Author Archives: Ruth Ann Nordin

About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to contemporaries romances and other genres (such as science fiction thrillers). For more information, please go to www.ruthannnordin.com or check out http://ruthannnordinauthorblog.wordpress.com.

Tackling Common Issues That Can Overwhelm Writers

Lorna Faith invited me on to her podcast, Create a Story You Love, to discuss topics that we will most likely face at one time or another as writers.  Below I will hit on the highlights of the interview, but you can listen to it all by going to iTunes, her blog post, or by watching the You Tube video below.

I want to give a special thanks for Lorna Faith for having me on her podcast.  I know a lot of work went into it.

I’m going to highlight and embellish some of the interview below, but I’m not doing a word-by-word transcript of it.

Why write?

One of the best reasons to write is because you have a story you’re dying to read that hasn’t been done yet.  But, you might find opposition when you decide to pursue writing this story.  (Even if you have a backlist already, people in your circle might not be supportive of the story you have in mind.  My family still won’t touch my romances.)  I would advise you to write the story anyway.  No one but you can write your story.  You will bring your own unique voice and twists to it that no one else can do.  That’s one of the beauties of working in a creative field.  Your story is as unique as your fingerprint.

Working backwards to create a writing/publishing schedule.

I like to work backwards.  This is a method where you pick your release dates and then work your way back to what you need to do to get there.  One reason I love pre-orders is because it forces me to put down deadlines.  I estimate out three months longer for each book than I think it’ll actually take for me to get it done.

The further out you can set these deadlines, the better you can get organized on what you need to do.

For example, let’s say I put July 20 as a release date for a 60,000-word novel.

  1.  I figure it’ll take my editing team (two editors and 2-3 beta readers) a month to do their job.  So I have to have my book ready for my editing team on June 1.
  2. I contact my editors and cover artist to let them know my time frame for the book so they have enough time to pencil me into their schedules.  (The more advance notice you can give them, the smoother things are.)
  3. From there, I’ll count down how many words I need to write a day in that story in order to have it ready on June 1.  Today (as I’m writing this), it is Feb. 7.
  4. I write 5 days a week.  The 2 days off are either catch up days (say a kid gets sick and I can’t write) or it’s a day to take a break to avoid burnout.  Either way, I give myself 2 days a week to take a breather of some sort.  This way I don’t stress myself out.
  5. Counting back from May 31, I find I have 81 days of actual writing to get this book done as long as I start on Monday, Feb. 8.  (I like to work Monday through Friday when my kids are in school.)
  6. I divide the 81 days I have to write by the 60,000 word count goal.  This is 740.74.  Or 741 words a day I need to hit for each writing day.
  7. If I remove all the distractors (internet, TV, phone calls), I can write 741 words in 45 minutes, but I’ll allow myself an hour.
  8. If I’m overwhelmed by the thought of writing the 741 words on a certain day, I’ll start with a small goal of 250 words.  From there, I’ll add another 250 words.  Then I’ll add in the rest to finish up 741.  250 words is a lot less intimidating than a higher word count.
  9. When I get to chapter 10 in the story, I’ll start the initial round of edits.  I will edit 2 chapters a night. Doing this will ensure I have a second draft ready to go by the day I finish my book.  It takes me about an hour to edit 2 chapters.  I need it quiet and distraction-free when I do this.  I usually start while I brush my teeth and finish up in the bedroom while everyone else is in the living room.
  10. I hand in my second draft to my editing team at the same time.  (If I was a beginning writer, I would separate these out, but I have over 50 full-length books by now and am familiar with my process to make this work.  If you’re starting out, give yourself 3-4 months of edits so you can go and change things your editing team finds.)
  11. While the editing team is working on my book, I give it another read through, again doing this in the evenings.
  12. I give myself about 3 weeks for the finished version of the book to be uploaded via Smashords and Amazon to hit my pre-order date.  You can upload 10 days in advance and be fine, but I like to have it in for a longer period of time to play it safe.

Writing a character that is emotionally engaging.

The key to writing the emotionally engaging character is to write with our hearts instead of our head.  I have since done a couple of blog posts on this topic, so I’ll let you read those if interested.   Introduction to the Emotionally Engaging Character, Point of View, and A Deeper Look Into Point of View.

Marketing for Introverts

  1.  Pick 2-3 social things you are interested in doing.  If you’re interested in it, chances are you’ll stick with it.
  2. Build relationships and get to know people.  Sometimes you can bounce ideas around for a future book and get an idea of what your audience wants.
  3. Use your profile to let people know you have books and where to find them.
  4. Build an email list.  (I use MailChimp.)
  5. Bookbub will let you create an author profile where you can list your books.  People can follow you and be notified when you have a new book out.
  6. Book Launch pages will let you link to all retailers where you have a book up for pre-order.  When your book is out, simply update the page.
  7. Use back matter in your book to advertise your next book and email list.

When things get tough, what can you do?

