficult to tell who is good and who is evil.  Things aren’t always simple.

A good book has three attributes.  It should be entertaining, informative and inspiring.  I can loosely define inspiration as the evocation of insight.  Insight feels good and you know when a writer provokes an understanding of the human condition.

That’s not exactly five rules, but it’s an overview of things I put in my writing.

Tim Baker: I really only have one rule…keep writing. If you want to be succesful as a writer you have to keep writing. Not only is it the best way to hone your skills, but the more you write, the more chance you have of being succesful.

Chris DiBella: I don’t have any rules for writing “success” because the term success will vary from person to person. What works for me may not work for other writers, and vice versa. There are a million blogs posting the same 5 to 10 rules for how to be a writer, but none of them seem to be putting out any books themselves, so why take advice from someone who isn’t successful doing what they are trying to tell you to do? There’s no secret magic formula, but you can’t be successful if you don’t write…..so just go write.

Carol Riggs: 

1. There ARE no rules.

2. Everyone writes lousy first drafts; get the words down on the page and learn to revise.

3. Always have other people check your work for inconsistencies, grammar, punctuation, etc.

4. If you truly love to write, never give up!

5. Not everyone will love your book; it’s subjective and there’s no way your writing will speak to every single person.

Margareth Stewart: 

1. Write. Don´t stop.

2. Don´t copy anyone else. Find your own voice.

3. Craft your stories.

4. Be humble. Be proud.

5. Keep it up.

P.S. Just write if you have something to tell, and then forget about it all. I don´t believe so much that we can predict success though we need to do our best for it. I see authors who might be famous, and they might not be the best ones, or even the most influential ones, or the ones that are still going to be recalled a century from now. I would rather quote Jorge Amado and say that writing is like living: 

“The world is like that – incomprehensible and full of surprises.” Jorge Amado – Brazilian Author. 

Jordan Elizabeth:

  1. Never give up on your dreams.
  2. Write what you know.  Write a book that you would want to read.
  3. Don’t write a shocking scene just for the shock value.
  4. Don’t write in a genre just because its selling; write in that genre because you’re passionate about it.

DeAnna Knippling:

1. Read.
2. Study what you read.
3. Practice what you study.
4. Get what you practice published.
5. Honor the people who read what you published.

The second segment was on Character Development. Many of our author panel develop characters from real people and composites of people they know, or at least give them realistic qualities and flaws to make them feel more human, easier to identify with, and most admit to having a little of themselves in their characters. Chris DiBella, Jordan Elizabeth, Janet Garber and Art Rosch even offer up real life examples. None of them openly admited to creating characters from archetypes, but I maintain that all characters fit into archetypes, whether the author does it consciously or not. Chris Barili offers his method of character development using a character triangle to determine what the character’s motivation is, what the character’s fear or flaw is, and what it is the character truly needs. It is clear that for all of our panel members and myself, our characters often come alive and take over what happens on the page, surprising even their creators at times. While Art Rosch and DeAnna Knippling like to take a more psychological approach to character development, authors like Tim Baker use life observation to ‘keep it real’. And I don’t think any of the panel members would disagree with Carol Riggs when she stated, “The more rich development you can give to a character, the more the reader can identify with them.” After all, that is what we’re striving for – characters that readers can relate and identify with.

Emotions

The follow-up question for this segment: How do you evoke emotion in your readers?

Cynthia Vespia: This is one of the most important parts of storytelling, and one of my favorite parts as well. Developing characters that readers resonate with is what stirs emotion. If they can see part of themselves in the character they will gravitate towards them more and that makes them care what happens to them in the end.

Chris Barili: You do that by creating a character they empathize with, then killing him or her, usually. No, wait. That’s the George Martin approach. Seriously–build a character about whom readers care, then put them in situations where they are threatened.

Janet Garber: This is admittedly not always easy. I concentrate on creating relatable and sympathetic characters.

Art Rosch: If you write with feeling your audience will respond with feeling.   Fiction is mostly about overcoming obstacles.  You cause your heroes to act bravely and unselfishly and your villains to act with malice and manipulation.  If you create a lovable hero, (that is, someone with flaws who intends to do a positive thing) your readers will respond. I don’t know if emotion can be taught.  Writing is a very psychological pursuit, and our emotions are unpredictable and all but uncontrollable.  So…be a psychologist.

Tim Baker: By giving my characters real emotion and letting the reader see it. Whatever emotion the characters are feeling in a particuklar scene I try to have them think and react the way any of us would (as much as allowable for the story anyway).

Chris DiBella: I just try to make my characters as real as possible and hopefully my readers like them enough to care about what happens to them.

Carol Riggs: I write in first person for (what I think is) the most close, personal experience. I also try to include a lot of sensory images—smell, taste, sounds, and sights to make things more real. With crying and sobbing and sad emotions, often less is more; otherwise it starts feeling melodramatic. And if the character is going through general experiences the reader can relate to (betrayal, loss, anger at a friend or parent) that helps make an emotional connection.

Jordan Elizabeth:  I rely on my own experiences when writing.  Many of the emotions I write about are ones that I have experienced, so I’m able to write from the heart.  If its a funny scene, then I’m laughing out loud.  If its a sad scene, I have tears drenching my cheeks.

DeAnna Knippling: One of my pet peeves is when an author is obviously playing for my emotions rather than letting the combination of plot, character, etc., do the work in a more logically consistent fashion.  You’ve seen it every time a beloved character gets wiped out and it really doesn’t affect the narrative, other than to “inspire” the rest of the characters to carry on or set the grounds for “anything could happen!!!!!!!”

If I want a reader to cry, I better have already wept bitter tears over the manuscript as I was writing it.

Our third segment was on Action and Dialog. While all authors want dialog that flows smooth and sounds realistic, different authors take different approaches to the task. While most of our panel members agree that listening to people and being able to hear the dialog spoken in your head are great ways to approach this, Carol Riggs offers the really great advice to read your work aloud, and Art Rosch offers the advice that dialog should always serve a purpose, rather than being just a space filler. In true life, we tend to talk just to hear ourselves sometimes. In writing, that sort of thing just takes up space on the page and the only purpose it may serve is to bore the reader, and of course, we don’t want that. Achieving a balance between action and dialog seems to come natural for many of our panel members claim the only trick or secret is to keep the story moving and not let it get too bogged down with details. Tell readers what they need to know, but keep things moving. If you missed this segment, be sure to drop in and check it out, because it features excerpts of dialog scenes from authors Chris Barili, Janet Garber, DeAnna Knippling, Cynthia Vespia, Tim Baker, Art Rosch and Margareth Stewart.

The following is a reader comment left regarding Dialog. While a couple of our panel members replied directly in the comments, DeAnna Knippling’s reply seemed spot on to me and I wanted to include it here.

Reader Ken Hughs said:

Lots of excellent advice there.

I’m always on the lookout for ways to analyze dialogue a bit deeper than that. For instance:

Who talks more? Does she say a lot on her favorite subject (an expert, or just concerned about it) and less on other things, or is she nervous or social enough to chime in a little after everything– or so full of herself she does both?

How organized are his sentences? A longer sentence can mean he has a more complex complete thought, unless it’s a run-on; several short sentences could each mean new thoughts still coming in behind the last ones. Or the most eloquent person might be the one with the simple line that says it all.

Adjectives and adverbs? Someone passionate, or more in tune with their senses, is more likely to pile on the modifiers, while others are plainer-spoken. Similes and metaphors take this even further– if you can keep someone from becoming cliche about using their job or background to compare things too.

DeAnna Knipling: It sounds like the commenter, Ken Hughes, is doing some good things with pacing.  Huzzah!  Once you get past the point of being able to make dialogue that sounds natural and gets the point across in a scene, the next step is to start working on the pacing of the dialogue–and all the issues Mr. Hughes mentioned are relevant there.

