Calling All Self-Published Authors: Book Review Exchange

shutterstock_108685118One of the most powerful marketing tools that your book can have is one that doesn’t cost anything at all – honest reviews. It’s one of the first things that readers look for when they’re deciding whether a book is worth checking out. In particular, self-published novels need good reviews, because readers are trying to sift through hundreds of cheap – or free – books, many of which aren’t high quality.

The other value that I’ve found equally important from reviews is that it is a great way to get honest feedback about your book. Friends, family, and even beta readers are biased. Strangers can often provide insights that you’d never get otherwise. For example, reviews of The Conjurors Series have alerted me to the fact that I may be targeting the wrong audience for my story. I’d considered it YA fantasy, but readers think it is more appropriate for a younger audience. In the future, I’m going to promote it more heavily to middle grade readers.

I’d also like to get more reviews for the books in The Conjurors Series. To that end, I’m asking anyone who is interested in exchanging books to read and honestly review to reach out to me in the form below. I’ll read yours and provide reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or any other sites where you’re promoting your book, if you’ll do the same for me.

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How to End Your Self-Published Book Series

shutterstock_55706296As I begin plotting the final book in The Conjurors Series, I noticed that it is by far the hardest book to write. It feels as though the stakes for my protagonist have never been higher, and it can be intimidating trying to ensure that she lives up her potential.

Faced with such high expectations, I looked at how other successful authors have successfully tackled ending their series. Below are the tips I found most useful as Valerie embarked on her final adventure.

Keep up your momentum and passion for your series.
Whether your three books in or twelve, by now you’ve probably invested hundreds of hours and maybe even several years of your life to the characters in your series. You’ve analyzed the character traits of your protagonist so many times that she starts to feel like an annoying family member who won’t leave you alone. But readers who have grown to love your protagonist want to see her make her final stand with flair and walk into a satisfying sunset. Remember how excited you were to plot book 1? Make sure that same energy pervades every last sentence of your series.

Reread your series to make sure you complete all of the storylines you started.
There is nothing that makes me crazier than a series that doesn’t tie up all of its loose ends. Whether it’s a character who is introduced and then disappears or foreshadowing that never results in anything, I find that the disappointment of a missed connection can sour a series that I’ve otherwise enjoyed. You never know what tidbits your readers will remember, so be sure that you don’t leave any holes in your story.

Show readers how much your protagonist has evolved (or devolved, as the case may be).
A good series has its protagonist evolve not just within each book, but over the series as a whole. When you’re wrapping up your series, remind readers of how far your protagonist has come. In the last book of the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, Katniss revisits District 12, where she grew up, and we are reminded how she went from being a scrappy kid fighting for survival to the inspiration of a revolution that changed the country.

Take time to say goodbye.
You don’t need to write a farewell speech for each of the key players in your story, but take time to give readers a sense of closure for the characters they’ve become attached to. Also give yourself a chance to pause and realize that your epic has at last reached its ending. For yourself as well as your readers, it’s okay to slow down in order to punctuate that this is truly The End.

Let readers know how to find your future work.
Especially for self-published authors, it’s critical to have your contact information easily accessible to readers who want to continue to read what you write in the future. Whether it’s your website, Facebook page, or even Twitter, provide venues for fans to stay in touch. You’ll be glad when the next book of your new series comes out to have a built in fan base who already likes your style.

Helpful Links

  • This post on The Editor’s Blog on setting up a series.
  • This post on Standoutbooks on what to consider throughout your series.
  • This post on my blog on creating a series bible.

 

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When to Include an Epilogue in Your Novel

shutterstock_177324332Unlike prologues (which I covered in last week’s post) epilogues are a much less controversial concept in the writing community. Everyone from J.K. Rowling to James Dashner uses epilogues to wrap up loose ends and generally give a novel a complete finish. But I would argue that epilogues are just as likely to be abused as prologues, and it is essential to write one only if your novel demands it. Do more details of “happily ever after” really merit an epilogue? Sometimes it is more powerful to let the end stand for itself, and allow readers to make guesses or inferences based on the text.

