Monday, 27 February 2012

My Synopsis - stepping up to the plate

Well, I thought, if I'm a) expecting you all to write a synopsis and b) going on about how easy and lovely the process is, I should step up to the plate and do one for you. This was the same thought I had while writing Write a Great Synopsis (WAGS - see cover image on the right), which is why I wrote a couple of sample synopses in that book.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Platforms, networking, blogging and Twitter for authors - resources

I'm doing an event on Twitter for the Society of Authors in London today. And a talk about blogging and Twitter for authors at a conference in Peterborough at the weekend. And one about Twitter and blogging at a dinner for senior people in publishing a couple of days later. For the benefit of the participants at those, and also any of you who would like all this info in one place, I have made a list of recent relevant blog posts below. 

An earlier Soc of A event I did, about networking/platforms for authors.

Recent posts about social networking/platform-building for writers:

"Twitter Etiquette - Careful With DMs"

"Blogging for Writers - Make Your Blog Work Better"

"How Much Promotion is Too Much?"

"Tweet Right - the Sensible Person's Guide to Twitter"

The 90/10% rule – using the 10% to promote our books

That's your lot! Play nicely.

Monday, 20 February 2012

The 90/10 promotion rule: what to do with the 10%?

I said a while ago that I favour the 90/10 rule for self-promotion on social media. In other words, if you spend 90% of your time there being generous - offering my three pillars of Friendship, Information and/or Entertainment - people will allow you to spend the other 10% promoting yourself, whether that means mentioning that you have a book out or telling your friends about a nice review, or whatever.

But, what can we do with that 10%? In other words, do I have any suggestions for using Twitter to promote your book without bugging the hell out of people? (And please see How Much Promotion is Too Much for that thorny topic.)

Non-writers, please turn away now. You don't want to know any of this. OK? You go to Twitter to have fun and sometimes chat to writers. You do not go there to be sold to. And this, indeed, is the one question all writers should ask each other before they do any self-promotion:
Is there a single person anywhere on Twitter who has gone there wanting to be sold to? NO. So be very very careful how you do it.
But here's what you might do during that 10% time. I haven't done all these things but I know others who have.
  • In the lead up to publication, generate excitement by occasionally mentioning publication date or tweeting that you've seen the cover (attach a pic) or something.
  • If you are doing a blog tour, once (or at most three times) a day, tweet the link to where you are that day. This is a favour to your blog host as much as anything.
  • You could tweet short quotes from your book.
  • Consider setting aside one day a week to tweet about your book. For example, Catherine Ryan Howard did #MousetrappedMondays. (For her book Mousetrapped, obvs.)
  • If your book has an underlying theme, find the organisations linked to that theme, and get into conversation with them, or about the theme with other interested users.
  • CAREFULLY (ie modestly) tweet when you find a review or any other mention of your book.
  • Tweet if you get a bad review, too - this shows you as a self-effacing person who can laugh at herself. (Don't be bitter about it and do avoid encouraging anger on your behalf.)
  • You could have a Twitter party on launch day. It's cheap and you don't need to dress up! Or buy drinks for anyone...
  • Link to any articles you write, on your own blog or anywhere else.
  • You could (if you can keep it up) open a Twitter account as one of your characters and tweet in character. However, there's no point unless your character has some followers, so you need to plan this in advance.
  • Advertise any events you are doing.
  • Have a giveaway or advertise a competition - if you need more space to provide details, explain in a blog post and link to that. Everyone likes a giveaway. Make the deadline really short because otherwise people won't buy the book in case they win it...
Anyone else have any good ideas?

And never forget - 10%.

And be nice :)

Friday, 17 February 2012

Pitch Pitch: -

I have another Pitch Pitch for you. I think you're familiar with this process now but if not please go here and read the guidelines. And then comment - the writer would like your help!

Niki describes her book as a "fiction story" - Niki, just say "novel", ok? For the genre, you said "suspenseful romance" - just say romance. It is supposed to be suspenseful anyway! 

