The First Rewrite

Joe’s Post #179

Last Wednesday, at 9:44 pm, I finished my first rewrite of my novel, Yager’s War. Or my second draft of it, depending on your point of view.

So, what’s it like to do a rewrite?

Best I compare it to cake, cuz, I’m hungry and I’ve been thinking about cake a lot.

If my book were a cake, this is how I imagined it before I wrote a single word.

When you start out to write a novel, it’s because you have some amazing idea or story or character you MUST write about.

Like a wedding cake, at this point, the story is perfect beyond perfect (because you’ve not written a single word and just have something in your mind.)

You can imagine the sweeping character arcs, the brilliantly described settings, the epic emotions everyone will feel and, of course, the perfect way the plot all comes together.

Then you do your first draft. My first draft had the title, The WW2 Dutch Novel. Like calling something, The Cake. And, if I continue the metaphor, imagine making a cake when you’ve only seen one made by a master. The ingredients are listed, but not the amounts. The cooking time is only hinted at. And, as for the icing, there’s merely a note saying that you need some.

But if you take seminars, go to conferences like the Surrey Writers or attend workshops, you can get the idea you might need 2 eggs instead of one and maybe use some sugar at some point.

So, off you charge to make your cake, all excited cuz, you know, you like to make cakes.

This is what a first draft cake looks like. And it tastes like it looks.

Here is the result. And, guess what, it doesn’t even taste that good.

For some writers, this is as far as it gets. To fix that first draft mess requires a lot of work. Even Stephen King says he looks at what he’s done, sighs, puts it in his drawer and looks at it at a later date.

It’s not like I didn’t try to make a good cake, I simply had to see what worked and what didn’t. And hey, it kinda looks like a cake, right? Kinda a different color than I imagined, and I think I used salt instead of sugar, but now it’s time to fix it.

Can you fix it?

No. Not really. I mean you could put it in a blender, but really, you have to start over. So, in cake creation, like in writing, you start from scratch, again. You work hard to make it look better, taste better, smell better. You also realize that achieving that perfect perfection may be a little harder than you originally imagined.

The first reworking of the cake. See, it looks like a cake, smells like a cake, even tastes like a cake, but is it what you imagined?

The result is the next stage. The stage that I just finished. It looks ok. It even tastes kind of cakey, but you know you can do better. You just know it.

But you have the basics of what your cake will become. You’ve learned a bit about how to make it, how to add some interesting details and it is beginning to take shape.

Now, comes the next step. Refinement.

This is where you take a look at all your parts, all your ingredients, all your techniques and ask the simple question. Can’t I just go buy a cake instead?

Well, you can, but the question you really need to ask is How can I make this better? Then better than that? Then, even better still.

That whole process will take a lot more time, but when people bite into your cake, don’t you want them saying, OMFG is that ever good, I couldn’t stop eating it, this is the best cake I’ve ever tasted.

Now it’s time to work on those final details. The right mix of ingredients.

So, too, does it go with my novel. Now I need to work on making it the absolute best it can be before I send it off, because, as my published writer friend Sean Slater said to me, Joe, you only get one chance at a first impression.

Next week, a quick update on this progress. I think I’ll make a system because I’m all about systems.

Now for some cake.

 

ABL – Always Be Learning

Joe’s Post #178

Always. Be. Learning!

I’m going to bastardize a quote from one of my favourite movies.

Always Be Learning.

This is in the top 3 of my personal things to live by, or at least I’ll admit living by.

  1. Always be learning.

2. Never sniff the hockey gear.

3. Be kind to everyone because you never know who’s going to pee in your soup.

If you need a few more motivational quotes to live by, here are 50!

But for writing, here’s what I was looking at this week and wanted to pass along.

Agent Irene Goodman wrote a great article in Writer’s Digest. 16 Things All Historical Fiction Writers Need to Know.

Now I had the pleasure of listening to her at the Surrey International Writers Conference. She spoke about Non-fiction book proposals and I have to say, she handled the crazies there pretty well.

