Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Lengthening a Novel

A quick bunny trail to announce that the CAPE 2014 Homeschool Convention was a success! I'm praising God for His blessings. I sold out of books and my workshop on publishing had around 50 in attendance (full room!). Check out some photos over at my personal blog!

A Word Painter reader requested that I cover the topic of :

"How a writer can make a book longer and more detailed (say to make it novel length) without it being boring or drawn out?"

And I'm over here asking myself how to cover that!

Quite honestly, I've never had that problem. I'm always fighting for a shorter word count, not a longer one. This is the first idea I had:

But I don't think that will help our topic-requester. He might not drink coffee. (Hey, maybe that is why my word count is always too long! But I'm not about to give up coffee.)

Here are a few ideas:

  • Are your sentences choppy? I'm not suggesting you write paragraph-long sentences like George Alfred Henty, but some classical touches might lengthen your sentences a wee bit. Consider rewording things. 
  • Do you have descriptions? Again, please don't incorporate chapter-long descriptions into your book, but do make sure you are depicting things with all five senses. If your readers can't smell, taste, feel, see, and hear what is going on, you have some work to do. Not sure how to do that? Well, consider making your characters taste emotions. Let them feel someone's gaze. Let the weight of someone's words be tangible. Get creative!
  • Do you have an introduction, glossary, foot notes, or maps? Those can work beautifully for expanding your galley word count.
  • Can you lengthen a scene? Or add a new, extra-thrilling one that readers will be grateful to have?
  • Do you have inner monologue? (I hope so; you want your characters to think!)
  • What about letters? Have a character write a letter that applies to the story. I have actually done this to decrease word count; however, you can also do it to add. Just don't start adding grocery and to-do lists.
  • If all else fails, space between paragraphs. You won't get the longer word count, but you can increase your page count. Personally, I feel this is cheating, but do what you must.

What do you all think? Any ideas?

Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog or Facebook to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Writing Words: What Drives your Fiction?

Recently, I wrote a post concerning message driven fiction. It started me thinking about my early days or writing. Writers threw around all these terms, words, and acronyms and I had no idea what they meant. Thanks to some friends, some patient teachers, and a willingness to ask silly questions, I finally learned many of them. Today, I would like to start a series to help authors who might not understand some of the things I was confused by.

Early in my writing venture I had a writer ask me what kind of writer I was. I told him what kind of books I wrote and he shook his head. "No, I wanted to know if you're a plot driven writer or a character driven writer." I felt so stupid because I wasn't sure how to respond. Thankfully, I had some veteran writers come along side me and explain to me what it meant.

Character Driven Fiction: The main character and their inner struggles is what keeps your readers turning pages.They might have an adventure or two, or they might never leave their living room, but they propel your story forward. Best for long series or emotional books.

Message Driven Fiction: The topic covered is more important than the characters or plot. Not used often, and often makes for poor fiction. However, it can be used effectively.

Plot Driven Fiction: The adventure is what keeps your readers up past their bedtime.You might have strong characters as well, but the quest, mission, or adventure is what really keeps them reading.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Drum Roll...!!!

Today, I have something special to share!

Drum roll please....

Releasing July 18, 2014!
CrossBooks/LifeWay Manuscript Contest Finalist

Decadent Rome, 61 Anno Domini. The masters of the universe have crushed the Iceni rebellion with an iron hand, slaughtering and enslaving her people.

For Philip, his existence as a captive means living to hatred. He despises his rich, young master, resenting his life of servitude and the wrestling feats Marcus forces him to perform. Bitterness engulfs his soul until he only lives for the day when he will crush the might of Rome.

Then Christianity enters the picture. Taught by a Jewish breadmaker to know the man called Christus, Philip begins the struggle to forgive and honor his master. But forgiveness is not easy towards one who lives for himself.

Marcus Virginius knows nothing but power and pleasure. Destined to a successful career serving Nero in the Praetorian Guard, he wants no part of Christianity. And he is determined to crush Philip’s newfound faith – no matter what it takes.

Join Philip and Marcus in their journey of redemption, faith, and forgiveness. Is love enough to conquer hate? And will the light of the gospel ever surmount the darkness of Rome? 

Persecution abounds – will the two young men survive its terrors and live to experience the bright hope of a new dawn?

Here's what two of my endorsers have said!

"Alicia Willis transports readers back to the troubled clash between the crushing might of Imperial Rome and the vengeful determination of the Celtic occupants of ancient Britain. From the Dark to the Dawn: A Tale of Ancient Rome will delight readers of historical fiction."
 -Douglas Bond, author of Hostage Lands, Hand of Vengeance, and many other books of historical fiction and non-fiction.