STALKING HER HEART by Niki Nikolopoulos
Stalking Her Heart tells us about a fiery young woman who has been on the run for the past thirteen years. When her stalker unexpectedly reappears, Zoe Naples had finally thought she was through with running. Nick Sekineph, a local police officer, becomes her unlikely protector as Zoe avoids near misses with speeding cars, razor sharp knives, and a hostage nightmare. 
As they work together to track down the suspect, and stay alive in the process, they find an unexpected romance brewing beneath the North Carolina sun. Zoe begins to realize love doesn’t have to be her biggest fear however before she can explore that journey she is pulled back into another dangerous path of attempted murder, death threats and a lonely boat to nowhere. 
When Zoe takes matters into her own hands she inadvertently puts both their lives at stake. She is determined to stop being the victim, in life, in love, most of all in her very own mind. 
Niki, I feel that there are some clichés and some loose writing going on here, perhaps disguising what could be an exciting romance. Can I suggest this as a better start?
Thirteen years ago, Zoe Naples was stalked by a dangerous man. She thinks she's shaken him off and built a new life in safety. But suddenly he reappears, angrier and more dangerous than ever.  
Let me highlight the loose bits:

  • unlikely protector - why?
  • fieryyoung woman - but you say she's a victim, in life, in her very own mind 
  • brewing beneath the North Carolina sun - cliché
  • if she's been on the run for 13 years, how come the stalker unexpectedly appears? Surely she'd be expecting it every minute if she's running from him?
So, I feel you ned to look really carefully at each word and phrase. You seem to have thought to yourself, "How can I make this sound like a book blurb?" instead of "How can I really compellingly get to grips with THIS book to sell it?" Does that make sense? Underneath that, though, there is the making of an exciting story!

Do comment, please, folks. I'm away almost every day for the next two weeks, doing a ridiculously hectic series of talks, and travelling to London three times, so I won't be around much to comment. Please play nicely!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Blogging for writers - make your blog work

I'm supposed to talk mostly about writing and publishing on this blog, but I seem mostly to be talking about networking, Twitter and blogging these days. Thing is a) this platformy stuff is becoming ever more important b) writers are worrying a LOT about how to do it and how to do it better and c) I'm doing loads of talks about it at the moment and it's quite useful to have some posts where people can find resources and tips. In case I forget to tell them.

So, today I'm tackling the issue of how to get more people to read and comment on your blog. Bearing in mind that when I started this blog three years ago I knew as much about it as I know about the Lesser Galapagan Monkfish. But now I know muchily more. (Though I feel I still have a shameful gap in my knowledge of Lesser Galapagian Monkfish.)

NOTE: all of this is completely optional and you only need to take note if you want lots more traffic etc. If you're just enjoying what you do already and are perfectly happy, then why change anything? I've written this in response to people asking for tips.

Part of what follows is about getting people to find your blog in the first place (for example through Google search activity) and part is about getting them to stay there and interact (comment and link to you from their own place). All of those things have benefits: your blog feels more active and may therefore feel more rewarding, and your blog is more likely to appear high in the search results for other things. This can have unpredictable benefits, as recently happened to me when someone googled something about the teenage brain.

That's the first important thing. Apart from your readers, Google - *bows down in strategic praise* - loves good content. And if Google loves your blog, your blog will go flying through the googlesphere and lots more people will find it. But what is good content?

(You will see that I don't obey all the rules that follow, partly because you don't have to obey them all and partly because my blog is an advice blog on a topic that lots and lots of people desperately want to know about, so I can get away with disobeying some rules. Also, note that some of these guidelines are based on Google's SEO - Search Engine Optimisation - rules, and some are plain common sense.)

Good content:
  • is frequent*** - if you blog once a month, you are simply not going to get the traffic that you'll get if you blog three times a week (which is my recommended amount.)
  • is what people will enjoy reading
  • and/or what people want to learn about
  • is full of key words that will appear in search engines - so, if your post is about World Book Night, don't call it "In Which I Don't Talk About Lesser Galapagian Monkfish"
NB edited to add: when I say "full of", please note that I do NOT mean you to overdose on key words or their repetition. Google doesn't like this. Just calm down and write nicely, but do mention the relevant words somewhere near the start of your post. Google does not like you trying to trick it and that is NOT what this post is about.
  • contains pictures
  • contains lots of links to good content - see LINKS and LINKBACKS, below
  • contain topical things
  • might be controversial  - although I never thought about this at the time, when I blogged critically about Sainsbury's, my stats soared and Google probably came close to proposing marriage
  • is brief - that's me scuppered!
  • has short sentences - max 10-30 words per sentence and short paragraphs (three sentences max)
  • is easy for the eye to scan - scanning has been shown most often to happen in a F pattern: we read the first para, skip a third of the way down, and scan the page looking at the left side. Apparently. *rolls eyes and vows to do it like a Z*
***This frequency rule means that if you haven't got enough to say or don't want to commit the time, you really need to make a choice:
a) carry on, for your own pleasure and for a record of your thoughts, events, whatever, not worrying about interaction etc. (You could even turn off comments and relax!)
b) stop blogging. There is no rule that says you have to blog. In fact, if you con't enjoy it, it will show.