“So, how come no one wants to buy my book about quantum mechanics and the relation to me not getting girls?”

Her: “Uhm, make it simply about quantum mechanics. Like a text book. There’s a market for that.”

“Then girls will like me?”

Her: “Ah, next question please.”

Anyway, there’s a ton of great advice in that article if you have a moment to read it. I personally love #9, but am deeply afraid of #11. I so want that one not to be true.

 

Always. Be. Feeling.

Another read, (albeit a bit longer) is Don Maass’ latest book about putting emotion into your writing. Ok, he called it The Emotional Craft of Fiction, and it’s one heck of a good read. See, the thing is, as a reader, I remember a book that made me feel. I don’t often remember something with a good line about ducks, or on-fire dialogue, but man, do I remember a book that made me cry.

I’m currently doing my best to make sure I put a bit more emotion into my story. It’s a new journey for me as I usually write something like ‘Joe feels sad’ and leave it at that. But there’s so, so much more that can be done.

So, buy it on amazon. Borrow it from a friend (mine is full of notes, though), or take it out of a library.

Lastly, Surrey International Writers Conference is where I learned so much last year. Or learned so much more. It won’t be long until there’s early registration and I would love to see a few more of my writer friends there. We can learn stuff together, share our learning and become better writers.

ABL!

For the websites, in case you missed them, they are here.

Irene Goodman

Don Maass.

SiWC

Writer’s Digest

So what learning are you doing this week?

Next week – what it’s like to do a rewrite. I should be done my 1st rewrite on my novel and have a few things to share.

 

 

Falling in Love With Your Own Writing

Joe’s Post #177

Listen to what Boromir says.

Listen to what Boromir says.

Is there anything better than falling in love? What about falling in love with your writing? Is that a good thing?

Well, no. No, it’s not.

It’s something I’ve been struggling with as I rewrite my novel, Yager’s War, for submission.

Set in 1940, it tells the story of a Chicago detective in Holland trying to find his missing sister before the Germans invade.

When I first wrote it, it had more of a mystery feel. Dead bodies. Gun battles. Lots of tough guy talk. Some hot sex. But from my writing group and my dedicated readers, it became clear that I needed to shift it a bit, and focus on the humanity of the story. Less Jack Reacher and more Gorky Park.

Why? Because I’m trying to write a deeper story. A story with emotional weight.

I spent a TON of time reworking my first 50 pages to see if I could hit this goal, and after many tears, much staring off into space, and a lot of bugging a published writer friend of mine, I think I finally got the right feel to the story. Good pacing. Some heart. Compelling characters in a compelling story.

If my novel was a kitchen, this is what I would like it to look like.

If my novel was a kitchen, this is what I would like it to look like.

For most of 2017, I’ve been hard at work recrafting the rest of the novel to be as good as those first 50 pages. It’s been hard and, frankly, a lot of the novel has been totally rewritten. It’s sort of like doing a kitchen renovation where all you want to do is replace the sink and end with redoing the counters, cabinets, floors, lights and adding a 75” TV, cuz every kitchen should have one.

But perhaps the toughest part has been letting go of some of my best writing. There was one scene that I loved. I loved writing it the first time. I loved reading it the second time. And the third.

It was powerful. It was emotional. Hell, I think I even gotz all the grammar right.

But here’s the horrible truth, a truth that we writers must face sometimes.

It no longer works.

The story has evolved in such a way that this beautifully written passage was no longer relevant.

It’s very sad.

It was hard to let it go.

But then I remembered what someone told me about letting go of things I’d collected in my house. You know, the sentimental things – the ashtray that my mom used to use, the chair my grandfather made that was now nearly in tatters, the 10,000 VCR tapes that I’d collected over the years… the things to which you attach memories, the things that have meaning but take up an awful lot of space and you no long need.

Well, someone said take a picture of those items so you’ll always have the memory. And, you know what? That worked like a charm. A friend saved me from being a hoarder.

