Sunday, May 22, 2022

Creativity on a Deadline


This week's topic at the SFF Seven is Creativity on a Deadline: How do you balance art with business demands?

Talk about a perfectly-timed topic. I've been working long (looooong) days since The Witch Collector came out in November. I'm also horrible at balancing anything. I'm an overachiever, I'll work myself to the bone, and I have the mental stamina of...I don't know. I have a lot. If my physical energy matched my brain energy, I would be ridiculously fit.

And it's a good thing I'm like this.

We writers have to be writers first and foremost, but also marketers, graphic design specialists, website designers and managers, promotional gurus, executive assistants, top-notch planners, salespeople, publishers, formatters, editors, copy editors... I could go on. It takes a village, and much of the time that village is one lone person who is ready to run to the hills any moment.

Kidding aside, this gig can be a ton of work beyond the writing itself. There's so much to building a readership, cultivating it, and creating a brand that sells books. It's a lesson in patience, perseverance, and dedication, with many days spent traveling down different avenues that might lead nowhere.

I always knew my work style and work ethic was intense, but until The Witch Collector released in November, I didn't really know how it would translate to my author career.

Now I do. And after almost seven months of being ON for seven days a week, I'm taking a break.

This weekend, I announced a social media hiatus. I'm also training my daughter as an assistant and letting her pick up some slack over the summer so I can focus on final edits of City of Ruin and write some pages on the other stories in the series. She's also a creative writer, singer, artist, and musician and has one semester left in the recording industry program at Middle Tennessee State University. She gets this process, and she knows how I like things done ;) She lives with me and we get along because we are literally the same human, so communication is awesome.

In truth, I needed to unplug more than I realized. It's been a whole 24 hours, and I've gotten so much done while simultaneously feeling the stress leave my body. Having trustworthy hands to keep the social media going and the Etsy store functioning is a life saver. 

What I've learned is that, in the future, even if my current assistant leaves me for Hollywood, taking a break from the business side of things to just WRITE is good for balancing my author life. It's also good for my soul.

Because it's okay to unplug from the mainframe sometimes and just be a storyteller. 


Happy Reading and Writing,

Charissa


Saturday, May 21, 2022

Top 5 Tips on Building Your Author Platform




As a debut author, I’ve been told that I NEED to establish an author platform now.

But what is an author platform? Well, it’s everything you’re doing online and offline to create awareness about YOU as an author. From the TikToks you’re sharing to the friendships you’ve made with local booksellers.

Anything you're doing to increase your visibility and make it easier for your target readers to discover and connect with you and your books is considered building your author platform.

So why is having an author platform so important? Because it’ll help you target and attract new readers on a regular basis. You’ll be able to engage those readers and, over time, convert them into raving fans that label you as an “auto-buy author” for them. And, most importantly, an author platform will help you build meaningful relationships so you can sell more books consistently.


TLDR; Your author platform will make it possible for you to build relationships with your readers, increase your readership, and boost your sales.



My Top 5 Tips on Building Your Author Platform


1. Define Your Brand


I think the easiest way to define your brand is to answer this question: What do you want to be known for?

Sweeping romances that hurt? Enemies to lovers with spice levels that sizzle? Happily ever afters guaranteed?


Whatever it is, you should know this pretty early on because this is what will help you stand out online.

Bonus List: 4 Simple Ways to Define Your Brand:

  • Are you going to use your real name or your pen name? Pick one and use it consistently.
  • Use one professional headshot that readers can instantly recognize.
  • Remember those little sentence examples I gave you above? Come up with a one-sentence tagline that communicates what makes your books unique.
  • Establish a brand palette that includes fonts and colors that fit with your desired aesthetic.


2. Get to Know Your Target Readers


One of the biggest parts of marketing is knowing WHO you are marketing to! Who is reading your books? Who do you want to read your books? A great way to get to the bottom of this is by knowing your target readers deeply.

Consider answering these questions to get to know your target readers:

  • Who are they? And what do they do for a living?
  • What’s their age, sex, marital status?
  • What books do they like to read? What authors do they love?
  • Where are they most likely to leave reviews?
  • What tropes do they love? What tropes do they hate?
  • Where do they spend their time online and offline?


3. Build and Nurture an Email List


Social media is fleeting in today’s age. You never know when one platform is going to vanish into oblivion for the next big thing… But you don’t have to have that fear with your email list!

While it may seem daunting, growing your email list the right way is one of the best things you can do! Simply choose an email service provider (e.g. MailChimp, ConvertKit, etc.) and add a sign-up form on your website. From there, you should create a reader magnet that incentivizes the reader to sign-up. It’s usually a digital download of some kind (think a novella, a collection of short stories, a bonus chapter from another character’s POV, etc.).


