5 Tips on Writing Fantasy Characters – Guest Post Desiree Villena

5 Tips for Writing Fantasy Characters – Desiree Villena

Most creative writing classes treat writing characters and writing fantasy characters as one and the same. They provide run-of-the-mill tips (create conflict, establish flaws, etc.) and you end up with run-of-the-mill characters — well-developed, but nothing out of the ordinary.

But what fantasy writers need are legendary characters — characters that stay with you for a lifetime, like those that occupy the worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien and George R. R. Martin. Unfortunately, these writers haven’t exactly revealed all their secrets to the rest of us. But by working backwards, I’ve put together five top tips, exclusively for fantasy writers, that should help you think outside of the character-profile box.

1. Interview your characters to get to know them

Whether you adopt the tactics of a police interrogator or Oprah Winfrey, interviewing your characters is a great way to flesh out their motives, weaknesses, history, habits, and hobbies. Sure, the same advice is given to authors of all fiction genres, but when writing fantasy this exercise calls for more creative flair.

For instance, most questionnaires will ask your character about their career: What’s your dream job? What job would you never consider? When writing contemporary fiction, it’s easy to fall back on conventions: I want to become a writer, a football star, a successful entrepreneur. I’d never be a high-school teacher, a telemarketer, a pest control worker. Your fantasy characters, however, will need to produce answers that make sense in the context of their world.

Let’s take the Harry Potter series as an example. Some Hogwarts graduates will join the Aurors — an elite group of Dark Wizard catchers — others take soul-crushing jobs in magic middle management, and I imagine someone has to clean up the mess made by the post-office owls. These jobs are recognizable; we can place them in the real world, and even make assumptions about a character based on their magical nine-to-five. But at the same time, they place the character firmly in the unique world of the books, seamlessly weaving the two together and adorning the bigger picture with original details.

2. Don’t assume that your characters think like you

When a story takes place in a world that’s not our own, its characterizations should reflect that on a deeper level than just creative job titles and otherworldly hobbies. Everyone in your world, good or bad, leading lady or forgettable friend, will share a baseline set of assumptions informed by the world they inhabit, which means that their inherent ways of thinking won’t always resemble our own.

Let’s say your fantasy novel is set in a world where gods regularly show their faces to interfere in everyday life. Though atheism might be common here on Earth Prime, it would make no sense for anyone in that world to be an atheist. This doesn’t have to mean that everybody thinks and feels exactly the same way about the gods; some characters might fervently believe that they reward devotion and punish sin, while others might quietly think of them as meddling pranksters.

Setting up coherent belief systems and knowing where your characters stand on your world’s “big questions” will help you to build more complex relationships among your characters, and between your characters and their world.

3. Build diversity into your cast of characters

In general, creating some diversity in your cast of characters can be a really useful thing to do. Meaningfully different perspectives and experiences will add complexity to your world, and hopefully create intuitive conflict or tension among your characters.

If your world is divided into different regions, for example, then the people in each region might have vastly different cultures due to the influence of climate, landscape, or the way they’re ruled. Take A Song of Ice and Fire. The people in the North live, think, and dress very differently from the people in King’s Landing: the first being sparsely populated, harsh, and independently ruled while the other is crowded, coastal, and right under the thumb of the Iron Throne.

Even within distinct groups, one member doesn’t need to have the same mannerisms, views, and values as the next. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien has creatures that are familiar to fantasy readers, and certainly employs generic tropes. But his elves, dwarves, hobbits, and wizards are not carbon-copy fantasy races. Among the dwarves, for example, there are good and wicked, eloquent and crass, loyal and traitorous characters.

4. Revitalize common character tropes

Lots of fantasy writers love character archetypes — which is not necessarily a bad thing, because fantasy readers love them too. But if you rely too much on clichés, you might stray into overly predictable territory. There’s also no reason to get anywhere near that black hole when there are so many great ways to revitalize common character tropes. Here are a couple to get you thinking:

  • Deconstruct it: Even if you adhere to its traditions, you can deconstruct a trope by shining a light on its implications and consequences. For example, Harry Potter may be the Chosen One — but only because the antagonist, Voldemort, decided to believe a prophecy and mark Harry out. The notion of the Chosen One only has as much power as Voldemort gives it.
  • Defy expectations: When readers encounter an archetypal character they’ll bring certain expectations to the table (because that’s how archetypes work). But you can give your character a dose of originality by meeting enough of the required standards that make a trope recognizable, while defying other characteristics that are simply expected. For example, the White Witch of Narnia ticks all the boxes of an Evil Overlord, but she defies character conventions by being a woman shrouded in white, rather than a male character cloaked in darkness.

