Most books evoke a feeling the instant you look at them. In the perfect scenario, the title whips up the intrigue, and the cover has gorgeous artwork. As you read the blurb and author bio, you become convinced that you must buy this book.
The surefire elements to use in a book cover are the Main Character and the setting of your story. Most authors choose this scenario. Some book cover artists have a special gift of creating motion, but a static capture of your hero/heroine in his/her natural habitat works. The aim is to inform the customer about the following facts (within a few second’s decision time):
Look at other author’s choices. If you find a cover that matches all your hopes, find out who the artist is, and hire him/her. Collecting a set of all-time favorites helps you decide on the critical elements. If you hire a professional graphic designer, he will ask what kind of covers you like
Families have secrets. Some secrets are locked, sealed and taken to the grave. Others beg to be told. They ooze through cracks a little at a time. You tease them out until an ugly truth is fully exposed. Ella Perri knows there’s something hidden in the family cottage.
In his last breath, Ella’s grandfather reveals to her a startling secret that hints at something sinister. On behalf of her beloved grandfather, she embarks on a dangerous quest for truth. A World War II diary and the 21st century collide as Ella desperately chases every clue in a faraway and unfamiliar setting where the real story begins. Who can be trusted and who has something to hide?
One secret leads to another. Ella must decide: share the secrets and alter the fates of her loved ones forever or become part of the lie that’s been buried deep for decades.
Buried Secrets is a suspenseful mystery with twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the shocking ending.
The matter of website design; it all depends where you’re at. If you just started publishing short stories, a blog would be perfect for you and easy to create. Maybe you have ten best sellers out (congrats, you lucky bastard!). That means your author website must house different sales channels.
This article is only a superficial scratch on the fascinating theme of web page design, but I wrote it to guide you onto the path. Remember that you can always add features and scale your business.
Look At Your Competitors
As with book covers, a bit of industrial espionage pays. Check out your competition and write down the observations.
Visual content. What’s to like? Images, the free white space which lets the central elements rock?
Commercial content and plugins: buying her book was super easy! I loved his blog.
Mechanisms of interaction: I subscribed to her newsletter with one click. I followed his social media accounts in an instant.
Create a header that consists of a headline and a theme image. Canva is great for making graphic elements. It’s free and offers multiple styles. Choose pictures and a theme that goes with your genre.
Add your core pages. I suggest the following: front/home page, landing page (for offers), books for sale or upcoming books (presale marketing). Additional pages to your liking: short stories, author bio, guest authors (swap for publicity), blog, competitions, and whatever you like.
“Authors often make the mistake of thinking that people visit their websites just to read their bio. Are you, the author, important? Sure, but your book is more important. Let people know they’re on an author’s website by making your product the star of the show.”
Tell the potential customers who you are as an author, and advertise your book. Always add a functioning link to Amazon or some other bookstore. Remember that each extra action causes your customers to fall out of the sales funnel. Make buying as easy as possible.
Establishing a PayPal account and using the PayPal button has become rather easy nowadays. Remember to count printing, sending the book, and all other expenses so that you break at least even. If e-commerce becomes too complicated, just use the Amazon/Nook/Kobo/Play Books, etc. links with a buy now- button.
Remember to test. Everything on your page must work before you publish it!
An extra puzzle: what would make people come back to your site?
A plugin is a mini-application that you can incorporate into your site. Most website builders offer a range of free plugins, but extra features demand a small monthly/yearly fee.
Newsletter subscription and a customer database (MailChimp for instance)
Test your site speed with several different browsers and operating systems. Ask friends and family to experiment. Post a poll on social media and allow fans to voice their opinion.
Scalability means that your website theme and the mechanics behind the visual facade adapt to different viewer devices and screen sizes. Open that mobile phone of yours and check your visuals. Ask friends to look at pages and click on the links. Request an honest opinion and have them answer a few questions. The process is similar to the beta reading of your book.
Remember that having no author site is the worst option. Having a 90s feel with everything blinking 100 mph is almost as bad as having no page. Boasting a smooth functioning website is your calling card as a professional writer.
Branding means that you use consistent features throughout your virtual existence. Having the same account name everywhere and using a logo helps people recognize you wherever they stumble upon your content.
A film-noir color scheme on your website? Great! (if you’re a mystery writer). Use the same header on your social media. After you get the hang of branding, a consistent effort soon becomes second nature.
But, a brand is much more than colors and visuals. You know what a writer’s voice is, don’t you? The brand is your voice when it comes to the web: instantly recognizable and consists of a thousand little things.