However, there are also times when an epilogue can be a powerful tool to enhance the reader’s experience.

Introduce a secondary point of view that sheds new light on the story.
In novels that are written from the perspective of one character, the epilogue can be a great place to add an additional layer to your story by giving another character a voice. In The Conjurors Series, I write exclusively from the perspective of the protagonist. I use the epilogues as an opportunity to show a nuance to the story, namely, how the villain of the series is pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Use it as a cliffhanger to encourage readers to check out subsequent books in your series.
I’ve seen highly effective epilogues in series that give a little peek into the next book. In the self-publishing world, writing a series is one of the most effective ways to build an audience that is interested in your writing. Epilogues are a great place to give readers an additional scene related to your current story that also has them asking questions that will make them eager to read your next book. I loved the epilogue in The Maze Runner by James Dashner because it not only introduced a new perspective – that of the enemy – but also revealed to the reader that the safety that the main characters believe they have found at the end of the book is false. To discover how they’ll survive, you have to continue the series.

Set your epilogue in the future – but only if you have something new to say.
All too often epilogues simply expand on the happily every after. For example, two main characters get married at the end of the novel, and in the epilogue they have a baby. In this case, slash the epilogue. The reader doesn’t learn anything new, and it can detract from the impact of your novel’s close. On the other hand, there are instances when new information from the future can be powerful and worth including. For example, the epilogue in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows gives readers closure for the characters they had grown to love by showing them as adults. Information set so far in the future makes sense to be separated from the main text, but is meaningful enough that it is worth including.

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Write a Prologue that Hooks Readers

shutterstock_117237259Among those of us who proudly call ourselves writing geeks, the topic of prologues can be like discussing the morality of the death penalty in other circles. I know authors who hate them, as well as readers who skip prologues and go straight to the first chapter. Personally, I love a great prologue. I think of a well-written prologue as a teaser pulls me in to the story right away.

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely times to avoid the prologue. I thought this post by Kristen Lam on The Seven Deadly Sins of Prologues did a great job of summing up some of the ways that prologues get abused.

When used appropriately, prologues can be a powerful tool to hook readers and add an extra layer of tension or depth to the first reading of a story. Below are some of my favorite prologues in YA fiction and the lessons I took away from them. Each of these authors used their prologues to achieve different ends, but they all created an opening that hooks the reader and enhances the story that follows.

Add dimension to your story by giving away a key piece of information.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
The prologue for Eleanor and Park sets up from the get-go that the two title characters in this teen romance are no longer together. By giving this away from the beginning, it makes the romance that follows all the more bittersweet. It also adds an element of danger – are they broken up because the heroine died? Constructing the prologue this way adds to the tension of the story in key scenes, and the payoff in the end is very satisfying.

Inform readers of key backstory.
Paper Towns by Josh Green
Paper Towns was the book that got me thinking about the effectiveness of backstory. The author uses a prologue to introduce readers to a key scene that is telling about the two main characters in the story, a suicide that they witnessed as children. The scene is prologue-worthy not only because it reveals the personalities of the two main characters, but also because the incident has an impact on how they process the world for the rest of their lives.

Give readers a peek into the future.
Timebound by Rysa Walker
A prologue can be the perfect tool to drop readers in the middle of action without frustrating them. It’s a great hook, and you can then back up and tell your story more slowly when you begin with Chapter 1. In Timebound, we quickly discover that the protagonist is time traveling, and is in incredible danger. The mystery of what’s happening in this scene become unraveled throughout the book, and we only discover how it is resolved in the climax.