So I applied the same principal to that nice bit of writing. I didn’t take a picture of it, but cut it out of the story and pasted it into a file called, “Things Joe Can’t Delete but Loves.” Like my original Sim City from, like, 1989 which hides somewhere in my computer games file.

Doing this allows me to move on.

And, hey, it can be resurrected.

And, hey, it can be resurrected.

In my mind, I imagine my kids looking at this after I die and saying, my goodness, Joe REALLY could write. Who knew?

Rest in Peace, Good Writing.

Rest in Peace.

Success @ Surrey International Writers’ Conference

real-life-schoolOddly enough, I am more comfortable talking about my failures. I mean, hey, failures make for better stories, while successes, well, who wants to read about a hero who just succeeds? But sometimes we writers forget to celebrate our wins. So, please, indulge me…

With all my pitching done, that left Saturday to actually learn something, maybe even have some fun. And there was one workshop I didn’t want to miss. SiWC Idol.

It’s where authors submit their first page for the amazing Jack Whyte to read, then a panel of agents raise their hand the moment they would reject it. The goal was to have the entire page read, the agents not stopping the reading at all, but eager to find out what happens next.

simon-cowelSure, one year it was bad, with agents going all Simon Cowell on everyone, and even some of the good stuff was getting slaughtered in the name of making people laugh. I suspect a lot of people complained and rightly so. It’s hard to have your stuff read out. It takes courage to submit that one page, and for those agents to savage the writing and writer, well, it was just wrong.

But it never happened again, and so I was pretty excited to submit my 1 page. I thought it was decent enough, perhaps even good, so I thought, hey, roll the dice. One of the agents I had pitched to would be there and if I managed to get read, and she liked it, it might cement that idea that my book has a real chance.

However, if my writing failed, if I’d convinced myself it was better than it really was, then the reverse would be true. She’d leave thinking, my goodness he was handsome and charming and had a good idea for a book, but couldn’t write to save his life (and my book would die an ugly death in the slush pile.)

So, a lot at stake.

And all of it depended on a good bit of luck as well. See, there are about 200 people who show up for this event, and it takes 5-10 min to go through the first page and give feedback, so that’s about 20 or so pages that can be read.

I crossed my fingers.

The first ones that were pulled out and read, were hit and miss. A few good ones, but mostly they needed work. However, the agents were very respectful and even helpful, offering some greats suggestions on how to make it better.

Then Jack Whyte pulled out a submission from my writer’s group. And when he read it, he read the chapter title. It started off with a date and a place, instead of just saying chapter 1.

But the agents hated that, and before we’d gone not far past the chapter title, they’d rejected it!

On the title of a chapter!

Now I went into a panic.

That’s exactly how MY submission started.

If jack Whyte read my chapter titles, then I would be done. All my hopes of making a good impression dashed.

I shut my eyes, and now wished for my submission not to be taken.

More submissions were read. Time began to run out until only 10 minutes remained. Some total asshat submitted 2 and both of them got read. How unfair for the rest of the people. There was only 1 submission allowed. Only 1.

But that left only a few minutes for those last submissions.

And then Jack Whyte began to read mine.

He didn’t read the title.

Thank God.

He read the opening sentence. Then the opening paragraph. Then the rest. With him reading it, with his incredible voice and Shakespearean delivery, he made it sound amazing. Not a single agent stopped him from reading.

And when he was done, they were all so very nice and complementary, especially the agent I’d pitched to who said she knew who the author was and got me to stand up. Then she gave me a thumbs up.

Everyone seemed to love it and it was the best moment that I’d ever had at SiWC. That moment of validation. That feeling that maybe I have a chance at publication. That thumbs up.

But that’s the conference for you.

Ups and downs.

But this time.

On this day.

Totally up.

*****

And here’s Jack Whyte reading from his novel to give you an idea of how well he can speak!

 

 

SiWC – Pain and Pitching Novels (With Links)

Some things need a plan

Some things need a plan

As with any great endeavor in life, (a marriage proposal, a writer’s conference, a popcorn lineup at the movie theater), it’s best to have a plan.

My plan for Friday was simple but very stressful. I had to see and pitch to 3 agents and 1 editor.