Once you’ve got everything set up and ready to go, decide how often you’re going to communicate to your list and nurture them with non-spammy emails. Remember: You don’t always have to sell!



4. Support Your Fellow Authors


I’m a firm believer of Community Over Competition! I will scream about my colleagues books from the rooftops. Because when you genuinely support each other, good things happen. And, from a marketing standpoint, you’re able to tap into other author’s communities and their readers without coming across as spammy. It's a win-win!



5. Take Advantage of Social Media


Social media can be exhausting. But it's a brilliant way to increase your brand visibility and get your books in front of a large number of people without even leaving the house. (As an introvert, it doesn’t get better than that!).


So how can you take advantage of social media? By creating a feasible marketing strategy that sees you using social media to your benefit, establishing time limits and capacities for content creation, and by hanging out on the platforms that YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE USES.


Think back to tip number two where I mentioned getting to know your target audience. Where do they hang out online? On Instagram? TikTok? What hashtags are they using? (Psst. A great way to reach new readers is through hashtags! Read all about them in this blog.)  


Wherever your audience is hanging out is where you should be.


Remember, building your author platform, growing your brand, and establishing a horde of ravenous readers does not happen overnight. So start now!



Lara Buckheit was born and raised on the Eastern Shore. Her debut novel A REALM OF ASH AND SHADOW releases in April 2023! She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Wilmington University, is a 2021 WriteMentor Mentee, an avid writer (and reader) of spice, and one time she met Taylor Swift’s dad. She started writing at a very young age, mostly fanfiction centered around women with swords and men with devilish grins. And she hasn’t stopped since. When not writing, Lara can be found drinking tea, hustling for her day job, reading from her endless TBR pile, or hanging out on her body confidence Instagram. Lara currently lives in Roanoke, VA, with her fiancé, dog, and thirteen house plants named after fictional characters. Connect with her here: https://bio.site/larabuckheit


Friday, May 20, 2022

The Secret to Author Platforms

 So you want to sell all the books. Me, too, my friend. Me, too. Heaven knows I've chased my fair share of strategies and secret sauces that led me to one conclusion:  You can spend your life chasing attention. 

You can spend all your time and all of your money on classes that promise to teach you The Secret to selling millions of books. Facebook ads! No! Amazon ads! Tik Tok! Newsletters! (Of surprise to no one - blogs never seem to be on the list of 'The Secret to Selling -- Anything.') But the truth is much harder than any of the 'experts' who can teach you to market your books for six easy payments of special for you today want you to believe. The truth is that platforms can be carefully created and nurtured, but they are also very much a function of how well your stories fulfill reader expectations and of luck. One you can control. The other you can't (but you can help it along slightly.)

Reader expectations are knowable and writers can opt to ignore them or make sure their stories hit them. If you're writing a sex scene in a romance novel, you'll write one kind of scene. If you're writing a sex scene in a horror novel, the sex scene will have a very different feel because it serves a very different function - and you're doing it that way because you know that a horror novel needs to read and sound and feel different than a romance novel.

As for helping luck along, I'd like to tell you to just see Jeffe's post because, yeah. What she said. The very best advertising for your current book is your next book. And the best advertising for your next book is your current book.



Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The One Thing an Author Must Do to Expand their Platform

GREY MAGIC is out in audiobook! All three Bonds of Magic books are now live on Audible for your glomming pleasure!
This week at the SFF Seven, we're offering tips for expanding your author platform.

"Platform" is one of those words I'm not terribly fond of, seeing as how it comes from the world of sales and legal wrangling. If you do a bit of digging (but please don't go down that rabbit hole!) you'll find that the term arose in the early 90s, along with the advent and burgeoning of the internet, and originally applied to nonfiction works and proposals. (Jane Friedman has a great write-up on it here.) Nowadays it seems like the term gets thrown about by all sorts of agent, editor, and marketing types in seeking the ideal author for them to make money off of. 

(Note: there's nothing wrong with trad-publishing folks making money off of authors. That's the business model and it can work for everyone involved. I just feel that the 'must have a great platform' folks are more interested in the generating moolah side of things than, you know, books.)

Anyway, as Jane succinctly defines it, an author platform is an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.

So... not all of us, right? Most authors of fiction sell books because of our voice and the stories we write, not who we are. However! What we write is what reaches people, so who we can reach is within reasonable grasp for a writer of fiction. 

Are you ready for this? The great secret??



Write more books!

Or short stories. Or create games or draw comics. Whatever medium is floating your creative boat at the moment, do more of that!

