Survive the Summer Sales Slump

Industry folks from all sides will argue as to whether or not a summer sales slump occurs, particularly in the eBook space. We at AOAD don’t have specific numbers to prove this, but anecdotal evidence, personal experience, and the fact that many publishers take chunks of time off during the summer when sales are lower seem to be good indicators that it happens to some extent.

The question is, if or when the summer sales slump hits, what can you do about it? Let’s talk about some ways to deal with these slower months. We don’t guarantee sales, but we do think you’ll have a productive summer if you try these out!

Hold a Sale
Hold a price drop on one (or more) of your books. As simple as that. Price drops tend to boost sales units. You may see less $, but at the same time, you may see more $ than if you hadn’t done the sale.

Release a Boxed Set
If you have a series completed, consider releasing a box set of the series during the summer. Don’t have a completed series without a box? Try an anthology with several other authors.

Promote, Promote, Promote
Rather than back off on your promotions, step up. Many authors take the summer off. Many publishers take a portion of the summer off. Take advantage of potentially having less voices to compete with and do more promoting in the summer.

Release a New Book
Releasing a new book during traditional slump months can help you get through the slump and bolster your numbers. Two things to consider… If you release in June, try releasing a summer-themed book to take advantage of those beach readers. Also, think about releasing in August which has the potential to kick start your fall sales.

Try A Social Media Refresh
Take advantages of these months when readers are paying less attention and refresh your social media. Give your brand a face lift, launch a new website, get started on a new platform (never tried Instagram? Try now), and so forth.

Summerize Your Incentives
Any giveaways, sales, releases, promotions, etc. that you do, try to make them summer themed. Combine them with other summer incentives. Think beaches, BBQ, pools, snow cones & ice cream…you get it.  Just remember, if you do this, to time your events earlier in the summer. You know…when it’s still summer for a while.

Hook Up with Other Authors
Use the power of cross-promotion. In the summer try to do events like Facebook parties, Twitter parties, Newsletter visits, blog visits or blasts, and so on, with other authors.

Get Ready for Fall
Take these slower months to get ready for the uptick in the fall. Hold off on those promotions and sales and hit them hard at the end of August, September/October. After taking a break and hearing less over the summer, readers may be more ready to take advantage. (Yes, we know this contradicts our earlier suggestion about promoting in the summer. Lol. Pick one and try it out. See what works for you.)

Learn
Take advantage of a slow down and use all that extra time in your life to beef up your skills. Take workshops, go to a conference, take an online or local college course, try writing exercises, join a writing group, and anything else you can think of.

Read
Take a break and read over the summer. Reading is a huge part of being an author. Keep up with how the market it changing in your genre. Enjoy other authors’ work. Rekindle your passion.

Write, Write, Write
Take the summer to write your heart out. Get words on the page so that when the industry returns to full steam in the fall, you can jump right in. Or get a head start on a project so that you can take it easier in the fall.

No matter which of our suggestions you try, definitely try the last one! We wish you luck heading into the summer and would love to hear what works for you. Do you see the slump? What have you tried?

Common Editing Misses

One of our editors is a retired English teacher, and quite possibly the most thorough editor I’ve ever come across in terms of grammar. This editor has a list of common grammar mistakes missed consistently during editing (whether by writers OR by previous editors).

Some of these grammar rules may be a preference of a given publisher to not apply in favor of a less formal voice. However, whether writing fiction or non-fiction, it helps to be aware of the rules. I thought I’d share her list today and get them on your radar. (Do consult with your editor about these.)

Lie / Lay
With this one it helps to remember that “to lay” is referring to objects, and “to lie” is referring to a person’s body doing the action.


*table from chompchomp.com

Like / As
Using like vs. as when preceding a comparison, here’s the trick…

If the comparison phrase has no verb, you use “like.”

She trembled like a leaf.
The heat in his gaze disappeared like a cool mist.

If the comparison phrase has a subject and verb, you MUST use “as” or “as though”.

She trembled as a leaf fluttering to the ground might tremble.
The heat in his gaze disappeared, as though he’d mentally taken a step back.

They (for one person)
When writing about a nameless person for whom you have not yet identified the gender, it can get tricky from a grammatical standpoint. Most writers will then refer to that person as “they.”

Ex. The thief was stealthy. They’d managed to get by all our security. They must move like a ninja.

The problem with this is “they” is plural, referring to more than one person. To be technically correct, you should write the above example in the following way:

Ex. The thief was stealthy. He or she had managed to get by all our security. He or she must move like a ninja.

