Monthly Archives: October 2011

Tips For Starting a Novel

A friend just asked me if I had any tips for starting a novel. He had been working on an idea for a sci fi/fantasy story and was finally ready to jump into the writing process. It can be a bit daunting for a first timer, so he naturally asked me since I had been through the process (more than once).

Oddly, I was at a loss for words. At first. My first reaction was odd because I had given a lot of thought to that very question, and the answer is quite simple: start writing. Don’t worry about whether it’s any good; just start writing. You will have plenty of time to shape and improve the story.

My process usually starts with a detailed outline (“guidelines” not a hard and fast road map). Then I write the first 100 pages or so (double-spaced). Then, I go back and revise to check to see how the characters and story are holding up. Then, I push onto to finish the manuscript. In most cases, my stories have taken dramatic, unexpected turns (and sometimes leaps). I’ve learned to embrace the uncertainty and circuitousness of the writing process. Even after I’ve completed the manuscript, I will go through a half dozen complete rewrites before I release it to a professional editor.

For those that have taken a gander at my most recent novel, A Warrior’s Soul, this process may seem at odds with the promises I seem to make to my readers. I included the first chapter of Book Two, Renegade, at the end of the first book. But I hadn’t completed the full manuscript when I included that chapter! (I have completed it now, however.)

I wasn’t committing fraud. The chapter found in A Warrior’s Soul will indeed be the first chapter of Renegade. Rather, having been through the process, I knew that: 1) my manuscript was well on the way to completion, and 2) the first chapter was, in fact, finished. By the time I was ready to release the first chapter, I knew which turns my story would take even though I had not put all the flesh on the bones of the story yet. The climatic scene is a doozy, and I didn’t need to have the details and circumstances forshadowed in the first chapter. And, honestly, I wouldn’t have had the courage to commit to that first chapter unless I had been through the process before.

So, new authors, don’t be afraid to simply write, write, and write. That’s the best way to get your manuscript done. Also keep in mind, however, that finishing the manuscript is just the beginning. Expect lots of editing and revisions once you’ve put together a complete manuscript and don’t skip the use of a good, professional editor as you finish the process up.

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Guerilla Book Marketing 103: The Long Haul

My third post on Guerilla Book Marketing-“Investing in the Long Haul”-has been graciously posted over at Blogging Authors (October 14, 2011). This one describes Phase 2 of my marketing place for A Warrior’s Soul. The first phase was focused on raising awareness of the book before publication. The second phase is all about sustaining the momentum from the first phase. Phase 2 is also about investing for the long haul: book clubs, articles in targeted publications, book festivals, and more. For details, checkout the blog.

Also, for those interested in the first two posts, here on the links:

*”Guerilla Book Marketing 1: Planning & Implementation” (Sept. 30, 2011);

*”Guerilla Book Marketing 2: Assessing Effectiveness” (Oct. 7, 2011);

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Sharpening Your Marketing Pitch

One of the downsides to putting your marketing copy together before your book hits bookshelves is you don’t have the benefit of reader reactions to sharpen your message. I’ve typically used an external review process for all my manuscripts to get critical feedback for substance as well as determine what themes or characters are resonating with readers for marketing purposes. But, the process is imprecise at best; readers react to the final product, not the draft. And there’s nothing like a real live review to reveal “the truth.”

So, I found a recent exercise in crafting promotional postcards for my novels particularly useful. I didn’t have the space for a 100 word description like the back of the book. I also needed the card to keep from being cluttered. So, I had to get the proverbial thirty second elevator pitch down to…five seconds. At the most.

I was surprised at how much better my marketing pitch became because I had reader reactions to work with. For example, here’s what we put on the back cover of my most recent novel, A Warrior’s Soul (the thirty second elevator pitch): 

Luke is sure his martial arts training is worthless. That’s why he quit. But when Dirk and his thugs move into his school, Luke quickly realizes that he may be the only one who can save Lucy, Chuck, and his other friends from their relentless and violent gang. Only Luke can make the ultimate decision to help his friends and stand up to the gang. It’s a stark choice, and one he can’t make alone.

and here is what is on the post card (five second version):

A time comes-a moment in your life-when you face a test, and you have to ask yourself if you have the courage to act. Do you have a warrior’s soul?