I know, I know - the answer is always the same. But that's because this is the very best advice out there. The most effective marketing for any author is to create more. The more stuff you have out there, the more people you can reach. 

Seriously, over the years I've seen SO MANY AUTHORS get sucked into focusing on flogging a single work or series to the exclusion of all other efforts. Sure, it can be easy to get focused on wanting a particular work to succeed, and yes, marketing can feel like a clearer path, with lots of vultures vendors out there waiting to take your money with glowing promises of high sales. Writing more stuff is hard.

But creating stuff is why you got into the gig in the first place, yes? So go do it, my friend. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

3 Tips to Build Your SpecFic Author Platform:

 Our topic this week: 5 Tips to Build Your Author Platform

To avoid TL;DR, I'll cut that back to 3 tips prefaced by definition `cause thar be confusion about what exactly is an author platform. If you do a Google search, you might believe it's simply your website, which...uhm, no. While having a website is an element of presenting your platform, an author platform is a marketing term for "sell me on you." In this case, you're not selling your book, you're selling your author persona. Author platforms are essential if you're writing non-fiction because you need to prove your expertise and credibility. In non-fiction, your author platform--at a minimum--will present your knowledge base, your bias, and your voice.  

IMHO, when it comes to genre fiction, an author platform is way less important. Exceptions exist; however, if you're having a discussion with a marketing professional and they ask about your author platform, don't panic. What they want to know is if there is anything uniquely marketable about you that can sell your book. For example: if you're a rocket scientist IRL who actively discusses aerospace engineering on your socials, and you're writing hard-science sci-fi, then that's a relevant differentiator about you versus other sci-fi authors. It can be used to package you and your books in sales pitches to buyers and in advertising to consumers. It's a bit of a mental gear shift for genre authors whose marketing typically revolves around selling the book (or series) not themselves. 

So, what if you're an SFF author who is also a recluse and who eschews social media in all forms? Is it possible to have an author platform? Sure, though without a public persona, you're unlikely to see returns on it. The bare minimum would be a statement in your author bio that establishes your "thing." 

Genre writers don't have to be experts in any field, we can be fans or enthusiasts. 

As long as we have a passion that presents in our public persona and in our writing, then we can build an author platform. It is very much okay to take time to build your author platform. Yes, new authors might feel pressured by a publisher to have one locked down before debuting, but push back on that. If they bought your book without you having a platform it means they're not relying on your platform to sell it. Author platforms are long-haul marketing investments. Other marketing tools have better yields short term, and professionals know it (so don't let them bully you). 

Here are 3 Tips to Build Your SpecFic Author Platform:

  1. Know Your Stories' Themes: This probably won't be obvious to you until you've drafted (not necessarily published, but at least drafted) a few books. Once you can discern your repeating theme, you've got your "thing" that you can leverage into a topic that you incorporate into your social presence. Is bodily autonomy a repeating theme? Where is the issue being raised in the news, in pop culture, in lesser-known niches? Discuss on your socials. Are there other artists whose works also address your theme? Promote them. 
  2. Share Your Inspirations: Playing fast and loose with mythology in your stories? Does the way of the Fey seep into your world-building? What about cats? Fetishes (of the idol or sexual kind)? What attracted you to those influences? Would you consider yourself a student of those inspirations? Do you continue to read about and/or discuss them? Great! Share your sources, discoveries, and thoughts. Solicit input from other enthusiasts or experts. Be a fan.
  3. Keep Learning, Keep Leading, Keep Current: Your platform is a living thing. Neglect it, and it loses its value. That includes your interests and themes, both should show your continuous engagement. Being static doesn't help you. It can, in fact, hurt your platform. It's fine if your interests change--personal and professional growth are good things! Make sure to bring your audience along with you on your journey by sharing what attracted you to the new shiny. Did you do a 180 on a formerly held belief because of new information? Great! Share what changed your mind and how it is/will be reflected in your work.


Saturday, May 14, 2022

 

Fan Mail is the Best Mail



I'm an ambivert so while I love spending time alone in my writing cave, I also get a lot of energy and joy from meeting with readers and other writers. The annual Passport to Romance event in Bellevue used to be the highlight of my year--even before I got published! But I have some high risk members of my family, so for the last couple of years I have been only attending virtual events like facebook parties and online writer cons. This focus on the virtual has led me to appreciate the ways we can interact and connect long distance. And during that time I have a few really touching, really meaningful reader interactions.

Over a year ago, a reader reached out to me through a note transcribed by her husband, expressing how much my books had meant to her and distracted her during her bed rest. She just wanted to let me know that she was looking forward to the next book, and how my words had given her something to enjoy during a difficult time.

