Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How to Help Your Favorite Authors... by Lindsay Buroker

This post is a reprint (with permission, of course) of a blog post by Lindsay Buroker. I've considered trying to put something like this together but frankly, after this post there isn't much left to be said. The information  below won't just help me, it will work for any author you like. I promise, he or she will be grateful:
As authors, we spend a lot of time trying to promote our books. Our biggest obstacle is obscurity because there are a lot of books out there. No, really. A lot.

We like to think that good stories are all it takes to make it (in author terms “make it” usually means “become well known enough and sell enough books that I can quit my day job and write for a living”), but you can doubtlessly think of mediocre books that are selling bazillions of copies and authors you love who never make it out of the “mid-list” category.

Sometimes it’s just the author (or publishing house) with the biggest marketing budget who wins, but you, as a reader, have amazing power. Don’t believe for a second that you don’t have anything to do with whether an author makes it, because you do. A lot. No, really. A lot.

Why does this matter to you? Well, authors who get to quit their day jobs can write faster and put more books out for you!

The following are some little things you can do that can make a big difference. Some of them only take a few seconds. Your favorite authors will appreciate the effort. Trust me. :) 

Helping out on Amazon
Amazon is the big kahuna of book sellers, especially when it comes to ebooks, so helping an author “get found” on there can give them a big boost. You can certainly do these things on other bookstore sites as well (nothing against copying and pasting a review, for example), but Amazon tends to have more cool features to help an author get found.
Here’s the list (any one of these things can help):
  • If you do nothing else, consider writing a review on Amazon, even if the book already has quite a few and/or you’ve reviewed it elsewhere. There’s evidence that ratings and reviews factor into the Amazon algorithms that decide which books are promoted on the site (i.e. certain books are recommended to customers who bought books in similar genres). If reviewing isn’t your bag, don’t worry about writing paragraphs-long in-depth studies of the book; maybe you could just pen a few sentences with a couple of specifics about why you liked the book.
  • “Tag” the book with genre-appropriate labels (i.e. thriller, steampunk, paranormal romance). You don’t have to leave a review to do this; you just need an account at Amazon. A combination of the right tags and a good sales ranking can make a book come up when customers search for that type of story on Amazon.
  • Give the book a thumb’s up. This takes less than a second and probably doesn’t do much, but it may play into Amazon’s algorithms to a lesser extent than reviews/ratings.
  • Make a “Listmania” List and add your favorite authors’ books to it. This creates another avenue for new readers to find books. It’s better to create lists around similar types of books (i.e. genres or sub-genres) than to do a smorgasbord, and consider titling it something description so folks will be more inclined to check it out, ie. “Fun heroic fantasy ebooks for $5 or less”
  • If you have a Kindle, highlight some wise or fun quotations from the book and share them publicly (if enough people share their highlights, they’ll show up at the bottom of a book’s page):
Popular Highlights on a Book's Sales Page

Helping out with Social Media
If you’re involved with Twitter, Facebook, Digg, StumbleUpon, etc., you can give your favorite authors a shout-out when they release new books. If they blog, you can follow their site (through Google Reader or other RSS readers) and share the link when they post something that may be interesting to your friends. If they’re on Twitter, you can follow them and retweet their links now and then.
Authors don’t expect you to follow them 24/7 and repeat everything they say (that might actually alarm some folks…), but a little promotional help now and then is greatly appreciated.
If you like to be social about books, you can join sites such as Goodreads, Shelfari, or LibraryThing. You can help your favorite authors by posting reviews and talking about their books on those sites, or you can just use those places to find online reading buddies with common interests.

Helping out with Your Blog
Do you ever talk about books or what you’re reading on your blog? You might consider reviewing your favorite authors on your site (you could even make a few dollars if you signed up as an Amazon affiliate).
Also, if most of your favorites maintain websites, you could add an “author blogroll” list in your menu with links to those sites.

And Lastly…
These days, most authors have websites and contact forms so you can get in touch. If you enjoyed their work, consider sending them a short note to let them know. While it won’t help them sell more books, it’ll make their day.

Thanks for reading (this post and books in general!).

**Authors, you’re welcome to reprint this article and post it on your blog. All I ask is that you give me credit with a link back to my site, i.e. “Originally by <a href=”http://www.lindsayburoker.com”>Lindsay Buroker</a>” or something like that. Thanks!
-End Post-

So that's about it. I don't have much to add, except to say that most Indie authors have their books published on multiple sites (I don't right now, but may in the future) and could use your reviews in those places also. Amazon.com is the big white whale of Indie publishing right now but reviews will also be appreciated at other sites like Goodreads.com, Smashwords.com and Shelfari.com, among many others.