To back up a bit for writers who aren’t quite down in the weeds of studying pacing yet:

  • Pacing is the art of connecting content (what you’re writing about) to form (the layout of the little black marks on the page, for writers).  When the word lengths and patterns, sentence lengths and patterns, scene lengths and patterns all line up with the meaning of the story somehow, the story is “paced well.”  Pacing is about building your story like a woodworker, choosing your material and construction techniques to fit the final purpose of the project.  Any element of a story can have pacing.
  • Each character’s dialogue will also have its own pacing, just as Mr. Hughes says, and it should depend on the nature of the character.
  • The examples that Mr. Hughes gives are excellent examples of what to consider with pacing dialogue.
  • I’d like to add that anything that you add between pieces of dialogue also reflects the pacing of the dialogue, so if you have chunks of description between bits of dialogue, the reader will take them as pauses in the conversation, or as the POV character’s mind wandering during the conversation.
If you can handle the things Mr. Hughes brings up, you’ll be doing well indeed 🙂

Mr. Hughes and DeAnna bring up another issue here, which we haven’t really touched on.

Action

Naturally my follow-up question is:What methods do you find effective in controlling your pacing?

Cynthia Vespia: I don’t. I just write what comes to me.

Chris Barili: I don’t know. I just go with what the characters are feeling, I guess. Their tension tells me how to pace a scene.

Janet Garber: Ah. You must make every scene count. Have it lead readers somewhere, to the destination you intend.

Art Rosch: I’ve watched a thousand Samurai movies.  They’re great for offering templates for action sequences.  Samurai didn’t waste effort in useless display and they were completely focused on surviving the next duel or battle. Unless you’re writing about super-heroes your characters need to operate within reasonable physical parameters.  I act out movements and gestures at my chair in front of my computer.  Does this look reasonable?  Can my characters do this-and-that?

In my novel Confessions Of An Honest Man, I have a 70 page battle sequence that takes place in Afghanistan.  It’s a much admired passage with editors and readers. It has an arc, or several arcs.  There’s the build-up to an initial confrontation.  A mini-climax occurs early in the scene.  But it doesn’t end there.  A greater threat appears unexpectedly and my hero must cope with expanded dangers.  Each time a resolution seems to occur another and greater threat appears.  The point of this sequence is that my hero learns things about himself, learns that he has more courage than he thought. There’s outer action but there’s also my hero’s thoughts and emotions as the scene(s) unfold.  This pendulum between action and a character’s inner dialogue offers a means of pacing.

Tim Baker: When writing action I try to write only the action. By this I mean if I’m writing an action packed scene I don’t stray away from the action with anything that will slow the reader down. I want the reader to be able to be in the action.

Chris DiBella: I’ve never thought about trying to control my pacing. When I get to action scenes, I just try to write them in a way where I’m describing enough that it paints a picture for my readers. I don’t have a formula for how many pages an action scene should be. I just write them until I feel it’s time to move on with the story.

Carol Riggs: I try to keep some sort of tension, question, or compelling forward movement on every page, whether internal for the characters or external to them. I use cliffhanger-type chapter endings to keep the reader turning pages. It’s also important not to rush the “big moments”—sometimes the pace needs to be drawn out on powerful scenes to heighten the impact or emotions. In an action scene, short punchy sentences help move the pacing along.

Margareth Stewart: Word count and daily targets; otherwise, it does not flow. Sometimes, I feel like I am a General to myself: “for instance, no chocolate if I don´t finish 2.500 word count today”, and there it goes. Other times, I need to be a little more flexible because things do happen in between word counting, not with the plot or story itself, but in terms of living – ordinary living – bills to pay, a tire to fix, and so on. Another good and productive management is during November Writing. Besides that, I use the same method for editing – this week I have to review 50 pages and by the way I am late, so I will have to do extra work at the weekend. Therefore, I have told my kids, we can only go to the cinema if I can complete the goal before Sunday. By the way, that´s another point about being a writer, we feel quite weird and funny.

Jordan Elizabeth: I tend to just write, write, write.  I don’t plan my stories ahead; I just go off a basic plot idea in my mind.  Pacing falls naturally into place.

In our third segment, our author panel members discussed Setting,  where author Carol Riggs suggests basing fictional worlds on real life places as a good method of world building, and travel for authors is recommended in order to expand on their true life experiences that shine through in their writing, although most of our panel members have written about places they have never been or don’t really exist, like Jordan Elizabeth, who writes YA fantasy. DeAnna Knippling loves to write about Victorian England, and all agree that sensory details should be added to make the setting feel more real. This segment also features setting excerpts from Cynthia Vespia, Art Rosch, Chris Barili, DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber. (Strangely enough, I just realized I gave no follow-up question for this segment, although we could do a whole series on world building and setting. Wow!)

Our fourth segment covered the topic of Publishing, which many authors opt to do themselves these days. Our panel members were a nice blend of traditional, small press and self-published authors, with three strictly self-published authors: Art RoschChris DiBella, and DeAnna Knippling; one author who is strictly small press: Jordan Elizabeth; and five who have done a hybrid combination of small press and self-publishing in one form or another: Cynthia VespiaMargareth Stewart, Tim Baker, and three authors who have done a combination of traditional and self-publishing: Janet GarberChris Barili, and Carol Riggs. Together, they bring their own experiences to the table to talk about the pros and cons of each publishing venue.

I have two follow-up questions for this segment: 

Are your books available in print or digital format, or both? Why?

Cynthia Vespia: Both. Because I like to have my work available in as many formats as possible to appeal to different readers. Next I’ll do audio books.

Chris Barili: Both. And why wouldn’t you do it that way? You’re robbing yourself of readers if you ignore one medium.

Janet Garber: My books are in print and in digital form and the first traditionally purchased book is on audiotape as well.

Art Rosch: I need to emphasize a huge fact with regard to the whole publishing venture.  It takes money to market books.  I don’t have money, I’m living on a fixed income.  I started my enterprise by going to Smashwords.com and e-publishing three of my books.  I did the same at Amazon.  An author can publish digitally for free.  I designed my own book covers, using my stock of personal photography and my skills in Photoshop. Such as they are.

I am now about to turn my novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man into a paperback on Amazon.  I have no illusions about getting sales.  I just want to have a physical object, MY BOOK, in my hands and have it be available to people in my environment.

Tim Baker: My books are available in print, digital and audio (not all of them are currently available in audio, but the ones that aren’t are in production.) The reason why is simple…give more options to people and increase your chances of being read.

Chris DiBella: Both. There are still people out there (somewhere) who like to read physical copies of books.

Carol Riggs: All my books are available in both print and digital formats. This is important, because some readers prefer print and some prefer digital.

Jordan Elizabeth:  Both (except for Kistishi Island.  I have to sell 500 ebooks before it will be in print).  I like having a combination of formats.  Some people prefer print and some prefer ebook.  I’ve heard from a lot of readers that they have to use ebooks because of eyesight problems.  Print books are great for book signings.

DeAnna Knippling: Yes and yes.  See writing rule #5.  I really ought to be working on audio as well.  Readers should be able to read conveniently.

Which publishing platforms do you use? Which do you recommend? Why?

Cynthia Vespia: I’m focused on Amazon at the moment because that’s where the majority of buyers/readers go. I’ve also used Smashwords and Barnes and Noble for digital.

Chris Barili: Amazon and Smashwords for my self-published stuff. I prefer Smashwords because they distribute to a bunch of other retailers, saving me time.

Janet Garber: I used Lulu.com and was satisfied with their speed and the look of the final product.

Art Rosch: I think Smashwords is great.  There’s all the support and information you need.  Amazon is, of course, the giant, but as with everything in digital publishing, it’s all automated.

