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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Writers Can Learn From the Success of Disney's Frozen

Have you seen the Disney film Frozen yet? If not, it's probably only a matter of time!

This (very loose) adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale "The Snow Queen" has broken just about every record for an animated feature. And it has also been spectacularly successful in its merchandising, with little girls (in particular) desperate to get their hands on anything Frozen-related, from costumes and jewellery to singalong DVDs.

I saw Frozen for the first time under rather unusual circumstances. I was on a cruise holiday in the summer, and was confined to my cabin for 24 hours after suffering a bout of food poisoning (thankfully not the dreaded Norovirus). It happened that Frozen was on the list of movies on offer that day on the ship's TV, so with few other alternatives I decided to tune in. Rather to my surprise, I genuinely enjoyed it.

It struck me as well that there was a lot that writers could learn from the success of Frozen, so I thought in this blog post I'd set out a few things. Note that I'll be giving away some plot points, so if you haven't yet seen the film and want to retain an element of surprise, you may prefer to stop reading now!

1. With Frozen, Disney actively encouraged social media involvement

In the past Disney haven't exactly embraced social media. Indeed, they were more likely to let their legal department loose on anyone sharing anything to do with their carefully protected "intellectual property".

With Frozen, that all changed, however. Rather than going after anyone who (for example) posted a video of themselves singing a song from the film, they actively encouraged fans to get involved. The result was a torrent (or maybe snowball would be a more appropriate metaphor) of enthusiastic publicity for the film, which helped spread the word in double-quick time.

Takeaway: Writers need to encourage people not just to buy their book but to interact with it in other ways as well. Facebook pages, fan sites, newsletters and even reader forums can all help build the buzz around your story and help bring it to the attention of a wider readership. And obviously, if the nature of your book lends itself to merchandising as well, don't hold back!

2. The Story Subverts Viewer Expectations at Every Turn

As you may know, the film's central characters are two sisters, Anna and Elsa. The older sister, Elsa, is the Snow Queen, either blessed or cursed with the ability to turn anything she touches to ice and snow. After accidentally almost killing her sister and plunging her kingdom into eternal winter, she flees from the Royal Palace in shame. Her sister then embarks on a quest to find Elsa and persuade her to return and bring back summer.

The story subverts our expectations in many ways. For example, Anna is newly engaged to Prince Hans, who it initially appears will save the day in time-honoured fairytale style. However, he turns out to be a treacherous cad, whose cruel and selfish actions almost lead to Anna's death. And at the end, both Anna and Elsa's lives are saved by an "act of true love", not from a man, as one might traditionally expect, but by the love of one sister for another.

Takeaway: Modern audiences are highly sophisticated and familiar with all the traditional plot devices. To attract readers (or viewers), writers need to seek out different plots and resolutions that are attuned to modern-day values. One aspect of that is (of course) that women can be just as strong and heroic - or more so - as men.

3. The Characters Avoid Stereotyping

In a way this follows from the item above. All of the main characters in Frozen defy conventional stereotyping. Although Elsa's actions are often misguided, she is not at heart evil, simply trying to protect her sister and others from her unwanted powers. And Anna, while heroic in many ways, has her shortcomings as well, for example in her naive inability to see her suitor's duplicity.

Anna is also helped in her quest by Kristoff, an ice hunter. He turns out to be another rare character in fairytales, a genuinely nice bloke (albeit one who has some strange friends!).

And even the comic relief, Olaf the snowman, is more than just a slapstick figure. He comments on events with sly wit, and also has a more wistful side.

Takeaway: Just as modern readers are familiar with all the usual plot twists, so they can recognize flat, two-dimensional characters. Writers today need to go beyond the standard stereotypes of hero, villain, accomplice, and so on, and seek to build genuinely unique and surprising characters.

So those are just a few things I believe writers today can learn from the success of Disney's Frozen and build into their own writing and marketing. But what do you think? Are there any other lessons we can draw from the film's popularity? I'd love to hear your comments!

Note: I shan't be around much from 12 to 19 December, but please do still leave any comments, and I'll approve them as soon as I get back.

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Seven Top Kindle Writing Guides That Are Free Today
Today is known in some quarters as Freebie Friday, so I thought I would share with you seven top Kindle e-books about writing that are currently available free of charge from Amazon.

Some of these e-books appear to be permanently free, while others may only be so for a day or two (e.g. if they are on KDP Select free promos). I can only promise that all the titles listed are available to download free of charge today!

