3 Reasons Kathryn Stockett’s The Help Became A Bestseller

bestselling novel The HelpTime to get honest. We all want our book to become a runaway bestseller and get turned into a movie.

And we all know exactly what it takes to get there–a great book and word of mouth. That hasn’t changed and won’t change no matter what technological advancements come along. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Social media maven Kristen Lamb pointed out that one of the best ways for novelists to create a great book is to examine successful books to figure out what worked for them. Once we recognize what helped make them great, we can incorporate those things into our own books.

So today I wanted to look at three reasons Kathryn Stockett’s The Help became a bestseller.

Unique Character Voices

The Help uses three first-person narrators to tell the story. (It’s not as easy as Stockett makes it look.)  Even if you weren’t told each time you hit a switch, you could identify which character was speaking because Stockett gave them each a unique voice.

How? Well, she kept in mind their background, education, and personalities.

Abileen’s voice is lyrical but filled with grammatical mistakes. She uses “they” when she should use “their,” and “a” when she should use “of.” You can hear the accent of black women in the South 60 years ago when she says, “First day I walk in the door, there she be, red-hot and hollering with the colic” (pg. 1).

This is Abileen’s voice, and only Abileen can say it just this way because of who she is. She dropped out of school young to work, but always had a knack for writing, and she’s been writing her prayers ever since so she doesn’t lose the ability. She’s older than the other POV characters, and it shows in her accent and attitudes, and in the slightly slower way she moves about things.

Minny’s is sarcastic, cynical, jaded. Her speech is sprinkled with profanity and criticisms of the foolishness she sees around her. Her metaphors tend to center around food.

What makes Minny so different from Abileen? She’s younger and has more education so she lacks the accent and grammatical mistakes, she’s extremely practical, but it’s more than that. Minny looks at the world the way she does in large part because her alcoholic husband beats her. And her food metaphors spring out of her love for cooking. She never burns the fried chicken.

Whether you have one POV character or ten, each of them needs to sounds like an individual.

A Theme People Connect With

You might think the theme of The Help is civil rights and equality for blacks and women. While those issues play a huge role in the book (after all, Skeeter is writing a book that tells the real story of black maids in the South), if that was the theme, it wouldn’t connect with people on an emotional level the way this book did. Civil rights is a political issue you vote on, not something that reaches in, grabs your heart, and squeezes it until it aches.

Stockett weaves a much more subtle and poignant theme throughout each POV character’s story–the struggle to feel worthy, worthwhile, loved, and valuable.

Skeeter feels like an embarrassment to her mother. She’s unmarried and dresses in ways that give her mother heart palpitations. Her hair is completely unmanageable. When she finally gets a boyfriend, she’s forced to choose between being herself and being who he wants her to be.

Minny works for Celia Foote. Celia comes from Sugar Ditch (basically the wrong side of the tracks). She desperately wants to make friends, but her heart of gold is overlooked because she’s tacky and trashy and married to the ex-boyfriend of Hilly, who has all the other white women under her thumb.

Abileen works for a woman who’s ashamed of her daughter. Elisabeth barely picks her toddler up because Mae Mobley is fat with a bald spot on the back of her head. Abileen spends the book trying to teach Mae Mobley that she is kind, she is smart, and she is important.

Each story connects to the theme in a different way, but it’s there under them all. And it’s something we can all relate to in one way or another.

Fresh Descriptions and Metaphors

George Orwell advised, “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” His point was that if you’ve seen it in other books before, it’s no longer fresh. It might even be verging on cliched. Worse, it makes your book forgettable.

The best metaphors stick in people’s minds because they don’t remember ever hearing them before. They also stick because they give people something tangible to hang on to.

The dread in my stomach is flat and hard and hot, like a brick in the sun (pg. 178). When I read this, I understood dread in a new way. My gut reaction was “Yes, that’s exactly how it feels. She just put into words something I’ve known all along but haven’t been able to articulate.” That makes for a memorable metaphor.

It smells like meat, like hamburger defrosting on the counter (pg. 232). Even now, months later, this metaphor still turns my stomach. This is how she described the smell of a miscarried baby. I’ve never seen a miscarried baby, never smelled what that sort of death smells like, but with this description, I knew. Stockett associated something unfamiliar to most of us to something familiar to most of us, allowing us to play an intimate part in a foreign experience. That also makes for a memorable metaphor.

Have you read The Help? What did you love about it? What else do you think made it a bestseller?

Marcy

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

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Inspirational Fiction Genre

There’s more to writing inspirational fiction than having a minister in your story, or making sure your main character goes to church at Easter and Christmas.