Tim Baker: I use CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing and ACX (for audio). Since those are the ones I use – those would be the ones I recommend.

Chris DiBella: I use Amazon and CreateSpace. It’s easy to set up and get my books out to potential readers from those sites.

Carol Riggs: Three of my books are traditionally published, and the publishers distribute in various ways (Entangled Teen uses Macmillan, for instance). For self-publishing, I use CreateSpace and Amazon KDP; it’s relatively easy to release a book on these platforms.

Jordan Eizabeth: My publishers use Ingram and CreateSpace.  I can’t speak to the ease of use.

DeAnna Knippling: It’s not so much which ones, as how you decide which ones to use.  I’m starting to look at these things as, “How does this company treat its readers?  Are the readers happy with the experience?”  Another good set of questions is, “How does this company treat its writers?  Does it pay them promptly? Does it have good reporting?  Do they have good avenues for books that aren’t bestsellers to reach readers? Is the damn site hard to use?”

I’ve dropped a number of publishing platforms that don’t adhere to these things, or at least stopped using them directly, but approach them through other distributors.  [Cough] Barnes & Noble [Cough]

Our fifth segment of Ask the Authors covered the topic of Genre Differences. Again, we had a nice mix for this topic. Among our author panel members we had: Jordan Elizabeth, who writes YA Fantasy and Steampunk; Carol Riggs, who writes both Fantasy and Science Fiction; Tim Baker, who writes crime action adventure novels; Cynthia Vespia, who writes speculative fiction for adults and teens; and those who dabble a little in all of them: Janet Garber, Chris Barili and DeAnna Knippling. They discuss the use of tropes when writing in the different genres, and also the differences in the creative process, the different types of research required, and the differences in audience and marketing. No follow-up questinos for this segment.

In the sixth segment, our author panel discusses The Business of Writing. According to Jordan Elizabeth and Carol Riggs, marketing can make or break you in the world of writing, and in today’s digital world, much or all of those duties fall upon the author, requiring us to treat writing not only as a job or a passion, but as a business. Today’s author may be responsible for everything about their book, from writing the book, to editing and cover art, to publishing, to marketing and promotion, and everything in between. While many of these tasks can be hired out, not all authors can afford to do so. I didn’t have any follow-up for this segment, mainly because the next two segments were follow-up to this.

For the seventh segment of Ask the Authors, our author panel discusses the many ways there are to Building an Reader Platform.  Most of our panel members prefer face-to-face events, over online activities, but it seems they continue to use the Internet and social media to promote their books, feeling that both are needed. Some panel members come up with some very creative ideas, like Tim Baker, who had a tire cover made for the spare on his Jeep with his logo on it, or Chris DiBella, who had customized tee-shirts made telling the world that he is their next favorite author. Who knows? It might work.

Book Reviews

The follow-up question for this segment is: What methods have you found successful for obtaining reviews?

Cynthia Vespia: Asking. I ask other writers, or I seek out bloggers who do reviews.

Janet Garber: Approaching authors who write in a similar humorous fashion; writing reviews myself as a pay-it-forward tactic; bugging people who enjoyed the book.

Art Rosch: I completely suck at this and it’s my own fault.  I must have social media halitosis.  There are billions of people who don’t know about me.  I’ve been hammering at this for many years and haven’t cracked the code yet.  I do recommend one author-marketing guru (among the many who haunt my email inbox).  That’s Mark Dawson.  He refunded my money long after the expiration date for one of his courses and he didn’t have to.  He teaches at a good pace and he has much to offer to authors who want to market independently.

Tim Baker: I haven’t found a successful way to get reviews. People generally don’t like to write them. I’ve done everything from blog posts, social media requests and even offered to include people in a book if they wrote enough reviews. It’s the thing I find most discouraging about writing.

Chris DiBella: I don’t like to hound people for reviews. There are some authors who post constantly about it, and I find it annoying. We all want reviews, but it seems some authors will only ask for reviews from people they know will give them a favorable review. I simply do not like that approach. The way I look at it is the reviews will come in time – or maybe not. They’re nice to get, but I don’t stress about it. I also have my own little rule of thumb of not to trust any book with less than 15 reviews of all 5-stars (unless there’s some bad reviews in there too). Anyone can get 15 friends or family members to write a good review. It’s that first bad review I usually trust the most. Same goes for my books. My first bad review was actually pretty spot-on with the critique. She liked the story, but drilled me on editing. No friends or family members would have left a review like that. I pulled the book and re-edited it. Of course it sucks to get bad reviews, but they can be turned into a positive. And for the love of everything you consider holy, please stop arguing with readers who give you a bad review. Let your fans battle it out for you.

Carol Riggs: My publishers used NetGalley for obtaining reviewers from bloggers. A newsletter also works decently for requesting reviews. I try not to ask for reviews too much, however, because it’s off-putting. Either a reader will leave you a review or he/she won’t. No one should be obligated; an author doesn’t get honest reviews that way anyway.

Jordan Elizabeth: Author friends have told me they have good luck when posting free books on Facebook in exchange for reviews.  I haven’t had luck that way.  I usually reach out to bloggers.  Most of the time, they are willing to review.

Just a note: I also see the other side of this issue, as I do honest reviews in exchange for ARCs right here on Writing to be Read. The problem I’ve run into is that since I’m supplied with a free copy, at times Amazon will not aknowledge my reviews because they can’t verify the sale. I imagine those exchanging reviews on Facebook might run into the same type of issues. So, even if you can give away some e-copies in exchange for a review, there is no gaurantee that Amazon will acknowledge it.

DeAnna Knippling: Asking nicely.  I was using Instafreebie for a while, but I think that exhausted its readers fairly quickly, because it was mostly a platform for trading newsletter subscribers, not a sustainable model.  What new readers was Instafreebie bringing to the table?  Not as many as the authors themselves had brought.  I did well by it, but I think that was a matter of getting in at the right moment and not “what a great site for reviews!”

I think your best bet is to treat reviews like a pyramid.  At the base, write good books and make it easy for readers to read more.  Next level, make it easy for your newsletter subscribers to get review copies.  I have an ARC list.  Up from that, whatever social media sites you’re on, keep an eye out for ways to attract reviews OR newsletter subscribers.  At the top of the pile is a review that will be seen widely, a review on a radio show or in a newspaper, things like that.  Go for it when you see it.  But be more loyal to your base of writing good books and making them easy for readers to read them.

Don’t put all your eggs in a basket that’s essentially just moving piles of email addresses around, or reviews that you have to pay for (and that Amazon will delete as soon as they get a chance), begging for reviews from your writer-friends (which screws up your also boughts something fierce), or whatever short-term solution everyone is chasing at the moment.  Play the long game, take advantage of what you can when you can, then drop back into your long game.
Believe me, I know how freaking slow this all goes.

 

In the last segment, our author panel members discussed many of the issues involved in Book Marketing and Promotion. This is a big topic for many authors, including me, because unlike writing, it does not come natural to us. It is such a big issue that a couple of our panel members, DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber, bowed out of this segment, rather than express the frustration of not having the answers. But those panel members who did participate had some insightful things to share. They talk about their favorite social media sites for promotion, marketing and giveaway sites, marketing platforms, the effectiveness of author websites and blogs, newletters, press releases and interviews. Be sure and catch this segment, or you’ll never know why Chris DiBella’s mother is his greatest marketing tool.

Book Sale

The follow-up question for this segment is: Many of you said in last week’s segment that you preferred face to face events over Internet and social media marketing and that you found face to face marketing to be more effective. What type of face to face events have you found to be effective?