1. Reader Magnets - Build Your Author Platform And Sell More Books on Kindle by Nick Stephenson

This highly rated guide to marketing a Kindle e-book is part of a series about book marketing titled Reader Magnets. As well as the e-book itself, you also get access to Nick's course "Find Your First 10,000 Readers" for free. That looks like a good marketing tactic in itself to me!

2. Building Your Book for Kindle by Kindle Direct Publishing

This is a free guide to formatting and publishing your own e-book for Kindle from the Amazon KDP team. It's an essential download for any aspiring Kindle author.

3. Smashwords Style Guide by Mark Coker

KDP isn't the only game in town, of course. If you want to distribute your e-book via the iStore, Kobo, Sony Reader, and so on, Smashwords provides a simple and cost-effective means for doing so. The 130-page Smashwords Style Guide by its founder tells you everything you need to know.

4. How to Write a Novel The Easy Way Using the Pulp Fiction Method by Jim Driver and Jack Davies

If writing a novel is something that interests you, this guide will give you plenty of ideas. It focuses on saving time by carefully planning and outlining your novel.

5. Make Your Book Work Harder by Nancy Hendrickson and Michelle Campbell-Scott.

This is a comprehensive (almost 200-page) guide for any self-publishing author who wants to boost their profits by publishing to multiple platforms, including audiobooks, CreateSpace, Nook/Kobo, Udemy, and more. There is also a long section setting out multiple ways to promote your book.

6. Freelance Writing Revealed by Emile Joy.

This is a well-written and inspirational guide that focuses mainly on writing for online markets. The subtitle is "How To Make Money At Home By Ghostwriting And Freelance Writing". It also has some excellent tips and advice on building your reputation, creating a good work environment, accepting payment, and so on.

7. Smashwords Book Marketing Guide - How to Market any Book for Free by Mark Coker

This is another excellent guide from Smashwords founder Mark Coker. At about 52 pages it is quite concise, but it is packed with tips and ideas for promoting your e-book, whether it is published on Kindle, Smashwords, or elsewhere.

If you download any of these e-books free of charge, it is of course a courtesy to leave a review on Amazon for the author if you enjoyed it.

Finally, all of the above are of course Kindle e-books, but that doesn't mean you must have a Kindle device in order to read them. Amazon has free apps available for smartphones, computers (Mac and PC) and tablets, meaning that the great majority of popular platforms today are catered for.

Even though I'm a Kindle owner myself, I also have the Kindle for PC app on my desktop computer. Although I do mostly read Kindle e-books on my Kindle, sometimes with non-fiction books in particular I like to see them on a full-sized monitor.

You may like to read this blog post for more information and advice about reading Kindle e-books without a Kindle.

As ever, if you have any comments or questions about this article, please do post them below.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Writers: Beware of Identity Spoofing!

I read an interesting article by Victoria Strauss on the Writer Beware blog this week.

It concerns a writer named Heather Boerner, who discovered that her identity had been spoofed on a popular job auction site. The account was then used for fraudulent purposes by the perpetrator.

I've copied the opening of Victoria's article below:
This week, freelance writer Heather Boerner (who has published with such well-known venues as The Atlantic and The Washington Post) alerted me to her experience with a scammer.

Heather discovered the scam when she was contacted, out of the blue, by an individual who claimed to have hired her through a freelance jobs bidding website called oDesk. From an article about the scam by one of Heather's colleagues, Paul Raeburn:

[Heather] quickly realized that she had been the victim of identity theft. Somebody--a fake Heather--had gone to Boerner's website, copied her resume, downloaded her photo, linked to her website, and created an oDesk account offering services as a writer....
It's an eye-opening article, and I strongly recommend clicking through to read the rest of it, and the comments as well.

The article struck a chord with me, as it made me realize that I may have become a victim of this type of fraud as well. A couple of weeks ago I was puzzled to receive this comment on one of my blog posts:
"Nick ------ please refund me or complete the job. You agreed to turn my word doc into a kindle version. All I have seen is a poorly formatted mobi. I hope you don't consider that doing the job????? I would like my money back if you are unable to complete the work you agreed to."
As I have no knowledge of the person concerned, and anyway do not offer a Kindle formatting service, I initially assumed she had confused me with someone else. I posted a polite reply suggesting that this might be the case, and asking her to check again who it was she hired to perform this task.

Having read Victoria's article, however, I am wondering if my identity has been spoofed as well. I did a quick search on Elance, oDesk and Guru but couldn't find anything (although it is of course possible that the account has since been deleted).

Anyway, I thought I should alert readers of my blog to the fact that this type of scam is now going on. If you have any sort of online presence as a freelance writer, there is a risk that you too could become a victim.

