The purpose of this segment is to provide information, entertain, and share experiences into the world of authorship. Whether you are more of a hobbyist or write professionally, hopefully you will find the information presented here to be useful, humorous, or stand as a cautionary tale.
Any author may participate (email me if you are interested in contributing at firstname.lastname@example.org). If you have an idea for a topic or wish to see something specific presented, please let me know as well.
Topic: Pantster, Plantster, or Plotter?
By Sue Rovens
No, I’m not talking about gardening or shopping for trousers. This month, I’m taking a brief look at three basic writing/planning styles used by authors. There are, of course, a host of other combinations and manners of sequencing, but I’ll only be discussing these three here.
You might have been asked which camp YOU fall into when writing your novel (or other work). If you know, you know, but some folks may be new to this lingo. Let’s break it down for those who might not be as familiar.
Pantster – … someone who, “flies by the seat of their pants,” meaning they don’t plan out anything in their story, or plan very little. Freedom is an important value for pantsers. They don’t need or want a detailed outline. In fact, their writing style—for a first draft or senior book—is partly about discovering the story as they write it. (thewritepractice.com)
Plotter – … is someone who plans their novel in advance. This can include creating detailed outlines to make sure they have believable characters and know their setting and story arc inside and out. For these types of writers, outlining beforehand is incredibly important; they will struggle to start writing without a detailed outline of each chapter and character, and possibly even every scene. (openbookeditor.com)
Plantster – …plantsers are a combination of plotters and pantsers. The reality is that most writers are plantsers who lean more heavily towards either a plotter or a pantser. Perhaps you create a loose synopsis before you start writing, or maybe you like to fully flesh out your characters and then see where the story takes you. Or maybe you outline your story and characters beforehand but make frequent changes to both during the writing process. These are all signs of a plantser! (openbookeditor.com)
As for me and my style, I lean heavily toward the Pantster category. For example, when I wrote Rage (my fourth novel), I knew I wanted to write a story about a guy who was so despondent and depressed that he could barely function. I didn’t have a particular reason for doing so – it was simply a characteristic that I wanted to explore. That’s it. That was the only thing in my head when I started typing the first draft on November 1, 2019 (during NanoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month). What evolved from that point on, happened as I was typing.
When I wrote Sanctum (my latest novel which should be available by the time this is posted), I wanted to write something akin to a haunted house story but didn’t want to go the “usual route”. I considered alternative angles and tried to stay away from overdone tropes. In this case, I imagine I was firmly in between a Plotter and a Pantster (a Plantster!). I had a lead character in mind and knew the overall arching theme. I also wanted to feature an LGBTQ+ couple because I try my best to be an ally.
Whichever category you choose to use, you’ll find pros and cons with each. Being a Pantster means (at least in my case), that you really have to be ALL IN when you are writing. No distractions or else you might lose your train of thought. As the story pours out onto the page while you are typing, it could be difficult to split your attention elsewhere.
You also may find that you’ve written your plot and/or your characters into a corner. When you are typing “on the fly”, all manner of problems can crop up. I’ve had that happen. I just make a note and resolve it in draft #2 or #3. Here’s a modified list from OpenBookEditor.com which might prove helpful:
- Flexibility with the story.
- Pantsers get to experience the story as they go—almost like a reader. They can surprise themselves with story ideas and character arcs. This is not only exciting but also gives the author a good sense of how their readers will react to the book.
- Because there is little plotting, pansters may struggle with effective exposition and encounter more plot holes.
- As such, the finished draft may need more rounds of editing. This can be especially true when it comes to developmental edits—the large-scale edits that make sure a plot moves smoothly and makes sense from start to finish.
- Because there is no predetermined story direction, pantsers are more likely to get stuck or experience writer’s block.
Plotters have their own issues. I’ve never been much of a plotter, even though I love a list and I’m usually pretty organized. When it comes to writing (a first draft), though, I like to keep it rather loose. If I structure it too much, it feels like work and causes too much added stress. Here is a (modified) list of things to consider if you’re going to try your hand at being a plotter: (OpenBookEditor.com)
- Because a plotter will plan out their novel first, it’s easier to get words down once they (eventually) start writing.
- Plotters are less likely to suffer from the dreaded writer’s block because they know where to go next in a given scene.
- The narrative plot tends to flow more smoothly from the first draft. So, regardless of whether they’re editing fiction or non-fiction, such writers will have fewer large-scale, developmental edits to make.
- Because they spend so much time outlining, plotters can struggle to be flexible and allow changes to happen as they write.
- Plotters can take longer to complete a manuscript because a larger portion of time is dedicated to planning out every detail—many of which won’t make it into the book—before they start writing.
- If the final product doesn’t quite match up to the outline, plotters may struggle to know when to stop editing their book. These types of writers will often keep editing as they try to achieve the pre-set idea of their plot.
