Tag Archives: publishing

Writing Spicy and Sweet

Sep 20, 2016

sweet-spicyA lot of people who have read my Brides of Paradise Ranch series have been intrigued by the fact that I’ve been doing both a sweet and a spicy version of each book. People love the idea of being able to choose which heat-level they’d like to read, but I’m often asked “How do you do that? How do you write two versions?” 

The first and most important part of the answer to that question is that I start out knowing that I’m going to be writing two versions all the way in the conceptualization phase.  

But let me back up a little bit further to answer the question of why I started doing this in the first place.  

I generally write spicy. I like to write spicy. I like to read spicy. Not erotica, mind you, but sizzling. When I first started reading romance novels all those years ago, I read spicy pirate romance novels. That level of spice just seems natural to me. But as I started writing historical westerns (and I never intended to write historical westerns when I started out, it happened by accident—but that’s a whole other blog post), I came to see that a lot of readers preferred the sweet stuff. And I’ll confess, I looked at the success of my sweet historical western-writing friends and thought, “Well, I’m trying to make a living off of this, and I’ve got to pay the bills somehow.” 

So I decided to give sweet a try…without sacrificing the spice. Because anyone who knows me knows that the spicy side is a huge part of who I am. =D 

Back to how I do it… HisHeartbrokenBride_Libby

Like I said, I know going into a spicy/sweet novel that it’s going to have two versions. I thought about going back and rewriting some of my older books in sweet versions, but it didn’t take long to realize that it wouldn’t work. In so many of those books, major elements of the plot and the characters’ journeys center around what happens in the bedroom. It’s impossible to take that out without changing the focus of the plot entirely. 

So keeping that in mind, when I set out to write books with both sweet and spicy versions, I knew I had to include the spice in such a way that it wasn’t the pivot point of the plot. The major thrust of the action (no pun intended) had to focus around something that could still be told without following the characters into the bedroom. In other words, the tension of the plot needed to be something other than “will they or won’t they.” 

I think that plotting this way has actually made me a better writer. In the past, I’ve always considered external plots to be the weak point in my writing. Well, here I was writing stories that needed to depend on external plot rather than just the relationship between the hero and heroine. At the same time, that relationship has to play a major role in the story. After all, the spicy version wouldn’t work if the schmexy scenes felt tacked on or superfluous. 

That leaves me with a complex dilemma for each book. How do I write one version in which sensual scenes play a major part in character development without the entire plot hanging on them? And how can I remove those scenes and still maintain an intimacy between the characters while keeping the story sweet? 

HisTemptingBride_Miriam_2coversI think the answer lies in my process of writing. When I draft each of the Paradise Ranch books, I draft the spicy version. The first draft is spicy. Actually, the second and third drafts are too. Once I have everything just the way I want it, I send it off to my editor. And then I go back and start working on the sweet version while she works on the spicy one. 

The sweet version is all about subtracting and adding. I go through and take out everything non-sweet. Gone are the schmexy scenes, gone are any swear words or even references to alcohol. I have a kind of silly list of words that I do a search for when I’m writing that sweet version. But of course, most of the time if you take something out, you leave holes. That’s when I go back through and add many more Christian references and rewrite any sensual scenes to be emotionally powerful, fully-clothed, upright scenes. 

This is another area where preplanning is key. When I’m writing the schmexy scenes in the first draft, I always have a point where the action will veer off into the sweet scene in later drafts. I build that jumping off point into the draft to save myself the work of rewriting tons and tons of words later. I keep both versions in mind even as I’m spicing it up. 

Once the spicy draft comes back from my editor, I go through and make all the changes she suggests in both versions. After that, they go off to various proof-readers and beta-readers I have, depending on which draft they prefer. Once those come back, I make final changes and corrections, and voila! Two versions. 

I’ve had a lot of positive response from readers about the fact that two versions are available, even though they prefer one or the other. And I also get a lot of questions about whether I will be going back and writing sweet versions of my older books. The answer to that is no, it would be way too much work, and I’d rather focus on writing new books.  

HisBewilderingBride_Wendy_2coversThe second question I get is “Will you be doing sweet and spicy versions of new books/series?” That’s a much harder question to answer. Harder not because I have to think about my answer, but I’m afraid my answer will disappoint people. Because the answer is no. No, this series has taught me that I really do prefer writing spicy. It comes more naturally to me, and so I’ll be sticking with just the spicy in all new series. BUT, I’m going to continue to write both sweet and spicy versions of the Paradise Ranch series, and that has many, many, MANY more books to come! 

