How to Write a Great Blurb for Your Self-Published Novel [With Examples]

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One of the more teeth-pulling tasks of self-publishing a novel is having to write your own blurb (or what Amazon calls a “product description”, and what some people call a “synopsis”).

I spent ages agonising over this when I published Lycopolis, including getting my writing group to take a look at my blurb and offer feedback.

To my surprise, it was really tricky to find advice on writing blurbs. I have a couple of shelves full of writing-related books – but none of them cover blurbs (several deal with the dreaded “synopsis” of the type you send to an agent, but not the type intended to sell books directly to readers).

Happily, I came across Bryan Cohen’s How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis a couple of months ago – more on that, and on my own total-blurb-rewrite in a moment.

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15 Ways to Make Your Characters Suffer (for the Good of Your Novel)

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Do your characters suffer enough?

Even if you’re writing a light and fluffy romance, at some point, someone in your novel is going to need to get hurt.

I’m not suggesting all-out graphic torture here, obviously – unless that suits your genre. Suffering comes in a lot of different forms – and I’m going to go through a bunch of those in a moment.

In general, making characters suffer should do at least one, ideally both, of these:

  • Advance your plot: bad stuff may well need to happen in order for your heroes to get to (and earn) their happy ending. Often, some degree of suffering is what drives the plot: the protagonist is unhappy with their life as-is and wants to change things.
  • Deepen or reveal character: either we see who someone really is when they’re hurt (someone who seemed a bit of a wimp turns out to have hidden strength; someone who was nice on the surface reveals a vindictive side) … or it’s part of their character arc.

Any and all of your characters can get to suffer: heroes, villains, and those with walk-on parts. The main difference is in how the reader will respond.

Our natural reaction to seeing someone hurt or in pain is to feel sympathy towards them. If they’re a particularly nasty character, though, we might well feel they’re getting their just deserts. The more awful they are, the less likely we are to feel sorry for them – even if their suffering is pretty extreme (think Ramsay in Game of Thrones, for instance).

If a minor character suffers, the importance of this may well be how the hero (or villain) responds: do they help? Are they distressed? Amused? Indifferent? Introducing someone who’s in some kind of pain can also be a good way to instantly get the reader’s sympathy.

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How to Plan Writing Time into Your Week [With Downloadable Spreadsheet]

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Do you struggle to find time to write?

That’s probably a silly question: almost everyone I talk to does. And many writers (me included) go through months or years of waiting.

Waiting to have a free weekend.

Waiting until the kids are a little older.

Waiting until life isn’t quite so manic.

But a few spare hours won’t magically appear in your schedule. You need to make that time in your week.

Once, I used to be able to write for hours at a stretch, if I wanted.

I could head to a coffee shop for a few hours and draft a whole mini-ebook (that’s how the first version of my free ebook Time to Write came about – you can get that when you join the Aliventures newsletter).

I could write all day long on a Saturday, and come away from my desk in a daze after six hours of novelling.

These days, with two small children, getting hours at a time to write is … not quite an impossible dream, but at least a very rare occurrence!.

Instead, most of my fiction is written in half-hour chunks, between 5.15pm and 5.45pm on weeknights.

That might sound confining and stifling … but actually, the past seven months have been the most productive novel-writing months of my life (and I’ve been writing novels for the past 17+ years).

Having a regular time slot for fiction, instead of just grabbing haphazard chunks of time, has made working on my novel a natural part of my day – and something I really look forward to.

I strongly recommend that you plan writing time into your week – and in this post, I’ll be suggesting some ways to make that work for you.

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How I Make a Living as an Online Writer (And How You Could Too)

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Fully updated and republished in August 2016.

This week, the start of August 2016, marks the eight year mark since I left my day job.

Ever since then, I’ve been supporting myself through writing. It’s my dream career – and I love being able to set my own hours, work from home, and have a huge amount of flexibility and freedom.

In the past four years, I’ve been particularly glad of my career: I now have two young children, and I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with them while continuing to do what I love for a living.