This, obviously, can become quite clunky especially in fiction writing. We recommend reworking the sentence to try to avoid it when possible. Ask your publisher for his or her preference as well.

Ex. The thief was stealthy with skills like a ninja, because not a single one of our security measures had been tripped. 

Hopefully these were helpful. What common grammar mistakes do you find either you miss or often get missed in editing?

Resources for Authors

There are tons of tools out there, some free and some for a fee, which can be useful for authors in all the various areas in which they have to operate–primarily in writing and marketing. Each month, Authors On A Dime features a different resource in the section below. But we thought we’d highlight some of the tools we use most…
Canva
This easy-to-use online tool allows you to make graphics for various purposes. Experts say that people are more likely to view or click a post with graphics. Here’s a free way to create those.
canva.com

Pacemaker
Need help setting your writing or editing goals and then tracking to those. Here’s a fantastic tool to help you with that. The free version only allows 2 projects at a time.
pacemaker.press

Dafont
Doing fancier graphics that need more than Times New Roman & Arial. Check out these fonts. (Be careful about using only those that are designated 100% free and Public Domain.)
dafont.com

Deposit Photos
Need fancier photos, or you plan to do your own cover design. A subscription at Deposit Photos might be your best bet.
depositphotos.com

KDP Rocket
We use this tool (yes, you pay for it) to research best keywords for a given book. It’s been invaluable for Amazon keywords not only for search results, but also for Amazon Ads.
kdprocket.com

Author Cross Promotion
Looking to build your mailing list quickly with readers who actually interact and act on your announcements? Try the mailing list building events at Author Cross Promotions!
authorsxp.com

There are tons of resources and tools out there for authors. Which ones do you use constantly that you would recommend. AOAD is always looking for great tips! Send yours in and we’ll share.

Unglue Your NaNoWriMo Project

Depositphotos_22233231_l-2015-SMALLNaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is the annual challenge many writers take up. The goal is to write a full 50k word (or more) book in one month. There are many classes, blog posts, and tips out there for getting through this challenge. If you ever get a chance to take Candace Havens “Book in a Month” workshop, we highly recommend it.

For those participating in NaNoWriMo this year, we thought we’d share some tips–born of experience–on getting your writing unstuck. If your writing is bogged down, try any of the below!

Push Through It / Set a Goal
Obviously for NaNo, you probably have a goal of so many words or pages a night. If you’re stuck, keep writing until you hit that goal. As a rule, pushing through, even if you eventually go back and re-write all of it, often gets you past the sticky point. NaNoWriMo, in general, has proven that the “just get it on paper” technique can be quite effective, or people wouldn’t continue to do it every year.

Skip It & Come Back
Sometimes getting back in the rhythm takes a little inspiration. If you’re stuck on one part, go write a different part. Something you’ve been noodling on and just waiting to sink your teeth into tends to be best. Come back to the sticky part later. It’s possible you’ll find you were stuck because what you were trying to write wasn’t integral to the story and you can either leave it out or skim over it quickly.

Editing
Going back through what you’ve already written and starting to perfect it can often clarify a point you forgot about or were still fuzzy on. Sometimes that discovery ends up being exactly what you need to get you unstuck. Or sometimes editing inspires a new idea or direction – yet another solution. (Just be careful, because sometimes you can get bogged down even more – gotta be careful with this one!)

Map It Out
You may find yourself lost in the journey of your writing because you don’t know where you’re going. This happens a lot to pantsers, we find. By doing a little outlining, determining the frame of the story moving forward, even if it’s just the next few scenes, it may get you out of your sticky mess.

Running
For whatever reason, I do all my best thinking when I’m running (or walking these days). This is true if I’m working out a problem for work, for home, for my kids… or for writing. My mind clears and ideas solidify. Find the activity that does that for you – cooking? yoga? shopping? –and then go do that when you are in a dead-lock. It blows away the cobwebs.

Work on a Different Project
If you’re anything like us, you may have several projects going, or an idea you’ve been wanting to work on. It may seem counter-intuitive, given the short time limit for NaNoWriMo, but changing projects, even if just for an hour, can help. Whether it’s editing or outlining or researching. This can give your brain a break, and gets the inspiration flowing again.

Go Back Through Workshop Notes
If you’re like us, you’ve have taken (and continue to take) writing workshops. You probably have loads of fantastic notes and templates just begging to be used. If you get stuck, start reading through your notes and handouts on workshops to see if anything pops out to get you moving again.

