Monday, March 24, 2014

Get Your Writing Flow Back!

 You’ve been looking forward to writing all day. You settle into your chair and what happens? Internet browsing. After an hour of Facebook and commenting on blogs that have gone viral, you realize what you’ve done and desperately turn off the internet. As you stare at the page on your screen, you get tired and think that maybe if you take a quick nap then you’ll have the energy to write. Realizing that this is a bad idea because last time you slept too long, you put on some music…and now you’re hungry.

Well, guess what? Even if you down a whole sandwich and a bag of sweets, you’ll just want to go on a walk after that. The truth is that these are all signs that writer’s block has built up a dam that’s stuffing up your creativity.

As a writer, you know what the “writing flow” feels like. It’s a current of creativity rushing through you. When you’re not working on your novel, you’re thinking about it. Your story and your characters feel real. You keep a notebook and jot down notes whenever you can. This “writing flow” is the essential drive you need to finish your story with a heartfelt “The end.”

That’s why it’s so important to get back your “writing flow.” You must find a way to unstop the dam that’s getting in the way of meeting your goals. It’s time to get on your hands and knees and start pulling out the branches one stick at a time.

Stick #1: Do you know where your story is going next?
If not, this is the time to conduct a question/ answer session. Determine where you are in your story and where you want it to go. Write down possible plot holes. Here are sample questions to ask and answer: How does Jane fall in love with Jon? What does Jon do to make Jane angry? What keepsake will Jon give Jane? How do their gadgets work? What clues lead up to the mystery? What does Jane’s garden look like?

Stick #2: If you know where your story is going, does it interest you?
If you are bored, that is a sign to switch things up. Write down other possible scenarios (none of which you have to keep)—this could be a good brainstorming session. Maybe you need to get to know your characters better to know their motives? Cast your characters with your favorite actors.

Stick #3: If your story does interest you, do you feel too overwhelmed to write it?
Get rid of your inner editor and free write. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get the first draft perfect. Remember that once you have the rough draft down on paper, you can build your story around it and make it more brilliant later on.

Stick #4: If you don’t feel overwhelmed, are your basic needs being met?
Remember that writing is a job. You wouldn’t go to your work without breakfast or taking a lunch. You’d take breaks and keep your priorities straight. Don’t forget the importance of balancing your life or your writing will suffer.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How to Write Great Back Cover Copy

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Lately, I've been helping indie authors write or revamp their back cover copy.  It always amazes me how little time authors seem to spend on the second most important thing in selling and marketing their book---the back cover copy.  Besides the cover, the first interaction your reader will have with your book is the back cover copy and it can make or break your book sales. 

So, let's look at some tips for writing great back cover copy.

First of all, NEVER summarize your book.  The back copy is not where you do a synopsis at all. The back cover is where you entice and intrigue your readers to pick up your book. 

Now that the NEVER DO is out of the way, what do you do?

The Legwork

1.  Figure out the stakes.  Will someone die?  Will the world end?  Will she get the guy?  What are the stakes of the book?  This will play a big role in your back copy.

2.  Work up a thirty second elevator pitch of your book.  If you can describe your book in thirty seconds, you've got a head start on your back copy because you'll have figured out the most important details.

Now you have somewhere to start. What's next?

1. Take your stakes and figure out a tagline.  One sentence that encapsulates your stakes.  My new novel's tagline is "Are you ever really innocent until proven guilty?"  I just helped another author with her tagline and it ended up being. "On their world, being an elemental means you will be hunted for your skin."  So, you see a tagline is something that hints at the stakes in your book.  Make it catchy and memorable.  Don't bog it down.  Too many times I've seen, "This is a book about love and betrayal."  BORING.  Use your creativity.

2.  Use your thirty second elevator pitch to pull out the important events in your book.  Most times great back copy just covers the inciting incident in your book.  My novel, Ashes Ashes, has back copy that is mainly centered around my hero's bad day at work, and since he's in hostage negotiation, that means someone usually dies.  He comes home, sees smoke coming out of his neighbor's house and so he goes to help.  But the beautiful and mysterious house guest doesn't want his help---because she's in trouble herself. Usually if you can use your inciting incident, you can hook your audience, hint at the big plot, and write some great back copy.

3.  Use compelling language with a splash of hyperbole.  It's okay to grab your readers with "unimaginable consequences," "a decision that will change mankind forever" or "can he trust anyone around him, including the woman at the center of it all."  Leave your reader feeling like this is a story they definitely have to read. 

4. Great back cover copy is generally not over 200 words long.  You have to be concise and really sell the book without being verbose.  Cut out the fatty details, it only bogs down your back cover copy.  Get to the meat of it and entice and intrigue your readers.  This is your chance to sell yourself and you don't want to blow it. 