I’m continuing Marcy’s blogging blitz on genres for one more post. Second only to romance in terms of book sales, earning $759million in 2010 according to the RWA, we would be remiss to ignore inspirational fiction in our exploration of genres and sub-genres. It’s said that the Bible has been #1 on the NYT bestseller list for so long they no longer include it (wonder if that’s true).

Just as there are ‘rules’ for writing in any other genre, inspirational has its own staples and inviolable rules. In Canada and the USA, inspirational fiction includes any religious or faith-based writing, however an overwhelming percentage of that category is Christian fiction. Written primarily for a conservative (traditional) Protestant Christian audience, the conventions for this genre are largely determined by the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association), and are specific and largely inflexible.

Within inspirational fiction you’ll find most of the general market genres and sub-genres – but there are distinct elements to inspirational fiction. Here are a few:

A Character of Faith

In Christian fiction, the protagonist(s) must either begin the story as a Christian, or be one by the end of the story, and by Christian I mean Bible-believing, regular church-attending, with a personal faith influencing their thoughts, choices and actions. As a general rule, the main character(s) must have a HEA. Redemption, mercy and grace are common themes, and readers like to see the redemption of one of the main characters.

Avoid Excesses

This audience will not tolerate obscene language (slang terms for body parts for instance), cursing, gratuitous violence, sex, smoking, drug use or drunkeness. Some publishers will go so far as to ban dancing, card playing, gambling, games of chance, etc. See Harlequin’s Love Inspired guidelines. Premarital sex is only rarely tolerated, the aforementioned character arc of redemption one of the very few exceptions. Extramarital sex is prohibited for the protagonist, and all sex scenes are very sweet – and I mean ‘he kicked the door closed with his foot’ sweet.

Violence is tolerated to a degree. Many authors have had success writing crime and suspense novels for the inspirational market, and include serial killers, murderers, and the like, but the events are described without gore, viscera or blood baths.

Conservative

This audience tends to hold rather conservative (traditional) church views on a number of issues such as women holding the office of Pastor or Minister, heaven/hell, divorce, and abortion. There is no paranormal sub-genre in the inspirational market, because this audience won’t read paranormal staples such as ghosts, demons, vampires, werewolves, and witches,. Also, elements that go hand in hand with paranormal such as voodoo, spell casting, tarot cards, witchcraft, and palm reading are taboo. Angels are generally relegated to non-fiction, though there have been a couple of notable pioneers such as Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and Roger Elwood’s Angelwalk series.

There have been a few authors who have attempted to push the boundaries with paranormal elements such as Ted Dekker’s Immortal Veins and Adam, and Melanie Wells’ When The Day Of Evil Comes. As a general rule, there aren’t many dark stories in inspirational fiction. Horror is another genre hard to find in inspirational fiction, though you’ll find mystery, romance, historical, and to a lesser degree fantasy. Marcher Lord Press’ speculative fiction has been making inroads, but you won’t find their books in a bookstore.

The often-levelled complaint is that inspirational fiction is unrealistic. Inspirational author Deanne Gist has a great post about this.

The main core of this audience is looking for a break from reality where people don’t swear, they don’t drink, they wait until their wedding day to have sex, they struggle to follow the commands in the Bible, and at the end of the day overcome an obstacle or find faith in Christ. Yes, the Christian fiction audience is not looking for a story about, or characters seeking out, a generic ‘god,’ but rather a specific faith in Jesus Christ which permeates the entire story.

For many general market and popular fiction readers, this sugar-coated realm is unbelievable, and is often viewed as a thinly veiled attempt at evangelism. But the steady growth in book sales validates the marketplace for these stories, so much that many Christian publishing houses have been bought out by the large publishing companies.

Read an overview of fiction genres, or expanded posts on romance, science fiction, fantasy, thriller, and mystery genres.

Do you have a question about genres or sub-genres? What’s your favorite genre? Why?

Lisa

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Romance Sub-Genres

romance sub-genresAs we hit the very last day of our week-long sub-genre blitz, our final spot is for romance. Romance is both one of the most straightforward to categorize and one of the most complicated. To identify your romance sub-genre, you first need to classify your novel in terms of heat level.

Heat level in romance refers to how intense and explicit the intimate scenes are. Romance novelist Starla Kaye gives an excellent overview of heat levels in romance at her website, including what publisher lines print them and the classifications given to the various levels by different publishers.

Once you know your heat level, you can pick one of the following . . .

Contemporary Romance – As the name suggests, contemporary romances take place post 1960. This is kind of a catch-all category for romance that doesn’t fit in any of the others.

