Tag Archives: marketing

Writing a Knock-Out Blurb

Dec 21, 2015

There has been a lot of discussion in my writing circle lately about blurbs and covers. As in, some of us in our niche genre (Historical Westerns) are deeply concerned about the quality of blurbs and covers we’re seeing. So we’ve been doing what we can to help newer authors to put their best foot forward.  

I’d like to extend that here, to you. So this week I’ll be talking about blurbs, and later I’ll be discussing the good, the bad, and the ugly of covers. 

So. Blurbs. We hate writing them. We just do. Because how do you summarize an entire novel in just a few paragraphs? And how do you do it in such a way that you’re intriguing the reader, convincing them to buy your book, but not giving too much of the story away? 

The purpose of your blurb is to tickle all potential readers, to leave them feeling like they HAVE to read your book to find out what happens. You want to introduce them to your characters, explain the problem they have, and convince them to care what happens to those characters. Here’s an example of a blurb that does all that: 

SummerWithAStarAll Tasha Pike has wanted for the past twenty years is to rent Sand Dollar Point for a summer. The grand Victorian on the beach of Summerbury, Maine was the object of her childhood fantasy and her standard of romance—and it was finally happening. Her dream summer is ruined, however, when she arrives in Summerbury to find that Hollywood superstar Spencer Ellis has muscled his way into the house instead. His offer that they share Sand Dollar Point is not only infuriating—it’s insulting.  

He’s a celebrity, and one she’s determined to hate. 

Spencer’s summer in Maine was supposed to help him get his head screwed on straight. One look at Tasha, however, made that impossible. She’s beautiful. She’s angry. She doesn’t care who he is. She doesn’t care about his fame. In fact, she doesn’t even like him. 

She’s irresistible.  

He’s only got the summer. She’s only got her heart. They’ve only got each other.  

Okay, admittedly, that’s a blurb for one of my books. A blurb I didn’t write myself, I might add. My amazing friend and colleague Anne Chaconas of Badass Marketing wrote it. She nails it on the head, really. The characters are identified, an emotional connection is forged between them and the reader, and you find yourself wondering what’s going to happen between these two. 

Now, a bad version of this same blurb might look something like this… 

Tasha shows up at her summer rental only to discover that it’s been given to someone else, a Hollywood celebrity. They decide to put up with each other and share the house for the summer. They end up liking each other, but when people figure out a celebrity is in town, their privacy is invaded. They manage to have a summer fling anyhow, but have to decide whether it can continue once summer is over. 

Yep. Every bit of that is true. But it’s more like a book report than something that would suck you in, spark interest in the characters, and get you to read more. Remember, it’s all about reaching out and grabbing the reader, and making them care about your characters to the point where they have to read the book to find out what happens to them. 

emma of kentuckyMy friend and fellow savvy author, Peggy L Henderson has this rule of thumb for writing blurbs: First paragraph tells a little about the heroine and her dilemma. Second paragraph tells about the hero and his dilemma. Third paragraph ties the two together. Each paragraph is no longer than three sentences. 

That’s the most concise and straight-forward way to think of it, and she’s right. Three paragraphs is a great way to organize a blurb. We’re talking Romance here, but it can be extended to any genre. Who is Character One and what is their problem? Who is Character Two and what is their problem? How do their problems collide, and what is at stake if they don’t reach their goals? Right there. That’s the bones you need to build your blurb on. 

I also find that it helps to imagine the blurb being spoken aloud by that guy who used to do all the movie trailer voiceovers. You know… “In a world where blurbs don’t write themselves and authors struggle with words….” Silly, yes, but it helps! 

So get out there and write some blurbs! They’re one of the two most important things you need to draw a reader in and sell a book. Next time, we’ll talk about covers.

Changes Afoot at Amazon

Jun 16, 2015

amazon aI’m not sure that I would usually write about this here, but since a lot of my writer friends are experiencing varying degrees of panic or euphoria about the email Amazon sent out regarding the new way they’re going to do payouts for their KDP Select program, specifically for Kindle Unlimited (KU), I thought I’d take a second to share my thoughts. And my thoughts are good, happy, positive thoughts.

