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Opening Lines: Indie Tidbits Podcast

Opening Lines: Indie Tidbits Podcast

Engaging readers from the first sentence is now a podcast

Hybrid Publisher or Vanty Press in disguise?

Hybrid Publisher or Vanty Press in disguise?

Simple steps to evaluate the value of a hybrid publisher

Creating the Perfect Villian-Author Toolbox

Creating the Perfect Villian-Author Toolbox

Tips for creating the perfect villain

I’m in love with one of my characters. He’s powerful, driven, and disciplined. He knows exactly what he wants and is willing to make the effort to get it. Whatever it takes. He has risked his position, his influence, his wealth, and even his life for his ideals. He’s not afraid to be unpopular, or even despised because he knows he is working toward something greater, something that will save so many lives. And though many would question his tactics, to him, the ends justify the means. He is deeply devoted to his task, and still more so, to the woman he loves, and the son he is not allowed to acknowledge. He is my perfect creation.

He is my villain.

villain

One of the major pitfalls I see in novice writers is the dead-dull villain. The black coat in the thriller, the overbearing father in the YA, or, from my genre, the dark wizard who does nothing in the book except to sit in a black tower and think evil thoughts.

I recently read a novel whose villain had a vile mind-reading power. Poised as a child psychologist, he delved into the minds of his victims/patients during their therapy sessions. This predation on children by a person in a position of trust sent my spine into an eel-ish coil. I was hooked. Let’s take down this A-hole. How could anyone do this to a child? My mind flew through possibilities. It takes 7-10 years to become a licensed Psychologist. Whatever this guy is up to, he’s devoted a 1/3 of his life to getting it. I needed to know

Turns out he was just evil. I was devastated. All that preparation amounted to nothing.

What a waste.

Beware of cardboard villainsvillain-pinterest

Stock villains are not only cliché, they are dull. They add nothing to the story. Seventy-five years ago villains were expected to be the embodiment of evil. They were separate, other. A war had a clear purpose: defeat the Nazi snake with a single villain at its head. Literature from the time reflected this ideal, but today’s worldview is different. People no longer accept the simplistic reasoning: he just chooses to be bad.

The modern villain must have a fully realized backstory. The writer must know the process by which the villain came to hold his beliefs. She must know what the villain wants, and how far he is willing to go to get it. His motivations must be clear and logical (even if it isn’t the logic you would follow). Villains can no longer be the black cape and the handlebar mustache. Villains must be fully realized characters.

What to do instead?

Treat your villain equally to your MC.

Your villain is half your story. Without Voldemort, Harry Potter’s just another kid with a crappy home life starting a new school. Give your villain the respect he deserves. Start by making a character sketch. If you’ve never done this there are dozens of examples online. Scrivener has one built in. Find something that works for you. This is where you can give him mannerisms, as well as physical descriptors. Find something to make him memorable.

Write your villain’s backstory.

Even if it never makes it into your MS, knowing more about your villain will allow you to breathe some life into him. Delve deep here. Make sure you understand his motivations. Once the motivations are established, make sure they are balanced with the effort the villain is making to accomplish his goals. If your villain is angry at your MC for breaking his toy when they were kids, he won’t spend the next 30 years perfecting a serum to give himself mutant powers so that he can take over the world and exile the MC to the moon. Make sure the motivation and the effort are in balance.

What influenced him to develop his particular set of beliefs?

Villains hold mistaken views. They believe something that isn’t true, but the journey to that belief must be realistic. Why does your villain think sending his brother to the moon will make him happy? Perhaps while he was developing his serum he had to watch your MC continue to get all the attention, fame, fortune, all while listening to your MC be an obnoxious braggart? Sending him to the moon might not be so unreasonable.

How does your villain reinforce these beliefs?

People tend to seek out like-minded people or choose to emphasize experiences that reinforce their worldview. Is he surrounded by lackeys, or is he a loner? Does he attend a weekly antagonists anonymous meeting? What do the people around him want? How do they benefit from his mistaken belief?

How does he react when life events conflict with his worldview?

Mistaken views will be constantly challenged. How does your villain react to these tests? This will define his character. Does he just start shouting louder like a cable news talking head? Does he resort to elaborate conspiracy theories? Maybe he has a moment where reform seems possible, and then anger resurfaces.

What’s next?

Once you have these finished, write a book pitch as if your villain is the MC and see how well your choices fit together.

Example: Voldemort knows the name wizard once meant something in the world, and only he knows how to bring that meaning back. He’s studied relentlessly, forsaking friends and family to perfect his craft. He’s searched the world to find the best spell-casters to stand with him. He’s even split his soul into pieces, all so he can restore the ancient legacy of his people. All the pieces are finally in place. Nothing is going to stop him, especially not a 10-year-old orphan from Privet Drive.

We know what he wants, what he’s willing to do to get it and who is standing in his way. Make sure your villain is a fully-realized character and one who actively affects your MC. Otherwise, your story might start to read like a video game with a boss battle at the end. Remember villains are people too.

So have dinner with a bad boy tonight.

Your readers will thank you.

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click here.

Getting started in Guest Blogging

Getting started in Guest Blogging

Guest blogging is a great way for writers to gain an audience. With a little investment of time, writers can produce lasting benefits for their careers.