It was a profoundly meaningful moment of connection, for all that was virtual. My words had reached someone who was struggling, and made that struggle a little lighter. As an author, I can think of no better complement, and no higher purpose for my books. To have a note like that land in my inbox, out of the blue, was such a gift.


Thursday, May 12, 2022

Have you been a fan of someone lately?


brown table top with a cup of coffee with a foam heart, around the cup is a pair of red Beats headphones and an iPhone resting next to them playing the audiobook The Mars Strain


Number one way to support your favorite author? Tell them you loved their book! Wait…maybe leaving a review for said book-love is the number one—hmm. 


Either way, this week we’re talking about our favorite reader interaction and I have to echo what my fellow SFF Seveners have already said this week: every positive reader interaction is my favorite!


The Mars Strain audiobook came out a year ago. It’s crazy to look back at that fact because it has flown by. It’s also hard to look back over the year and at all the promotion plans that my mental and physical energy held me back from executing. 


When 100% of your release’s promotion rests on your shoulders it can be daunting. Which makes those instances where people go out of their way to reach out, or text, and let you know how much they loved your story or how sucked in they got that they couldn’t stop. 


It’s those comments that lift you up and give a boost of writing energy. If you’re an author—you get it. These are life savers. If you’re not an author, which means you are a reader and we love you, then please never stop yourself from letting an author know or posting a review to shout about how awesome you think a book is. Trust me, when you think of doing it is the perfect time. 


Have you been a fan to someone lately?

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Converting the Reluctant Reader


 Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our favorite reader interaction. 

Once we get past the fact that ANY AND ALL positive reader interactions are a balm to every writer, then we come to the inevitable truth that the more recent ones spring to mind first. I am so blessed to have each and every one of you out there sending me happy messages about my books. I treasure each and every one, I really do.

But I'm going to pick a recent one that really thrilled me because of the unusual source. You'll see what I mean when you read it, but I can preface by saying this was from a new friend, a guy my age(ish), who bought DARK WIZARD to be nice. He was in town visiting and bought a hard copy to support me and my local indie bookstore. I seriously never expected him to read it. 

Then I got this email:

I, at last, had time to read "Dark Wizard" over the weekend and I was so impressed! 

It's totally not my sub-genre, and would never consider reading the book if someone gave me a plot summary, but it is so well executed and such a page-turner - I was really sucked in. And, despite myself, I want to read the rest of the trilogy. What really amazes me, is that you have such an extensive bibliography - you must be writing very fast - but the quality is so high - no idea how you do it.

Is there anything better than converting a reluctant reader? Not in my book! (lol)

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

How Authors Are Like Venus Flytraps

 


What's my favorite reader interaction?

Uh, any that are positive? I'm not picky. I'm over the moon when they happen. I'm enough of a human (no, really) to enjoy having my ego fed. I sure as hell ain't gonna dictate how that goes down. Well, don't show up at my house uninvited, but beyond that I'm like a Venus flytrap, snatching up whatever little scrap of "it was good" or "liked it" I can get. I am always grateful when a reader takes the time to let me know. 

Now, if you want to see me tap my foot and howl with glee like a happy puppy...that'll be from fan art. I haven't received any yet, but I love, love, love seeing what fans draw for other authors/stories/characters. Those skills, man, I salute.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Dear Reader

Happy Sunday all! This week's topic at the SFF Seven is: Your favorite reader interaction.

I've thought about this for a couple of days and found myself incapable of naming one reader interaction that is my fave, because I love them all. So far, anyway ;) I've said it before and I'll say it again: I feel extremely lucky when it comes to my readers. They're the most supportive group, shouting about The Witch Collector everywhere and always sending the most encouraging messages. Reader love is so motivating. It dims the glare of impostor syndrome and gives us authors reason to sit down and bleed our soul to craft another book. 

For an author to put themselves and their work in the world for people to freely judge isn't easy. But when we find our readers, they make the bumpy parts of the publishing path a little softer. A little easier to trudge through. Someone out there loves our writing. Someone out there loves our characters as much as we do. Someone out there is dying to read more.

I didn't think I'd have much more input other than the above for this post. But this afternoon, I received a message from a reader on Instagram. It read: "Happy Mother's Day to my favorite author!! Hope you have an amazing day!!" 

I sat there for a few minutes absorbing the fact that the quote in the picture above--a quote I've printed and posted in my office and inside my planners for years--had actually come true.

I am someone's favorite author. Honestly, I'm still reeling from that message hours later. If you ever wonder if authors want to hear bookish love from readers, know that YES! We do!