Boil It Down
A great workshop I took once had us define the idea, premise, concept, and conflict. It’s a booger of an exercise, but if you force yourself through it, it can help sharpen the direction of your story. Help you focus on what’s it really about?

Write the Blurb and/or Tagline
Writing the blurb, and especially the tagline, is another way to pinpoint what the focus of your story is. This also helps you get it out of the way for later. 😉

Do Something Outrageous
Another great workshop on building conflict, talked about torturing your characters–trying to find the worst situation(s) to put them into. So if I’m stuck, I try to think of the worst thing I could throw at them at that moment in the story, and then I try to make it even worse, something really difficult for me to solve, and then I write it. Building the conflict definitely spices things up when you’re writing!

Research / Surf the Web
This is another one where you can bog down, so be careful. But sometimes doing research can help details pop out that might be your breakthrough brilliant idea to improve your story. Do research on location, or mythology, or clothing. Start looking at images – fan art, movie clips, book covers. Or even something as basic as putting together your heroine’s outfit for a particular scene. Visual cues and new information can help.

Go to the End and Work Backwards
Maybe you know where you want things to end, but have gotten stuck on how to get your characters there. By writing the ending and then working backwards a scene at a time, you may eventually figure out what needs to happen in the middle to meet up with where they end. Like with mysteries where you need to know the end to lay the clues properly.

Retrace Your Conflict
Many times, a story gets bogged down because you’ve lost your conflict. Take the time to go back retrace what happened. Did you lose sight of the conflict? Do you solve it too soon? Is it not enough of a conflict? Do you need to reintroduce it? Look to your conflict, and 9 times out of 10, you’ll reinvigorate your writing.

We hope this helps! Best of luck to all you NaNoWriMo’ers! 🙂 And we hope you have a very HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Researching Before You Query

february (1)A query letter is a more basic document than many writers make it out to be, and the process, while it can be time-consuming, is also a relatively simple one. We’re going to walk through a few different steps on this topic. Today, let’s talk about researching and pre-query work

Why You Research First?

Every editor and agent I’ve every talked to has TONS of stories about authors who submitted queries that CLEARLY didn’t follow the instructions on that agent or editor’s website. And I’m not talking smaller stuff like “oops I forgot to include the word count” or I addressed it “Dear Madame” instead of “Dear Debbie”. I’m talking that editor or agent doesn’t even represent the genre your book is in.

Sounds idiotic, but people get lazy. DON’T be a lazy author. Do NOT send out a form letter with a ton of editors BCCd on it. Take the time to research each agent/editor you are submitting to. You don’t want to mess up your chances by demonstrating off the bat that you don’t know how to read a website and follow instructions.

Ask the Right Questions

Remember, this is a job interview that goes both ways. You want the RIGHT editor or agent for you, so taking the time to research isn’t just about knowing what to include in the letter. It’s about finding the right fit.

Questions you should be trying to find out answers to while you research the editor/agent include the following:

Generic Info

  1. Does he/she have a website that is easily accessible with information on querying readily and obviously available? (Big one. If they don’t they may not be taking new authors, which is a bummer. OR, they are not clear communicators which is much worse.)
  2. Does he/she represent the genre I write?
  3. What length novels does he/she prefer or typically represent (word count)?
  4. Is he/she currently taking on new authors? What about in your genre?
  5. Would you be working directly with that editor/agent or with someone else in their office? Why? Ask all the same questions about those individuals.

Deep Digging

  1. Does he/she have a wish list of what they’d be particularly excited to see right now?
  2. How long has he/she been in this business?
  3. Are they a member of Association of Author Representatives or another organization which sets standards and guidelines for the people in their industry?
  4. Does he/she blog? (Go read it.)
  5. Is he/she on various social media? (Go follow and pay attention.)
  6. Which authors does this agent/editor already represent? What’s their track record with those authors? (harder to find info)
  7. If you feel comfortable contacting authors, try to politely find out how he/she like working with that agent/editor and why (because different personalities mesh well with some and not others). You can also try websites like Writer’s Beware (just be wary of sour grapes and or stale information). Here’s a website with a ton of resources on researching track records–Victoria Strauss.

Query Logistics

  1. What do they want to see in the query? (Just the letter, a synopsis, the full MS, other?)
  2. See above questions about genre, length, and representation.
  3. How do they want you to submit the query (Online form? Email? Attachments? No attachments?)
  4. What is their general response time to queries?

