The Writer & Author

Writing Reviews

I enjoy writing reviews on my personal blog. Whether it be for a book, movie, or TV show, writing reviews allows me to give my own opinion on a particular work to a wider audience, as well as helping me to seem more like an authority on the subject when the work in question happens to be in my main genre (namely horror). And there’s an added benefit to writing reviews: by identifying what works or what doesn’t work in a movie/TV show/book, you can learn from these examples and incorporate them into your own fiction to make your stories better.

I’ve been writing reviews on my blog almost as long as I’ve been blogging (for examples, click here), and I think knowing how to do it and doing it as often as possible actually works in your favor as an author. Below I’ve written down some tips to writing reviews, based on my own experience and things I’ve picked up from reading the reviews of others (especially those in Entertainment Weekly):

Review both good and bad works. Sometimes it’s tempting to only review the good stuff. After wasting perhaps several hours on a work that proved to be well below the bar, the last thing you want is to spend any more time on it. However, writing a review on something you disliked not only does a lot of much-needed venting on how you wasted money getting that ticket or buying that paperback, but it may help someone decide whether or not to check out said work, and perhaps avoid several hours of trying to get through a book that fails to please.

Opening, summary, thoughts, final rating, closing. This is the structure I usually use for my reviews. I give a little opening that gives my impressions of the movie, positive or negative. Then I give a short, hopefully spoiler-free summary of what the film is about, followed by a paragraph or two about what worked and what didn’t work. Finally I give a final rating (more on that below), and I write a final piece, usually something relating to any possible sequels or how this book was one of the best I’d read in a long time or some other third thing (you guys get the idea).

Use a rating system. You don’t have to use a rating system, but I find them helpful. Something simple, such as on a scale of 1-10, 1-5, out of 5 stars, a grade between A+ and F (though I wonder, if you’re a schoolteacher during your day job, is using that rating system too much like work?). I prefer using 1-5 with decimals. The last review I gave was a 2.6 out of 5, if I remember correctly. It’s simple and easy to understand, which is what I hope everyone thinks my reviews are.

Make sure to name all relevant people. Include the names of the author, or the name of the writer, director, and actors if this is a TV show or movie. Also, if you feel themake-up artists producers, and composers or anyone else should have their names mentioned, do it. Just make sure you explain why these names are mentioned.

Unless your blog is dedicated to reviews, don’t do them too often. It’s that whole thing about staying true to the theme of your blog and not wanting to deviate too much from that. Sure, a review every now and then is good, but don’t do it too much that you forget why you’re writing your blog in the first place.

If you want to find out more about reviews and writing them, you can check out mine through the link above (though you’ll also find reviews of my own books among them and a few other things, so you might have to wade through all that). You can also check out blogs dedicated to reviewing different movies/books/music/TV shows (too numerous to list here, I’m sure), any pop culture or entertainment magazines (People and Entertainment Weekly) and review aggregator sites (IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, etc.).

And readers, we want to hear from you. Do you write reviews? What do you get out of it? Do you have any tips for the rest of us? Let us know in the comments section, we’d love to hear from you.

And if we get enough tips, I might post an article with your suggestions listed. So don’t hesitate to share your thoughts on reviews and reviewing. You might see them posted for all to see in a future article.

Categories: Blogs & Websites, Book Reviews, General Writing, The Writer & Author | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Tips For Gaining New Followers on Your Blog

If bloggers all share one common conceit, it’s that we’re hungry for followers. We like the idea that people are reading what we post on the Internet, and we’re always looking for ways to make sure that plenty of people discover our work and that they keep coming back. And while there’s no correlation between the number of followers and book sales (I wish there was, though), having followers can lead to some book sales on occasion.

Here are some tips I’ve found useful at one time or another for gaining followers on my own personal blog. Now, there’s no guarantee that any of these tips will be helpful for your blog. At best, a combination of these might be helpful, but that’s for you to find out. Like any technique in this business we try to increase sales and readers, it’s all trial, error, and learning from the past so we can learn from the future.