That said, it's still hard for me to pinpoint a single favorite interaction, though this one certainly ranks high on my list of amazing career moments. There will be many more wonderful moments ahead too, I have no doubt, and dear reader, I look forward to each one.

**If you've read The Witch Collector (or plan to) and would like to join my reader group on facebook, visit the link below. I'd love to meet you and chat about books!!

Happy Reading,

~ Charissa

Saturday, May 7, 2022

To Hook ‘Em or Sink ‘Em

 



How important is the first line? And what if what matters more is the first paragraph?

 

When writing Shadow of Eternal Flames, my debut fantasy romance novella, I wrote what I felt the story needed! I didn’t consider whether a hook was important or not. I don’t believe this “sank” my book, but I also don’t believe it “hooked” anyone in, either. My opening line is “The wooden floors creaked at the touch of the young woman’s feet as she tiptoed down the hallway towards her father’s study, struggling to hear the muffled voices.”


As I continue to grow as an author, I realize how much I can improve for the future. Although the first line is unlikely to cause a reader to close the book, it is still a good idea to make it fit well within the vibes of your story. Fantasy, as a genre, leans towards opening lines that describe the landscape of the scene. Fantasy Romance, however, often begins with the main character's thoughts or emotional state. Some great examples of opening lines that made me see the authors vision are:

 

“The forest had become a labyrinth of snow and ice.” -A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas.

 

“The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer.” -A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.

 

“The first note pierced the silence as the orchestra warmed up.” -Music of the Night by Angela J. Ford

 

And some opening lines that truly made me feel something:

 

“Everyone in my home had a death wish, and as time went on, I was becoming more and more likely to oblige them.” -Between Wrath and Mercy by Jess Wisecup.

 

“Cassia was always one maneuver away from her last breath.” -Blood Mercy by Vela Roth.

 

“The life of the Maiden is solitary.” -From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout.

 

I’ll be honest. I believe first lines should be as beautiful or epic as you want them to be, and I do believe they have weight. That being said, I think your last line is much more important, and that is something we don’t often discuss. Your last line is the last thing a reader reads or hears, it is your closing note. I can’t tell you many first lines. I can remember an author's first line being well done, but usually not the words themselves. Last lines, however, I have many engraved into my mind.

 

“And so Tamlin unwittingly led the High Lady of the Night Court into the heart of his territory.” -A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas.

 

“And follows him out into the dark.” -The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab.

 

I am very proud of my last line. Even now, it makes me smile. Very simple, “I remember.” Write what you love, write what makes you proud, and the first lines will come. If you’re a reader, consider your favorite lines and why you love them. Look back at your favorite books and read the first lines again with new eyes! Did you have any idea what you were getting yourself into when you opened it up and read those first few words?

 


Priscilla Rose is a first-time author of the fantasy romance novella SHADOW OF ETERNAL FLAMES. She currently resides in Central Florida with her husband and their cat KitKat. When she isn't writing or reading, Priscilla spends her time at Renaissance Festivals and Anime Conventions where she cosplays and socializes to her heart's content. She is looking forward to showing the world her fantastical romance stories full of hope, hear, and happily ever after! 





Friday, May 6, 2022

The Great Opening Line

I recall one of those books we had to read in high school. In it, one of the characters is writing a book. Or he would be. If he didn't get up every single day and erase the first line of the book he'd written the day before and then spend the entire present day crafting an entirely new opening line (that will only be deleted tomorrow). 

Yet the opening line of the novel wherein this desperate writer is a character was deceptively bland. It goes: The unusual events described in this chronicle occurred in 194- at Oran. 

Not the shooting star of a first line that you might expect to lead you to lose yourself in the subsequent prose. Yet almost every single one of us assigned to read the novel did get sucked into the story and the brilliant writing.

So what makes a great first line? One exuberant flush of color and delight (like the moss rose bloom in my photo)? Or should they be more calculated? After all, first lines in fiction have so many jobs to do. 

  • Convey the voice of the author, the voice of the POV character, and the tone of the story all at the same time.
  • Build a world.
  • Establish a story question.
  • Speak to genre.
  • Create a contract with the reader.
  • Hook the reader.
  • Serve the story.
In genre fiction, we're taught early that our first lines must be compacted under pressure into shining diamonds that must do as many of the above within a reasonable (often fewer than twenty) words. It may be a wonder than any of us ever get past the first line of our novels. If we do, it's most likely because our first lines are rarely our first lines. Most of us allow ourselves, out of necessity, to write the worlds worst first lines, then we hone them only after the draft is complete. Anything else leads to madness. And incomplete drafts.