In Conclusion

There are TONS of other questions you’ll want to ask the editor/agent directly if you get past the initial query phase and are seriously considering signing a contract. We’ll get to those on another day.

In the meantime, as you start this process, we promise taking the time to properly research will be well worth the effort. There is a big difference working with someone who you get along with, share interests with, and can have a creative dynamic with, and someone who is just a body. That is true in any job.

 

12 Tips to Tighten Up a Sagging Middle

SaggingMiddleMany writers bog down and even stall out completely when they get to the middle section of their novel. A writer may know how they want it to begin and end, but getting their characters from point A to point B is an exercise which often involves beating one’s head against the desk.

Identify a Sagging Middle

The first step to any problem is identifying the problem. So how do you know if you’ve hit a sagging middle? If you’re like me (a pantser), this happens almost every book. Some writers only hit it every once in a while. Sometimes it takes an outside opinion (like a beta reader) to point out your sagging middle (with love and respect of course).

Watch for these warning signs:

  • Writing suddenly feels harder (than normal) and you can’t get motivated
  • Even you are bored, and you’re writing it
  • You find yourself including lots of long explanations or descriptions
  • You are writing a lot of telling vs. showing.
  • Your conflict is not central to what you are writing
  • Nothing has happened for several pages
  • The tension you’ve built into the beginning loses steam
  • The conflict is already close to being solved
  • A secondary character has taken over
  • A subplot has taken over
  • What you are writing isn’t moving the story forward
  • You don’t know what to write next

12 Ways to Fix a Sagging Middle

Here are 12 tips and tricks for dealing with that sagging middle that may just give your writing the boost it needs to get over the hump.

1. Review Your Conflict

Just about every writer I’ve talked to will say the first and most common issue behind a sagging middle is that they’ve lost sight of the conflict. Give yourself a few days break (if you can), then read everything you’ve written with an eye toward when/where you lost the conflict. You may need to back up and re-write, or you may just need to bring the conflict back in focus.

2. Revisit Your Characters Goals and/or Motivations

Your characters may have lost sight of why they are on this journey in the first place. Are they staying true to who they are? Are their goals remaining consistent? Or, if the goal has changed, is the reason clear and true to the story? Is their motivation still tangibly present?

3. Remove the Boring Bits

Did your dialogue just include all the niceties like “hello” and “goodbye”? Did you just describe every move your protagonist made to walk through a room and open a door? Is the information about their backstory you just included not really central to that plot point? You might be including the boring stuff just to hit word count, and you’re losing sight of your key story. It might be time for a slash and burn.

4. Do a Quick Outline

Sit down and outline your main plot points that you know you need to hit. You might be closer than you think to the next point, and you’re spending too much time on a scene. Or you might need to add another 20 pages of plot before you get there. Either way, seeing where you need to be next may give you ideas.

5. Make a Change 

If you’re struggling, chances are your reader will to. Change it up for both of you. Switch locations, enter a scene from a different POV, revisit another subplot in progress. You get the point. Make a change.

6. Torture Your Characters / Up the Stakes

Think of the worst thing that could happen to your characters at this point in the story (something truly bad, or maybe a false high). Make a list of ideas. Pick the one that scares you. Discard your first one or two solutions for later in the book (they’ll be obvious to your readers too). Then run with it!

7. Add a Ticking Clock

If your characters suddenly have a time limit, I promise the tension will increase with it. It’ll also force you to write to that plot schedule now. So both you and the readers will feel the tension. 🙂

8. Build to a Minor Climax

Add a minor climax sooner in the plot. This might be a false high to give your characters further to fall later. It might be a stepping stone on the way to rock bottom. It also gives you a critical point to write to that is sooner than the end of the book (so is a mental trick for you as the author).

9. Write a Different Scene

Skip ahead and write the next scene up that you are really excited to get to. Just getting out of where you are stuck may get the juices flowing. How that scene goes may also give you ideas on how to connect the two points. Voila, no more sagging middle.

10. Write Backwards

This is one of my favorite tricks. Start at the very end of the book and write backwards a scene at a time. I guarantee that if you get enough scenes in there, having those ending details nailed down will inspire your brain with ideas on how to move forward from the middle.

11. Have Fun with the Fun & Games

In “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder, the sagging middle is typically the section called “Fun & Games.” This is supposed to be your opportunity to have fun with your characters and really develop both them and the plot. So, rather than resigning yourself to this section, have fun with it. Even get a little crazy with it. Believe it or not, this tends to be the section readers remember most. In movies, it’s often where the clips in the trailer come from.