5. Keep the bigger picture in mind

You may have noticed that in fantasy writing, worldbuilding and character development often go hand-in-hand. And nowhere is this more evident (or more important) than in the mood and tone of your story. Whether you build your setting or your characters first, the general tenor of both elements should work together to create the perfect atmosphere.

The easiest way to think of this is to look at some more examples. In the Song of Ice and Fire books, where the dead stand up to fight and swords are forged with blood, even our favorite characters are flawed — Arya is obsessed with revenge, Tyrion is morally ambiguous, and Daenerys is proud and stubborn (and burns down a city). These gray characters meld perfectly with the grim and somber tone that shrouds this highly cynical series.

Meanwhile, the first few books in the Harry Potter series are full of wonder and whimsy. Its magical world features bat-bogey hexes, dodgy spell-checking quills, and wacky divination lessons. So it makes perfect sense that the protagonists be quirky teenagers who are always bickering, fumbling first crushes, and failing to get to grips with Muggle technology (I’m looking at you, Ron).

So take inspiration from fantasy legends JKR and GRRM. Don’t just fill in a character profile. Think about the emotional texture of your book and the kind of reaction you want from your readers. Then approach the task of character development with your mind on the bigger picture.

Dirty Dozen Author Interview – Anthony St Clair

Author name: Anthony St. Clair

 Links to book: https://rucksackuniverse.com/books/the-lotus-and-the-barley/

 Bio: Anthony St. Clair, a freelance writer and entrepreneur, is the author of over 500 fiction and non-fiction works, including novels, short stories, articles, and more. Library Journal calls Anthony’s storytelling “reminiscent of Terry Pratchett,” and his fiction has been celebrated for its “quirk, wit, travel, and magic.” In addition to his global travels, Anthony spent fifteen years in media and business before turning full time to writing in 2011. Together with his wife, son, and daughter, Anthony lives a life of everyday adventure at home in Oregon and on the road anywhere. For more information, see rucksackuniverse.com and anthonystclair.com.

 Tell us a silly fact about yourself: Much to my children’s ongoing amusement, I’m incapable of blowing up a balloon.

Please tell us about your publications/work. My Rucksack Universe series revolves around people who seek to know themselves so that they understand their place in the broader world, be that with a social group or a place they want to live in.

The core of everything I write is an exploration of how we make the decisions that shape our destinies. What are the rules we are told about life and living? How many of those rules help us do what we consider meaningful? What rules deserve to be followed—and which rules should we break or get rid of?

We go through this life trying to find our way, searching out how we fit in. Sometimes we have to push back against presumptions and notions from family or culture, so we can understand and live our own personal truths about the world. My Rucksack Universe series is all about people making those choices.

Do you think the written word (or art) bring power and freedom? Even when we don’t realize it, the written word is all around us. Books and articles are obvious manifestations, but even “visual” mediums such as video have an underlying script or teleplay written element that guides what happens and what’s said. The written word is similar to the atmosphere: All around us and essential, yet easy to forget it’s there.

How did you become involved with bundles? (For Bundle Authors) I got to meet Chuck Heintzelman at Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s and Dean Wesley Smith’s Business Master Class in 2017. I’d been aware of his BundleRabbit platform, but especially after meeting Chuck was so impressed with how BundleRabbit was helping authors develop and participate in ebook bundles. Bundles are such a great way to help readers dive in deep on different variations on a theme, topic, etc., and it’s so fun to work with other authors on new ways to put our work in the world.

 How much research do you do for your work? What’s the wildest subject you’ve looked at? Travel has always been a big part of my life, and my fiction centers around people who travel as a lifestyle. I include destination research and draw from on-the-ground experience as much as I can too, so I can really evoke that feeling of “being there.”

For my novel THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY, I drew on my own travels to London, my background covering Oregon’s craft beer industry, and a “what if?” mindset that helped me imagine a London that had built itself up in a different way, but based on landmarks that could be familiar to us in our world.

The beery touches were especially fun. My work has brought me on many a tour of breweries, so I got to bring all that experience together not only into my pro brewer and homebrewer characters, but the beer itself is its own character.