As luck would have it, I thought there were 4 people there who might, just might, be interested in my historical novel. But the Surrey International Writers’ Conference only allows you to book 1 appointment. To see other people, you need to get in a line and see if there’s an opening or find a way to bump into them at a workshop they are running (or find the table they’re sitting at for lunch/dinner.)

Being me, and being Canadian, the latter choices are particularly hard. I hate bugging people. I know that sounds totally not like me given that I bug my friends constantly, but really I hate bugging strangers. I hate sitting down and interrupting their meal to say, hey, hi, please put down the spaghetti, I need you to listen to me talk about my novel. Badly.

But at some points in your life, you have to nut up. You have to find a way to push through the nerves and get the job done. Or, as the great philosopher Will Ferrel said, put on your big boy pants.

So, even before the first keynote speech of the morning ended, I had to get up and stumble out of the hall to go stand in line for another appointment. If I could get one, it would make my life a lot better since I wouldn’t have to pitch to anyone while they were in a toilet stall.

The stars aligned and I got myself one right off the bat. 10:20. Nervously, I waited, rehearsing what I would say or at least the points I hoped to highlight. Much like the speech I did at my wedding, I had to semi-wing-it. I have no ability to actually memorize anything, as best exemplified by my ability to sing the wrong lyrics to pretty much every song, nor am I good at pitching just off the cuff. So I hybrid rehearse.

Open with what the story is about. Mention character for the love of God. Look the person in the eye. Do not scratch my balls no matter how itchy they become. Talk about why I love this story. Remember to breathe. Talk slowly. Enunciate my words. Tell them about why it matters to my hero, Kurt Yager, that he find his sister. Mention the time crunch and the stakes if he doesn’t find her. Breathe.

But no matter how much I prepared, the moment I went over to talk to the agent, my heart pounded so quickly that if someone had pricked me with a needle, I would have shot blood 100 feet out like a fire hydrant releasing water. I honestly thought about running outside to get some fresh air, but it was too late.

I reached the table where the agent sat and held out my hand. God, was it sweaty? Would I remember my name? Would I be able to talk at all?

She shook my hand as I introduced myself and sat down.

And I began with a shaking voice.

By the end of my pitch, my entire body was soaked with sweat, but she seemed interested in the story. Genuinely interested. She asked to see 50 pages, said she loved the premise, the characters, the setting.

I nearly jumped out of my seat and hugged her.

But instead, I thanked her for her kind words, promised to get her those 50 pages as soon as I could, and left with her card.

Success! At least as much as I could hope for at this point in the writing process.

1 down, 3 to go.

I wasn’t sure my nerves could take it.

*******

Here is a link to an article from Writer’s Digest on Pitching.

Here is a link to pitching from the Writing World.

Here is a link from SFU.

Here is a link from The Professor.

Lots of good stuff! Please check out the links.

 

 

 

Surrey International Writers’ Conference 2016 – Do or Die

One of the great minds of our time

One of the great minds of our time

What’s the definition of insanity, again? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

Yeah, that’s it. Einstein, right? Or Bieber? I can’t remember. Some great mind, anyway.

So, let’s be clear, going to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference was an act of insanity for me.

It’s a conference where you can learn new stuff, meet new people and pitch your projects to attending agents or editors. I’ve been going on and off for about 10 years, and the result has always been the same. I go to workshops, listen hard, try to learn a bit, then go home and try to make my writing better.

Don Maass, one of the best writing teachers I've ever seen.

Don Maass, one of the best writing teachers I’ve ever met.

That’s all good. Sometimes, especially with the Don Maass workshops, I learn a ton and it makes my writing a WHOLE lot better. He just has a way of making me think about how I can make any story better, deeper, more entertaining.

But sometimes, I don’t get as much. Sometimes it’s just stuff I already know.

As for the ‘meeting new people’ part, well, let’s just say I’m far more comfortable sitting in the basement in a dark room and writing alone, than having to talk with people. It’s the secret side of my nature. The extreme introvert. If you want to see what it’s like when I make conversation, I have a video for you.