Historical Romance – The line dividing a historical romance from a contemporary romance is, frankly, a little fuzzy. If your book is set pre-1960, you’re probably safe calling it a historical romance, but my suggestion for this one is to find out what your ideal publisher defines as historical and go with their dividing line.

Western Romance – Set in the American frontier, or in a contemporary “western” setting such as the Canadian prairies or Australian outback, western romance readers expect to experience horses, cowboys, and a simpler way of life (though not a simpler plot line).

Gothic Romance – Gothic romance combines romance and horror and often involves a mystery. The darkness and terror should compliment the sexual tension between your main characters.

Regency Romance – Set in regency-era (circa 1790-1820) Great Britian, it takes more than just a location and time period to make a successful regency romance. Readers expect wit and fast-paced dialogue like that found in Jane Austin’s novels. This sub-genre is less likely to include explicit sex scenes (or even open discussions of sex) than the other sub-genres. Marriages of convenience, false engagements, mistaken identities, and large differences in social class are popular elements.

Romantic Suspense – Romantic suspense is the most plot driven of all romance and usually involves a strong heroine who finds herself in a dangerous situation. The key to a successful romantic suspense is to blend both elements so that neither overwhelms the other.

Paranormal Romance – Paranormal romances usually involve a romantic relationship between a human and a ghost, vampire, shapeshifter, werewolf, or some other non-human or quasi-human being. They can also focus around psychic abilities. Unlike with fantasies, the romance rather than the otherworldly elements is central.

Inspirational Romance – Inspirational romances will always fall to the most conservative end of the heat spectrum. If you want to sell an inspirational romance, don’t try to push the envelop. The envelop isn’t going to budge, and you’re just going to end up with a lot of very painful paper cuts. Inspirational romances always end either in marriage or the very strong potential of marriage, and the characters’ faith journeys need to be central to the plot and their relationship.

Inspirational romance can serve as an umbrella category for the other sub-genres as well. For example, you could be writing a romantic suspense that’s also an inspirational romance because of the faith element to it.

If you missed Lisa’s overview post that started off our series, or my earlier posts on fantasy sub-genres, science fiction sub-genre, thrilled sub-genres, or mystery sub-genres, now’s a great time to go back and read them 🙂

Where does your book fit? What do you love about romance novels? What do you hate?

Marcy

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Mystery Sub-Genres

types of mysteriesWe’ve gone through fantasy, science fiction, and thrillers. Today we’ll be covering mysteries before finishing our series on genres and sub-genres with romance tomorrow.

Cozy Mystery – Cozies are the softest version of mysteries. They don’t have explicit sex or violence, and are often set in small towns rather than big cities. The protagonist is a female layperson (think Murder She Wrote) with a knack for getting into trouble and solving puzzles. She’s not a member of the police or other law enforcement. In fact, the police in the story probably view her as a pest.

The fraternal twin of the cozy mystery is the hobby mystery. Basically this is a cozy where the main character is involved in a niche hobby and the crime is intimately involved with that hobby. For example, your protagonist collects rare books and a rare book is stolen from the used bookstore in town.

Police Procedural – The focus of a police procedural isn’t so much on the reader figuring out who the criminal is but rather on how to catch him and prove he was the one who committed the crime. In fact, the bad guy is often known in the beginning of the book. Readers of police procedurals expect detailed descriptions of the investigative techniques used by the police. For a TV example, look no farther than CSI.

General Mystery –  The protagonist in a general mystery is normally a private detective rather than a police officer (police prodecural) or a layperson (cozy mystery). Oftentimes, however, the PI will have a non-PI friend/employee/client who plays a key role in the plot as well. The emphasis in these stories is the puzzle, figuring out whodunit. Examples include The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith and A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton.

Historical Mystery – These stories revolve around a historically significant crime (real or fictionalized). Anne Perry and Steven Saylor are well-known writers in this sub-genre.

Noir/Hardboiled Mystery – On the opposite end of the mystery spectrum from the cozy is the noir or hard-boiled sub-genre. With its realistic, gritty portrays of sex and violence and dark tone, this sub-genre got its name from its tough voice and unsentimental take on life. Protagonists are so deeply flawed, self-destructive, or damaged as to almost be anti-heroes. These mysteries aren’t for the faint of heart.

Don’t forget to check out Lisa’s post on genres and sub-genres that began our series.

Do you prefer to know the criminal in a mystery or do you like to try to figure it out as the book goes along?

