03 August 2016

Covers: Original or Not?




A picture speaks a thousand words.

New authors tend to forget how important the cover is. I’ve seen a great deal of abysmal covers, and of course most of them (if not all) belong to the books by indies. I was about to post some 20-30 of the worst covers I’ve seen on Amazon, but then decided against it. It might have seemed like a mockery, and mocking a fellow indie author is the last thing I wish to do.

A lot of authors order original covers from designers, others buy a ready one. It might seem improbable that among the millions of books on Amazon you’ll see two or three with the same cover, but I have stumbled upon a few.

Here’s an example:

Two different books have the same cover (a bit altered).

It’s not a big deal actually. Both covers are stunning. Both do their job: attract the reader and leave a good first impression.

You can order original covers (like I do), or buy a ready one (like these authors do). Many authors are on good terms with Photoshop and make their own covers. You can do that too.

What you certainly have to do is use a good cover. Promoting a book with a good cover is much, much easier. Trust me on that.



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07 September 2015

The Invasion of the Free Books




As you know I am accepting books for reviews. But because most of the time I receive romance which I don’t read, I have developed a habit of downloading free books from Amazon and reviewing them.

And you know what? At the moment I have nearly 100 free books in my kindle. And don’t forget that I stay away from anything with elements of romance; otherwise the number would be 1000 instead of just a hundred.

This is really crazy. The free books are attacking! There are so many books out there that the writers keep offering their babies for free, hoping to hook the reader. I have not one, but two free books. And with this free book invasion I can’t believe how lucky I am for still selling books.

It seems that almost every first book in a series is offered free. Sometimes the sequels are put on a free promo as well. With so many free books being offered every single day many readers abandon books after the first few pages or chapters. I know I’m guilty of that. There was a time when I’d finish the book no matter how tedious it was. But there are so many books on my Kindle now, that I am committing an unredeemable sin every once in a while. If the book doesn’t capture my interest after the 10-20% point, I’m prone to not finishing it. This made me realize once again how hard an indie author’s life is. Our books can only dream about the marketing and promotion that traditionally published books get. And if you’re an awisl, then you almost have no chance.

The only way to sell books today is… No, not giving it away for free, not writing as many books as possible in the shortest period of time, not cajoling and begging for reviews.

You need to hook your reader. You have just 5-10 pages to hook the reader. Start your story as soon as possible. Leave out the introductory parts. Throw away as many adjectives and adverbs as possible. It will make your story develop twice faster. No scenery descriptions. No descriptions of eye color or hair color. No purple prose. Tell the story. And be quick. Show the problem, then let your heroes search for the solution.

And one more advice. Be short. This might be arguable, so let’s say that it’s a personal thing. I advise you to make your first book short. But not novella short. The perfect length would be 200-250 print pages (50.000-70.000 words). My personal experience as a reader and reviewer is this: when I am offered a long book (300+ pages) from a newbie author, I am hesitant to accept it. I’d rather have a shorter book that will introduce me to the author’s writing style, story structuring and developing abilities, vocabulary; and if I like it all, I’ll happily purchase the rest of the books. Bombarding a reader with a monster of a book is not a very good idea. Newbie indie authors lack experience and often fill their books with unnecessary verbiage. Surely not always. There are some outstanding debuts, and many of them are pretty long. But the general opinion is that newbie indies aren’t very good. To dispel this belief, we need to give the readers what they want: a good story, without dragging it across the pages and boring our audience.



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01 September 2015

He said, She said




If you have read my review for Key Lime Die, then you know this post is about what not to do when writing a book.

This is just my opinion, not a testament to good writing. The book was filled with an immense amount of telling instead of showing. But what irked me the most was how the characters were mentioned. In order to avoid using the protagonists’ names all the time the author used terms like "independent young woman,” “her practical daughter,” “the flabbergasted owner,” “her uber-responsible daughter,” “the beleaguered pie shop owner,” “the ill-mannered teen,” “the weary shop owner,” “the irate woman,” “the beyond-tired woman,” “the young woman,” “her well-intentioned offspring.” And the book was really short, so these substitutes were on every page.

This wasn't just amateurish, this was irritating. It would be much better to use the names of the characters instead of searching for all types of substitutes. And the author wouldn’t have to worry about mentioning the characters’ names too often if she avoided using “he said, she said” all the time.

