Show Don’t Tell

In case anyone’s wondering about my long absence from blogging, one of my side projects I’ve been working on is editing my last and final installment to my story series: Chasing Blue. Besides fixing the dialogue and making sure it flows better, one of the things I hoped to improve upon was to do more showing vs. telling in my writing. What does it mean to show as it relates to writing? Why does it matter? How can you “show” in your writing? This blog post will attempt to answer all three of those questions.

To tell someone is to state what happened. I could tell someone about my trip to New York City this past summer. I could relate how I did a Bethel tour in Warwick, did wine-tasting, went to the Metropolitan museum, or visited the WTC memorial by ground zero. I’m stating what happened on the trip. And frankly there’s nothing wrong in itself about telling someone what happened if they ask a question and want a simple explanation of what happened. However oftentimes merely telling someone what happened may not always be suffice. For my older sister who didn’t make it on the trip to New York she insisted on seeing pictures of the trips.

It’s similar with our writing. It’s much easier to tell the reader what happened to your characters. To tell the reader that your character is feeling angry, sad, or happy. The  reader will get a surface overview of events without having to engage with the characters and the plot. But showing requires more effort. It’s more than just stating the obvious. It forces the writer to show what’s happening by means of descriptive language that captures the scene in a way that the reader can picture what’s happening. Instead of passively reading your story, the reader is able to engage with the story on a sensory level. It helps the reader put themselves in the scene and make it truly come alive.

How do we show?

With our descriptions it doesn’t have to stop with our sense of sight. It can and should when possible engage multiple senses. After all we have five senses. When describing a scene in your story, think about how something in that space looks, feels, sounds, smells, and tastes. Use one or more descriptions that captures the senses you want to convey. It will make the scene come alive for the reader because they can reference what you’re describing. For example they can imagine the aroma of homemade apple pie wafting from the oven. You can still taste the cinnamon that dust your fingertips while you peer into the oven, its golden crust browning to a finish. From this example alone you can point out multiples senses used in that description of that scene. You can also infer based on the descriptions that the pie is about ready to be eaten!

 

In the spirit of this post I think it’s best that we show examples of telling vs. showing.

Example 1:

The crowds went wild.

The crowds jumped to their feet to cheer.

Example 2

The second lap came as quickly as the first lap had gone. All of it was surreal. I tried to tune out the loud chants, the curses thrown out from disgruntled fans, the dust that spewed in my eyes and just focus on keeping to a steady pace.

I pinched myself only to remind me all of this was really happening. My head was still in a jumbled blur trying to catch up to the rest of my body. Loud chants of praise were mingled with the curses thrown from disgruntled fans. To me it was all noise. Kicked up dust stung my eyes, forcing me to ignore everything around me. Now all I could think about was the burning in my eyes. Stay calm, Troy. I blinked to find my horses had veered slightly to the left. With the reins latched around my waist they followed my motion…

Example 3

“There is Troy!” Marius exclaimed cheerfully. “I was looking all over for you two,” he smiled.

“There you are Troy!” Marius exclaimed with glee in his voice. “I was looking all over for you two.”

Example 4

“Well I apologize,” he said sarcastically.

“Oh, I am so terribly sorry I disturbed your match. At least I came at the exciting part,” he said, grinning.

******

Look again at the examples. Which ones told you something? Three out of the four examples used this part of speech.

Adverbs.

When we use adverbs in our writing we’re telling the reader how an action was done. For example 3 above, “exclaim” was the verb and “cheerfully” was the adverb. Just to be clear adverbs are not “bad.” I still use them on occasion. But they can be overused to the point that our message becomes redundant.  “She banged her fists angrily” is a good example of this point. If you’re banging your fists, there’s a good chance you are angry. No need to state the obvious.

Let’s look at example 3 again closely…

“There is Troy!” Marius exclaimed cheerfully. “I was looking all over for you two,” he smiled.

“There you are Troy!” Marius exclaimed with glee in his voice.

To show how the character made this exclamation without resorting to adverbs,  I added a tag line to describe the quality of his voice. The reader can then infer that the character is in a cheerful mood.

While showing may not spell out everything to our readers as writers we have to trust that they are smart enough to figure out what our characters are feeling. If we provided enough context on how an action was carried out readers can infer the rest. Still though we need to be balanced in showing. In some instances too much description can bog the pace of the story down. If you’re writing a fast paced action scene you’ll have to be smart in how you use descriptions.

