Backstory in Fiction

The way you integrate the backstory often makes or breaks your writing.

Stephen King recommends getting to the backstory as early as possible, and I mostly agree with that.

If there’s something important about your protagonist’s backstory that will play a role in the narrative, don’t introduce that information on page 312.

Don’t introduce it on page 2 necessarily either, but do introduce it early on. Have the reader thinking about that piece of the character’s backstory, even it’s just at the back of his or her mind. Doing so will allow the big moment that happens later to have a satisfying payoff.

Read the rest from Brian Rowe here.

"Kill Your Darlings"

“Kill your darlings” is one of the most repeated bits of writing advice out there, but how do you know which darlings to murder? You need to decide what to cut from a novel, but it can be tricky.

Word counts matter. They don’t matter endlessly, but an overly long novel will adversely impact your odds of finding traditional publication, especially for a debut.

And even if you’re self-publishing, no one wants to slog through a novel from an author who never once pressed the “delete” button in the course of writing a 7,000 page tome.

If you are starting with a more average word count it’s still helpful to tighten things up as much as possible, so this post is for you too.

Read the rest at Nathan Bransford’s blog.

Casting Call for Characters

Stumble onto many authors’s Pinterest pages, and you’re likely as not to find a folder of “face casts” — photos of models or actors that resemble their characters.

I imagine that, to some, this sounds like a silly fantasy — authors and fans trying to cast a movie that hasn’t been written or optioned and is likely to never exist.

To others, it might sound like lazy characterization — the writer didn’t describe the character well enough on the page, so now they’re forced to resort to using photos of actors to describe their characters.

To the less uptight, it might simply sound like some good, writerly fun to distract from the hours of prose and crippling isolation. There’s definitely an aspect of that, I’m not going to lie.

An interesting idea, procrastinating or not. Read about it at Medium.

Super-bestsellers, Bestsellers … and everything else

A publisher at a major house agreed that, to an extent, publishers have contributed to the gap between the top sellers and those below. With social media offering a variety of ways to promote titles that are selling, publishers usually put more resources behind books that are succeeding in order to maintain momentum. As these books get the lion’s share of the houses’ focus, other titles are left to find audiences on their own.

Read the rest of the PW bad news here.

Writing an Author Bio

If you ask a hundred literary agents whether an author’s personal biography matters, you’ll get a hundred different answers.

Some literary agents might skip straight to an author’s bio when reading a query; others will barely look at it at all. But ultimately, most literary agents would agree on one thing: What’s most important in a query letter is the strength of the book summary.

Which simply means: What matters most is your writing.

Read the rest at Medium.

Writers Agree: Marketing Is Hard

From Written Word Media

On Marketing

Finding #5: Promo sites are the most effective marketing channel

The one area of agreement in the survey was on which marketing channels were effective. Promo sites (Bookbub, Freebooksy, Bargain Booksy, etc.) were ranked as the most effective marketing tactic by a significant margin.  They scored significantly higher (3.4) compared to Amazon Ads (2.6) and Social Media (2.5), the next highest-ranked marketing techniques. 

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There was also a resounding agreement that marketing is hard and is the one area where all authors wanted the most help. 

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Above we have plotted the effectiveness of a marketing channel against the time investment required for each marketing channel. Featured deals on Promo sites were ranked as the top two for a reason: they are both time-efficient and effective time-intensive. That is, they get good results without much labor. Plugging your book into a promo site, selecting when you want the promo to run, and logging off is easy. Paid marketing channels (Facebook ads, Amazon ads, Bookbub ads) are highly time-intensive as authors need to spend time learning how to use the platform, then spend time setting up the ads, and spend additional time to monitor the ads every day. All of those tasks take hours away from writing. For many authors, being thoughtful about where to spend their time marketing can be a game-changer. 

How to level up

  • Set a specific number of hours you will spend marketing.

  • Start with the most effective marketing channels first.

  • Identify which marketing tactics you have the skill and desire to learn and pick one.

For all authors, it makes sense to spend time in the most efficient way possible. Granted, one technique may work better for one author over another, but our chart above can be a guide on where to start. 

Read more at Written Word Media


Midwest Author Advises Patience

There are various bruising anecdotes about William Kent Krueger’s career arc as a novelist that will ring true to many a struggling writer: the early rejections by literary agents (there were 36); the paucity of crowds on those first bookstore appearances (where, he recounted, it wasn’t unusual for the audience to consist of “the bookseller and the bookseller’s cat”); the dreaded label as a midlist author. Though not necessarily a household name, Krueger is very much a success in the eyes of his longtime publisher, Atria. He’s just released his 20th novel with the Simon & Schuster imprint, This Tender Land (which debuted at #6 on PW’s hardcover frontlist fiction bestseller list), and, according to the publisher, more than two million copies of his books are in print. His story is an example of what publishers claim they want to do but find it increasingly hard to accomplish: grow an author.

Read the rest at PW here

More Books, Fewer Sales

The number of books self-published in the U.S. saw more rapid growth in 2018, jumping 40% over 2017, according to Bowker’s annual survey of the self-publishing market. In its report, “Self-Publishing in the United States, 2013-2018: Print and E-books,” the total number of print and e-books that were self-published in 2018 was 1.68 million, up from 1.19 million in 2017. Bowker measures the size of the market based on the number ISBN’s registered and thus does not include self-published e-books by Amazon’s Kindle division, which uses an Amazon identifier.

Bookstore sales tumbled 10.3% in August, compared to the same period a year ago, according to preliminary figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The poor August report continues to reflect what has been a soft year for physical bookstores. For the first eight months of 2019, bookstore sales dropped 6.1% from the comparable period a year ago.

