July 21, 2021

by Sudha Balagopal

As a writer straddling continents, I am fascinated by authors who inject foreign words and phrases into their English fiction. I believe these international words and expressions help lend credibility to a story. They embellish the narrative, bring authenticity and help transport the reader.

Some writers explain the meanings of non-English words, either in-text or in a glossary. At times foreign expressions are used sparingly, at other times more generously. Some authors repeat phrases for consistency, or as a matter of style. Regardless of their methods, when expressions from another language are used in description or in dialogue, they leap out at me.

Examples of Foreign Expressions in Fiction

Take the case of the inimitable Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s enduring Belgian detective. When I was in high school, he taught me French expressions like mon ami and mon cher. Athough I had no knowledge of French, uttering the words made me feel clever and witty.

Agatha Christie expertly used foreign expressions in creating Hercule Poirot. The detective is often overlooked and dismissed because he is non-English, and she used his manner of speaking as a tool to develop his persona.


‘Mon cher, am I tonight the fortune-teller who reads the palm and tells the character?’

‘You could do it better than most,’ I rejoined.

‘It is a very pretty faith that you have in me, Hastings. It touches me. Do you not know, my friend, that each one of us is a dark mystery, a maze of conflicting passions and desires and attitudes? Mais oui, c’est vrai. One makes one’s little judgments – but nine times out of ten one is wrong.’

-- Agatha Christie, Lord Edgware Dies (Hercule Poirot, Series #9)

Appropriate dialogue is a powerful instrument to lend fiction the flavor of a culture or a place to your story. Using the right words makes dialogue sing. Look at how E. M. Forster makes use of Indian words in his book A Passage to India.


The first, who was in evening dress, glanced at the Indian and turned instinctively away.

“Mrs Lesley, it is a tonga,” she cried.

“Ours?” enquired the second, also seeing Aziz and doing likewise.

“Take the gifts the gods provide, anyhow,” she screeched, and both jumped in. “O Tonga wallah, club, club. Why doesn’t the fool go?”

Go, I will pay you tomorrow,” said Aziz to the driver, and as they went off, he called courteously, “You are most welcome, ladies.” They did not reply, being full of their own affairs.

-- E.M. Forster, A Passage to India (Chapter 11)

We may gather from the dialogue that a tonga is a vehicle, a tonga wallah is one who drives the vehicle. A subtle power play also reveals itself here. The last name reveals that the ladies are English, and Aziz is not.

All this is inferred from a short piece of dialogue!

Not everyone espouses the use of words from another language when writing fiction in English. In his article, Say ‘Non’ to Phrasebook Foreign Language in Fiction, Daniel Kalder writes:

“Either you render the language in English, or you render it in French. And if your readers are English speakers, then, I dunno, you should probably render it in English. Chucking in a few phrases of first-year French adds nothing in terms of meaning and is just daft.”

Granted, Agatha Christie was not Belgian and E. M. Forster was not Indian. But what if the author writing in English is reflecting a part of their own heritage, representing who they are as a people and as a culture?

Nayomi Munaweera’s novel, Island of a Thousand Mirrors, is set in Sri Lanka. She uses terms contextually, a natural exclamation here, a term there, which means the reader connects with the cultural milieu even as the story advances.

The two Tamil words she uses in the lines below lend authenticity and adornment to the dialogue.


Nishan must watch his friends being sent to squat at the back of the schoolroom, arms crossed to grasp opposite ears. As they walk home together, these boys say, “Aiyo, she has two eyes in the back of her head.” And only filial devotion keeps him from replying,” Machang, you should see her at home.”

(Part One, Chapter 1)

Foreign expressions are used in descriptive text as well. Take Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who uses Igbo words in her narrative. She brings Nigeria to us, her skill making the prose come refreshingly alive.