"Alicia Willis sketches a stirring tale that delivers a powerful message of friendship, forgiveness and God's grace. An authentic period piece, it leaves you with a greater awareness that God's ways are higher than our ways and we are on this earth for His purposes. Anyone with a bend toward historical fiction will thoroughly enjoy this book. Definitely a moving, worthwhile, and edifying read!"

-Josiah JostActor/Writer with Jostie Flicks

Add to your Goodreads shelf today!

Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog or Facebook to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Planting Seeds—Story Architecture

Good afternoon from England! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.
I was planning to share a Part 2 on the subject of “Realism vs. Rebellion: How Should We Handle Flawed Characters?”, but as I was writing the post, I found myself thinking a lot about a different subject, opened a fresh document, and decided write about that instead. (Besides, the mental image of planting seeds ties in quite nicely with spring in the Northern Hemisphere.)

Before I continue, I want to emphasize that I'm still in this learning process myself. But the thoughts I am about to share made me so excited that I thought you may catch the enthusiasm and enjoy pondering them too. :)

Planting Seeds

I recently read the sample chapters for a very popular, “secular” series. What I read was extremely well-written, with “showing, not telling” descriptions of characters' emotions that left me out of breath, or hungry, or apprehensive. (And I figured: writing well seems to have a lot to do with manipulating the reader to feel what the character feels. Moving on.)

On the surface, it was the kind of introduction to the series that made the pages turn themselves. I already knew the storyline—but that's what piqued my interest and made me want to know more. The sample chapters confirmed that my curiosity wasn't erroneously placed. The series was going to be a compelling one.

The more I thought about it afterward, the more I realized that the writer was far more clever than I assumed. Why was I thirsty for more of the story? Was it down to the descriptions, the characters, or the “what-if” scenario? It wasn't that alone. Within the first few chapters, this author had laid down the presupposition for the book and the rules of her country. She had planted the seeds for the coming conflict that made you vaguely guess what happened next—but left you wondering how that would play out.

And the more I thought, the more it hit me. I could see what the author had subtly done.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How Much Is a Reader Worth?

Greetings all, John J. Horn here.

How much is a reader worth?

No, not “How much is it worth to you that someone is reading your book?”

How much is a reader worth? (Think dollar signs.)

Before you decide that I’m a heartless moneygrubber, and before you start marshaling your arguments for the age-old Art vs. Commerce debate, let’s take a step back.

Would you like to make a living writing books? Most authors, including me, answer yes to this question. It’s a goal that most of us won’t achieve, but that shouldn’t prevent us from thinking through the numbers just as we would for any other career or business venture.

My day job is marketing. Although I’m not a numbers guy, I have to deal with numbers every day, so I decided to apply some cold, heartless, emotion-void number calculating to the book world. Ready to join me? Here goes . . .

How Much Is a Reader Worth?

Let’s call your first reader “Charlie”.

Let’s call your first book “Epic”. (Remember, I’m in marketing . . .)

Let’s say that your book costs $10.

Charlie plunks down the ten required greenbacks to buy Epic. He reads Epic under his covers until his flashlight batteries die, then tries the old Bach trick of reading by moonlight. His eyes will probably pay for this in thirty years, but that’s not the point. The point is that Charlie loves your book — and he wants to tell his friends about it.

So Charlie tells James and Stuart about Epic.

James and Stuart buy Epic for $10. 2 x $10 = $20.

James and Stuart love Epic and each tells two of their friends (I’ll stop naming people here for brevity’s sake).

2 x 2 = 4 x $10 = $40.

Those dollar signs are starting to pile up, right?

Hold On . . .

Before we keep going, let’s analyze our assumptions and make sure our numbers are realistic.

Will each of your readers recommend your book to 2 people, and will each of those people buy it? No. But, considering that one person could easily recommend your book to 200 people by posting about it on Goodreads and Facebook, I think that an average of 2 recommendations per reader is actually pretty low and completely reasonable.

Let’s also remember that it takes time to read a book. So, let’s say that after Charlie’s all-night reading session, each new person takes a month to read Epic and only recommends it to 2 people.

Back to the Numbers

In the first month, Charlie was worth $30 ($10 for his copy of Epic plus $20 for James’s and Stuart’s.)
James and Stuart recommend the book to 4 people in month #2, so that’s $40.

Those 4 people recommend Epic to 8 people (4 x 2) in month #3, so that’s $80.

Do you see a pattern? Each month the number of readers and the gross value of the books purchased doubles.

One, two, skip a few . . .

12 months after Charlie read Epic, he and his friends have bought 1024 books with a gross value of $10,240.

Suddenly, getting Charlie to read your book looks like a pretty big deal.

But we’re not finished.