If your posts contain links to other people's good posts/websites/etc, this is good for several reasons:
  • The other person is likely to notice (because if they are sensible they will have a Google alert*** set up) and will quite likely a) come and comment b) visit you again c) have some other useful interaction with you.
  • If your blog is relevant to theirs, they may end up putting a link to yours in their sidebar.
  • Your content becomes more valuable and Google likes you.
(***Which is how Sainsbury's discovered that I'd been blogging negatively about them. And that, by the way, was a good thing, and rather entertaining.)

Also, if a highly ranked site includes a link to your site or post in its own, or if Google notices that people come to your site from a highly ranked site, Google suddenly starts drooling all over you. Well, not literally, but it certainly luuuurrrrvvvves you even more.

Tip: make sure the linked words are the phrase that would be searched in Google. Notice how in this post all the links are exactly the phrases, no extraneous guff.

Don't make your title too obscure. Again, it's a Google thing: if you've written about topic A, you want people who search for Topic A to find your blog. So, don't give it a title that they wouldn't in a million years think of searching for. Also, use the words or phrases again early in the post. Google gets terribly excited about that.

If you don't get any comments, it can sometimes feel as though you are talking to yourself. This isn't necessarily the case at all. Perhaps you simply haven't said something that encourages an answer? So, try this:
  • At the end of the post, ask a question.
  • Say something provocative or topical. See my Our (Complementary) World Book Night post, which got me onto Newsnight. Unintentionally, I have to say. I do very little on purpose.
  • Ask for advice.
  • Have a quiz or small competition. (Once you've got a few readers.)
  • Have a blog party. (Click that link to see how that can work.)
Do you read other people's blogs and leave comments? No? Well, tell me this: why the hell should they read yours, then? The best way to get people to read and comment on your blog is to read and comment on theirs. But NOT in a spammy "come to my fabulous blog and read my pearls of wisdom" way; just go there and comment, relevantly, sensibly, showing that you did actually read their blog. And if you are interesting enough they will come and read yours. Do not actually put a link to your own post in your comment - that's rude behaviour in someone else's house; but if you've registered or filled out the form properly your name should be clickable and if they want to go check you out, they will. Or even if they don't (because too busy - I hardly ever click links now), the other commenters or readers might.

Do you post a link to each of your posts on Twitter or Facebook? It's a good idea to do this - pretty essential, actually - but don't do it too often. Once or twice for each post, no more. All your places should link together, even though many of your "followers" will overlap. You just want to maximise the chance of people seeing your link in their busy lives, without annoying them but leaping out in front of them and shouting BOO.

You can't just think about the content of the blog post. You also need to think about what else you have on your blog, the things that people see each time they come there, either on a sidebar on the right, or left, or both. Here are the recommended ones which will encourage people to come back:
  • A blog list - list of other blogs you like, with links. Best if you set it so that the latest post title is visible, so others can see what sort of thing those blogs do.
  • More than one blog list, divided into themes or whatever - eg a list of writers' blogs and a list of eg knitting blogs, if knitting is your thing. Obviously, if it's not, that's not the best idea.
  • If you have an area of expertise or interest, or your book has a special theme, a list of blogs and websites that relate to that theme.
  • A link to your other places - eg Facebook, Twitter, other website, publisher's website.
  • "Labels" - so that if people want to find which of your posts are about shoes or chocolate, they can.
  • A very short profile of you, so that people know who you are and what you do.
Your blog also needs to be as easy on the eye as possible. Good, clear font, nice picture if you wish but not one that gets in the way of the content or takes too long to load on a slow PC. I used to have a pretty background for mine but someone pointed out that it was being horribly slow to load, so I ditched it and kept it plain. One of the prettiest and most successful blogs (in terms of comments, for a start) is Talli Roland's.

Have I covered everything? Maybe not. But I'm tired after writing ten blog posts in a row. So, please tell me: what else do you want to know?

See, I practise what I preach sometimes: a question! Now, comment away, lovely people. (That's another tip: flatter your blog-readers and call them lovely. It usually works.)

Monday, 13 February 2012

Twitter etiquette - careful with DMs

A load of people have asked me to write about this. DMs - Direct Messages - are a source of enormous irritation on Twitter and I feel the urge to lead you gently (or possibly even crabbitly) through the etiquette of this thorny subject. After all, lovely writers, you don't want to bug the pants off people and make them not want to read your book, do you? Or make them unfollow you? (Because that is indeed what will happen if you get this DMing stuff wrong.)