It's also worth mentioning that every review counts, even if it's just a sentence or two. Believe it or not -I hate to say this but it's true- there are certain peoples out there who think it's fun to troll with reviews. Some of these people especially target Indie authors because they so often get a response. They look for an author who doesn't have many reviews; whose reputation and rating they can seriously damage with a nasty one-star review.

The good news is that ultimately, those people are few and far between. The bad news is that authors you love may never get a chance at this career because of a lack of reviews. A few bad reviews can make a book almost disappear from Amazon's lists. People won't read what they can't find, and even if they do find it why would they buy a book with a two star rating, even though that book might have gotten one five star review from an honest reader followed up by a one star review by a troll? Believe me, it can happen, and it can take a long time for an author to recover. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

First Person World-Building


Most people already know that the term first-person narrative means a story is told through the voice of the main character. For some beginning writers this voice may seem appealing. After all, they don't have to figure out what everyone else is doing and thinking; just what's going in the main character's head! Easy enough, right?

Wrong. 

There are many downfalls to writing in first person, the most prominent being voice. Coffee shops all over the world are filled with aspiring writers talking about how they're trying to find their voice. For some of them, they're only making things harder. Anyone who spends a great deal of time and energy developing a unique voice is going to want to use that voice when they start writing. The problem is, that voice will tend to come out when your characters are speaking, and characters shouldn't do that. Every character should have his or her own voice.

Here's an example from my Hank Mossberg Character:

"The hobgoblin shook off his confusion and came back at me with a wide right hook. I blocked it and caught him by the arm. I could’ve punched him again, but I had something more spectacular in mind. I gave him a hard push, throwing him off balance. He staggered back a few steps and then regained his balance, just as I tackled him. We went down in a heap, crashing through a roulette table like it was made of popsicle sticks. We instantly reduced the thing to kindling."

Notice the short sentences, the punchy rhythm? Hank's a big, tough private eye. He doesn't use much florid language, even if he is smart enough to know what those big words mean. And he doesn't stop to tell you about how he feels very often, either. On the other hand, take a look at Breeze, the young girl in The Tinkerer's Daughter:

"I could see my father at the far end of the valley below, heading out across the plains. I fell to my knees and started sobbing. I called out to him, but he didn’t come back. I struggled to understand this unforgivable turn of events. He had abandoned me. I couldn’t have understood that he was a soldier and that he had been called back to war. It wouldn’t have meant anything to me, even if they had tried to explain it. All I knew was that my father had gone, that he had left me.I called out to him, choking through my tears, straining my voice with volume. He never glanced back. I told myself that he couldn’t hear me even though I knew it wasn’t true."

Ah, Breeze. Her voice is so different from Hank's that they might as well be a different species (They are). She's articulate and emotional. She describes every detail of everything she observes and she reflects on how these things affect her, both emotionally and spiritually. You may attribute this to the fact that she's female, and that Hank is a male. That's partly correct, but there's more. I'm not just talking about the difference in IQ or education, either. Breeze is writing about herself as a child, but Breeze -the child- is not doing the writing. An older, more mature Breeze is doing the writing. That allows her to speak in the voice of a full-grown and well-educated woman, even though she's telling us what happened to her as a child. 

This approach has one more advantage. Let's move on to the second most common problem with first-person narratives: world building. 

World building is what writers do when they define the setting of the story. In fantasy or science fiction, this often means developing a set of rules in regards to physics, science, and magic. It also means figuring out the geography of the world, the landscape. It's naming mountains and rivers, villages and cities, and figuring out how long they've been there and how they contributed to the anthropology of the local cultures (and yes, that's another big aspect of world building).

So now the writer has done months of preparation, building a massive world right down to the most minute details, and he's especially excited to show it all off. Only he can't, because he chose a main character who's a teenage girl living in a secluded valley at the very edges of civilization. All she knows about the world is what she may (or may not) have read in a book. So she can't very well describe something she's never seen before. Unless an older, smarter version is doing the writing. That allows the narrator to describe situations she didn't understand at the time, but she does now. This usually works, as long as she makes the distinction between now and then. But it doesn't always work. 

A book reviewer, Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, had some trouble with a recent first-person novel:
"Interestingly enough, there is virtually no worldbuilding to speak of throughout the novel. Other than a few brief revelations regarding the Syldoon toward the end, Salyards introduces a number of what appears to be fascinating concepts and ideas, but he never follows through and elaborate on any of them. This could be construed as a major flaw, but I reckon it has more to do with the fact that the tale is told through the first person narrative of Arkamondos, a cowardly scribe who has seldom been out and about, and who seems to have little knowledge of the world around him."