I haven’t written much here on Aliventures about how exactly I actually make money. Maybe you suspect that there’s some amazing secret skill involved, or some sort of dark art.

But there really isn’t. Turning words into money might sound like spinning straw into gold … but it’s a darn sight easier.

And … if you want to … there’s no reason why you can’t do exactly the same as me.

In short, over the past eight years, I’ve had a bunch of different revenue streams: some for a year or two, some for the whole time. I’m going to explain the basics of each, and provide some links to places where you can get further information or try these methods out for yourself.

I’ll start with the ones that were easiest to get going with, and work up to the methods that take a bit more time.

Note: for each method, I’ve indicated when I did it and, if I stopped, I’ve noted why.

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When Dialogue Gets Weird: Representing Unorthodox Forms of Speech on the Page (Text Conversations, Psychic Communication, etc)

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Whether you’ve written any fiction yet or not, you’re probably extremely familiar with how dialogue appears on the page: it’s surrounded by quotation marks.

Even if you’re not quite confident with all the finer details of formatting spoken words on the page, it’s probably perfectly natural to you to wrap these words in quotation marks. You likely don’t think twice about it, although this isn’t actually the only option you have.

“Standard” dialogue is, generally, represented in one of three ways:

Type #1: The Most Common Style for Novels and Short Stories

“Excuse me,” John said, “is this the train for London?”

“Yes, though it’s the all stopper,” Daniel said.

Type #2: Standard Format for Scripts, Occasionally Adopted by Novelists / Short Story Writers

John: Excuse me. Is this the train for London?

Daniel: Yes, though it’s the all-stopper.

Type #3: Used in Some Literary Fiction, Particularly Short Stories

– Excuse me, John said, is this the train for London?

– Yes, though it’s the all stopper, Daniel said.

(Type #3 takes some getting used to, and personally, I’m not entirely sure what benefit it has over standard quotation marks … other than, perhaps, lending a clear “literary” stamp to the novel or story. You can see it in use part-way through D.W. Wilson’s essay On the Notoriously Overrated Powers of Voice in Fiction or How to Fail at Talking to Pretty Girls.)

Chances are, you’re using type #1, and that’s all well and good.

But what do you do when you want to represent an exchange of words that isn’t quite so conventional as a face-to-face chat?

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Should You Write Faster? Here’s What Four Indie Authors Do (Plus My Take)

 

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By a lot of people’s standards, I’m a pretty fast writer. For the last 12 years or so, I’ve been able to comfortably produce 1,000 words an hour (sometimes to the envy of writing group peers). I write most days – though I don’t always spend as much time on my fiction as I’d like.

In the indie-author world, though, I’m not exactly what you’d call fast. Lots of indie authors produce multiple books per year (and many imply, if not outright state, that this is necessary if you want to build a successful indie career).

Let’s take a look at what four different indie authors – all excellent ones – say about writing fast.

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Seven Ways to Start a Blog Post … and Seven Ways to Finish It

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Where do you get typically get stuck when you’re writing a blog post?

For a lot of bloggers, the first few lines of the post – and the last few – are really tough. You might have a perfectly good plan for what’s going to come later … but you just don’t know how to begin.

One solution is to simply type anything to get you going. While that’s fine when you’re drafting, at some point, you’re going to need to come back and revise.

Another is to skip the introduction and jump straight in with your first key point. Again, that’s a great way to get moving … but it doesn’t really solve the problem. You’re still going to have to write that introduction at some point.

Beginnings and endings matter, and it’s important to get them right.

The first few lines of your post draw the reader in and, ideally, set the tone for what’s to come.

The final few lines are a crucial opportunity to ensure your post makes a difference.

Here, I’ll go through seven different ways to start a blog post, and seven ways to finish it – with examples from a bunch of blogs.

Note: You can use more than one “start” or “finish” technique in a single post (as you read through, you’ll probably spot that some of the examples do this). To begin with, though, you might want to focus on just one at a time.

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Marketing Your (Self-Published) Novel: Five Books Reviewed

marketing-novel-reviews

Long-time Aliventures readers might remember that the first half of 2012 was a little hectic for me. I’d just launched my first novel, Lycopolis, and started Writers’ Huddle … and I had five months to turn in the manuscript of Publishing E-Books for Dummies.