“Brand is everything people perceive you as. It’s your personality, every word you write, the fonts and colors you use, the way you make people feel when they read your books or visit your website. Many people wrongly equate brand to a logo or website colors and although these are brand elements, a brand is much more than just these graphic aspects.”
Start simple and add complicated elements after you master the basics. Create a landing page if you don’t know what else to do. Many website builders and emailing software offer articles and advice on how to create a simple landing page.
A landing page should:
House your writer bio (short)
Show off your products = books
Engage the customer and keep the conversation going
Offer promo codes and discounts (IMPORTANT!)
Advertise an incentive to a selected group of customers (give them a VIP-feeling)
As a writer, you’re active on social media, right? For most of us, talking about our work comes naturally after a period of awkward shyness. When you gain confidence, advertising your book or short story becomes second nature.
There’s an extra asset: you! Yes, your readers are dying to know who you are and what’s your writing process. Here, we enter the terrifying phase. For those who don’t take selfies daily, the first author photograph would be the image on the back of your book. The book cover artist will ask for the author’s portrait to accompany a passage on your writing career.
Why should a customer pay for your book? Because you’re a hell of a writer, duh!
The Dreaded Moment
For some of us, one extra photo among a mobile stream of selfies is no biggie. Just capture your profile using the best camera angle at the end of a selfie stick and open an image retouching app. Voila! The bravest of writers venture on dangerous soil: publish a bikini picture from the recent vacation.
For the rest of mankind, letting the world see our wrinkles, puffy eyes, and triple chins is a nightmare. If you have serious self-confidence issues, I suggest a visit to the professional photographer. He or she will create an atmosphere of a world-famous author and highlight your best features. This method also ensures the required quality pixel-wise.
If you do half of your marketing by yourself (like me), learning to take selfies is a required skill. Discovering how to display your best side brings personal joy as well. Readers communicate with the author of their favorite book, especially if they know what you look like.
A selfie stick is used to take photographs or videos by positioning a digital camera device, typically a smartphone, beyond the normal range of the arm. This allows for shots to be taken at angles and distances that would not have been possible with the human arm by itself. A quality selfie stick can save your phone from being dropped into the Niagara Falls as you pose for the perfect photo!
The rods are typically extensible. Luxury models, which work via a wireless connection, have a remote shutter button. And that is an excellent feature if you want to show your followers the beauty of your homestead.
Using the stick allows you to include the scenery. Also, the downward-facing camera angle makes your face look narrower and the eyes bigger. For me, this works as my puffy eyes disappear. Experiment, it’s fun. I’m forty-eight years old, but with some secret tricks, I look thirty.
Look up toward the camera
Extend your head away from your neck
Relax your mouth, and exhale
Instead of holding your phone in front of you, keep it to the side
Spin until you find your best light. Direct daylight and fluorescent tubes produce images that are worlds apart. Find which lighting suits you.
Use props like hats, scarves, and sunglasses to hide flaws. As you become a better photographer, you won’t need them.
Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are professional image manipulation applications, and their price is compatibly high. I use both and will never go back. But you can search for free mobile apps from your app store. Most house advertisement which might distract use but offer pro versions for a few bucks.
If you write romance, why not exercise a 1980s soft filter? Most novice photo retouchers amplify each effect to the max, which will leave your face and background hazy. Every follower spots you overdid the editing.
Narrowing your face and enlargening your eyes will make your author selfie look like a Manga character. And that’s fine if you write manga, but a serious writer wouldn’t wear teddy bear ears and nose either, even if the app offered some.
The best selfies exhibit you in your natural habitat. If you run each morning, take a selfie in front of the sunrise. If cooking is your hobby, why not take a casual photo with the delicious result?
Maybe you bought a new dress? Share the end result of hairdressing and makeup. Most of us enjoy life’s simple joys. Whatever your interests are, some of your readers know in an instant what you mean. Your dad’s old SUV might work as a backdrop. We don’t need a tribe of Bedouins as extras for a full-blown Hollywood photoshoot in the Saharan desert. But if that’s your thing, I say go for it.
You rewrote your opening chapter twenty times, and the same goes for learning to edit. Retouching a photograph is like editing a book. As with everything else, practice makes perfect.
Want to start a writer’s newsletter? I heard the BLAH. But you want people to buy your book, don’t you? Everybody screams: yes! Maybe you have an author presence at several social media platforms, and creating another content channel feels like much work and no fun.
I always say: choose your weapons. We have our preferences, and someone swims like a fish on Twitter as the next person loves Instagram (I do). When you open a new channel to reach for your readers, nothing is more direct than a newsletter. The preferred message arrives at people’s private inboxes. The list of your newsletter subscribers is a database of potential book-buying customers.