Cynthia Vespia: The reason conferences don’t work is because there are waaaayyyy too many writers all vying for attention at these things. Also, the majority of the writer conferences only alot 1-2 days for signings and sales that are usually only a few hours long. That is not enough time to make a dent in sales or really do any type of networking with your readers, especially when there are so many other authors there doing the same thing. Some of the more popular ones get all the attention. So imagine you’re a little fish in a sea of whales…how do you get noticed? I’ve run into some very bad etiquette at some of these things before, as well. The guy next to me would skate every sale I tried to make by talking over me and offering a free book. How do you compete with free? You don’t.

So the face-to-face events I prefer are my own individual signings, smaller book fairs, or (and I hate to mention this because it was a well guarded secret before) but I do the comic conventions and they work the best. Plus, they’re alot more fun.

Chris Barili: I’ve found genre cons to be MUCH more effective at selling books and gaining followers than writing conferences, and if you think about it, it makes sense. A genre con is full of fans of whatever genre you like. They’re LOOKING for genre stories. At a writers conference, writers are there looking to SELL stories.

Janet Garber: I find book fairs and readings most enjoyable as I get a chance to speak with the potential readers. Being a guest at a book club meeting is great too because you hear your characters discussed as if they were real people and you learn what readers liked and didn’t like.

Carol Riggs: I personally like/prefer book fairs or festivals over bookstore signings, because they’re more informal. I feel less “on the spot,” and I don’t have to make a microphone presentation. Instead, I can conversationally chat with people who come up to my book table. It feels more like a relationship that way, instead of a “buy my book” spiel. For instance, last summer (as well as this coming summer) I will be participating in the Lane County Fair in Eugene, Oregon, with a book table. Last fall I was also part of the Literacy for Libraries author event in Eugene, and I enjoyed schmoozing with fellow authors and with the crowd who wandered through the building. Sometimes authors can band together and create their own events at libraries and bookstores; it’s less intimidating than going it solo. The purpose of these events aren’t to sell as many books as you can, but rather get to know your readers and get your name out there—that’s an important marketing tip that a seasoned author shared with me.

Jordan Elizabeth: I prefer craft shows and library events.  The crowds are manageable, and as I write young adult, many teenagers and children come with their parents.  Parents and grandparents are also eager to buy gifts.  Because these events are smaller than most conferences, you’re able to have a one-on-one conversation.  You get to really understand what types of books these people read and you can gear them toward the book like might like the best.

DeAnna Knippling: Some people are great salespeople.  I am not.  That’s not some kind of subtle insult or anything.  I’m learning.  But I’ve always found networking more valuable to me than selling per se.  If a sale comes out of it, great.  And I’m not like, “Here’s my business card, call me!”  To me, a face to face event means that people are far more likely to put their hair down and tell me things.  Interesting things.  Gossip.  Rumors.  Scandalous lies!  And I love connecting other people and providing a safe place to talk.  I have a SF/F/H writer group, the Colorado Tesla Writers, that is basically just a Facebook page and a monthly meal for people to hang out and feel like Real Writers(tm) and let our hair down.  That’s it.  I’m not sure what it’s effective at, but people tell me that it is, so I keep doing it.

To wrap up this last segment, I want to thank our panel members for the great writing rules. If you create characters who are not only realistic, but who the readers can identify and empathize with, and if you write with emotion which comes from your soul, you can evoke in your readers and make them care about your characters and your story. And while pacing is important and can be controlled with tension, conflict, action and dialog, most of our author panel don’t consciously write with pacing in mind, but rather it seems to come naturally. Also, we may need to pace ourselves to get the story out, as well as controlling the pacing of the story itself.

It does make sense to offer your books in as many formats as possible, because readers aren’t all the same. Amazon and Smashwords appear to be the favorite for digital publishing and CreateSpace was preferred for print publishing, although I believe they have made some changes and now Amazon is also providing print books as an option, so that may change.

Reviews are an author’s calling card these days, and it seems the best way to get them is to ask, whether in a newsletter, in person, or in the book itself, but it’s best not to be pushy. Genre conventions, book fairs and festivals, book signings, and library events are the preferred face to face events to make connections with readers. 

Well, it’s time to bring our time with our Ask the Authors panel members to a close. I do hope we’ve provided some helpful information and advice for all you authors out there, and maybe even made you smile once or twice. Thank you all for joining us. Be sure to watch for round two, this fall, where we will have several of these panel members back, as well as inviting other authors to join our panel. The best way to be sure not to miss out on this and all the other great content here on Writing to be Read is to sign up for email notification of follow me on WordPress. I hope you all will drop in frequently.

Next Monday, on Writing to be Read, I’ll be interviewing author Mark Shaw, who has optioned his book, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, for film. Something all authors dream of and some actually get the opportunity to do. How exciting. We’ll also be talking about his new book, Courage in the Face of Evil, which is to be release in June. Don’t miss it!

I want to extend a big thank you to our panel members, Carol Riggs, Tim Baker, Jordan Elizabeth, DeAnna Knippling, Chris DiBella, Art Rosch, Janet Garber, Margareth Stewart, Chris Barili, and Cynthia Vespia. You guys and gals were a great panel and together we created a great Ask the Authors series. I feel it was very successful and I had a lot of fun with it. I hope all of you did, too. Until next time.

 

 

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Ask the Authors: Genre Differences

genres

 My first semester in the M.F.A. program at Western, we were assigned to write an excerpt in a genre outside of that in which we normally write. I was assigned the western genre, and while I’d never really written much in the western genre, I learned from that exercise that I was pretty good at writing westerns, and that excerpt became part of my first published novel, Delilah. Now I’m working on the sequel, and even though the western genre is not as popular as it once was, I enjoy writing westerns, and for me, that may be more important than how many I sell. (But, how many I sell is important, don’t get me wrong. I want ton be a best seller as much as the next author.) I could never be a literary writer. Hell, I can’t even read all the way through some literary novels. While I have a knack for the western genre, I also have available Last Call, which is a sci-fi short and my paranormal mystery, Hidden Secrets. I guess that makes me a multi-genre author.

Today Ask the Authors is going to talk about some of the genres and what makes them different. We’ll also look at what kind of things we do differently when writing in more than one genre, regarding the writing process, research and marketing. Without further ado, let’s see what our panel members have to say.

Which genres do you write?

DeAnna Knippling: Most of them.
Jordan Elizabeth:  My books are all young adult with a touch of fantasy.  Some of the books involve fantasy creatures.  Others feature ghosts.
Carol Riggs: I write mostly fantasy and science fiction. However, I approach those genres with a light touch; I think they’re more accessible to a wider range of readers that way, rather than saturated (high) fantasy or hard sci-fi.

Tim Baker: I really don’t know what my genre is – or if I actually can be placed into only one. Generally speaking I write fast-paced, tongue in cheek, semi- humorous crime novels. I have also taken that description and coupled it with supernatural themes. My latest novel is pretty much a suspense-thriller, but it is still fast-paced with very small doses of humor.

For the purposes of this segment – let’s just say I write crime novels.

Cynthia Vespia: I write speculative fiction for adults and teens. For those who don’t know what speculative fiction is, it is  a broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements. Often described as the ‘What if?’ genre, speculative fiction is distinguished by being based on unusual ideas and elevated imagination.

I write a combination of urban fantasy, dark fantasy, magical realism, supernatural, paranormal, superhero, and dystopian. Which is why I started to go under the umbrella of speculative fiction because it encompasses all of that. I’ve dabbled in horror, and I’m trying my hand at space-opera, but those aren’t my main genres.

Janet Garber: I’ve written and published in multiple genres: journalism, non-fiction book, book and movie reviews, essays, short stories, novels, poetry, sci-fi/spec, humor. About the only thing I haven’t tried yet is screenwriting.  I’ve also got a number of children’s stories and I would love to put them together in a book someday.