Because it’s clear as day to me that these changes are intended to curb the tide of “dino porn” shorts, which routinely suck up far, far more of the KU funds than they have any right to. Although, yes, this does have consquences for people who write serials (which I’m about to do later this summer) and for authors when the reader doesn’t finish the entire book.

Here’s what Amazon said:

We’re always looking at ways to make our programs even better, and we’ve received lots of great feedback on how to improve the way we pay KDP authors for books in Kindle Unlimited. One particular piece of feedback we’ve heard consistently from authors is that paying the same for all books regardless of length may not provide a strong enough alignment between the interests of authors and readers. We agree. With this in mind, we’re pleased to announce that beginning on July 1, the KDP Select Global Fund will be paid out based on the number of pages KU and KOLL customers read.

As with our current approach, we’ll continue to offer a global fund for each month. Under this new model, the amount an author earns will be determined by their share of total pages read rather than their share of total qualified borrows. …

(And then they give some examples)

We think this is a solid step forward and better aligns the interests of readers and authors. Our goal, as always, is to build a service that rewards authors for their valuable work, attracts more readers and encourages them to read more and more often. ….

Okay. Some of the authors I know responded to this initiative with panic. The way they see it, Amazon is punishing authors of shorter works—serials, novellas, short stories. There is also some question about whether this could spell doom and gloom for authors of longer works if a reader doesn’t actually finish the book.

On the one hand, yes, this could cut into the profit of serial writers. I’m going to be publishing a serial later this summer myself, and this kind of makes me go “Oh, guess that’s not going to look like I thought it would look.” But I’m cool with that, because the serial was mostly a way I was going to entertain myself anyhow. And the whole earning a royalty that is higher than the retail price of the book thing was not going to last forever anyhow.

This also might seem scary if you suspect people are borrowing your books but not finishing them. But then, if they aren’t finishing them, that says something right there. I predict the rate of on-finished book payouts will be equivalent to the rate of returns that we see on our books. Because those returned books happen.

Not gonna lie. I downloaded it, read it, giggle-snorted a lot over it... I don't want to be lumped in the same category or compete with it

Not gonna lie. I downloaded it, read it, giggle-snorted a lot over it… I don’t want to be lumped in the same category or compete with it

Now, the reason I personally think this is GREAT is because it will stop all those people who are churning out unedited, 15 page, “dino porn” shorts from taking over the market and pulling away funds from serious writers who are attempting to write “for real.” I hope that this will deter hacks from throwing those things up all the time because it’s no longer free money. That would mean that the amount more serious writers take home each month would increase.

But here’s the other thing, my final thought, if you would. Everybody likes to hate on Amazon like they’re the Evil Empire. Like they sit around in board rooms thinking of ways to screw up the lives of indie authors who are trying to make a living like this. Nah. That doesn’t float with me. Amazon is a company. They are a distributor. They have their producers (that’s us) and their consumers (that’s readers), and it’s in their best interest to keep everyone happy.

Furthermore, Amazon wants to lure as many writers as possible into their KDP Select program. But you don’t do that by making it a miserable deal for writers. They have to maintain some sort of very attractive incentive for authors to want to join their program. Apple keeps making leaps and bounds to draw authors out of Select, so it’s not like there’s no other alternative. So my theory is that this will actually look better for our bottom lines once we see these changes in action.

And that’s what I think.

B is for Branding

May 11, 2015
Mine brand

© Albund | Dreamstime.com – My Metal Brand Glowing Red Hot Front Photo

I’m not too proud to say that when it comes to the whole business of writing, there are things I absolutely understand and other things that leave me scratching my head. Branding is one of those head-scratchers. It’s not that I don’t know what it is or why it’s important, it’s just that sometimes I struggle with how to effectively brand myself and then stick to that brand.

I’ll start by telling you what I know.

Branding is how you package yourself. It’s everything from the look of your book covers and website to the photo you choose to be your author pic. I had a lot of people point out way in the early days of my writing career that I have a great name. Merry Farmer is my actual name too. (Pen names confuse me, but that’s a whole other blog post!) So I took my cue for branding myself from my name. Merry is a nice, happy name full of positive energy. Okay, I can do this. So my brand is positivity and all things happy. Easy enough, right?

