If you only read one book on writing fiction, make it this one!
Unleash the novel within! It's been said that we all have a story begging to be told.
If you're not sure how to begin, or have started writing but are unsure how to continue, this book's for you!
Introducing straightforward and practical strategies learned in writing more than a dozen novels, Write That Novel will spark your creativity and put the joy back into the writing process.
Just to give you an idea, three of the articles included in the book are below.
MY METHOD FOR WRITING A BOOK DESCRIPTION
Want a book to do well? The six steps below are a very good start.
1. Write a good book.
2. Have a good cover.
3. Set a low price.
4. Have a good product description.
5. Pick the right title
6. Market online to connect with readers
Today I'd like to talk about #4--specifically writing a book description for a novel. To make it easier for me, I'm going to write this blog post as if I'm talking to someone with a personal interest in the topic. If you're not a writer, you might want to click off right now. :-)
For sales purposes, a description has to convey the type of book, give a summary of the story, and entice the reader into buying or at least sampling your book.
The description also needs to be a certain length. Too long and you lose the reader. Too short and there's just not enough there. Readers who browse on Amazon.com or the Barnes & Noble site are used to seeing descriptions that take up a certain amount of space on the page. If your description doesn't fall within those parameters it will just look "wrong." People make snap judgments and don't even know why sometimes. If you play by the rules you won't give them a reason to discount your book.
It's interesting to me that some of the best writers seem incapable of coming up with a suitable description of their own book. They're too close to the material and too emotionally invested. As usual, I have an opinion on the subject and my own personal method for crafting a description. My method's not the only way to go about it, of course, but it could be a good starting point for someone who is stuck.
When I do workshops I illustrate my method using the publishers' descriptions of two popular books.
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Robert Langdon is a Harvard professor of symbology who can't stay out of trouble. Last seen in Angels and Demons (2000), this mild-mannered academic finds himself entangled in a deadly conspiracy that stretches back centuries. Visiting Paris on business, he is awakened at 2:00 a.m. by a call from the police: An elderly curator has been murdered inside the Louvre, and a baffling cipher has been found near the body. Aided by the victim's cryptologist granddaughter, Langdon begins a danger-filled quest for the culprit; but the deeper he searches, the more he becomes convinced that long-festering conspiracies hold the answer to the art lover's death.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Orphaned as a baby, Harry Potter has spent 11 awful years living with his mean aunt, uncle, and cousin Dudley. But everything changes for Harry when an owl delivers a mysterious letter inviting him to attend a school for wizards. At this special school, Harry finds friends, aerial sports, and magic in everything from classes to meals, as well as a great destiny that's been waiting for him...if Harry can survive the encounter. From an author who has been compared to C. S. Lewis and Roald Dahl, this enchanting, funny debut novel won England's National Book Award and the prestigious Smarties Prize.
They're very different books, and at first glance, the descriptions don't seem to have much in common. But look closer, and (aha!) you'll notice a pattern, one you can use in describing your own book.
The first sentence of each starts with the main character and touches on his "ordinary world." We see that, like so many people we know, Robert Langdon is a Harvard professor of symbology, while poor Harry has spent 11 awful years living with hateful relatives.
Once the main character and their current situation are established, we learn that something changes. For Robert we find out that while he's visiting Paris on business, he is awakened at 2:00 a.m. by a call from the police: An elderly curator has been murdered inside the Louvre, and a baffling cipher has been found near the body. Harry, meanwhile, is just going along living his horrible life when suddenly an owl delivers a mysterious letter inviting him to attend a school for wizards.
I'm not sure about you, but in both cases, I'm definitely intrigued.
What happens next, you ask? Each description goes on to tell the reader a smattering of details so we get a feel for the type of story it is, but, and this is important-- it really doesn't reveal much at all in the way of specifics. We learn that Robert begins a danger-filled quest for the culprit; but the deeper he searches, the more he becomes convinced that long-festering conspiracies hold the answer to the art lover's death.
