Tag Archives: editing

How to Survive Slow Book Sales

Snail

Slow Sales?

So, you’ve written your first indie masterpiece, which, no doubt, has solicited glowing tributes from friends and family. You’ve edited it, procured an arresting cover, and posted it up on Amazon, eagerly awaiting that first shower of appreciative reviews before sales start to pour in.

Early the next morning, you fire up your amazon kdp account, your eyes wide with expectation, and check your unit sales column.

Empty!

This can’t be. There must be some mistake. Perhaps America is off on holiday today. Wait. Don’t book sales take a while to show up? They’re probably bunching up at this very moment.

Anyway, best not think about it. Check again tomorrow.

The next day flips over like an egg on toast, sunny side down. It’s early morning. Really early. 2am to be precise. You need the bathroom and decide to check on sales again. You keep one eye shut.

The cold pang scuttles up from your solar plexus and settles on your chest. Still not a single sale to report! You’ll never get to sleep now. And you no longer feel like going to the bathroom.

You stumble to the kitchen to make yourself a cup of coffee, and, in a flood of self-doubt, you pour over your manuscript again, looking for mistakes.

You find two and quickly correct them. Damn! How did they manage to slip through? They could cost you your writing career! You should have hired a professional editor, after all. Too late now.

You upload the corrected manuscript.

Next day, having taken a mild off-the-shelf sedative to help you sleep, you manage to hold out till sunup before switching on your screen and checking on that sales column again.

Empty.

Well, that just about tears it! There can no longer be any doubt. You suck as a writer. People have exaggerated your abilities, probably because you seemed so darned determined to succeed.

That must be it. If you were really any good, this would not be happening. Talent, after all, is impervious to failure. Isn’t it?

Just as well you kept your day job. You’re never typing another word again. Ever!

Boo hoo.

—-

Ring a bell? It does for me. That is pretty much how I remember my early amazon experience with my first ever novel, Scarab. The book languished in obscurity for many days before sales began to appear. A trickle at first. Then a rivulet. And finally a torrent. But those first few days felt like an eternity.

With the sales, came the reviews. Most were very good. A couple were downright nasty. One of the reviewers suggested that my level of English languished below that of primary school. Ironically enough, whenever a nasty review came in, sales picked up dramatically, as if discerning readers were shouting it down with their credit cards.

Scarab went to number one in the bestseller lists in the scifi/hi-tech categories at amazon.com and amazon.co.uk and stayed in the top ten for many months. It was balm to my worst fears. The rest, as they say, is history.

So, what have I learnt from my experience, and from comments by fellow indie writers?

Simply this: if you have a modicum of talent and are willing to work hard, you will inevitably improve and eventually succeed.

But what do you focus on while sales remain tardy?

The answer is simple: Write that next book! And the next! And the next! John Locke believes that new writers shouldn’t publish before they have written several books. That way, when success comes for one, it will come for the others. He should know. He sold a million books.

We could too!

Summary

Write more books while waiting for sales of your current one to pick up; better still, write a whole bunch and release them simultaneously.

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Why Do You Write? No, Really!

Girl with arms outstretched

Why Do You Write?

The opinions below, are, of course, entirely my own.

Why do you write? This is, perhaps, the most important question I pose my students at the beginning of any new creative writing course. If they’re not sure, if they scratch their heads, study the ceiling, or choose that moment to text their friends, I advise them to take a break and think seriously about their motivation.

What I feel like saying is: Are you sure you want to do this?

Those of us who contemplate a career in writing, specifically in storytelling — especially as novelists — had better know. If we’re not driven by the unstoppable desire to write, if we’re not obsessed with understanding every nuance, texture and colour of a word, if our pulse doesn’t race when we hit that golden vein in a written passage, we’d be better off taking up a hobby instead.

Writing is hard. Accomplished writing is even harder. Earning a living as a writer is possible, thanks to the tablet revolution and marketplaces such as amazon.com, but it demands steely dedication, talent and luck. To make it as a writer you need to put your head down, keep learning your craft, on a daily basis, and never, ever, give up.

Knowledge and experience of the world are not enough, although they are required. Deep philosophical ideas are enriching, but they too, are not the secret—you want to impress me with your perspective on Existentialism? Go write an article in a philosophy journal. Ideas, at the cost of story, do not make for compelling novels, except for niche or elite readers. Nor, does artistic temperament, on its own. Sensitivity towards others and observational skills are essential, but they, too, are not sufficient.

So, what, in addition to the above, does one need to become a successful writer? The answer, I think, is rather obvious:

PASSION!

Passion is the secret ingredient that makes even the toughest journey enjoyable. Passion turns work into play and sweat into joy. Without passion you lose focus. Without passion you merely slog.

So, why do I write?

I write because passion compels me to. I have no choice. I can’t imagine anything else I’d rather do. Not in a million years. If I did, I’d be better off taking up bowls.

Summary

Passion is the essential ingredient in developing your writing career.

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How to Manage Character Conflict

Boy with raised fists

Transitioning Conflict:

Staying with the work of Lagos Egri, and still on the subject of character conflict, this post examines this most powerful force that exists between characters. Egri informs us that there are four types of conflict in writing:

1. Foreshadowing (good)
2. Static (bad)
3. Jumping (bad)
4. Slowly rising (good)

Foreshadowed conflict should occur near the beginning of the story and should point to the forthcoming crisis. In Romeo and Juliet, the warring families are already such bitter enemies that they ready to kill each other from the get-go.

