Tag: marketing

7 Wonders


doing homeworkA schoolgirl, when asked to name the seven wonders of the world, skipped the pyramids and the Taj Mahal and came up with this list.  The seven wonders of the world are:
1. to see
2. to hear
3. to touch
4. to taste
5. to feel
                                                                  6. to laugh
                                                                   7. and to love.

The child may have failed her social studies exam but she nailed it for fiction writers. 

These days much of the author world is is focused on marketing,  Do ads work? Do we know an influencer? Can we find a niche? What’s the ROI on a publicity campaign? Should I buy space on a highway billboard?

With all these business questions hovering about our writing, we sometimes forget about craft. But craft is paramount. Without it, marketing is selling an empty promise.  

So, let’s take a little time today to think about the art of writing as opposed to the science of selling. 

One of the first “rules” a newbie author encounters is “use the five senses” — the first five wonders in our schoolgirl’s list. I notice she left off smell and that’s a really important one. Scent conjures up emotions and memories faster than any of the other senses.

But the senses alone aren’t enough for fiction. 

I’m reading a travel book just now . Here’s a description of town of St. Ives. “From the station we walk a jagged route along beach and cobble streets into town. A maypole dance is taking place just off the foreshore,  . . . Children skip and weave ribbons in a twisting rainbow.”

This passage uses the sense of sight but it misses out on feeling, laughing and loving. While colourful exposition is fine for a travel book, it is too shallow for good fiction.

By contrast, consider “The peaceful sea sighed as it lapped gently onto the white sand. . .” A.M. Stuart, Evil in Emerald. 

In the St. Ives example, we are observers only. We see the children skip, we see the jagged route, but we are indifferent. The second example adds feeling to the senses. Sighed and lapped are evocative words that draw the reader into the mood of the story. We expect romance — or mayhem, but we are no longer mere observers. We are participants.

**

“The Marsh stretched before them, smiling and lush in the September sunshine, yet with a suggestion of eery loneliness, about it. . .  ” Georgette Heyer, The Unknown Ajax. Even though Heyer is known for her light touch and sense of the ridiculous, this example shows her skill at conjuring a dark mood, in the midst of sunshine. 

**

“Intense wind picks up – fifty miles-per-hour gusting to sixty. Tide’s out, fishing boats and dories askew in the bay.” Here the travel book tells me the author is experiencing rough weather. But, although he may feel the wind, the reader doesn’t. We merely observe.

“My house stands at the edge of the earth. Together, the house and I have held strong against the churning tides of Fundy. Two sisters, stubborn in our bones.”  Ami McKay, the birthhouse. Ms McKay gives only a minimal description, “churning tides,” but the reader is drawn into the battle to survive on the edge of a heaving ocean. 

**

“A man sitting in a chair in the sun, reading a paper, and three children kicking a ball about. A dog jumping around the children and barking. The scene before her was so ordinary after what she had just  been though that she almost laughed in disbelief. ” Tracy Chevalier, A Single Thread

Can you identify with the terror of the heroine in this example? We see and hear a pleasant scene, yet the last line draws us into the emotion of the moment. This is more than a travelogue.

**

“She watched as [they] strolled across the village green. At first she thought they were going to the bistro for a nightcap, but then they veered to the right. To the light of Clara’s cottage.

And Reine -Marie heard them knock on her door. A soft, soft, insistent knocking. . .” Louise Penny, The Long Way Home.

Note how the word choice entices the reader into the drama. “veered” instead of “turned”, knocking that is “soft” yet “insistent.” There should be a great distance between the reader and the story at this point. We are watchers observing a watcher, and yet we sense the danger/intrigue/menace/heartache of the unfolding events.

**

“A glaring sun bore down on the small mining town . . . bleaching the colour from the landscape and sapping the strength of its citizens.” Alice Valdal, The Man for Her.  In this opening sentence I’ve set an ominous mood with oppressive heat and listless citizens. The reader not only observes the street, she feels sweat under her collar.

**

“[The dog’s] head would rise like a periscope and he would slide over the edge of his basket and work his way into the bedroom, keeping low to the ground, as if he were hunting. He would stop a foot short of the bed and cock an ear and listen . . . his nose only six inches away.” Stuart McLean, “Arthur”

Laughter, the sixth wonder. No reader can be disengaged from a story that makes her laugh. Shakespeare knew this. Even in his most heart-rending tragedies, he included scenes of comic relief. An audience, or a reader, needs release from tension. Put a little laughter in your story. Your readers will thank you for it.

**

“In her dreams Evelyn would always return to a pristine white beach where the sand felt soft between her toes and Henry’s hand was warm in her.” Joanna Nell, The Last Voyage of Mrs. Henry Parker.  Here we have the seventh and greatest wonder of them all, love.

**

In science class we are taught that the five senses are sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. As writer’s we should include the school girl’s wonders, feeling, laughter and love.

Visits: 77

On-line Learning

My writing group, VIRA, held our first ever on-line workshop this month. The lovely C.J.Hunt presented a talk on writing short. While guidelines for traditional publishers still call for works of 60,00 or more words, in the world of Kindle, short reads are a “thing” and can lead to a successful career for an author who can put a fully developed story into a limited length. CJ recommended Romancing the Beat, a resource for writers I’ve talked about on this blog.

