Maybe you’ve already published a post-apocalyptic or dystopian book, and you’re selling like hotcakes? Then you must have dealt with some major tropes of the genre, congrats! You’ve probably hit the exact tropes of your reader niche. Yet, you did it with an original touch to offer a unique reading experience.
Let’s face it, readers expect to find familiar elements but they don’t fancy a rip-off. The latter leads to acidic one-star reviews and public shaming.
Who is Your Comp Author?
Tropes? That sounds like we authors just imitate the big names of the industry. No, the fans who pick up our books, crave zombies, nuclear war, oppressive government, and a handful of friends surviving against the impossible odds (or fighting each other to the death). But they also enjoy different plot styles, writer’s voice, and a novel approach to a trustworthy concept,
Check out the bestsellers in your genre; pick a sub-genre you love.
Then start wading through the reviews from five to one star to find what you have in common with that particular bestseller. Remember to choose an indie author who didn’t publish yesterday but manages to sell hundreds of copies a day after the feeding frenzy of a book launch has turned into grease calm.
What do your reviews have in common with the big indie names? If you haven’t written your story yet, it doesn’t matter. You have a reading history: what do you admire & love? Do you want to write like those authors? Then research why readers buy their books. It’s all spelled out in the reviews.
Science Fiction is a broad category. It encompasses Star Trek (Space Opera) and The Walking Dead (Zombie Apocalypse), and Military Science Fiction, not to mention aliens and colonization. In some areas, the books and movies close in on Fantasy or Romance. Some authors mix genres deliberately and manage to sell but I wouldn’t recommend that if this is your first book.
Not all post-apocalyptic fans look for zombies (who doesn’t love zombies?) Well, fans of The Hunger Games, for example. YA fighting arena is a separate field.
The level of fact-checking also varies from one sub-genre to another. If you write Military Science Fiction (or anything about the military) be sure to check your ammo, tactical terms, and ranks! Or you’ll be heading for those one-star reviews. Hard Science Fiction is another tough category. If your post-apocalyptic novel wants to attract the hard science nerds, double-check your A-bomb’s radiation particles and their half-life.
Common Post-apocalyptic Tropes
What caused the apocalypse? This question offers a thousand origin stories: nuclear war, deadly virus epidemic, drought, flood…
What happened before, during, and after the cataclysmic event. You can form ideologies, alternative history paths and legends told to those who weren’t around to see the event.
Characters: if you’re a fan, you’ve seen it all. Take TWD: what a diverse group of survivors! The main character must have an origin story and the end of the world offers beautiful ways to change a character (character arc, remember?). The people around you: your family/friends, colleagues: how would they change after a nuclear war? How would your granny react to zombies?
Rebuilding: who controls it? Shall the survivors get a society they dreamt of or is it another nightmare? Do your people just carry on, as usual, weathering the storm?
Here’s a list of great tropes & cliches to recycle:
Nothing stops you from starting a string in Quora, Facebook, or Reddit. Ask which cliches people love or hate. Goodreads has plenty of post-apocalyptic and sci-fi-related book groups. Everyone seems to hate a cliche but you might ask: “which dystopian tropes you like,” or “which author recycled the chosen one- cliche best?”
The woman laughed, and Rayne shivered as another wave of cold engulfed her. Lucinda’s expression once again became stoic. “They burned to death in a blast of fire — a trademark of Marchosias, the great, almighty Marquis of Hell, Commander of Thirty Legions, a demon so powerful he demands respect. Even the foolish fear him.” Lucinda was so fervent Rayne knew she believed every word and demanded the same from her.
She would be disappointed.
The Marquis of Hell, Marchosias, is a fierce demon who can fool the unexpecting when he takes the shape of a handsome lady killer. In his true form, he’s a mighty wolf, with wings of a griffin, a serpent for a tail, and breathes fire hotter than anything known to man.