Marcy

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Thriller Sub-Genres

suspense genreSo far this week we’ve looked at fantasy and science fiction sub-genres, but since not everyone loves speculative fiction as much as I do, I’m going to take you through thriller sub-genres today and mystery sub-genres tomorrow.

Espionage – Also called spy fiction, espionage is the land of the CIA, assassins, secret agents, and James Bond. If you’re writing something like Robert Ludlum’s Bourne books or you want to be the next John La Carre or Alan Furst, you’re probably working on an espionage novel. They’re often set during World War II or the Cold War, but that focus may now be shifting to more modern settings as well.

Medical Thriller – Your POV character in a medical thriller is going to be employed in the medical field (e.g. a doctor, a medical examiner) or be closely tied to a hospital setting. This type of thriller is a race to uncover or fix a deadly medical situation–organ black markets, an out-of-control virus, patients falling in mysterious comas, etc.

Psychological Thriller – These are battles of the mind and the wits. They’re often dark and focus more on emotional trauma to the characters than physical trauma. Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris and Along Came a Spider by James Patterson would both be categorized as psychological thrillers.

Legal Thriller – Similar to medical thrillers, the POV character in a legal thriller is an attorney. The story centers around a legal dilemma or courtroom drama. John Grisham’s name is almost synonymous with legal thrillers.

Historical Thriller – If you set your thriller prior to around 1960, you’re likely going to fall into the historical thriller sub-genre. Readers of this sub-genre expect historical accuracy and engaging details as well as a fast-paced read. Good historical thrillers can be especially challenging to write due to the need to evoke a rich historical atmosphere without slowing down the story.

Techno Thriller – The most powerful technology of today has fallen into the wrong hands, and it’s up to your main character to get it back or destroy it. Ever read a Tom Clancy book? Then you’ve read a techno thriller.

Military Thriller – Military thrillers have a lot in common with techno thrillers, but instead of focusing on technology, they focus on military objectives. Your main character in a military thriller is likely to be a member of the military (no shock there). Both techno thrillers and military thrillers are often global in their scope.

Supernatural Thriller – Supernatural thrillers blend the expected fast-moving suspense plot with some paranormal or other worldly element. Your main character might be a psychic or see ghosts.

Don’t forget to check out Lisa’s overview post on genres and sub-genres that started it all.

Thrillers are my second love (after speculative fiction). What’s your favorite genre? Do you ever read outside of it?

Marcy

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Science Fiction Sub-Genres

SciFi subgenresYesterday we started our foray into sub-genres by looking at some of the major categories of fantasy. Before we get to science fiction sub-genres today, I think we should answer one question.

Why do we fight so hard against genres and sub-genres?

I’m sure many of you will think I’m wrong, but here’s my theory. We don’t fight so hard against classifying our books into a genre or sub-genre because we truly believe it’s the one book ever written that defies genre classification. We do it because we’re confused by how many different options are out there and we’re either too lazy (sorry, I know it’s true because I was) or too overwhelmed to try to sort them out. Hopefully this series of posts will help erase both those excuses for you.

Now, on to science fiction sub-genres . . .

Cyberpunk – Cyberpunk plots (if you couldn’t guess from the name) revolve around computers, artificial intelligence, cyberspace, virtual reality, hackers, mega-corporations, or some combination of those elements. Rather than being set far in the future, they’re usually set in the near future. These books are often dark and focus on the dangers of technology.

Steampunk -Steampunk plots take place in Victorian England or another real-world setting where steam-power still rules. They combine the technology of the time with future technology as the people of that era imagined it would be (rather than how it really turned out). Not surprisingly H. G. Wells and Jules Verne are the grandfathers of this genre. Steampunk can be a lot of fun if you don’t take yourself too seriously.

Dystopian/Utopian – These novels look at the extremes that our world might one day come to, either good or bad. The Road by Cormac McCarthy and I Am Legend by Richard Matheson typify the dystopian sub-genre. Dystopian also goes by the name Apocalyptic.

Time Travel – As the name implies, time travel novels take you either forward or backward in time. Before you object that this should be fantasy rather than science fiction because time travel isn’t possible, keep in mind what sets science fiction and fantasy apart. This is science fiction because the writers are working on the assumption that at some point in the future scientists might invent technology that would allow us to travel through time. If they can make the technology sound believable, then it falls firmly into the science fiction realm. (If you’re sent back in time because of magic, you’re back in the fantasy genre.)

Military Science Fiction – Nations, planets, or races are at war in military SF and the focus is often on the technology and military protocol and procedures of the combatants. Consequently, these stories end up being told through the POV of one (or more) of the soldiers involved. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein is one of the early landmark works of military SF. Shard of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold, Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber, and Old Man’s War by John Scalzi are other examples.