Friday, 10 February 2012


Final pitch of Pitch Pitch week (though I'll do some more irregularly over the next couple of weeks.) Check back over the rest of this week to see what happens, and do do do please add your comments because these brave writers really need you.

Thursday, 9 February 2012


Pitch Pitch week continues apace. You know the form by now - if not, please read the earlier posts this week and the comments.

Today's brave and hopeful writer is Deborah Jay with an urban fantasy, DESPRITE MEASURES.  
Following one too many close encounters with modern plumbing, Scottish water sprite, Cassie, is trying to adapt to life as a human when she is captured by a magician. He intends using her power to fuel a potentially lethal experiment. 
Escape is just the first of Cassie’s challenges. She falls hopelessly in love with the magician’s other victim, Gloria, a fire elemental she can never touch. And, despite the impossibility of an elemental being a witch, she somehow gains a mischievous mink as a familiar and becomes a pawn in a power contest between rival covens. Add a vampire-junkie hedge witch and a powerful but vulnerable druid, and Cassie is swimming in problems. 
When she uncovers the magician’s true motive - to produce clean, free energy – Cassie realises she must thwart Gloria’s plan to murder him whilst not getting either of them killed. With kidnap and blackmail also in the picture, there are multiple lives – and loves – at stake.
I'm not at all an expert in this genre but I think it sounds like a well-crafted pitch. As with all the other ones this week, I need to know how the story ends (roughly) - "there are multiple lives – and loves – at stake" is too vague an ending. I think I'd like to see some darker elements to provide the necessary grit, but maybe that's my ignorance of the genre? 

I'd love to know your comments, people.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Pitch Pitch: - BELLADONNA

Here's the third of this week's Pitch Pitches. If you are new, please see this post here. See Monday and Tuesday's posts and do comment there, too. It's a whole Pitch Pitch week!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Pitch Pitch: - IS IT NOW YET?

Here's the second of this week's Pitch Pitches. If you don't know about the commenting parameters, please see this post here. Remember, this is to be the "hook" paragraph in the covering letter. A full synopsis would accompany it, along with the sample chapters. See yesterday's post and do comment there, too. I'd love lot of comments throughout the week, to help these intrepid writers!

Today's writer is Leigh Caron. She describes the genre as "humorous women's fiction", and I keep getting the giggles because I keep thinking it might be for humorous women, but I KNOW what she means!
IS IT NOW YET? by Leigh Caron
If hot flashes and a frigid marriage aren’t enough to push Em to the brink, when she hires a rugged younger Mexican guest worker to rescue her Ohio native prairie garden from being plowed under, his tender ways not only thaw her broken heart but set her pants on fire! Unable to live the charade of her marriage anymore, Em must find the courage to follow her heart for the first time in her life. IS IT NOW YET? is one woman’s coming of middle-age journey. 
Note from me: I am totally unfamiliar with this genre. (I never read Bridget Jones's Diary or even saw the film.) So I don't feel qualified to comment, other than to say two things:
  1. It's admirably succinct. 
  2. But we do need to know how it ends. It would be good for the blurb on the jacket but the pitch needs to give the agent or publisher more of a sense of how the journey goes and how it ends.
So, people, it's over to you! Does this pitch have legs? I'm sure they'll be gorgeous legs if so...

Monday, 6 February 2012


Announcing the beginning of PITCH WEEK! Every day this week, another brave writer will see his or her proposed pitch here for your constructive feedback. This is the "hook" paragraph for the covering letter of the submission. It needs to have "must-read" factor suitable for its intended genre and age-range. It should be more informative and concrete than the blurb on the back of the book and should give a sense that the writer has created a story that really works for the intended group of readers. It should also at least hint at how the story finishes - something which the back-cover copy obviously won't do.

If you would like us all to look at your own pitch and help, do go here to see the guidelines. And to see how other pitches were tackled, click the label "Pitch Pitch" on the list to the bottom right of my blog.

For more specific help with crafting the pitch paragraph and a fuller synopsis, there's a useful method in Write a Great Synopsis.