The Power of Upselling

“Upselling” is the idea that once someone has purchased something from you, you can more easily sell them a related service or product. Applied to our example, when you come out with book #2, it’s likely that Charlie and his friends will want to read it also. (We’ll call book #2 “More Epic”.)

For argument’s sake, only 50% of the people who read Epic buy More Epic. That’s 512 people. Gross value of $5,120.

Now all 512 people start telling their friends about More Epic. And each year you come out with another book.

I’ll let you do the math on your own, but the numbers get real big, real fast.

All because of Charlie.

The Moral of the Story

1. Write an amazing book.

All of these numbers are predicated on the idea that Epic is so amazing that everyone wants to recommend it. Hopefully you’re reading Word Painters for tips on writing amazing books, so keep reading here and everything else you can get your hands on!

2. Never underestimate how much a reader is worth.

If I had told you that it would take $20 of marketing spend to get Charlie to read your book, you would have said “no way.” Spending $20 to make $10 won’t get you far. But spending $20 to make $10,240 in a year . . . that changes the picture a little.

Caveat: We’re talking about gross value here, not net. You’re probably not making $10 profit for each book you sell. On the other hand, most books retail higher than $10, so Charlie’s gross value to you could potentially be much higher.

What do you think? Do you disagree with my numbers? Have any fun stats of your own to share? Leave a comment!

John J. Horn is a Christian writer from San Antonio, Texas. Learn more about John and his Men of Grit series and sign up for his newsletter at

Monday, April 14, 2014

Driven Fiction: Should the message propel your story?

Almost all the Christian books I have read have a message woven into the story. It is one of my favorite parts about Christian fiction. I often come away from a good story not only having had a good time, but also blessed. So the question arises: Is okay to start with a message you want to convey and let it drive the story?

All books can be broken down into three categories. Plot driven (the adventure propels the story), character driven (a  person propels the story), and message driven (the topic propels the story). Every single book fits into one of these categorizes.

Message driven fiction has two huge issues with it. The first is that most people hate it. Readers who pick up fiction not might mind a well woven message into the story, but it the message is that is driving your fiction, it tends to come out sounding like a lecture or sermon. People are likely not hear the message or finish the book, because they will be turned off.

Second issue with message driven fiction, is it usually turns out to be poorly written fiction. It is not because the author lacks talent, but it is because when you are focus on the message, characters and plot tend to suffer. Characters become stereotypes to showcase an aspect of the lesson, the plot because irritatingly predictable because once your readers get the message, they have figured out where your story is going.

Does that mean we should stop caring about the message in our stories? Far from it. Instead, we should focus on writing a wonderful story, and let the message come out naturally.

Yes, this can be scary. I was a third of the way into my latest story, A Different Kind of Courage, before I knew what the message was. I worried that my book would lack the faith element and lesson that were so important with me. However, as the story developed, the message emerged clearly.

As writers, we should never let the message propel our story, we should let God lead us and let it come out as we write.

 Sarah Holman is a not so typical mid-twenties girl: A homeschool graduate, sister to six awesome siblings, and author of four published books and counting. If there is anything adventuresome about her life, it is because she serves a God with a destiny bigger than anything she could have imagined.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Your FaceBook Fan Page

How do you like my new Facebook cover image? Pretty neat, huh? I had fun creating it. And it inspired me to do a post on Facebook business/fan pages. 

So I am pretty new to the whole Facebook thing. I joined not too long ago, almost two years after becoming an author. And I've only been an author for two years. Agents and marketing experts told me long ago that I needed to get on. They were right and wrong. 

Yes, authors should have a fan page. But some of us need a little longer to get established in the art of author self-discipline. If we aren't disciplined enough to write a book and publish it under deadline or in a reasonable time allotment, we have no business getting involved in more social media. So, for me, I am glad I learned how to be disciplined in this author craft before getting involved in yet another aspect of the viral world. Before running out to obtain an FB page, please bear that in mind.

I am still learning about this whole thing. As you can tell from the poll on the sidebar, there are varying opinions on what exactly should be posted to a fan page. I've read a great deal on the subject and most people do have a plethora of different ideas. However, the majority viewpoint seems to be that fans enjoy both personal and business updates.

So here are a few tips that I've learned or heard from others!