Space Opera – Although this term can have a derogatory tone to it, this is another SF genre that’s a lot of fun if you let yourself just sit back and enjoy. These novels are set on distant planets and focus more on the adventure than on the science.

The fraternal twin sister of space opera  is Space Westerns like the television series Firefly. They take the fist-fighting, gun-fighting, and themes of westerns and set them in outer space.

Hard Science Fiction – So named because it takes current knowledge of the “hard” sciences of mathematics, chemistry, physics, or biology and speculates on where they might lead in the future, this is the sub-genre of science fiction where accuracy and attention to detail make or break your story. Not surprisingly, most of the successful hard SF writers work (or have worked) in one of the hard science fields.

Soft Science Fiction – Soft SF takes its what if from the “soft” sciences like psychology, sociology, or anthropology. The lines between hard SF, soft SF, and dystopian SF can blur at times, but a good rule of thumb is that dystopian often deals with an end of the world type scenario where a catastrophe has happened, while soft SF looks at what would happen if certain soft science theories were taken to their extremes or logical conclusions.

People often have strong opinions either pro or con science fiction? Do you love it? Hate it? Which sub-genre best fits your book?

Marcy

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Fantasy Sub-Genres

Fantasy sub-genresIn September, Lisa started out our series on genres and sub-genres by giving you a look at some of the genres your novel might fall in to (and explaining why you do indeed need to choose a genre for your book). This week, I’m going to help you sort out the tangle that is sub-genres. And to make this easier on everyone, I’m going to focus on one genre a day.

Why do sub-genres matter?

A couple very simple reasons actually.

First, many agents will represent one sub-genre but not another. If an agent only reps urban fantasy, for example, and you send them your epic fantasy, you’ve wasted their time and yours.

Your chances of making a sale increase the more accurately you can identify your target audience. Sub-genres help you do that by helping you find books similar to yours. People who read those books are likely to enjoy your books as well.

While I can’t cover every sub-genre for you, here’s your crash course on the major ones to get you started, beginning with fantasy.

Historical Fantasy – I had to start with this one because this is the genre of Lisa’s and my current co-written work-in-progress. Since this is our blog, I think I get to show it preferential treatment 🙂 Historical fantasy takes place in a recognizable historical time period and in a real world location. This sub-genre encompasses things like the King Arthur legends and Robin Hood. It’s more about how the author plays with history, myth, and legend than it is about magic.

Epic Fantasy – Epic fantasies are what most people think of when they hear “fantasy.” They’re defined by a large cast of characters, multiple POVS, and complex plots. They’re set in a fictional world, and the plot often revolves around the rise and fall of kingdoms. The ultimate epic fantasies are George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Urban Fantasy – First of all, urban fantasy is set in a primarily, well, urban/city setting. You can’t set your fantasy in a medieval-esque pastoral setting and call it “urban fantasy.” It’s darker, grittier than most other fantasy, and you’ll usually find it populated with demons, vampires, werewolves, witches (not the Harry Potter kind), or zombies.

Superhero Fantasy – Secret identities, superhuman powers, and villains who are more than a little unhinged are part of what make superhero fantasy so much fun. Superhero movies like X-Men, Spiderman, The Green Lantern, and Captain America are all great examples of this genre.

Traditional Fantasy – Traditional fantasy is basically a teeny, tiny epic fantasy. It’s set in a secondary world (i.e. not our world) like epic fantasy, but it has a smaller cast of characters, fewer POV characters, and a plot that focuses more on a single character (or small group) and their unique struggle than on the creation or destruction of worlds/kingdoms. Magic in some form is usually a key element of traditional fantasy. A classic traditional fantasy is The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.

The fraternal twin sister of traditional fantasy is sword and sorcery, where the plot focuses more on the swashbuckling adventures and daring doos of the main character than on the magical elements. In other respects, they’re the same. Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora is an icon sword and sorcery fantasy.

Contemporary Fantasy – This sub-genre of fantasy sets the story in our modern-day world (as opposed to historical fantasy) and, although they can have dark elements to them, they also aim to give their reader a sense of joy and wonder. Contemporary fantasies often involve a “world within a world.” If you’ve read any of the Harry Potter books, you’ve read contemporary fantasy. (Urban fantasy is actually a sub-genre of this sub-genre, but it’s easier to consider it as its own sub-genre. Confused yet?)

Alternate History – Don’t let its name fool you. Alternate history plots actually fall into the fantasy genre rather than the historical fiction genre because at some point in time the history of the story world diverged from the history of our world. What if the Nazis won World War II? That became the inspiration for The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick. Depending on the focus of alternate history plots, they can also be categorized as science fiction.

