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Avoiding the Info-Dump

I graduated from college back in May after a very busy senior year, during which I was fortunate enough to not only do a senior thesis, but to do a novel that I really wanted to write as a senior thesis and get excellent feedback from my advisor and a fellow senior. Around April my advisor, a creative writing professor with quite a few books published, my second reader, a favorite teacher of mine who was as much a nerd and an even bigger science-fiction enthusiast than I am, and I met for my thesis discussion, where we’d go over the progress of my novel and where I would go for the third draft once I got around to that.

While they generally liked my story, which is titled Rose, they had a number of very good suggestions on ways to make it better. One of the suggestions, and something that I hadn’t even considered, was that a lot of the information received about my antagonist came in three big bursts over the course of the story. They suggested that maybe I should space out when such information was given, and maybe vary my sources. In fact, they pointed out that one character seemed to be there only just to dole out information about the antagonist. He didn’t really serve any purpose beyond that.

This stunned me. And you know what else? I realized they were right. I was doing a lot of info-dumping in this story, and that it was actually working against the story I was trying to tell. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about ways to avoid info-dumping in this and future stories, and I thought I’d share some of those tips with you.

But first, what exactly is an info-dump? It’s when a huge amount of information is deposited in a single place. In fiction, it’s like exposition, only it’s too much exposition. Think of it like this: if any of you watch Once Upon a Time, you know that flashbacks are a big part of the show and that the writers take care to reveal new facts over time, peeling away layers so that there’s always a bit of mystery left in the characters you think you know very well. Now imagine in one episode they took all the backstory of a single character and reveal it all at once? That’s so much information, it’d make for a five-hundred page biography! And all in the course of forty-two minutes. You’d be overwhelmed. That there is an info-dump, and it’s something writers should take pains to avoid.

So how do you avoid the info-dump?

The key is to space out the information you reveal. Don’t reveal everything about a character, a place, or an object all at once. Instead make sure it happens gradually, over a long period of time, and between reveals make sure there’s time for the characters to do other stuff and for the reader to focus their attention on other aspects of the story. After all, between flashbacks on Once Upon a Time, there’s still evil witches or monsters or manipulative adolescents to deal with.

Another good tip is to make the information come from multiple sources. Look at Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. How do we find out about him, who he is, where he came from and what he did? Well, we find all that out over time, but we also find out about him from many different sources. We first learn his name and the night he disappeared from Hagrid in the first book. We later find out what happened to him after his defeat from the villain himself at the book’s climax. In the second book we find out about his life as Tom Riddle and a hint at his political views from the piece of his soul in the diary, in the fourth book we find out how he came back to power when he tells it to his followers, in the fifth book we find out about the prophecy from Dumbledore, and our information is completed when we find about him from the flashbacks Dumbledore provides us in the sixth book.

But how do you decide when information is to be revealed? Well, that’s for you as the author to decide, but info should come when it fits or works for the story. Back to Harry Potter for a second. There’s obviously a lot of information about the Wizarding World. So much, that not all of it was revealed in the books and JK Rowling is still giving out snippets of information to us through a variety of sources. Wisely, she only gave out information when it was relevant. Would it have really have helped us, the reader, to know about goblins’ attitudes towards wizards keeping their works in the first book? It would’ve been interesting to know, but it wouldn’t have mattered much to the story at that point. And while we wondered if Hogwarts was the only school for magic in the world, the existence of other schools was only revealed in Book 4 because other schools were a big part of the story. In a similar, you should only reveal information when it’s relevant to the story you’re telling.

Another thing to keep in mind, especially in terms of characters, is we should already feel we know and have an opinion about someone or something before the information is revealed. In one of my favorite anime, Code Geass, we get to know one of the main characters early on, not through the info given to us about his past, but by his personality and actions. We get to know that he is kind, selfless, and will gladly put his life on the line for others, even when it doesn’t make sense to do so. It isn’t until halfway through the first season that we find out the incident in his childhood that made him this way, but by that time we already have a very positive and sympathetic view of this character and the info reveal does surprise us, but doesn’t color our opinion of the character as much as it would’ve if we’d learned that piece of information at the very beginning of the series.