The Introvert Dilemma
Many of us are introverts and miss the golden times when authors sat typing while sipping red wine and chain-smoking. The manuscript traveled via snail mail to the publisher who took care of the rest, which became history.
Well, those days are long gone. Even if you hook the agent with a genius query letter, and consequently, Barnes & Noble is dying to publish your book, they still want you to market it! The agent takes a look at your social media presence, and so does the publisher. Do you blog? How many subscribe to your newsletter? Three? Thirty? Three thousand? The numbers don’t lie; they tell the professionals that you know how to market, and you’re a potential moneymaker.
Writing is easy; selling the book is the hard part. Not selling has created more disgruntled ex-writers than booze and the Second World War combined.
I asked the members which issue I should blog about next, and the answer is (ta-da): Author Newsletter.
This is because writers think the newsletter is the hardest channel to create because of technical difficulties with WordPress plugins and what-not IT- problems. But there’s another obstacle which is more difficult to overcome: fear of marketing your brainchild.
The Key to Your Online Presence as a Writer is Making a Connection
There’s no going around this evil duty: you must establish a newsletter. And newsletter marketing is so much more than blasting: “Buy my book!” on days without end.
“If you’re an author, this means identifying the target market for your books and understanding how they spend their time online. If you’re writing for a young adult audience, spend some time immersing yourself in the densely populated online world of YA readers and writers. What do they like to see from YA authors online? How do they discover new books and new authors?”
Think about your Social Media posts. You’ve established a set of content types and subjects which your followers enjoy. Use that knowledge when you create newsletters. Programs like MailChimp (which I use) have excellent tutorials that guide you toward better marketing. The web overfills with marketing courses for writers. Ask your author friends who sell impressive figures, on Amazon or elsewhere, how they studied marketing.
Embed a subscription form on your website. Sometimes you need to copy-paste a string or HTML- code from the newsletter software to WordPress or whoever hosts your site. Allow subscribers to sign up via a form in the sidebar or footer on every page of your website.
Decide how often you send. Once a month is enough if you ask me. This frequency also allows you time to design awesome content.
Gather subscribersbefore sending out anything. Offer a freebie in return for giving their email address.
Compose your newsletter. Promote the newsletter across Social Media and build your subscriber base.
Don’t add anyone into your subscribers unless you have their permission! Also, learn about spam legislation in your country.
The answer to this question depends on who you ask. Googling the search term: “What to put in your author newsletter” produces some great articles. Think of your products and who you are as a writer. Draw lines around what you feel comfortable sharing.
A list of possible subjects:
Share customer reviews
cover reveal, or a sneak peek
giveaways: a signed copy of your book or a chance to ask you questions about your characters
Share your blog
Exclusive articles that you don’t share elsewhere. Give your subscribers the feeling they are VIP, part of a selected few.
who you are as an author and a person
awards from writing competitions and honorable mentions
Remember that new skills take time to master. You spent several years learning writing and developed through trials and tribulations into the author you are today. Study how each post does. MailChimp and others offer excellent spreadsheets for statistics. Take heed of the percentages: how many opened your email? Did the opening produce link clicks? Don’t replay errors and use the themes & content which people love to open and follow.
Each link click loses a percentage of your customers. Design your newsletters in a way that offers direct, clear statements and endorses a call to action. Allow subscribers to comment and respond. Pick a theme for each newsletter. If you lead your subscribers into a maze of confusing directions, they won’t end up buying the product.
Seeing that only 1,3% of receivers ended up clicking the Shop Now-link of your recent newsletter might depress you, but the funnel explains what happened. It’s normal; most customers don’t come out as frequent buyers at the bottom.
“A marketing funnel is a collection of stages that prospective customers move through with the first stage being the awareness stage. Marketing funnels were designed to push these potential customers through the buyer’s journey to ultimately purchase a brand’s products or services.”
Study funnels and everything else. And stay patient because an expert industry attempts to unravel the secrets of buyer decision making and the psychology of the hunter-gatherer. As an author, you are a start-up business, but leave time for child-like unchained creation. Do something small every day to add subscribers to your list. Post daily on social media and learn to publish content which has a demand. Before you know it, you have cracked the killer combination.
Even if you end up with the email addresses of sixty people, that’s sixty more than the guy or gal next to you.