In conclusion balance is needed when writing. At times we’ll need to state the facts. Other times we can show. Granted, telling something is much easier than showing. But I think showing it speaks louder.

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Market your Book for Success!

 

Short Circuit Media

Marketing Diagram

Have you ever been in a slump? Writers are not immune to being in a slump. Sometimes you’re suffering from a case of writer’s block whether you’re struggling to find a new story idea or finish a work you already started. What many don’t seem to talk about is the rut writer’s find themselves after they publish and are now faced with the seemingly daunting task to market their book. Up till last week I had just about given up on any active marketing plans for my book, Before the Legend. Then I got an invitation to attend an author publishing webinar from Jonny Andrews. It was my 1st time attending one and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but I decided to come in with an open-mind. What I gathered after the webinar changed what I thought I knew about marketing. Here are some highlights I took away that I think all authors will benefit from in how to market for success.

The landscape of self-publishing has changed!

This is a very important point for all self-published writers to be aware of whether you’re thinking about publishing or have been in the business for years. When eBooks were still new it was much easier to sell your books in 2012 vs. 2018. When you add factors such as sales algorithms that favored emerging writers to the novelty of downloading an eBook, I get the impression that the market was more conducive for new writers to gain traction on the top seller’s list and therefore gain greater visibility in the early 2010s.

In just a few years the market has changed and is continuing to change. Now that self-publishing has grown in popularity, the market has exploded with hundreds of thousands of new titles being released each year. Instead of competing with just published books by a publishing house which have the advantage of having a marketing team, you are also competing with a rising number of self-published books. With the market saturated, and Amazon’s changing algorithm, it’s becoming even harder for your book to stand out. Because the market is changing, methods that used to work (e.g. free runs) aren’t as effective as they used to be.

Many writers including myself ended up dishing out more money for marketing campaigns or ad slots that yielded little to no results. Unless you’re consistently on the best-seller’s list or have a movie deal with your book most writers don’t have a large budget allocated for marketing. So what’s the solution? As a writer, especially an indie writer, marketing is absolutely essential for your book’s success. The belief that if you publish it people will find it is not going to cut it these days. What you need to be is smarter with how you market. But first you need to know what may not be working in your favor.

What’s Not Working

Clicks do not lead to sales – One of the most popular forms of marketing are click ads. Sites such as Goodreads has them. What the speaker made very clear in the webinar was that clicks in themselves do not lead to sales! In fact there’s very little correlation between clicks and sales. While this isn’t saying all click ads are bad, the way we measure success can easily become distorted. To illustrate suppose you ran three ads that lasted for about 24-hrs. One ad may get 1000 clicks, 2nd one may get 5000, and the other may get 760. Just because the 2nd ad got 5000 clicks didn’t mean people were actually buying the book. For the 3rd ad, it may have gotten fewer clicks but the people who did click on that ad were more likely to get to the landing page and actually buy the book. If we were to measure our success on just how many clicks we get we might be missing out on an effective ad that actually has a higher conversion rate. Ultimately our goal is to gain more sales not more likes. While the number of “likes” may stroke our egos on social media it doesn’t necessarily translate to sales. While the speaker doesn’t spell out what you should or should not do, he does point out what you need to consider when marketing.

Conversion rate is simply the % of people who saw the checkout page vs those who bought it. The higher the conversion rate the better. Hooking the visitor to get to your intended page (e.g. sales page) is only half the battle. Now you need them to buy the book. While you don’t have a lot of control over what people do next you can take a moment to review your intended page. If it’s the buy page, here are things to consider:

  1. Is the cover well-designed, professional, and attractive?
  2. Does the blurb invoke curiosity in the reader without giving too much away?
  3. Is the process to checkout and buy the book simple quick and simple?

If the following answers are a resounding yes for your visitor this can help solidify his/her decision to buy the book. If not this is a good time to get the basics right otherwise your marketing efforts will be futile. Of course there’s other criteria to consider in what marketing route to use. Of course you want to have the most ROI or return on investment. Here are some other key metrics to look for when choosing a marketing plan.

  • CPA = Cost per acquisition. According to Wikipedia this metric is calculated by the cost divided by acquisition. In this context acquisition is referring to sales. The higher the CPA, the better for the advertisers and you.
  • LTV= Long term value. As the name implies this looks at a long-range value of your product over an extended period of time. While I won’t go in detail about this, ultimately as a writer you should strive for long-term success.