Another great example is Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery. Early on we don’t know much about Annie besides what she chooses to reveal, and we can’t even rely on that. Why should we? She’s nuts! She’s violent, obsessive, and can switch from sweet to scary at the drop of a hat. By the time we find her scrapbook later in the book, we already know her and how we feel about her. The info in the scrapbook is certainly revealing, but it only adds to our dislike of the character. It isn’t what we base that dislike on.

There’s more I could say about avoiding info-dumps, but that’s a very long article to write. Let’s just finish it by saying that learning to avoid giving out way too much information is something we earn through time and practice. With experience, great tips, and a good bunch of people around you, we learn how to do it while still telling the excellent stories we want to tell.

All that and more will certainly help me when I get around to the next draft of Rose. I’m looking forward to seeing how that turns out when all is said and done!

What tips do you have for avoiding info-dumps? How have they worked out for you?

Categories: Editing & Rewriting, General Writing, storytelling | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

My Experiments with Facebook Ads

For the past couple of months, I’ve been using the Ads feature on Facebook in a variety of ways, seeing if using it can help me grow my audience on my blog or Facebook page, or even to increase my book sales. I’m sure many of you have already utilized and come to your own conclusions about these features, but for those who haven’t, I’m presenting my findings in case you decide to try Facebook ads and want some advice or testimony before starting.

And if you don’t know much or at all about this feature, let me tell you about it. The Ads feature of Facebook is a way for people with businesses or Facebook pages to build followings and even sell their products. Setting up an ad campaign is very easy: you write the ad and then once you’ve finished, you can set a target audience based on criteria such as age range, country, and interests or hobbies. You then set for how long you want the ad campaign to run (five days, a week, two weeks, etc), and how much you want to pay. I generally recommend between ten and twenty dollars a day. As how many people you reach depends on your daily budget, this price range guarantees you’ll reach a bunch of people.

Once you’ve finished setting everything, you click “Done” and send the ad off to be approved. Usually this takes no more than a half-hour or an hour. Once your ad is approved, you let Facebook do the rest. It bases its algorithms on who it shows your ad to based on the parameters you sent, and then people start noticing it. Some, though not many, even click on it.

I ran three different ad campaigns through Facebook. Here were the results:

  1. Blog Campaign: In this campaign I gave a link to my blog. I wasn’t trying to sell anything, just get people reading. Of the nearly seventeen-thousand reached, only about one hundred clicked on the link, which led to a slight increase of readership on my blog. Didn’t get any new comments or likes or followers, but it was still a noticeable increase, small as it was. Spent a little over $41 over five days.
  2. Reborn City Campaign: This time around, I was trying to see how effective an ad campaign was at selling books, so I picked my most popular one, my sci-fi novel Reborn City, and aimed it at fans of science fiction, particularly dystopia fans. Reached a little over twelve-thousand people, but only about 140 followed the link to RC‘s Amazon page. Of these 140, no one seemed willing to pay the full price for a print or e-book copy of RC, sadly. Spent about $70 over the course of a week.
  3. The Big Birthday Sale: With this campaign, I had a bit more success than the previous two campaigns, which I did in honor of my 22nd birthday. For five days, all my paperbacks were marked down, and all e-books free-of-charge, and each day I ran a new ad campaign, each one lasting a day, advertising the sale. I also expanded the criteria to include more people, leading to buyers from seven different countries. All told, I reached a staggering sixty-thousand people and managed to sell or download nearly twelve-hundred books. Although I didn’t make as much money (especially with the e-books) it was enough to know that people were downloading and reading my books. In addition, I received a huge boost in the number of likes on my Facebook page, going from 140 likes to nearly 400, most of them from India! All told, I’m pretty satisfied with how this campaign went, spending $65 total.

From these experiences, I’ve gained some insight into what makes a Facebook ad work. Firstly, it helps to be very specific with what you’re pushing. You can’t just go “Check this out! It’s new! It’s awesome! You should want it!” You have to say more than that. For example, if you want to push your latest novel, you can say “Chester Bennett was just an ordinary teenager with ordinary problems. That is, until he met Kaylie, a girl who was born into the wrong body and is on the run from the mobster parents she stole from. The adventure they go on together leads both teens to learning many uncomfortable secrets about themselves and each other, and teaches Chester what it truly means to love in Running in Cincinnati” (and that’s just something I made up on the spot. If you want to turn it into a novel, be my guest).