How do you write a great opening line? Don't. That is seriously my best advice. Leave it alone. Write the story. Let the opening line take care of itself until well after the story is complete. Only then, I'd argue, do you have complete insight into the characters, the story arc, and the emotion that will help you come up with a worthy opening line. I'll then suggest that you focus on crafting an opening line that sets reader expectations for the rest of the story. The reason being that a brilliant first line, while a lovely thing, sets the bar for the rest of the writing. Start with a bar that's too high and you leave yourself no where to go. Every single line that follows will need to be equally polished and brilliant. Great work if you can get it. I'm not saying throw away your first line. I am arguing that over polishing a first line or first page or first chapter creates something that no longer serves the rest of the story and creates an expectation that the rest of the story might not uphold. I'm more interested that the writing sounds like you than I am in how clever the first line might be.

"Sun glinting off the barrel of a gun stopped Captain Ari Idylle dead in her tracks." 

That's the first line from my first published novel. Nothing special. But the 'uh oh' moment should tell you that you're about to go on an adventure with Ari. And it should maybe convey that while today isn't shaping up the way she'd expected, there aren't any dead bodies laying around. Because I didn't go with gore and horror to open Ari's story, you might catch the hint from this opening that there's tension to come, but the story isn't trying to be gritty or horrific.You might pick up that since this character is a captain that she's experienced and competent. You might assume that she's clever or at least observant. 

When I wrote that first line, I wasn't aiming for any of the stuff above. I wanted to start the story on action. Nothing more. No normal world. No easing into conflict. I wanted my angle of attack to be a cliff face that Ari (and the reader) slammed into. I wanted those things because it was what I like in a story. I can't help but feel that if you write an opening sentence to your story that reflects what you like in a story, I'm going to know right away what kind of book you've written and that sentence is going to tell me far more than you ever intended. 

That's a great opening line.


Thursday, May 5, 2022

Two Sides to Every First Line

a woman's hand holding a hardcover book open with a cup of coffee, green pottery mug, in her lap


The last piece you’ll rewrite is what you wrote first.


Up until this week I had two different views on bookish first lines—who knew! Everything I’d read and been told from my beginning as a writer was to make the first line count, hook your reader, it’s the most important line. 


And up until this week I’ve been following that advice. After reading my fellow SFF Sevener’s posts I realized that as a reader I have a very different opinion on first lines: the first line rarely makes it or breaks it, it’s the first page (or first few pages sometimes) that either hook me or lose me. 


I’m not going to list examples here, a lot of work goes into first lines and I don’t want to knock anyones efforts, but in my recent reads I noted some very boring first lines. I kid you not, one book I reread the opening line three times as I thought I can’t believe a publishing house let this pass! Of these interesting first line reads, a couple of them turned out to be DNFs and the others ended up being solid! Surprise! 


If you don’t know, my reading tastes are eclectic and numerous and get excited over a powerful line or well delivered idea. Yes, this reader is a sucker for those perfectly crafted hooks. And yes, sometimes those works of art disappoint when in novel form. 


So…do I really believe in the strongest line of your book being the lead off? Or, to go with a baseball analogy here since I’ve been watching my boys play, is it better to stack the lineup with line drives so the bases are loaded when you get the grand slam? 

Anyone with me on this dilemma? As a reader I want to be introduced to a character or world I can’t leave. Can that be done in one sentence—I’m gonna go with not usually. As a writer do I want a strong opening sentence? Of course, but I believe I’m going to abandon the ideal that if I fail to craft a supreme hook of a first sentence I’ve failed to hook my readers. 


That, and I actually really like when book first and last lines reflect one another or are tied together in some way. I strive to do that in my writing and go a little fan-girly when I find a book that’s pulled it off as well. How about you? 

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Two Pieces of Advice on Crafting the Perfect Opening Line


Ah, the much-discussed, celebrated, and labored over first line... Is it that important?

(See what I did there?)

Many in the writing and publishing world will go on at length on the critical importance of the opening line of any work, long or short. There are long-standing contests for opening lines - brilliant or cringingly terrible. Writers are expected to trot our their favorite first lines (which I notice is also part of this week's assignment at the SFF Seven). But do those opening lines deserve the significance they're given?

Yes and no. The thing is, first lines are low-hanging fruit. They're easy to pick on. They require very little reading and it's easy to analyze a single line of text. For the teachers, coaches, and advice-givers of all stripes, an opening line is a simple aspect of a work to assess. In that way, they're probably given far more emphasis than they deserve.

Unfortunately, a whole lot of the advice out there - not unlike a lot of writing advice - isn't terribly helpful. Writers are told that their opening line must "hook" the reader, who is presumably like a fish in this analogy, and reel them in to keep reading more. And hopefully buy the work in question. 

