I’m not sure why this trend this year, but 2023 seems to be all about marketing and self-promotion. I’ve sampled three different courses/plans.
In the first, a leading author whose indie books have been on the New York Times best sellers list showed how to boost your backlist to help make sales. Her thing is to look at your backlist and determine which books are doing great, which are doing pretty well, and which are doing badly.
Her advice it to pick one of those stinkers and first update the cover. Then update the description. Last but not least, check you price. Then she runs an ad or takes part in a promotion. Do one at a time because that way you can see if it worked and how well. The cost of her session was $0.
Next I saw webinar from someone who helps other writers market their books. He says that social media ads are pointless. They don’t work at all. Instead he advises writers to find a way to connect with “100 little Oprahs.” Find 100 social influencers with some success, and ask them to feature your book in some way. The session that I saw was $0 but he offers a detailed plan on how to do this for . . . I don’t remember. It was thousands of dollars.
Last but not least, I read a piece about success with social media ads. They offer a seven day free sample and two classes, one on Facebook ads and one on Amazon. Each class is about $175. He tells you to promote your best performing book to have even better sales.
Three different webinars or articles. Three different methods that to an extent contradict each other. So who do you believe?
There are a lot of variables when it comes to promoting your books. What works for one author may not work for another. Times change. What works in one genre may not work in another. And you have to know how to find the person who will buy your books. Note: I didn’t say where to find your reader. When you write for children, your buyer and your readers aren’t always the same person. Talk to people whose work is similar to yours in genre and audience. See what has worked for them.
Part of it will also depend on you. You may not be comfortable reaching out to 10 people let alone 100. But if you don’t have money to spend on advertising, and you have an ebook, reaching out to 100 people may cost you time but doesn’t have to cost you a dime.
There are a lot of places to go to find information on this topic. Look around and find something that makes sense to you. And don’t spend a lot of money on a class if you aren’t going to follow through.
Yesterday I attended a fun, online workshop organized by SCBWI Israel. The workshop leader was Sandra Dumais who explained why she likes to keep a graphic journal and what she gets out of it. A big part of it was simply helping her to remember things that had gone on. But she also discussed thinking in terms of a graphic narrative. This in the morning led to this in the afternoon which led to this in the evening and I felt like this about it.
She took us through journaling our own day and encouraged each of us to fill two pages or sheets of paper. Given the fact that this workshop started at 11 am in my time zone, I focused on filling one page with events/observations about my morning.
As people held up their pages, it was fun to see the different styles and the methods people used to communicate. Some were text heavy. Others included no text at all. One drawing clearly depicted someone with a leg cramp.
I’m not sure why my entry starts in the upper left and circles down and around the page. It isn’t typical so I included little arrows for people to follow.
I had to laugh at my own drawings. It looks like I had a pizza for breakfast, but that’s oatmeal with dried cherries (large and round) and dried cranberries (neither large, nor round). My birds are rudimentary at best but that’s a male cardinal in the background and a junco in the foreground.
Dumais talked about how she likes to go back through these journals and see what she observed each day. She also talked about how these entries help her see the possibilities around her for new stories for young readers.
I can definitely see how doing this daily would help me learn to be more observant. How better to draw falling snow? Is there a simpler way to note an acceptance and payment? And, I may not have had a kid-centric morning, but looking at the events that came about before lunch I do have an idea for a story based on this.
Yesterday I was reading the Institute for Writers newsletter and saw a listing for Pacemaker Planner. Curious, I clicked through to see what it is.
Pacemaker Planner allows you to set goals and track your daily progress. It shares your graph within the community which means that you can check your progress against other writers.
Me? When I set a goal, it is mine. I’m not super concerned about how other people are doing, but I like to see my word count add up. It is also nice to have a visual cue that lets you know if you are ahead or behind.
Since I haven’t worked with Pacemaker yet, I’m not sure how to interpret the graphs above. After checking out my NaNoWriMo graphs from my last project, I’d have to guess that this is a chart of daily word count. Why do I assume that? These are my last NaNoWriMo graphs. The top one is overall progress. The second one is daily progress. As you can see, I’m pretty good about writing every day if my daily goal is manageable (read: low).
One thing that Pacemaker offers, that NaNoWriMo does not, is a text change calculator. You drop in your original text, you drop in your revised text, you click “calculate change” and it gives you the number of words added and words removed.