The goats wandered a lot around the yard, they wandered in, too, while we cousins bathed, scrubbing with ogbo that my grandmother made from sun-dried coconut husks, scooping water from a meal bucket. We bathed near the vegetable garden, in the space enclosed with zinc left over from the last house refurbishing. Mama Nnukwu would shoo the goats away from the vines of ugu and beans that crept up those zinc walls, clucking, clapping her hands.

-- Recaptured Spirits, Notre Dame Review, Number 18, 2004

The reader doesn’t need to know exactly what ogbo is, or ugu. We comprehend the scene. The author has sprinkled just two Igbo words into the paragraph to make it shine.

Junot Diaz takes it a step forward, knitting dialogue and text and sprinkling his Spanish into it. He mixes the ingredients as if tossing a salad, the sweet and the sour, the crunchy and tangy, the veggies and the berries. His scenes come alive, because of the use of his Spanish terms. The reader is instantly drawn into the vividness of his narrative.


You had to be careful with her because she had a habit of sitting down without even checking if there was anything remotely chairlike underneath her, and twice already she’d missed the couch and busted her ass—the last time hollering Dios mío, qué me has hecho?—and I had to drag myself out of the basement to help her to her feet. These viejas were my mother’s only friends—even our relatives had gotten scarce after year two—and when they were over was the only time Mami seemed somewhat like her old self. Loved to tell her stupid campo jokes. Wouldn’t serve them coffee until she was sure each tácita contained the exact same amount. And when one of the Four was fooling herself she let her know it with a simple extended Bueeeeennnnoooo.

--The Pura Principle, New Yorker, Mar 22, 2010

Final Thoughts

Foreign expressions are connectors. But more than that, they enrich us. Through them, the English language elevates itself, becoming a vehicle to understand other people and cultures—helping us accept differences and celebrate similarities.

To authors who incorporate them, I say: may you continue to do so.

Do you like it when authors sprinkle foreign words into their English narratives (assuming they do it sparingly and well)? Who have you seen do this the most successfully? Please share them with us down in the comments!

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About Sudha

Sudha Balagopal's recent short fiction appears in Fractured Lit, Monkeybicycle, Smokelong Quarterly, and Splonk among other journals. Her novella-in-flash, Things I Can't Tell Amma, is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction in July of 2021. She is the author of a novel,  A New Dawn, and two short story collections. Her work is listed in the Wigleaf Top 50, 2021 and is published in Best Microfiction 2021.

More at www.sudhabalagopal.com

Top Photo by Capturing the human heart. on Unsplash

July 19, 2021

by Angela Ackerman

I think we can all agree that characters are the heart of a novel. We build worlds around our story’s cast, spend dozens of hours plundering their psyche to understand needs, motivations, and beliefs, and even envision complete backstories. Then, of course, we go on to produce tens of thousands of words about their vulnerabilities and strengths as they rise, fall, and rise again on the path to their goal. We also revise, dedicating yet more hours to ensure readers understand and care about our characters as much as do.

Yes, it’s fair to say we work hard to make sure our characters live and breathe on the page. But here’s the irony…in all that effort, many of us overlook or underutilize another important area of character description: their physical appearance.

It’s true, a character’s features and physicality can be hard to convey. We may not have a strong mental picture of them ourselves, or if we do, how to sum it all up economically. After all, at the start of the story when we need to provide details on a character’s appearance, we’re also juggling everything else we must show like the action, setting, circumstances, plus the character’s motivation, underlying problem, emotion, and so on.

So we find ourselves asking, does the character’s looks really matter? Isn’t it what’s inside that counts?

Yes…and no.

Obviously, we want to start a story with action, pulling readers in by showing what a character is doing and why. But including some physical description is also necessary, too. Without it, readers may fail to create a mental image and struggle to connect with the character.

Avoiding physical description and leaving it up to the reader will also create a minefield for the writer because if they mention a physical detail (like a character’s pink hair) later on in the story and it clashes with the image the reader has created on their own, well, it breaks the storytelling spell. Worse, the reader loses confidence in the author’s skills and may be unable to fully suspend disbelief from that point on.

