Well, hello there neighbor—creepy, right?
It is another Sunday in the neighborhood of being an author. I hope this week was kind to you, that you hit your writing goals, and hopefully sold a few books along the way. If not, don't beat yourself up too much; it happens to all of us.
Come on in, but we got to make this quick, I need to go pick up my Aunt May soon, or else my Uncle Ben will be all disappointed in me again.
You might have heard some talk from time to time around the author water tower about prologues and epilogues and how readers hate them, and you should never use them. Here's the honest truth from every poll I have done and seen. It's not really true. In the last poll I did about it, I got over 1200 votes, and only 9% of people said they didn't like them.
9% is a tiny number to worry about. But it always feels like it's a more significant number because those who dislike prologues and epilogues are just the loudest about it.
But I didn't stop there.
I wanted to know more. Wanted to know why the weird hate for a great writing device at our fingertips.
This is what I found out from the dozens of readers and authors I talked to that dislike them.
The number one reason seemed to be they assumed them always to be info dumps that the author couldn't figure out how to incorporate into the rest of the story.
Again, overall, this isn't true, but there is some merit to it. A small percentage of authors do use the prologue for a quick info dump to create the bounds of the world you are about to dive into, more so it seems in fantasy. But with this said, I usually find 95% of authors do it very well. Creating a scene that can one start to create the world, and two give the reader enough information to make the first chapter more enjoyable, and three give an intriguing piece to the bigger puzzle.
The second biggest reason seems to be that the prologue has nothing to do with the story. That it was just added for the sake of having one.
Once more, this is generally not true, but a small level of merit is needed once more. By the end of some books, I have run across a few prologues that didn't seem to hold any real need or connection to the actual story. But with that said, neither did the prologue hurt the story in any way, so kind of a wash in my mind. Also kind of a dumb reason to hate on something, just sayin.
And the third reason some people hate on prologues—and this one really chaps my ass—like a lot. Is "they just want to get on with the story." Like what the actual fuck? You buy a book to read. Then you skip over the first part of the story; just to get to "the story," it makes literally no sense whatsoever. If you are one of these people—you need more hugs in your life.
Okay, so some of my little hints and tricks, since I am a HUGE fan of prologues and do use them when I deem them essential. But I will say this first; you do you, you write a prologue if you want to. I'm not here to tell YOU how to write YOUR story. Only you can do that. But I am here to put out some hints and info about them that might help you better create them or know whether you need it or not.
My first step to prologuing and this is the most critical step. Do I want a prologue? If the answer is yes, then write one. If the answer is no, ask yourself why it is no and then realize yes is likely the correct answer. But if it is still no, that is okay too.
Step two, what is the point of this prologue? What is the reason for creating it? Is it to world build? Info dump? Set the scene? Add foreshadowing on a specific event from the past or future? Creates a suspenseful event that sets the plot in motion later on while giving the reader a small inside track to that knowledge to horde over the MC? (Bonus points for those of us who can do all of this in one prologue)
If it is for info-dumping and world-building, try to avoid the plain Jane info dump, where you just have paragraph after paragraph of flowery scenes or world governing or of character description and cultural style. Small clips of this are more than fair, but if there is a lot of info you feel you need to portray within the prologue, try to blend it throughout, a little here, a little there. So, you slowly give the info without making it feel like a history lesson in school.
Step three. Have a hook. Something within the prologue that is somehow vital information to the story/plot/MC, something that if someone doesn't read the prologue, they miss out on something important later on. That way, those silly gooses that skip the prologue miss out, and when they talk about the book, the people who read the prologue can laugh at them for being dumb. (I'm only a little petty and evil)
Step four. Make it bloody count. This is, after all the first few pages of your story, and there are many readers out there who only read the first 5 to 10 pages before either diving in or dropping the book. So you need to make it count, whatever it is; however you are going to put it together, you need to make it POP in your own unique way.
Okay, so I think that covers prologues. *Takes a deep breath,* now onto epilogues.