You can probably gather that there is no “right way”. Writers will utilize whichever style works best for them. It could be one of these three, a combination like previously discussed, or something completely different.
Let us know which one YOU use!
Business Cards – Worth it or Obsolete?
By Sue Rovens
During an event last year where I was a vendor, I set aside a bit of time to walk around and stop by a few other tables. Normally, I pick up people’s business cards so I can contact them to see if they might be interested in doing an interview on my blog. While I was able to collect a decent amount, there were a few vendors who told me that they didn’t hand out cards anymore. When I asked how someone could get their information, they said “QR codes,” and directed me to a sign that featured a square of squiggles.
Now, I might be old school as I happily claim making the Boomer cut-off (proudly born in ’64!), but I didn’t think I was that out of touch. Were physical cards now seen as an antiquated way of doing business or was my encounter simply a “one-off” with someone who loves technology more than I do.
According to The Marketplace (https://www.marketplace.org/2022/09/14/the-traditional-business-card-is-getting-a-tech-makeover/), 88% of business cards are thrown away within a week. This stat alone is kind of horrifying, considering the cost, time, and effort it takes to create, purchase, and keep them on hand. While some people have a QR code on the business card itself, killing two birds with one stone, it’s still worth considering if going the paper route is financially worth it in the long run.
Having a card at the ready is a great way to connect with a potential customer. I used to have business cards on my event tables and gladly handed them out to people who would ask for them. However, I learned over time that giving away these costly items didn’t bring any more eyeballs to my blog or increase my sales. So, I created bookmarks and put my blog address on each one. That way, the person might use the bookmark and/or visit my blog (where all my information is, including links on where to purchase my books).
I have a small bulletin board in my house with all kinds of business cards: the vet, doctors, plumber/electrician, the company who put in our flooring, the tax lady, etc. Do you know what cards that I don’t have posted? Those of authors and artists I’ve met. People tend to reserve that special “real estate” on a bulletin board or fridge for those services and people that are crucial to their family’s needs. I can’t imagine that my author business card is up on anyone’s wall, which is fine. But it’s another reason I’ve chosen to go the bookmark direction. It’s something that can be utilized and not just take up space.
Using QR codes is an environmentally sound move…but think about folks who aren’t so technologically minded. While most people have cell phones attached to their bodies these days, it’s not a hard and fast rule for everyone. Plus, there are those who just prefer a physical item. (think vinyl as opposed to streaming/downloading). There’s nothing wrong with having both to accommodate the widest audience.
Whichever way you decide to go, keep the following in mind:
- Check your spelling.
- Make sure the technology works (if you go with a QR code)
- Always have updated information on your site and/or cards
- Include at least two ways to contact you (not everyone is on FB/Instagram/TikTok). Email is still vital.
- Include who you are. After an event, it might be hard to remember who you were if someone collected a bunch of cards from different tables. Are you an author, artist, musician, painter, etc?
Once again, there is no wrong answer. You need to discover what works best for you and your goals.
I do have business cards, but these days I’m very selective as to who and when I hand them out. At events, I let my bookmarks do the heavy lifting.
A Rose by Any Other Name: Choosing a Title
By Sue Rovens
Choosing a title for your book can be almost as daunting as writing the manuscript itself. While a great title can capture a reader’s attention and entice them to follow through by making a purchase, a bad or awkward title can elicit the opposite response. If it’s too long, too generic, or doesn’t fit your genre, your book’s title can work against you and any potential sales.
As with most topics I cover in All Business, the internet is home to a wide array of websites bursting with ideas. I’ve credited three such links which can be found at the bottom of this article which have proven to be quite helpful.
Listed below are some tips that I found during my research. I’m also including how I come up with my own titles (and the reasons why).
Things to keep in mind when choosing a title:
- Keep it short (or on the shorter side) – It’s easier to remember a few words rather than a lengthy title (although there are exceptions)
- Make it unique – Make YOUR book stand out from the crowd.
- Come up with a few titles before settling on one – Brainstorming is a good way to come up with good ideas. You might even end up combining two.
- Have the title match the story and genre – No reader wants to be fooled.
- Edit (yes, even the title may need editing).
- Don’t settle. If it doesn’t feel right, change it until it does. You may start out with one title, write the manuscript, and ultimately decide that your original thought doesn’t fit.
- Cram every plot/character into the title. Sometimes less is more.
- Use “in jokes” or “be too clever” (You might know your personal jokes, but some of your readers won’t get it).
- Lean too heavy on trends (They come and go too quickly, and you don’t want to end up ‘dating your work’. What’s cool in 2023 might not be cool or even understood in 2040).
Apart from my two collections of short stories (In a Corner Darkly, Volumes 1 & 2), my novel titles are either one or two words long (Badfish, Track 9, Buried, Rage, and the newest coming out later this year, Sanctum). I chose to go the shortest route I could, hoping that readers would remember the titles easily. I wanted to represent the gist of the story, the genre, and the tone with one (or two) words – to be as succinct and eye-catching as possible.