I want to add one final note before ending, though, based on a few private comments I’ve had from readers. I do not think sex is dirty. That’s why I will never refer to a sweet novel as “clean.” I take offense to that term. I don’t think sex is shocking or scandalous or evil, and especially not dirty. It’s a natural part of human relationships and intimacy. I don’t think it should be treated as an unmentionable topic, because I believe that that way lies dysfunction and fear. So all those 1-star reviews that say “This book has too much sex in it?” Those are like 6-star reviews to me! For those who like to leave those reviews, just know that those kinds of reviews sell more books than the best of the best 5-star reviews.

Check out all of the books in The Brides of Paradise Ranch series on my “Other Works by Merry Farmer” page!

PANIC! And Ways To Get Around It

Mar 15, 2016
Panic at the Disco

This is the only acceptable kind of panic!
image courtesy of BluEyedA73 via flickr creative commons

I’m going to be brutally honest with you. There is one thing that I can’t stand in life, the universe, and everything. And that thing is panic. Whether it’s people panicking about the fate of our country in this current election year, panicking because there’s a spider in the sink, or panicking because Amazon has changed the way they do this, that, or the other thing, panic for panic’s sake is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be concerned about elections, spiders, or Amazon. All three of those things are decidedly concerning (some more so than others). And I’m not saying that actions shouldn’t be taken to avert disaster. By all means, ACT. But do it with a level head. Go out and vote for the candidate you think will steer your country in the right direction (and not just in presidential elections—state and local elections are actually FAR more important than national ones, but that’s a topic for another day). Get a newspaper and swat that spider—or gently move it to a place where it won’t harm you.

And as for Amazon? Wait, watch, and plan accordingly. But by all means, don’t get your blood pressure up as you scream, tear your hair out, and wail that we’re all doomed. DOOMED!

Okay. To anyone who just asked “What is this Amazon thing we’re panicking about?” Congratulations, you’re a normal person and not a writer. But if you are a writer, chances are you’re tempted to go into high panic mode right now.

Amazon has two things going on that have people ready to shift into panic. First, they’re cracking down on eBooks that either don’t have a Table of Contents or that have one at the back of the book. Many authors do put their TOC at the back of the book, both because one of the formatting programs out there does that automatically and because moving the TOC to the back gives you more content up front for readers who click on the “Look Inside” option on the Amazon homepage while searching for books.

But the reason why The ‘Zon is cracking down is because there are scammers out there who are raking in the dough through the Kindle Unlimited program by throwing up (and I do mean that in both senses of the word) trash books of hack work or plagiarized content—hundreds and hundreds of pages of it per “book”—and including links at the front of the book, sending readers straight to the last page so that they collect literally tens of thousands of dollars in false page reads.

This is bad. Amazon is trying to combat it (in spite of what nay-sayers assume about The ‘Zon not really caring. I think they care, but this is an enormous problem, and I don’t think they have the manpower, or enough magic wands, to tackle it and make it go away INSTANTLY, like we serious authors would like).

Non-panicked solution: Fix the TOC in your books. It took me less than a minute to fix the one they sent me a notice about. You lose space for that “Look Inside,” but you gain…well, not having Amazon send you nastygrams.

The other thing that has people in a panicky tizzy over at Amazon is their efforts to investigate the possibility of selling used eBooks. (Note the key words in that phrase: Their efforts to investigate the possibility—it’s nowhere near being a sure thing, as a certain newsletter would have you believe) That is exactly what it sounds like. A reader buys an eBook. They read it. They resell it on some Amazon-operated market. I used to do that all the time with paperbacks at my local used book store.

Authors are panicked because this would seriously cut into their profits. It totally would. IF readers actually jump on the bandwagon and list their books for resale once they’re purchased. IF Amazon is able to get all of the permissions they need and get past the new copyright laws which are being debated this year. IF it becomes something that makes sense for readers to do. There are a lot of ifs involved in this whole used eBook equation. And as far as I know, Amazon is still just looking into it. I also read somewhere that it would only be books in the KU program. Not sure about that.

So what do we do, panic??? Do we panic now???

NO!

Non-panicked solution: Avoid KU. Distribute your books as wide as possible. Put effort into marketing to iBooks and Kobo. Um, I’d say Nook too, but I think Nook is about to go under. For real this time.