Young Elli Becker crosses path with Marchosias, and soon the demon amuses himself by tormenting her. She knows the only way to stop Marchosias is to destroy him. But how can the untrained Elli become a hunter powerful enough to defeat him?
Rayne Parker doesn’t believe in the supernatural. She has made a life for herself as a Private Investigator and plans a future with the charming Liam Clayton. Then the ghoulish Lucinda Deveraux pays her a visit. Her outlandish claim that only Rayne can slay the demon is met with hostility. But the madwoman makes a prediction that could change Rayne’s life forever. The fate of the world is at stake. Will she be able to stop Marchosias? And will she survive?
Author Stephanie Colbert recounts the true story of the horror she endured after waking up from a coma. The vivid nightmares, delusions, paranoia, and other psychotic episodes left her trapped in a world that threatened her sanity.
He fought desperately to save her . . .
Even though Stephanie didn’t know her husband, Quinton, and accused him of being an imposter, he stayed by her bedside every waking moment as he struggled to help her find her way back to reality. It was the toughest battle he’d ever fought, as he feared he’d lost his beloved wife forever.
A while back, I asked my Facebook group for authors, which aspect of being a writer caused the members grey hair. And that’s why this post deals with book marketing. Yes, writing the damn thing took years and cost me all my spare time! But that was nothing compared to the struggle of saying in public: “This is an excellent book, and you should read it.”
Remember that when it comes to marketing, what the customer wants is king. Do you have an ideal reader in mind? If not, now’s the time to picture him & her.
An Ideal Reader
“An ideal reader is the fictional person to which a book would most appeal. Most frequently, they represent a specific age group and interest or experiences, but in some cases, an ideal reader might also represent a certain ethnicity, religious background, sexuality, or other identifying markers.”
Why do they read? For entertainment, romance, or thrill? To escape or to find information?
Tip: Study what makes an ideal reader for famous authors of the same genre.
Mold your product for the ideal reader:
Write your next book with your focus group in mind (at least somewhere at the back of your mind)
Design your pitch (choose what to stress)
Cath the eye of your ideal reader with your marketing message (plus book cover & title)
Follow through and modify the message as you go
Do a bit of industrial espionage (the marketing message of similar authors)
Know your niche
Social Media Content
Social media is about sharing, and you must establish a connection before you can market, or people will just avoid you. Think about topics that you share with your ideal reader. Those topics can involve hobbies and other non-book-related stuff. Use them to stir conversations and encourage your followers to discuss. Follow other authors’ accounts and learn from them. Exchanging help among peers is advisable because someone has struggled with the same issues.
How do you react to “BUY MY BOOK!” posts? Which ads and messages catch your attention? Make a list of what causes a positive reaction (the cover image, the setting, the information, etc.).
Tips for gathering followers (and marketing your book):
Connect with your ideal readers (and people who converse with them)
Share their interests
Stir up a conversation–discuss the process of writing your book (historical research, a traumatic event or injustice which compelled you to write)
Find out what your followers and friends want (polls, questions, competitions)
Support other authors. Give tips and advice–lend your expertise.
Show them who you are (a selfie wouldn’t hurt now and then, show your pets and non-writing related hobbies)
Bring your book into life by discussing relatable topics
Go behind the scenes and show your journey as an author.
Be a reader
Take a look at your followers. Activate top follower badges, and thank your loyal supporters.
If you cannot afford a professional book designer, use time to make a beautiful cover in Canva, for example. Canva offers cover templates which you can browse by genre. Pay for professional photographs. We writers take for granted that readers pay for our book. The photographers need to eat too.
When you have a gorgeous cover (the face of your book), use that eye-catcher in your social media posts.
Remember to create a continuous brand. The same colors, fonts, and related book covers for a series all support your brand, which your customers recognize everywhere. Use consistent account names and steer clear from difficult letter+number combinations.
