Special (Guest) Post: Susan Bischoff ~ Never Too Late To Change

Hello, readers of Reena’s blog! If you don’t know me, I’m Susan Bischoff, author of Hush Money, which is the first story in my Talent Chronicles series. Recently, I did a series on my blog that was all about things I did which I thought helped me move up the charts more quickly than I ever expected. I got some nice feedback on those posts. Many people seemed to enjoy them, feel like they got stuff out of them, and were good enough to take the time to tell me so. Which is nice, because that’s what I’ll have to keep me warm when I’m COMPETING with those people for Kindle rank going forward. But it’s all good.

One of the things that struck me, though, were the messages I received in which people talked about getting very few sales. And I mean, very few sales. Now, I sort of think that life would be good if every indie with a decent command of their language could make at least 151 sales. This number is derived solely from a desire to stick it to Brad, by the way. These messages got me thinking about how part of what’s cool about being an indie is how we can experiment and make changes. We have limited resources, and, some would say, limited credibility. But we also have a lot of freedom, and can give our own work the kind of personal attention that someone else might not.

So what are the first things people see when they look at your book on one of your buy sites? Well, first, is it there? I deleted a rather long paragraph about availability, which I’m now going to shorten by saying that I think you need to put yourself into as many places as you can to avoid alienating shoppers. And at the least you should be on:

  • Amazon Kindle, preferably without DRM so that non-Kindle owners can buy you
  • Smashwords Premium, so that you can get into stores that deal directly with device owners like Sony and iBookstore, among others
  • B&N PubIt!, so that you can enhance your listing there (over what you can do through Smashwords), as the Nook is rising in popularity. If you need help, try Kait Nolan’s blog.

Ok, so availability issues aside, and focusing on Amazon, where the bulk of sales happen right now, what are customers seeing when they look at your listing?

  • Price
  • Cover art
  • Blurb
  • Sample

All of which you have control over, so yay! I’ve already talked about price and cover art, so I’m going to talk a little about the blurbs and the sample.

Smashwords allows you a 400 character blurb. Amazon allows, what, 2000? In some cases, it’s not a great idea to say 5 times as much just because you can. But since it’s so hard to craft that 400 character blurb and have it actually give the reader enough to go on, if you’re using the same blurb in both places, think about enhancing your Amazon listing with more information.

For me, a blurb isn’t a summary. It’s an enticement. It’s a commercial. You’ll want to give the reader an idea who the story is about and the conflict that character will face. This is not telling the whole story in a few paragraphs. If you can’t pull these bits out of the setup, or first 1/4 – 1/3 of the story, then maybe you need to think about how enticing your beginning actually is for the reader. And if you tell them too much about the story, why should they read the book?

In the blurb, you must put yourself in the position of someone who doesn’t know the story. You can be intriguing, but you can’t afford to be vague. For example, you have an exotic name for a tribe in your novel and you use the name in your blurb–because calling them by name decreases your character count. The readers is able to get from context that you’re talking about a group of people, but has no idea what that really means. Had you said, “the Spaghetti, a rival tribe with whom the Fusilli compete for precious resources…” the reader might have been better set up to understand your conflict when you talk about it.

Part of the enjoyment of reading is about discovery. You’ve written something that’s full of precious ideas that will delight the reader. They’re all awesomesauce. The blurb is not necessarily the place to talk about all the things the reader will discover. Pick a few things that will make the reader feel this experience will be unique and exciting, but if you’re having trouble writing a concise blurb, it may be because you’re trying to pack in too much information. That’s overselling.

I guess part of a successful blurb is a successful concept. What makes this book unique? That’s something you thought about before spending all your time writing this book, right? If it’s a vampire story, what makes it different from all the other vamp stories I’ve read and will stumble across this week? Why should I read this book? What will I get out of it? What is in here that will make this experience unique? The answers to those questions can provide you with an idea of how to craft an enticing blurb.

If you can’t answer those, then that might be a big part of your marketing dilemma. In a lot of ways, indies need to approach writing the same way people on the trad path do, because we all have the same customers. So when working on the initial concept for your book, part of your thinking should be about what makes this book different and why should people want to buy it.