I have to admit that I don’t use the same type of goal setting when I revise. I just figure out what I need to do and away I go. That makes it sound like I’m always moving along at a good clip which is not always the case.
Since I just finished a revision, I can tell you that I pay attention to what chapter I’m on and what page I’m on. Each chapter revised is noted and I definitely note when I’ve reached the halfway point.
I’ll use both of these methods to keep track of my next set of goals. I suspect I’ll prefer NaNoWriMo simply because I’m more familiar with it and know where to find things. But I’m perfectly willing to be pleasantly surprised!
If you aren’t sure what dialogue is, I’d be willing to be that you’ve seen it in your reading.
“Dialogue,” said Sue, “is when your characters speak. It can be when they speak aloud or when they think something.
“When they think something?” asked Ricky Writer.
“Yes. That’s called inner dialogue.”
Dialogue is a great way to move your story forward once you understand how it works. That means that you have to understand . . .
The 4 Things Dialogue Can Do
Dialogue is a great way to reveal information about your character. And I don’t just mean by what your character says. A lot is revealed through how they say it. For example, your character might say:
“Look out for Keekee. She’s in a severe mood.”
Or your character might say the same thing in a different way.
“Approach Keekee with caution today. She is not checking her temper.”
Looking at two ways to say the same thing, you can make some judgements about which character is older, which character is more highly educated, and the relationship between the speaker and the person they are speaking to.
Dialogue is also a great way to communicate information especially about things that happened in the past.
“I know why Keekee’s mad. I’ve been ghosting her. I’m just tired of the drama.”
The danger with using dialogue to reveal information is that it is best to confine this to things your characters would actually discuss. Don’t spend line after line of dialogue relating information that is there for the reader but no one would naturally discuss.
When the sleuth gathers information, a lot of it is related in dialogue. Remember that some of this information can be incorrect.
When you write dialogue, be careful to punctuate it correctly. It should begin with a quotation mark and end with a quotation mark and terminal punctuation goes within these marks. That sounds confusing. Let me show you how it works.
“When is our assignment due?” asked Bryan.
Keekee scowled. “You never pay attention.”
“And you’re always critical!” said Bryan.
“Like that wasn’t critical,” said Keekee. “I’ve had enough of you today.”
Cut the Clutter
Dialogue is meant to sound like speech but not duplicate speech. One way that it differs is that you need to cut it to the bone. There is no clutter allowed.
This means that you don’t need to include chit chat or small talk unless it relates to the story such as the fact that your character is really bad at small talk. A page of dialogue about the weather, last night’s game, or “how ya doing” has got to go.
If you leave this kind of dialogue in your story, it weakens the whole. Why? Because it is likely to cost your readers. Use dialogue well, and it will pull readers in because they will want to know what your characters have to say.
Recently I read an article on writing articles to support a fiction book. The author recommended writing articles to increase interest in her middle grade fiction title. I get it. This piece published in Funds for Writers was one of those pieces so naturally she used it to promote her book. But you can also use a similar technique to support sales of your nonfiction titles.
Take these two books. They are two of my 2023 titles. What articles would help promote these titles?
Articles for My Fellow Writers
These are so many things that I could write about for my fellow writers. I could write about how to get into writing work-for-hire for the educational market. I could write about the difficulty of presenting a balanced treatment of a sensitive issue. I could even write about how to write hi-lo titles for readers who don’t read as well as they might.
Articles about Voting and Elections
There are so many possibilities here especially when you realized that I could write separate pieces up for elementary aged readers, teens, and adults on many topics. Possible topics include:
When the voting age was dropped to 18 years-old and why this happened when it did.
Literacy and religious tests used to hamper voting.
How the electoral college works vs how people think it works. I’ll admit that I’ve always wanted to play around with the numbers on the Presidential Election. We seem to think that the popular vote would be vastly different than the Electoral College results and that the college favors the Republican party. But does it? I’d love to look at totals and find out if this is true.
Election fraud and how rare this actually is.
Why many people do not register to vote or, if registered, do not vote during elections.
Articles about Roe v Wade
Personally, it is harder to come up with ideas based on this topic simply because it is such an emotional issue. But still there are things I would be interested in writing.
I would really like to take a look at abortion worldwide. That said, I think it would be hard to research. Especially in areas where abortion is illegal, it would be hard to come up with accurate information.