Chris Barili: I write in every genre. I think the story and the characters dictate the genre, so rather than starting out to write a fantasy novel or a western short story, I set out with a character and a problem and let things go from there. With the acceptance of a story of mine to a new crime fiction magazine, I have now sold fiction in all the major genres: Fantasy, SF, Horror, western, romance, and crime. I write most of my stuff in the speculative fiction genres of fantasy and horror. In the end, a story’s a story, no matter the label we stick on it.

Follow-Up for YA authors: You write YA, but you write different genres under that umbrella: steampunk, fantasy, maybe even sci-fi. To my way of thinking your genres should be labled YA steampunk, YA fantasy, YA sci-fi, YA romance, etc… You may not have the answer for how this practice of clumping all the genres under one YA umbrella came about, but what are your thoughts on it?
Carol Riggs:  Here’s my off-the-cuff answer to that:

I think clumping everything under just “YA” is pretty limiting and doesn’t tell the reader much info. Technically, as many editors and agents point out, YA is simply an age category, for readers 12-18 (and up) and involves main characters who are usually between the ages of 14 to 18. The actual GENRE is a dividing into things like steampunk, fantasy, sci-fi, historical, graphic novel, etc. But it’s very handy to have labels like “YA steampunk” because then you get the age category listed as well as the genre.

Dark Western Fantasy

Dark Western Fantasy

Each genre has certain elements which readers pick up a book expecting to find within the story. Romance tropes are probably some of the most familiar: there are two characters, they often start out disliking one another, to spite all odds they fall in love, but there are obstacles to overcome for them to be together, and of course, there must be a Happy Ever After. These are the elements of romance, and without them we don’t have much of a story. This is what romance readers expect to get when they pick up a romance novel. Its what they want, and if you don’t deliver, your reader following is liable go find another author who does.

I’m sure you’ll all recognize the tropes for the western genre as well: you have a lone character who stands up for what’s right against high odds, and must battle against the environment to complete their journey. There is a certain time period in history in which the western must occur, after (1700s?). I optioned to go against a trope of the genre when I made my protagonist female, but by giving her a romantic interest, I crossed over into the romance genre, therefore widening my audience scope. Let’s see how our panelist handle the tropes of their genres.

What are the more well-known tropes of your genre(s)?
Tim Baker: Tropes? Wow – I had to look up what a trope was!! So you basically mean clichés? This is difficult for me to answer because, as I said, I don’t neatly fit into a set genre, but as far as crime novels go I guess the biggest tropes would be the hero with the deep dark secret in his past, or the villain who is hell-bent on avenging an egregious wrong perpetrated upon him by “the man”. There is also the ever-popular femme-fatale as well as the buddy concept, where two characters are thrust together against their will and have to work together…then end up being best friends.
Cynthia Vespia: In every genre the readership of that specific genre is expecting certain elements to be included, which is what drew them to the genre in the first place. It is the job of the author to deliver those expectations. Whether its pacing, character, or story there are certain approaches to each genre. I’m just aware of including those elements while I’m writing a book.
Janet Garber: My female protagonists tend to be slightly neurotic, soulful, fighting for their lives in one way or another. My villains are like dementors, sucking all the air and light and creativity out of everyone they come in contact with. It’s easy to love the hero or heroine and detest the villain. I will say that usually I’m too soft on my characters, don’t let loose on them as much as I should, and insist on happy endings. I guess I write the kind of stories I want to read.
Chris Barili: Since I write in all of them, this would take most of the rest of the day for me to answer, but tropes are kind of outdated now in many genres thanks to the crossover between them. Urban fantasy, for example, has different tropes than fantasy or urban adventure kinds of stories.
Horror.Women.Parnormal Romance

Horror, Women’s Fiction and Paranormal Romance

How much do you think about the tropes of your genre while you are writing?
DeAnna Knippling: Hmmm…I study the tropes, but I don’t think about them much, other than when they annoy me.   I try to focus more on what the reader actually wants to feel, although I might get excited about some set piece that I want to include, especially for my ghostwriting projects.  “I get to go to Paris!  I don’t want to take people to the Eiffel tower…but we are TOTALLY going into the back of this cafe and making crepes.”  Stuff like that.
Jordan Elizabeth: I don’t while I’m writing.  I don’t really think about them at all until someone makes a comment in a review.  I’ll read it and think “huh, I guess so?”
Carol Riggs: I basically know the tropes and I know some people are eager to see those tropes; it’s part of the genres. However, I like to be original and if I do include a trope, I try to put a fresh spin on it. I do this mostly when outlining my novels before I begin, but also when I’m considering a plot twist.
Tim Baker: I think about them constantly because I try to avoid them. I try to make my stories and characters as “real” as possible.
Chris Barili: Consciously – not at all. Subconsciously, my experience reading across genres helps a lot. They tend to insert themselves once the story gets rolling.
Crime Novels

Crime Novels

Even when writing fiction, there’s a certain amount of research required, and the type of research may depend on the type of story you are writing. For the western genre, I did quite a bit of research into Colorado history and the old west in general. For Delilah, I also researched specific details, such as the different types of rifles available during the timeline of the story and the attributes and features of each, and how long it takes to travel certain distances on horseback or by wagon. For other genres, these details would be of no interest, but other things would be more relevant, so the type of research will vary between genres. Our panel members write a wide variety of genres. Let’s Ask the Authors what kinds of things they research.
What kind of research do you do for your genre(s)?
DeAnna Knippling: I’m trying to tackle the top 100 books in a genre before I try to write in it.  Sometimes with the ghostwriting I get overcome by events.
Jordan Elizabeth: I try not to research fantasy creatures, because I want mine to be original.  The only research I’ll do involves historical content.  Many of my stories flash back to a time in history.  Escape From Witchwood Hollow follows three girls.  One is in the 1600’s, one in the 1800’s, and one in the 2000’s. 
Carol Riggs: It really depends on the book. The sci-fi genre demands more real, science-related research. For instance, for my latest sci-fi I researched things like assault drones, concealed carry laws, hoverboards, pepper spray, and how to get over or through a barbed wire fence. For fantasy, I find myself often researching medieval kinds of things—what hut roofs are made of, how fast horses travel, etc.
Tim Baker: I’m not big on research. I try to write stories that don’t require it, or require very little. Most of my research consists of observing life.
Cynthia Vespia: It depends what type of story I’m writing. Most of my research is for location, weapons, or mythology like monsters etc.
Janet Garber: I would say I’m light on research. Mostly I draw upon people I’ve encountered casually, places I’ve passed through, choices I could have made. The road not taken.  It always intrigues me that decisions we make at certain times in our lives have such long-lasting results. No wonder we obsess about doing the right thing.
Chris Barili: Genre research is just plain reading. I try to read across a broad spectrum of genres. I’m currently reading a crime novel, Dead Stop, by my friend Barbara Nickless. Before that, I was reading a zombie anthology edited by Jonathan Maberry. And on my TBR pile I see SF, fantasy, romance, and a weird western.
Margareth Stewart: I do lots of research – on time, place, suitable names for characters, historical data, language and how people relate to one another. As I read various genres, every piece of information is important. Besides, when I am writing a new genre, I read the top writers of that field to figure out their style. For writers, I should say research is the beginning and the final proof  we are in the right direction. It makes our writing real – to a point that sometimes readers even inquire me: “Have you not met Pierre (main character of Open)? Don’t you tell me he is not real?”. It is unbelievable – our ability to make up stories and a fiction world.
Steampunk.Knippling and Elizabeth