Whether you write thrillers or fantasy, you’ll engage your Main Character in battles for life and limb. Nothing beats experience when it comes to describing a sequence of near combat. Take classes in Jiu Jutsu or Krav Maga if your hero uses his body to stand up for himself. You don’t have to engage in a Mixed martial arts cage fight to know how it feels. The beginner’s course in any martial art will help you sort out a few basic questions. I watch clips of Michelle Waterson or Ronda Rousey to learn. The MMA and WWE sports are different from Hollywood fight scenes. The fighters bind each other, and the straight punches which reach the opponent with a thud/smack belong mostly to the movies.
Rebane Nordstrom- my MC in Unholy Warrior, fights dirty and my book features some iconic Russian Systema moves to evade an overpowering assailant. I asked my Defendo instructor to attack me- the things we go through to write! Don’t worry, he went easy on me, but I never forget to raise my hands to shield my chin after that. One hit to the jaw and: lights out. Only in Hollywood do people get hit in the head with a metal pipe and go on kicking. In real life, you’d earn a visit to the ER with a skull fracture and a brain injury.
There’s nothing wrong with creative freedom. If you have dragons and magic in your book, what stops you from inventing new fighting skills? Forget realism but remember a few basic rules which help your readers relate to your MC: the danger is an inherent part of raising the stakes. You must allow your hero to be weaker than the opponent at times.
My MC loses a fight in the crowded, narrow cell. Here’s an excerpt from Unholy Warrior:
“There’s no need to pick up a fight, Miss Nordstrom. Stand down and spare yourself from a beating,” Weisser said with a matter-of-fact voice.
Rebane ignored him and targeted the next man who stepped in: a stumpy, wide-shouldered guard who opened his telescope truncheon with a swift hit. He drew his arm back to smack her, but Rebane evaded with a simple Systema move: stepped aside and nudged him. As he folded on the bunk, she delivered a hook into his kidney and wrenched the truncheon from his grip.
The second guard leaped at her, and her baton slammed into his thigh above the knee incapacitating his leg. His attempt to punch her missed and he slumped on the floor. Guards number three and four bumped into each other in the narrow doorway. The duo hesitated when they saw the injured guards writhing on the floor. They exchanged glances before the bigger one rushed forward. The sequence seemed to amuse Weisser who leaned against the wall.
Rebane backed up until her shoulder blades met the cold cement and lodged herself between the washbasin and the bunk. She tried to leap over the bed and go around the attacker, but her pelvis hit the washbasin, and she crash-landed over the blankets. The bigger guy managed to grab her shirt. She extended her left hand, and the bony base of her palm cracked his nose. He fell on the floor as blood gushed into his cupped hands. The next man got kneed in the stomach. Rebane lost hold of the truncheon while she grabbed his neck and mashed her knee up repeatedly.
The master alarm went off and filled the corridor with a deafening noise. A swarm of men toppled her, but she managed to kick nuts, thighs, and shins. She scratched the faces which came near enough and bit into the flesh of a hairy forearm. Rebane didn’t let go until a crowd of hands and knees pinned her to the floor and forced her jaws open. The first blow landed at her shoulder and watered her eyes. A jackboot stepped on her diaphragm. Tears forced out when she squirmed and battled for air. It took just seconds for her to lose the fight.
“Stop!” she screamed when the violent hands tore her clothing and fists pounded at her ribs.
A boar of a man sat on her stomach and growled into her ear. Rebane spat at him which only angered him more. Weisser’s voice toppled the screams and the commotion. He grabbed the boar by his fatigue collar and tore him away from Rebane, but the next madman mounted her and banged her head against the cement floor.
Choose Your Weapons
A baton can do terrible damage at the hands of a skilled user, but when you get threatened with a knife, the stakes assume a different intensity.
One cut can bleed your hero out, or sever a tendon (which means your arm or leg becomes useless). Blocking someone wielding a blade isn’t simple. Books and videos offer help to a writer. I like to refer to Combat Knives and Knife Combat by Dietmar Pohl & Jim Wagner, but you can find great resources on Youtube as well. If you want to get the hang of sword fights, join a Kendo club or try some Medieval martial arts the European way.
At Arm’s Length
One trick I like to use when I write a battle is grabbing anything at arm’s length in the setting and throwing it at the opponent. This is an essential skill in writing action: you cannot omit the environment even if you don’t want to utilize foreign objects.
Consider these elements:
Are your opponents facing each other on an open field or in a tight space?
What dangers are present besides the assailant(s)? Can traffic or avalanche kill the hero?
What can the MC use to his advantage?
The season: darts of wind-hurled snow can stop you from seeing, and the wind will raise clouds of sand. It’s hard to escape in knee-deep snow, and a sweaty combatant is difficult to grab.
The time of day: will darkness provide cover or the sun blind you? The atmosphere of the fight is vital!