There is clearly no way you can guarantee it won't happen, but it is important to keep your eyes and ears open - and if you receive any odd messages such as the one I had, don't just ignore them but follow them up.

In addition, as recommended in the article above, it is a good idea to Google yourself regularly, and also set up a Google Alert in your name.

And equally, if you are hiring a writer or editor via a job auction site, check carefully to ensure that they really are who they claim to be. Don't rely on the information on the website, but contact them via their blog or homepage as well.

I am still waiting to hear again from the woman who sent me the complaint, so if she sees this I do hope she will get back to me. That aside, if you see anyone claiming to be me and offering Kindle formatting (or any other services) via a job auction site, I'd be most grateful if you could let me know.

If you have any comments or questions, as ever, please feel free to post them below.



Friday, November 28, 2014

Review: Crowdfunding Author
Crowdfunding Author is a new guide that reveals how authors can use crowdfunding websites such as Indiegogo and KickStarter to raise money to finance self-publishing projects.

Crowdfunding is a subject in which I have a particular interest. I therefore bought a copy myself to see what it was all about and review it on my blog.

The authors of the guide are self publishing expert Miss K (Krizia) and children's author Alinka Rutkowska.

Alinka raised almost $10,000 to help publish her first book on Indiegogo, despite living in a small village in Italy and having English as a second language.

Crowdfunding Author is currently on a special launch offer via The Warrior Forum. It takes the form of a main manual and four bonuses. Somewhat unusually these days, this is not a video course.

The main manual is a 79-page PDF. It takes you step-by-step through the whole crowdfunding process, starting from assessing whether your proposed project would be suitable. It goes on to look at choosing a crowdfunding platform, planning your campaign, deciding what "perks" to offer your supporters, publicizing your campaign, and so on.

The manual is well written and produced, with plenty of screen-capture illustrations. The text is quite concise, but it sets out all the important things you need to know, and includes some valuable tips based on Alinka's own experiences.

It does make the point that you can't ask for money just to line your own pockets. You need to decide (and reveal to backers) exactly what the money raised will be used for, be it book production, publicity, advertising, or whatever. In most cases, of course, it will be a combination of things.

The aim of the crowdfunding campaign should be to produce the best book you possibly can and ensure it is marketed effectively, leading to maximum profits for you. In exchange for their financial support, you can offer your backers various perks, from a copy of the published book to lunch with the author!

As well as the main manual, buyers get four bonus items. These are as follows:

1. Eight-step guide to launching a crowdfunding campaign. This is essentially an illustrated summary of the main manual.

2. Crowdfunding Launching Pad. This manual written by Miss K reveals how you can deploy the money you raise through crowdfunding most efficiently, using methods such as outsourcing and Facebook marketing.

3. Crowdfunding Mindmap. This sets out the crowdfunding process in a single diagram.

4. Sample Author Pitch Letter. This is a sample letter you can send out to all your contacts to alert them to your crowdfunding campaign.

Overall, I thought Crowdfunding Author was an excellent introductory guide for any writer who may be interested in funding a self-publishing project by this means. I would just comment that it has quite a strong visual emphasis. This is good in many ways, though in the bonus reports especially I could have done without quite so many generic images of people sitting at typewriters and so on.

One big plus, clearly, is that the manual is full of practical tips and advice from someone who has actually applied this method successfully to publish their books.

For more information about Crowdfunding Author, please click through to the sales and information page.

And if you have any comments or questions, as ever, please feel free to post them below.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Use this Free Plugin to Boost Your Amazon Earnings

If you have writing-related blog, it's very likely that you monetize it using Amazon affiliate links.

This can provide a useful earnings stream for any blog. That applies especially at this time of year, for reasons I set out in this recent blog post.

One problem with Amazon affiliate links, however, is that they are specific to a particular national Amazon site. That means if you link to and your site is visited by someone from the UK, the link will take them to the "wrong" store and you won't make any money from them.

For this reason I recommend using a link management platform such as Georiot, which automatically detects where a visitor is from and redirects them to the appropriate national store, with your affiliate code applied if you have one. I talked about Georiot a while ago in this blog post.

I recently heard that Georiot have launched a free plugin called Amazon Link Engine. This automatically converts any Amazon links in your WordPress blog into universal Georiot links. This saves you the trouble of creating such links one by one, and again your affiliate code can be included if you wish.

Adding Amazon Link Engine to your self-hosted WordPress blog is very simple. From the plugins section of your dashboard, click on "Add New" and perform a search for Amazon Link Engine. The plugin should appear at or near the top of the search results, and you can click to install it in the usual way. All you then have to do is activate it in the plugins list, and anyone clicking on an Amazon link on your site will be automatically redirected to the relevant page of their own national store.