What is your greatest success? Marrying well. I had the good fortune and the good sense to know when I had found my soulmate. Jodie and I met in 2005, got married in 2009. From business to parenting, we bring out the best in one another, and I’m grateful every day that I found her.

Which authors have influenced you the most? If there is one author I wish I could have met, it’s Terry Pratchett. Discworld titles such as Thud! and Witches Abroad are books I re-read and re-read. Pratchett’s characters have to channel other feelings into meaningful action, and his sense of humor and satire is a candy coating that helps us swallow some tricky truths.

What is your writing space like? My wife and I currently share a “corner office” in our house. I usually use the office in the morning for writing and client work, and she uses it in the afternoon for teaching violin lessons. At other times I’ll be set up at our front table, with a MacBook Pro, a mouse, and an external keyboard. It helps me be both focused and flexible—and reminds me that I can work anywhere.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about writing/publishing? If you want others to value your work, time, and expertise, then make sure you show that you value them too.

It’s not uncommon for writers to undervalue their work and underestimate the time and energy it takes to do their work. When I went full-time as a  freelance writer in 2011, I made sure to track my time on projects, agree fair rates with clients and editors, and, above all, to make sure that I always got paid. Writers do work that other people wish they could do—the power and value in understanding that is without equal.

 Tell us about your latest piece? My 2020 novel, STRANGE RIDE, brought me an interesting challenge. The setting was in a walled city full of skyscrapers, and drew heavily on labyrinths, mythology, and the five stages of grief: depression, anger, bargaining, denial, acceptance, collectively referred to as “DABDA.” I had to extensively research labyrinths. Plus, the city where I live—Eugene, Oregon—is home to many indoor and outdoor labyrinths, so I also got to have some contemplative introverted fun going to different labyrinths around town and walking them.

STRANGE RIDE focuses on a 10-year-old girl named Soarsha. She lives in this giant walled city, in a high-rise apartment with her dad. They lost her mother years ago, in the wasteland beyond the city. We meet Soarsha on her tenth birthday, and see her get bullied by her classmates. She seeks refuge in her Wandering Heroes comic books, and in hanging out with her dad. It’s not necessarily a great life, but she has some good things going for her. Until, the next day, she comes home… but her father doesn’t. She sets out to find him, but winds up discovering truths she didn’t even know she was looking for.

What’s the worst piece best advice you’ve received about writing/publishing? There’s this ongoing discussion that it can be really difficult to publish ebooks to different retailers—you know, upload to Amazon, to Draft 2 Digital, to Apple Books, to Kobo, etc.—because you have to enter the same information over and over. The problem isn’t the process, it’s whether or not the writer is organized to handle the process in less time.

 I independently publish my work, and I distribute ebooks to all the channels: Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play, Nook, you name it. I keep a spreadsheet with all the details about every release: publication date, Patreon release date, links to stores, prices for different markets, even the color codes for my cover’s primary color. Once that info is set up, it’s a simple copy and paste job. I can set up a title across multiple channels in less than an hour.

Writers get hung up on the number of stores. That’s not the problem. Most of your time and energy goes into getting the details ready. Actually setting them up is a much smaller fraction of the time it takes than we often think it is.

 What’s your greatest networking tip? There’s an easy way to be remembered by pretty much any presenter at any event. It’s based on a simple principle: Everyone likes knowing their work is appreciated, looked forward to, and will help someone.

Before going to any sort of writing conference, take a few minutes to research presenters whose talks or workshops you plan on attending. Then, contact them—through their website’s contact form, their email, or a social network—and leave a short and simple note, such as “Hi, I’m FIRSTNAME LASTNAME, and I’ll be attending your talk on SUBJECT at NAMEOFEVENT. Just wanted to let you know I’m really looking forward to it.”

Anytime I’ve done this, it’s led to useful connections and worthwhile conversations. Plus, the moment I introduce myself, they say something like, “Oh, I got a note from you, thank you so much!”

It’s a simple but powerful way to help yourself stand out.

Writing, Editing, Formatting and Promotional Services

Featured

If you are interested in my writing, editing, proofreading, formatting or promotional services check out my Fiverr gigs – or contact me using the form below.

Editing/proofreading and formatting short documents (any type/genre) up to 10,000 words.

https://www.fiverr.com/share/oWNDdx

Editing of longer documents (fantasy/historical fiction) – other genres considered.

https://www.fiverr.com/share/AprxLB

Synopsis writing – historical fiction or fantasy – other genres considered.

https://www.fiverr.com/share/pwQWBy

Promotional service https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/contact-inf/

Why you should produce a Large Print Edition of your book

I am in the process of producing large print editions of as many of my books as possible. Some people have asked me why I bother.