Do you find that you read more in one of these sub-genres than the others? Where does your fantasy novel fall?

Marcy

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

8 Reasons Regular Books Will Become an Endangered Species

electronic booksIf you’d asked me two months ago whether ebooks would ever fully replace regular books, I would have told you there was no way. Both my husband and my mom insist they prefer “real” books. None of my friends own a Kindle, Nook, or Sony eReader.

And then I got a Kindle for my birthday.

While I still don’t think regular books will ever go extinct, I do think ebooks are going to put “real” books on the endangered species list.

(1)   The Kindle Lets You Highlight Passages and Write Notes

I took my Kindle to church last Sunday and typed notes on the passage my pastor preached on.

Big deal, you say. I can highlight my paper books and write notes in the margin. Yes, yes, you can, but if you’re like me and hate to deface a book or you’re worried you’ll want to change the note later, you won’t write in a paper book. The Kindle lets you erase or change a note or highlight whenever you want.

(2)   You Can Buy A Book In A Traffic Jam

Don’t mock it until you’ve been sitting in a traffic jam for three hours with no end in sight, you’ve finished your current book, and your only other option is to listen to your husband yell at the other drivers about why there’s no reason for traffic like this when you have 12 lanes.

My Kindle came with EDGE technology that lets me buy a book anywhere a cell phone would work at no additional cost. In a traffic jam. In an airport. In a park. Instant gratification.

(3)   You Can Get A Cover With A Built In Light

With a regular book, you need to have a light on to read, which can really annoy a spouse who’s trying to sleep (take it from the spouse who’s usually the one trying to sleep). You can read your Kindle in places where you’d otherwise need to hold a flashlight (I hate trying to hold a flashlight and a book). You can read it in the car—where an overhead light would bother your driving spouse—or on a plane if your overhead light isn’t bright enough.

(4)   Kindles Are Perfect for Small Hands

Even by female standards, I’m small. I’m 5 foot 2 inches with hands like a child. Thick books (*cough* Games of Thrones *cough* Harry Potter) are uncomfortable to hold. They’re heavy and just plain awkward for me. Obviously this isn’t a deal-breaker, but if there’s a better way to read, why not take it.

My Kindle, even wearing its leather cover, is the perfect size—thin, small, and light. I can hold it comfortably for hours.

(5)   No Need for a Bookmark

Ever had a bookmark slide out on you, leaving you scrambling to find your page again? Hate to wreak your pages by turning down the corners? My Kindle holds my place, saved automatically.

(6)   Ability to Change Font Size

Setting aside the fact that I’m getting older and my eyes aren’t what they used to be, some books are printed with font that’s just too small to be comfortable even for fresh eyes. My Kindle lets me select the font size I prefer, along with margins and line spacing.

(7)   A Kindle Helps You Pack Light

My husband loves to tease me about the amount of luggage I bring regardless of where we’re going. Even if I’m only away for a weekend, I want to take at least four books with me. With my Kindle, I can take thousands if I want in less space than one average book takes.

(8) The Next Generation Is Tech Savvy

This is the number one reason regular books will become an endangered species. The next generation is used to gadgets. They love them, crave them, in the same way that a lot of us long for some of the simplicity that’s been lost. Very few of them are going to feel the same loyalty to “real” books that my mom and my husband do. (Plus, my Kindle feels like I’m holding a real book, and the leather cover smells wonderful. Just saying.)

In fact, I can only think of three reasons why ebooks might never fully replace regular books.

(1)   Sand and electronic devices don’t mix.

(2)   When you’re in the middle of a page-turner, and the battery on your Kindle dies . . .

(3)   Will the ebooks of today be compatible with the Kindle of a decade from now?

Why does this matter for writers?

If you aren’t thinking about ebooks when you negotiate your contract with a publisher or when you go to self-publish, you need to be. They’re here to stay. They’re a growing market. And any writer today who doesn’t adapt, dies.

Do you have a Kindle? Why do you love it or hate it? If you don’t own a Kindle yet, what’s stopping you?

Marcy

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Self-Publishing Week: Guest Post with Jenny Lee Sulpizio

This is the final segment of our self-pubbed author blitz. Today’s guest poster is Jenny Lee Sulpizio. Jenny has self-published a children’s book in the Christian market, has another self-pubbed children’s title about to be released, and is agented for her non-fiction work in progress.

Take it away, Jenny.