Epilogues are more forgiving typically and not as vital since if someone is reading it, chances are they read the whole book already. But that doesn't mean you want to totally shit the bed with them. You want to leave on a high note, right?
I seldom use epilogues unless it is part of a series and I am hinting/teasing at something in the next book, or I feel the story/characters need a final moment to say their goodbyes to the reader.
If you aren't using it to set the tone for the next book in the series, and it is a stand-alone book or the final book, you want to make sure it leaves a final thought in the reader's head. You want it to click in them when they think about the book later; those last few pages remain in their memory.
Now that doesn't mean it has to be a happy or good memory if you want to make it bitter and cruel power to you. If it's not a happy ending, that's 100% okay in my books, but you need to make it impactful, good or bad. That way, they never forget you.
Remember, an epilogue is a farewell kiss to the reader. Leave them breathless and lightheaded.
*looks at time*
Crap, you guys have made me late to pick up my Aunt May! I need to get down there before she calls Ben, and he has to go pick her up! It can be dangerous down there. I would hate for something terrible to happen…
indie author's of the week
Jennah walters and keira lane
The East Wind breathes beyond the mountains, but its curse comes from hell.
From the toxic mist of an earthbound object, to a starlet and her fall from heaven to hell, to never being able to look at a sandwich in the same way again. The East Wind is a collection of horror and weird fiction that creeps far beyond mere bumps in the night.
- An object from the heavens unleashes a dreadful curse upon a small mountain town in The East Wind.
- The world is forever changed by a virus that fries the mind in Armstrong's shimmer.
- God's army is unleashed upon the earth in Do Not be Afraid.
- A starlet grasps for fame, but discovers her own personal hell in Apollyon.
- Humankind builds erects the most disturbing machine of all time in Kratos.
- Depression and the human condition take on disturbing form in the ode this mental health, Brain Fog.
- A ship hangs in the balance of a black hole and a dying universe in The Singularity.
- Trees hold far more than branches in the witch's tale of Black Mass.
- Man becomes far more than beast in the ritualistic horror of E-67, Volatile, Untested.
- An intergalactic hunter comes face to face with the mother of all evils in Mother of Jupiter.
- Something horrific creeps from the dusty music room in The Instrument of Fairhill House.
- When brain surgery goes wrong, one man finds his reality stripped to the bone in Strings.
- All hideous things come to rest within The Museum of Kozzannath.
- Warning! If you love a good sandwich, do not read Le Pain de Viande!
- Undead food walk the earth in search of human flesh in World War V.
The door is unlocked, just come in and sit somewhere; I will be there in a moment just getting changed—awk—ugh—ahhhh— stupid tail, just go away already!
Whatever—maybe they won't notice.
Good morning, so happy you all could make it. Now let's just get the weird elephant in the room out of the way so we can move on to the important things. Yes, I know I have a green tiger's tale; it's not a real tiger's tale; it's not like I can magically transform into animals or anything; that is just silly. But since I know you are wondering why it is there—well, it is kind of embarrassing, but I am not ashamed; it is a butt plug tail.
There, I said it. My girlfriend Raven and I were into some really kinky stuff last night, and well—it's stuck.
There, now you know. None of your damn business, but now you know, and we can move right along into why you are here today.
I ran a poll and question on Twitter a few weeks back about this very thing. I also have had a few good talks with several authors about it. It is one of those topics that seem to be very divided on whether they are needed or not.
Now let me say, this is a tough one for me myself. I personally hate the idea of content warning. I have hated them in tv shows and movies, and even more so when they had to start putting them on cd covers. I have never, ever been a fan, and that still stands today. I like them even less on books.
After seeing the feedback from others and having several in-depth conversations about the topic, even though I still don't like them, I do have a better understanding of why some people use them and why some readers would like them on books.
Let me explain a bit more from both sides, and since my side is from the dislike, I will start with that. Now, remember this is entirely opinion and feeling about the topic. Also, hold your judgments until the end, please.
Now it seems me and others dislike warning because it is beginning to feel like that's all the world is becoming lately. Warnings, labels, point and blame at every corner for every single thing that might be mildly disturbing or offensive or unfavorable to some.