The website establishes your brand as a writer and acts as a base for directing traffic. Remember to take care of your search engine optimization so that your potential readers find your page among millions. From your site, direct readers to retailer sites, invite them to join your mailing list through free downloads. Ask people to follow you on social media.
How to earn those fantastic five-star reviews which you can boast across your existence on the web? First and foremost: write top-notch quality (means pay a professional editor).
Ask people to review:
Ask for a review at the back of your book and on social media
Offer an ebook for free
Ask for comments in your paid ads
Search for book bloggers and email them
Swap reviews with other authors
Once you have subscribers on your newsletter list, ask them
Offer an advanced readers copy (ARC) and establish an ARC launch team
An advanced reader’s copy is used for promotional purposes before publication. Offer ARCs to readers who will post endorsements and write reviews. An ARC should be free of charge and offered in exchange for newsletter subscriptions because those email addresses are worth their weight in gold. Market the ARCs through every channel at your disposal and gather a set of names as your ARC launch team.
Most big platforms offer paid advertising, but remember than reviewing and recommending other writer’s books is an essential part of building your community.
Ads on Amazon
“In addition to selling your book on Amazon, you can also promote it there, too. If you do decide to buy advertising, choose the sponsored product ads option. This pay-per-click ad allows you to target Amazon users with keywords that are related to your book.”
Remember that paying for a Facebook ad doesn’t mean you’ll get results as book sales or even clicks on that Amazon link. At the heart of any successful Facebook ad campaign is understanding your marketing goals and thus choosing which action you want the ideal reader to perform. Start by experimenting with a few bucks and register what works. Link your FB ads with the other measures mentioned in this article.
“The first thing to clear up is that there are different types of authors and different goals for your book. And once you are clear on the next step, a reader should take with you, your marketing strategy becomes clearer.”
Now, this is the most important advice I can give you about book marketing. If you just press the publish- button on Amazon and start shouting your marketing message across platforms, you’ve already lost the momentum which you can build beforehand.
You don’t have to throw a lavish launch party in person. You can do it online and record a Youtube video for further use. Even if the idea of an actual event doesn’t get you all excited (because you have to turn up in person and talk about your book in front of people), planning a launch means setting dates for all the marketing operations pre-and post-publication. It requires knowledge and action based upon your ideal readers.
Take care of your SEO and write a list of suitable hashtags according to the genre.
Do a cover reveal
Build hype before ARCs, ebook and print publications
Create merchandise and plan how to distribute it
Build your community (make a list of people who can spread the message)
Ask family and friends for help (yes, this includes your author friends)
Contact book bloggers
Contact possible reviewers
Devise social media posts and send them to your supporters via email:
Tell them when to post and where: a call to action
Design a post for FB, Twitter, Instagram, and so on, complete with images and hashtags. Remember allowed text length in different media.
Make posting easy
Join Facebook groups and ask the admins if you can post about your launch
And remember to have fun. We don’t become writers unless we have a dream.
I’m back with the concept of the villain because he/she is crucial to your story. As far as I can remember, I wanted to write a brutal villain who will stop at nothing. And I remember movies by their villainous character actors.
“In their role as an adversary, the villain serves as an obstacle the hero must struggle to overcome. In their role as a foil, the villain exemplifies characteristics that are diametrically opposed to those of the hero, creating a contrast distinguishing heroic traits from villainous ones.”
The definition reminds writers of the importance of struggle but contains various traps which can cast your evil one with one of the extras. The antagonist is a series of obstacles on the hero’s journey, but also an entity of his own. He has to be of the same caliber as your protagonist- preferably stronger. You wouldn’t confront Batman with a minor criminal in the final battle, would you? The Joker, played by Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger, is an unstoppable force of nature.
The villain is a central character of your book and you must treat him with respect.
Remember, he’ll fool you- like any respectable villain would deceive a cop during the initial interrogation. Each layer of deceit leads you closer to what makes him tick. That’s the point of the character interview. You might never tell the reader what he does first thing in the morning- unless that signifies something important- but you can resource the library of him when you write the groundbreaking villain moments I’ll discuss next.