Steampunk

What came to be The Great Primordial Battle, Book 1 in the PfG series, was my thesis project, so it had detailed planning. I had so much detail that it couldn’t all be contained in one book. I had outlined the story, and charted out so much backstory and extremely complicated lineage for my characters, and since my characters can appear in different personas at different times, I charted all of those too. In fact, I had so  much detail, I couldn’t possibly fit it all into one book, and I had to restructure the whole thing into a four book series. I had never done such detailed research and planning before. Although I did do a lot of research for Delilah, the plotting wasn’t nearly as detailed and or complex. Whether that is due to differences in genres, or to multiple POVs vs single POV, I cannot say. Perhaps both make their contributions.
With all the different types of research that comes with writing in each genre, we have to wonder about other differences. Do we go through the same writing process when crafting a science fiction story that we do to create a romance? Don’t forget too, that we can have a story that falls into one genre with elements of other genres intermixed, such Jordan Elizabeth’s Treasure series, which is steampunk with a western style setting, or a story that crosses genres like Chris Barili’s B.T. Clearwater paranormal romance, Smothered, or my Playground for the Gods series, which is science fantasy. Let’s see what our panel members think.
If you write more than one genre, in what ways does your writing process differ for different genres?
DeAnna Knippling: Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard, headphones on ears?
Carol Riggs: With both fantasy and sci-fi, I get to use my imagination a lot, which is why I love those genres. I adore making stuff up. In general, I make up less stuff for sci-fi, because the tech and world details are more rooted in science and reality.
Janet Garber: Much of my work is humorous. I love to do a story with  echoes of Twilight Zone and scary stories (no gore though. I abhor gore). My serious fiction tends to concern itself with identity, coming of age, women who are trapped in one way or another and fighting to break free.
Chris Barili: The process itself remains the same, but how much time is spent on things like world building, character sketches, outlines, and so on varies a bit based on genre.
YA Fantasy and Science Fiction

YA Fantasy and Science Fiction

Different genres appeal to different audiences, so it really helps to know who you’re writing for and which markets you should aim your advertising and promotional efforts at. I believe it also can affect which categories your book appears in on the Amazon rankings, but that’s an area that I am still in the process of learning about, so I’m not in the position to partake in that discussion yet. But, perhaps we can learn a thing or two from the experiences of our panel members.
How do you think the marketing and promotion for your genre(s) differs?  
Jordan Elizabeth: I know erotica is easier to promote.  People eat it up like candy.  Young adult fiction is harder.  Most of the ads and newsletter swaps go to adults, not teens.  Usually that’s okay, because adults enjoy young adult fiction, but its hard to market directly to teens.
Carol Riggs: You’re marketing to different audiences, people with different tastes. The kinds of promo images for fantasy and sci-fi will be greatly different than for a contemporary novel or a romance novel, for instance. The websites and places you might promo on would be different. There are different conventions a writer could tap into and attend (or speak at), such as Comic Con or a sci-fi convention.
Obviously, each book’s Amazon categories are different, to give best visibility to a title. I haven’t done so, but I could select different conventions or even different book stores to do signings at. I think posters and images are strong things to use, and can draw people across a room to you and your book. This means your images (especially book covers) need to capture the genre well.
Tim Baker:  I don’t think it does. I am not marketing my genre – I am marketing my books to anybody who can read – as I’m sure other authors do as well. I understand that all genres have a core audience, but those people will be there regardless of your marketing techniques. It’s the rest of the people we should all be trying to reach.
Cynthia Vespia: Marketing and promotion is very specific for each genre and that’s due to the readership. I feel as though romance and erotica have a really large readership, where some other genres may not be as large. For example westerns aren’t that popular any more so if that’s the genre you’re writing in then it might feel a little tougher. Because I write in the fantasy realm alot I found I can cross-promote with alot of commercial vehicles such as different conventions, movie/TV tie-ins, etc.
Janet Garber: Journalism is easy in comparison to other genres. You get an assignment to do an interview or column or essay, submit it on the deadline and usually see it published very soon afterward. At that point you let your fans know the article has come out. All other genres: it’s a question of experimenting with getting the word out on your website, blog, facebook, etc., running ads perhaps, doing book signings and readings in bookstores and libraries. It’s trial and error until you figure out what works.
Margareth Stewart: Oh, places may vary, but strategies remain the same – creating connection to all possible readers. Different readers are found at different places – we have to search for them. A good example is what I did for “Open/Pierre´s journey after war”. I sent book release and marketing material to WWII discussion groups in the internet. I also placed articles about it in War Blogs and I still keep constantly trying to find people who are interested in WWII. We – writers – have to develop the ability to create connections with people who are related to our topics and genres (all the time).
Dark Fantasy.Western Steampunk

Dark Fantasy and Western Steampunk

If you write in more than one genre, what do you do with your marketing to tap into the different audiences?
Janet Garber: Since I used to be a serious person, a business and career writer, and still am occasionally, I attend annual conferences in my field, contribute to LinkedIn, try to network a bit with other professionals. I will have a new novel coming out which is not humorous, not about HR or the corporate world and I’m wondering just how I will promote it. It definitely falls into the Women’s Fiction rubrique and thematically ties into some of the stories I have written and published. I hope I get some brainstorms about how to promote it when it’s ready for publication!
One of the biggest pieces of advice I hear as far as genres go is to read everything you can get your hands on in the genre you’re planning to write. This, not only helps you to know the tropes for your genre, but also makes you familiar with what is already out there. It doesn’t seem like genre makes a lot of difference when it comes to the writing process, but it does affect the types and amounts of research we must do, and the markets we aim advertising efforts toward. Be sure and drop in next Monday when our panel members will discuss the business end of writing. It should be a great segment, so don’t miss it.
 

If you have a question you’ve always wanted answered, but it’s not covered in the post on that topic, or if our panel’s answers have stirred new questions within you, pose your query in the comments. Make note if it is directed toward a specific author. Questions will be directed to the general panel unless otherwise specified. Then, in the final post for the series, I will present your questions and the responses I recieved from panel members.

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Starting Off the New Year with YA Author Jordan Hallak

Jordan Hallak

I’m pleased to be able to start the New Year off with a YA author who I have interviewed for both my Book Marketing -What Works? series this past year, and my 2015 Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing series. I’ve reviewed many of her novels, (Escape From Witchwood Hollow, Cogling, Treasure DarklyVictorianThe Goat ChildrenRunners and RidersThe Path to Old TalbotWicked TreasureKistishi Island)as well as collections featuring her short stories, such as Darkscapes, Cast No Shadows, Under a Brass Moon, Chronology.

If you’re feeling a little confused right now, that’s okay, because all of the interviews and reviews were done for an author named Jordan Elizabeth, and in the very early reviews she was booked as Jordan Elizabeth Mierek. However, she’s starting off 2018 as Jordan Hallak, and we’ll hear an explanation for the different name soon. In addition to being the author of at least ten young adult novels and countless short stories, Jordan is a wife and mother, as well as often having a day job on the side. She runs a tight juggling act to keep it all balanced and still manages to craft some quality stories which are all quite entertaining. Join me in giving a warm welcome to Jordan Hallak today, on Writing to be Read.

Kaye: You’ve had a change to your last name. It threw me off and might throw of readers who know your work under the name Jordan Elizabeth. Were you recently married?

Jordan: I got married over a year ago, but I didn’t change my name right away.  I still write as “Jordan Elizabeth,” but little by little I’ve been altering Mierek to Hallak.  The most recent thing I changed was my name for my gmail account.  Even though I signed things as “Jordan Hallak,” people were getting confused who Jordan Mierek was.  I was getting documents for work to the wrong name!

Kaye: What are your secrets for juggling writing with family?

Jordan: Haha, I haven’t mastered it yet!  Most nights now I’m too tired to do more than scroll through facebook.  When I push myself, though, I have my husband watch the baby for an hour and I do all my writing.  Once the baby goes to bed, then I do my marketing because it isn’t as emotionally draining.  Writing leaves me breathless.

Kaye: Other than the last name, what do you think will be different for you in 2018, and why?

Jordan: My marketing budget is a lot different for this year.  I’m only going to be using what I make off royalties.  This might ruin my marketing plan, but we’ll see.  2018 is the first year where I won’t have a full time job starting out.