5.  Research how other authors have done it.  If you are still at a loss, go look at the back cover copy of famous authors in your genre.  That can spark ideas and creativity for your own work and help you see the pattern of how to intrigue and entice your readers.

6.  Don't forget to proofread.  There's nothing that will make me pass on a book faster than seeing grammar and spelling errors in the back copy.  If the author can't spell it right there, chances are the book isn't that great either.  The back copy is the reader's first interaction with you.  Make it great!

Julie Coulter Bellon is the author of ten novels and the winner of the RONE award for Best Suspense.  When she's not writing, she loves to read books, watch Castle, and eat Canadian chocolate, not necessarily in that order.  If you would like to read her reviews or get more writing advice you can visit her at

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Learning from Fiction

Do you remember how moved you felt while scanning your high school textbook about the events of April 15th, 1912? Yeah, me neither. But I can still remember how connected I felt to that day whenever I see Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio perched on the front of the Titanic. I often learn more about history from a novel or a movie than a textbook or a lecture could ever teach me. You can give me the name of a battle in history and the staggering number of lost lives, but it isn’t the same as when I get to know a character, grow to love them, and then follow them as they struggle through the pain and loss of history’s great moments.

I think fiction can do more than entertain; I think it can teach us in such a way that we barely realize we’re learning. We want to be educated, not to pass a test or complete a written assignment, but to better understand the world our dear new friend is experiencing.

When I read ‘The Help’ or ‘Gone with the Wind,’ I get a glimpse into eras that faded before I was born. Often, after reading a historical novel, I find myself wondering which of the things they mentioned had actually happened. If there’s an author’s note, I’ll hungrily consume the same facts and information that I struggled to care about when I was only trying to retain it long enough to pass a class. I’m fascinated to see how the author played with history—what was fabricated, and what was true? I search online, spending more time researching the time frame, characters, or events.

In the second book of my Yara Silva Trilogy, I used real-life events in my hometown of Corona, California to add substance to my story. Before my research, I knew a little about the race around the circular street in the center of the city, but learned so many fascinating things as I delved into it for my book. I love it when readers who live in Corona tell me they didn’t know about the history of their city, and that my book led them to want to learn more. Just because a book is fiction doesn’t lessen its ability to teach us. A well-crafted story—especially when placed in a real historical setting—can give us a new frame of reference into the social and historical situations, as well as bring to life the experiences of history. It gives us the joy of being life long learners, without the stress of final exams.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

How to Get Your Book Noticed

It’s so exciting to finish a full-length novel. What an accomplishment, right? Something not many in the general population have done. You deserve a huge pat on the back. But, as impressive as that is, it’s not even half the battle when it comes to publishing. Whether you go traditional or indie, the hardest part is selling that book.

If you choose the traditional route, there are many obstacles in your way. First, you have to score a literary agent, then there are all the editors and committees that agent has to appeal to. Once you land that contract, you hope and pray the publisher will spend time and money marketing your book, but for the most part, that’s out of your control.

But what if you’re indie? To those who self-publish, the gatekeepers are no longer an obstacle. So what is? Well, ignorance, if you’re a rookie, advertising, if you’re not independently wealthy, and time, if you have a day job.

I’ve learned this the hard way. Although my debut novel was traditionally published, I did so with a very small press, and like many start-ups, they struggled to find the money and expertise to market their books until they finally closed to submissions. So where did that leave me? Well, pretty much out in the cold, confused and frustrated. I had none of the perks of being either traditionally published (marketing) or self-published (control), and now have to find a way to get my book in front of potential readers.

With the explosion of ebooks, prices have become highly competitive. Readers have become used to paying very little. At $3.99, my debut romantic thriller, The Mistaken, is pushing the outer boundaries of what many readers will pay, which is why so many indies price their books at 99¢ for extended periods of time, just to get noticed. I don’t really have this ability since my publisher controls that, but I did ask them if they’d reduce the price for a week so I could hold a sale and spend some hard-earned pennies on advertising.

The question then was, where—what venue has the most bang for the buck? There are quite a few resources, both free and paid, where authors can list their titles. Some sites promote those titles on their websites, while others send out email blasts to their subscribers with links to books on sale in the genres they read most. I’ve tried many of these. Some are exceptionally effective while others seem to have little to no effect whatsoever.

I’ve listed some below, but the one I prefer and know from experience has the greatest impact is BookBub. Their genre subscriber list are huge, and they charge accordingly, depending on the size of the list you want to access. They only accept about 20% of applicants, and it’s very expensive, but it works. My book, reduced to 99¢, made into the Top 100 ebooks on all of Amazon, and the climb back up was slow, so I think it was worth it, but there was a lot of strategizing beforehand.