DO NOT ask for people to follow you! I know some people really want followers, but asking for other bloggers to follow you, especially in a comment on a blog post, sounds a little desperate, which can be a major turn off to some bloggers. There’s a better solution to get a blogger to check out your blog, especially if it’s a blogger you really would like to follow you.

Converse. If you read a post by a blogger or really like their blog and you would like them to follow you as well, then talk to them. Have a lengthy comment conversation where you go over issues or points made in the blog post. Engage them, and let the comments you leave speak for themselves. I’ve been drawn to certain loggers just by a single conversation we’ve had over comments on their or my blogs, and vice versa (I think. Maybe once or twice). If your comments really resonate with a blogger, then they may be drawn to look over your blog (if they’re not already reading your blog at the moment) and maybe then they’ll click the Follow button.

Also…

Blog often. I think a lot of us at first only blog when we feel we have something important to say. But that only increases the pressure to have something relevant to say, and may contribute to us blogging less, which may lead to readers not finding us because we have a small body of work. So instead try blogging more often. It doesn’t have to be big or groundbreaking or important. It can be a small revelation you had about a character, or how a day with your kids inspired you to write a story, or even the frustrations you have with your old computer and how you can’t wait to get a new one. I have a couple of friends who blog once a day every day, and they have a lot of followers, blogging on things going on in their lives, sharing excerpts from their WIPs, and the latest in STEM accomplishments and science fiction, to name but a few. You don’t have to write a post every day if you don’t want to, but writing often, even on the little things, can help people find you.

Blogging often also makes us better bloggers. We get a feel for it, like how we get a feel for fiction writing by reading and writing a lot. We learn how to write a compelling blog post from blogging often and from reading other blogs. And that brings me to my next point.

Always be on the lookout for an interesting blog. I love Freshly Pressed on WordPress, because I’ve read really interesting articles and bloggers through it (I actually discovered this blog through Freshly Pressed, by the way). One should always be on the lookout for an interesting blog or blog post, not just on Freshly Pressed but anywhere else you may run into them. And if a post really catches your attention, don’t just Like it, comment on it. Likes are nice, but comments really engage.

Tags! Tags help readers find your blog articles just as much as keywords do. So make sure you have a tag for most or all of the points covered in your blog post and maybe it’ll help people find your blog, or even get Freshly Pressed (in which case, I might become jealous of you).

Stay consistent to the main theme of your blog. Most of our blogs revolve around our writing careers, so we should keep our posts revolving around writing, our respective genres, the latest updates of our books, etc. Sure, it’s okay to maybe talk about something interesting in your life or maybe a political issue you feel passionate about, but don’t do it so much that you deviate from the main theme of your blog more often than you actually write about it. Otherwise you might lose followers who signed up to hear about you and your writing, rather than twenty posts about your job or church and then maybe one about your book, over and over again.

Use pictures. A WordPress administrator actually wrote a post a few years back and published it on Freshly Pressed. One of the tips he or she (I can’t remember which) gave was that one should try to use pictures, as they can spice up some blog posts, especially ones where it might seem to the reader as just one long list of text without end and they might lose focus.

Maybe I should use a picture in this article…

Remember your grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Just like readers hate horrible grammatical errors, typos, and things of that nature in the books they read, they get really annoyed with that in blog posts. So try and keep grammatical rules in mind, make sure you’re spelling that word correctly, and don’t use a semi-colon when a period or comma would do just fine.

Have fun with it. The main thing with blogging is that you have to enjoy it somewhat. If you treat it as a chore, it’ll come off that way in your blog posts and people might not want to read your work. But if you like it and get into it, that feeling might reveal itself in your blog posts.

 

Like I said, these techniques don’t always work for everyone. These are just ones I’ve felt have helped me. But in our line of work, where we experiment as we write and publish and market, you never know. These tips, as well as those from other writers, could prove extremely helpful in building your audience.

What sort of tips can you give other authors on building audiences and gaining followers?