Use your prologue to set the stakes.
Sanctum by Sarah Fine
In Sanctum, the heroine goes to a kind of hellish afterlife to save her best friend from an eternity of limbo, while risking her own chance at finding heaven. To understand why she would go to these lengths, the reader has to understand the relationship. Fine skillfully uses her prologue to establish the roots of the friendship, as well as the roots of the problems that lead to the premise of the story. The prologue captures the reader’s attention and leads seamlessly into the story that follows.

Subvert expectations.
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
The Twilight series has its detractors, but I thought Meyer did an excellent job with her prologues, particularly in the first book of the series. As the heroine explains that she is happy to die for love, it not only tells us something about her character, but also sets us up for the climax of the book. Throughout, we are sure that Bella will be sacrificing her life for her new soul mate, but in fact the prologue is talking about her love for her mother. The surprise was sweet and increased my sympathy with the protagonist.

Did you include a prologue in your story? If so, what purpose does it serve?

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Best YA Fantasy Books for Your Book Club

shutterstock_141036148One of the best parts about being a YA author is the fact that I get to read all the latest and greatest YA fiction in the name of research. As fun as it is to dive into a new world, analyzing the text afterward is even better. That’s why I love being a part of a monthly book club were we tear apart everything from fantasy to romance to nonfiction.

Since YA fantasy with strong heroines is my passion, I thought I’d share my top picks in this genre to read and discuss with your book club.

Divergent by Veronica Roth
One of the most lighthearted and enjoyable book club discussions I’ve had surrounded this book. In Roth’s world, everyone is split into five factions that are essentially personality types. Our book club had a blast deciding which faction we would belong to, and what it said about our character. The book also has a strong and unconventional female heroine who resonated with each of us in different ways. The author doesn’t shy away from making tough choices, and debating Roth’s decisions led to more serious discussions. Click here for some great questions to kick off your book club discussion on Divergent from the official HarperCollins guide.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Despite being a hot topic in pop culture right now, this trilogy raises some surprisingly complex questions about he nature of love, PTSD, and ethical questions of war. Click here for some great questions to kick off your book club discussion on Hunger Games from the Galesburg Public Library.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Giver is a simple, relatively short book that yields awesome discussion. Lowry is a master of her craft, and everything from the futuristic society that she created to her complex characters resonates. Whether you love it or hate it, everyone has strong opinions on their take on Lowry’s world. Click here for some great questions to kick off your book club discussion on The Giver by LitLovers (incidentally, LitLovers is a great site to check out for book club questions and ideas in general).

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
I know, I know. The Twilight series is probably not the most intellectually stimulating collection of books that you’ve stumbled upon. But it brings out the teenager in you, and you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think you’ll enjoy debating Edward vs. Jacob. If you need a break from discussing heavy, serious texts, this is the perfect vacation for a lighthearted book club. Click here for some great questions to kick off your book club discussion on Twilight by Shmoop. I like these questions because they are some of the same ones I had in my head about the series.

Do you have favorite YA fantasy books that your book club has loved?

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How to Create a Great Setting for Your Fantasy Novel

shutterstock_189557657Creating a believable, compelling setting is a key ingredient in helping readers to immerse themselves in your novel, regardless of the genre. But I believe that in fantasy novels, setting is even more critical. The rules of the world you create must make sense, and often the setting can be a compelling incentive to pick up your story in the first place.

Below are some tips from popular series that have nailed the task of creating a unique, fascinating setting.

Ensure that your setting reinforces the key concepts of your story.
Example: Divergent by Veronica Roth
In Roth’s world, people are split into five factions by personality types. The setting builds upon this concept and enables readers to understand the world better. For example, the people of the Abnegation faction, who value self-sacrifice, live in austere, simple buildings that don’t even have mirrors. The Dauntless, who value courage, live in an underground pit with paths along the sides that have no railings. Anyone could easily plunge to their death with one wrong move. The impact of Roth’s use of setting makes the world instantly feel more believable.