Kaye: What’s in store from Jordan Hallak in 2018?

Jordan: Other than my goal of landing a full time job, I want to write more novels and work on my marketing techniques.  I usually fly by my seat for the year, but this time I want to concentrate on planning out all my marketing events.  I’ve heard that’s better, so we’ll see.

Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?

Jordan: I can’t plan.  I start writing with a general sense of where the story will lead.  If I try to plot, the book becomes a chore.  It never follows the written storyline anyway.

Kaye: Any New Year’s resolutions?
Jordan:  Oh, man, this question!  Nothing really comes to mind.  I usually make resolutions as I go along.  I guess I’m going to try to get more writing time in and I’m going to try to stick to my exercise routine.  I fell out of it while I was pregnant, and then I picked it back up, and fell off the wagon (so to speak) when I got a temp job where I was working 10 hour days.  I miss exercising.  For exercise, I do yoga and belly dancing.  I also have an exercise routine to help with diastis recti.

Kaye: What is the working title of your latest book?

Jordan: My newest book will be Secrets of Bennett Hall.  It is going to be a steampunk Gothic.  I’ve always been entranced by Gothic novels, and I love the steampunk genre, so I decided to blend the two and see how it came out.

Kaye: How do you decide the titles for your books? Where does the title come in the process for you?

Jordan: The titles always come at the end.  I usually call the book by the main character’s name as I’m writing, and then I see how it feels when I’m all done.  Secrets of Bennett Hall started off as Adelaide.  Adelaide is the main character who moves to Bennett Hall to work as a governess.  Secrets from the past – both her past and the estate’s past – return to haunt her.  Secrets of Bennett Hall had more of a Gothic ring to it.

Kaye: In my review of Runners and Riders, I identified the book as a part of your Treasure Chronicles Apparently, this isn’t the case, as it is the first book in a series of its own. Would you like to share how that came about?

Jordan: Runners and Riders features the same world as in the Treasure Chronicles.  I called it a “companion” novel because of that, but it was mislabeled as a novella in many places.  It is a full-length novel, and it was getting a lot of heat for being “misleading.”  People who hadn’t read the Treasure Chronicles weren’t willing to give it a chance.  It will now be book one in Return to Amston, with Secrets of Bennett Hall being book two.  Secrets will be in the same world again, but with a new cast of characters.

Kaye: So, tell us a little about this second book in the Runners and Riders.

Jordan: Joseph from Treasure Darkly will make an appearance. Remember him as Amethyst’s spurned lover?  I always felt bad about how things went down with the two of them and I wanted to give him his own story.  As I started writing about Adelaide, he just fell into place as her love interest, and they are perfect for each other.  He deserves a sweet, but strong, girl like Adelaide.  In the novel, Adelaide loses her teaching job in Hedlund and finds a new position as a governess.  Once she arrives at Bennett Hall, she meets its handsome occupant – Joseph – as well as some shady figures.  People in the village warn her about the darkness on the estate, but it isn’t until she sees the Villain lurking in the forbidden wing that she begins to believe the rumors.

Kaye: A lot of your books are of the steampunk genre. What is it that appeals to you about steampunk?

Jordan: I love the nifty inventions paired with corsets and long skirts.  I am obsessed with corsets and long skirts.  You should see my closet!

Kaye: Most of your work has been published through Curiosity Quills Press, but it sounded like you might be striking out independently. Will this second book in the Runners and Riders series be independently published?

Jordan: Secrets of Bennett Hall will be published by Curiosity Quills Press.  I haven’t decided to go the self-publishing route yet, but I might someday.  I know people who have left their publishers to try self-publishing with great results.  For now, I like having a publishing house behind me.  The support I get has been awesome.  I’m currently published by Curiosity Quills, CHBB, and Clean Reads.

Kaye: When will Secrets of Bennett Hall be available?

Jordan: Secrets releases January 30.

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of being a writer?

Jordan: It is so hard to get your book out there.  I know people are sick of me always talking about my books, but that’s the only way to spread the word.

Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a novel or short story? What’s the least fun part?

Jordan: The best part is actually writing it.  I become lost in the setting and the characters become my best friends.  I have an awesome time visiting this new world.  The least fun part would have to be the marketing that comes after.  When you have to push people to review and when you have to pay for ads, you start to doubt if your writing is worth it.  Then you write a new story and remember how much it is worth it.

Kaye: If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?

Jordan: I wouldn’t worry about money anymore!  I would be happy being a stay-at-home mom and full-time writer.  There would be a lot of traveling.  I need fresh fodder for my stories.

I want to thank you, Jordan, for joining us on Writing to be Read to start the New Year off right. I wish you the best of luck in 2018, and I know Secrets of Bennett Hall will be a huge success.

Until next time, I want to wish you all a Happy New Year!

2018 Happy New Year

 

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“Monsterland”: Vampires and Werewolves and Zombies, Oh My!

Monsterland

I recently had the privilage of reading Monsterland, the new release by Michael Okon. It”s an entertaining little tale about a new kind of theme park, filled with zombies, vampires and werewolves of the very real kind. There are Monsterland theme parks opening all over the world and Monsterland’s creator, Dr. Vincent Konrad intends to give new meaning to the idea of family entertainment, handing out free tickets to Wyatt and his friends. Wyatt and his friends are stoked about the grand opening of the newest innovation in theme parks, featuring real live vampires, werewolves and zombies. Finally, they’ll be able to settle their age old debate over which is the ultimate monster. Monsterland holds all the answers.

Dr. Konrad is looked upon as a savior because everyone knows the monsters are only unfortunate victims of the infections that created them, and he is offering them a haven after years of living on the edges of civilization, shunned and feared. But Carter, Wyatt’s step-dad, doesn’t see it that way. He senses that Konrad isn’t telling the whole story and he has his doubts about the intelligence of bringing the public into the midst of such dangerous creatures.

As the teens move through the Monsterland tour, things begin to go awry, and Wyatt starts to suspect that Carter is right. It seems Dr. Konrad isn’t saving the monsters, he’s exploiting them and instead of being scared, Wyatt feels kind of sad. When the werewolves plan a revolt to regain their freedom, the frights aren’t for fun anymore, and Wyatt and his friends and family will be lucky to get out alive.

The idea of Monsterland is a good one, with a few different subplots branching off the main plot line to keep things moving forward. Younger readers may enjoy the comic book-like characters Okon creates by humanizing the monsters, he made them seem more pathetic than scary, but I had trouble buying in. I give it three quills.

Three Quills3


“Bait”: A YA Supernatural Romance Even Death Can’t Kill

Bait

Fans of werewolves, vampires, ghosts and ghouls alike will enjoy this tale of vampire and monster hunters. Bait is the first novel in author Kasi Blake’s Order of the Spirit Realm series, which promises to be full of surprises. Certainly, this first book was filled with them.

Nothing is as it seems, including Bay Lee’s life, which is all one big lie.  No one can know that she is a Van Helsing. Or is she? And she has a strange, unexplainable aversion to rock star Tyler Beck, even when he appears in her bedroom after his death. The rock star she thought she hated turns out to be the hunter that she loves. Whether he is Tyler Beck, or Nick Gallo, Bay Lee’s love for him overrides all, including her quest to become the best hunter ever to attend the Van Helsing school and avenge her parents’ deaths, and the prophecy that says that together they will cause the end of the world. Will Bay Lee be able to handle the truth when she learns she isn’t who she always thought she was?

This is an entertaining story that leaves room for to be carried on with the series. The only criticism I have is that there is a lot of head hopping, and abrupt scene changes, leaving the reader trying to figure out what’s happened. This is one of my pet peeves, so it really bothered me, especially when it occured in spots where I was really getting into the flow of story. For me, it was a real problem that detracted from my enjoyment of the tale.