The first intrepid writer is Elizabeth Dunn. She describes her novel as a humourous children's novel for 12+. (In fact, 12+ is teenage, or YA, so that's all she needs to say, though she could say, for example, "a YA novel aiming at younger teenagers.")
ANTHONY WISH HITS PAY DIRT by Elizabeth Dunn  -  12+When Anthony Wish’s father is hit with a lawsuit,  his family’s finances enter previously unchartered disastrousness. Anthony’s yearnings for a Ducksbridge scholarship and a respectable adult life in the professions are clearly destined to squelch in bogland Wrigley Field forever. Disillusioned, Anthony visits his grandmother’s grave and soon after discovers a knack for writing horoscopes that come true. He finds himself at the helm of a cash cow but with the villagers frothing for more and fearful for his good name Anthony makes two final predictions, this time for personal use. Which is not cool with the cosmos because Anthony finds himself, in Venice, in unrequited love and up to his aquaphobic neck in trouble. When his mother runs riot with a rock star and his father disappears Anthony understands Grandma had a message from the grave about true riches. But love and money can go together even in his jinxed family and he’s determined to prove it. 
My comments:

  1. "unchartered disastrousness" - actually, you mean "uncharted"! But otherwise, that's a nice phrase to indicate a light and slightly comic tone to the book. 
  2. "visits his grandmother’s grave and soon after discovers a knack for writing horoscopes" - visiting the grave isn't given any sense of importance - either make it so or leave it out. And I'd want more than "discovers a knack" because it doesn't seem likely to congruous on its own.
  3. "helm of a cash cow" - a) I don't think you can be at the helm of a cow and b) it's far from clear how this is a cash cow anyway - you need to be clearer
  4. Not really sure that unrequited love feels apt for this story.
  5. I don't like the title - Just ANTHONY WISH could be better? 
  6. I love the tone of the pitch but the content feels like a mishmash of many different things and I'm not sure what the core is - and particularly the emotional core, the thing that will make us desperate to read. So, it feels as though you may have managed a complex plot cleverly but failed to describe your story in concrete, focused terms. Does that make sense?

Readers, do, please, comment below. Please be respectful and absolutely constructive. It's pointless to say you don't like something without saying why. Do indicate whether you have any professional or other experience of this type of book, so that Elizabeth knows where you are coming from.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Mondays are Red in Waterstones

I'm uncomfortable about the dominance of Amazon. As someone who is doing some self-publishing, I have no choice but to use them and, of course, I cannot pretend for one moment to be disappointed by the income I get from them. Mixed feelings, then. They provide enormous opportunities but they are also trying to rule the world, which I don't like. Despite what I might sometimes say, I don't even want to rule it myself.

So (or however) I am delighted to tell you that I have taken steps, purely out of principle and knowing that it's going to be a cost at first and almost certainly not make me any money to speak about, to make the ebook of Mondays are Red available through Waterstones.

Because I have also made it available through Gardner's, it will soon be available to borrow from public libraries. Hooray! And, though this is less interesting to me, and probably you, it is also on Tesco. And Book Depository

I'd love you to buy from Waterstones! They actually contacted me asking if I'd supply to them and I'm delighted that I managed to, thanks to the clever people at

If you've read and enjoyed Mondays are Red, I'm delighted. People have said lovely things and it has fab reviews. It's amazing when anyone takes the trouble to do that. Less amazing was the 2* one I got for WAGSynopsis from someone who said she'd love to order the book as she really needed it but she didn't have a Kindle, so she couldn't, but she was giving it 2 stars! The review has vanished now - I didn't ask for it to be taken down, honest! I thought it was quite funny, actually.

Remember: Next week is going to be PITCH PITCH week - a whole week of daily pitch paragraphs for you to comment on! Thanks to the brave writers who've pitched - I hope and trust they will hugely benefit from the feedback.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Rules rule

Many of you will have seen this picture going round on Facebook and Twitter. It's Henry Miller's "work schedule". Or not a schedule in our modern sense, but a list of rules to keep himself focused.

I love being reminded that it's not just today's writers who have distractions. It's always (presumably) been hard to focus on the difficult part of our work, hard to stay positive in the face of negative stresses, hard to concentrate and not to flit. I flit a lot.

However, it's also important to realise that every writer is different. What may be right for one need not be for another. It needn't be a rule for you unless you believe it should be and unless you find it works.

I also think Rule 4 contradicts Rule 8. And, to an extent, 9 conflicts with 11. And 1 with 9. On the other hand, I don't know what the Program is that he's talking about. Any Henry Miller experts out there? And I'm sure he never expected his commandments to be discussed amongst strangers around the world!

Rule 5 is interesting: it's very true. But I need to be careful not to let that rule rule me because frankly I'm spending far too much time working and too little creating.

I think I most want to listen to No 3. I think that's the one I most need to work towards.

And of course, I LOVE Rule 7!

But there is only one really important rule: if you want to get it done, get it done. The destination is all that counts, not how you got there.

What do you think? Do you like his rules? Have any better ones? Which one do you think you should follow most closely?

While I have your attention: next week is going to be Pitch Week on this blog, with a new pitch for you to discuss every single day. Roll up, roll up!