This is me going to talk to someone. Only I’m less cool.

However, the big fail for me has always been the pitching part. I stress for days over what to say, how to say it, then, when I actually sit in front of someone, my nerves get the best of me.

The conversations often go like this…

“So, I have this book I’ve written, no, wait, I mean novel, cuz a book could be, like, you know, hahaha, a non-fiction thingee or anything, so uhm, yeah, I have this novel and it’s completed and it’s about this guy who does something and must solve some problems and then, at the end, it’s all resolved except for the parts that aren’t resolved. And it’s science-fiction. Did I mention that?”

Bring on the full body sweat.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that not a lot of agents or editors are interested in my stories. More surprising is that I’ve sometimes been escorted out by security or had the agent/editor look quietly away while I weep uncontrollably.

Ok, it’s not that bad, but last time I ate a lot of rejections, and that stung. I thought I had a pretty good story, a pretty good pitch and, yet, yeah, zip. Nada. Not even a pity send-me-ten-pages requests.

So why go back if that’s all going to happen, again?

Why?

Because there is always that hope that this time will be different. Maybe one day, I’ll pitch the right story to the right agent/editor at the right time.

See?

Insane.

But what happened this year was not something I expected at all.

 

Rebooting the Group

Joe’s Post #171

So, can you reboot a writing group? Refocus it? Get its writers writing, again?

It turns out, *spoiler alert*, you can.

On June 13th, we all met and made our declaration of writing intentions. While not as impressive as the declaration of independence or a declaration of love, it did allow us to find a way back to writing, albeit via a winding, and somewhat meandering path.

I don’t think a single one of us went home and wrote 50 pages. But, we did get writing done. Myself, I managed to get 32 pages done, mostly (due to my horrific tendency to procrastinate), in the last week.

But before that, I spent time going back to the basics. Working on my characters, helped by my writing friend and published author, Sean Slater.

Here’s what I learned in this part of the journey

  1. More beautiful because of her flaws. Like me.

    More beautiful because of her flaws. Like me.

    I found that if I had a picture of my character, a whole ton of things fell into place for that character. When I looked at my protagonist’s sister, the one he rushes off to Europe to save, I saw a beautiful woman who didn’t like to smile because of her teeth. And from that, I built not a plot device, but a real person.

2) A book is defined as much by the villain as the hero. It’s something I’ve worked on a lot in the past, but it’s something I REALLY worked on this time around. Again, it started with an idea, I added a picture and then spent two days writing his life story, his fears and hopes, and his hidden secrets.

3) I stopped stressing about drafting the PERFECT opening line. I know it matters, I do. I get that. But I can spend weeks, I kid you not, trying to find that perfect line and still fail. So,  I let got of that and just wrote.

4) I signed up to attend the Surrey Writer’s Conference, and while that alone didn’t inspire me to write more, there is an editor there who may just be looking for the exact type of book that I’m writing. So that inspired me. (So, if you’re thinking of going, know that we’ll be there. At least 3/5 of the 5/5/5).

5) Like playing tennis after not playing tennis for 25 years, it’s hard to do. You get rusty. Nothing flows. There’s lots of sweating and swearing. But if you keep at it, you’ll get better. Faster. Stronger. Like the million dollar man. Personally, I’m not there, yet, but if I keep at it, I have to believe I can get there.

So that’s a quick update.

siwcWho’s going to Surrey this year? Who wants to buy me a drink so I can pitch my novel without it sounding like this, “it’s a story, ah, about, um, a guy, who does this, err, thing and stuff gets in his way, so he has to, you know, do more stuff?”

Hugs!

 

1st story

A reblog from my About A Stepdad Blog. 🙂  But hey, it’s about writing.

First tooth.

First tooth.

I’ve missed a lot of kid ‘firsts’.

First steps. First tooth. First use of the f-bomb.

But this one I’ve managed to see. Last week, The-Youngest wrote his first story.