It also helps if you’re emphasizing why now’s a good time to buy. This is especially helpful during a sale. If you emphasize that your books are discounted or even free and that it’s better to get the books now because of these reasons, people will take notice. Of course, there’s the downside that you might not get as much back in sales as you did in spending money on the campaign, but if there are more people reading your books because they got them at a discount price and if a good number of them enjoy the books, at least some of them will review the books, tell their friends about them, and maybe buy future copies of your work.

And of course, you need to know whom you’re selling to. The reason why my last campaign was so successful was because I made sure as many people around the world as possible with the interests and hobbies I was targeting did see the ad. The result was a huge amount of people getting my books and even liking my Facebook page. So when selling, take advantage of the parameters you’re setting for the campaign. Even look in places you wouldn’t think of looking in (like I did when I decided to target Germany, India and Japan rather than just English-speaking nations). You never know who might want to check out your new book.

Oh, and use the Ads Manager page, which you can reach by finding it on the left side of your page. If you need to make any adjustments to your campaigns (and you will), the Ads Manager will allow you to do that, so don’t ignore it!

While it may seem like putting a lot of money into something that might not yield results, Facebook ads can be a lucrative means to reach readers if you allow them. You can start slow, doing one-day campaigns and seeing what the results are, seeing what works for you and what doesn’t. With any luck, it could lead to a few more devoted readers wanting to know what happens next in your latest series or to look and see what else you have available. Nothing wrong with that, right?

What’s your experience with Facebook ads, if you have any? What tips do you have for other readers?

Also, I’m happy to announce that, like I promised in my last article, I’ve set up a page called Conferences, Bookstores, & Other Resources with links to place like the Gulf Coast Bookstore that can be of service to you in promoting your works. Included on this page are stores, conferences, and websites that have the potential to be helpful for every indie author. You can check the page out by either clicking on its name here or you can find it at the top menu under “On Marketing & Promoting”. I will be steadily adding other entries to the lists there as I find them, so if you have any you’d like to recommend, leave a name, a description and links in a comment and I will put it up as soon as possible. Hope you all find it helpful!

Categories: Author Platform & Branding, Book Promotion, Business Plan, Marketing & Promoting, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Social Networking, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What’s The Most Important Lesson You’ve Learned: Words of Wisdom From Our Readers

About two weeks ago, Ruth and I asked you to send in your best advice on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing fiction. I am very pleased to say that nearly every day since my inbox has had wonderful messages from our many readers who were glad to send along their knowledge. Below you can see their comments, as well as wonderful pictures of them and their books. On behalf of the folks here at Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors, we would like to thank you for your awesome contributions.

Here’s what our readers had to say:

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Write the story you want to write.  Be passionate, follow your heart, and ignore what others are writing.  Just be you.

Debbie Conrad

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Spell check. Spell check, spell check, spell check. After every draft, spell check. After every writing session, spell check. There are going to be things you missed, even if you think you haven’t; it’s just the way the mind works. Have you gone through five drafts with two meticulous editors, four former English teachers, eight hawk-eyed beta readers, and an incredibly observant slow loris? Spell check. You may only find six errors in eighty thousand words, but that’s six errors your readers didn’t find.

Spell check. Then, you won’t have to apologize.

B. Lynch

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Always read the proof! First time I self-published, the book manufacturer sent me a proof copy. I was so excited to see my work in print form, I didn’t take any time to read through it. Consequently, in the first 50 books I ever sold, there were all manners and sorts of typos and small things I hadn’t caught during my initial editing. Sometimes, once the work is in print, you see it with fresher eyes and can spot things missed during the initial editing rounds.

Dana Myles

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The most important lesson I’ve learned from self-publishing is; spellcheck is no substitute for a good editor. And a good editor is one that is first and foremost, a fan of your work.