The reviewer was clever or kind enough to give the author the benefit of the doubt with his world-building, but we can't always count on that. Here's another example: 

In The Tinkerer's Daughter, the entire kingdom of Astatia is on the edge of an industrial revolution. They're just beginning to discover things like steam engines and springs. Now, in our reality, spring engines aren't very practical. They need to be wound by hand or machine and they can't store huge amounts of energy. The more they store, the bigger and heavier they are, and the harder to rewind. So in our world, they're not practical. But Astatia isn't our world (not exactly, anyway) and the same principles don't apply (not exactly, anyway). -Yes I said that twice... hmm. Guess you'll have to read the books and figure out what I'm talking about, huh?-

Sorry. Back on point: Spring engines work great in Astatia. They're extremely powerful and very efficient, particularly when they're made out of the special steel that comes from the Blackrock Mountains. And therein lies the problem. Breeze and the other characters in Book One of that series didn't even know there was a difference. They had never experienced one of our spring engines, so they couldn't compare them. I, as the writer, couldn't relay this information to my readers without giving up the secrets to come in later sequels, and without destroying the credibility of my characters who didn't have this knowledge yet.

One way of dealing with a situation is to have your first-person narrator say something like this: "We didn't know it at the time, but we later learned..." 

You can get away with that once or twice in a book, especially when it comes to naming a foreign piece of machinery or something about another culture. But that trick wears out quick, so you have to use it sparingly. Unfortunately, a handful of readers took my Blackrock Steel evolution as a lack of world-building or a naive physics faux pas. Most were willing to take the story with a grain of salt; to accept it as fantasy and temporarily suspend disbelief, but a few were not, and this showed up in a few reviews. What could I have done differently? Well, I could have used the above trick. Except that I had already used it, and I really didn't want to start giving away secrets that I had planned to reveal later.  I decided to let the world reveal itself in the way I had planned. 

That's another risk you take with first person. How much can you reveal? How much should you reveal? If you make the wrong choice, you'll hear about it. You might hear about it even if you made the right choice. Ultimately, I don't know if I made the right decision or not. I can tell you, sitting here right now, that I have more secrets that won't be revealed until Book Three. Should I change that? I don't think so... but then again I'm just the writer. I'll have to wait to find out what my readers think. This is one more thing to consider when getting ready to write your next first person.

Monday, August 6, 2012

ARCs going out now!

Advance copies of Tinker's War are going out this week. Most of you who elected for an e-book probably already have a copy. If not, check your junk mail filter. If you still don't have it, let me know and I'll get a fresh copy sent out ASAP. 

I haven't received the paperbacks yet, but I expect them by the end of the week. They will ship as soon as I have them in hand. I will also be launching a giveaway on Goodreads (of course!), so keep your eyes open for that.

In completely unrelated news, I'm using Blogger's updated interface - the one they're going to force on us very soon - and I absolutely hate it. The frames are gone so everything looks weird... things just seem to float off the page. The colors are light gray and bright white (not sure yet if this can be changed) and they're kind of hard for me to stare at. There is nothing to separate the posts on my reading list, other than some white space. It's like a print newspaper with no borders. If this really is the wave of the future, it may be time for me to move on to Wordpress, which some of my fans have already suggested. 

I'm not sure how much of this new Blogger interface can be customized, but frankly I don't want to waste the time. The reason I went with Blogger in the first place was because the interface was clean and simple. There was no learning curve. Pick a template and start typing. Get down to business. The only real alternative out there is Wordpress, which can be notoriously tough to figure out at first. Plus, most of the Wordpress websites I see out there really don't have much refinement to them. I'm not against the simple look, but at a certain point it looks kind of cheap. I don't think a massive java website that costs thousands of dollars is the answer either, but something in between is nice. I thought I had that with Blogger and with my website (on an alternate host) but now I'm not so sure.

The one thing I do know is that right when you think you've got things worked out, somebody always gets an idea. Usually, somebody is a person with too much time on their hands and enough power to force the rest of us to go along with their silly notions. Somebody might be your boss, leaving you no choice (if you like and/or need) your job, or somebody might be Blogger or Facebook or Google, in which case it's not an ultimatum but it still doesn't leave you with any real choices. No good ones, anyway.

I'd better stop now, before I start talking about big corporations and modern management techniques.