He didn’t do it by choice, however. He didn’t sit down and think, my goodness, I need to write a story about an evil brother who constantly tries to scare the bejesus out of his gentle, younger brother. No. He was forced to do it by his arch enemy. The school system.

I remember writing my first story at 9, the same age as The-Youngest. It was called The Invasion of the Mole People –  Blue construction-paper cover, twenty handwritten pages (Jam smears on a few of them), eleven illustrations (all bad).

My parents loved it.  My teachers loved it.  My friends loved it.  I knew, then, that I wanted to be a writer.

Throughout my school years, I continued to write, and by the end of high school, I even attempted my first novel, Starborn, a story about a hunter of rogue androids who doesn’t realize he’s an android.

I received an A in English class and a stack of rejection letters.

Sadly, out of high school, I did not pursue a writing career in any shape or form.  Instead, I chose the very exciting field of accounting.  Oh, the glory, the challenges, the excitement!  But I still kept on writing.

So I was super excited to help The-Youngest out. I mean, damn, this is what I’m trying to do: Write.

Surely he would want my input or want to make use of my vast experience, right?

Wrong.

That moment before you write

That moment before you write

He’d worked himself into a quick tizzy about doing it, and only wanted The-prettiest-girl-in-the-world (AKA his mom) to help him out.

That was heartbreaking. I so wanted to help him out. But he wouldn’t have any of it.

Here’s how the conversation went…

“I can’t write a story.”

Prettiest-girl-in-the-world: “Sure you can, honey, you just have to sit down and start.”

“I can’t, I don’t know what I’m going to write. I’m not a writer.”

“Sure you are. You just have to start at the beginning. What story do you want to tell?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.”

Ok, hold on. Wait. That was the conversation she has with me every time I start to write a story. But The-Youngest’s conversation went pretty much the same way.  Like any writer, he was terrified of that first page. Of no ideas coming forth. Of not being able to tell a story.

But unlike me when I wrote my first story, the schools have done an amazing job in teaching the kids HOW to actually write a story. And he had his mom.

I’ll detail the amazing cool (and super simple ideas the school had for creating a good story) in the next blog, but for now, here’s why the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world is such a great mom.

Her: So what if we tell a minecraft story? About two boys named jinga-jinag and goobermunday.

Mom! What? You can’t have names like that.

Her: No? What should their names be?

*Thinks* Floyd and Florence.

Her: Good names. And what’s happened to them?

I dunno.

Her: What would be the WORST thing to happen to them in minecraft?

The worst?

Her: Yup

Someone stole all their stuff.

Her: Oh, like what?

Diamonds and stuff.

Nothing like a good minecraft story

Nothing like a good minecraft story

Her: Why would someone do that?

They’re bad guys. They like destroying things.

Her: That’s pretty terrible. What are Floyd and Florence going to do?

Then the ideas came fast and furious. They came so fast he couldn’t write them down so she did, scribbling while his mind went this way then that way, then flipped around and raced in a totally new direction. Not once did she say an idea was wrong or silly. She just kept him talking.

Then, like magic, they had a ton of writing on sticky notes and a good story.

The-Youngest got out his laptop and began to type. He typed until he finished the story. In one burst. Like he eats a bag of chips.

Then he proudly printed it out.

I was so excited to read it. It had been so cool to watch the creative story-birthing process, and listen to how the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world help brainstorm the best story possible.

He was proud of himself, too. You could tell.

He’d done what all writer’s do in the end.

He wrote.

All he needed was a muse and despite the fact I hate it couldn’t have been me, The-prettiest-girl-in-the-world did incredibly well.

Next up, a quick peak into how the schools are teaching kids to write.

Snoopy advice

Joe’s Post #166

Super busy week for me so just a few fun things for the writers out there who are struggling…

There are fewer wiser dogs than Snoopy

There are fewer wiser dogs than Snoopy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think I got one like Snoopy did.

I think I got one like Snoopy did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

medium_Peanuts_Writing_Comic

It was a dark and story night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope everyone is well and writing up a storm. Even a dark and stormy storm.