Static conflict remains even, spiking for only the briefest of moments and occurs only in bad writing. Arguments and quarrels create static conflict, unless the characters grow and change during these arguments. Every line of dialogue, every event must push towards the final goal.

In jumping conflict, the characters hop from one emotional level to another, eliminating the necessary transitional steps. This is also bad writing.

Avoid static and jumping conflict at all costs, by knowing, in advance, what road your characters must travel:

Fidelity to infidelity
Drunkenness to sobriety
Brazenness to timidity
Simplicity to pretentiousness

The above represent two extremes—start and destination.

Transition

You must have transitions between states. Supposing a character goes from love to hate. Let’s imagine there are seven steps between the two states:

1. Love
2. Disappointment
3. Annoyance
4. Irritation
5. Disillusionment
6. Indifference
7. Disgust
8. Anger
9. Hate

If a character goes from 1 to 5 at once, this constitutes jumping conflict, neglecting the necessary transition. In fiction, every step must be clearly shown. When your character goes through steps 1 to 9, you have slowly building conflict. Each level is more intense than the previous one, with each scene gathering momentum until the final climax.

Summary

Foreshadowed, slow-rising conflict, which transitions from level to level, is the best way to orchestrate opposition amongst your story’s characters.

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Story and the Dimensions of Character

Stone engravings

Character Dimensions:

In his book, The Art of Dramatic Writing, Lajos Egri points out that every object has three dimensions: Height, Width, Depth. Characters, on the other hand, have three extra dimensions.

Egri begins with the most simple of the three: Physiology. To illustrate how physiology affects character, he provides examples of a sick man seeking health above all else, whereas a normal person may rarely give health any thought at all. He suggests that physiology affects a character’s decisions, emotions, and outlook.

The second dimension is Sociology. This deals with not only a character’s physical surroundings, but his or her interactions with society. He asks questions like: Who were your friends? Were your parents rich? Were they sick or well? Did you go to church? Egri constantly explores how sociological factors affected the character, and vice versa.

The most complex of the three is Psychology, and is the product of the other two.

In an industry obsessed with high concept and plot, it is important to restore the balance by placing equal focus on character. According to Egri, it is character, not plot, that ought to determine the direction of the story.

The Bone Structure of Character

Egri provides categories for developing character. Collectively, he calls these categories the character’s bone structure. Filling out the specific details of each serves as a good start in creating a three dimensional character.

Physiology

Sex
Age
Height and weight
Color of hair, eyes, skin
Posture
Appearance
Heredity

Sociology

Class
Occupation
Education
Home life
Religion
Race, nationality
Place in community: leader among friends, clubs, sports
Political affiliations
Amusements, hobbies: books, newspapers, magazines

Psychology

Sex Life, moral standards
Personal premise, ambition
Frustrations, chief disappointments
Temperament
Attitude toward life
Complexes
Abilities

Summary

This post looks at Lagos Egri’s three dimensions that must be addressed in order to craft well-rounded characters: physiology, psychology, and sociology.

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How to Write Your Second Draft

The Rewrite

The Rewrite

We’ve all heard the adage: writing is to rewriting. But what precisely does this mean? How do you go from the first draft to the final one? Indeed, can there ever be a final draft – in the sense of aesthetic completeness? Opinions vary about the number of rewrites and edits a work needs to go through in order to fulfill its potential, but one thing’s for sure: at least one draft ought to address the structural integrity of your story.

The Deep Rewrite

One of the first things I check after the first draft has been completed is whether or not the main narrative structures are doing what they’re supposed to be doing precisely where they are supposed to be doing it. Checking on the use of appropriate vocabulary, sentence construction, grammar, spelling, and the like, come under the corrections and polishing draft and typically occur after the main furniture has been checked and, if necessary, rearranged. What does this checking and rearranging of furniture involve, exactly?

Narrative Elements

After allowing the first draft to simmer for a few weeks so you can come at it afresh, locate and examine the main structural entities in your story:

Do you have an introduction to the ordinary world?

Next, find your inciting incident. Does it indeed “incite” your story? Could another incident have been more effective?

Locate your first turning point at the end of the first act. Does it set the main goal of the story in a way that is related to the inciting incident but is sufficiently stronger and moves in a different direction to it?

Locate the second turning point next. Does it turn the story around in an unexpected way, adjusting, while, at the same time, preserving the overall goal set at the first turning point?

Check the midpoint next. What event forces the Hero to face her/his inner conflict and decide between quitting or going on, against stiffer opposition?

Pinch one and two are checked next. Does your longer second act contain at least two supporting scenes or scene sequences on either side of the midpoint that reiterate and reinforce the pursuit of the goal?

Examine the confrontational scene in your third act between your Hero and antagonist. Is it set in an environment which favours the antagonist and disadvantages your Hero, thus upping the tension and stakes?

Look at your resolution scene. Does it indeed resolve the issues posed by the dramatic questions of the first, second, and third acts?

Finally, check your theme – the theme can only emerge after the outcome of the final conflict has been decided: do good guys finish first, or does evil prevail? Is the answer what you had intended when you wrote the first draft? If not, could the story be improved if you allowed it to end differently, despite your original intentions? Remember the creative process has a life of its own. Sometimes it’s easier to follow the muse than to ignore her.

Summary

The second draft involves determining whether the main structural elements need adjusting and repositioning. Do they occur in the proper sequence? Do they do function according to their designation? Would allowing for some unplanned, muse-inspired change to one or more structural elements benefit the story in an unexpected way?

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If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.