Category Archives: Writing

On Wart Trolling in Mediocre Bridge Trolls

Everyone out there will have heard one of the most common pieces of advice for new writers:

To be a good writer, read more.

OK, zajebisty, but what exactly? The usual advice is to read the classics, and the classics in your genre. So, if your genre’s fantasy, then read LOTR. If it’s romance then read… I honestly have no idea. Danielle Steele? Either way, read everything George Orwell ever wrote and a bunch of turn-of-the-century American writers.

Poppycock!

I’ve learned more from reading crap books that I ever did from reading the luminaries in the field. I only really read other indie books, and I only ever read those with 4 or more stars on Amazon, which I guess is pretty common for a lot of (cheap) readers. None-the-less, a lot of the books I read are worth significantly less than their ratings – and I love them for it. A few examples:

  1. I’ve mentioned this classic charmer a few times recently (in various places). Some book (I don’t remember the title) as the protagonist die in chapter 1 and become a trainee guardian angel. It’s her job to save human souls from demons. Then she gets all kissy kissy with the leather jacket-wearing “bad boy” supervisor, then she gets the job of rescuing a special baby from demons. Apparently it’s special because it’s mother was a guardian angel, which is a big no no. Anyway, so now guardian angels and demons will instantly die if they touch this baby (the birth and breast feeding must have been fun for its mother) and so she’s given special gloves. Lo and behold, she has to pick up the baby without the gloves and doesn’t die. Why? Apparently her mother was also a guardian angel, so she’s special too. OK, so why isn’t her new boyfriend toast? Guardian angels (her boyfriend) can’t touch these special babies (her) without instantly dying.
    1. What I learned:
      1. Plot hole!!! And it’s the size of, well, the whole book.
  2. I’m currently struggling through a very well-written book that’s excruciatingly slow and monotonous. I’m 11% in and so far nothing’s happened, but I keep reading because I want something to happen. I’ll probably give up soon. In the first 11%, a new wizard has been trained (no exposition on what that involved or how, just conversations about how grey his room is) then been kicked out of his master’s tower with a cruddy map and told to never come back. Now he’s wandering from town to town and getting sore feet. The highlight of his journey so far has been the 2 or 3 pages the author spent explaining, in graphic detail, how to skin, gut and clean roadkill. A squirrel, I think it was.
    1. What I learned:
      1. Pacing is critically important. Don’t let it go on for so long with explanatory stuff.
      2. What the author finds fascinating might be boring, or even just plain gross, for the readers.
      3. The whole My character starts his journey with amnesia thing really is a cop-out.
  3. I gave up on the last book I tried to read at 19%. So, in this one, apparently humans engineered true A.I. and it took over the world. Then it escaped from the confines of the Internet to become a free-roaming intelligence made up solely of swarms of electrons that move through the air, so it can’t even be killed. Aaargh!
    1. What I learned:
      1. If you don’t understand physics, don’t write about it.
      2. If you don’t understand IT, don’t write about it.
      3. If you must, find someone to help you make your plot reasonable.
      4. Don’t repeat the same thoughts and ideas in multiple conversations with too many characters – setting the stage for 19% of a book gets monotonous and boring.
      5. If every character is always negative, then so will the reader be, and they’ll solve their problem by deleting your book.

I could go on, but I guess you get the point. Now, these are all broad-brush lessons that I’ve included here, but on reading these 3 books (as much as I could stand anyway) I learned a lot of specifics about how these authors committed their sins, so I know what to look out for in my own books, specifically.

Those lessons are worth the few hours I put into these freebie books, and so should you.


If you’re interested, I’ve also added a condensed version of this to my page How to Edit & Proofread a Novel in the section Don’t Do As I Say.

On KBoards Book Discovery as a Bridge Troll Catapult

Welcome back to my (so far brief) floundering series on promotional sites and their effectiveness. Most recently I’ve tried the KBoards “Book Discovery” promotion service (http://www.kboards.com/book-discovery-promo/). As they say, it’s a promotion opportunity “for newly-published or overlooked books”. Well, due to my utter failings at promotions (I’ll have to change tack again soon) this is exactly what my book needs.

First up, what’s their deal?

I’ve pulled this, almost verbatim, from their website.

What you get:

  • Inclusion in our Book Discovery Days post in the Kindle blog. We post these on Tuesdays and Fridays at about 4pm Pacific. The table is limited to 16 books or fewer, and includes a clickable book cover, links to your book’s page on Amazon, and a synopsis describing your book. The synopsis is pulled from the first 500 characters of the description of your book on Amazon.
  • A Facebook post about the blog post. The Facebook post may include an image showing book covers; for space reasons it is not guaranteed that your cover will be among those.
  • A tweet about the blog post to our KBoards Twitter followers.
  • An alert about the blog post in our daily e-mail newsletter.
  • A “KBoards Featured Me” badge to include on your author website.

Requirements:

  • Our family-friendly guidelines apply. No erotica – sorry!
  • Fewer than ten reviews on Amazon *or* an Amazon ranking of higher than 100,000.

To me, this sounds like an excellent opportunity, and the price is awesome. It cost me only $US15. The “What you get” list is very generic in its offerings, but this is to KBoards members, which, in theory, are dedicated bookies and so should be on the lookout for good deals. If you’ve read my previous blow spews about this type of advertising, you’ll know I’m highly skeptical of FB and Twitter spamming, but to this directed audience, it might be more effective that to the world at large. The KBoards blog inclusion and the alert sound very helpful though.