Focus on the positive feedback you’ve gotten in emails, in blog comments, on Facebook, and through other avenues.  Reminding yourself that people out there do like your work can really help you get through the rough patches of bad reviews and lack of sales.  If you have some writer friends you can talk to about the ups and downs of the business, you’ll remind yourself you’re not alone.  Sometimes it helps to know you’re not the only person going through the downside of this business.

Ultimately, though, it all boils down to whether you (as the writer) like the book?  Would you write the book again if given the chance?  If you enjoy the book, that book was worth writing, and it has value.

Categories: Book Promotion, Business Plan, Marketing & Promoting, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Schedules & Routines, Social Networking | Tags: , | 4 Comments

My Thoughts on the Smashwords 2015 Survey

In case anyone doesn’t know, once a year, Mark Coker does a survey to track sales across their distribution channels to see what common things the bestselling self-published books have in common.

Here’s the link if you want to view the slideshow

I wanted to import the slideshow into this post, but my tech know-how isn’t all that wonderful.  So I opted to link to it for reference.

I thought some of the findings were worth discussing on this blog.  If anyone wants to add their thoughts in the comments below, please do.  There might be something I missed.

Observation #1: Authors who sell more books tend to be active online.

social media pic for writing post

ID 45771480 © Ayse Ezgi Icmeli | Dreamstime.com

This isn’t 100% true for all commercially successful authors, but overall, being involved online helps to sell your books.  When I say being active, I don’t mean these authors are going around posting tweets and Facebook updates with “Here’s my book and where you can buy it” all the time.  Those authors usually don’t sell well.

Having an online presence means you’re making it easy for people to find you and your books.  A website and/or blog is a great way to showcase your work.  I like to think of them as “home”.  It’s where you can put your books up and talk about them.  Now, what you choose to blog about can vary, but I do suggest having your books featured on pages within your blog, if you have one.

As for places like Twitter, Facebook, and Google +, the big thing is to be social.  Hang out.  Engage with others.  Be conversational.  You can have a link to your website/blog on your profile.  If someone takes an interest in something you say, they’re probably going to check your profile.  So make sure you build up those profile pages.  My advice is to let the profile pages do your marketing for you.  But when you’re engaging with people on these sites, don’t be there to sell your books.  (Now, I do recommend letting people know when the book is first put up on pre-order, if you have a cover reveal, or when it’s released, but keep the marketing to a minimum.  At least 80% should be social engagement that has nothing to do with your books.)

Observation #2: For fiction, price points $2.99, and $3.99 seem to be the best, with $3.99 having a slight more advantage.

pricing strategy

ID 45771480 © Ayse Ezgi Icmeli | Dreamstime.com

The $0.99 price point moves books, and I think it can be used for promotions and even as a loss leader to introduce people to your work.  But I do think if you are looking for profit, your best price points are in the $2.99-$3.99 range.

I suspect the sweet spot for pricing also varies with the genre you’re writing in fiction.  I mainly write romance.  I’ve heard romance readers watch their spending because they can go through a book or two a day.  I’ve also heard other genres (such as thrillers and science fiction) have readers who are more likely to pay a higher price for books than romance readers are.  These were not discussed in this Smashwords survey.  These are things I gathered from talking with other authors over the years.  So for me, I keep my books priced low ($0.99 or $2.99), though some romance authors do better at higher prices.

What seems to be clear from this survey and the one from 2014 is $1.99 is a horrible price for a book.  I would stay clear from that price point based on the findings.

Nonfiction can sell higher than fiction.  What the ideal price point for that is, I don’t know.

Observation #3: Pre-orders can help you sell more books.

preorder plan for writing post

ID 45771480 © Ayse Ezgi Icmeli | Dreamstime.com

In the survey, it seems a book that starts out as a pre-order will do 3.5 times better than a book that wasn’t.  Do authors who have a larger platform with a larger readership have a bigger advantage over those that don’t?  Of course.  But that is going to be normal even if there was no pre-order.

I love pre-orders, but I don’t see massive pre-orders on my books flooding in.  I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that.  You can increase your chances of hitting a bestselling list in your category at iBooks or Kobo the longer you have your book available as a pre-order.  iBooks and Kobo will accumulate the pre-orders, so when your book is released, you get credited for all those pre-orders as if you sold that many copies on that day.  I love that feature.  Amazon doesn’t do that, and I don’t think Barnes & Noble does either.

My thinking is, if you can give yourself an advantage, even if it’s a small one, why not take it?  Pre-orders are easy to do, and they help save time on release date since the book is already uploaded.  I wrote a post on ideas on promoting a pre-order.  (As always, if you can think of anything else to add, please do.  One person in the comments suggested a special promotional price during the pre-order period, which I thought was a good idea.  I might have to use that one in the future.)

Observation #4: Series where the first book is free sell 66% better than series where the first book has a price tag on it.

comic for writing blog post

ID 45771480 © Ayse Ezgi Icmeli | Dreamstime.com

This one surprised me the most.  The 66% trend was higher than I expected.  I have heard authors say putting the first book at free has helped sell the rest of the books in their series.  But I also know authors who have had their first book at free and didn’t see an increase in sales for the other books in the series.  I have priced the first book of every series I have at free.  Some series do better than others.  Overall, I have noticed the series does do better if the first book is free, even if it’s not a huge jump in sales.