Gwen Rhea

 

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Although it’s hard to pinpoint one specific thing about writing, publishing or marketing, I think I can safely say, the overarching key to feeling competant in this field is (drumroll please)……. NETWORKING! The more people you meet, the greater your pool of resources, knowledge, and promotion. Make friends. Know everyone in the business you can and genuinely care about them, honestly seek out their knowledge, and give them credit for anything you learn from them. Help promote them and they’ll help promote you. Network. It goes a long, long way in every avenue in writing.
G.M. Barlean
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Before you spend one dime, one minute, one ounce of energy on anything, whether it’s choosing a publisher, releasing your book, publicizing, advertising, marketing, do your research. At your fingertips is a vast information pool of success stories and failures. Tap into that to learn the best ways to publish and promote. Learn from others’ mistakes so you don’t repeat them. This will give you a leg up and pave the way for a better chance at success.
Eva Lesko Natellio
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No matter how tired you are of re-writing the ending or the tweaking the edits your editor gives you—do them with care and thoughtfulness. If you dash through them, or you’re simply freakin’ tired of working on the manuscript it WILL show up in the writing. You cannot fool readers. Put the work aside and do something else until you’re renewed enough to start again. It’s worth the wait.
BK Froman
Tenembras
I made so many mistakes on my first book. It wasn’t edited well, it had no promotion, I hadn’t research cover design enough, my website wasn’t up. The lack of editing was the worst; I had to put out a 2nd revision of The Distant Trees with corrections. Of course the reviews citing typos remained. I was in too great a hurry with excitement over publishing. With the subsequent books of the Elise t’Hoot series, I have been meticulous about multiple drafts, waiting a month, proofing, waiting, going through it again. I have a knowledgeable beta reader now, too, an English teacher. Then I revise as needed and do one more line edit start to finish. I still cannot afford professional ($1000 – $2000) editing  for each book in the series, but the amateur editing is far better now. Bottom line: Poorly edited books will haunt you.
Mary Ellen Wall
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Lots of people on the Internet offer their unqualified and/or overpriced services to self-publishing authors. Their best trick of all is getting you to pay for their advice on what you should do. Any failure to achieve what you want will be your fault. I haven’t subscribed to any of these services, but I see them everywhere, every day. Sad.
Ron Fritsch
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Before I published my book, I had this rather naïve idea that it would sell itself, that when people realize how good it was, they would buy it.   Once my book entered Amazon’s inventory, however, it became the proverbial needle in a haystack. I looked at and read other self-published books.   A few were not necessarily great stories, but the titles seemed to be everywhere. That’s when I learned that some of the books that rise to the top of popularity were there not necessarily because they were outstanding, but because they were backed by good marketing campaigns.  
Now that I understand that every book needs advertising, I’m budgeting time and money to market my book to improve its visibility.  I have found affordable advertising packages and blog tours, and I’m enjoying the new responsibility of being my book’s PR agent.
Amaia S. Li
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Using CreateSpace, which I adore, I was smart enough NOT to a) let them be the imprint instead of forming my own publishing company for 300 bucks (easy online), and b) not letting them supply ISBN number (which would be in their name), but supplying my own, Doing this retains 100% control and gives me piece of mind.
Rodney Richards
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When attending a local Sci-Fi & Fantasy convention , it’s always tempting to hide out in the video game, movie or board game rooms. (Especially when most of us who write are quiet folk who feel uncomfortable around large groups of people.) But when you do that, you waste a great opputunity to chat with fellow published writers! You never know what friendships you’ll make or pieces of advice you’ll get. I’ve made some lasting relationships from going to conventions and it helped a ton when I launched my first novel Blade Of The Broken… Don’t be afraid to mingle!
Jake Scholl
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The best advice I’ve learned from self-publishing is to just do it.  I took a “write-a-story-in-one-day” challenge, and from that I completed a short story.  With that, I loaded up to Amazon and *poof* I am a published author.  There’s so much talk about building your brand, having a platform, developing and maintaining a website, being active on social media and all that, but if you don’t have a book published, then why all the effort?  If people like you but have nothing to read, that’s a waste of potential.

That and find an editor.

DW Hirsch

Thanks once again to all our contributors for their wonderful advice. I hope we can do this again sometime and that you all find the advice above very helpful in your own writing. Have a lovely day, everyone.

[Editor’s Note: If you contributed have trouble viewing one of your photos or any other concerns, please let me know as soon as possible so I can rectify it. Thank you.]

 

Categories: From The Readers, General Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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