Archive for January, 2016

As an indie author, should you give your work away?

I see this topic a lot and everyone has an opinion. Anyone who has been following along with my blog knows I’ve had Darkness Falling up for free twice; once on Black Friday and once to celebrate the new year.

That means I’m in the “yes” side of the category. I have a few reasons I’d like to share.

1)      No one knows who I am

Okay, this is pretty obvious. I’m not Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. Not many people are in that bracket of “if you say this name to someone who doesn’t read, they’ll know who you’re talking about.”

I’m also not a high ranking indie author. My book has never been number one. When I type R. R. Willica into the Amazon search it says “Did you mean….?” and gives me another author’s name.

That’s fine. I prepared myself for this reality before I published.

Several years ago, I went through a dream impeding crisis when I learned that only one out of ever one-hundred and fifty thousand fantasy authors gets published.

1 in 150,000.

If you put all the genres together, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are well over one million new authors every year. That’s not counting the authors who have already published at least once.

Consider how many times you say to someone “I’m a writer” and they come back with “I’m going to write a book, too!” It can be an annoying response, but it isn’t necessarily false.

When being picked up by a publishing house, the author has the benefit of the marketing campaign, launch parties, book signings, interviews with magazines, professional reviews, the prominent display in bookstores, and eventually sitting on a shelf to wait.

Only 200 books may fit in the fantasy section of your local bookshop.

Right now in the dystopian niche of Amazon’s Science Fiction section, Darkness Falling is number 3,249. That’s only counting how far I have to climb to number one and not those with a higher number.

Even if a publisher’s marketing campaigns don’t work out, your book on a bookshelf in a bookstore has a greater chance of being seen than your book on a website.

Don’t forget that sitting in a bookshop has another advantage. The shoppers already know that someone must have liked your book or it wouldn’t be there. This is a badge of approval we independent authors do not have. Until we get reviews, we’re just another questionable book cover in a sea of questionable book covers. Even when we get reviews, they are held as suspect until there are enough of them to prove it isn’t just your mom or best friend helping you out.

The more opportunities you have to give your book to a stranger is key. Even if they don’t leave a review they might tell a friend. If someone likes your book they will talk about it, even if you don’t know they are talking.

2)      Free books are not a new thing

I don’t have a lot of money for books. It’s the reality I live in. One upon a time I did and I had many, many books that I purchased. Today, I don’t have that luxury. There is a place I can always go to get books for free

library

You guessed it, you’re local library.                                     

Now, wait, the library had to buy those books. That’s true. The library may purchase one or two copies (or more depending on the popularity of the author,) but that’s still just one sale. That one sale could result in a single book being read ten times, one hundred times, or even one thousand times.

An author can count those as “lost sales” just as easily as I could count my free books as lost sales. You can count them as hard work given away for nothing. The point of writing a book is for people to read it. Yes, I want to make money and live as a writer, but once again that’s not going to happen unless I have fans. There will be no fans if there are no readers.

If you go to a library you won’t find my book. Hopefully someday you can. Until then, I can chose to give my book away for free, and hopefully it falls into the hands of someone who wanted to read it but didn’t have the money.

3)      I download free books (and review them)

As I said above, I don’t have a lot of money for books. I love being able to download books for free to read. Even though my download may only result in a review, my review could later influence a sale.

My favorite books to download are books that have less than five reviews. This is because I know how it feels. I know someone is just waiting to be given a chance. I try to give people that chance. This is what supporting an indie author is all about, indie authors just like me.

Ironically, I’m a slow reader. It can take me 2 or 3 months to finish a book, even if I love it. Despite that, I know someone out there had a moment of happiness when my download was a tally mark on their screen, and they’ll have another moment to see a new review once I’m done.

In the end, I don’t view free book giveaways as diminishing the hard work of writing my book. I’m on a journey as an author, and I’m only at the very beginning. Knowing my book might brighten the day of someone who couldn’t otherwise afford it is also important to me. I won’t offer my book free every day because supporting myself on my writing would be great, but free day giveaways are only going to help me reach that goal, not make it impossible.