I did a quick search of LP editions available on Amazon UK – there were only 7 pages worth (109 results) , and most of those were calendars/planners.

Of the rest I found:

The Karma Sutra

Frankenstein

The Picture of Dorian Grey

Siddhartha

The Crimson Cryptogram: A Detective Novel

Dracula

Pride and Prejudice

Great Expectations

Emma

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Prince (Machiavelli)

Razor Sharp

The Yellow Wallpaper

The Importance of Being Earnest

Final Justice

Moby Dick

A Patricia Cornwell book

A Christmas Promise

Give Me Death

Eight Days to Live

Southern Lights

Capital Crimes by Stuart Woods

Most of these were via 3rd party sellers and may or may not have actually been available.

There may have been more which were incorrectly marked.

Abe books has a large print section https://www.abebooks.co.uk/docs/LargePrint/ and better accessibility than Amazon however Abe charges sellers to sell on its site – so that may exclude indies and small presses from considering it as an option.

https://www.wfhowes.co.uk/browse/formats/large-print – has a reasonable catalogue

W.F.Howes Ltd is the UK’s leading audiobook, digital services and large print publisher, releasing around 100 new unabridged audiobooks every month under a number of imprints including ClipperJammerAvidLamplightNudged and Jammer Teen.

Our digital arm provides eAudiobook and eBook lending to the library market through the RBdigital platform, alongside several other platforms specialising in same-day newspapers and magazines, adult learning and language tutorial programs.

But unless you know that is there, or are accepted by them you’re book won’t be available in this accessible format. 

Why do I do this?

My father was partially sighted, having lost some of his sight serving in the army. He enjoyed reading but struggled to read printed books for any length of time unless they were large print. In his later life he could barely read regular print books at all. What a shame – he loved to read. Why should a person miss out on literature because they cannot see well?

It is easier now with e-readers and audiobooks, but these are not suitable for everyone (especially older technophobes like my dad), and audiobooks are pretty expensive. Listening to a story read aloud is a very different experience to reading the printed word. Surely the joy of reading should be available to all?

Our local town library (when there were such things) had a small assortment of LP books, but not many.

It’s better now than it was but lots of indie authors with great books simply don’t offer then in large print – maybe because they don’t think about it much, or don’t know.

How easy is it to produce a book in large print?

RNIB states large print is font 16-18 and giant print is anything larger than this. Regular print is 10-12-point font, so there is quite a difference. And some people really struggle with smaller fonts.

Amazon will allow authors to produce book in large print, there is a little box to tick stating it’s in large print format. Other than that it’s a case of formatting the book for a larger trim size (8×10 or above). KDP will provide a template of all of the trim and cover sizes. It’s relatively easy to copy the text into this template and use MS Word styles to change the font size (and pick a font like Times New Roman or Arial) and the chapter headers etc. The cover would need to be enlarged – but most of the image design programmes can do that, or you can use the cover creator and select the appropriate size for the book.

That’s it. There’s no extra cost, other than ordering a proof copy.

There are restrictions on expanded distribution for some trim sizes but there are a few which are suitable. ED puts the price up – and as LP books tend to be meatier they will likely be more expensive than the regular sized one. KDP print only caters up to 400 pages – so anything longer than that will need to be split – again this raises the cost to the buyer. I am going to investigate the logistics of that at some point soon.

So why not produce a large print edition when you produce your paperback? All it takes is a little extra time. Everyone should have access to books, and it’s easy to produce.

https://www.rnib.org.uk/information-everyday-living-reading/large-and-giant-print

Weird Words and Freaky Phrases – Part 1 – Etymology and Monkeys

The English language has a lot to answer for. It’s a polyglot of corrupted Latin, Anglosaxon, Germanic, Celtic, Frankish, Danish – with input from Indian languages and other sources. It’s illogical, contradictory and, in some cases, bloody odd. Britain has been invaded and influenced by celtic tribes, Jutes, Danes, Normans and Romans.

Usage and meaning change with time, misunderstanding, common usage, dialectic differences and many other factors.

Language is mutable and the study of it infinitely fascinating.