Though it is not truly censorship, it does have the untoned feeling of it. It feels like having to handhold with every now, even books. And I very much dislike that thought and feeling.
This is where I learned to open up to the idea a bit with a level of understanding from the other side of the coin.
My trauma isn't your trauma or someone else's. How I have dealt with life and not let the bad affect me and how others handle it are different. Trauma is very real, and yes, just reading certain scenes in a fictional book can trigger emotions of said traumas, leading to a horrible time and potential downward spiral for said person.
Now, if there was a content warning at the bottom of the description, the reader could have looked at it to see if certain topics were there that might very well trigger them. From there, it is their call to processed or move on.
Let's look at this in a few different ways
If you have very suggestive themes in your book that might very well trigger someone to have a bad light about the book, what do you think might happen? There is a good to fair chance, 1, they will leave a negative review, which hurts you more than a content warning ever will. 2, they likely will never read anything you write again. Which you might tell yourself, 'my stuff wasn't for them anyway." Which is likely true, but they might have told others about your book that they thought might like them. But now—maybe not so much. 3, what harm does it do to you? Really? What harm does providing a small trigger warning of specific themes at the bottom of the description do negatively towards you? The answer is none, not a single thing, other than irk you because you don't want to do it. Believe me, I know.
Now, let's step back a second and ask, What is a content warning?
This is again where things get controversial and heated sometimes.
What do you write? How much warning and for every little thing?
And again, this is something that bothered me too. My books are all very dark-themed, killing, rape, pedophilia, kidnapping, torture, graphic violence and sex, drug and alcohol use, foul language, and so on and so forth.
So, how much warning do you give before you ruin the book? Here's the thing, you're never going to please everyone with this because there are some very prudent people out there that will be offended no matter what you warn against and don't.
My thoughts are, pick the big ones; the ones that you know deep down are rough topics, i.e., rape, pedophilia, graphic sex, over-the-top graphic killing/violence, racial slurs, etc.
I would think if you stuck to those kinds of big things, you will be fine. It likely will save you from a few bad reviews and gives your sensitive readers a chance to avoid something they wouldn't like anyway. So, in the end, it is kind of win/win.
Now, this is, of course, 100% up to you if you use a warning or not. No one can make you. But I'd like you to think about this for a moment if you will.
At the end of the day, you are putting your work out there for people to read, to hopefully enjoy, right?
In short, if you have dark and over graphic scenes in your books, content warning might be a wise choice to add at the bottom of the description. In the next 3 to 5 years, I would suspect it will become standard practice and possibly something amazon and other bookselling sites will force anyway.
Right, now that that is out of the way. I need you all to leave so I can figure out why this tail isn't disappearing—erm—I mean, try to take it out of my butt—cause it's not real—I need to call Robin, he'll know what to do.
Indie author of the week
Ah, another Sunday morning, another intrusion of my privacy! On Valentines Day no less! Savages! Come on in. I know you won't leave until I tell you all something of great importance. How did you all find me in Canada, Alberta anyways? Shit, I even grew these porkchop sideburns to throw you all off what I looked like and changed my name to Logan. Damn, you guys are good, like bloodhounds or something.
Why are you looking at me weird? Shorter? No, don't be absurd; how would I have gotten shorter? I have always been 5'3.
Alright, now that you are all seated, let's talk beta readers. There is a lot of back and forth on this topic. It seems the majority of authors use them, and only a small percentage don't. But the one thing I see most on the "don't use them" channel is thinking beat readers only have one job, and that's to tell you what to change in your story. And as we all know, a lot of authors can't take constructive criticism well.
So, let's explore some of the thing's beta readers are good for.
As we all know, one of a beta readers' primary goals is to point out problems in your story. Now that could be several things.
Plot/story holes- Are there holes in the plot? Things that you might have missed or overlooked? Thought you explained better than you might have? This is greatly important to have eyes on. We as authors are too close to the work; after hundreds of hours writing the damn story, it is easy to miss certain things or have small things slip by that we in our mind know and think we have explained, but to a reader, we haven't or at least not well enough. So this is a good thing to have a few eyes on.