Thanks for reading as always. If you have any thoughts on free books,  let me know in the comments.

One important piece of making your story believable is understanding the motivations of your characters. Why is a big question we’re always asking, and one of those questions is “Why does my character care about this?” Sometimes that can get lost in the writing if you don’t even know who your character is to begin with.

Getting to know your characters is a key element of making them feel realistic. Sometimes you need less depth than others. Sometimes it’s easy to get to know your character. Other times, you find yourself staring at the page wondering what they’re going to do next.

I’ve known my characters for Darkness Falling for 19 years. That means I’ve had a long time to get to know them. With my newer characters it’s not so easy. It’s important not to make every character a copy of another, which is also difficult when you’ve known a character for such a long time.

One thing that helps me is that I get a lot of inspiration from video games, especially Role Playing Game (RPG) type games. You may create your character with sliders and preset options, but then you spend hours and hours with them on various adventures. Being a writer, it’s impossible for me not to start to create the character’s persona and backstory.

How does my character feel about this quest? Sometimes I’m doing quests and I know my character is not happy with what is going on. Other times, my character feels the quest is exactly what she should be doing. It’s the same thing with writing.

Humans love games, and we learn from playing. That’s why games are so popular; they stimulate and exercise our brains. It’s easy to create new characters while playing a game, but it’s also fun to play games to get to know your characters.

Character Sheetscubes-160400_640

If you’ve ever played a tabletop RPG you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, it’s a basic concept. At the start of a game campaign (story) you create a character. You write all of the stats for your character on a sheet. These stats are determined by base numbers in the game master’s guide book along with random modifiers from a roll of your dice.

Character sheets are also a great way to get to know the characters in your story. Maybe you don
‘t need to know their strength and intelligence, (although it could be helpful if you’re writing an action novel,) but writing down their weight, height, eye and hair color, other defining marks, and background is also a great way to see your character and keep them on file.

The internet is also a great place to get character sheets for free.

20 Questions

What is your character’s favorite flavor of ice cream? It doesn’t matter if your story takes place where there isn’t any ice cream. Given the chance to try ice cream, your character would have a favorite flavor.

If you character could go to dinner with anyone (in your story or not, alive or dead,) who would it be?

What is your character’s favorite color?

You get the idea. There’s a lot of questions people ask each other for fun that are also great for character building. It can also be done anywhere. You can sit and think about this stuff while riding the bus, waiting to see a doctor, or while you’re doing chores.

Would you Rather

This is a lot like the 20 questions except it offers a choice. The questions do not need to be gross or torturous as they often are, but they can be if you choose.

Would you rather go camping or stay in a hotel? This is a great question because it gives you a feel for your character’s personality.

Would you rather eat in a restaurant or cook at home? Would you rather run or walk? Would you rather eat something sweet or salty?

There are endless questions you can ask of your characters to figure out who they are. It’s also another game you can play anywhere.

To sum it all up, characterization can be fun if you turn it into a game. If you have more tips for games to play share them in the comments.

Thank you for reading!

Titles

Posted: January 16, 2016 in Writing Tips
Tags: , , ,

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I love titles. They are one of my favorite things about a new story. Coming up with a good title is like coming up with a good band name, which I also like doing in my spare time.

A book’s title is its identity; its name. It’s the first thing people see along with the cover and it’s the thing people will use to talk about the book and introduce it to others. Having a good title is just as important as having a good book cover.

Consider this: did you or someone you know, have an unusual or hard to spell name when you were growing up? Did that person have problems such as teachers saying their name wrong, or even being teased and bullied? Or maybe your name was too common, and easily confused with someone else. This is important to remember when you name your book. Just like people, books need a good name that doesn’t incite confusion or ridicule and must also be memorable.

I know titles are difficult for people, so I decided to write my ideas of how to come up with a good title. I’ve come up with an example title for the purpose of the post.

The Epic Adventures of Jerry and the Magical Pink Unicorn of Hope that Helps Him

You might be thinking no one would come up with a title like that. I stick to my example, and I’m going to drag better titles out of it.