Sub-solution: Authors, stop giving away Kindles as giveaway prizes! This is not rocket science. The reason Amazon sells so many eBooks is because they deliberately and calculatedly got as many Kindles into the hands of as many readers as possible. Amazon sells Kindles WAY below the cost of production, specifically so that they can control the eBook market because more readers have their devices than have iPads or Kobo readers. We can market to iBooks and Kobo until we’re blue in the face and have spent a zillion dollars, but if readers only own Kindles, we’re SOL.

iPad

image courtesy of Sean MacEntee via flickr creative commons

The inherent problem in this is that Kindles sell for as low as $49, while the cheapest iPad I was able to find was $269. Yikes! Makes it sort of hard to go giving those puppies away, right?

Actually, I don’t have a solution for that. It is what it is. It sucks.

Sub-solution #2: Produce paperbacks of your books that are formatted in such a way that you can sell them for competitive prices. The reason indie authors do so well in digital format is because we can undersell NY Publishers by a lot. Well, NY pubbed paperbacks are costing about $7 or $8 these days. Produce paperbacks that can sell for less and market those to your readers, and you might stand a chance.

In fact, I’d love to see more indie authors invest in paperbacks (and audio, but that’s super expensive) and do a big push to get people to buy paper. But it has to be cost effective for the reader.

At the end of the day, everything Amazon is doing makes life easier and books cheaper for readers. THAT’s why they’re so successful. They will continue to do that until…well, they’ll just continue to do that. We as indie authors have to face that fact, scale back the panic, and start thinking about ways we can keep our heads above water, avoid the thumbscrews Amazon is putting to us, and give our readers the best, cheapest reading experience possible. BUT, Amazon is an inevitability in this publishing game. We HAVE to deal with them, and since we have zero control over what they do—and I mean zero—we need to learn to adapt instead of balk every time they change a policy.

So to summarize: Don’t panic. Separate fact from hearsay. Seek to understand changes when they are made, and adapt your publishing and marketing strategy to best harmonize with those changes. Seek to understand the market you’re writing for, their needs and their habits. And don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Covers: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Jan 04, 2016
image courtesy of goXunuReviews via flickr commons

image courtesy of goXunuReviews via flickr commons

Okay, covers. It’s about time we had a little talk. Study after study has shown that the most important things to sell a book (particularly if you’re an Indie author) are your blurb (which we talked about here) and your cover. So many times, if a book isn’t selling well, there’s a good chance your cover just isn’t hacking it. And there are several reasons for this. So here we go.

If I could only say one thing to people about choosing the best cover for your book (a book you’ve worked too long and hard on to send it out into the world dressed badly) it’s this:

DO NOT EVER DESIGN YOUR OWN COVER

I can’t say that loud or frequently enough. (I know not everyone agrees with that, but I’m pretty passionate about it) Even if you think you’re a fantastic designer and are super capable when it comes to working with Photoshop or other graphic design programs. Just don’t do it. Just like you shouldn’t edit your own work because you’re too close to it to have a non-partial eye, you shouldn’t design your own covers because you aren’t going to be able to see the flaws in your work. Don’t go out that door with broccoli in your teeth!

Second, not all cover designers are equal. I know you love you sister’s daughter’s boyfriend’s brother who is really good with computers, but just because he knows how to cut and paste does not mean he has a designer’s eye or that he knows what images draw readers to certain genres of books. Book covers have their own language, their own symbolism, and it’s constantly changing. You need someone with an artistic eye, but also someone who knows what’s trending, knows how to blend light and shadow, and knows how to create vibrant, original images that pop and draw a reader’s eye. Talent does not come as an accessory to graphic design programs, and a designer who is talented at designing stationary, for example, may not be talented when it comes to book covers.

So let’s take a look at some things you should watch out for in cover design world.

mating with raptorFirst and foremost, readers are savvy these days. Unless you’re writing something deliberately tongue-in-cheek or trashy (like Mating with the Raptor), readers will click right past any covers that look Photoshopped. What does that mean? Anything that looks like the designer took a background and started randomly pasting stickers on it looks bad, Bad, BAD. You can tell one of these amateur covers a mile away because the light levels don’t match. Look for shadows that are going in the wrong direction, images that are disproportionate in size to other elements of the cover, figures or pieces of the image that appear to have more or less light on them. For example, in this delightful cover, the girl has a relatively bright, warm light illuminating her, but it doesn’t match the darker, shadowy light of the background. Same goes for the dino, which is in a cooler light. I used this example cover because I don’t think the designer cares how realistic and smooth it looks, but flip through Amazon for a while, and you’ll find covers where the designer just didn’t know what they were doing.