Characters- This is another big one. I have been guilty of this myself. A character starts with certain features, and halfway through; I changed their eye color, or hair color, or even mannerism of speaking without reason. They will point out possible faults in the dialogue between characters, speech patterns, and whether or not the character's speech stood out and was recognizable. But not only that, beta readers will give you an inside of which characters are likely to become favorites among readers or disliked. Both are handy to know before a book is released, to give you an edge in how to market the book with those characters in mind.
Overall flow- This is another big one. The flow of the book is super important. Does it flow nicely from start to finish? Were there parts of the story that seemed to lag? Or need to add to? Or even taking away? Or just general tweaking? Are there parts that should be explained better or less? Parts that seem to drag or go by too fast? These are all good things to know if you want to create the best story you can. And just because you feel it is, doesn't mean readers will agree. Now you, of course, are free to leave it as you please, but it's always good to have this knowledge.
Soft edits- A lot of authors use beta readers for soft edits. Catching spelling, grammar, punctuation mistakes. I myself don't have beta's do that. I am more interested in the other things and would prefer them to focus solely on that task. But many authors do use them for that, which does, of course, helps the end game editing.
Now that is just what MOST people think beta readers do. Which is true; they are known for doing that. But there is so much more they do/can do for you.
Marketability- This one, I feel a lot of authors miss the mark with beta readers. This is a fantastic chance to have someone else help pimp/promote your works. Most beta readers will talk about your book. Will brag about it on their social media, that they get to read it first. That, of course, creates interest in the book and you. It is a small thing, but the more betas you have, the wider the spread. Not to mention when the book is finally out, they will be some of the first to promote it.
Reviews- This is one I think most authors seem to forget about. Beta readers are your first and front-line reviewers. As soon as your book drops, they are the first ones to drop their reviews on your book. So within a day or two (sometimes longer), your newly published book isn't sitting there with no reviews. It gets to start with several reviews (hopefully good ones) right off the start. And as we all know, having reviews brings more interest to the book. And also more marketing content.
Now, myself, I like to use at least ten beta readers, sometimes up to fifteen. Wait? What did I just say? I know, that seems like a lot, and it is, and that's the point, and there is an excellent reason for it. Most of you likely only use two or three.
Why do I use so many? Because of all the reasons mentioned above. Except now I have MORE eyes on those things, giving me a broader view of what the average reader might think/find.
But now, let me explain HOW I pick my beta readers and why. First off, I never use friends or family—ever. At least not personal life friends, online friends only if I can trust them to be honest.
Now, you'd think the best beta readers would be, of course, people who actually read the genre you write in. And you'd be correct, but only to a degree.
Let me break it down. Say I am using ten beta readers for my newest book, which is a crime/thriller. I want to find five beta readers who actually enjoy and read that genre often. That will give me a solid idea from those five how the book will be perceived among that readership.
But I will also find three readers who are okay with reading that genre. It isn't a genre that they jump for or one they read often, but they will if it looks good or someone recommends it every now and then. Why? Because these people will give you a whole different level of thoughts on your story. They will be able to dissect it differently from the five who read the genre often. These are the readers who, if they stumble onto your book and end up liking it, will look further into your work and likely read more of your books. Plus, if you can make these people like your story, you are even more of a shoe-in with the many crowds of that genre.
The last two beta readers I find are people who don't read that genre at all. Weird, I know. But there is a significant reason for this. These people will hold nothing back from you. If there are issues with the story, they will tell you straight. This isn't their genre at all, so they will pick it apart harder than anyone else. Now, this comes as a double edge sword. Yes, they will pick it apart and point out things the other two groups likely won't. BUT that does not mean it will all be valid. You got to keep that in mind with all beta readers. You need to take it all with a grain of salt. But here is the fun part about this group. If you can touch them with your story where they loved it, and now this genre is something they will check more out. You know you got a winner on your hands. But with that said, if they don't like it, but you had plenty in the other two groups that did, you still have enough to know that you will win over a large percentage of readers.