I also let the title come to me on its own. It happened during the first draft of Badfish and Track 9, and it happened during the latter drafts with the other three. When the name pops into my head, I know, instinctively, if it’s right or not. I never force it.
Additionally, I’m very aware that I’m up against a tremendous amount of competition when it comes to attracting readers.
According to the latest Bowker data (Publishers Weekly, February 20, 2023), 2.3 million books were self-published in the US in 2021, which was the third year in a row that more than 2 million books were self-published.
With these kinds of numbers, it’s not hard to see that having one’s book available on Amazon is barely enough to make an impact. My books are a drop in the proverbial bucket when it comes to readers looking for their next suspense novel. If my single word title (and cover art) can capture their attention for a few seconds, it could be enough to persuade them to click on it (or pick it up at an event). Everything matters – even a single word title.
I’ve had a couple folks point out that a few of my books have the same titles of other books (and movies). It’s true. But it’s also accurate to say that my work will likely never be mistaken for Stephen King’s or Bob Woodard’s (same titled book, Rage). Most of my selling comes from the events I attend and the interactions I’m fortunate enough to make. I can’t imagine someone mixing up my short suspense novel for a best seller any day. 😊
There is no definitive right or wrong when it comes to choosing a title for your book. Rather, it’s about deciding on the BEST word or words to represent you and your work to your audience. Once again, these guidelines and suggestions are merely just that – tips and ideas for you to consider before hitting publish.
How do you come up with your titles?
by Sue Rovens
Whether you have been writing for one year or fifty, there might come a time when you find yourself questioning your desire to continue down the same path you’ve been traveling on or make a sharp, left turn and diverge in the great unknown. Choosing a different genre, writing non-fiction as opposed to fiction, or simply stopping altogether are some manifestations of such evolutions.
Change can be scary, whether it’s forced upon you (getting fired from a long-term job, a relationship suddenly turning sour, or having to move), or whether it’s something of your own choosing. Continuing down a familiar path, even if it’s not working for you, can be comforting. It’s the “devil you know” as opposed to facing a metamorphosis full of questions and uncertainty.
During the past year, I’ve considered the following:
- Stop writing new content. Sell everything I have and just be done with it.
- Write non-fiction instead of my usual fiction (suspense)
- Drop my other hobbies and interests and focus everything I have into writing more stories.
- Continue doing what I’m doing – at least for the immediate future.
While none of these are wrong or bad (save for #4 which isn’t really much of a change), each one carries its own cache of issues. The worst and most draining of these would be having to defend the decision to do something different.
“Know When to Fold ‘Em”
– Kenny Rogers
I’ve been a drummer in some form or another since 1981. I began in my high school band, then continued in college, and eventually found my way into playing in church bands throughout a portion of my adult life. Family members and friends knew me as a drummer (not famous or great, but a percussionist nonetheless).
While I haven’t actively played for several years, about eighteen months ago I took up French Horn. Why? Because I had a dream about playing one over twenty years ago and wanted to make it a reality. I had no lofty ideals about becoming a professional hornist, nor had I developed a hatred for drums and drumming. I just wanted a change. I had a desire to try something new.
However, instead of shared interest and excitement, I found myself having to go on the defensive. Not only did I feel the need to deflect the why and why now questions, but I felt pushed to convince those who knew me that no, I didn’t despise the drums. I still held quite an affinity for them. I’d welcome the chance to play if an opportunity presented itself. But the need to explore a different path would still loom large and I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t make the attempt.
Why was the idea of change so heavily questioned and seen as dubious and suspect?
I could certainly understand the concern and worry if I had alluded to a life-altering decision such as a divorce, moving to another state, or having been diagnosed with a sudden illness. But this had to do with learning a new instrument.
Is it any wonder why considering a change in writing habits can cause trepidation? Sometimes, the decision to commit to a new path is nerve-wracking enough. The added weight of having to defend and explain the change can tip the scales in the wrong direction and push the person to give up altogether before they’ve even started.
Someone is bound to feel uncomfortable and awkward, until the “change” becomes routine again, but it shouldn’t be the writer (or musician or artist).
I’ve found myself reading more non-fiction as of late. While I still enjoy a great suspense/horror read, I find that I’m more selective now. I’m in a process of finding a balance and discovering new territory. I’ve been enjoying reading for educational purposes as opposed to only reading for entertainment. I don’t despise good fiction. I’m not turning my back on the genre that I love. What I am doing is changing. Expanding. Learning. Diversifying.
It’s the same with writing. I’m currently working on my fifth novel, Sanctum. I plan to come out with another book of short stories (horror/suspense) sometime in 2025. But after that? I’m considering writing non-fiction. It may happen…or it may not. But either way, there’ll be nothing wrong with my decision.