If you want the links to include your affiliate code as well, you will also need to incorporate the API parameters from your Georiot account. This is a very simple procedure, which involves no more than logging into your account and copying and pasting the "Key" and "Secret" API codes into the "Enable Reporting and Commissions" area of the plugin. This FAQ explains this in more detail.

Unfortunately I am not able to use the plugin on this blog, as it is not WordPress but uses Google's Blogger platform. However, I installed it with no problems on this WordPress blog, which I use for testing purposes.

You should notice an item on the blog regarding Fodor's Guide to Greece. Click on the link and it should take you to the relevant page of your national Amazon store. And yes, my affiliate link will be included if I have one!

One point to bear in mind, though, is that all visitors to the blog will see the same information – so if you have included a price in dollars (as in the post above) UK visitors will see this as well. The only way around this would be to create different versions of your blog for different nationalities, and use a different plug-in that redirects visitors to the version of the site designed for them. This is obviously a lot more hassle, but there are geo-redirection plug-ins that can do this for you if you like.

For most writer/bloggers, however, using Amazon Link Engine should be more than sufficient to ensure that all visitors to your site are forwarded to the appropriate national Amazon store if they click on any of your links, and that you benefit from any affiliate commissions generated.

If you have any comments or questions about Amazon Link Engine, as ever, please feel free to leave them below.

Blogging For Writers

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Writer As Sadist: Torture Your Characters!

Excessive Death to Gummi Bears by Furryscaly, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Furryscaly

Today I have another syndicated guest post for you from writer and novelist Laura N. Roberts. You might also enjoy reading her earlier guest posts on my blog, How to Write a Novel in Just 3 Days and Practically Painless Outlines.

In her article, Laura discusses a topic fiction writers often find challenging, the need to put their characters in difficult and sometimes unpleasant situations.

* * *

I wrote my first novel, Ninjas of the 512, in just three days. While that figure makes me sound like quite the masochist, today I'm here to talk about the flip side of masochism and why all writers must be sadists when it comes to their characters.

If there's anything I've learned from reading great books, it's that even the most beloved of characters must suffer. They have to be tossed into what John Cusack's character in Say Anything describes as a "dare to be great situation," because then we get to see what they're really made of, and whether they're heroes, villains or just yellow-bellied cowards. Some of them might curl up into a ball and suck their thumbs at the first sign of trouble, while others will draw their swords, strap on their shields and hurl themselves into the fray for all they're worth.

Obviously, the latter types of characters are the more interesting ones, because even if they end up getting their asses handed to them on a silver platter, the important thing is that they tried. They took action, and they did something to deal with the situation at hand. Even if they're only metaphorically battling demons, rather than actually slitting their throats with a fancifully carved katana, readers want to see characters that will grapple with unpleasant situations in an attempt to overcome, rather than quietly accepting their fate. After all, we want to root for the little guy, vanquish the enemy, be there to see them come out on top, right?

Okay, but here's the problem: this means that we writers have to be the bad guys that throw all those awful problems at our favorite characters. We're the spiteful gods that kick 'em when they're down, the ones that keep throwing them back into the deep end to sink or swim, or the jerks inflicting insurmountable hardships like Sisyphus' ever-tumbling boulder and Prometheus's perpetually eaten liver.

In short: we've got to be sadists.

This is something I find difficult. When I like my characters, I want them to win. I want things to be nice for them, and I want their lives to be pleasant. It's because I identify with these made-up people, and I don't want them to suffer. They're my friends, after all, and who wants their friends to suffer? Jerks, that's who.

But guess what? Reading a pleasant little story about people who are nice and never have to deal with any pain is boring! For characters to truly be lovable, you've got to start hurting them, and fast. The sooner you get to the parts where the bones are breaking and the hearts are aching, the better, because it means that action is taking place, and therefore growth is possible.

If you don't beat your characters up, they won't learn anything about themselves. And if you don't make them learn anything, then who cares whether or not they live happily ever after? They're cardboard characters, little puppets strewn across your stage, not real human beings.