Here’s an important tip to newbies: When there are two people talking you don't have to use the "he said, she said" all the time. You can rely on the reader's memory instead of reminding us who's in the scene. This book was filled with phrases like "Marilyn whispered," "Tiara suggested," "Marilyn sounded shocked," "Tiara thought aloud," “she sighed dramatically,” “the detective shook his head dismissively,” “her mother asked,” “she pleaded,” “she implored,” “she said, relieved that he had taken the call,” “she asked, a note of doubt creeping into her voice,” “her daughter replied, waiting for her mother,” “her daughter protested,” “Tiara demanded,” “she insisted, crossing her arms,” “he instructed, his gaze grim,” “she muttered, frustrated to no end,” “Tiara praised her mother,” “Tiara said, her voice filled with hope and optimism.”

There wasn't an instance where the reader wasn't told who was speaking. This is unnecessary. If there are just two people in the scene, don't tell your reader who whispered and who sighed every single time. And no need to tell them how each and every character felt when they said or thought something. Try to show your reader how your characters are feeling, not tell them that they are sad or full of hope or tired or panicking. Or else the irritated reader will have to abandon your book and look for a better author.



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01 September 2015

POV Switches




One of the most frequent mistakes newbie writers make is switching the POV (POV = point of view). They tend to start the scene from the point of view of one character, then suddenly switch to another character, then switch back, and forth, and so on and on.

Example:

Gary snatched his mobile and dialed Alex. It couldn’t be true, he was certain, yet he needed to hear it from Alexander, his friend of forty years.

It’s not him, he was thinking, counting the seconds. It’s not him.

But as he heard Alex’s hoarse “Yes,” Gary hung up the phone. Alexander stared at the screen of his cell phone. It was Gary calling.

Has anything happened? he wondered, hitting Gary’s number on the quick dial. After almost a minute he had to disconnect. Gary didn’t answer. Staring at the screen of his phone with Alexander’s name flashing across it, he was shaking with anger, with despair and fear.

Why, Alex? he thought. Why?

We are with Gary in the beginning; we know what’s going on in his head; we see he has a problem. Then we switch to Alex, who is confused and wants to reach Gary on the phone. Then we go back to Gary again. I can assume that in a second we’ll be back with Alex. While a POV switch is not a big crime, it irks the reader. You only need to take a look at negative reviews to see that most of the time they refer to bad editing, silly storyline, or POV switches. Today’s reader wants to stick with one character throughout one scene. It’s alright to tell the story using the POV of different characters, but they will need their separate chapters.

However, you should not confuse limited POV with unlimited POV. The first is when the story is told from just one character’s POV. This can be done with first person narrative (I woke up to the warbling of nightingales. Was it possible? I went to bed in winter, but I sensed spring behind my window. How sweet, I thought. How fortunate.). Or with third person narrative (She was alone again, abandoned and friendless, her stomach a pit of emptiness, ready to consume anything edible or not. I am still alive, she thought. That’s what counts.).

Unlimited POV is when the narrative is not limited to one character: Rose was tired, but Kyle kept walking. Her legs were weary; his hadn’t lost half the strength. She was on the verge of crying, but he was determined to reach the base before the sunset. He couldn’t otherwise. Staying outside was perilous. Rose knew that too, but her body didn’t care. It needed rest.

This chapter has unlimited POV, meaning that we see what’s happening to Rose and Kyle at the same time, what they are thinking about, what they want. This is a dangerous route for newbie authors. And we reach an important question here:

Which POV to choose?

I advise the newbie authors to stick to limited POVs. It can be first person narrative or third person narrative, but let the POV be limited, i.e. we see the story through the eyes of one character at a time. If it’s a first POV narrative, then we will be in that character’s head throughout the whole book. But with a third person narrative you can let us see the story through the eyes of more than one character, at the same time you won’t make the mistake of abruptly switching the POVs, which irritates so many readers.

Also, limited POV lets you avoid very short explanatory chapters, when you take us into a secondary character’s head, because you need to clarify things for your reader. But because the character is secondary, you don’t have much to tell your reader and the chapter ends up short and awkward. This might be a bit challenging, as you’ll need to make the things clear through your one or two major characters, but it’s worth it, because your story will be solid, clear, and tidy.