 

Cheers

Joe

 

Targeting genre

Joe’s Post #158

cs lakinToday, I want to repost an article by one of our followers. C.S. Lakin.

Actually, I could probably repost about 10 of hers as she is one hell of a blogger. No. Seriously. She rocks.

Now, this is a bit ahead of where we 5/5/5 are at currently, but I love reading about what to do when we reach the publishing stage. It’s like chocolate for the soul. Keeps me thinking about the future and not the past.

If you want, please check out her other articles here on Linkedin. Or here on facebook.

cs lakin bookOr, check out her website. It’s amazingly well done. I am super envious of her abilities. She won the 2015 award for being one of the top 10 blogs for writers, and one look at her site or her posts and you’ll see why. She’s good. Very, very good.

She also has a newsletter that’s worth signing up for and a few pretty cool books, even, dare I say it, quite a few novels.

Anyway, here is the article.

Targeting Genre Using the KDSPY Chrome Tool

I always wondered just how much genre had to do with a novel’s success, and when I did my “experiment” a couple of years ago by writing in a genre that purportedly “sold itself,” I proved to myself (and perhaps to many others) that genre really matters. (If you didn’t read my blog post on The Book Designer that went viral in the writing world, take a look at it here. )

My aim was to write a novel that carefully fit a big-selling genre and see if it would sell with little effort on my part. I used a pen name, and although I did a little bit of marketing—similar to what a new author would do—I was astounded by the sales I saw. Way more than all the sales I got from my other half dozen self-published novels.

Whether You’re in It for the Money or Not

You might not care about making money off your books. But some of us have families to support and bills to pay. I felt guilty for years writing novel after novel that didn’t sell, “wasting precious time” (my assessment) when I could have been working at Wal-Mart for minimum wage and at least bringing some money in.

Before throwing in the towel and giving up what I loved most—writing novels—I decided to give this writing life one last-ditch desperate effort. I promised myself that if this new book I planned to write did not make me any money, I would never write another novel again (believe me, this wasn’t the first time I vowed this, but I really meant it this time!).

You may be in a situation to write whatever you want, regardless of market potential. You may not need the money. You may, like me, love experimenting and mixing genres and fleshing out those crazy ideas and structures you know probably won’t turn into best sellers.

For you, maybe it’s not about the money. Maybe you want the recognition. You want lots of super fans and for your peers to acknowledge what a great writer you are. Most of us want this, regardless of profession. We want to be recognized for our talents and abilities. We want to feel successful, that all our hard work shows. I don’t believe there is anything at all wrong with this. We need validation and to be encouraged by results. We don’t want to feel like failures.

So regardless of the reason, you might want to achieve some success with your book sales. And targeting genre is a great way to do it.

The Difficulty in Researching Hot Genres

In the aftermath of my viral post on targeting genre, a lot of writers contacted me and asked me how they could figure out which subgenres sold the best. I knew basically that some general genres sold well on Kindle: romance, mysteries, suspense, fantasy. But those are very general categories, and the niche I targeted was a very specific subgenre.

I asked experts in marketing what their thoughts were on this, and basically, after all my research, I came up with a blank. The bottom line is it would take a lot of participating in K-Boards and Goodreads discussions to find the threads that showed readers decrying a lack of novels in their subgenre.

This implies greater demand than supply. Which is a factor in big sales, to me. If there are a gazillion readers clamoring for books in a certain subgenre, and there aren’t all that many books being released, those few authors are cashing in. This is what I see in the sweet Western Historical Romance subgenre (although now the competition is growing—probably the result of my blog post!).

The Best Tool I’ve Seen for Authors

So imagine the thrill I felt when I learned about KDSPY. It was exactly the app I needed to uncover all the info—accurate data, not guesses—on which subgenres sold well and why.

Called “The Ultimate Kindle Spy Tool,” KDSPY is probably one of the most valuable tools an indie author can utilize. This unique software application essentially reverse engineers the Kindle marketplace and shows you which niches sell well, which have much or little competition, and how much revenue the top-selling books in that niche have made in the last thirty days.