The Goldilocks Approach

We all remember that break-and-enter deviant, Goldilocks, right? Well, to take a page from her book, just like avoiding porridge too hot or too cold, we want to avoid both descriptive sparseness and information overload. Dumps of description of any kind hurt the pace and cause readers to skim, so we should make it our goal to offer enough to point readers in the right direction and then drip in more as needed. The rest they can fill in themselves.

Even more important than quantity is the quality, however. If we choose the right details, we open a gateway to great characterization and hook readers at the same time.

Choose Details that Do More

To avoid disrupting the pace it can be tempting to just give a quick overview of a character’s general features and move on, but unless the character is unimportant to the story, this wastes a valuable opportunity to show-not-tell. Whenever description is needed, we want to think about how to ‘spend’ our word currency in the best way possible. Even with physical description, we want to choose details that will push the story forward, reveal characterization, and show readers what’s hidden.

Try using your character’s appearance to allude to...

Personality. Is your heroine the type to wear bright yellow to a funeral? Does your groom show up to his wedding in a tux t-shirt and flip-flops? Is it a toss-up between which is tighter – the pearls strangling Aunt Edna’s wattle or her disapproving glare as a neighbor’s children run amok? Written with purpose, details about your character’s clothes can say much about their personality and attitude, priming readers to see them in the exact light you want them to.

Occupations and interests. Does your protagonist have the perma-stained grease hands of a mechanic or the meticulously clean ones of a model or physician? Is there a smudge of paint above one eyebrow or a clod of potter’s clay in his hair? Small details can hint at what a character does for a living and the passions they may have.

Perceptions and self-perceptions. Does the hero fixate on his beard so much he carries a comb and smoothing gel with him everywhere he goes? Does his socially oblivious sidekick have a habit of scratching his leg with too-long toenails at the beach, grossing everyone out? Does your heroine ask friends what they plan to wear before choosing herself or does she throw on whatever is clean? The time and attention a character gives to their appearance can show how comfortable they are in their own skin and whether they care about the opinions of others.

Health. Is your character disconcertingly underweight, does she have a bluish tinge to her lips, or is she always hiding her hands so others don’t see the tremors? Does she carry an inhaler or epi pen? A well-placed detail about her appearance can hint at an underlying condition, hereditary health issue, or lay the ground for an unfortunate diagnosis that will upend the character’s life.

Hidden lineage. Does your character have a unique eye color, rare skin condition, or sun sensitivity? A physical peculiarity can help you set the stage to reveal your character is the long-lost descendant of a royal family, lead them to finding their birth parent, or shock them with the discovery that they belong to a race of magic users believed to have died out long ago.

Pedigree, station, education, and wealth. Rather than a hidden lineage, your character’s appearance can show-not-tell their importance within society. Wearing colors only a sect of assassins is sanctioned to use, the quality of their garments or adornments, observing the latest fashion, or showing a character’s bearing, posture, and manners can allude to their upbringing, economic status, or caste.

Secrets. Whether it’s a dried blood drop on the face of their watch, a strange tattoo behind their ear, or the fact they are carrying a concealed weapon at a bridal shower, details that are mysterious or out of place show readers there’s more to a character than meets the eye.

Backstory Wounds. Does your character have an odd bite mark on one shoulder, a chemical burn scar, a missing finger, or they walk with a limp? You can be sure that if it’s important enough to describe, readers will be intrigued about what happened that led to that peculiarity and want to read on to find out. 

Talents and Skills. Does your villainess have throwing knives strapped to her sleeves, chest, and back? Or does your hacker protagonist always carry a backpack full of electronic gadgets and a laptop? If a character’s skills require certain supplies, tech, weapons, or tools, it’s likely they will keep them on hand, a neon sign to readers that they have a special talent.