I ran my ad at the tail end of my 7-day sale, so, by the time the blast hit subscriber’s email boxes, my ranking was already pretty low, which made it even more attractive to potential readers. Plus, I still had a lot of traffic a day after it went back to full retail. It was so visible at that point, BookGorilla, who usually charges $50, ran an ad for free. The days leading up to BookBub, I used a few less expensive sites, eReaderNewsToday, The Kindle Book Review and Kindle Books and Tips, to promote and get my ranking low in preparation for the email blast. Since then, I’ve used Read Cheaply,  The Fussy Librarian, and eBookSoda to keep my title out there a bit longer. Some work, some don’t. You just have to try it and see.

Here’s a list of a bunch of other sites. Some I’ve used, some I haven’t, but they’re worth checking out.

eFictionFinds                Pixel of Ink                   eBooks Habit               Kindle Nation Daily 
eReaderCafe                Feed Your Reader        Freebooksy                  Indie Book of the Day 
Indies Unlimited            eReader Utopia            Just Kindle Books        PeopleReads

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Final Word on Frozen

As coming from someone who writes stories for a living. Lately, there has been an outcry on Facebook against Frozen for it's "hidden agendas." I'm here to tell you that the only real hidden agenda in the movie is to *gasp* make money. It's not some liberalist subconscious ploy to . . . no one has ever really made the end goal clear. Something about corrupting children.

There's this little thing called themes. Writers put them in novels/screenplays to resonate with a shared human experience. The above song is about letting go of your secrets-the things you've hidden from the world for fear of rejection. It's about embracing the part of yourself you wish didn't exist.

Guess what? We all have those secrets (which is why inserting that theme in the movie is a brilliant piece of writing). We all have things we hold onto so tightly we end up breaking ourselves-some to more extent than others.

You can take that theme and apply it to hundreds of individual situations. For me, it harkens back to my childhood. I wanted to be a writer. But I didn't often tell people that. Because if I didn't make it, they would know if I failed.

I had to let go of that fear. I had to embrace that part of me, no matter how scary. Because it was in fact PART OF ME. And hating any part of yourself is damaging.

A secondary theme is that our own power is a little intimidating-scary even. We all have so much power for good or bad. Perhaps that's where people get the whole "hidden agenda" camp came from. That there is something wrong or "bad" with Elsa's power. And she embraces it (for shame!).

What she learns (and another theme of the movie), is that power isn't good or bad. It's what you do with that power that makes you who you are. Another is that love, acceptance, and forgiveness is the true magic.

How on earth can such uplifting themes be a bad thing?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Crafting your happily ever after - finish the end of your story in five easy steps

How to craft your endings

You have a great idea for a story, and you've written two-thirds of it, leading all the way up to the climax. Now what? How do you get your protagonist through the final battle, defeat all of the bad guys, resolve all of the issues, and leave your readers satisfied in the end?

Readers love a good ending that brings everything full circle and leaves them with something to think about. Craft your endings carefully so that your readers will demand more as soon as they read "the end".

If you have heard of Blake Snyder's Save the Cat method (which I highly recommend), you may have noticed that, although he is very specific about the plot points leading up to the ending, Act III gets only a "wrap things up" treatment. What you may not know, is that Snyder went into detail about the finale in a later book: Save the Cat Strikes Back.  Much of what I have to tell you about endings comes from Snyder's fantastic screenplay writing advice. 

Storming the castle in 5 easy steps:

1- Gathering the team

Let your hero stop to gather everyone, and everything he needs for the final battle, whether it is storming a literal castle, landing that part in the musical, or stopping that girl from leaving without him.

2- Executing the plan

This is the time when the hero's team bands together and creates a plan that feels foolproof. Everyone is feeling positive about the battle.

3-High tower surprise

Now the hero reaches the final battle, only to find out that his plan isn't going to work like he thought it would. Here he finds that the bad guy knew he was coming all along. 

4-Dig deep down

The hero has nothing to draw on--no mentor to help out, no plan to depend on. It looks like he is going to fail. But now he takes that leap of faith and digs deep down inside of himself. He recalls the great lessons he has learned along his journey and realizes what he needs to do. 

5-Execution of the new plan

Now that the hero has awakened to see what needs to be done, he puts this last-ditch plan into action, and it works! All of the villains are systematically undone with this impromptu new plan. 

6-Wrap up loose ends

I know I said 5 steps, but really, there is one more. You need to tie up all loose ends. Readers need to know what happened to all of the characters. Bring the story around full circle and show us how the protagonist really changed on his journey. Make sure you address every plot point that you introduced. And even if your story continues on in a series, satisfy this particular story's questions and your readers will be emotionally satisfied. 


Authors-if you have wrestled and conquered an ending, what advice do you have? 
Readers-have you ever read an ending that just didn't satisfy?

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