As a writer, you have to do what is right and best for you, regardless of timing, naysayers, and critics.
Choosing Events as Vendors
By Sue Rovens
I don’t know about you, but I do my best sales when I’m face to face with a potential reader. Through personal interaction, questions and answers, and an honest back and forth engagement, events provide a fertile ground for communication, reader/writer acknowledgment, and sometimes sales.
For me, it’s not if I should vend, but rather where, when, and which are best. How do any of us know which events are worth the time, table fee, travel costs, and effort?
While I can’t make those individual choices for you, I can share some of the things I’ve learned along the way. As of this writing, I’ve been a vendor 43 times. Charlie (my husband) and I have loaded the car, schlepped the two-wheeler, hoisted signs, packed up boxes, lugged the typewriter (for my display) and cartons of swag and decorations, and set up tables since 2013. After ten years of experience (though I imagine some of you have done this many more times), here’s what I know:
- Just because you’re selling books, you don’t have to stick to “book only events”. Early on, I thought this was what authors were supposed to do. While there is nothing wrong with attending Book/Author Fairs, there are other opportunities worth experiencing. Overall, I tend to sell better at places that aren’t solely book focused. I’ve noticed that attendees can become overwhelmed, and ultimately become very selective about the few books they actually purchase. Instead, I’ve gone “outside the box” and sold my wares at Steampunk shows, Horror Conventions, Craft shows, and Flea Markets. Sometimes, when a book vendor is the exception rather than the rule, their booth stands out more.
- Table Fees. The dreaded things can make or break being a vendor. While some events waive their table fee completely, ask yourself the following – do they publicize the event? Will you have attendees? If the venue doesn’t promote at all (or just barely), you might end up sitting with the other vendors killing time and making nothing (but a contact or two) Free doesn’t always mean better. On the other side are the events who ask exorbitant fees. It’s important to consider your other costs (travel, food, gas, etc.), and see if the bottom line is worth it. Sometimes, I’ll go ahead and take a flyer and pay a little more than what I want to because the venue and event appear to generate a huge following. In most of those cases, I’ve been lucky. But, like anyone else, I’ve been caught paying a table fee and NOT earning it back. It happens. Keep a record to see which events worked out for you, which did not, and why.
- Speaking of publicity, that’s a key factor which I’ve been learning about as of late. There’s nothing wrong with asking the person in charge about past attendance numbers and/or how many they expect. Covid years aside, if it’s an established event/fair, the people running the show should know their numbers. If it’s a brand-new event, it’ll be a guess on everyone’s end. I’ve been to a few premiere shows and have done well, but unless they double down on advertising and marketing, it could end up being a long, lonely day for all involved. Incidentally, if they retort with phrases like “well, it’s in a mall” or “it’s impossible to tell how many will show up” or something just as evasive, I’d hesitate to commit. It’s important that the people in charge are on the ball and take the event seriously, especially when vendors are paying hard-earned money for a spot at their show.
- Where do I find these places? First, networking – the obvious choice. When at a fair/show, I’ll ask other vendors (and no, they don’t necessarily have to be authors) where else they go. I’ve met some wonderful folks who are more than happy to share what they know (both good AND bad). Another place is the internet (of course). Google Illinois Book fairs/festivals, author fairs, author book signings, as well as searching public library pages for author events has been helpful. Lately, I’ve searched Central Illinois Craft Show/Vendor Updates (and variations on this to target different areas throughout the state). Obviously, different states will have their own pages. I’ve also searched for local happenings (Cogs and Corsets – the Steampunk Event in Bloomington), Duncan Manor (a local establishment which hosts musicians/artists from time to time), local restaurants (Destihl Brewery which puts on artist/Maker’s Market-type shows throughout the year), and the Holiday Expo (a local hotel which offers the public an opportunity to shop many different vendors a couple times a year).
- The best way to know is to try different venues and see what is the best fit for YOU and YOUR work.
While this list certainly isn’t exhaustive, I hope it provides a starting point (or reminders) of things to consider. I’ll most likely do Part Two sometime in the future. In the meantime, good luck in 2023, and feel free to share your own vendor experiences with us.
Written by Sue Rovens
The first draft of nearly any manuscript can cause its author stress-inducing nightmares. The all-powerful empty page, looming large like a formidable opponent, has haunted well-known authors and complete novices alike.
It’s unfortunate for creative writers to get tangled up with worry and trepidation so early in the process. I’ve been told (and have read) how some people fret so much over the first sentence, let alone the first paragraph, that they ultimately give up out of fear and perfectionism. Seeking excellence and clarity right out of the gate is so rare, I’ll go out on a limb and say it just doesn’t happen. That’s that point of editing rounds and subsequent drafts.