And people rhapsodize over favorite opening lines, analyzing brilliance, but - again - this rarely yields useful advice on how to write them.

I spent a lot of years not sure what made an opening line a good one or not. Only recently, with a bunch of published works behind me, have I come across actually useful advice on how to craft an opening line: It needs to establish the sort of story it is, and pose some sort of question. It doesn't have to be a literal question, but it should invite the reader to wonder about something of interest to them.

A famous example of this is Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem How Do I Love Thee. (Those who listen to my podcast, First Cup of Coffee, know I've been going down an Elizabeth Barrett Browning/Robert Browning rabbit hole lately. I blame Connie Willis.) Almost anyone can quote the opening line, even if they don't know the rest of the poem: 

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

What does this line do? It establishes that the work is a love poem, and invites the reader to wonder about what those ways are. 

Thus, my opening line above: I established what sort of writing this is - an informational article on first lines - and I posed a literal question that I'd be addressing. 

Once I figured out this was all I needed to do, it made crafting that opening line much easier! Here's one of the first ones that I used this technique to write, from DARK WIZARD.

Gabriel Phel crested the last ridge of the notorious Knifeblade Mountains that guarded Elal lands on nearly three sides, and faced the final barrier. 

This first line isn't brilliant by any stretch. What it does, however, is inform the reader that this is an alternate fantasy world, and it invites them to wonder about who Gabriel Phel is, why he's in this inhospitable land, and what this final barrier is. That's it. And you know what? It works. That book has done a better job of hooking new readers than anything else of mine. I think there are other reasons for that book's success, but I think that opening helps.

What's most important to remember is: just because the first line comes first, that doesn't mean it has to be written first. Certainly not perfected first. A lot of writers spend forever crafting that opening, trying to get it perfect - possibly because of this emphasis on first lines - and can circle that effort endlessly. That's my second piece of advice. Craft the opening once the work is finished, or at least drafted. It will wait. And that gives that low-hanging fruit time to ripen.






Tuesday, May 3, 2022

My First Time...erm, Line

 


The importance of a first line--Do I buy it or not?

Ya know, if you can nail that first line in your book it is absolutely going to work in your favor. It's never not going to be a good thing. Charissa and James gave great examples in their posts from Sunday and Monday. Plus, "Best Of..." lists abound, and who doesn't love the free marketing of landing on those? Okay, okay, we also love the warm fuzzies of readers responding enthusiastically to our prose.

Is your work going to be an instant DNB/DNF if that first sentence doesn't grab the reader? I dare say, nah, as long as you've hooked the reader within the first page. My qualifier is that the longer it takes to hook the reader, the more readers you lose. Imagine the reader's attention being in a sieve, and the only way to plug the holes is with interesting content. At any point in the book, if you have too many holes exposed, the reader is going to get bored and put the book down. 

That's not to say you should fall into the trap of obsessing over your opening line. I've seen too many baby writers feel defeated because they can't "entice within ten words." Courage, my friends! Slap some words on the page and keep going. Write the book. Come back and revise that opening hook (and paragraph) once you've drafted the story. By then, you know your character and your world, so crafting a sticky opening is easier. 

Often, the first thing written is the last thing finished. 

Am I a mistress of hooky first lines? Depends on one's taste, I reckon. Nonetheless, here are the first lines from the first books in their respective series:

From Larcout:  Blood beings could be chattel or they could be char.

From The Burned Spy: The antidote burned worse than the toxin.

From Celestial Ascent (WiP): Summer’s night lay like a coarse wool blanket soaked in bull urine.

From Worthy (WiP): Negative humors held the color of wisteria glistening with fragile dew on a background of sinister blue.

Will those WiP openings change once I finish the drafts? Maybe. Possibly. Maybe not, though. I'm not done drafting the stories yet. 

Monday, May 2, 2022

The importance of a first line.

 Or, how to get a reader interested in your work. As far as I'm concerned you get one chance to make a first impression, and you should make it count.

Is it the most important part of a story? No. But it's rather like the first step into a large body of water. you put your foot in to test whether or not the waters are right for you, and if it's too cold, you might well decide not to go for a swim. 

The first sentence should catch the eye and keep your attention, the same way that an elevator pitch should attract enough interest to get n agent or editor interested in your work. You have one chance to get it right. Why not make that first impression as memorable as you can?


“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

Stephen King's first sentence from THE GUNSLINGER the first book in the Dark Tower series. It's a strong sentence. Who is the Man in Black? Who is the Gunslinger? What is going on between them? Why is this happening? There are enough questions there to catch your attention, and that's what you need, in my honest opinion.