What to try

Landing pages are the first page a user will see when they click on a site and are used by many types of businesses. Generally they are simpler in design from a standard site having little to no  top navigation links. The landing page’s primary purpose is a call for action on the part of the visitor. There will generally be a form or a button that will call for the user to engage with the site and click or fill out a form which will then navigate them to the intended page. For an author that could be an email mailing list which is another great marketing strategy especially if you’re planning on releasing more books. If you build a nice size mailing list you already have a set of potential new buyers already at your disposal instead of starting from scratch.

Landing pages can also be linked to your buy page. What I gathered from the session that you keep more of your money when readers buy directly from you vs. Amazon.

Final Takeaways

The webinar made me rethink my methods and think about new ways of marketing such as lead pages. There’s many different leading pages out there  and depending on which one you use they can provide useful analytics including CPA or LTV. This takes away the guess work and can help you determine if your site  is effective in driving more sales for your book.

The publishing world has changed and is continually evolving so authors need to adapt their methods if they want to produce long-term success.  It’s still too early to say definitely what will work for me but I’m currently experimenting with different landing pages. Stay tuned on a future post on what I found to be most effective.

For now I settled on a newly created landing page.

Which marketing method will work for my favor? Only time will tell.

****

Question to readers: Have you used landing page builder sites? What has been your experience with them? Which ones did you like or didn’t? I’m curious to hear your experiences

This Criteria Makes For a Good Book Review

Timely advice for readers (and writers) to keep in mind when thinking about leaving reviews.

A Writer's Path

by Doug Lewars

Book reviews are a fact of life. If it’s your book being reviewed, they’re nice if they’re positive and decidedly unpleasant if they’re negative. Every book is going to have a few negative reviews. That’s a fact of life because people are different, have different interests, enjoy different things, and will relate to your work in different ways.

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Writers are Courageous

I return from my long absence  from blogging to say I haven’t given up writing or this blog. At least not yet. At least not with unedited projects sitting on my hard drive. Or the countless half-baked stories floating in my head. Most writers like myself lead a relatively quiet life. And if you’re an introspective type such as myself you find yourself tuning into your rich inner world inside your head to escape the chaos of the outside world. However I had this running thought in my head since last year when I had this epiphany after writing a letter to government officials in Russia to rethink a decision to place a ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in that country.

Writers are courageous.

However what makes writers courageous? Usually when we think of the word “courage” we think of synonyms such as brave or fearless. We often associate those terms to high risk or dangerous occupations that involves putting your life on the line as well as others. Good examples are firefighters, paramedics, and police officers just to name a few. It may seem absurd to class writers in that same category. While writers are not running into burning buildings or apprehending criminals, they’re courageous in their own way. Here’s why I think writers are courageous.

  1. It takes courage to follow your dreams. The act of writing a story takes a considerable amount of imagination, craft, and heart. You may have started with an idea, then visualized the characters of your story before that vision finally found it’s way on paper or your computer screen. As the story progresses it’s natural to become emotionally invested. Once you’ve neared completion you already poured your heart and soul into the story and now you’ve made the biggest decision to have the outside world read it. Will they accept it (editors/ readers)? Will they like? Can I actually sell this? These are factors you have no control over. Oftentimes our insecurities are the biggest hurdles to cause us to shrink back from taking that step. Coupled with negativity from family and friends, we may feel our story is not good enough or that writing is not a practical, worthwhile pursuit. It takes inner courage to push through our own insecurities and fears and take that plunge into the unknown.
  2. It take courage to deal with criticism. This one is probably the hardest for most writers. When you crafted your story it’s almost become your baby as some writers have likened their writing pieces. Now you’re offering that “baby” (which has all the sweat, tears, and heart you put into) to the outside world for judgement and you have no control how readers respond to your story. I don’t care what nobody says, deep down you want someone to like what your write. Nobody likes to hear their book/story sucks. Even if those very words aren’t used, we may take any criticism against our book as a personal attack. After all the story is a collection of your ideas and vision. Such fears are not unfounded as I’ve seen books I liked torn apart by reviewers on Amazon or Goodreads. It takes inner strength as a writer to not lash out and reply to a disgruntled reviewer. It takes strength to digest the good and the bad and not let it break your spirit but to grow from it. It takes strength to stay true to your vision even if few people get it.
  3. It takes courage to tackle deep subjects. If you’re writing a comedy or a happy-go-lucky children’s book this may not apply to you. Unless your writing something like a satire. But if your writing books, or even essays or letters that touch on sensitive, hard-hitting, controversial subject matters this can be particularly challenging. Again this is similar to point #2 because you don’t know how people will take it. Will you be able to convey your message or will it be lost on your listeners because they got offended or they couldn’t process the information. After all you want your intended message to be heard and understood by your listener. You also want them to think critically about the issues at hand and if it’s your intention move them to action. Even if the message gets lost in translation or worse upsets some readers in the process, having the guts to stand by your words take courage whether you’re writing to readers or powerful government officials.