First drafts, also known as rough drafts, are supposed to be exactly that – rough. It’s an opportunity to get the basics down so you can polish it later. It the proverbial “drawing board”, the brainstorming session, the initial conceptualization for plots and character development that will eventually become a real manuscript. A story arc might change five times before you’re happy. An important character might appear in chapter three, but by chapter fourteen, they’re all but forgotten and you realize they were never truly needed.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of websites that discuss first drafts – how to do them, how NOT to do them, etc. But ultimately, it’s going to come down to you, your style, and your comfort level. If you feel the need to have a list, then by all means, make one. If you rather “pants it” (fly by the seat of your pant, AKA ‘pantster’), then go for it. There really isn’t a wrong way…except being so afraid to start that you never write your story.
Here is what works for me:
- I take advantage of NanoWriMo (the National Novel writing month that happens every November). It’s a great free program that I’ve used to write all five of my first drafts down on paper. https://nanowrimo.org/
- I normally start with an idea, a character, or a scene. For example, when I started writing the first draft of Buried (my third novel, about a hoarder who lives next to a funeral home), my first inkling of an idea came from watching the TV show, Hoarders. A lady had dug through a funeral home’s garbage in order to find (and use) body pads for bedding inside her trailer. After I saw that, I knew I had the basis for a story (and a leading character). Where would it end up? It didn’t matter at that point. I had the first few kernels of a concept and let it grow from there.
- I don’t worry about spelling, remembering specific names (including stores, last names, addresses, etc.), ages, or even proper usage of syntax during the first draft. All of those are fixed in later drafts.
- I’m not beholden to anything that comes out in the first draft. When I wrote Track 9’s original draft during Nano 2017, I struggled to come up with ANYTHING to fill the page during the first half, and then, after getting sick during the second half of November, I wrote the rest in a antibiotic-addled sinus-infection dream. It was HORRIBLE (lol). I ended up throwing away 90% of the original manuscript. And it was all for the best. Track 9 ended up getting a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly (2018). So, first drafts can easily go by the wayside. Don’t stress about it. What you’ll ultimately end up with will be so much better.
- Once I finish the first draft (on November 30, following Nano’s “rules” – although, here again, you don’t have to. It’s totally up to you. I just like being done in 30 days!), I set it aside for a good three months before I look at or think of it again. This way, when I come back for Draft #2, I’m in a different state of mind. The concepts and characters are there, so I’m not starting with nothing, but I’ve got something to work with, even if I delete some or most of it.
Writing a story is a personal adventure. No two people (probably) do it the exact same way. Find out what works (and doesn’t work) for you, whether it’s a list, an outline, a character analysis, random ideas scribbled on a napkin, or just sitting down in front of the keyboard and going off the dome with nary a guideline in sight. That’s what a first draft is all about –getting through it so you have something to work with later.
Written by Sue Rovens
“The term trigger warning originated in the late 1990s on feminist Internet message boards, where it referred to site-sponsored cautions to readers regarding the presence of graphic depictions of rape in certain posts. Reading such material, it was argued, could trigger panic attacks and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in victims of sexual violence. Soon the term and the practice were applied to other discussions in the interest of protecting the sufferers and victims of a wide range of disorders, conditions, and traumas, including eating disorders, self-mutilation, suicidal tendencies, and domestic abuse.”
Trigger warnings have been and continue to be a hot topic and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. They now appear at the start of select movies, several television programs, and even certain podcasts. While still in its infancy, only thirty-some years in, the concept of providing trigger warnings may eventually be so commonplace that the debate of whether or not to include them might simply become futile. Trigger warnings could be the new standard, and not the exception to the rule.
But should they be? Is that the best direction for the future of entertainment? In other words, all the above-mentioned traumas (stated in the first paragraph) have existed for years. Why are cautionary warnings needed now as opposed to the 1920s or 1930s? Or during the Vietnam years? Or during The Great Depression? Weren’t things just as bad (or worse)? Yet, the need to warn readers or movie-goers wasn’t necessary then. Should trigger warnings have existed earlier or were people simply “tougher” back in the day?
Readers and writers alike tend to have an opinion on the matter. While there are some who might remain indifferent, trigger warnings have fans as well as critics.
Whichever side you prefer, there is much to consider. Many in our current society are becoming aware of behaviors, labels, and viewpoints which were once deemed “acceptable” but were in actuality, stereotypical, racist, misogynistic, or otherwise harmful. In these cases, providing a trigger warning about upsetting or harrowing subject matter can be seen as a good thing. It shows concern, consideration, and sensitivity toward others.
Individuals who don’t wish to be startled or relive a traumatic experience may be cautioned against reading a book (or seeing a movie) by the appearance of a well-placed trigger warning. It can help provide a “safe passage” for those looking to indulge in entertainment, but who don’t want to deal with distressing issues.