Any non-native speaker has their work cut out learning the nuances (Latin – origin ‘nubes’ meaning cloud’, to Middle French – nue/nuer to make shades of colour), dialects (also Latin – Middle French) and phrases or sayings that many people use but don’t understand.

Etymology (/ˌɛtɪˈmɒlədʒi/)[1] is the study of the history of words.[1] By extension, the phrase “the etymology of [a word]” means the origin of a particular word. For place names, there is a specific term, toponymy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymology

 Origin of Etymology

‘late Middle English: from Old French ethimologie, via Latin from Greek etumologia, from etumologos ‘student of etymology’, from etumon, neuter singular of etumos ‘true’. –

https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/an-introduction-to-etymology-eight-great-word-origins

Don’t get this mixed up with ENTOMOLOGY – which is a branch of zoology studying insects.

Freaky phrases:

Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey – meaning – it’s really cold (in case you hadn’t realised)

Origin – The story goes cannon balls on ships used to be stored in a brass tray called Brass Monkey – and in very cold conditions it would contract and spill the cannon balls out.

However

  • The OED does not record the term monkey or brass monkey being used in this way
  • Cannonballs weren’t stored on deck on the off-chance there would be battle (they’d roll around everywhere in rough weather. Shot was stored in the gun spars or shot garlands into which round shot was inserted ready for the gun crew to use).
  • Shot would not be left to the elements, where it could rust, potentially causing explosions of the cannon when fired.

Being the sort of person I am I looked up how cold it would have to be –

‘The coefficient of expansion of brass is 0.000019; that of iron is 0.000012. If the base of the stack were one metre long, the drop in temperature needed to make the ‘monkey’ shrink relative to the balls by just one millimetre, would be around 100 degrees Celsius.’

At which point cannon balls rolling around is probably the least of your worries.

However, a ‘monkey’ was a gun or cannon dating from the 17th century and the Monkey tail was a lever used for aiming it [Source: The Oxford English Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1933.]

And the sailor who collected the powder for the cannon was a ‘Powder Monkey’ (not a nice job, don’t get a spark in that area)

It may also have referred to the three brass balls that were a pawnbroker’s sign.

Early usage in the 19th century reference other parts of the ‘monkey’ – cold enough to freeze the tail, nose, whiskers, toes etc. off and possibly referred to brass monkey statues from China which were popular imports. The ‘balls’ freezing is a variant – because humans will be humans. That part of the anatomy did not appear in print until the 1930s. It’s possible the naval origin is a sanitised origin

Author Herman Melville (Moby Dick), uses the phrase in Omoo.

See also:

https://www.wordorigins.org/big-list-entries/brass-monkey-cold-enough-to-freeze-the-balls-off-a

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brass_monkey_(colloquialism)

Guest Post – Desiree Villena – How to Market a Book Without Breaking the Bank #Bookmarketing #Books

How to Market a Book Without Breaking the Bank

You know what they say: you have to spend money to make money. Or, as the Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus put it in the original Latin, Necesse est facere sumptum qui quaerit lucrum.

That’s right: the financial mind behind this maxim wasn’t some Daddy Warbucks wannabe — it was a writer. And though Plautus wasn’t selling ebooks on the web’s best self-publishing companies, his wisdom still applies to indie authors working today.

Fortunately, investing in your writing career doesn’t have to mean emptying your savings account. Giving your book the perfect, professional cover might require a decent payout up front, but promoting your book is a different story. When it comes to getting your work in front of readers’ eyes, a little DIY can go a long way.

Not sure where to start? Here are three ways to market your book without breaking the bank.

1. Set up an author website

First thing’s first: you need a home base for all your marketing efforts. And that means setting up a killer author website.

You don’t have to get fancy, with all manner of flashy animations and mini-apps. In fact, you should keep in simple, paring away all the distractions so your most essential content stands  out. That means putting your work — and links to buy your work — front and center, along with an author bio so readers can get to know the person behind the stories.

In addition to compelling descriptions of all your books, make sure to feature some high-res images of your cover art too. Not only will they lend some visual interest to your site without distracting from your most important content, they’ll help you ensure your books are recognizable right from the thumbnail. Just think of The Great Gatsby, with its lipsticked mouth and glossy eyes, projected in an inky sky over a glowing cityscape. Or The Catcher in the Rye, with its iconic, burnt-orange carousel horse. That’s the level of brand recognition you want for your cover art. And to get there, you’ll have to start by giving it pride of place on your website.