"It was a pleasure to burn." 

Ray Bradbury's first line in the novel FAHRENHEIT 451. Once again, it sparks the imagination. What's burning and who derives such pleasure from destruction?

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

from J.R.R. Tolkien's THE HOBBIT. What the hell is a hobbit and why does it live in the ground?

These are simple sentences and in each case, they ask questions that I as a reader, wanted to see answered.

"Looking at the homes, landmarks, and lush green hills, you'd think that Brennert  County and the towns like Wellman were just about postcard perfect, but as is often the case in the south, there are thus not mentioned, places not spoken of in polite society, that hold dark and sometimes even dangerous secrets."

'From THE TOURIST'S GUIDE TO HAUNTED WELLMAN, a forthcoming novel by yours truly and my coauthor, Charles R. Rutledge.

Maybe a little wordy, but once again, there are questions asked that want answers. 

Hopefully, at least. If I'm doing my job the right way.

There are other ways to catch the attention, I remember one book where the first line spoke about a cast iron pan being used to smash a bay's head into pulp in the first line. Of course, I kept reading. How could I not? The book, Ed Lee's THE BIG HEAD, started off with a disturbingly graphic scene of violence and continues on that way relentlessly. It was a dark book, but Lee made it work. his penchant for violence is only made tolerable by some beautiful prose.

The point remains the same in each case. The starting sentence is enough to water the fertile soil of the imagination. From that moment water comes the growth required to keep a reader interested if your writing is good enough.

A weak first sentence is never good for the chances of keeping a reader's attention and why, oh why, would you do that to yourself? That's a death sentence as surely as having your twelve-year-old nephew or niece who can barely draw a decent stick figure handle the front and back cover illustrations for your novel.  And don't get me started on that particular debacle! once upon a time a publisher I knew hired his talentless girlfriend to do the cover for one of my novels. It wasn't pretty. That same novel, with a truly wonderful cover by Lynne Hansen, has had phenomenal sales ever since the book was taken away from those publishers and treated with a little respect. No, not saying which book, but believe me the difference between the covers was monumental and so were the sales.

Listen, you want every advantage you can get when it comes to being noticed favorably. Take the time to do it right. That's really all I can say about the subject.

Keep smmiling,

Jim















Sunday, May 1, 2022

First Line Power

Hey all! This week's topic at the SFF Seven is The Importance of the First Line: Do We Buy It or Not?

Back in 2009, when I decided to start writing again, I wanted to learn everything I could about the craft. I can't begin to list all the writerly advice I absorbed that I've since realized doesn't work for every writer or every book. That said, one bit of advice seems to apply to most everyone in the publishing game: A catchy first line can hook your reader. But does it have to?

A hooky first line can act as a sales tool. If someone picks up your book or opens the sample online, that first line can make them curious enough to want to keep reading, thus hopefully purchasing your novel. A strong first line can deliver voice, theme, POV, and cause the formation of the first story question in the reader's mind.

Here's the first line from my novel, The Witch Collector:

It’s been eight long years since the Witch Collector took my sister.

Hopefully, that line entices the reader to want to know more about the above situation, who the Witch Collector is, why he took the POV character's sister, and why the POV character is stating this at the opening of the story.

Here are some of my favorite first lines. Note how each one creates a question for the reader--a desire to know more:

From The Golem and the Jinni:

The Golem's life began in the hold of a steamship.

From A Discovery of Witches:

The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable.

From Circe:

When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.

But here's the thing about writing advice: it isn't always true. Great novels don't always have great first lines, and yet can still go on to be blockbusters.

I was absolutely enthralled by the novel Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It's fantastic. But the first line? I love Thursday nights.

Granted, the author relies on the question tool--Why does the character love Thursday nights? Yet that line in no way encapsulates the sci-fi/mind-bending novel that this book is. It does, however, create a question for the reader. Apparently enough of one to keep millions turning pages.

So do I buy into the advice of crafting a great first line? Most of the time. Is it wise for newer writers to craft strong first lines? I believe so. As a newly-published author, I try very hard to intrigue the reader with those first words because I can't risk the opposite. I don't have years of books under my belt or a massive fanbase that would overlook a weak first line. (Not that I'd do it anyway...it's not my style.)

But do I believe it's a must 100% of the time? No.

I'll leave you with the first line from my upcoming novel, City of Ruin, book two in the Witch Walker series:

Thamaos’s ancient temple is deathly quiet, save for the crackling flames of a hundred candles and the sizzle of my blood burning in the offering bowl.

What do you think? Would you read further?


~ Charissa