However, it has been said that trigger warnings are merely a contemporary means to ‘bubble-wrap’ the world. Life is hard. Bad things happen. Authors shouldn’t be held responsible or accountable for creating a “safe space” for readers, unless perhaps, they write for children. Some people enjoy indulging in the seedier side of things. True crime is wildly popular these days in all manner of entertainment outlets. For those who gravitate to such material, trigger warnings only serve to placate and pacify, almost becoming a spoiler alert in some cases.
My personal feelings about trigger warnings lean toward the latter. Granted, I’m an indie author. If I had an agent/publishing house that insisted I use them, I wouldn’t balk. I would go along to get along. But, since I do have the ability to choose whether to include trigger warnings (or not), I’ll share my reasons as to why I don’t plan on using them.
Reason One – I write suspense (with flakes of horror). When a potential reader picks up my books, they will instantly know the genre, the general theme, and, if they read the back blurb, the main plots and subject matter. The covers present obvious themes. No one should be surprised by finding something unscrupulous, disturbing, weird, chilling, or unseemly in my work. These are not romance novels. The cover, blurb, and synopsis on Amazon should be ample ‘warning’ to potential readers. The addition of trigger warnings, I feel, is not needed.
Reason Two – News programs, internet pages, and social media are practically a free-for-all these days. The standards and practices of an earlier time no longer exist. Some people can be mean, rude, or just plain hurtful, and they sure don’t come with a trigger warning (hmmm, maybe they should). Life in general doesn’t give most of us a “heads up”. There are ugly, horrific things in this world. If someone is expecting to be notified before encountering something disturbing or scary, they’re in for some harsh lessons.
A frightening or disturbing book can be set down, given away, or remain unfinished. A movie can be shut off. Real life can’t be as easily discarded as forms of entertainment can.
Whether to include trigger warnings or not remains a personal or professional decision, it will likely persist as a divisive topic for the foreseeable future. Which side do YOU come down on, and more importantly, why? Have you changed your mind? Are trigger warnings a non-issue for you? Please share your thoughts on the All Business Update message!
Book Covers: Images and Fonts
Written by Sue Rovens
The cover of your book should convey the right amount of information – not too much and not too little. When a potential reader sees your book for the first time, they tend to dwell on it for as long as ten seconds before deciding to investigate further or look elsewhere. Imagine a person scrolling through hundreds (or thousands) of choices on Amazon (or any other book site). Simply writing the darn thing isn’t enough. You should “start selling” by creating an intriguing cover.
Those first moments are crucial and can make or break a sale. If the person finds the graphic, font, or back blurb to be off-putting for any reason, they’ll quickly move on to the next book, whether in person or on screen. Of course, no one can make a cover that will delight every reader. But if we follow (or at least consider) some long-standing rules and tips, our books have a better chance of ending up in a new reader’s hands.
While an author with an established following will sell their books regardless of what’s on the front, it’s important for the majority of writers (especially indies) to present our work in the best light possible. You want your book to stand out from the crowd, instigating a connection to a new reader. A good cover can prompt someone to skim through the pages, read the back blurb, and invest their hard-earned cash in someone they’ve never read before.
Constructing the cover can happen in all manner of ways these days. You can hire it out to an artist, do it yourself, or combine both factors. I pay a wonderful illustrator who collaborates with me on mood, tone, ideas, and cover vision. She creates a few mock-ups, sends them my way, and from there, I can let her know what works and what does not. It’s a process that I’ve found helpful and as far as I’m concerned, she’s nailed my vision every time. (She’s done the artwork for Rage and Buried and created my Plump Toad Press logo. I heartily recommend her – Tami Boyce)
Obviously, you want the graphic and/or illustrations to look professional (if you choose to use them). However, and I can’t state this enough, it’s important to visualize how it will look as a thumbnail on Amazon. It’s going to be small. Really small. Yet, it needs to be clear and convey your book’s message/genre/target audience. (I write suspense/thriller):
Let’s look at an example:
Okay…what the heck is going on here? Besides for appearing cluttered and messy, the genre isn’t clear at all, nor is the target audience. While all of these elements might appear somewhere in the book, a potential reader would most likely see this and be confused. Is this a kid’s book? A mystery? What’s up with the enormous cookie that’s larger than the cat? Is someone being poisoned? And the feet? Is the steam coming from the cup or the foot and do we want to know?
We don’t need everything laid out here. Pick one or two elements and go with that. Also, look at the title and author’s name. They’re jammed up at the top and gives the cover a childish appearance. Your title AND your name are important. Make them stand out – clear and precise.
The style, size, color, placement, and font choice are also important. As cute as a curly font might be, it wouldn’t be a good move to use it if you are writing a serious thriller. And if you’re writing a kid’s book or YA, you might want to steer away from this font, or this one.