Escape is always an option: can the MC run without being hit in the back by a bullet or an arrow? Remember to zig-zag, which makes the bad guy miss.
Can the heroine speak her way out of a threatening situation? Both escape and avoiding the battle altogether are the wisest options if you listen to my Defendo instructor.
Use the element of surprise: a trained soldier will see the punch coming if you draw your arm back before you strike.
Every kick and punch must be backed up with the rotation of the torso and the weight of your body. There is the correct and the wrong way to do this.
Both clips have high energy, and I love the moment when Daniel Craig watches how the attacker dies.
The last clip is from the Kurt Russell movie Breakdown. A car chase evolves into a duel between a semi-trailer and pickup truck. The fighters wield multiple weapons and the use of the deadly bridge, in the end, is a stroke of genius: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ovVlk6jCBY
Don’t Overdo The Details and Mind The Players
Know the capabilities and weaknesses of your hero/heroine before you tap your fight scene. My MCs (so far) are women who get attacked by opponents with a larger mass. Evasive movements allow them to strike back and to go for the opponent’s sensitive parts. When it comes to the laws of physics, a force has both magnitude and direction. If your knight is a big guy, he’ll use his mass as a blunt force weapon. Wearing armor and yielding the long sword is hard work, especially if you’re trying to stay on top of a galloping horse at the same time.
In the receiving end of the blows, anatomy, and physiology come into play. If your book takes place in the Middle Ages, knowing the common battlefield injuries helps you understand the weapons of the era. Find out what a beating causes to the human body. The method isn’t used as torture for nothing! The physiological side becomes increasingly important if you write murder mysteries and the key leads come from the killer’s ammo and the ME’s autopsy report.
Letting the reader glimpse a hidden world is a standard trick in the thriller and mystery genres. For example, the usual “slitting of the throat” in Hollywood style isn’t the way to go if you’re a commando sneaking upon a German guard in WWII. I was quite proud of myself when I wrote the “correct” way. However, my training as a Radiographer caused me to overdo the anatomy lesson. No one wants to know if your MC cuts the external or internal carotid artery of the victim with her knife! When your knowledge broadens, the temptation to write detailed descriptions (which get in the way of action) increases.
Don’t Teach The Bird To Fly Or The Fish To Swim
If something comes naturally to your character, use it. Remember Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man (1976)? The movie shows him running from the start and in the climax, he outruns the Nazi’s henchman. The film is a classic thriller for a reason. I never looked at dentists the same way after Laurence Olivier’s excellent performance as the Villain Dr. Christian Szell. Dustin Hoffman excels as well, and the film has terrific control of tension build-ups and releases all the way through.
The fight-or-flight response is automated because it helped animals survive the challenges of evolution. The symptoms, which even the most battle-hardened hero experiences, offer a writer many ways to put the reader into the skin of the character:
Acceleration of heart and lung action; you breath faster and your heart gallops
Paling or flushing, or alternating between both
Digestion slows down or stops- long-term stress causes harm
General effect on the sphincters of the body (urinary tract and bowel)
Constriction of blood vessels
The liberation of metabolic energy for muscular action
Dilation of blood vessels for muscles- the blood gets directed to the places which you need for resistance or escape.
Inhibition of the lacrimal gland (responsible for tear production) and salivation- your mouth becomes dry, and you cannot release tears
Dilation of the pupil
Relaxation of the bladder- you need to pee, or you wet yourself
Loss of hearing- you don’t remember everything afterward!
Tunnel vision (loss of peripheral vision)- anyone who has experienced this knows what I’m talking about
Overactive or overresponsive reflexes. Adrenaline or noradrenaline facilitate preparation for violent muscular action.
Uncontrollable shaking or shivering
The subjective experience of danger is unique. Don’t forget to describe the character’s emotions. Remember, the fight-flight reaction impairs some senses and enhances others. The emotional response is delayed in most cases. Allow your heroine to deal with a traumatic memory afterward as she heals from her wounds. The rule of action-reaction, remember?
The natural capabilities of the MC help him deal with a surprise attack. You can train your hero until basic moves flow from his muscle memory—this method is used by law enforcement and the military. But anyone who has experienced a traumatic situation knows the phenomenon of freezing. The same person can fight successfully on one occasion and freeze on the next.
“Fight flight freeze is a description of our responses to threat. In recent years, the fawn response has been added. To fight is to confront the threat aggressively. Flight means you run from the danger. When you freeze, you find yourself unable to move or act against the threat. With fight and flight both unavailable to you, you may find yourself hiding from the danger. Fawn is the response of complying with the attacker to save yourself.”