Books

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Writing Fiction Sales Copy

One of the challenging parts of getting a book out the door is knowing how to describe it to readers. This description is needed for websites and the back of the book. Writing good copy is an important passive marketing activity that will help sell your book.

There are many good articles to be found on the web for writing descriptions for non-fiction books. They just about all mention, "List the benefits of reading the book." The non-fiction advice mostly doesn't work for fiction. It was only recently that I discovered some advice for writing fiction book descriptions.

The book How to Write Fiction Sales Copy by Dean Wesley Smith has helped me enormously with fiction book descriptions that I wrote recently for some novels, and I recommend it for other fiction publishers.

I originally bought it as part of an ebook bundle for writers, and this book alone made buying the entire bundle worthwhile. (For the frugal among you, you can also find the material on his blog [http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/].)

In brief, Smith's advice is to avoid using passive voice and avoid revealing too much plot.

The passive voice part is, for me, easy and obvious. Your mileage may vary.

The other part of the advice, not revealing too much plot, may seem counterintuitive. Don't you want to get into the plot in your description?

No, not really.

The more plot you reveal, the more you risk two things:
  1. Revealing spoilers.
  2. Making the reader think they know your story and, therefore, don't need to read it.
Much of the book (and blog postings) provides alternatives to revealing plot, with plenty of examples.

I made use of his first alternative, describing plot elements from only the first pages of the story. Sometimes this can be done artfully by repeating the first line of the novel or short story as the first line of your copy. This didn't work with the two books I urgently needed sales copy for. Instead, I merely described how the story started. I chose this approach because both stories begin in medias res. Let me show what I mean.

For suspense novel Bitter Vintage by M.L. Grider, I settled on this:

It started with a Tiffany lamp in 1995. Amy Dresden is used to turning men down gracefully. But when Pearce Martini sees her at an estate sale, he knows she is destined for him and doesn't plan to go away. 
Not knowing where else to turn, she goes to nextdoor gun dealer and ex-LAPD cop Helen Wu for advice. Amy never expected she'd own a gun--or wind up in the arms of another woman.
These four sentences make clear a number of things I wanted to be sure to convey: the setting (Los Angeles), the three main characters, the genre (suspense, escaping from a stalker), and that an unexpected lesbian relationship happens. And it took only five sentences. I did go more than a few pages in to bring in Helen Wu and the unexpected lesbian relationship, but I definitely wanted to mention Helen and I decided readers who don't want to read about a lesbian relationship deserved to know upfront that one figured prominently in the story.

For SF space opera McGuire's Luck by A.M. Jordan, I finally wound up with this:
They took something from Dorian McGuire, something precious, and he wants it back. 
He also wants his father to leave him be in Armstrong City on Luna, but old Gustave has other plans for his younger son. 
Soon, Dorian can count on only three things: his precious something, a lovely green-haired space captain, and what he has always relied on--his McGuire's luck.
This copy took only three sentences, although I chose to use three paragraphs. (I was also advised to tighten the first sentence, but I liked the cadence.) This one nails the genre (Dorian lives on the Moon; there is a space captain, so space travel is probably involved; the space captain is lovely, so there might be a romance), also brings in character description of Dorian (the protagonist), mentions a mysterious "something precious," and ends with a reference to the title. 

Smith describes many more techniques than drawing on the very early plot, some of which I applied to my descriptions, but I'll leave it to you to visit his blog or buy his book to learn them, which I promise you is worthwhile if you publish fiction. As for me, I'm not done. I'm going to apply Smith's techniques to rewriting book descriptions for other books I've published that are not selling as well as I'd like.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Preview: Bitter Vintage

Since my last blog entry, two big things have happened.
  • I've started a new blog.
  • We have put a new book under contract.

I once again got to pondering my lack of an online presence as an author. I didn't have an author website or a dedicated Facebook page or a blog. I didn't know what to post that might be of interest to potential readers. Then I started my new book project, a murder mystery featuring a schizophrenic "accidental" detective, Evelyn Malsage, who gets caught up in political intrigue.

Well, being new to mystery writing is requiring me to learn a lot of new things. One day early in thinking about the project, I became confident that I could blog regularly about something: all that I'm having to learn to write a decent first murder mystery. So welcome to my new blog, Dabbling in Murder, which I have started to publish weekly. This blog I'm pretty sure I'll be able to keep going, because I'm writing posts ahead of time and scheduling their release.

As for the new book, Thursday Night Press has acquired rights to the debut suspense thriller Bitter Vintage by M.L. Grider. This is the story of Amy Dresden, an antique dealer, who while running from a stalker (wealthy vintner Pearce Martini) stumbles into the arms of another woman (firearm dealer and ex-cop Helen Wu).

I decided to acquire Bitter Vintage because Grider has a flair for characterization, such as creating a villain who is frighteningly believable. Stalker Pearce Martini is the center of his own universe and won't take no for an answer. And if money really talked, Pearce would have an enormous mouth. He's a villain I think readers will love to hate.

The book is now in editing. I want to circulate it widely for pre-release reviews, so I don't think it will come out until the spring.

Ta-ta for now.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Review: The Author's Guide to Working with Book Bloggers

I have two books in the production pipeline, and I've been working on my strategy for getting pre-publication book reviews. While googling, I lucked out and found a great site, publishedtodeath.blogspot.com, that has lists of lists of book reviewers, including many book bloggers who will not only review self-published and small press titles but also cross-post their reviews on Amazon and/or Goodreads.

One of the review sites, I can't remember which, encouraged authors to read The Author's Guide to Working with Book Bloggers by Barb Drozdowich. (ISBN 9781620158029). I downloaded the Kindle version, which was only $3.99. (It does not appear to be available in EPUB format.) The book is available in print, as well, at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indiebound for $11.95

Drozdowich is herself a book blogger, and has been since 2010. Her book review blog, Sugarbeat's Books covers her favorite genre: romance. It is from this insider perspective that she offers advice to authors on how to work with book bloggers, but she shares wisdom beyond her own.

A few years ago (I may have overlooked it, but I don't think she mentions the year) she issued a comprehensive survey of book bloggers that asked open questions, such as, "Why do you blog?" She got 215 bloggers to respond and the information she learned from the survey results led to the Author's Guide.

I found this short book a worthwhile read. It helped me understand two important things:

  1. what book bloggers want
  2. what mistakes authors make in approaching bloggers

What do book bloggers want? In general, book bloggers love books and love reading and they want to share their reading experiences. Almost all do this as a hobby and make little to no money from their efforts. What money they do make comes from advertising, and sometimes affilate relationships with book vendors (which means if you follow a link from their blog to, say, Kobo and buy a book, the blogger may earn a small commission).

What's the biggest mistake authors make in approaching book bloggers? They blast form-letter review requests to bloggers without reading their review guidelines or even looking at the blogs. Before you contact a blogger, Drozdowich advises, get to know about them. Don't waste their time with review requests for books in genres they don't read.

The book discusses much more than these two things. It covers other helpful things book bloggers can do for you besides review your book, which I won't go into here so that you have a reason to buy the book.

I think any self-published author or small press, who realistically need to look at review options besides the coveted but hard to get trade reviews, should consider reading this book as part of planning their strategy for garnering book reviews.