As Nietzsche said, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. So in case you're trying to man up to inflict some real damage to get your characters moving, here are some of my favorite ways to torture my characters until they spill their guts, grow some spines or just plain break down:
  • Go for the kneecaps
  • Kill someone they love
  • Drive them crazy
  • Delete their jobs
  • Foil their friendships
  • Humiliate them professionally or personally
  • Force them out on terrible dates
  • Have them go on great dates, but then deny them sex or love
  • Foist a crazy person on them
  • Seat them next to the most boring asshole at the party
  • Cross their wires for some mixed-messages and hilarious misunderstandings
  • Thwart their dreams
  • Bankrupt them
  • Smite them with lightning or other natural disasters
  • Go for the jugular
  • Send them to the hospital
  • Give them inoperable cancer or other deadly diseases
  • Put them on Mission: Impossible
  • Dry up their water supply
  • Take away their technology or screw up their gadgets
  • Create a wild goose chase
  • Insert a red herring
  • Spurn their love
  • Poison them slowly
  • Make them think they're seeing ghosts or hearing voices
  • Addle them with demons
  • Have their family members psychologically or physically abuse them
  • Rip the roof off
  • Incarcerate them for crimes they never committed
  • Have them pursued by dangerous criminals
  • Sponsor a round of disapproving glares
  • Encourage their loved ones to express dissatisfaction with their chosen lifestyle
  • Marry them off to spouses that don't understand them
  • Smother them
  • Attack their egos
  • Plague them with injuries
  • Saddle them with inconvenient truths
  • Force them on a physical or spiritual journey they never wanted to undertake
  • Create the Apocalypse
  • Unleash the hounds (or the zombies)
  • Have their coffee makers explode
  • Allow animals to inexplicably attack them
  • Injure them
  • Institutionalize them
  • Make them unlovable, or unemployable, or both!
  • Make them burdens to their friends and families
  • Make them late for work
  • Reject them again and again
  • And always, ALWAYS heap more trouble on their heads the closer they come to victory
If you are the god of your writing universe, be the Old Testament god that's spiteful, vindictive and thoroughly unpredictable. If in doubt, send a plague of locusts. Or worse: snakes. (Hey, even tough-guy Indiana Jones hated snakes.)

You must be the mirthful sadist, always twisting your characters in the wind, dangling them over a precipice, throttling them half to death. Give them hell, and see how they react. Don't be afraid to take it to another level. You never know what kinds of heroes you'll develop until you start slathering them with troubles.

Byline: Laura Roberts (right) writes about sex, travel and ninjas - though not necessarily in that order. To see how sadistic she can be with her own fictional characters, head to for humorous erotica and her sexy murder-mystery, The Case of the Cunning Linguist.

Article Source:

* * *

Thank you to Laura for another thought-provoking article.

I have to agree with her about the importance of making life hard for your characters. And yes, if you're a nice person (and most writers are, of course), this can sometimes be an unpalatable thing to have to do.

I am reminded of a student assignment I received back in the days when I was a tutor for The Writers Bureau. He had been asked to produce an outline for a novel, and set out a story about a young woman who picked up a guitar, proved absurdly talented with it, formed a band, enjoyed immediate worldwide success, made a fortune, met her ideal partner, and lived happily ever after.

As I had to say to the student, it would be nice if life was like this, but in reality it almost never is. Readers would be unable to relate to such a story, and have no real investment in a character for whom success comes so easily.

Fictional characters are only interesting if they have to face conflict and adversity. As writers we have to be cruel to our characters on occasion, so that our readers can identify with them and ultimately (in most cases) rejoice at their successes.

If you have any comments or questions about this article, as ever, please do post them below.
  • Don't Forget! My blog sponsors (and publishers) The WCCL Network produce an excellent guide called Novel in a Month by Dan Strauss, which is packed with tips and information for aspiring novelists. Click on the banner below to find out more!


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Download These Free Cheatsheets for Scrivener

In my post last week I mentioned a new guide for authors by David Lee Martin on how to use the popular Scrivener writing and publishing software. The guide is called Scrivener Unleashed for Windows.

David has just made available a set of free cheatsheets anyone using Scrivener can print out and keep for reference (or simply open on screen). I thought I would therefore pass on links in this blog post.

The cheatsheets include a wide range of keyboard shortcuts you can use when working in Scrivener. There is one sheet of Scrivener Dashboard shortcuts, one of Document shortcuts, and one of Editing and Formatting shortcuts.

All three cheatsheets are available in PDF form for both Windows and Mac users. Links for downloading are given below.

Windows Cheatsheets

1. Scrivener Dashboard shortcuts
2. Document shortcuts
3. Editing and Formatting shortcuts

Mac Cheatsheets

1. Scrivener Dashboard shortcuts
2. Document shortcuts
3. Editing and Formatting shortcuts

Clicking on the relevant item should open it in your browser window, while if you right-click and choose 'Save As'  you should be able to download the sheet in question to your own computer.

I hope you find the cheatsheets useful. And if you would like to find out more about Scrivener, I highly recommend reading my earlier post about David's video course and checking out his information page!

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