Another idea is a biography about Roe, aka Norma McCorvey. The more I learn about her, the more complex she becomes. But isn’t that the case with most people.
How do you come up with ideas to compliment your nonfiction title? Look at information that didn’t fit into the actual book. Anything that you had to cover in just a paragraph or two, which meant condensing so much information, is a possibility.
Articles, how-tos, and other short pieces are a great way to promote your other work. Just don’t get so busy writing the short pieces that you forget to start working on your next major project.
Recently I’ve been trying to convince myself to get back into my cozy mystery. Do you sense a lack of enthusiasm? Yeah, me too.
Part of the problem, and if I’m honest it is a really big part, is that I’ve got enough distance to see the many problems. My main character bores me. My setting is based on my neighborhood so I am all too familiar with the problems the community is facing, and, if you’ve ever read a cozy, there are always problems in the community.
Some of the problems exist because of local economics. Sources of income have dried up and if we are going to save the town we have to get innovative.
Some of the problems are character based. A difficult person comes along and wants to change the lay of the land. Sometimes they literally want to change the land, developing a previously pristine wilderness. Sometimes they want to take something over, altering the status quo.
But nothing about my current story fascinates me as much as the stories I read. As I shuffle through the changes I could make, I realize how many have been done. Yarn shops. Sewing shops. Book stores. Libraries. Done, done and done. There are B&Bs and historic mansions and people fixing up those mansions.
What if I shift the setting, not geographically but in time. Can you set a cozy in the past? I did a quick search and found that the answer is YES. A few examples include:
Ashley Weaver’s Amory Ames series set in 1930s England
Dianne Freeman’s Countess of Harleigh series set in Victorian England
Kate Parker’s Victorian Bookshop Mystery series set in Victorian London
Deanna Raybourne’s Lady Julie Grey series set in the Victorian period
Maisie Dobb’s series by Jacqueline Winspear set just after World War I
Obviously, the answer is yes. You can in fact set a cozy mystery in the past. Although I admit that I did laugh at the fact that there are still bookshops as central locations.
Now the question remains – does your character have to live in or be from England? Because I’ve got an idea and it has me pretty excited. It may mean scrapping my current project but it doesn’t have to. The setting could be the same (this city) but different (in the distant past). My character could be returning home as she does in the present draft, but for an entirely different reason.
Was the first draft simply my bike with training wheels? Or am I doing what is easy and exciting, starting something fresh vs facing a difficult revision? I have to admit that I do not have the answers.
I laughed so hard at this meme. Cozy mysteries are quirky in a lot of ways and that’s something to keep in mind if you are going to write one.
Since many writers start with their characters, that’s where I’ll start with this post. The main character in a cozy mystery is often not the quirkiest character but this person will often have a quirk of some kind.
In some cozy mysteries, this quirk is a talent or skill. I’ve read books where a character casts spells, at first accidentally, by cooking for people. Another character sees ghosts that no one else, but her cat, can see. Yet another character reads the emotions of others by touch. Flavia de Luce may live in the early modern period but she knows all about poisons.
Many cozy characters have quirky professions. I’ve read books with book binders, spinners, and more. What your character will not be is a crime-fighting professional. Cozy characters are not private eyes or police officers.
Cozy mysteries often have quirky settings. A character may live in a decaying manor house. My friend lent me a book set in a town where every business is pet friendly, welcoming residents, tourists, and their dogs and cats. Vivien Chien’s Noodle Shop Mysteries all feature to some extent a mall with Asian American themed businesses from restaurants, to bookstores, and a video shop.
The cozy setting isn’t going to be as quirky as its characters, but the setting will be specific and details. Small business owners abound in the world of the cozy mystery. Big box stores are suspiciously absent.
To be a true cozy, there are other quirks your book will have to have. The murder, or other crime, takes place off-screen. Characters may find a body but they do not see a murder take place. That is just too dark for a cozy.
Crime isn’t the only thing that takes place off-screen. There is no sex and no swearing. A cozy is straight up PG.
Yesterday I got comments back from my editor at Red Line and found myself nodding as I read through everything. Then the post that I wrote for Tuesday popped into my head.
Scattered comments from a group of people are frustrating. But publishing is definitely a team sport. As anyone knows who watches sports, being part of a team can sometimes seem like a bad thing. Where is she going with the ball? Did he just pass it to the other team on purpose? How did it end up out of bounds?