Remember, knowledge is power.
The more you know about how your book will be received, the better your game plans can be for fixing it and marketing it.
Okay, I want to touch base a little more on this grain of salt thing. This goes for all beta reader feedback. I feel authors assume that any feedback HAS to be listened to, which is just not so. Sometimes you will get feedback, and it just doesn't make sense or doesn't matter to what you want for your story. And that is fine; you don't have to change anything. You say thank you for your insight and move on.
But one of the things you do want to pay attention to is when two or more start saying the same thing, whether you like it or not. If you use ten beta readers and three of them hit you back with something like this, the character changes halfway through the story in dynamic, and it doesn't fit and seems like a cop-out just to speed the story to the end. That is something you need to look at carefully cause right there is 30% of readers now, and if 30% of readers are going to draw that conclusion, you are going to run the risk of getting a slew of bad reviews about it.
That would be one of those things that you would likely want to go back and look at and see if maybe you did and then how you might be able to change it. Again, 100% up to you if you change it or not, but it will also be on you the possible backlash you might get because of it.
This is the reason beta readers are so important (IMO). They provide so much. Let's face it we authors aren't perfect, we miss stuff, we overlook things, and we make mistakes. To think otherwise is simply foolish. To ignore all the positive potential a group of beta readers can bring you is, again, in my mind, foolish. More so because you are not out anything. 90% of beat readers do it for free, just because they like being the first to read a book and be able to give an opinion on it.
What do you have to lose? Nothing.
What do you have to gain? Potentially a lot.
Alright, one of you farted! What the hell did you eat? Cabbage and tuna? With that level of smell, you might need to see a doctor.
Wait—why did you go through my laundry hamper? No, those yellow spandex aren't mine—they're not— Don't you dare tell anyone! Get out!
Indie author of the week
Lacey Smith, a young brunette, has moved on and gotten back on her feet after an abusive relationship. It hasn’t been easy for her when her past seems to continue to haunt her over and over again. Some days she wonders if she will ever get back to being herself. She had lost all faith in relationships altogether. What good are they if all they do is end in broken hearts? Until he appears.
Fate Brings Them Together
Sawyer Collins is a war veteran who is also an amputee. He competes in races and owns a successful business. The truth is, he’s hurting too. In a society where men are taught to mask their emotions, he’s learned to keep his locked inside. When he stumbles across Lacey, however, he’s forced to surface his feelings. About her, about his trauma, about loss and life.
Will the weight of their issues be too much to endure, or will their feelings for one another help them heal and move forward...together?
Deeply compelling and honestly real, Beautiful Trauma isn’t a typical love story and one you won’t soon forget.
Are you stalking me? I feel like you are stalking me. Cause well, I moved to a bigger metal building, and told no one and yet Sunday morning and here you all are again. I mean, it's okay if you are; I just wanted it to be weird for all of us and not just me.
Come in; I'm not going to call the cops are anything; they'd just call Charles Xavier on me. Then I'd have to wear that itchy helmet again. Pretty sure that thing is the reason I am going bald.
Who is Charles Xavier? Just some guy in a wheelchair who runs a weird boarding school who is always trying to convince me to join him and his spandex-wearing 'professors.' Hard pass. Could you see me trying to fit this junk in spandex? No, thank you!
Today I think I will carry on with where we left off a few weeks ago.
If you missed the first part, click the button to go read it first.
Talking about my favorite topic—me. But more importantly, how I got to where I am today as an author—to sitting here, talking to all of you.
I left off at a bit of a cliffhanger, old writers' trick to make the readers come back. Also, an old guy trick to make them young people roll their eyes—yes, I am looking at you, Elle!
As I was saying, I was climbing the author mountain. Life was going good, I had taken my licks, and now it should be clear sailing, right? Cause I wrote a few books, and that means I have to be a success, right?
In comes the Big Six Traditional Publishing Companies. (They are the Big Five now, soon to be the Big Four, but I am talking about over a decade ago.)