  • Make it cool/pretty! (By the way, I recommend having some unique photos that you use a lot and are part of you as an author, such my medieval photos.) Ensure your cover photo effectively portrays who you are as a writer. Did you like the ones I made? You can create a similar one over at Pagemodo.
  • I have decided to make my posts 75% business, 25% personal. Find out what works for you. Some authors pretty much just post business and I have no problem with that. (Hey, it is a fan page!) Some authors do mostly personal and I actually find that I don't prefer that. (We love your cute kid, but please don't post about him every single time.) But, hey, whatever works for you and attracts viewers is the key.
  • Spice up your posts. A picture is worth a thousand words. Even if you have nothing but a dry, boring status update, add a photo that somehow accents it. (Pinterest is great, people. I apologize to you men who seem to feel it is revolting.)
  • Evaluate which posts get the most views and do those kind more often. Well, not all the time. One of my more recent big-view posts was me saying how deathly sick I was. A ton of views and comments, but I really don't want to have to do that post too often. :)
  • I don't recommend posting more than once a day unless something big comes up.
  • You want fans? Good! But, please, don't be selfish. Help other people out. Fan people you sincerely like and want to promote. Chances are (although this should not be your main reason for fanning someone), they may like you back!
Any suggestions or comments? Bring them on!
(And you can like my page while you're here!)

Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog or Facebook to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Writers Bookshelf: 5 Helpful Resources

1. Dictionary
Yes, I know we have the internet.  But I often keep the 1828 Dictionary close by, especially when writing historical fiction.

2. Thesaurus
The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus
Often I just look a word up on the web, but again, I like having a physical book nearby.

3. A Baby Name Book
Best Baby Name Book In The Whole World
I use one all the time when trying to find names for characters

4. Atlas
Essential Atlas Of The World (World Atlas)
If you are writing anything set in our world, it is helpful to be able to see the features of the land or nearby cities.

5. Bible Dictionary
Smith's Bible Dictionary
I have used my bible dictionary to look up all sorts of things. Very helpful.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tricks of the Trade

Yes, there are many tricks to the trade, my writing friends! And I'm not just speaking about your actual writing craft, but the dreaded marketing.

Yep. All of us have to drag ourselves away from our scribbling and actually do the hard work. Because being an author requires a great deal more than burying our nose in our precious little notebooks or laptop and delve into marketing.

I have gotten to talk to some very excellent marketing agents over with my publisher, each of whom given me some wonderful advice. I've also learned some important aspects of the marketing craft from Michael Hyatt's Intentional Leadership and the writing blog Scribble Chicks. After you've read my post, I suggest you also check into their sites and see what they have to say as well.

Here are some tips!

  • Whatever you do, don't accept the widespread fallacy that you can start marketing after your book comes out. This is one of the biggest errors out there. Nobody knows about you, no one has heard of your titles, there is no anticipation whatsoever for your release, yet they are going to just clunk cash down and buy a copy the minute the book comes out? I honestly don't think so. 
  • In light of the first tip, don't over-promote too soon. Don't elevate folks to a fevered frenzy six months before the book is supposed to come out. They'll be bored to death of hearing about it and won't be excited whatsoever when it does come out. I've seen this happen with movies. I think three months before a single book comes out and around nine months for the second/third installments in a series is the best time frame.
  • Settle on your pen name and use it. A great deal.
  • Have a website before your book is published. Don't wait until after the book comes out to start marketing! I once had an agent call me up, flustered and obviously upset that some of the authors under his charge didn't have a website. I could fairly hear the relief in his voice when I assured him that I did. The poor guy was so distressed - and he was right. Authors, get your websites out there! Get it registered with Google and share it.
  • Get a personal blog. And post on it. Many authors do about two posts a week, others just one. I think that is a good plan. Talk about what interests you, your struggles and failings, your joys, your personal life. People like to connect with the real you. So be real. 
  • Remember that most folks have to hear about a book around 8-10 times before they buy it. So figure out how you can make sure (without being pushy or irritating, of course!) they hear about it.
  • Engage in at least some social media. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest. I've heard it a million times from my marketing agents. Make use of them. Personally, I'm not on Twitter or Instagram and really have no intentions of ever being so. And my Facebook is just for business. I honestly don't think you have to be on every social media site out there. But do choose some way of connecting with people.
  • Goodreads. Please, get on there! It is essential for authors. Add your books and start rating some titles from other authors.
  • Fliers, business cards, order books, and good pens. They're all essential. Stock up! VistaPrint works very well for cards, get a calligraphy pen from Hobby Lobby, and a nice notebook from Barnes and Noble. 
  • Get professional photos of yourself. Make sure the majority of the ones you use on social media and for your books are head shots. I happen to have two photographer friends who work very nicely for me. In their generosity, they give me free photo shoots. Maybe you have a talented friend who will do the same? You don't have to go to a professional charging big bucks. 
  • Get some stockfree/royalty free photos that represent what you write about. I always buy medieval ones myself. Use these photos for your Facebook or Google+ covers. Use them in your newsletters, on your blog posts, and business cards.
Any further suggestions? Questions or comments?

Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog or Facebook to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!