Let’s look at another example:
If you use a particular font for the title, stick with it for most other wording on the cover and make sure it fits the genre. This example is trying to be “clever” but comes across as kind of annoying, messy, and unprofessional (although I’m sure that some people will like this). The author or designer could have chosen one word to highlight (like creativity) by using a varied font but kept the rest of the title uniform. By doing that, it would make a thumbnail on Amazon easier to read. Notice the word “creativity”. Doesn’t it sort of look like weatiwity? And the word “the” gets a bit lost, especially if you’re looking quickly. The colors as the background are fine, but with the jumble and randomness of the title, it’s too much. The background is busy enough.
One final example:
See how the title and author’s name disappear? The main image is also impeded. Is this a book about gardening? A romance? It’s hard to tell because it’s too basic. Plus, it’s not eye-catching. Regardless of how well the book is written, I might never know because nothing about the cover pulls me in. Sure, the back blurb could come to the rescue, but if it doesn’t grab your attention to begin with, it’s likely to be passed over. Don’t force the reader to work too hard. Make the cover easy to understand and capture a reader’s attention. Remember –you only have seconds to make an impression.
While every cover can be criticized and judged, there are guidelines and tips (many more than just these!) that will help make the process of cover creation easier, better, and will provide you a leg up.
How do YOU create your covers? Good or bad experiences? Let us know!
Editing: A Brief Look
Written by Sue Rovens
Stating the obvious here, but volumes have already been written on the topic of editing. They’ve been done by more established and more qualified people than me. Add in the blogs, professional classes, week-long seminars, and multitudes of speaker series, and you might wonder why I’d even offer my two cents on the matter.
I’ve come to find that while editing generally has some common themes and processes, each writer approaches their own manuscript a little differently when it comes to personal corrections. Therefore, I’m sharing mine. I’d love for others to share theirs as well.
Editing a manuscript is too large a concept to be taken in all at once. We understand that the process of editing can take just as long (or longer) than writing the actual book. The topic itself deserves a great deal of attention and discussion. And while these articles aren’t meant to be a stand-in for professional teaching or scholarly content, they might serve as reminders, introductions, or helpful supplements.
A general breakdown of editing:
Please keep in mind that this graphic is only one of MANY that can be found on the internet. What I’m sharing here is how I go about proofreading, which is the bottom section of the graphic above.
Normally, I edit the manuscripts of my novels around eight or nine times. I also have other people editing/Beta Reading in between my own developmental, structural, and copyediting passes.
While I am always on the lookout for misspellings, missed punctuation, typos, and grammatical errors, I set aside one round of edits to address ONLY these specific issues. I blow up the font to around 180 (or more) and read everything out loud (to myself…and the cats if they happen to be in the room).
I’ve caught more errors this way than any other. It’s amazing how many mistakes slip by even after reading it countless times. I normally consider my manuscript “done around edit number seven, but I will read through and scan another time or two for any incidentals that might have slipped by the other times. After I send it to my layout person, I still have managed to catch errors. She allows me three rounds of corrections (without charging more), and I normally utilize two of those rounds.
We’ve all read books by professional authors who have the backing of a major publishing house and editing team – and still find the occasional mistake or typo. It’s extremely difficult to catch everything. However, it’s critical to do everything humanly possible to rid your work of such blunders, even if it means eyeballing every single word in a larger-than-life font.
There are times when the wrong word will not be caught by a computer program. For example, the word “too” and the word “two” will not necessarily be highlighted as problematic. Both words are fine in and of themselves, but which one do you need? The number or the adverb?
Between reading out loud, blowing up the font, and staying extra vigilant on terminology and word choice, I’ve found that I have far less errors in the manuscript when I finally send it off to my layout person. When it’s ready to upload to Amazon, I feel 99.9% confident that I’ve done all I can possibly do to produce a work that is error-free.
How do YOU proofread/edit your own work before publishing it?
September 2022: Swag
Written by Sue Rovens
The word itself has a variety of connotations, but in our case, I’ll be referencing what we all know and love, which is, according to the Merriam-Webster website, “The freebie swag, sometimes also spelled schwag, dates back to the 1960s and was used to describe promotional items. According to our files, early swag was everything from promotional records sent to radio stations to free slippers for airline passengers. In short order, this particular meaning of swag broadened and soon referred to anything given to an attendee of an event (such as a conference) as a promotional stunt.”
Why would authors care about such a thing? Aren’t we supposed to be more concerned about selling our books rather than worrying about excess trinkets that might end up in the garbage anyway? I believe the answer is twofold – yes and no.
No, we shouldn’t lose sleep over pencils and pads of paper. But, authors, especially indie authors who don’t have a large agency at their back, need to be in the business of getting and keeping people’s attention. Sometimes that means providing “an extension” to our brand/books. Once a reader turns the final page on our hard work, what prolongs our name in the reader’s mind?