Well, it’s easy when it comes to interacting with people online and in the real world. I’m a pretty upbeat person to begin with, so I’ve got that covered. How do I then carry that over to the more visual aspects of my brand? For me, the answer is in light, vibrant colors and rich saturation in the images I use for books.

I have a ton of other friends who employ the same thought process in their visuals. A couple of friends who write more kick-ass sort of books have very kick-ass covers. The ones who focus on traditional romance with strong alpha heroes have lush visuals with strong men on their covers and websites. Once you figure out how you’re going to brand yourself and your writing, it’s easy to come up with visual material that supports that.

Ah, but there’s the rub and one of the things I struggled with for a long time at the beginning of my writing career. How do you know what your brand should be, and how do you go about solidifying that into something that can be tangibly represented in the first place?

It’s an important question and one that bears a lot of thinking about in the early days of a writer’s career. How do you want to be known? What do you want readers to pick up on about you and your writing. Or perhaps the more important question should be, what promises are you making to your readers before they ever pick up one of your books?

I love so many things about the covers Erin Dameron-Hill has designed for me. She really gets my brand!

I love so many things about the covers Erin Dameron-Hill has designed for me. She really gets my brand!

The best place to start this self-discovery process is with what you write. Different genres carry with them different promises to the reader. Contemporary Romance makes very different promises than Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Sci-Fi. Readers of those genres want to go on a different sort of journey. The basics of genre expectation are a good place to start when figuring out your own brand. If you write those zombie novels, you probably don’t want to include a lot of flowers and recipes for cupcakes in your branding.

In the early days, I spent a lot of time thinking about historical romance (my primary genre) and all of the reasons people read it. Hot guys was an unexpected buzzword that came into my thinking and stayed there. Cool. Easy. I can put hot guys on my covers and post pics of celebs we all love on my Facebook page. But all from a historical angle. So less of the bodybuilding guys and more of the sort who appear in costume dramas for the BBC. Already I’m able to narrow down where my image, my branding, should be headed.

That’s just one example of so many I could talk about. Instead of rehashing everything I’ve done, though, I turn it over to you. What general things define the genre you’re writing in? What specific things set your books apart from that genre? How do you want to present yourself in public, and how can you tie that into what you’re writing?

Once you answer those questions, it all comes down to finding a great designer who can put together visuals that suit your image. Trust me, they’re very good at knowing how to execute a specific style or mood that you’re going for! I personally believe in hiring other people to do this kind of stuff, but you can also do it yourself.

So what are some other branding ideas that you’ve come up with to set yourself apart?

Unlocking the Completely Baffling Mystery of Author Branding

May 23, 2014
And this is where it all started....

And this is where it all started….

When I first started publishing back in 2011, I thought to myself, “YAY! I’m a writer! I can write books now!”

Ha! Little did I know that writing the books is only about 50% of the rigmarole of being a writer. It’s the most fun part, mind you. It’s the part that I really and truly love and the part that makes me happy from the inside out. But the reality is that the day I became a published author (before that, even) I also became a marketer and a salesperson. I had to learn about things that completely baffled me on so many levels. Terms like “sales funnel” and “loss leader”, things that I would normally run screaming from, became my bread and butter.

Some of those concepts were more confusing to me than others. I will confess that the first time I heard that, as an author, I should be branding myself, I cringed. Branding is the Golden Arches. Branding is “Just Do It”. Branding is the fact that I can go into any Starbucks in the country and find the same color and grain of wood in the fixtures. To me it felt very sterile and “catchy”, but not in the good way. What does branding have to do with writing books? I wanted to reach people on an emotional level, make them fall in love with characters and stories.

Well, as with a bunch of other things about the business of publishing, I was wrong. More than that, once I tapped into my brand as an author, a lot of other things clicked into place, including how and where to market my books and what audience I should be courting.

And then it started to evolve....

And then it started to evolve….