Emotional mindset and comfort zone. Body language, mannerisms, posture, and the buffer of space the character keeps around them (or not) will all help readers understand what a character may be feeling and how comfortable they are in a location. A character who feels utterly uncomfortable may be pulling at their clothes, sweating, and choosing dark corners over conversation. A character standing tense and watchful, ready to grab the knife at his hip is clearly expecting danger. Someone who loves to be the center of attention will be doing exactly that, confidently working the crowd, smiling and telling jokes, making people feel welcome and basking in the attention.

Motivation. A character who tests the release button on his poison ring before heading out to shake hands with his enemy makes it clear what his goal is, just as a grieving widow will by practicing tearing up in the mirror so she’s ready for her police interview to go over where she was when her husband was mugged and killed. Mission-oriented people dress, behave, and act in alignment with their goal, so describing them in the moment will focus the reader’s attention right where you want it to go.

This is by no means a complete list, but it hopefully gets the idea ball rolling. So, the next time you need to describe a character’s physical features, use it to reveal something extra that activates a reader’s need-to-know mindset, hooking them to read on.

Do you find it easy to write physical description, or is it a bit of a struggle? Let me know in the comments!

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About Angela

Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus and its many sequels. Her books are available in eight languages, are sourced by US universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. To date, this book collection has sold over half a million copies.

Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop for Writers, a portal to game-changing tools and resources that enable writers to craft powerful fiction. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Top Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

July 16, 2021

by John Peragine

 Amazon can be sneaky sometimes and add new features with little lead time nor explanation. In the past few weeks, some new features have appeared to help authors and potentially harm them. The Big A is a company that wants to keep every cent it makes, hurting authors’ bottom lines. Being aware of new features and how they impact authors is important to be mindful of.

Buy for Others

On the right side of the page on Amazon is a box that reads “Buy for Others.” This is exclusively for Kindles. It allows customers to buy multiple copies of books for a group of people.

PROS

It allows authors to send multiple emails (with a link to an eBook) in one transaction with a note sent to each of them. This is great to send to groups like a book club, a library, or an event like a book reading.

CONS

There is no discount for multiple copies. This does not create much of an incentive for customers. I’d rather take a little less on each sale as an author and sell ten copies in one transaction. This not only helps with sales, but it pushes your book up in the algorithms.

Amazon Book Club

You can find a link to this in the right column. It allows people with similar interests to connect and read books together. You can join a club or create one of your own. Clubs are categorized by genre.

PROS

You can comment and talk about books together. You can find people who have similar interests to you.

CONS

That is about it because there are many more ways this is not good for authors.

  1. You can’t discuss the books. So what’s the point? It is a way for authors to get people to read their books. Stay with me; I will explain why this is only for the elite.
  2. The biggest clubs have tens of thousands of members. You are letting Amazon know what books and genres you like.
  3. How are books chosen? This is where things get dicey. Administrators make the choice of the book of the month for that group. There are two choices for clubs- private and public. The largest clubs are what you can see as a reader. The ones with tons of members. So who runs those big clubs? Amazon. They are listed as Amazon Reviewers. Books are suggested, and the administrator picks the book from those suggestions. The game is rigged. You can’t even find the smaller clubs unless you do searches. Under the featured book clubs are the featured books. Again this is way up on the food chain.

This service does very little for indie authors. It seems it is trying to pull people from Goodreads, which seems odd since Goodreads is owned by Amazon. (How old were you when you discovered that?) The only way I can see an indie author using this program is to search for clubs that read their genre and then suggest their book as a recommended read for that month. Even as I type that, it feels spammy and a whole lot of work for little return. Suggestions of titles are not public. (I believe only administrators can see them).

Kindle Vella

This new service has been highly anticipated. I have spoken about Vella in two previous posts Serialization Storytelling Part 1 and Serialization Storytelling Part 2. Vella has launched this week, and I have to say, it is a bit confusing for both authors and customers.