Short Sweet to the Point

My biggest pet peeve about titles is when they are too long. You want to be as succinct as possible, not give away the ending, or be too obvious. That sounds complicated, but it’s really not.

“But, R. R,” you’re saying, “your book title is long.”

Yes, it’s a bit long. The original title was Darkness Falling. That’s it. Then I decided to cut it into a trilogy. Darkness Falling One doesn’t work, and I wanted all of the pieces to have the same name. Part one of the original manuscript was A Soldier and a Slave. At first I grudgingly decided to use it, but it bothered me. It’s too long; too many words.

In the end it was easy to fix. I just moved (and changed) two letters: Soldiers and Slaves. Read the two titles and see the difference, or better yet say them out loud and hear the difference.

Darkness Falling: A Soldier and a Slave

Darkness Falling: Soldiers and Slaves

Technically, both fit the story but the second one really latched on to a main theme rather than assigning it to characters you will meet. That one change made a big difference.

My point is, watch out for long titles. Figuring out which words you need and which you don’t will help you construct the right title. From my made up title I might go with Jerry and the Unicorn. It’s still long, it’s still tells the story, and it could still use work.  I might also shorten it farther to Jerry’s Unicorn. (By the way, Jerry and the Unicorn is also a good band name.)

Examples of long titles that still worked out:

Harry Potter and the (any one of the books fits here)

The Lord of the Ring: The Fellowship of the Ring

Think of titles as poetry.

Titles need to have a lyrical flow of language. The Wind in the Willows comes to mind when I think of the poetic quality titles can obtain. Just like a good cover image can pull in a read, so can a good title with a siren song of “read me!”

The Epic Adventures of Jerry and the Magical Pink Unicorn of Hope that Helps Him is not poetry. It’s an explanation, but it clunks around in your head looking for a way out.

All stories have themes, both ones that were planned and ones that grow organically as they are told. Choosing from one of these is a good way to choose a title. It’s also a good way to create poetry from your story.

Just like with my own title, a Soldier and a Slave was not lyrical whereas Soldiers and Slaves was much better. (You might notice I like alliteration at this point, you can choose your own poetry style.)

With the example title, I might go with Unicorn of Hope.

Avoid pumping yourself up too much.

There’s a rule that you should never apologize before you show your work or give a speech.

“I’m sorry, this is only partially edited and I, uhm, plan on fixing it more,” is like saying “I know I’m bad at this and I know you’re going to hate it.” You need to be confident in what you’re presenting or don’t present it at all.

At the same time, over confidence is just as bad. The moment I see things like “The Epic Adventures” or “The Awesome Journey” or anything similar on a title, I immediately think it will be terrible. I could be wrong, but in the end that doesn’t matter. You should avoid chasing your readers away as often as possible. The only exception to this rule is if I know it’s a comedy and it’s trying to make fun of something.

My rule is to never, ever, ever give your work tags that should be decided by others. It’s like giving yourself your own nickname. No one is going to start calling you Twinkles just because you say “everyone calls me Twinkles” when you introduced yourself. You just need to get over it.

Epic, awesome, excellent, best, perfect, amazing, and so on are all words that should be given by reviewers and readers. Even in a description I would not say “my book is an epic fantasy.” Nope. Even if it is an epic fantasy, that’s not my call.

So in my title The Epic needs to go. Maybe instead we could go with The Adventures of Jerry or again, Jerry’s Adventures.

People Place or Thing

One good way to come up with a title is to use a character as an inspiration. The Hobbit is a good example. Jane Eyre and Emma are also good examples. This is especially useful if the book really centers around one character’s point of view.

The name of a place in the story is also a good title idea, especially when the place almost features as a character in its own way. The Secret Garden is a great example of a book where a place is also like a character. Mansfield Park also comes to mind, although the place is not featured as a character. The Wizard of Oz uses both.

Other stories use things in the title, such as The Sword in the Stone. You get the idea.

In my made up title, I might just call it Unicorn or maybe even just Jerry.