Jenny Lee SulpizioYou’ve written something. You think it’s good, maybe even really good but like many others in the same boat, you might be unsure as to what steps to take next. Maybe you’re an author who has pursued traditional routes of publication before, but may have discovered that agents and editors alike haven’t responded to your work like you had originally hoped. No doubt, you have heard a lot about self-publishing as well but may have no idea as to where to begin or how to start such a process…or what exactly is involved.

So, what do you do?

For me, the decision to self-publish occurred on a whim. In fact, my children’s picture book manuscript had literally sat in a drawer for six long years prior to even considering the notion that I could publish the book myself.  At that point, my work had already been rejected by agents (and publishers too), and rather than continue down “Rejection Road,” I simply stopped pursuing it all together. But I (like many authors), desperately desired to see my words in print, and obtain the opportunity to share the message of my book with others. I knew that self-publication was the path for me and in 2010 (by the recommendation of a good friend of mine), I found myself signing with a vanity publisher to produce my first children’s picture book titled, Mommy Whispers.

But I had absolutely no inkling as to what I was doing. I was naïve, clueless, and slightly misinformed.

You see, like most authors, I really believed in my work and felt that the story I had written combined with the book’s beautiful illustrations would instantly propel it (and me) to the bestseller’s list…maybe even overnight. In retrospect, this evokes laughter within because even though my heart was in the right place, my head was definitely not. Sure I had just put a lot of work into producing my book but was I prepared for the road that lay ahead? Not in the least. I had no idea what this journey would require or expect of me. And at the time, I didn’t have a firm grasp on the reality of what I had just signed myself up for. Indeed, it would be one of the toughest tasks I would knowingly possess and assume: the role of a self-published author.

So, are you ready for this? Here’s what you need to know:

If you’re thinking that “self-pubbing” is your publication path of choice, then you must become an informed and well-researched author prior to finalizing this decision.  Believe me when I say that there is a lot to learn and research, and you must be willing to spend a lot of time doing so. Do not jump into this task lightly and be fully aware of what this process will require from you (both financially and emotionally). Keep in mind that as a self-published author, you will literally be in control of the entire production of your book, and while this may sound tempting at first, there is a lot to consider before you proceed.

Think about these points before you jump in:

1.)   The Moola. Do you have the money to finance this project? Now, I’m not just referring to the actual book itself but also to the editing, illustrating (if applicable), and marketing fees you will need to invest in. You must plan accordingly and make sure you have enough money for each of these areas and more.

2.)   The Time Factor. Do you have the time to devote to this endeavor? Getting your book to print is only half the battle. You have to be prepared to spend a significant amount of time marketing (and pushing) your book so that it gets seen, reviewed, and noticed.

3.)   The Market. Do you know how to market your project? Social media sites, personal websites, and blogs are just the beginning. There is an art to marketing and you need to begin your research on how to do so effectively.

4.)   The Prep Work: Have you been to writer conferences, networked with other authors, researched the writing realm? Are you prepared and is your work ready for publication?

5.)   The Reality: Even though you might see your book on Amazon, be prepared not to see it in stores. Understand that self-publication is hugely (and mostly) an online business due to the way in which books are distributed (in conjunction with traditional publishing houses).  Know this upfront.

So, was it all worth it?

In one word: Yes. So much so, that I’ll release yet another children’s picture book by means of self-publication this November (There’s Just Something About a Boy, Ajoyin, 2011).  But this time, I am fully prepared and understand the expectations required of me.  I am no longer completely clueless and Amen for that!

On a final note, remember this: Self-publishing as a whole, is not an easy process but if you are dedicated, determined, and willing to dedicate an enormous amount of effort, it may just be the route for you.

I wish you all the best of luck in your publication pursuits.

Jenny Lee

Jenny Lee Sulpizio, M.S. is a wife, business owner, and mother of three residing in Boise, Idaho. She is an active member within her church and community, and enjoys tapping into her creative side whenever she gets the chance. Mommy Whispers, an ode to mothers and daughters everywhere was the first children’s picture book released in a series that will also include, There’s Just Something About a Boy, set to release this fall. Jenny is a member of SCBWI and is currently represented by The Seymour Agency for her Women’s Christian Non-fiction works-in-progress.

Please visit Jenny at www.jennysulpizio.com to learn more about the author, her blog, and upcoming projects.

So, this concludes our self-pubbed author blitz. We had a number of readers send us questions about self-pubbing – did you find your question answered? If not, share it below. Would you consider self-publishing for your own work?