PROS

It is a platform that allows you to create serialized stories that help build a larger fanbase. You can create side stories and try out new characters and book ideas. You can make a little bit of money on each download. You can share stories with direct links to social media. (this is new). You can get 200 free keys. Each key is worth 100 words. So that is about 20K words.

Kindle Vella token prices and value
Number of tokensPricePrice of each tokenRough word count
200$1.99$0.0120,000
525$4.99$0.009552,500
1100$9.99$0.009110,000
1700$14.99$0.0088170,000

CONS

The dashboard for Vella contains very little except a place to add or edit stories. On the KDP dashboard, there is no way to track downloads or sales. People can leave an Amazon review like other books. It was not clear before the platform launched how that would work.

There is a fave’s function. This is what Amazon has to say about this function:

When you unlock episodes, you will receive one Favea week that you can award to the story you’re enjoying most that week. We’ll feature Top Faved stories so other readers can find them too.”

This means that readers can only like one series a week. My feeling is that this function will favor popular writers, not lesser-known ones, which means they won’t be very visible.

They do not link Author Central to Vella, and so you can’t connect the Kindle Vella series to your other books. This defeats the purpose of building an audience. You have to search for an author name or series name under the “Kindle Vella” tab.

If a customer buys a larger package of tokens, the author is paid less per token because the tokens cost less. Again, this is not an advantage to authors.

The biggest question mark is how authors will get paid. It is not showing up on the Kindle dashboard. If it does, will it show as a Kindle? Hard to say.

Hopefully, Vella will be doing updates. As of right now, it does not seem to offer authors, especially new ones, any advantage. You can’t post the series anywhere else, nor could it be a previously published book. This means, like KDP Select, Amazon has a lock on where you can sell your stories.

Kindle Summer Reads

This was a sneaky little addition. Under the price of the book is a You Earn: (points number). This seems to be a summer promotion - a beta test. Here is what Amazon says about the program:

"Earn Kindle Points, redeem for eBook credit.

Earn Kindle Points for every book you purchase July 7 - September 22, 2021, and redeem them for eBook credit. 

How it works:
Earn 5 pts per dollar on eBooks and 2 pts per dollar on print books. Earn bonus Kindle Points from occasional special offers. Visit Kindle Summer Rewards to see your Kindle Points balance and available offers. Kindle Points expire on Sept 22, 2021.

Redeem 400 pts for a $4 eBook credit.

Collect fun badges for reading and more.

Kindle Summer Rewards is a limited-access beta program open to select customers in the U.S.”

PROS

It adds an incentive to buy books. It provides points for both physical and eBooks. Although, it can only be redeemed for eBooks. It gives you a bonus of 100 points to join their mailing list.

CONS

This, on the surface, sounds like a great promotion, but they're all sorts of problems and questions.

  1. This seems to be a grab for more emails so that they can spam you with “offers.”
  2. What is the compensation for authors for the $4.00 credit? Does Amazon pay their regular rate? I am asking you, WITS Readers, to help me find any explanation of this program for authors. I can’t find anything.
  3. It is time-limited. How many credits can a person earn? If they don’t use it by September, the credit vanishes.
  4. By the numbers- how many books does a person have to read for a credit. My book is $3.99 (20 credits). A person would have to purchase- not read- 20 books at that rate. So to earn a $4.00 credit, you have to spend $80.00
  5. This program price fixes eBooks. It forces authors to drop their eBooks to $4.00 or less because most people would want a free book (or two) when using their credit. Most people would not want to use credit and still have to pay more money to buy yet another eBook in a short amount of time.

This program and Kindle Vella are Amazon’s attempt at gamifying book buying. You earn virtual badges for achievements and microtransactions to buy more content. This pushes authors to set their books at .99 or for free and rely on these micro-transactions to make their money. This is pennies on the dollar. This is an extension of KDP select. Authors are forced to create a ton of content (not necessarily polished content) to compete. Those with 100 books make a lot more money than a person who might only have 1-3 books. It becomes quantity over quality.