How much will all this cost you? Well, you can set up a no-frills website for free on WordPress. It’s best to register a domain name, though, so you can set up your shop on, say, AnneAuthor.com instead of AnneAuthor.wordpress.com. Don’t worry — a domain name will only cost you about $10-12 a year.

2. Build out your mailing list

After you fill out your site with tantalizing tidbits about your book — and yourself — there’s one more thing you should make sure to add: a place to collect your visitors’ emails. Once you have them, you can feed them into an email marketing platform like MailerLite to promote your books through newsletters.

Of course, not everyone who stumbles across your website will want to give you their contact information for free. That’s why you should entice them a little with a lead magnet. Think of this as a freebie that will draw them in like iron to, well, a magnet. Offer to send something interesting to anyone who signs up — maybe a short story you wrote, or the spreadsheet that took you from brainstorm to publication when you were first writing your book.

Every email you collect with this bait is marketing gold. Those are all people you can woo over time, so that they’re eager to preorder when your next book is set to launch. And best of all, growing your mailing list won’t require dipping into your bank account, at least at first. MailerLite lets you collect up to 1,000 contacts for free. Once you’ve broken past that barrier, you can move up to a paid subscription tier for $15.00 a month, which will let you handle 2,500 emails. But until you hit that benchmark, all you’re investing is the time it takes to craft your lead magnet.

3. Get more eyes on your site with a blog tour

Now, let’s talk about how to feed more names into your mailing list — for free.

During pre-COVID days, one of the most glamorous (and most expensive) book marketing tactics was the book tour. We can’t all be like sci-fi phenom John Scalzi, hitting up 24 cities in five weeks. We can, however, try to replicate that whirlwind dynamic with a blog tour.

On a blog tour, you’ll write guest posts for a wide range of websites frequented by readers in your genre. In exchange for providing your “hosts” with intriguing content, they’ll give you a platform to promote your work. Just make sure to link out to your website — and tell your visitors there’s something in it for them if they offer up their emails.

Unlike a traditional book tour, with its nightmarish tangle of logistical considerations, a blog tour isn’t hard to set up. Just look for book blogs that specialize in your genre, and see if they’re open to guest submissions. Then, get in touch with any promising candidates and pitch something you’d like to contribute. For a craft-focused blog, that could be an inside look into your writing process. For a book reviewer, you could offer a free copy of your latest title in exchange for their honest impressions. The key is to pitch something each blog’s readers would love to read.

The best thing about this promotional hack? It’s completely free! Now, get out there and start connecting with your future fans.

 

Noobs’ Guide to Self-Publishing – Reviews on KDP/Amazon

(C)A L Butcher

 

I haven’t done a Noob’s Guide article for ages, but during lockdown I’ve spent a lot of time on the KDP forums. If you’re unaware of these they’re the forums for Kindle Direct Publishing and offer guidance from other author/publishers to their kindred souls. There’s a corps of veterans (including myself) who have been around long enough to answer most of the questions – Hitch runs a service for newbies and knows a lot about formatting, Booknookbiz, Notjohn and Levi’s Companion are always willing to help out.

That said there are dozens of newbie authors who simply don’t read the help pages. Most of the answers to the regular questions can be found there, or a simple check on the forum pages – for the hundreds of similar questions asked every month.

READ THE DAMN FAQ AND HELP PAGES! Seriously. It will save a lot of bother.

One of the recurring questions is about reviews. An author posts up that review he or she knows about can’t be posted or has been taken down. Why?

Let’s start with a bit of history: several years ago a whole host of authors were gaming the system. Getting reviews by paying people to leave dozens of fabulous five-star reviews, and other rather underhand methods. It caused a storm. After that the big bad Zon got a little sensitive about product reviews, particularly in relation to e-books.

A review is only of value to the customer looking at it (and hence to Amazon) if it is impartial. A review from your mother is NOT impartial. A review from your mate Dave who thinks your book is great is NOT seen as impartial.

Think about it. You go to buy a product and all the reviews say it’s the most awesome thing ever created do you stop and think, ‘Really?’ There will ALWAYS be someone who doesn’t like a product, and that is especially true of books. Most books, if they have been reviewed, have a mix – some readers will love the book, some will be meh, and some will hate it. All are perfectly valid opinions. Do you love every book you read or movie you see? No, of course not. And that’s the other thing – what I like in a book is great worldbuilding and awesome characters. I can overlook the odd typo or editing issue. Some readers will hate a book with technical problems. Some readers will like a book with juicy sex scenes, and some won’t. Some readers will not mind violence, and some will put the book down for this.