Categories: Blogs & Websites, General Writing, Grammar, Marketing & Promoting, Social Networking, The Writer & Author, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Business Cards and Bookmarks

Not too long after my most recent book Snake came out, I designed and ordered my first set of business cards, which arrived in the mail not too long afterwards. The pictures below show both the front and the back of the business cards. (I’m sorry if the photos are blurry; my camera’s old, so sometimes getting a close-up on something blurs the shot).

business card 1

business card 2

I received 250 cards, which I’ve been giving out to anyone I think might be interested. I like to think that they’ve helped boost sales a tiny bit, because I’ve had a few sales since I got them (though I doubt the download from the UK has much to do with the business cards). I thought that since my business cards were doing so well, I’d write an article about designing and ordering your own cards to promote your writing. I also plan to include bookmarks in this article, as the places that print business cards also usually print bookmarks if you ask them to.

This brings me to my first point:

1. Find out what your local options are. Some of you may have local print shops who can create your cards and bookmarks for you. It’s sometimes easier to do local anyway, because you can go and pick them up yourself and work with the people at the shop. However, if it’s an independent print shop, the prices might be a little more expensive, so make sure to compare prices before choosing a place to print your cards or bookmarks. Staples and Kinko’s also make some very good cards, and their prices are usually a little more competitive. And if there’s nothing in your area, you can always go online. I got my cards off of VistaPrint, and they did a very good job for a good price, if you ask me, and they make a whole bunch of other products besides business cards and bookmarks.

2. Choose a design that fits you. A business card or bookmark should have the same sort of feel as the work you write, rather than just being a plan white piece of paper or having a picture of a bunch of books on a shelf. Think of it as selecting a cover for your book: you want it to reflect the tone, atmosphere, and characters of the story. So let your bookmarks and business cards reflect what you write. If you are a sci-fi writer, maybe you should do something with aliens or machines. If you do romance, maybe something with hearts and different hues of red and pink. Whatever it is, make sure it works.

3. Make sure all relevant information is on your cards. Name, blog address, Facebook page, Twitter handle, YouTube channel, Reddit username. If you got it, make sure it’s on the card somewhere. If you have an email where fans can reach you, or even a phone number if you’re comfortable with it, include that too (if you have or have had or think you might have obsessed fans, I’d avoid the phone number though). And if there’s room, include the names of some or all of your books. If you have too many to fit on a single card, include maybe the most recent ones, or the most popular ones. And that brings me to my next point:

4. Update as soon as there’s something to update. Got a new book out? Or maybe you’ve started a new page on a new social media platform? Time to start a new card. Yes, it’s a little bit of a hassle, but in the end, it’s a little less annoying than having to say “Oh by the way, I also recently started a page on so-and-so website/published a new book called this-and-that.” And having it on the card helps to keep it in mind for the person you give said card to. Updating them regularly also gives you the chance to try different designs and configurations for your cards (when I update them, I want to customize mine to have one of my photos from the Paris Catacombs on them. I think that’ll be very fun to do, as well as give people an idea of what sort of stories I tend to write).

5. Include a quote or something about yourself as well. On my business cards, I have a short, two-sentence paragraph describing the sort of stories I write. Doing quotes on bookmarks are especially effective, especially if the bookmark is being used to promote a new book. However, should you pick a quote, make sure it is a particularly powerful one that will entice the reader to actually check out the rest of the book. Just putting any old quote on that bookmark just doesn’t do the trick like a quote that is full of mystery and only offers a small peek into the whole story.

6. Finally, be frugal and generous with your cards and bookmarks. What this means is that you should try to give them out to as many people as you can, but try to make sure to give them to people you think would really want to read your books. It’s not an easy thing to do at first–you want to let anyone and everyone know about your work, and you never know who might be a reader–but you get good at it after a while. I learned how to do it while trying to get people interested in my meditation group at the Asian Festival last year (though that’s a story for another time).

Do you have business cards for your writing? Have they been effective?

What advice do you have on making and designing business cards?

Categories: Author Platform & Branding, Book Promotion, Business Plan, Marketing & Promoting, The Writer & Author, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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