The requirements are awesome, and I’m highly appreciative to KBoards for even setting up this type of promotion, for this type of author. I really wish more services would try to help those at the bottom of the ‘recognisability’ spectrum, instead of only catering to those who can already afford to pay wheelbarrow-loads of cash to bump their books from 25k to 5k on Amazons lists. This alone makes the KBoards Book Discovery promo a great idea.

I just wish it was successful.

How’d it go for me?

Complete and utter failure!

More on why in the next (small) section, but first I need to deal with my numbers, or complete lack thereof.

Now, I did sell more copies during the time period of this promo, but 40% of them were before the promo even went out. I followed my usual process of keeping the promo separated from any other activities so I can see the effects of the promo in isolation, but I did reduce the price of my book and update the blurb on Amazon to add a heading line saying it was on sale for that week because of the KBoards sale. I then sold 40% of my extra copies before the promo, but after the price reduction and headline change.

I can only assume it was the headline that attracted (most of) my extra sales, not the KBoards promotion. How disappointing 😦

Why the crap results?

I have to be fair to KBoards and all of the other services that I’ve tried and lay the blame for my relative failure at marketing directly on my book, not these services. Even with ENT, my results were poor compared to the others in the same promo, so it must be my book, not entirely the service.

I’m looked at this topic before, and no doubt I’ll look at it again, but it’s the cover, mostly. My cover artwork is pretty well done (I like to think) but trankly, too dark (too much black) for the primarily US audience of these services. I’ve gone back to my cover artist a couple of times to get the artwork updated, but if you’ve ever dealt with a cover artist… well…

So look, don’t blame KBoards for my pitiful results, but also, do blame them. After all, half of their promo service is FB and Twitter based, which is pointless. No-one in history has ever bought a book based on a FB or Twitter blast from an advertising site. It just doesn’t happen. So it looks good on the promo site but doesn’t actually achieve anything or the author.

I also have to wonder about the effectiveness of the blog inclusion. Does anyone read that blog or those emails? I don’t know. KBoards is a massive website and is hugely popular (and deservedly so, because it’s excellent) but I’d guess people go there for the threads, etc, not for their blog. My completely unauthoritative guess is that the blog sits at the side of the site and is significantly less popular than their highly popular forums.

Where will I go from here?

I have 2 plans for the immediate future, which are relevant to you, if you’re reading this.

  1. I’ll research more promo services and try them out. I have the spare cash to give them a go, and the patience to try them all in isolation. It’s helpful as most other people don’t want to blog about these things unless they’re wonderfully successful.
  2. Perhaps more useful, I’ve got a thriller/crime novel coming out in a few months. I’m going to get professional, colourful cover artwork done, etc, and it’s much more “in” the genre which these services claim are the most successful. So I’m going to really push my thriller, by advertising it across all of the same services I’ve already tried with my fantasy book with the darker cover art. You should definitely check back in in a few months to see how all of these services, including KBoards, fare with a brightly artworked thriller.

I have to be fair to these services. I don’t like to unfairly crap on advertising services which in all probability work wonderfully for different genres with more competent advertisers (i.e., me), but in my case, this service did, legitimately, fail dismally.

On Horribly Incestuous Bridge Troll Clans

I have some spare time on my hands this week and I found myself watching all of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. It’s a simple series, but a lot of fun, and I recommend watching it if you ever get bored. It did make me think of a very important point regarding writing novels, however.

First off, here’s a quick rundown on the general plot of the single-season series. This is a stupendously massive spoiler so please don’t read it if you haven’t seen the series. You’ve been warned!

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

  1. 3 Brothers need some magical water to heal their mother after a fire. They aren’t allowed to take it so they steal it.
    The Guardian of the water curses them and turns the three of them into genies. This happens after they use the magical water to successfully heal their mother.
  2. Their mother (somehow) becomes a powerful sorceress who is determined to find the 3 genies (her kids).
  3. The bastard child of the local emir tries to be recognised as a prince, fails and is killed by dear old daddy.
  4. The child finds the sorceress, becomes her apprentice and becomes a powerful sorcerer himself.
  5. Now both the sorcerer and the sorceress are looking for the genie. The sorceress is trying to rescue her kids while the sorcerer wants ultimate power to get revenge on his father.
  6. Alice (of “in Wonderland” fame) finds one of the genies and falls in love with him.
  7. The Queen of Hearts and the sorcerer kidnap the genie and Alice, with her friend the Knave, spend a season trying to get him back.
  8. The Knave was the boyfriend of the Queen of Hearts before she ditched him to shack up with a king. The Queen of Hearts gets together with the sorcerer to get ultimate power so she can get the Knave back.

What’s the Point?

So, complex? Every character knows every other character, the actions of 1 precipitated the actions of the next and the whole season snowballed from there.

Every character was related to every other character. It’s a very tight, closed storyline. It’s like a southern redneck BBQ where the family tree doesn’t actually branch at all – it just keeps feeding back in on itself.

Right now I’m in the middle of writing a long, deep, epic fantasy series which’ll end up spanning 4 or 5 full-length novels and probably 10 short stories. The urge to reuse characters is huge. It’s just so much easier than constantly coming up with new ones. The desire to add one more link in the web to prove how clever I am at crafting intricate plots in overwhelming.

Stop it!

This isn’t Star Wars (or the Spiderman movie franchise, or one of a hundred other examples). Every character doesn’t have to have a personal history with literally every other character. You’re allowed to have random people come into the story, do stuff and leave without realising he’s just spent 200 pages banging his long-lost sister.

Be more creative, and frankly, put in more effort. It can actually be easier to just reuse characters, but it’s been done to death.