What are your thoughts? Have you tried these new programs? Do you see them as beneficial? (Why, or why not?) Please share your thoughts with us down in the comments!

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About John

John Peragine has published 14 books and ghostwritten more than 100 others. He is a contributor for HuffPostReuters, and The Today Show. He covered the John Edwards trial exclusively for Bloomberg News and The New York Times. He has written for Wine EnthusiastGrapevine MagazineRealtor.comWineMaker magazine, and Writer's Digest.

John began writing professionally in 2007, after working 13 years in social work and as the piccolo player for the Western Piedmont Symphony for over 25 years. Peragine is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. You can learn more about his books at JohnPeragineBooks.com

His newest book, Max and the Spice Thieves, is available for purchase. Click Here!


Stories on Kindle Vella

As Evaline Hudson stands at the grave of her beloved husband Leonard, she knows someone among the large crowd of mourners murdered him. After her husband's partner's sudden and mysterious death, Evaline sets in motion events that will make an empire crumble and will bring the shocking truth of the town's true nature to light. In the most brilliant acting of her long career, Evaline Hudson brings her revenge to a stunning finish, marking the end of a long wait and the end of an era. Click Here!

Captain Cinn is in search of a sea plant he wants to harvest and recreate a stew made for the funeral feast of a long-dead king. Click Here

July 14, 2021

by Eldred Bird

In a previous WITS post, I covered five of the Twitter writing community’s least favorite tips and so-called “rules” for writing. One article wasn’t nearly enough space to cover the subject, so I’m back with five more!

As I stated last time, everyone has their own interpretation as to the meaning of these gems. All opinions herein are my own and may not reflect your reality when it comes to putting words to the page, but isn’t that what writing is about? We all create our own reality when we tell our stories.

Let’s dive in and see what we can learn about these five tips.

Don’t Use Passive Voice

First, let’s define ‘passive’ as opposed to ‘active’ voice.

Active Voice - The subject of the sentence is the one performing the action. An example would be, “Billy punched Mark in the jaw.”

Passive Voice – The subject of the sentence is being acted upon by another party. “Mark was punched in the jaw by Billy.”

While active voice is best in most situations, as with any other tool in your writer’s toolbox there is a time and place for passive voice. Active voice tends to keep pacing up and paints a clear, concise picture of the movement, and sometimes mood, of the characters. Passive voice can be used to slow things down a bit and reflect on the effect a character or object has on a particular situation.

Passive voice is also a great tool for character building in dialogue. If your character speaks in passive, it can indicate a lack of personal responsibility—things happen to them not because of their own actions, but because of outside forces. Evolving dialogue to become more active over the course of the story is a good way to show personal growth in the character.

Avoid Flashbacks

Personally, I don’t have a big problem with this one if it’s made clear we’re going back into a character’s memory. Therein lies the problem. The transition is where writers are in the most danger of tripping up the reader when the flashback starts. Give us a clear lead-in to the flashback so we know where we’re headed, then make it obvious when we return to the present.

The other problem I see with flashbacks is they can easily become backstory data-dumps. Treat your flashback just as you would any other scene in your story. Weave the information into the narrative and don’t dump unnecessary details that don’t help to move the story along.

Maintain One Single Point of View

I think a quote from one of my favorite movies (A Knight’s Tale) sums this one up well:

“You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting.”

There are so many good books out there with changing POVs that this tip can be considered total hogwash.  High on that "good books list" is The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, so changing POVs is not a new concept. That doesn’t mean every story that uses multiple points of view will work.  Again, it’s all in how you wield this sword when chopping your manuscript into different parts and pieces.

As with flashbacks, be careful to make the transitions clear to the reader so they don’t get confused as to who they are currently following. My personal rule is to only switch POVs at a chapter or scene break. This gives a clear delineation between the viewpoints.