that guyI could find you a ton of examples of covers that look Photoshopped. You know what I mean. Also look out for lines that are too sharp around elements of the design, or that are too fuzzy because they’ve been blended with a particular tool. Anything that looks like stickers should send you running for the hills. Also, this guy on the right. Bless his heart, I don’t know who he is, but I’m not gonna lie—when I see him on a cover, I automatically pass on the book. Dude is everywhere!

warriors womanAnother problem I’ve seen in some covers these days is that they look dated. Ah yes, remember the good old Fabio-style cover? It’s just not the thing right now. These sorts of clinch photos with tons of wind and clothes about to fall off were all the rage a few years ago, but not so much now. Take a look online at the bestselling romance covers today (for example, if that’s your genre). We’re in the era of the heroine with the big skirt that takes up half the cover right now. There’s also variation in covers depending on the level of sweetness that the story entails. If you’re writing a Christian romance, for example, you don’t want this Fabio-style cover. It doesn’t send the right message. (All right, I’ll admit that my latest book cover for His Perfect Bride has shades of this era, but note the key differences: my cover isn’t an illustration, and the heroine is fully dressed, in spite of the hero’s shirtless good hair day.)

Okay, so what looks good on a cover? And how do you get a truly stellar cover design, especially for historical books, when there’s an extremely limited amount of historical stock photography out there?

MF_SavingGrace_2_smallWell, great book covers have all the design elements in harmony with each other. Truly stellar designers know how to put color and light and background ambiance to work for them. This cover of mine from Saving Grace, by designer Kalen O’Donnell was nominated for a cover design award last year. Frankly, that book sucked (well, it didn’t suck, but it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, which is why I stopped writing sci-fi), but man, based on that cover, you’d give the blurb a look, wouldn’t you? The color, the light levels, the visual impact are all stunning. And that started with a very simple stock photo.

EdenTheDangerousBride_smallAs for the problem of there not being enough original images out there, well, one of the reasons I hire the immensely talented Erin Dameron-Hill to do my covers is because she’s so good that she can dissect images and create new models from various parts! This truly awesome cover, she tells me, is actually three different images combined to make an original image. And as you can clearly see, the foreground blends with the background, the color scheme matches the rest of the novels in the series (peek over to the right), and there is no sticker-ness anywhere.

At the end of the day, “good” and “bad” is subjective, but only up to a point. There are standards, and if you’re in this business to win it, you’ll want to find the highest quality designs that you can. The good news is that covers aren’t super expensive these days. You can get good ones for under $100! And so, I leave you with a pretty amazing list of cover designers, shared with me by author Christine Miller:

LIST OF RECOMMENDED COVER DESIGNERS

99-DESIGNS http://99designs.com/book-cover-design

ALCHEMY BOOK COVERS http://www.alchemybookcovers.com/

AM DESIGN STUDIOS http://amdesignstudios.net/sample-page/

ART BY KARRI http://artbykarri.com

AUTHOR MARKETING CLUB http://authormarketingclub.com/members/pre-made-book-covers/