It’s almost impossible to be a big fish in the book pond these days, as the pond is really more of an ocean and grows exponentially. How do you compete? There’s no one-shot, sure-fire answer to that question, so do your research and try everything. And in the meantime, get started on another book.

Here are the top three reasons for why people buy books:

1. Author is well known to me (68%)
2. Book cover (53%)
3. Book recommended by a Friend (38%)

News info above from Publishers Weekly

Follow the $$

There is an old business saying: follow the money to see the true story. If we follow the money in publishing, from the perspective of authors, what story does it tell us?

This is the typical money trail in trade publishing:

  1. Reader pays bookstore

  2. Bookstore pays wholesaler

  3. Wholesaler pays distributor (sometimes wholesaler and distributor are one)

  4. Distributor pays publisher

  5. Publisher pays agent

  6. Agent pays author many months after the sale (who, by the time everyone has had their cut, receives less than 10% of book retail price).

This business model of selling print books through bookstores is not commercially viable for most indie authors. Economies of scale means that few of us can compete with trade publishing in the  print-book-to-bookstore model. And the economics of physical bookstore distribution, given the discounts retailers, wholesalers and distributors need to make their profits, are punishing, even for big publishers.

. . . .

In self-publishing the most common money chain looks like this:

  1. Reader pays online bookstore (the author’s website or a retailer such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Kobo etc).

  2. Author gets paid immediately on own website (full cost of book, minus publishing expenses); or 90 days after transaction (up to 70% of book retail price) through the retailer or one of the aggregators who distribute to them (who will also take a cut).

And these online stores, with their global readership, 24/7, give far more access to readers than any physical store can provide.

Link to the rest at ALLi.

How Do Readers Choose a Book?

It turns out familiarity was the most cited influence for reading a given book. In other words, the reader was familiar with the author. Somehow the reader knew about the author. They may have read another book by that author. They may be familiar with the author because he or she is already famous. Maybe they saw the author on television or heard her on the radio. The key ingredient was that they “knew” the author somehow.
Here is the breakdown of the percentage of people who ranked each option first in terms of how they influence when books they read / listen to:

  • Familiarity with the author – 35.5%

  • Read a synopsis – 25.8%

  • Familiarity with the series – 17.2%

  • Cover design – 6.9%

  • Awards and bestseller stickers/badges – 6.5%

  • Saw an ad for the book – 4.7%

  • Author or celebrity endorsement – 3.1%

Read more about the study at Marketing Christian Books.

Advanced Strategies for Sharing Amazon Links on Social Media

Looking to learn something new about sharing on social media? We've created a guide with advanced strategies for branching out and taking your social media game to the next level. Social media is a great way to build a close connection with your audience and offers creative opportunities to build new content - all of which can mean new sources of earnings for you as an associate.

Not ready for advanced strategies and want a refresher on the basics? Take a look at our 101 Guide for some recommendations to get you started.

Here’s the Advanced link, via Amazon Affiliates.

What's in a Book Deal?

Everyone wants to write a book, or to say they have written a book. Publishing a book is still an honor, a point of pride—but like pretty much everything else, it’s also dependent upon a capitalist business model. And the financial side of publishing can be opaque, unfair, and downright contradictory. Combined with the distinctly American habit of not wanting to sully talk of artistry with talk of money, this means that many people who want to make writing their full-time career have no idea how the money part of writing actually works. In this TED talk I will answer some of the most common questions I get as a literary agent about the money side of things. I will try not to make it too depressing.

Advances, royalties and more from Kate McKean.

Goodreads Is Broken

What Goodreads is good for is keeping your own list of books you want to read or have read this year. It’s a list-making app. And while that’s useful, it doesn’t live up to the company’s full promise of being a haven for readers. Readers and authors deserve a better online community. And while Amazon has at least some nominal interest in improving many of its other products — Alexa, for example, becomes more advanced with each passing year — Goodreads lingers in the dustbin of the early aughts, doomed to the hideous beige design and uninspiring organization of a strip mall doctor’s office.

Read the rest by Angela Lashbrook here.

Book Festivals

Here’s an idea about how to bring more people to your local book festival and how to get them to buy something:

Few people are happy with how books are sold at literary festivals. New York City publishers think festivals don’t move books at volume. PW reported that attendees at this year’s BookCon were unsatisfied with aspects of the event. “There’s hardly any ARC drops or free books,” one BookCon attendee said. “It felt a lot like we paid for a ticket just to be allowed in to buy things,” said another.

But that’s not the case in Portland, Ore., where book vouchers power a high volume of book sales at the 10,000-person, one-day Portland Book Festival held each November. A $5 voucher is rolled into the cost of a festival ticket. Admission is cheap at $15 for preorders and $20 at the door. With vouchers for all paid ticketholders, festivalgoers get up to one-third of their entry fees back to spend with vendors at the festival, including booksellers at the nine event locations and small- and midsize presses that exhibit their wares on the expo floor.

Read the rest at Publishers Weekly

Personal Relationships

The latest trend in online marketing is building a “personal relationship” with customers and readers. Sending newsy emails about your fab summer vacation isn’t enough anymore. Now you have to ask them about their fab summer vacations.

This is supposed to let readers know you really care about them.

Does it?

Speaking as a reader, that would be a…not so much.

I read lots of books. Do I want all those authors clogging my inbox, trying to be my BFF? Nope. Not even if it’s Margaret Atwood. If she really cares about me, she’ll write another book, not have a virtual assistant send me a faux-friendly email.

As an author, it all makes me want to cry. How can a working author find time to be pen pals with thousands of readers—even with robotic help?

Read the rest from Annie R. Allen’s blog here.