My current WIP, a fantasy, is written third-person close POV whenever the MC is in the “real world” and switches to first-person when he is in the fantasy realm. After the first couple of switches, the reader clearly understands where they are simply by the POV.

Don’t End Sentences in Prepositions

If you’re trying to get a passing grade in your English class, by all means follow this rule. Otherwise, feel free to end your sentences any way you want to (see what I did there…). If it works with your voice and flow as a writer, then do it. Use sentence fragments too, if you like. If it makes the sentence feel awkward, maybe you need to take another look at it. Maybe awkward is what you were going for. Bottom line, if it works for you, it will probably work for your readers as well.

Make Writing Your First Priority

When I saw this reply to my query about tips on Twitter, it struck me as so ridiculous that I just had to include it in this post. The reply came from David Martin Lins, author of the newly released novel Skull Valley.

Okay. The worst I ever heard was... "Anyone can raise your children, only you can write your book. Prioritize the book and hire a babysitter." - a keynote speaker at the conference where I met you.

I can’t believe a keynote speaker at a national writing conference would throw out that kind of advice. And as if that wasn’t enough:

She also said she has an egg timer she starts when her now-adult daughter calls her so she can get back to her writing.

I think it goes without saying (but I’m going to say it anyway) that family comes first, especially your kids. The world is not going to implode if you don’t hit your word count goal for a couple of days.

Spend time with your kids. Read to them, tell them stories, and listen to the stories they tell you. Odds are you’re going get some writing inspiration out of the exercise and your children will benefit from some quality time with mom and/or dad.

Some Final Thoughts

I’m going to wrap this post up in a similar fashion to how I ended part one. Keep in mind that these tips have come from the experiences of others. Any time we get a piece of advice it’s up to each one of us to determine what we do with it. Mull it over to see what applies to your work and how it applies. The advice we choose not to incorporate into our work is just as important as what we decide to hold onto. In the end, it’s all about communicating with the readers and building your unique voice as a writer.

What do you think of these writing tips? Do you have a favorite (or least favorite) piece of writing advice? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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About Eldred

Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing KarmaCatching Karma, and Cold Karma, reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking RoomTreble in Paradise: A Tale of Sax and Violins, and The Smell of Fear.

When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21-inch knives). His passion for photography allows him to record his travels. He can be found on Twitter or Facebook, or at his website.

Top Photo (background) by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

July 12, 2021

by Lisa Norman

We've all heard that writers need a website, but why?

When I ask writers why they want a website, they say:

  • so I can look professional
  • so I can get a book deal
  • to sell more books
  • because my coach/agent/publisher said so.

When we don't know why we need a website, it is hard to use it effectively. A website isn't supposed to be something you put on a shelf and dust off occasionally. A website is a powerful sales tool that helps move an author toward success.

Let's start with an understanding of how marketing works. Most people show these stages as a funnel, but I'm thinking they work a lot better as a wheel.

Marketing Wheel for Authors

Discovery

Marketing starts with discovery. No one will buy your book or become your fan if they don't know you exist.

Websites are only a tiny piece of the discovery stage of marketing, but they still play a role.

A potential fan is thinking, "Hmm. What should I read today?" They're probably a little bored, looking for something distracting.

Maybe they find a blog post you wrote on a topic that interests them. Maybe a friend shares something on social media. Maybe they see your ads.

However they find you, they either go out and buy your book directly from a vendor or they come to your website to learn more about you and what you have to offer. Either path can generate sales and a following for you.

Consideration

Here is where your website starts to show its power.

At this stage, our fan is thinking, "I wonder if this writer is any good?"

They're looking for your style promise.

How will they find that on your website? Your writing style shows up in your blog posts, your About Me page, and even in your privacy policy! You may have a downloadable short story on your site that they can read and get intrigued. You may showcase fantastic covers that will catch their interest and drag them to your sales pages. You'll have awesome blurbs.

Your style promise is a key part of your author brand.