I just listened to a podcast at The Creative Penn, and Dan Wood from Draft2Digital recommends using this strategy, too.  He found authors who do this sell 3 times as much as authors who don’t.  (As a side note, he recommends assetless pre-orders, too, which I just talked about above.)

***

Those are the takeaways I got from the Smashwords 2015 survey.  Does anyone have any other ones or have anything to add?  There might have been something I missed.

Categories: Marketing & Promoting, Pre-Order, Social Networking | Tags: ,

Letting Your Characters be Who They Are (A Deeper Look Into Point of View)

Point of view is one of those tricky subjects we often struggle with as writers.  I know I’ve been trying to get a solid understanding on this since I started seriously writing back in late 2007.  Just the other day while I was reading one of my children’s newsletters from school, I came across something that gave me an “a-ha!” moment.

idea for blog post

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(You know you’re a writer when you read something totally unrelated to writing and make it relevant to writing.) :D

So anyway, this tidbit in the newsletter was about student behavior.  Here’s the gist of it…

An event happens.  The event in itself is neutral.  BUT it is the person’s perception of the event that influences their behavior.

And that’s when the lightbulb lit up above my head.  So what did I do?  I did the first thing any writer trying to come up with a blog post topic would do.  I made notes on what I wanted to write for this post.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a good friend (and fellow writer) who was getting stuck in her story.  Her character wasn’t doing or saying the things she would say and do.  That being the case, she didn’t know how to proceed with the scene.

That got me thinking.  How many times do we impose our own mentalities onto our characters instead of letting the characters be who they really are?  Our job as writers is to tell the character’s story.  It is their story, not ours.  If we want to tell our own story, we need to write an autobiography.  If we want to do fiction, we need to let the character tell his or her own story in the way they want.

So when we’re writing, I think we’d be better off putting ourselves in the character’s shoes.  See things through the character’s eyes.  Take into consideration the character’s background, religious (or lack of) convictions, prejudices (we all have them), hopes, and goals.  When an event in the story happens, we need to perceive that event through the character’s point of view.

Your job as the writer is to step aside and let the character believe what they want about the event, regardless of whether or not they are right.  Misunderstandings about something can be a great way of opening conflict in a story.  How often have you heard one side of the story and then learned the other side?  How often would you say two opposing viewpoints both had valid points after you listened to each person tell you what they think?

It’s no different with characters.  One character might see an event in a very positive light while another might think it’s the worst thing that has ever happened.  That is fine.  Go with it.  Let the character with the point of view have that perception. And when that character has perceived it in a certain way, have him react to it based on his personality.

blog post on character and point of view

ID 34477816 © Raywoo | Dreamstime.com

When I was in high school, I was in a play, and to this day, I remember the director (aka drama teacher) saying, “Good acting is reacting.” In the same way, good writing is allowing the character to react in a way that makes sense for him, given his history, baggage, prejudices, etc, to react.  The character might change eventually or might not.  But either way, that character has a right to react to an event that makes the best sense to that character.

For example, a character who has spent his childhood hiding from bullies isn’t likely to react bravely to someone who threatens him.  He will need to build himself up and overcome that tendency to run off before his is ready to confront the person threatening him.  It won’t happen overnight.  That’s where personal growth and struggle can come in for the character.

Even if you, as the author, face challenges head on and tackle them right away, your character might not be the same way.  It’s okay for your character to be different from you.  In fact, I think it’s great if you experiment with different personality types when you’re writing.  Too many times we try to impose who we are on the characters, and this can be very limiting.

Think about it.  If you write the same type of characters all the time, how different will your stories really be?  There are only so many plots available.  It’s how the characters react to the events (aka plots) that make the story unique.

You might get feedback from a reader who says, “I hated that character.  I never would have done (fill in the blank).”  The reader has every right to hate the character because the character didn’t live up to the reader’s expectations (based on the reader’s background, personality type, etc).  But does that mean the character was wrong to do what the character did?  Absolutely not.  The character has his own way of looking at the world, and this particular way of looking at the world just happens to be at odds with the reader’s way of looking at the world.

Remember: you will NEVER please EVERYONE.  So don’t even waste your time trying.  It’s okay to have haters on your book.  It doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a writer.  It just means your book isn’t that reader’s cup of tea.  Books, just like points of view, are subjective.

Back to the post:

Think about real life.  We all have our own point of view on everything that happens around us.  We react to these events based on our point of view.  Another person we know will have a different point of view and react differently than we do.  It’s normal.  Life would be boring if we were all the same.

So embrace these differences when you’re writing.  Give your character the freedom to be his own person.  Even if that character is different from you, let him react to things that are appropriate for him.  I think it will help you develop more well-rounded and meaningful characters if you embrace differences instead of trying to fight them.

Categories: Characters & Viewpoints, General Writing, storytelling | Tags:

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