Although you don’t see the category on Kindle Direct when you self-publish a book, you can get your work into that category with a little ingenuity in your key words. As this is a very popular area, it’s worth the trouble to be sure Amazon lists it in their short reads category. It is one of the searchable topics at Amazon. Typical of Amazon, there are parameters. A fifteen minute read is one category of 1 – 11 pages. The range goes up on fifteen minute increments all the way to two hours or 65-100 pages.  As a writer or a reader, you can target your searches very specifically.

Within the short read category you can search for specific genres like romance or mystery.

Even if you tend to write, or read, longer, C.J. pointed out that writing a short piece is a great way to keep your name out there between longer works. It’s a great way to sell a holiday story, especially Christmas. It’s also a great way to try out something new. As a writer you can dabble in a genre you’ve never tried before without dedicating a huge amount of time. Play around with your shape-shifter idea, put it up as a short read and see what happens. Even if no one is interested, you’re no worse off than when the idea just sat in your to-be-written drawer, plus you’ve gained an insight into your own strengths and weaknesses.

C.J. is a master at marketing and has sold her short works individually, collected into an anthology, and bundled as a box set. 

She is an engaging presenter and left her listeners with an up-beat message about possibilities. In a world that is full of “don’t” I found it encouraging to hear about possibilities.

There was a second takeaway from the workshop, and that had to do with the whole technology thing. Since C.J. didn’t have to travel, her expenses were less. Long distance members who seldom make physical meetings, tuned in from wherever they were in the world. I saw smiling faces I haven’t seen for a year or more. There was a general excitement about re-connecting in the on-line world.

However, once the initial burst of “yay!” “how are you?” “wow, you look great” was over, many participants turned off their video feed and the screen contained a black box with a name in it instead of a face.  Of course, those in attendance could turn their feed back on and ask questions or make comments. Most did not.  So, the camaraderie of a live meeting, was not there.

I have great admiration for C.J. for filling the allotted time mostly by herself. In a live workshop there is banter between presenter and audience. There are questions and comments that may spark a whole other conversation. In this experience of an on-line meeting, that interaction was largely missing, putting the onus on the presenter to have a lot of material to fill the time. I have teacher friends who have been putting their courses on-line since classrooms were closed and they all say how hard it is. So much material to cover. So many unasked questions to anticipate. So much prep work!

All in all, our Saturday gathering with writers over the internet was a positive experience. I learned a lot. I got my audio and video to work properly. (Yes!) The session was recorded, so I can go back and watch what I missed.

It’s a brave new world we’re all experiencing. Thanks to C.J. Hunt for stepping boldly into it.

C.J. is a founding member of The Creative Academy and has put her presentation on-line there. 

What about you? Do you write/read short? Has your preferred reading length changed with the advent of e-books?

Visits: 57

Buzzwords and your Book

Buzzwords abound in our language. I sometimes liken them to buzz saws with their annoying noise. Words and phrases that used to be specialized jargon restricted to particular fields of study, like science or medicine, are now showing up in all manner of speech, especially politics and business. Such words grate on my ears. We hear them too often and usually they are meaningless. The Urban Dictionary defines a buzzword as “a seemingly intelligent word dumb people use to sound smart.” Hear! Hear!

One of my pet peeves, beloved by politicians, is “going forward.” Why not just say “in the future?” Are those people “going forward,” by walking, driving, or riding a hobby horse? Anyone who wants my vote won’t assault my ears with “going forward.”

Another irritant is “sit down.” People used to meet, often sitting around a conference table, in order to work out a problem, whether in labour negotiations, or community plans or any number of other events. Now the buzz is “we’ve got to sit down.”  No mention of what they’ll do once they plant themselves in a chair. Maybe they’ll just have a beer.

Yet, despite my objection to the whole genre, I went to a writers workshop where buzzwords were presented as a good thing. In this case, the words didn’t meet the Urban Dictionary’s definition, rather they were a kind of shorthand for writers and readers.

Words like “sweet,” “family saga,” “trust,” “vulnerable,” “danger,” “small town,” “rugged,” “glitzy,” send clues to prospective readers of what to expect in a romance novel. These clues are vital for successful marketing. Whether an author likes to apply them to her own work or not, she needs to understand them and what they mean for reader expectations. Anyone who has tried to sell an edgy, sexy romance under the guise of “sweet” will be skewered by readers. They feel not only disappointed, but misled.

On the flip side, writers can use those code words to their advantage, by working them into the blurb for the book. For some readers “small town” is an automatic buy, as is “ranch” or “cowboy.” An amazon.com search turned up over 50,000 books that used the word cowboy in the title!

Writers can also benefit from studying the buzzwords of the romance genre before they write the story.  By picking a few that apply to her novel, she can ensure she highlights the themes that resonate with readers, as she is writing.

Of course, there are authors whose work doesn’t fall cleanly into any one category . They have to work harder to attract their readers but attributes like beauty, trust, courage and transformation work across all genre boundaries, so even for the outliers, buzzwords can help in the writing and marketing of a book.

In my book The Man for Her, the blurb includes the words beauty, kindness, proud, strength, determination, temptation and love, all code words that readers look for. 

When I’m buying a book I look for time and place words, like WWI France, or North American frontier. Then I look for words to give me the mood and style of story. I like sweet, family, bravery, resolve, choice, and true love.

What about you, dear reader? What words on the blurb make you look inside the book?

Visits: 150

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