If you keep your Amazon blurb short, you’ll have room for an excerpt of your writing. But this idea really works best if you can come up with something that works with your blurb to entice the reader. Something that really sparkles and shows off your talent (yeah, I just capitalized that and had to go back), without confusing the reader by dropping them into something they’re not yet equipped to appreciate. Remember, this goes back to putting yourself in the position of someone who knows nothing about your story.

Ok, a bit about the sample. You know you need to grab the reader early on. You may think that readers are more forgiving than editors, and some are. Some probably aren’t. At least editors get paid for reading what they choose. Readers pay for the privilege and then spend their precious free time on you. They expect a lot, and they should get a lot. You may think your story really gets going by page 10. Guess what? I’ve been watching my sampling habits lately. I tend to give you about three screens worth of text to hook me.

Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • Basic command of language- are there a number of spelling/grammar errors in the first pages. Is the language itself easy to understand? Or am I going over this so much with the red pen in my head that I can’t attend to your story?
  • Voice- is important to me and it’s a matter of personal taste. I don’t usually enjoy a more “literary” tone. If there’s a lot of flowery language, if it feels overwritten to me, I’m probably not going to want to spend hours with that voice. Hyperbole is the kiss of death with me. And if there’s nothing unique at all in the author’s writing, then voice is a wash and they’ll have to impress me some other way. Can’t please everyone on voice, that’s just how it is. I’m sure, like, plenty of people are totally put off my writing voice. You just have to find yours and then really embrace it.
  • Action- This doesn’t have to be a shoot-out or bombing, but I prefer to start a story where something is happening. It’s harder to get into a story that starts with a long description of character or setting, or even backstory. Girl’s in a room. Don’t describe the girl, don’t describe the room, tell me what she’s doing. People tend to confuse the definition of “action” here. You don’t have to start in heavy drama or life-and-death crisis, but I often like to be dropped right into someone’s life– not into their resume or scrapbook.
  • Questions– For me, a good opening means I’ve got some questions. Questions that I’m going to need to answer by continuing to read your story. But there’s a fine line between a leaving a reader with questions and leaving them completely lost. It’s your job to draw a character in, and sometimes, the scent of the prize isn’t enough. Sometimes you need to leave a trail of breadcrumbs. In some stories I can see where an author is trying to hold back information in order to reveal it later on. And that’s not a bad strategy in itself. The problem comes when I’m not getting enough information to satisfy me Right Now.
  • Information- There should be a small prize for me in every “set.” Don’t take me to the train station unless you’re going to give me some bit of info that I could only get at the train station. And if the purpose of me going to the train station with your character now will be revealed to me later and make me so happy we went there, awesome! But Right Now, give me something for playing along. You’re a writer, so come up with something! Because one of the questions I should NOT be asking is: what was the point of that?

Are your opening pages interesting enough to hook a busy reader with thousands of choices? You have to be objective. If you’re a critique partner, one of the hardest things to tell someone is, “it’s not enough.” But it’s your job, because not being tough and objective before publishing results in disappointments later.

But it’s never too late to make changes.

Now if all this has made you so irritated with me that you just have to run out and read Hush Money to see how I did with today’s lesson, well, I’m here to make that easy for you with all the links below. If you’d like to be social, you can find a bunch of social site links on the About Me page of my website.

Be normal, invisible. Don’t get close to anyone. Kids with psychic abilities tend to mysteriously disappear when they get noticed. Joss has spent years trying to hide. Now she has an unasked-for best friend, who is the victim of an extortion plot by the school bully, who used to like Joss, who is best friends with her long-time crush, who is actually talking to her. Life just got more complicated.

0 thoughts on “Special (Guest) Post: Susan Bischoff ~ Never Too Late To Change

  1. Pingback: Visiting… | Hunting High and Low

  2. Good stuff Susan. The blurb’s a tough thing to write. I’ll have to ask for your wisdom when I get there.

  3. I’m really enjoying the Increasing Kindle Rank series. I have a ways to go before I’m ready to publish, but it’s certainly nice to have helpful hints for use sooner rather than later.

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