AVALON GRAPHICS http://www.avalongraphics.org/books.html

BEYOND DESIGN http://www.tamianwood.com

THE BOOK COVER DESIGNER http://thebookcoverdesigner.com/shop/?vendor=jesrdesign

BOOK COVERS GALORE http://bookcoversgalore.com/

BOOK COVERS MARKET http://bookcoversmarket.com

BOOKS DESIGN http://www.books-design.com/

BOOKFLY DESIGN http://www.bookflydesign.com/

BOOK GRAPHICS http://bookgraphics.net/

CANDESCENT PRESS http://www.candescentpress.com/coverdesign.php

CAROL’S COVER DESIGN http://carolcoversdesign.com/

CHARISMA KNIGHT http://designsbycharisma.yolasite.com/book-covers.php

CHIP KIDD http://www.chipkidd.com/gallery.html

COVERS BY ALDELM JOHN FERRIOLS http://www.coroflot.com/Maggs/Book-Covers

THE COVER COUNTS http://thecovercounts.com/

CREATION WARRIOR http://www.creationwarrior.net/

CREATIV INDIE COVERS http://bookcovers.creativindie.com

CUSTOM INDIE COVERS http://www.customindiecovers.com/

DAFEENAH JAMEEL http://dafeenah.deviantart.com/gallery/

DAMONZA http://damonza.com

THE DARK RAYNE http://www.thedarkrayne.com/book-covers/

DIGITAL DONNA http://digitaldonna.com

EBOOK COVER DESIGNS http://www.ebook-coverdesigns.com

EBOOK INDIE COVERS http://ebookindiecovers.com

EBOOK SERVICES https://ebookcovers4u.wordpress.com/cat…/covers-weve-made/

EL DESIGNS http://www.eldesigns.net/index.html

ESTRELLA COVER ART http://estrellacoverart.com/

EXTENDED IMAGERY http://www.extendedimagery.com

FANTASIA FROG DESIGNS http://fantasiafrogdesigns.wordpress.com/premade-bookcovers/

FICTION BOOK COVER http://fictionbookcover.com/

FLIP CITY AUTHOR SERVICES http://flipcitybooks.com

FOR THE MUSE DESIGN (Pre-Mades) http://www.forthemusedesign.com/pre-made-covers.html

FOSTER COVERS http://www.fostercovers.com

FOSTERING SUCCESS http://www.fostering-success.com/autho…/ebook-cover-design

GO ON WRITE http://www.goonwrite.com

GRAPHICZ X DESIGNS http://graphiczxdesigns.zenfolio.com

HARPER DESIGN http://louharper.com/Design.html

HUMBLE NATIONS http://humblenations.com

I DREW DESIGN (FIVERR) https://www.fiverr.com/idrewdesign

INDIE AUTHOR SERVICES http://www.indieauthorservices.com/pre-made-book-covers.html

JAMES LEDGER CONCEPTS http://www.jamesledgerconcepts.com

JANET HOLMES http://www.seejanetwork.com/

JH ILLUSTRATION https://jhillustration.wordpress.com

JOE SIMMONS ILLUSTRATION http://www.jsimmonsillustration.com

KATIE W. STEWART http://www.katiewstewart.com/cover-designs.html

KILLER COVERS http://killercovers.com/#ebook

***THE KILLION GROUP http://thekilliongroupinc.com

KIT FOSTER DESIGN http://www.kitfosterdesign.com/Home.aspx

LEAH KAYE SUTTLE http://www.leahsuttle.com

LFD DESIGNS http://mycoverart.com/

LITTERA DESIGNS http://www.litteradesigns.com

LLPIX PHOTOGRAPHY & DESIGN http://www.llpix.com

MARIYA KRUSHEVA http://mishka19.deviantart.com/gallery/33572981?offset=0

MELCHELLE DESIGNS http://melchelledesigns.com

NESS GRAPHICA http://www.nessgraphica.com/

NINJA MEL DESIGNS http://www.ninjameldesigns.com/portfolio/

PHAT PUPPY ART http://phatpuppyart.com

PERMED EBOOK COVER SHOP http://www.premadeebookcovershop.com/

Q42 GRAPHIC DESIGN http://www.q42graphicdesign.com

REBECCA SWIFT ARTWORK http://www.rebeccaswiftartwork.com

ROBIN LUDWIG DESIGN http://gobookcoverdesign.com/pages/book_cover_design.html

ROCKING BOOK COVERS http://www.rockingbookcovers.com

RROXX (FIVERR) https://www.fiverr.com/…/create-awesome-professional…

SARAH JANELEHOUX http://sarah-janelehoux.com/coverart.htm

SCARLETT RUGERS BOOK DESIGN AGENCY http://booksat.scarlettrugers.com

SCRIBBLELEAF http://www.scribbleleaf.com

SELF PUB BOOK COVERS http://www.selfpubbookcovers.com/

SHAYNE HELLERMAN http://shaynehellerman.deviantart.com/gallery/

STREETLIGHT GRAPHICS http://streetlightgraphics.com

STEFAN LINDBLAD http://www.canvas.nu/illustration-bokomslag-eng.htm

SWEET ’N SPICY DESIGNS http://jayceedelorenzo.com/sweetnspicy/

TUGBOAT DESIGN http://www.tugboatdesign.net

YOCLA DESIGNS http://yocladesigns.com/

WALKING STICK BOOKS http://www.walkingstickbooks.com/…/Ser…/Cover-Design.cfm

WICKED SMART DESIGNS http://www.wickedsmartdesigns.com

WINTER HEART DESIGN http://winterheart.com/category/covers

WORD SUGAR DESIGNS http://www.wordsugardesigns.com/

 

There you go. So now you can’t tell me you can’t find a good cover designer. 😉

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.