Back at Hogwarts, Harry finds friends, aerial sports, and magic in everything from classes to meals, as well as a great destiny that's been waiting for him. For both novels the description only hints at what is to come. The reason it's not clearly spelled out? They want you to buy and read the book.
The Harry Potter book description adds one more thing at the end: hype. Awards are mentioned and comparisons to other authors are made. The book is called an enchanting, funny debut novel. The publisher wrote the hype. If you self-publish, you are now the publisher. Don't be afraid to mention awards won. Compare yourself to other authors if that's appropriate. Add a little tagline praising the book if you want.
When I self-published A Scattered Life I impulsively added a line at the end of my description, something about the story being heartwarming and bittersweet and staying with the reader long after the last page was turned (ironic since it was a Kindle book and there weren't technically any pages). A friend who read the tagline said, "Oh, that was such a nice thing for them to say," and I was too embarrassed to tell her that there was no "them," it was only me.
Honestly? I couldn't really gauge how long the story would stay with the reader. And "long after the last page is turned," is not a precise length of time. I was told by early readers that the book stayed with them, and I hoped that would be the experience for other people as well.
Something to remember: Specific nouns and strong verbs are your friends when you're writing a book description. The Da Vinci Code uses the following words and phrases:
Here are some from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:
school for wizards
And another thing--try not to make the book or your characters sound depressing. Depressing and sad are the kiss of death when you're trying to attract readers. But what about Nicholas Sparks, you say? His books make readers sob and people love them! True, but read the descriptions of his novels and see how the spin masters work their magic. These kinds of words and phrases are used:
whopper of a secret
And from some other sad books:
brings the family together
triumph in the face of unspeakable tragedy
Hope is a good thing in fiction. Redemption too. What we don't usually seek out in a reading experience is pain all by itself. Just something to keep in mind.
So, to wrap things up, this is my way of writing book descriptions in a nutshell:
1) Establish the main character and his current situation
2) Tell about the change (or the happening, or what have you)
3) Allude to what happens next in vague, but exciting terms
4) Don't be afraid of hype
5) Use strong verbs and specific nouns.
If you follow the formula and keep the length right, you should do fine.
WRITER INSOMNIA - IT'S A REAL THING
Writer insomnia. If you’re a writer, you’re probably familiar with it. Personally I find it easy to fall asleep, but hard to stay asleep. I often wake up in the middle of the night with my mind whirring with story ideas or lists of writing-related tasks. I’m tired but wide awake. Ack. Talk about aggravating.
I used to blame lack of exercise, which makes sense, somewhat. Writing is only a notch above watching television as far as energy expended. But I’ve noticed that other sedentary people sleep just fine. Not only that, but when I do have active days, I still have sleep interruptions.
Another writer I know has a theory about this. Writers, he said, spend so much time in the equivalent of a dream state that our bodies think we've already slept a good many hours. So then, when we do sleep, it seems excessive. His idea sounds logical to me. Sometimes after a particularly fruitful writing session, I do feel like I've awoken from a dream.
Some time ago, a story idea came to me during one of my middle-of-the-night sessions. I saw it clearly in my mind. There was a guy, a teenager, who couldn’t sleep, so he began to go out walking after his parents had turned in for the night.
The story started out like this: I couldn’t believe it was happening again. Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sleep. It was a Monday night; school started the next day at 7:20 a.m., and I was exhausted, but my body didn’t care. I shifted in bed and punched my pillow into different shapes, like that would help, even though it never did before.
I knew he would witness something amazing during one of his nighttime walks, and he did, but even I was surprised at how the plot unfolded. Turned out my main character, Russ Becker, saw a strange astronomical event and then later found out that he had superpowers. The book I eventually wrote is titled Edgewood and it is now book one in a three-book series. The books were big fun to write and I’m happy to say they’re getting great reviews.
So I can thank writer insomnia for the inspiration, and my subconscious for putting it into story form. Now when I wake up in the middle of the night, I don’t fight it. I just get up and make lists, read, or get some writing done. Because you never know when the ideas keeping you awake might just turn into something more.