Image from thorntonclasswebsite.weebly.com.



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24 August 2015

No to Amazon Exclusivity




Experienced indies have long found out what’s best for them, but the newbie authors still ask this same question: KDP Select or No KDP Select?

KDP means Kindle Direct Publishing. If you want to self-publish your book with Amazon, you register at KDP.com and upload your book. Fast and simple. But there’s also KDP Select. KDP Select gives you a few advantages, such as making your book free for 5 days, which is considered a smart marketing move. And if you think giving a book away for free is wrong, then think of the libraries. Yes, that’s right. There’s also the Countdown that comes with Select, when you put your book on a sale and the price slowly goes up during a 5 day period. Again, not a bad marketing trick. And the third advantage is the Borrows. When the book is in Select, readers can borrow it for free, while you still get paid.

These are the Pros. And now the Cons. KDP Select means you cannot publish your book anywhere else at least for 90 days. After 90 days you decide to stay with Select or no, and if you do, you will have to wait for another 90 days to publish with other retailers.

I don’t use Select. I don’t like the idea of giving Amazon exclusive rights to publish my books. Some of my most devoted readers use Barnes and Noble. Some use iTunes and Kobo. There are other retailers too: Oyster, Smashwords, Inktera, PageFoundry. While they are not as powerful as Amazon, B&N, and iTunes, I want to have my books there as well. Because the more the better. Some authors swear by Select. I’m not one of them. I have made money with other retailers too. I haven’t been able to get that money yet (I’m working on it), but it’s not their fault, but of the payment methods and my country. I will tell about it sometime in the future.

So, here’s my opinion: I want my books to be on every retailer. I don’t like going exclusive with Amazon, no matter how mighty it is. Monopoly has never done good to any market, and I’m surely not supporting Amazon’s monopoly attempts. I love Amazon, I am grateful to Amazon, but I’ll use as many book retailers as I can. I advise you to do the same.



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20 August 2015

Why Do Authors Ask for Reviews?




If you’re an avid kindle reader and don’t shun indie books, then you might have seen the same request at the end of almost every book by an indie author: please leave a review.

Many readers find this off-putting, but trust me, we don’t have much choice. Indie authors have to make that request, because indie authors need reviews. A lot. It’s not that we are review maniacs, or that we are star addicts. I couldn’t care less for reviews, and if I am going to read a book, instead of reading the reviews I’ll download the free sample and decide for myself if the book is interesting and needs to be purchased and read. I haven’t checked my reviews for a while, because, as wise people say, reviews are for other readers, not writers. That’s true. The book is out already, and the writers shouldn’t waste time trudging through the reviews. But indie writers need reviews like air. And here’s why:

  1. A writer writes a book. Now a writer needs to sell that book.
  2. The book has to be promoted to have more or less good sales.
  3. The best way to promote the book is with popular sites like Bookbub and Ereader News Today.
  4. Popular sites do not accept books without reviews. 
  5. The writer needs to ask their readers for reviews to be able to promote the book and make a living and write more.

Seriously, the only way to help an author today is leaving reviews. If you don’t like long reviews, just make it a sentence or two about what you liked/disliked about the story, whether you’d recommend it to other readers, and if you’d like to read more from the author. Also, if you are a very supportive reader and want to read more by that author, you can always share the book on your social media. We are grateful folks and promise to write more for your enjoyment ;)  



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19 August 2015

Should I Write in My Mother Language or in English?




If you are visiting AWISL.com, then there’s a possibility that you are an AWISL too: an author writing in a second language. I am an AWISL, and it’s tough. I’ve lost the count of how many times I’ve re-read and re-written the same sentences, how many times I’ve checked the words in the Oxford Dictionary, how many notepads I have filled, how many books on writing I have read. It used to take me thrice longer to write a novel than it takes native speakers. I spent sleepless nights working on my books, writing chunks of passages only to get mad and delete them later, because it just wasn’t working. I have edited my first book at least 30 (!) times, besides hiring an editor and two proofreaders. And my first book still sucked.