Okay, maybe that’s really ten seconds, but the second version hits squarely on the feedback I’ve garnered from both formal and informal reviews on the book. (Check them out at and

Similarly, here’s the copy from the back cover of The Pirate of Panther Bay:

Isabella never thought her first command would be in jeopardy so soon. But pirates demand results, and she wasn’t delivering. If she could just get rid of her albatross, the dashing young Spaniard seized from her first prize. She should have killed him, like his captain. But, she couldn’t have known his very presence was about to send her life into a  maelstrom of mutiny, imprisonment, and revenge.

This hit all the marketing angles and marks we wanted. But, based on reader reaction to the themes and characters, this is what we wrote for the post card version:

Isabella was a pirate by fate, not choice. She thought that made the difference. It didn’t.

I like this one even better than the one for AWS because it’s shorter. Notably, in The Pirate of Panther Bay quote, the emphasis is on the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by Isabella as a pirate captain. That’s the part of the story that is enduring, even though the action and romance are critical to moving the story forward.

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Guerilla Book Marketing 102

The second installment of my series on Guerilla book marketing–effective low-cost ways to market you book–has been posted over at Blogging Authors. This article focuses on assessing the effectiveness of marketing strategies leading up to a book’s launch, using my experience with A Warrior’s Soul as case study. I specifically focuses on the milestones I achieved leading up to the middle-grade novel’s July 29th release, and how I monitored and evaluated the success of each strategies.

The first post (appearing Sept. 30, 2011) focused on identifying and implementing strategies.

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How Much Does Guerilla Marketing Cost?

I’ve discussed guerilla marketing tactics for book launches for new and niche authors before (see here and here), but one question never seems to be asked: How much does it (or should it) cost?

I’ve heard ranges from zero (everything is your own blood, sweat and tears) to tens of thousands of dollars. As a niche author unlikely to hit the New York Times best seller list anytime soon, most of my marketing has been “guerilla” marketing–identifying effective and relatively cheap marketing strategies to achieve my sales goals. The stone cold reality is that I could spend $25,000 on marketing for my books and still not get the return necessary in book sales to justify the costs.

But, spending nothing on marketing doesn’t make sense. Believe it or not, you can accomplish quite a lot on a marketing budget of under $1,500. I advise budgeting at least $500, and be ready to spend close to $1,000 if the right opportunities arise, but here is what a budget of $500 can “buy” you:

  1. A facebook account, and a page for your book, is free. Also, web site managers like (the host of this site) will allow you to establish blog and web sites free of charge when you buy a domain name. You don’t have to start fancy, and you can decide to upgrade your web sites and blogs (as I have) as your cash allows.

  2. Expedited reviews of your book from one or two reputable on-line book review sites such as, Midwest Book Review, All Books Review, etc. may be worth the investment to legitimize your book to a broader audience more quickly.

  3. Focused marketing efforts on developing a personal network and relationships with book clubs and experts in your field, including local book clubs.

  4. Travel to local and regional book festivals and other events, particularly if they are free.

  5. Inexpensive Youtube video marketing products such as video blogs. While they won’t be polished and professional, that can be part of the appeal to potential readers. A home video camera can provide surprisingly good quality and video editing software that comes with your operating system is probably all you need.

This marketing budget won’t get you to the New York Times best seller list, but they should be able to get you to the point you cover your out of pocket costs and can finance your next book effort!

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Guerilla Book Marketing 101

I have a series of three guest posts over at Blogging Authors that discuss marketing strategies for new and niche authors. The first post, “Guerilla Book Marketing 1: Planning and Implementation,” appeared on Friday, September 30, 2011, and discusses the steps (including a chronology) I used to launch my newest novel A Warrior’s Soul. The second post will appear on Friday, October 7th, and will include an evaluation of those efforts (including benchmarks). The third is scheduled to appear on Friday October 14th.

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