And on the very day I handed in the final chapter of the Publishing E-Books draft … I found out I was pregnant with Kitty.

Which was, of course, lovely news! But the first-trimester exhaustion hit me like a truck (thankfully I got off easy on morning sickness) … and all my great plans for promoting Lycopolis came to nothing.

I didn’t have time to market the novel and write more novels, so I chose to stick with writing. (And motherhood: as well as now 3-year-old Kitty, I have 18-month-old Nick.)

But now I’m starting to get back into marketing. Of course, a lot has changed since early 2012, and techniques that were popular then (like making a book free, getting it high in the charts then switching it back to paid-for) don’t work so well.

Here are the five books I’ve been digging into … and what I thought of them.

Note: These aren’t in any particular order. I’ve given links to Amazon as that’s where I shop, but most of these will be available through other ebook stores too. If you’re a member of Kindle Unlimited (KU), then several are available for free.

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What Should You Pay for When You Self-Publish a Novel?

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One reader asked me to write about, “Self-publishing, whether to use editors, cover designers etc and how much is a reasonable amount to pay them.”

This is a big and important question, and one I wanted to tackle on the blog. (I normally run reader questions in the weekly newsletter – if you’re not already receiving that, and the various bonuses that go with it, get on board here.)

Here’s the quick answer to the question – one that virtually everyone writing about self-publishing will agree with:

  • If you’re going to self-publish, you should definitely use an editor.
  • If you’re going to self-publish, you should definitely use a cover designer.

Let’s dig a little deeper into that, though.

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How to Blog Consistently and Build Your Audience: Eight Simple Steps

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I’ve got a confession to make.

I had five different blogs before Aliventures that I started, worked on for a while, then abandoned. (One got ditched after two weeks; my best attempt lasted a year and a half.)

With all those blogs, I made the right call. They weren’t on topics that interested me enough to stick with them for good. They weren’t “me”.

It definitely didn’t help, though, that as I lost interest, I barely posted at all.

However much you love your blog’s topic, you’re not going to get far if you don’t blog consistently.

If you don’t publish posts regularly, you’ll find that:

  • You get out of the habit of writing for your blog, and feel a lot of resistance towards getting going again.
  • You lose any momentum you’ve built up – your readership and traffic levels may not drop dramatically, but they’re certainly not growing.
  • You feel discouraged, and eventually, give up on your blog. That might be a deliberate decision to stop blogging, but more often, it just happens. You don’t blog for a few weeks … then a few months … and eventually you realise you stopped years ago.

Of course, the easy answer here is to just blog regularly – every week, or twice a week, or three times a week – without fail.

But it isn’t really as easy as that.

Life gets in the way, for one thing – even the lovely bits of life. In the past six years of blogging on Aliventures, I’ve had two house moves, a wedding, two pregnancies, two babies … none of which have exactly been conductive to the smooth running of the blog.

And for many bloggers, writing itself is hard at times. Perhaps you struggle to stay motivated, or you never seem to have any ideas. Even when life is going reasonably smoothly, it can be incredibly hard to stick with your blog, week in, week out.

But …

It’s possible.

One of the key things that helps me is to have a clear blogging workflow. In the past – particularly pre-kids – I just wrote posts on the days when I wanted to publish them. That works well for some bloggers, but for me, it became all too easy to let busyness take over.

These days, I have a system – which I’ll share in a moment. Before I get to it, though, a couple of important notes:

#1: While you’re working through this plan, it’s okay to hit “pause” on your blog. Don’t worry about publishing new content until you’ve got well ahead with ideas and plans. If you leap back in too soon, you’ll just end up back at square one.

#2: Feel free to tweak this plan to suit you. I’d definitely recommend giving it a go as-is to begin with, but if there’s something that isn’t quite right for you or your preferred way of working, feel free to improve on it! You might want to leave a comment below to let us know what you’ll be changing, in case your tweak would work well for someone else reading.

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