If people enjoy what we’ve written, the work itself goes a long way to help establish repeat business. But how many readers take the extra step and leave a review online or tell their friends about it? I’ve seen some numbers, and they’re not promising – 0.5 – 3.0 % of Amazon readers will post a review. That’s not many.
Swag is not just fun to hand out, but it can be seen as a tool. While our books are, of course, priority, the act of selling OR giving away that little extra at the point of purchase can help solidify our “brand”/name, and serve as a reminder of a good experience long after our book has been read and put on a shelf.
In my experience, I’ve found that people enjoy receiving swag. Every time I sell a book (during events), I always include a bookmark. One side features a picture of the cover from the book they’ve purchased, while the other side has my blog address. I believe the addition of my address is important, because this not only provides a further connection to my work, but also gives them an (otherwise unknown) opportunity to discover all the other author interviews I have listed as well. The circle of reader/writer has a chance to grow exponentially.
I used to put my bookmarks (and business cards and pencils) out for anyone to take during events. I know many folks still do that and if it works for them, that’s great. However, I ended up losing money and the ability to connect with readers when I did that. I found that some people would feel “obligated” to take a bookmark/business card because we briefly engaged in conversation. I certainly didn’t want to stop them, but I feel that most of those items ended up in the ‘circular file’ – thrown away.
I also had some folks take handfuls of pencils (which hit financially) because they wanted them for their own projects/school/kids. I’m all for taking freebies from tables, but they were carrying off almost half my stock at one time (and weren’t interested in my books at all).
While it’s true that swag is there for the taking, I now err on the side of practicality and cost effectiveness. Sometimes I’ll put out candy, but I don’t consider that “part of my business model”. It’s only when I go online, order stock, and pay the dreaded shipping cost, that I choose my table placement carefully with said products.
I’ve also found some reliable websites that I’d like to share with you. I can vouch for them that, as of this writing, I’ve never had problems or issues crop up with any of my orders:
Vista Print – https://www.vistaprint.com
Uprinting – https://www.uprinting.com
MOO cards – https://www.moo.com
Much more can be said about the topic of swag, and I’d be happy to share more of my own experiences and thoughts on the matter in another installment. If someone else would like to expound on their side of the swag discussion, let me know. The more information we exchange, the better for us all.
Thanks for reading.
The NEW segment of the blog – All Business – is sending out a call for ANY and ALL writers. It doesn’t matter what genre you typically write or if you do this part-time, I am looking for YOU.
All Business will be a monthly segment that will touch on a plethora of topics. The focus will be advice, past experiences, suggestions, tips, and/or a combination of all of the above. It can be serious, humorous, or plainly factual. It’s up to you and your writing style.
What it isn’t – complete and total self-promotion. You can certainly use experiences you’ve had IN the article, but save the promotional outpouring for afterwards.
Which brings me to the next point. Normally, I don’t allow pictures of authors in the Meet & Greet. This is different. You can promote your work WITH a few photos if you do an article. It will be posted at the end of your submission.
So, here’s the plan:
When new articles will be posted: Monthly
Who can contribute: Any writer/author of any genre or professional level
What length: Fairly Open (less than 3,000 words but more than 300, but not a hard and fast rule)
Why: To share information. To encourage other writers. To help those with similar issues or provide new ideas.
Likely Staring Date: September 2022
Pay Scale: None. But authors can promote their work(s) at the end of the article and include photos!
So – I need YOU! Send me an email if you are interested in doing this. Not a lot of time now? Fine! I can schedule you months out. I’m looking for the following topics, but if you have other ideas, let me know. No hard and fast rules, as I said. And since some of these topics are very broad, you can cover whatever angle you wish.
Topics I’d like to see covered:
Marketing / Promotion
Being a Vendor (pros and cons)
Publishing (traditional, hybrid, small press, self-pub)
Cost of publishing/printing/editing
Fiction vs. Non-Fiction
Pitching books to potential customers (how to close a sale)
Writing to fill a word quota
Contracts / Legal matters
Getting books into stores (brick and mortar)
Beta Readers (pros and cons)
Reviews (so. many. angles.)
Cover Art (hire it out? DIY?)
Again – these are ideas. Have something else in mind? Let me know.
Please send me an email if you are interested. email@example.com.
Any questions? firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a great idea, Sue. I always like to hear viewpoints from other authors and learn something new.
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Thanks, Teri. I know a lot of folks do this kind of thing, but I’m hoping to bring some new angles to the table.
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This is a fab idea for a new blog feature. I look forward to learning a lot!
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Thanks, Priscilla! I know this kind of thing has been “done before” on a number of other blogs. I’m trying to come up with a slightly different angle for the column before I actually start it. 🙂
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Hey, I blow up the text (or change the font, or change the color of the font) and read it aloud. You’re right; it helps catch errors that silent reading of a plain font misses.
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That’s awesome! It’s been a really helpful way for me to catch errors.
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