12. Remember the Middle is the Important Part

The beginning of your book is the appetizer–introduce your characters, the conflict, and start them on the journey. Whet the readers’ appetites. The ending of your book is the dessert–the wrap up, the climax, the part where you leave your readers in whatever emotional state you are aiming for.

But the middle? The middle is the meat and potatoes. This is the main course. The appetizer and dessert by themselves are never enough. They don’t mean anything without the main course. You should be spending a good majority of your time fine-tuning the middle of your book, not just racing through it, or tolerating it, until you can get to the juicy bits at the end. As a dessert-fiend, I know how hard it is. But stick with it and spend the time you should with the middle.

 

Best of luck to you if you are dealing with the sagging middle. We’d love to hear from you as well. Do you have any other tips or tricks that work to take a sagging middle and make it a six-pack of gloriously tight writing?

Death to the Cliche

say-what-you-want-to-sayLet’s start with the official definition of “cliche” which is “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.”

The definition should be enough of an incentive for writers to do their best to kill those little buggers. You don’t want your writing to lack original thought. However, ridding your writing of cliches is harder said than done (cliche intended).

First let’s talk about identifying cliches–because for authors, more than the familiar phrases can fall under the umbrella of cliche. Then, let’s talk about alternative approaches to consider when you are trying your best not use a cliche.

IDENTIFYING CLICHE

Idioms vs. Cliches

By definition, idioms are phrases that don’t make literal sense but everyone understands what they mean anyway (ex. raining cats and dogs). Both idioms and cliches are phrases used in everyday language.

Cliches don’t have to be phrases that make no contextual sense. For example, as hot as molten lava makes sense without someone explaining it to you. Whereas, idioms tend to be specific to different cultures and would need to be explained to someone unfamiliar.

The biggest difference between the two is that cliches are overused and idioms might not be. In addition, cliches, in writing don’t have to be phrases. They can be any overused element such as settings, situations, or characters.

Clear as mud?

Cliches Can Be Common Phrases

Cliches can be common phrases. These are always tempting to use because they paint a clear picture which you know your readers will understand. There are scads of websites listing common cliches, even by genre. Google is your friend to help identify these.

Cliches Can Be Common Situations

Cliches can be situations characters fall into which everyone can see coming because it happens so often. For example, a work romance where they end up secreting away in the supply closet. Or in a horror, the car failing to start.

Cliches Can Be Common Settings

What settings in your genre are common? Is your mystery set in a house that looks like the one from Psycho? Is your romance set at a resort on the beach? Is your historical set in a castle? Settings aren’t always cliche, because writers most often set their books in locations that the characters would truly be in. Just watch out for the ones that are overdone. Try to go a different way that still makes sense.

Cliches Can Be Common Plots

The lowly farmer/bar maid/computer geek/orphan finds out they are “the one.” Think about that generic statement and then see how many story lines you know of that fit. Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Matrix. You see what we mean? Unless you have a unique twist on a common plot (like those three stories), try to avoid it.

Cliches Can Be Common Character Types

The plain jane, the mad scientist, the hooker with a heart of gold. We’re not saying don’t use these types of characters. In fact, in some genres common archetypes are used regularly and with great effect. The trick is to find that twist to how you use it.

APPROACHES TO CLICHES

It’s not that you aren’t allowed to use any cliches mentioned above. The trick is to make them your own, turn the cliche into something unexpected. In fact, when reinvented or acknowledged well, the cliche can become more effective for you. However, if you can’t use them well, then, yeah…don’t use them.

Remove

Pull the cliche out of the sentence entirely and ask yourself what you lose when it’s gone. If your answer is nothing, then you’re done.

Rewrite

If you remove the cliche and the sentence loses its meaning, then it’s time to rewrite. Try to determine what the cliche is conveying and then rewrite that sentiment/scene/idea in your own words.

Reinvent

Take the cliche and reinvent it or do something unexpected with it. For example “Absense makes the heart grow fonder.” There are a bunch of different ways to rework that. Absense makes the heart go wander. Absense makes the loins grow hotter. Absinth makes the mind go wander. And so forth. What twist can you put on the cliche you’re working on?

Acknowledge

Acknowledge that you’re using the cliche. This can be a great comic relief moment. A fantastic example is in The Amazing Spiderman 2, when she pulls him into the supply closet he actually says, “This is the most cliche hiding place you could have chosen.”