Who do you blame? The number of people isn’t always the problem. I know this because I never work with only one person at Red Line.
When I write a book for Red Line, I am generally working with my immediate editor and the managing editor. Sometimes the series editor gets involved. So there are at least two editors. Just to make things interesting, they often pull in a content consultant. This person has expertise in the topic area and reviews the manuscript to double check factual accuracy. They don’t just look at the simple, picky facts. They also look at the big picture. At the late stage that this person gets involved, it can be irritating to have to add information, but content consultants often have access to material that has not yet been published.
Personally, I don’t think that the number of people is the problem. It is whether or not there is a clear vision for the project. With a clear vision, one editor is as easy to work with as three. Without a clear vision, one person can contradict themself from one chapter to the next.
Publishing is most definitely a team sport. Everyone wants to produce the best possible book for readers. With a clear vision, everyone is working toward that aim.
Without a clear vision, it is just as likely that every single person on the team will be frustrated. Try to clarify what is going on before beginning that revision. It will make your job that much easier.
With a clear vision, I find myself nodding along as I read the comments even if there are six or eight comments on one page. Why? Because I see that I am being asked to clarify wording, strengthen a point, or anchor the chapter in the larger experience. It all makes sense because I can see where we are going.
Last week, I was chatting online with a group of my fellow writers. Two of us were comparing notes on revisions we each had to make based on feedback. I was revising for three editors. She was revising for an editor and the company’s committee of readers.
Another writer in the group referred to our experiences as “death by ten thousand paper cuts.” And she wasn’t wrong although my friend and I had two very different experiences.
My friend was revising for a literary journal. There was one editor and a group of highly varied readers. Honestly, the committee is so varied that it makes it seem as if the audience is “every reader.” But this also made her revision work really difficult. Some people loved one thing. Others hated it. Some demanded X alteration while others called for the opposite. Fortunately the editor summarized the most important points.
My experience involved revising for three editors. One is the editor for that particular book. Another the series editor. The third, the managing editor. The editor for the book summarized the comments for each chapter at the beginning of the chapter. He also summarized the new table-of-contents that they wanted. That was a huge relief until I looked at the email that came with the manuscript. There was a new table-of-contents there has well and the two did not match. Since I thought I knew what she wanted, I started writing.
Because my friend was revising on speculation for a journal, she was under no obligation to make all of the requested changes. I was revising a contracted work-for-hire project. The contract actually states that I will make requested revisions. I don’t make every single change with no thought. But I do sometimes fix the problem without making the requested change.
Whether you are revising for a journal or a packager, it is your writing. Don’t make changes with no thought. But working for a group can definitely be tricky. When the comments don’t agree, you need to weigh them carefully. When they do agree? You should still weigh them carefully because you want to find the best possible fix. And is you have any doubts about what they are asking, ask a question or two. What they’ve found needs to be fixed and it is best if you can do it in one try.
Today we have a special treat. I am interviewing Rebecca Wenrich Wheeler, author of Whispering through Water. Let’s get to it so you can enjoy learning about her writing and inspiration.
SueBE: Let’s start at the very beginning. What was your inspiration for Whispering through Water?
Rebecca: I have always been interested in the concept of the “Generation Gap”. If you are a reader of history, historical fiction, or even just talked with your grandmother, there are qualities that transcend generational divide: the distinctly human drive for autonomy and agency to determine one’s own future. The lengths we will go to in order to maintain agency, and the despair we feel when we cannot. The ability to achieve autonomy is impacted by cultural norms and sometimes puts us at odds with those we love.
This is from the “Author’s Note” and it does contain spoilers:
I first became interested in the stories of women who were forced to surrender babies for adoption when I heard an NPR interview of Ann Fessler discussing her book The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade (2006). I immediately bought a copy of the book. It was an emotional read. One that I had to read in small chunks, but then couldn’t put it down. Delia’s story evolved from reading Fessler’s book. I thought it would be interesting to have her niece discover the truth, which allowed me to explore the generation gap further.
SueBE: Wow! That’s powerful inspiration. Once you had the idea for your story, you still had to write a whole novel. Are you a plotter or a pantser? If you are a plotter, how do you keep your story fresh as you write it? If you are a pantser, how do you stay on track as you write something as long as a novel?
Rebecca: Interesting question. I would say I am a blend of both. I outline the major plot points on a timeline, but not each chapter. That allows the characters to have the space to make decisions in a way I didn’t expect. To help me stay on track, I have the climax written first, and then get myself there.