The story itself is great, highly entertaining, but the unsuspected switches are distracting, pulling the reader out of the story each time. Overall, I can only give Bait three quills.

Three Quills3

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.

 


Book Marketing – What Works? (Part 3): Interview with YA author Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Elizabeth and Books

In Part 1 of Book Marketing – What Works? we heard from self-published author, Cynthia Vespia, and in Part 2, we met traditionally published co-authors Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd, to get a glimpse into their marketing strategies. While Vespia preferred face-to-face marketing strategies such as conferences and book signings, the Todds use Internet marketing such as websites, blogging and social media. Today, we’ll talk with an author who utilizes paid advertising via the Internet.

Small presses may take some of the publishing duties away from the author, such as cover art, and of course, the actual publication of your book, but even then, a lot of the marketing and promotion may fall upon the author. Therefore, traditionally published authors are faced with the same challenges of getting their books out there where readers can find them as independently published authors are.

I’m pleased to welcome Jordan Elizabeth to Writing to be Read today. Jordan is a talented young adult author, who is published with a smaller independent press. I have reviewed many of her books and anthologies where her short fiction has appeared, and she’s weighed on publishing, with an interview in my ten part series, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing. Although she may not have as much control over the publishing  details, she maintains the brunt of the responsibility for the marketing of her books.

Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?

Jordan: I always knew I wanted to write.  I had written a ton of stories by high school (none of which will ever see the light of day).  I finally wrote my first “real” manuscript sometimes around 12th grade and started sending it to publishers.  They rejected me right away.  After some research, I understood you need an agent to get your foot in the door.  I queried over 4,000 agents before I landed mine with COGLING.

Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?

Jordan: I get most of my ideas from dreams, but I would say the strangest inspiration was for VICTORIAN.  I volunteered at Fort Stanwix and worked for the Victorian Leisure Fair, both in Rome, NY.  The positions involved dressing in costumes and explaining history to visitors, while having fun.  I had the best adventures in Rome!

Kaye: Have you ever had places that you travel to end up in your books?

Jordan: Yes!  I love to travel, and we used to do 3-4 vacations a year before I had my baby.  The places I go to especially come out in my fantasy novels. The homes in COGLING were based on a lot of historic sites and tour houses, such as President Buchannan’s house in Pennsylvania.

Kaye: Do you participate in KDP Select on Amazon? Do you feel this program is conducive to selling books?

Jordan: All of my published novels except for one are on Kindle Unlimited.  It depends on the publisher’s rules, so I don’t have a say if they are or aren’t.  I do find it conducive, as someone who might not want to buy my ebook has the freedom to borrow it for “free.”  I’ve heard from quite a few people that they used Kindle Unlimited to read something I wrote.

Kaye: Do you use social media to promote your books? Which social media is your favorite for promotion and why?

Jordan: I use Facebook and Twitter.  In the past, I’ve found Facebook to be the best, but the world seems to be moving away from that.  I’ve had bad luck with my past few Facebook ads.  I’m going to try to utilize Twitter more and see how that goes.

Kaye: What type of marketing strategies have you tried with your books? What worked and what didn’t?

Jordan: I post on Facebook and Twitter, aim for one book signing a month, and take out ads.  The ad in BookBub was amazing.  I’ve also had good luck taking an ad out in Fussy Librarian.  The more reviews you have, the more people are excited to read your book, so I am always open to giving a blogger a book in exchange for an honest review.  That hasn’t always worked out in the past, as some bloggers will take a book and never read it.  Book review tours have never worked for me.  I’ve paid for multiple companies to send out my books to x-amount of reviewers.  Each time, I’ve only gotten a handful of reviews.  It hasn’t been worth the price.

Kaye: You have publishers for your books. How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself?

Jordan: The publishers all take care of editing and book covers.  I do about 85% of my own marketing.  It takes a lot of time and effort, but I enjoy it.  It gets my face out there and helps me connect with my readers.

Kaye: You and I made a connection through a member of your street team, when I reviewed Escape From Witchwood Hollow, and I’ve been reviewing your books ever since. Could you explain what your street team does for you? How do you go about building a street team?

Jordan: My street team has actually disbanded, but I did have a street team for many years.  It started when a few girls told me they loved my books and asked me about the process.  When I told them how I’d gotten published and all the time spent on marketing, they asked if they could help out.  Of course!  They contacted reviewers for me to see if anyone would like to read one of my books in exchange for an honest review.  I had an awesome group of supporters and we had fun brainstorming new marketing ideas.

One girl dropped out of the street team to concentrate on going back to college and the other two started getting hate mail from reviewers because they felt that I should be the one contacting, not them.  I personally don’t see anything wrong with having someone else contact a blogger on your behalf, but I also see where it can become tricky.  You don’t always know if the personal contacting you is legitimate.

Kaye: What works best to sell books for you, as far as marketing goes?

Jordan: Taking out ads and book signings.  In those cases, I know how many I sell.  I don’t know why people who buy my books on a day-to-day basis bought them.  Did someone tell them about the book?  Did they see it on Facebook?  At least when I see a jump in sales on the day an ad runs, I know it is because of the ad.

Kaye: How much work do you contract out? Book Covers? Editing? Marketing? Etc…?

Jordan: I don’t contract anything out.  Ah, if only I had that luxury!

Kaye: What kind of Chinese food do you order all the time?

Jordan: Peanut noodles are my favorite.  Oh, and Chinese donuts.  I eat the entire container in one sitting unless my husband grabs on first.

Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Jordan: Don’t give up, because you need to write for yourself.  Even if publishers aren’t biting, write because you love it.  Also, make sure to understand marketing is going to fall on you.  I was surprised and a little taken aback at first.  Authors need to realize that publishers have 100s of books out there.  They can’t donate 100% of their time on marketing your book.  You need to do your share of the legwork too.

I want to thank Jordan for joining us today and sharing her marketing experience with us. You can check out my reviews of Jordan’s books and anthologies in which her work appears by following the links below.

Reviews of Jordan Elizabeth Books:

Escape From Witchwood Hollow

Cogling

Treasure Darkly

Wicked Treasure

Victorian

The Goat Children

The Path to Old Talbot

Riders & Runners

Kistishi Island

Reviews of Short Story Collections from Curiosity Quills Press Featuring Jordan Elizabeth’s Short Fiction:

Chronology

Under A Brass Moon

Darkscapes

Be sure to check back next week for Part 4 of Book Marketing – What Works?, where I’ll interview a veteran author that has traveled both the traditional and self-publishing routes and will share what his learned about marketing after writing books for ten years, author Tim Baker. Don’t miss it!

 

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“Kistishi Island”: An Unbelievable YA Journey

Kistishi Island

I recently had the pleasure of reading Kistishi Island, by Jordan Elizabeth. This YA novel was a well-written story, with a plot that comes full circle. Although the names are a bit difficult to pronounce, the characters are interesting and likable, especially Corvo (goddess of crows, and Krieg, goddess of war). The main character, Serena, is portrayed to be a teenager with depth, but still a teen, and you won’t be able to help but like her.

When Serena talks to her imaginary friends, they just don’t feel imaginary. The kids at school taunt her and she winds up in trouble all the time. Her aunt thinks she’s crazy and wants to send her to an asylum, her mom is off on archaeological digs all the time and is never around, and her imaginary friends are the only friends she has.

What will happen if she learns her imaginary friends are really goddesses watching over her? We’re about to find out, when she runs away to the Island of Kistishi to find her mom, where the walls of the ruins suck you into underground dwellings and other people see her friends, too. Besides learning that her friends aren’t imaginary, Serena also learns that she is capable of depending on herself, and that she’s capable of having real friends.

This story is well-crafted and perfect for YA readers, (or older readers who secretly love YA stories but don’t want to admit it). It is a fun and exciting read. I give Kistishi Island four quills.

Four Quills3