Series titles

This is a big one for me. I’m working on a series, so it was important to think about how I was going to title everything. I went with the “everyone has the same first name with a different middle name” approach. It’s not uncommon. It creates uniformity. I’ve already pointed this out in both Tolkien’s series and J. K. Rowling’s series.

One big thing I’ve noticed is adding “Book One of the Magical Rainbow Unicorns Series” onto book covers. This goes right along with the “too long” category.

The Epic Adventures of Jerry and the Magical Pink Unicorn of Hope that Helps Him (Book One of the Magical Rainbow Unicorns Series).

I’m going to use George R. R. Martin’s approach here. He has a very long series, and each book has a different name. The titles are all very well done, I might add. I’ll admit I have only read A Game of Thrones, but I do know the series is called A Song of Ice and Fire. When I see copies of his books online, I don’t see “Book X of A Song of Ice and Fire Series” plastered on the front. It may or may not be on the back, I don’t know, but that’s where it should be, or on the inside. (Because, yes, somewhere it should be labeled which book it is in the series.)

I will say this was sometimes done with the Wheel of Time series, and it bugged me then and it bugs me now. (I’ve also seen more recent copies stopped doing it.)

If you feel you must, then please be kind and keep it short. (This is kindness to yourself and your readers, by the way.)

In the end, my made up book title would be Pink Hope: Book One of Rainbow Unicorns.

I hope you found something useful for your own titles. Feel free to share your own title tips below!

One of the biggest issues I had with my original Darkness Falling manuscript was there were a lot of places that felt improbably or stretched too far. In my own mind I would mull over the ideas as I put them into place, trying to find answer and solutions that were simplified merely so that I could jump forward to the next part in the story.

I’ve come to realize this has a lot to do with a combination of lacking in life experience and impatience. I didn’t see what was really possible for the narration of the book and instead wanted to hurry to get to the big reveals.

Another big change is that I used to write stories and put characters into them. Now I realize that characters are the story. They are what drive it and make it feel alive, rather then being generic people who just happen to be there when events occur.

As I’ve said before, Book One was far easier to put together. I think that’s because back then, the climactic event of the story was my big idea. Once I had that figured out, I never took the time I really needed to figure out the rest. During my rewrite I really started finding my characters as people and questioning their motives, making them the focus rather than the scene itself.

Multiple characters were cut for being unnecessary. May they rest in peace.

This time, I already have a good sense of my core characters and instead am see where the true story lies. It’s not about rushing through this scene just to get to the next. Instead, I’m facing the realities of the conflicts my characters were given and how they might resolve them. My editing has become a full on slash and burn, leaving only rudimentary pieces of my original ideas to build upon.

The result is a richer, more realistic story driven by characters alive in a world they seek to save or destroy. It also means full on writing rather than rewriting. I’m not editing scenes, I’m building them from the ground up. Although I hadn’t worked with Darkness Falling for years, I still always let it roll through my mind, questioning certain things. It feels good to finally resolve t hose things.

Thank you for reading.  Have you ever gone back to a story and had to slash and burn? Let me know!

Now that we’re in the New Year, it’s time for a little introspection. My 2015 was really successful. I’m not only talking about publishing Book One of the Darkness Falling trilogy, (and also my first book ever,) but also in a more personal way.

It’s been a long journey with Darkness Falling, and I’m now nearing the end of that road. As an author, however; I’m just at the beginning of my career. I have plans for many more books to come, and I’m really excited to begin sharing those stories as well.

I’ve also overcome my own personal challenge and fear that I wouldn’t be able to write. For a long time I thought I’d lost my ability and skill. I gave up on myself, and now I’ve regained my confidence and have new hope for the future.

When 2015 began, I had no idea that by the end I would holding a paperback containing my words. I didn’t know I would be eagerly looking at little red and green dots on a chart anticipating sales and giveaways. I never imagined I would be hearing people talk about my characters and telling me which are their favorites and what they hope will happen next.

With all of this, I’m looking forward to 2016 and what it has to offer.

Happy New Year, and thank you for reading!The Long Road

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