If you know the depths of the villain, you know instinctively what his reactions are.
Groundbreaking Villain Moments
Whether you outline your story or start tapping away in the presence of your divine muse, remember to create major plot points for the villain. These key scenes can make the character relatable, or scare the shit out of your readers if that’s what you’re aiming for.
My list of villainous scenes isn’t complete. I’ve chosen the important few, with movie clip examples.
The First Look
The first impression of the antagonist defines the image of the hero’s counterforce. How do you introduce the villain? Hopefully not by describing his hair and eye color, and his dashing good looks which make the ground shake beneath your feet. Don’t get me wrong- I daydream of good-looking villains, but you must start with:
his first crime
the first harsh word
the evil glance
he camouflaged as the slightly creepy everyman
someone you’d never suspect but happens to be on the scene
And so on. The sky is the limit with villain introductions.
When I was seven, a known bully- a big one- waited for me on my way home from school. Trying to outrun him was futile, and he knew where I lived. He caught me and suffocated me with snow. This happened each winter afternoon until I learned the subtle art of evasion.
Meeting your villain is like the childhood moment when an overpowering person grabs your arm and you understand that he’s not letting go.
Think of ways to make the reader afraid of him- or what he can cause- and you’re on the right road. We’re talking about power and violence. You might go the sly route: let him appear harmless, and the fear doubles with shock as he strikes. The ill omen of doubt must be present from the beginning. Building a believable personification of evil is hard work.
The First Confrontation
“The moment when your villain and hero meet face-to-face is a wonderful opportunity to show us why your villain will be a good foil for your hero. These confrontations are at their best when the villain reveals a chink in your hero’s armor.”
At the end of the scene, we understand that something is seriously wrong with the movie’s world.
The Hero’s Temporary Defeat
You’ll recognize the hero’s failure from every Hollywood movie you love. You can combine this scene with The Villain Shows His Cards, or The Monologue– the spot in the James Bond movie where Ernst Stavro Blofeld describes his complete plan to rule the world.
The Hero’s Temporary defeat deals with stakes. You’ve given us the stakes at the beginning of your hero’s journey (inciting incident) and when you introduced the villain. Now is the time to provide us with a bitter taste of defeat. The temporary failure means a foretaste of death.
What would a bad guy do if your loved one was at his mercy and you were unable to stop him?
The occasional movie-goer knows instinctively that the hero will get help, or he has an ace up his sleeve, or the villain is so mesmerized by his plan that he doesn’t see the sidekick creeping up on him… whatever you choose as the vessel of turning the tables, and moving towards the resolution. Temporary defeat is at its best when the reader believes that the hero cannot recover from the blow.
It’s your villain’s grand moment. Let him show off his hideousness. In movies, this trope takes a hell of an actor to twist the scene into something previously unseen.
The Origin Story
The Origin Story is the villain’s chance to explain himself. Let his humanity shine through, and the reader can relate to him. Take Marvel character Loki: “sibling rivalry and daddy issues explain his actions. Being always in Thor’s shadow isn’t good for Loki’s overall mental health, and finding out that he’s adopted doesn’t help.”
Most of us don’t work for the Devil. Reasons like: “the end sanctify the means” and “history demands action” and “I obeyed orders” have paved the way to hell on many occasion. The explanations don’t make the crime justifiable but offer a view on human logic.
Remember that explaining the Devil can take the scare away. If your evil one is a psychopath, don’t bother with the origin story.
Sometimes the human mind attempts to see something which isn’t there. The search for Ted Bundy’s soul is futile. Javier Bardem offers one of the most accurate movie depictions of psychopathy as the stone-cold hitman Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. He needs no origin story. He is what he is.
The hotel scene between Woody Harrelson and Javier Bardem is pure brilliance:
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