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?
As a kid I struggled against my inclination to daydream, and I mean struggled in the literal sense. The old school style of teaching--talking at kids while writing on the board or using the overhead projector, created the perfect environment for daydreaming. Able to create whole worlds in my mind, why would I want to listen to someone talk about the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act? (And if that sounds familiar, it’s probably because of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Ben Stein’s deadpan delivery: “Did it work? Anyone? Anyone know the effects? It did not work, and the United States sank deeper into the Great Depression.”)
Daydreaming meant you weren’t paying attention. You weren’t listening. You were lazy. Bad. And it was embarrassing when you were called on and had no idea what the class was discussing.
Other kids managed to pay attention. They were better. More focused. More disciplined.
So I tried not to daydream, but still it happened. I couldn’t seem to not do it. And every night before I fell asleep it would be to the stories I made up in my head. A continuing saga that shifted and changed depending on what was going on in my life: movies I’d seen, books I’d read, conversations I’d overhead. Literally anything might be brought into the mix and it was always more interesting than my own life.
Fast forward to me sitting at one of those little tables listening to a fourth grade teacher telling me that one of my own sons was smart, creative, and advanced for his age, but had “a tendency to daydream.” I sympathized with my son since even during this fifteen minute conference my mind had started wandering. The teacher had such a soothing voice, almost hypnotic, and I had to really work to focus on our conversation.
Everywhere I went I noticed something that could be the jumping off point for a story. An aggressive driver had, I imagined, a pregnant wife in labor in the backseat. Or was on the lam, having just robbed a bank. A homeless person was really a college student in disguise taking part in a study to see how people treated the less fortunate. The changing sky was more than just a storm brewing; it was the beginning of end days for all of us.
I sort of assumed everyone thought this way, but that others kept it under wraps and managed to do a better job staying alert at lectures and during small talk at social functions (both places where I struggle to stay present).
I can remember when it first occurred to me that other people didn’t necessarily experience the world the same way I did. I was in my early twenties and my husband and I were driving somewhere. He was at the wheel and I was next to him in the passenger seat. We’d stopped at a red light and a pedestrian, a young man, crossed in front of our car. As he walked past I noticed he wore a long dark coat, too heavy for the weather, and he had a scowl on his face. I imagined that he had some kind of weapon underneath his coat. An uzi. Or a knife. No wait, a samurai sword! And right now he was heading over to the apartment buildings across the street to seek vengeance on the man who’d raped his sister. Or maybe he was going to threaten someone who owed him money.
As these possibilities went through my mind, Greg said, “What are you thinking about?” By this time the guy was already across the street, but I went ahead and told him everything I’d been thinking, starting with the long coat and the look on his face and my stream of consciousness thoughts about where this guy was going and why. I could tell Greg didn’t get what I was talking about, so I asked, “Why? What were you thinking about?”
And he said, “Everything I have to do tomorrow at work.” As we talked, it came out that the imaginings that were second nature to me almost never happened to him. Rather, his mind stayed on real world things--making lists, solving problems, scheduling, etc.
He’s an engineer, by the way.
After that I saw my daydreaming in a whole new light, a positive instead of a negative. The way my mind works defines who I am; it’s the undercurrent that fuels my novel-writing ability. When people ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” (a commonly asked question for writers) it’s hard to find an answer that satisfies them if they haven’t experienced the world in the same way.
Story ideas are everywhere. All around us. Endless. New ideas will occasionally try to push out old ideas and sometimes I'm tempted to stop writing a novel midway and switch. But I don't. Usually the idea will wait, but even if it doesn't, I know another one is right around the corner. I only hope to live long enough to write all the stories I want to write, but I’m pretty sure I won’t. I’m going to try though.
So to all the daydreamers out there, old and young, embrace your creativity. You're not weird, you're just different. Some might even say special. The world needs us as much as it needs the engineers. Some days I think it needs us even more.