SueBE: That makes sense. With your climax in place you have a destination in sight. You set your story in 1998. Why did you choose that time period vs the present? What advice do you have for other writers in making the past accessible to the reader?
Rebecca: Ultimately Delia’s timeline guided the story. The majority of the maternity homes in the US closed after 1973, which required Delia to be a teen in a previous decade. I wanted Gwyn to discover the truth about her aunt, and the 1990s was a perfect decade. Set in 1998, a time on the cusp of a technology explosion, when youth, especially young women, were experiencing the benefits of the women’s movement fought for by their mothers and grandmothers. Women from Gen X forward experienced a different life of opportunity than previous generations, and those differences are interesting to explore. Plus I was a teen in the late 90s, and it was fun to pull in elements that I experienced first-hand.
It did help that I was a teen in the mid-late 1990s, and I could easily place myself there. I find listening to music of the era helpful to immerse my brain in the historical context. I have Pandora set to 90s alternative rock! Also I tried to use markers of the 90s that readers might have some frame of reference for or were easy to look up (for instance, I reference to Friends, clothing brands, and several well-known bands of the 90s.) Especially for a YA audience, I didn’t want to include references that were too obscure. Also, everyday objects from the era might need to be described. For instance, in Whispering Through Water, Gwyn receives a stereo for a birthday gift (you know, with a CD and a cassette player). My 12 year old daughter had no clue what a CD disc-changer was, so I described it in a way she could visualize.
SueBE: So you built a bridge from the world of contemporary readers to the last 1990s. So much of writing is revising. How did Whispering through Water change during the revision process? Can you describe this process for my readers?
Rebecca: I finished revising a draft in 2013 then put it away for years. I picked it up again in 2021. The reason I shelved it— I received the following response from an editor: “No one wants to read about the 90s.” Well, I thought, not yet anyway! So much happened in those 8 years that gave the book concept new life, including the interest in home genetics testing, and well, all things 90s fashion!
When I re-read my draft in 2021, Delia did not read as the sympathetic character I intended her to be. I wanted the reader to empathize with Delia at the end of the story. I rewrote the relationships in her backstory, so she could become who I envisioned in my mind. I thoroughly believe in letting a book “rest” between revisions. Put it out of your mind for weeks, months (or in my case years!), and work on other projects. You will return to the work as a more experienced writer and will be better able to view it with fresh eyes.
Once the book was accepted by the publisher, the entire book went through a round of proofreading, developmental edits, and line edits. Once the Advanced Reader Copy was created, we went through the document for anything we missed.
SueBE: You’ve written both a picture book, When Daddy Shows Me the Sky, and this young adult novel. What advice do you have for other writers who want to write for two or more different audiences?
Rebecca: I do have the added benefit of working in schools for 20+ years, from elementary to high school. The experience of being around children and youth has definitely informed my writing.
Beyond that, reading everything from picture books to YA, and researching current best sellers. I also enjoy reading contemporary books on developmental psychology. Currently I’m reading To Raise a Boy by Emma Brown. These non-fiction books help me to pull in social concerns that I enjoy infusing in my books.
Also, I am a member of SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). My Carolinas chapter is very active. I would encourage anyone who is interested in writing for youth to join their regional chapter of SCBWI. You then have contact with a group of very supportive like-minded individuals to help you on your journey.
SueBE: Thank you so much for mentioning SCBWI. It is definitely a valuable resource. Now, to wrap things up — what question do you wish I had asked? How would you answer that question?
Rebecca: Who are 5 people dead or alive you would like to meet?
My grandfather Archie Wenrich. I was born on his birthday, and he passed away when I was 6 months old. I have a lot of questions I would like to ask!
Rachel Carson. My grandma took a class under Rachel Carson and told me about her. I have my grandmother’s 1st edition of Silent Spring.
Lynda Carter, not just because she’s Wonder Woman, but because she’s had an amazing life.
The cast of Call the Midwife, because I have watched that show from the beginning. (Okay so that’s more than 5 people).
Dolly Parton, because she’s Dolly.
SueBE: What a way to wrap things up! Thank you for sharing so much with my readers and a special note to those readers. Check out these links to order your own copy of Whispering through the Water.And below you’ll find the other stops on the blog tour. Come back on February 6 for a guest post by Rebecca.