I used to worry about how well my book would be received or not getting reviews. For writer’s dismayed they’re not on the best-seller’s list or their writing hasn’t been picked up for a movie deal just know there are perks and downsides to increased notoriety. With increased exposure,  this opens your book to new readers from vast backgrounds and viewpoints. This opens you to all opinions, good and bad. But as a writer that’s something you have to mentally prepare for and being willing to accept getting into this business.

Frankly though I never wanted to be famous. For me it was never about becoming famous. It was simply sharing my story for others to read and enjoy. It was a courageous act to put in the hard work to follow-through with the self-publishing process, and to put myself out there for others to judge you. This is all in the quest to make readers get lost in the world I created. Make them feel something. Inspire. Granted most of are not heroes. Writing alone doesn’t give us that designation. But we should never forget the power behind our words. There are books that have literally changed lives for the better. There are books to this day that have forever changed how I viewed the world. I would have never known some of the things I learned now if those writers kept their writings to themselves. Yes using writing as a platform to convey a message, inspire, and move others to action is a powerful thing. Never forget that words are powerful and so do the writers that pen them. So choose your words carefully.

 

 

Announcing A Writer’s Path Writers Club: Creating Benefits For Writers

I’m grateful for Ryan’s blog for giving me a platform to reach even more readers. Now he’s started a new initiative to help writers like myself.

A Writer's Path

I’m happy to announce our new initiative: A Writer’s Path Writers Club.

After looking at the writing market for years, I noticed a need for a Writers Club of this kind. Sure, there are Facebook groups, writers groups, etc., but there aren’t many associations that are more than just a gathering of writers.

I wanted to create a club where the sole purpose of it is to solve headaches for writers. Here are some of the headaches I’m looking to solve:

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Six Sites That Pay For Flash Fiction and Poetry

Aspiring writer looking to earn a few extra bucks from your writing? Here are 6 great ways to earn cash from your writing that I encourage all indie writers to check out.

A Writer's Path

by Robert Turner

List is current for July 2017.

If like a lot of struggling authors you are desperate to get your work sold, why not downscale a little? Try your hand at writing flash fiction or short stories.

The sites listed below will pay you for your submissions if they are accepted, you’ll get yourself published and you might even be able to afford ribbon for your typewriter.

The sites vary in their submission requirements, so do spend the time looking through these carefully before you submit. Up to 20 percent of submissions don’t comply and get binned immediately. The links will take you to the submission pages.

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What you should know about Historical Fiction

What’s your favorite genre? For some it’s romance, others it’s fantasy, sci-fi or maybe a mystery/thriller. For those that know me well I enjoy reading a variety of genres, so it’s hard to pick one genre over another when I enjoy different books spanning across the many genres of fiction. However if you were to ask me what genre is your favorite to write- in my answer would be a bit more concise.  I’ve had a keen interest in history particularly the Roman era. My knowledge and fascination with the period is what inspired my first story which gave birth to a series spanning 4 books total. What I didn’t know when I started out writing historical fiction is how the genre is perceived by the populace at large and the expectations placed on those by the avid and casual fans of the genre.

#1: Historical Fiction is not popular

I must clarify this point because there are books that fall within this umbrella that have experienced a great measure of success and even notoriety. While there is definitely an audience for it, it has a much smaller audience than per say romance or thrillers and that’s to be expected. Unless a reader is an avid fan of historical fiction, the genre is often ignored by mainstream readers. I came to this painful realization when I first published my book to the public on the fiction-sharing site called Fictionpress. The #1 common consensus of those not fans of historical fiction is that it’s boring. True some historical fiction books bore me. It’s no wonder than that it’s tricky to attract new readers who typically don’t seek out historical fiction books. This is the dilemma you’re faced with especially if you’re ready to publish your book for sale. Because you have a smaller market it’s imperative that the book you publish is not only well-written but marketable.