One of the things that made my head hurt in the beginning was that I knew I would be publishing in more than one genre. I knew that my historical romance novels weren’t going to fit into the standard historical romance mold. I knew that my sci-fi novels weren’t going to fit into the regular perception of what constitutes sci-fi. I knew from day one that I was going to march to the beat of my own drummer, and that that march was potentially a lonely one. I worried myself silly about how I was going to fit into just one basket.

My author brand didn’t flash like lightning into my brain in a moment of bliss. In fact, it took me two years to figure it out to the point where I thought “Yes! This is me!” It all started with my name. I knew I wanted to publish everything under my real name, Merry Farmer, and that name alone. This was reinforced when awesome NY Times Bestselling author Jonathan Maberry told me I had one of the best author names he’d ever seen. Ah-ha! I was heading in the right direction.

The other element that added to my brand was the super awesome font that my cover designer, another Jonathan, found for the Noble Heart’s covers. I really like that font. Like, A LOT! It’s pretty awesome. But it also embodies both a spirit of romance and a more adventurous feeling. Definitely part of the brand.

The final piece of the branding puzzle came from my books themselves. I write romance, I write sci-fi. Neither are usual. What do they have in common? Well, I love writing romance. It’s the stuff of life! My sci-fi is full of it. I also love writing action scenes and adventure. My romance novels have all sorts of sword fights and gun fights and rescue scenes. Ah-ha! The genres I write may be very different, but the spirit of my writing is the same no matter what I’m writing. I have a definite style.

Merry Farmer: Timeless Romance, Epic Adventure

BEHOLD! A brilliant example of branding!  You know exactly what you're going to get when you look at Anne from Badass Marketing's logo.  The logo embodies everything she is.  THIS is what you're going for!

BEHOLD! A brilliant example of branding! You know exactly what you’re going to get when you look at Anne from Badass Marketing’s logo. The logo embodies everything she is. THIS is what you’re going for!

That was it! After two years of trying to figure it out, trying to wrap my mind around the concept of branding, there it was. I’m sold! Not only does it have a certain ring to it, in just four words it sums up everything that I write and everything that I am. It also helps to keep me focused and directed on what matters in my writing. When all else fails, I can identify myself and my writing with those four words.

So that’s my story, but what does this mean to you as an aspiring writer or established writer trying to figure it all out? Look inside of yourself and your writing. There is something about it that is uniquely you. The reason you write is because you have something to say that no one else has to say. You are able to tell stories that no one else is able to tell. Once you find that thing, you will know what your brand is as an author. Once you brand yourself, not only will you be able to concisely explain yourself to your potential audience, you will be able to keep yourself on track with your own writing. For those who want to go traditional, you will have a perfect tool to sell yourself and your future career to the agents and editors who will be the best fit for you. The more you know yourself and what your purpose as a writer is, the better you will be able to rocket forward into awesomeness!

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Words of Advice to Writers: Know Thyself

Nov 07, 2013
The Temple of Apollo in Delphi © Georgios Alexandris | Dreamstime.com

The Temple of Apollo in Delphi
© Georgios Alexandris | Dreamstime.com

“Know Thyself”. Those words of Delphic wisdom carved into the Temple of Apollo have been a part of the bedrock of philosophy for thousands of years. They’re so simple, and yet they can be interpreted in so many ways. A 10th century encyclopedia of Ancient Greek knowledge claims that they are a reminder to the boastful that all of their pride might not be warranted. To others they have meant much the same as Shakespeare’s great words, “This above all, to thine own self be true.”

Writers would do well to hear the words of both the Ancients and the Bard. The biggest trouble we can get into as we dive deep into this crazy world is to lose sight of ourselves and what we’re doing. Not only that, we can so easily lose sight of what our strengths and weaknesses are that we hold ourselves back, either with our actions or our inactions.

I wrote a whole series of posts on the Essentials of Self-Publishing last year, but I want to add this piece of advice to those lessons: You have to know your capabilities and your shortfalls and constantly reevaluate what you are and aren’t doing and what you can and can’t do if you’re going to make it long-term in this business.

From what I’ve seen, this advice applies mostly in two big areas. Continue reading