Did you get scared? Well, maybe you should, a bit. But you shouldn’t get discouraged. Because writing in a foreign language (and learning to write well) is possible. It just requires hard work and determination. But what profession doesn’t require that? If you want to be good, then you work hard and work a lot.

Image from commbridge-translations.com.

I’ll tell you why I decided to write in English. My mother language is Armenian, but I always knew I wouldn’t be writing in Armenian. Because it wouldn’t take me anywhere. Since I was a teen, I was writing in Russian (my second language). My first book was written in Russian. Then I did a research and learned about the Amazon and KDP. And I decided I needed to write in English. It took me a year to translate my book from Russian into English, and by the end of the year I had a book which was a horrible piece of writing. Of course I didn’t understand it then and published the book through Amazon. A few kind authors told me it was bad. I unpublished and worked on it for another 6 months. And it still sucked. But that was the best I could do at the moment. I am still not the best writer out there. And probably I will never be as good as native speakers. But when I look back, I can’t deny the progress. It’s astonishing. Which means that in a few years I will write much better.

So, let’s answer the question in the title of this post: should you write in your mother language or in English? It depends on your mother language. If it’s a popular language with millions of users, if the language speakers read e-books, and if Amazon KDP supports it (there’s a list of languages KDP supports. Armenian and Russian are not on the list), then you can give it a try. You can always self-publish your Spanish or Portuguese or Chinese novel and promote it to the people who speak these languages. And you can always translate your book into English, but be warned that translations are costly and you will have to find a good translator.

My advice is to start writing in English as soon as possible. English is a dominant language. Almost the whole world speaks or at least understands it. If you’re choosing the traditional publishing, then your mother language is a good choice. But with self-publishing it’s better to go with English.

Image from io9.com.



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23 July 2015

Game of Thrones and Writing Advice




 

Because it's late at night and I am feeling sleepy, instead of giving new advice on writing, I will copy-paste an old post from my blog. I still firmly believe in what I wrote back in March, and as we say, "Repeatition is the mother of learning" (a very bad and word-by-word translation from Russian). But really, practice makes perfect.

 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Game of Thrones and Writing Advice  

Finished Game of Thrones, books 1, 2, 3, 4. Oh my goodness!

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) -- 820 pages.

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2) -- 930 pages.

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3) -- 1220 pages.

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4)  -- 870 pages.

Cons: almost 4000 pages of blood, gore, and rape. My eyes are aching.

Pros: 700 new words, notepad is full.    

To say I don't like these books is to say nothing at all. I don't care about the story or the characters. I don't care who's going to sit on the iron throne, who will die, who'll survive. I can't think of a single character whose fate more or less concerns me. But after a bit of rest I will start reading the 5th book, and maybe once in a while I'll be rereading passages from the first four. Just because no other writer has given me as much as George R.R. Martin. He's a genius, and to me he's the best living writer in the world. No one writes like Martin. Sometimes I wonder where he finds all these words from, how he comes up with such descriptions and characteristics, how he produces such terrific dialogue. Truly, GRRM is genius. To me GOT novels are like textbooks, I read them slowly and carefully. And that's one of the first advice on writing I am going to give to aspiring writers, especially to those who are not native speakers. Don't just read a lot, but read carefully, think of the ways the words are used, how the author plays with the nouns and verbs, how sparingly he uses adjectives, how he never says very, a lot, beautiful, big, small... There are other words that are better and don't make your prose look cheap.

If you want to learn to write in English, read George Martin. It doesn't matter that he writes fantasy and your book is set in the 1900s or 3000s. Trust me, it doesn't. You can learn a lot from him: character development, beautiful prose, smart dialogues, showing instead of telling. You can enrich your vocabulary. Just don't be lazy, get a notepad and write down new words and phrases. I have three thick notepads and am filling the 4th. Well, what did you want? To wake up one day with the Oxford Vocabulary miraculously inserted into your brain? But 10% of that vocabulary is in my notepads that I keep handy and go through them during the editing. OK now, don't be tempted to use big, smart words when there's a shorter, simpler word. Always go for simplicity. Short sentences are better than the long ones. And stop describing every item in the room. The last thing your reader needs to know is the color of the leather boots placed under the mahogany wardrobe that is pushed against the creamy wall. Better tell them about the characters.



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