Something important: you want to show your style and your brand in all of your sparkling glory. If these folks aren't going to be your true fans, they should know it right away and leave. Don't waste their time or your marketing dollars on people who aren't going to be fans.

You don't need to appeal to everyone. You want your website to scream what you are about so that your people will be attracted and those that are not your people will be filtered out.

This consideration stage should lead them to your sales pages.

Conversion

Conversion is a marketing term that just means they buy the book. Bonus points if they read it.

Conversion can also be signing up for your mailing list.

In this stage, the potential fan is becoming an actual fan. They are interacting with your writing and deciding that you are someone they want to know more about.

They like what they see in your writing, and they want more.

Relationship

As a fan finishes your book and closes it, they are thinking, "Wow. That was really good. I wonder..." They will bring their questions to your website.

Hopefully, they'll find their answers!

Ideally, they'll find not only answers, but an invitation to connect and become a true fan.

You want to clearly invite these fans into a relationship.

Technologically, this means they sign up for your newsletter so they can be notified when your next book comes out. They may also follow you on social media, but don't forget to get them on your mailing list!

Your newsletter (also called your "list") is the most important sales tool you have.

Statistics show that more books are sold through direct emails than through any other channel. You want to fill that list with true fans. You want fans that will be so excited about your new book that they'll race to pre-order, tell their friends, and then eagerly leave reviews.

A side note about mailing lists: it isn't the size of the list that controls the power. A small mailing list with loud, true fans can outperform a huge list with bored people who aren't actually your fans. This is why giving away a Kindle or some other prize can build a list that then doesn't generate sales. You want true fans who love you on your list.

This is a relationship that you will honor and protect. Give gifts to your fans: short stories, drawings, sneak peeks. One of the most amazing gifts that you can give your fans is the connection to you. An email from a favorite author can make someone's day. If they reach out through comments or reply to an email, do your very best to respond.

Don't know what your fans want? With a relationship like this, you have the ability to ask them. Give them what they want.

Retention

Fans who feel respected and valued want to stay around.

Everyone is busy. If you send out a newsletter that doesn't have anything in it for a true fan, they'll unsubscribe and spend their time watching Netflix. Never bore your list!

Engage with these fans, build a following, and they'll want to interact with you and your books more. Better yet, they'll want to bring their friends to the party.

Want to find more fans? You want more people like the ones you have. You may not know those people, but your fans do!

Showcase fan fiction and fan art. Create polls to give your fans a sense of connection to your next book. Bring them into the process. Make them feel valued and cherished.

A fan at this stage is not just thinking, they're speaking. They're telling their friends, "Hey, I found this great author you should check out!"

And that is how retention leads back to discovery.

Get this wheel spinning and it will become self-sustaining.

Why your Coach / Agent / Publisher wants you to have a website

People who are invested in your career, especially those whose income is tied to yours, want to know that you understand marketing and are ready to become more than just a small part of the process. They want you to show them that your brand is going somewhere!

I was at a convention, sitting next to an agent who was drooling over the website samples I had on display. He said, "If I could convince my authors to do one thing, it would be to build a website like these."

Own Your Space

One last tip about websites. Only on an author's website do you have complete control over the content and your customer interactions.

Social media companies can change the rules and interfere with your interactions with your fans. Sales behemoths can control your access and ability to advertise.

But on your website, you are building a home for your fans, a gathering place. You can lock out the trolls. You make the rules because this is your home on the internet.

Make it welcoming. Make it entertaining.  Make it yours.

Do you have an author website? What do you like and dislike about it? Do you have any questions for Lisa? Please ask them down in the comments! (And we hope you're as excited as we are that Lisa is one of our new regular contributors!)

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About Lisa

Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that her first novel was written on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, she can be found wandering the local beaches.

Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, an indie publishing firm. She teaches for Lawson Writer's Academy.

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Top Photo by Marcel Friedrich on Unsplash


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