First, a little back story—a flashback, if you will. My buddy Chet loves flashbacks!
Amazon algorithms use to treat all book sales the same in the rankings. What I mean by this is if Terry Goodkind sold a fantasy book and you sold a fantasy book, you'd both move up the rankings at the same pace. It was the way it should be.
It let us indies have a fairly even playing field to let our work compete with the big boys and girls. And the small extra ball in our park was the free kindle days we had. This put us on par with all the money the big houses use for marketing to sell books. All we had to do was slap our book on for a few free days.
I should note that back nearly ten years ago when you put a book on for free, you gave away 500 to 5000 copies a day. It was insane. Also, VERY lucrative.
The way Amazon's algorithms were set up, a free book still counted as a book sold at the end of the day. So, think about that for a second. You get some punk indie author (that's me) dropped his epic fantasy book on for free for three out of his five days and give away 7000 copies, then that book goes back to normal sale price.
Here is the fun part.
Suddenly, your ranking goes from say 500000 for fantasy to top 100 in fantasy because, as far as the algorithms are concerned, you sold 7000 copies, and that's where you deserve to be.
The great thing about this was the organic sales that happened over the next two weeks or so was pure money. You'd sell 300 to 400 copies a day, then trickly down every day to a few less and less, as your ranking slipped back down because you can't compete with the top dogs at that sales level long term. But at the end of those two weeks, you still sold 2000 to 3000 books, which made it very worthwhile to do.
Now Amazon only gives you five free book days every 90 days. But with those five free days, you could rock it and reap the benefits for weeks after.
There were times (and I miss these times) where the top-selling books on Amazon were all indies for a few days here and there, pushing all the other big authors right off the table for a bit. It was a beautiful thing. There were Facebook groups where we got together and planned to put our books on all simultaneously so we could clear the rankings, and it would be indie days!
As you can imagine, the Big Six did not like this at all. Heaven forbid they weren't in full control of what the world was reading and wanted anymore. So, in 2013 they paid Amazon millions of dollars to change the DRM algorithms against indie and traditionally published authors.
Indies were outraged and sued but didn't get far. Click the button to find out more on that if you would like.
So, what happened was now, on free days, you had to give away 30 free books to equal 1 'sale' in the algorithms as you can imagine this crushed indie authors moment of glory at having a chance to stand with big named authors if even for a little bit.
Since then, indie authors have never recovered from that blow as far as being able to gain that level of exposure without spending a ton of money on marketing.
A few of us prolific authors can climb the ranks with sales and new releases for a short while. But nothing like it used to be, and I can't see it ever going back that way. Not unless someone else created a bookselling platform like Amazon has but not play favorites cause they get thrown a few bucks. (Million dollar business idea right here up for grabs)
So, I wrote a book; it was going to be the best book ever; this was going to be easy now that I had taken my licks and learned the hard way, right?
I fell off the map for a few months. I didn't know what to do now. I didn't have the money to throw into a detailed and huge marketing plan, but I didn't want to give up. I had come this far; there had to be a way to continue to push forward.
Research upon hours of research on book marketing, 90% of it required money, and more than I had.
So, like any struggling authors, I stepped up my online game as much as I could as I continued to publish new works. I hit Facebook hard, Facebook groups and pages, Twitter, and several other random places. I also started setting myself up doing book signings at local bookstores, farmer's markets, and basically any place that would allow me to.
I contacted local radio stations, newspapers, and tv stations and was able to get some of them to bite and interview me. It helped my sales locally but not much beyond. But it was a good start.
Slowly, but surely I was moving my way back to a solid author level.
Que Facebook fucking author pages with new algorithm changes!
Once again, I will stop here. Shocker, right? But it's to build suspense for the next chapter in this. Many of you who have been using Facebook as an author platform for the last seven years or so already know what I will say about it. Those who started using it not so long ago don't realize how good it once was.
Do you want to see a magic trick? I can open my metal door without touching it. See how it opened?
Maybe get up now—and use it—I am kicking you out—I have to pee.
Indie author of the week