Villains You Love To Hate…And Those You Just Hate

Nov 13, 2015
Image courtesy of Roman Soto via Flickr

Image courtesy of Roman Soto via Flickr

Never underestimate the power of the antagonist. That’s easily the most valuable lesson I’ve learned about the craft of writing through my publishing journey in the last four years. Heroes are crucial for drawing your readers into a story, heroines even more so. In romance, your reader wants to identify with the heroine and fall in love with the hero. But without an effective villain, a story lacks punch.

Ah, but there’s the catch. Every good story needs an effective villain. Not all villains are created the same. There are villains that we love to hate, and then there are villains that we just hate. The different between the two is one of subtlety and realism.

In the last two years, I’ve read over a hundred books—everything ranging from New York Times bestsellers from big name authors to manuscripts that I’ve beta-read for newbie authors. In the process, I’ve read some truly awful, cardboard cut-out, cartoon villains. If any of the authors I’ve read for and made comments about their villains happen to be reading this, I’m not secretly singling any one of you out and pointing fingers, because bad villains are a rampant problem at all levels of writing, and I keep seeing the same problems over and over.

What problem is that? It’s the villain who is so dastardly, who is so disgusting and loathsome, that he’s just not real. We’re talking about the villain who lusts after the heroine to the point of insanity and abuse, the diabolical fiend whose actions are so over the top they would make Snidely Whiplash proud. This villain is usually balding, stinky, and drools. I’ve seen too many of these guys who are drawn like a Scooby-Doo villain, and my reaction is always the same: eye-rolling and laughter.

I’m sorry, but these kinds of clearly deranged, dime novel villains are an insult to the intelligence of the reader. They’re up there with click-bait headlines that proclaim “You’ll never believe the shocking depravity that this man stooped to!” in terms of sophistication. Their two-dimensionality brings down the caliber of the entire story.

There’s a common saying in writing that the villain of any book is a hero in his own story. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to constructing an antagonist that will provide tension and conflict for your novel. Remember, the point of an antagonist is to oppose the goals of the hero and heroine and to get in the way of their being together. Sure, that can be done Snidely Whiplash style by tying the heroine to some train tracks, but are those truly the things that keep two people who should obviously be together from their happily ever after?

groom wantsI recently read a book that has one of the finest examples of a villain that I’ve ever read, What the Groom Wants, by Jade Lee. Granted, the book was a little too dark for my taste—and the villain was definitely part of that—but Demon Damon was drawn so well that I have to give Lee snaps. Damon had every horrible character flaw that all the cartoon villains I’ve read had. He was spiteful and lustful. He wanted to hurt and destroy the heroine and viciously murder the hero. He had done and continued to do some truly vile things. But he was so amazingly charming at the same time that even the heroine caught herself wondering if it wouldn’t be so bad if she just gave in to him.

Another thing Damon had going for him was a well thought out backstory that realistically explained exactly how he ended up as the charming, sadistic devil he was and showed a step-by-step progression of how he got there. He was the snotty, left-behind kid. He had a chip on his shoulder and the drive to do whatever it took so that people would never ignore him again. The rush he got from hurting people was completely identifiable, because it was couched in experiences and feelings we’ve all had. Sure, he was unredeemable, but it was also easy to see how he got that way…and to identify with it.

Another of my favorite villains is President Snow from the Hunger Games trilogy. He’s sly, he’s manipulative, and he’s trying to hold a country together…whether it should be held together or not. He’s also hurt himself in the process of annihilating others. The books are dystopian, but come on, who hasn’t watched politicians during an election year and gotten the same sort of chill?

By now you may have recognized certain pieces of advice you’ve been given over the years about writing villains. They are the hero of their own story. They have human flaws beyond just being ridiculously evil. They remind us of people we know, maybe even ourselves. The reason all of these things work to create an exciting and memorable villain that doesn’t make you roll your eyes is because these guys hit you on an emotional level that goes much deeper than shock and revulsion. What makes them so effective is not that they commit acts we would never, ever commit ourselves, but that they skillfully engage in behavior that we might just be tempted to partake in ourselves, if the price was right.

So really, if the heroine is who we want to be and the hero is who we want to be with, the villain should be the person we fear becoming. That’s where the real impact of an antagonist lies.