Did you miss the other posts in our series? Find them here:

Day 1 – Debora Geary paranormal author
Day 2 – LT Kodzo – YA author – Christian market
Day 3 – KC May – sci-fi/fantasy author

Lisa

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Self-Publishing Week: Guest Post with K.C. May

Our self-pubbed author blitz continues with K.C. May, a speculative fiction author. Her first self-published book The Kinshield Legacy received 2nd place at the Kindle Book Review Indie Award in September 2011. Read how she took a title a small-press publisher struggled to sell, and made it an Amazon bestseller.

L: Tell us about your self-publishing journey

Back in 2009, I asked my publisher to make my book The Kinshield Legacy available in Kindle format, but he refused, saying it was available as a PDF, which can be read on the Kindle.

That didn’t make sense to me — if most ebook buyers bought direct from online retailers like BN.com and Amazon and Kobo, why not provide the books in the format best suited to the ebook readers? Ereaders were becoming more popular, and I knew this market would be growing.

I asked again in 2010, and his response was to cut me loose from my contract.

A New Direction

In 2010, I self-published The Kinshield Legacy. I bought a new book cover, took a crash course in ebook formatting and uploaded to Amazon and Smashwords. The first month, I made ten sales, mostly from Smashwords. I think I had 2 sales on Amazon that month.

For the first nine months or so, I did all the usual promotional things — jumped on every new review blog to get reviews, did give-aways, tweeted and Facebooked, etc.

L: When did you see your sales increasing?

A few things happened:

– I put The Kinshield Legacy on sale for 99c on April 1. Sales started picking up.
– On April 8, it was featured on Pixel of Ink. Sales went from 4-5 per day to 15-25 per day.
– Game of Thrones aired on HBO on April 17. (My book isn’t that similar, but it’s in the same genre.) Sales went from 15-25 per day to 25-40 per day.
– On May 7, it was featured on Ereader News Today. Sales went from 25-40 per day to 50-70 per day.

The Kinshield Legacy sold over 2000 copies in May, over 4600 in June, almost 6000 in July, 7700 for August… The sequel, The Wayfarer King, came out August 3, and it sold 6300 copies its first month! On August 24, I reached my 25,000-sales milestone (across all books, all venues). On September 9, I hit 40,000, and by the end of September, I’d sold over 50,000 books.

The Snowball Effect of Word of Mouth

Once Amazon starts to recommend your books, an enjoyable story professionally presented can enjoy months and months of excellent sales while the writer develops a loyal readership. And that’s really what we’re after, right?

When I first got the rights back for The Kinshield Legacy, I initially thought I would shop it around to another publisher, but I’d heard that Amazon offered a way for authors to upload their books to sell on Amazon.

“They” say that most self-published books sell about 100 copies in their lifetime. I sold more in the first three months than the original publisher had sold in the five years he had the rights. Ironically, his other titles are now in Kindle format. I like to think I was a lesson to him. 🙂

L: What happened then?

cover of Venom of VipersWhen I finished my second book in November 2010, The Venom of Vipers, I did query my agent, just in case he wanted to try selling it to a traditional publisher. When two weeks went by without a response, I proceeded with my plan to self-publish it. By then, I knew that self-publishing was for me.

The day-by-day feedback on book sales is so much better than the quarterly reports my publisher *cough* sent (or didn’t send, as the case may be). I knew which days of the week were the biggest sales days and could focus my marketing to take advantage. One thing I learned since self-publishing my first book: spreadsheets are my friends.

L: What advice would you give new writers thinking self-publishing may be the way to go?

Decide what your goals are and hang out on forums where self-published writers go, such as the Writers’ Cafe at the Kindleboards. I learned a lot by reading the trials and tribulations of others with the same goals. There’s a lot of work involved, and it’s not for everyone. Reclusive writers may not want to self-publish when they find out how much interaction they need to engage in to get word out about their book. Writers who aren’t very computer savvy might be intimidated by the effort in formatting, uploading and managing their books online.

If you have an entrepreneurial spirit and don’t mind the expense and hassle of self-publishing, it can be extremely rewarding!

Thanks K.C.! You can follow K.C. May on her blog, subscribe to her newsletter off her webite, or follow her on Twitter.  To read more about K.C. May and her upcoming work, check out this fabulous post she wrote for Nathan Lowell presents.

Your turn. Do you look at the publisher before you purchase a book? Does it matter to you if it’s self-published? What sells a book to you?

Lisa

Did you miss the other posts in our series? Find them here:

Day 1 – Debora Geary paranormal author
Day 2 – LT Kodzo – YA author – Christian market
Day 3 – KC May – sci-fi/fantasy author
Day 4 – Jenny Lee Sulpizio – children’s author – Christian market

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.