Posted in Writing, Writing craft

5 tips for writers to make better use of their blogs

You have a blog, don’t you? If you don’t, you might consider starting one―but probably not for the reasons you think.

I can’t remember what I was thinking when I started this writing blog in 2011―ten years ago. My writing life was at a different point then, and the objectives I had at the time no longer make sense. Yet, I continue to write. I took a hiatus for a while when my career and life didn’t give me much extra time, but I always come back to it. I use it for lots of things, although lately, I seem to be focusing on giving writing advice. This focus is merely an evolution reflecting both me and my career.

My first blog post was called A book’s backstory…or a writer’s backstory? And this is, of course, the reason why this blog is called Backstory. In that post, I considered whether I’d focus on my own backstory (a slice of the writer’s life kind of thing) or my books’ backstories (my process and plans). In the end, I didn’t have to make a decision. It simply evolved. And you don’t have to make a decision either. You just need to blog.

There’s a tendency for writers to feel one of two ways about a blog. Either they think a blog is simply a tool for selling books, or they think it’s a waste of time. I believe that it is neither and that there are good reasons for you to consider blogging.  Chief among them is that a blog is a space where you can build your reputation as a writer while connecting with readers through a feedback loop. Lots of great ideas come from readers, you know.

Consider spending five minutes watching the video linked below for my details on the tips.

  1. I suggest that you begin with an objective or two. Even if you’ve been blogging for a while, are you really sure why you’re doing it? Are you sure about what you’re trying to accomplish? This is where you begin. Then it can evolve.
  2. Consider using your blog for writing practice. We all need to practice our writing, and not all our writing belongs in long-form material.
  3. Use your blog to write about interesting finds from your research that didn’t make it into a book or article. You might even find, through writing, this becomes the basis for a new piece.
  4. Conduct an annual review of your blog. This is something I should have done from the beginning. I do it now. I answer a couple of questions: Am I still focused on my objectives, or have I steered off into another territory? Is that where I really want to be?
  5. Do not turn your blog into a selling tool. Like your website in general, avoid, at all costs, the temptation to use your blog to bludgeon readers with a sales pitch for your books. Of course, you can mention your books. After all, that’s why many of your blog readers are following you. But don’t’ short-change them by promoting your books in every blog post.

Obviously, there’s a downside to blogging: it takes time. However, I think this is time well spent if your blog is focused and stays on point. You need to write something every day, and it doesn’t have to be on a major project. Perhaps your blog is a way for you to get in that writing, even between projects. Keep in mind that a blog can also be a good way to grow your audience, but it will be time better spent if you focus on what it can do for your writing rather than your sales.

Oh, and make sure it’s well-written and looks professional.

Posted in Writing, Writing craft

Online Research: 5 tips for improving your skills

Every writer needs to do research at some point. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a blogger, a nonfiction magazine or book writer, a short story writer, an online content creator or a novelist―sooner or later, you’ll have to do some research. Sometimes, it might only be research to find an agent, publisher or online platform for your work. Whatever the reason, we can all improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our research skills as our writing careers progress. And in the twenty-first century, you’ll probably do most of it online.

When my first nonfiction book was published over thirty years ago, online research was nonexistent. I had to do my research in the library, spending hours in indices to find the right citations followed by more hours combing through books, articles, and microfiche readers. Unfamiliar with microfiche? Oh, what you have missed.

Depending on what you write, you have to do more or less research. And that research these days is often (probably mostly) online.

If you write any kind of nonfiction, unless you’re writing stream-of-consciousness my-new-idea-is-genius-and-doesn’t-need-any-support, you need to do a lot of research. Or perhaps you write fantasy and are creating your own worlds. You could do it without any research, but you’d be short-changing yourself. (Which colours work best with orange hair and purple skin? You get the idea.)

If you write contemporary fiction, you might think you don’t need to do any content research. What about ideas for character names, car models (what year did they start making the VW Beetle, for example), or the weather in a particular city at a specific time of year?

And if you write any content for the online world, you need excellent online research skills.

Sometimes the research isn’t for the pieces you’re writing. Often it’s for all those other activities that writers are required to do just to have a writing career. I’m talking about finding publishers, agents and online publishing platforms. All of those require you to do research. So, as far as I’m concerned, writers need to consider how and why they do online research.

I have come up with five tips that might help you to improve your skills.

As I move forward in any piece of writing, I find myself doing upfront research before I begin, but I also find myself researching on the fly if you like. I don’t always know that I’ll need to know what kind of camera was popular in the mid-1960s when I start writing.

Posted in Book marketing, Book promotion

Five Tips for Better Book Trailers

I don’t know about you, but I love a good book trailer. And by “good,” I don’t mean expensive. By “good,” I mean a book trailer that concisely captures my imagination for fiction or beckons me to learn more when it comes to nonfiction. In both cases, it has to be tight and visually stimulating.

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that book trailers can accomplish a few things, despite the lack of hard evidence that they increase book sales in any significant way. But a great book trailer can be your book’s calling card to book bloggers, reviewers, agents and yes, even to some readers. But it has to be good.

Here are my five tips for better book trailers:

  1. Make sure you set out a specific goal for your book trailer. Trailers without purpose are not focused. Your goal should say what you want to realistically accomplish with these marketing tools and precisely who you want to reach. What and who are essential drivers for what you will put in that book trailer. See tip #2.
  2. Write a script. I cannot tell you how soul-sucking it is to see a book trailer that is clearly unscripted. These pieces of crap are meandering commercials that appear to have been crafted by children. (Scratch that: children these days can generally do better with an iPhone and iMovie.)
  3. Plan the visuals. You know what a script like this ought to look like, don’t you? Your script should resemble a documentary script more closely than a script for a movie. This kind of script layout means that you have two columns: the voice-over (if you’re using one―which I recommend) on one side and a column for visuals opposite it. The visuals should be carefully connected to the voice-over or on-screen titles or the script’s visual direction.
  4. Avoid anything campy or kitschy unless that’s what your book is. Too many writers (and their book trailer makers) seem to think that the more gimmicks they put in, the better. Not so. It can be very off-putting to viewers or even misleading if that approach doesn’t represent the book’s genre, story, voice and message.
  5. Keep it the right length. So, how long should a book trailer be? There are no hard and fast rules about this, but in my experience, I’ve found a kind of sweet spot. A 20-second trailer isn’t a trailer―it’s a teaser. A 4-minute trailer is bordering on a movie.

I suppose the cardinal rule for book trailers is the same as the cardinal rule for writing: never bore your readers (or, in this case, your viewers).

If you’re no expert in video production and editing, find someone who is. The final edit is what we’ll see and what we’ll use to judge your book― and you. Make a good first impression!

For some samples…