Even within historical fiction it has its own subgenres which attracts its own niche of readers. Historical romance and historical fantasy are probably the biggest and most marketable of the subgenres. Alternate history or alternative history is another subgenre and is the most appropriate subgenre for my series. However alternative fiction makes up a smaller market within historical fiction. Not only do you have to factor the subgenre but also the target audience your book is aimed at. Is it aimed for children, middle grade, YA, or adult? The answer to that question can determine how marketable your book will be which in turn translates into higher sales rankings. Most historical fiction books I’ve run across are geared towards a more mature audience which doesn’t work in my favor considering Before the Legend is geared towards middle grade readers.

2#: High Expectations

Another point to consider is the high expectations that come with historical fiction. Most people expect a well-written book. That’s a given. But for historical fiction books it goes a step further. Readers will expect it to be mostly historically accurate if not 100% accurate to the time period it’s written in. From my observation, fans of the genre come with higher expectations than other genres. True, other genres require some research. If you’re writing a science fiction book that centers in space you’ll want to do your homework on space travel to make the plot more plausible. While that principle of research is also true in historical fiction, there’s the expectation that the book should fully immerse the reader in the era. Everything from their adornment,  living conditions, the way they talk,  etiquette, means of travel, morality, etc. should be accurate to the time period. It’s all about the details. Any deviation or inaccuracies will not go over well with any reader but especially those who are avid fans of HF. They are not as forgiving!

Because details are of high importance research is essential. Even if it’s alternative or touches on the realm of historical fiction readers will expect it to still be reflective of the time period. And honestly that’s a fair expectation. But living up to those expectations can be very challenging at times. Personally one of the hardest for me was the dialogue. I’ve had readers say my dialogue was too modern. On the flip side others complained it was too formal and stilted. Considering my character is living in Roman times and is of noble blood the choice to not use contractions seemed to make the most sense. However that didn’t bode well with some readers. I was confused and frustrated when it came time to edit because I felt I was given contradictory feedback from both sides.

#3: Getting Noticed

All of these factors you’ll want to take into account especially if you’re seriously thinking about publishing your HF book. If you’re going down the traditional publishing route you face even more hurdles to publishing the book. Typically you’ll have to select a literary agent who will act as the middle-man between you and the publishing company. Although I personally haven’t taken the traditional publishing route, it would be advantageous to do your homework on the agent and the publishing company they work for by delving into what types of genres they typically read and publish. Someone who has little or no interest in HF may not fully understand or appreciate your work for what it’s worth. After all the agent will often determine whether the book is marketable or not. If they don’t like it, it will end up in the reject pile. On the other hand you can increase your chances of acceptance if the publishing company is open to or even favors historical fiction.

Of course you can bypass the middleman and opt to self-publish. But that’s only half the battle. With nobody representing you, marketing and advertising will fall primarily on your shoulders. This touches on the 1st challenge I mentioned which is the smaller market you have to work with. Even if you decide your book is ready  and that there is a big enough market for the book to be profitable, you still have to find your target audience and attract them. Some important questions to ask when deciding how to get more exposure for your book are…

What regions or countries will my HF book fare better in?

What reviewers will accept my works?

What bookstores or sites will feature my book?

The answers to those questions are important because you want to know which markets will be more profitable. As a writer you want reviews especially those who appreciate HF so potential readers can decide whether to take a chance on your work. As a writer you want to expand into new markets including your local bookstore to get your books in front of new eyes.

I’ll admit that writing and publishing historical fiction series is not easy. You’re bound to get critics. I even had one person suggest I quit writing in this genre. Even more challenging is the marketing. While this post is not intended to discourage anyone from publishing HF, I believe understanding the reality of the market will help you adapt your approach to your next writing project. Granted if you choose to write for the fun of it, don’t let the popularity, high expectations, or visibility get in the way from writing what you want to write. If anything writing more for your personal enjoyment can be liberating from the stress of worrying about sales. But even if you do decide to publish your next HF book for sale, my advice is to do your homework beforehand. Find out what works and what doesn’t work for your book and the genre at large. And above all stay true to what your passionate about.