Avoiding Scam Publishers

Avoiding Scam Publishers

While most writers know vanity presses are little more than scam publishers, many intelligent people still fall into their traps.

Optimizing your Online Book Description

Optimizing your Online Book Description

online-book-pinEffective online book descriptions are more than just the words. The internet is a visual medium, much like a magazine. Readers expect content to be presented in a visually interesting way. This means thinking about your description as a web design project, including visual arts elements, like white space, and formatting your text using HTML. Even if you are not a programmer, simple tags for bold, italic, H1, H2 are easy enough for the novice. (If you still need help, use a WYSIWYG HTML generator. Then, cut and paste the results in your Amazon description.)

Here is a book description that needs revision. Notice how the large block of text is unappealing, even daunting. Readers are conditioned to expect efficient content online, smaller chunks of text, and variety.

bad hook
Giant blocks of text turn readers off

When designing your book descriptions, consider how all the elements of the page will work together. You will have three elements: the cover, the short hook, and the full description.

The Cover

The cover is your number 1 sales tool. It will be the reason a prospective reader will click on your description. If your cover looks bad or does not accurately reflect your genre/content, a reader will never see your written description. A solid, professional cover is money well spent.

The Short Hook

The short hook is the first 40-60 words of your description (depending on how you format it) that Amazon shows on your book’s landing page. At the end of the short hook, readers have the option to click on “read more.” The primary function of the short hook is to entice readers to click on that link. No click=no sale.

Think of the short hook as your “above the fold content” (content a reader will see without performing any actions). Many writers will use this space for a meaningful review, or a tagline.

short hook ex 1.png

In this example, the short hook leads with bestseller achievements, follows with reviews, and then manipulates the break to only show the tagline ending with the ellipsis. Notice how this all comes before the “read more” link. This is a carefully crafted sales pitch.

The Full Hook

The third element is the full hook. This will only be revealed if your first two elements have been a success. It’s the third act of your story. Just like you can’t wait until the end of your book to make the story interesting, you can’t put all your best information at the end of your hook. The full hook must deliver on the promise created in the first two elements. It must expand on what has already been created and deliver a satisfying message. In this case, a compelling reason to read your story.

full hook ex2

Notice, in this example, how the blurb doesn’t even begin until the “read more’ has been clicked. This is one option. Another option is to create a mystery in your short hook to compel the reader forward.

Once you have your description written, you must create a layout with visual interest.

good online book description

An effective layout will have plenty of white space, giving the eyes an opportunity to rest. Too much text creates an uncomfortable experience for the reader.

good online book description

Now let’s create yours

Begin with a great tagline, or meaningful review (and change the text with tags or bold/italic text)

The short hook-, use 50-60 words or less engage your reader. This means making a promise that intrigues the reader. By the end of his paragraph, your reader must want to click on the “read more” to find out the answer.

The second paragraph (Below the “read more” link-Now that the reader has clicked “read more”, we don’t want them to regret it. In the second paragraph, you must expand on the original hook, creating more depth. Add your complicating factor. You do not have to use all the allotted space for your hook. Giant blocks of text turn readers off.

Have lots of text? Consider breaking things up with subheadings

The Close- the final paragraph. Congratulations you’ve hooked your reader. They clicked on ‘read more’ and made it to the end. It’s time to reel them in with a great close.

If you did not lead with a positive review, you can use the extra space here to quote it, and be sure to use italics to distinguish it from the rest of your hook.

Taking the time to optimize your online hook will give your description a more professional appearance, convince your readers that your content is higher quality, and ultimately help you achieve stronger sales.

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Steps to Publishing your ebook

Steps to Publishing your ebook

You’ve finished writing and editing, but now you need to prepare your novel for ePublishing

Cover Design Mistakes

Cover Design Mistakes

You cover is your number 1 sales tool. No matter how good your novel is, no one will read it if your cover looks amateurish.

Query Swap Blog Tour

Query Swap Blog Tour

Query Swap needs your help

The first #QuerySwap was a small, but successful, event. This time, I want to reach more writers with this opportunity, but I need your help. If you have a blog (even if the readership is small) I would like to add you to the blog tour leading up to the next query swap.

What is #QuerySwap?

Query Swap is a biannual Twitter event. Writers who want to participate in feedback exchanges on their queries can meet during this Twitter event to meet, pitch, and connect with other like-minded writers. (For complete details see the full Query Swap post.)

How can I help?

All you need to do is

  1. Post on your blog about #QuerySwap. I will provide all the information. You can simply cut and paste, or tweak it as much as you need to match the format and tone of your blog.
  2. On your assigned day, publish the post
  3. Share on social media.

That’s it.

I will subscribe to the comments on your blog and handle any questions.

You also don’t need to participate in the #queryswap event. If you are a blogger, I will be happy to add you to the list.

Ready to help? Send me an email with the subject queryswap to michelekellerauthor(at)gmail.com. Include your blog address and twitter handle (if applicable.)

Details will be sent out December 1.

Thank you!

Selecting an Editor and Cover Artist

Selecting an Editor and Cover Artist

Tips from spec-fic author Franc Ingram on finding and working with professional editors and cover designers