There are so many features that I love with this app:

  • It’s easy (and inexpensive!) to load and use, and integrates into your browser for easy access.
  • It gives you gobs of pertinent info that will help you determine what niches are selling.
  • It allows you to look at any author’s page and see her actual book sales and rankings for every book she has on Kindle for the last thirty days.
  • It shows you the main keywords used by the author for a particular book (which is also broken down by use in title and in description).
  • In seconds, sometimes with just one click, you can see a wide landscape regarding genre and revenue, helping you make marketing decisions for your book. Or helping you decide what your next book will be.

And, once you’ve gathered data for the category you’re interested in, you can click on the keyword button that will give you a word cloud that shows all the words that the best-selling books use in their titles and descriptions.

Why is this great? Because this data can help you tailor what you write, or market what you’ve already written, by giving you proof (not claims) of what’s already working for other Kindle publishers. KDSPY shows you the best-selling niches to go after, and even shows you the words to use in your book titles.

One Way This App Helped Me

Here’s just one example of how this tool helped me make a decision. I write historical Western romances. I spent time researching using KDSPY checking the best-selling titles and their keywords, wondering just which keywords and categories would be best for my books.

Since my books could go in the inspirational romance category (because my characters do express their faith, attend church, and pray), I wondered if I should choose that as one of my two categories on Kindle. When I peeked at the best-selling titles and authors in my subgenre and compared the general market sales and competition to the inspirational market sales and competition, there was a huge difference. Overall, the inspirational market monthly sales revenue for a best-selling book was about one-tenth of the general market. I decided not to use that category, since it was clear the market I’d be targeting was smaller and afforded less opportunity for big sales.

Other Perks

Another thing I found very helpful with KDSPY were the short video tutorials on the site that showed me exactly how I could effectively use this tool. There are so many other ways you can benefit. For example, you can use the book-tracking feature to tag certain books and track their sales via a daily sales rank and revenue chart.

You can imagine how useful this is when looking at your competition. You can track your own books as well to examine the results of your marketing efforts, or to see if your sales go up and down when you change your keywords.

I am continually shocked to see how few sales many best-selling authors are currently experiencing, or how only one book in their arsenal is making a killing, whereas their other book sales are flat. In contrast, some first-time authors are making big five-figure sales per month per book. I wanted to know why and how. This app gives me insights into their success.

Of course this is only showing you Kindle sales and not print sales, or sales from any other online venues. But Kindle accounts for most authors’ sales these days, and for me, this is the data I need, that will most help me in my book sales.

KDSPY is a Chrome browser extension that is compatible with PC and Macs. Firefox supports this app as well, but at this time, these are the only two browsers you can use. All the data is exportable so you can put the results in a folder to refer to.

This app is great for both fiction and nonfiction books, and while it’s not useable in every country, KDSPY has now been opened up to allow results to be pulled from the UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. The customer support is excellent, which means a lot to me.

The cost at the time of this post for this app is only $47 US. I feel it’s one of the best investments for authors, worth way more than this. I’ve never promoted a product on my website, so that should tell you something about how valuable I think this tool is. GET YOURS HERE! and start benefitting from this amazing tool. And I’d love to hear how it’s helping you sell more books!

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Pretty cool stuff, right?

Here’s a quick bio for her.

About

Me and Coaltrane

I’m a novelist, a copyeditor, a writing coach, a mom, a backpacker, and a whole bunch of other things.

I write novels in various genres and help writers at my blog www.livewritethrive.com

I teach workshops on the writing craft at writers’ conferences and retreats. If your writers’ group would like to have me teach,drop me a line. I live in California, near San Francisco, just so you know how far away I am from you and your writer friends. I also enjoy guest blogging, so contact me if you’d like me to write a post on writing, editing, or Labrador retrievers (just threw that in there; I’m not an expert but I love them). I am, however, quite the expert on pygmy goats. I ran a commercial pygmy goat farm for ten years and delivered a lot of kids! So, if you need some goat advice, I’m your gal.

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