Reveal your setting slowly, letting readers absorb the nuances.
Example: Silo series by Hugh Howey
Howey is a master at leading readers expertly through his imaginative world. When readers are first introduced to the setting in the Silo series, which is an immense, self-sustaining underground building, it isn’t clear exactly how this world functions, or how it came to be. But through the point of view of different characters, the layers are slowly revealed. Readers see how the silo sustains itself, and how the very nature of the different levels of the silo creates divisions between people, and a class system emerges based on how close to the top of the silo people live. It is amazing how quickly the world makes sense, and as additional details are revealed, the setting continues to fascinate.

Hook readers with a mystery about the setting.
Example: The Maze Runner by James Dashner
The setting in The Maze Runner is very simple and contained, but even the characters within the story don’t understand it. The entire world is a small homestead surrounded by a giant maze that the characters can’t escape from. The only way into this world is from an elevator that only goes one way – up. Solving the mystery of who created this world and how to escape is at the crux of the story.

Create a setting that is a fantastic twist on on the real world.
Example: Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
I could point to a number of popular fantasy series for this example, because it’s a device that works well. A favorite of mine is Wicked Lovely, because Marr seamlessly weaves the world of fairies into the world as we know it, and the setting is a key component of making this work. Everyday places deserve a second look for the protagonist, Aislinn, because she is aware that an almost invisible world is overlaid on her own.

Indulge your imagination and don’t be afraid to take risks with your setting.
Example: Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
I’m finishing with Harry Potter because Rowling created the most compelling world that I’ve ever encountered in YA fantasy literature. Staircases that move, secret passages, and pictures that talk all make the world feel incredibly fantastical, like imagination come to life. Fantasy-lovers are looking to be immersed in a world that is new and different, so let your imagination run a little wild.

Which fantasy novels do you think have done the best job with setting?

 

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Modeling Your Novel on a Classic

shutterstock_189453926A great source of inspiration for me has always been looking at the classics. And I’m not alone. How many times have familiar storylines crept in to popular works of fiction? The best authors take certain elements from classics and do something so new that many readers don’t notice the references to the original.

I loved how Hugh Howey used elements of Romeo and Juliet in his Silo series. It was a completely original twist on Shakespeare’s classic. Howey used the device of two lovers who come from completely different worlds that are bitterly opposed to each other, but his characters were completely his own. Lukas stands in for Romeo, and while he shares Romeo’s dreaminess and romanticism, is also fiercely intelligent and loyal. Even better, Juliette is a far more compelling Juliet, taking her destiny and those of her people in her hands and leading them to their salvation. By the time I finished Howey’s books, I decided I liked his characters even better than Shakespeare’s originals.

Other authors take the reverse tactic, and choose classic characters and place them in a new setting. One of my favorite recent finds is The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. This is a young adult sci-fi/fantasy series that takes characters from classic fairytales and gives them an extreme makeover. The first book in the series is a loose take on Cinderella. Meyer’s Cinder has a heart of gold at her core, just like her inspiration, but she is a cyborg who helps her prince charming to end a plague that is ravaging the population.

So what have I taken away from those who are borrowing from the greats?

Don’t make your adaptation overly faithful to the original.
It’s tempting to assume that when you’re borrowing elements from a classic that the genius who created it knows best. But it’s critical to bring something dramatically new to the story, or readers might as well read the original. Choose the elements that fit your story, and don’t hesitate to ignore those that don’t work.

Keep your references subtle.
Some of the best stories I’ve read borrow from classics in such a way that I often don’t realize the connection until after I’ve finished the story. It makes a second reading of the book that much better. If it’s too obvious or heavy-handed, the effect can be to dull the impact of your story.

Don’t choose multiple classics to borrow from in one novel.
A rookie mistake that I made in my writing was to incorporate inspiration from multiple texts into my writing. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible to do this, but it takes a masterful hand to incorporate different references expertly. Often the effect can be confusing or overwhelming. And remember, it is your original content that will bring readers back, not what you’re borrowing from the classics.

Have you borrowed from the classics when writing your novel?

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