How much is too much? That’s subjective.

Would you buy a product if you thought those reviews might be a bit dodgy? Maybe? Probably not?

Amazon changed their review process in 2017 as a result of this scandal (see link for the official guidelines). 

  • A customer has to have spent $50 (or equivalent) in the last 12 months to leave a review.
  • Persons who share a household or are well known to the author cannot leave a review
  • The author cannot review his/her own book (although I’ve had a few emails suggesting I review my own books – well done bots).

The guidelines state that social media friends or followers are allowed to leave a review. In reality, this is a very grey area. There are several posts a week from people who say follower so and so has told the author they cannot leave a review for book X. Where is the degree of separation on such relationships?

How do you define a friend on Facebook? Someone who is in the same groups as you and you comment on their posts? Do you chat to them in messenger? Do you share links? You can bet Amazon tracks this stuff and pulls reviews if it feels there is too much of a relationship there.

Personally, I’d say if a reader contacts you to say they can’t post it may be BECAUSE they feel they know you well enough to do so that they cannot post.

Reviews are for customers – not for authors. It is NOT an author’s job to contact KDP, or whine on the forum that a review doesn’t post. Advise the customer to email community-help@amazon.com and ask why. If an author does it the likelihood is Amazon will take a hard look at the other reviews on that author’s book.

Amazon does, in theory, allow review copies to be given out – but you cannot demand a review. If any incentive is offered it invalidates the review and reviewers are supposed to state they had a free copy for an unbiased review.

‘You may provide free or discounted copies of your books to readers. However, you may not demand a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review. Offering anything other than a free or discounted copy of the book—including gift cards—will invalidate a review, and we’ll have to remove it. To learn more, see our Community Guidelines.’

‘Additional Guidelines for Customer Reviews

The following guidelines apply to Customer Reviews in addition to the other guidelines given above:

  • If your review is removed or rejected because it does not comply with our guidelines concerning promotional content, you may not resubmit a review on the same product, even if the resubmitted review includes different content.
  • Reviews may only include URLs or links to other products sold on Amazon.
  • Customers in the same household may not post multiple reviews of the same product.
  • We may restrict the ability to submit a review when we detect unusual reviewing behavior, or to maintain the best possible shopping experience.
  • You may not manipulate the Amazon Verified Purchase badge, such as by offering special pricing to reviewers or reimbursing reviewers.

To learn more about Amazon Verified Purchase views refer to About Amazon Verified Purchase Reviews.’

Customers can remove or amend their own reviews (and I have done this).

‘We remove reviews that violate our Community Guidelines. We also remove reviews if we unlink two titles that were incorrectly linked. The reviews will only appear on the detail page of the book for which they were first posted. To protect our customers’ privacy, we only share information about specific reviews with the customer who posted the review. If a customer contacts you about their missing review, ask them to write to community-help@amazon.com. Customers can also remove their own reviews.

Customer Review Guidance.

In short – it is NOT the author’s job or business to deal with reviews that can’t be posted.

Do not expect reviews just because a reader has bought your book. Reviews on books are about 1%.

As a reader I don’t review every book I read. I doubt many readers do. Do you?

Ratings can be left without a text review.

If the review is not complementary – tough luck. Not everyone is going to like your book. Move on. Do not react, do not comment. It’s none of your business.

(C)A L Butcher

Other useful links about the review process on KDP and some of the articles on the issues of dodgy reviews.

Other products have been subject to these shenanigans:

https://www.authorimprints.com/amazon-book-review-policy-authors/

https://www.lovemoney.com/news/52275/amazons-battle-with-unbiased-product-reviews

Phone Chargers https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/01/which-uncovers-fake-five-star-reviews-flooding-amazon/

https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/07/exposed-the-tricks-sellers-use-to-post-fake-reviews-on-amazon/

https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-bad-review-practices-crackdown-2018-4?r=US&IR=T

Guest Post – Mary Ann Cherry – It Isn’t Just About the Verb

Today we welcome Mary Ann Cherry – author of the Jessie O’Bourne Art Mysteries

ALOHA!

IT ISN’T JUST ABOUT THE VERB

My short talk is about adding excitement to your writing, not about the difference between active and passive verbs. To use active words instead of passive, you must first know the difference. so even though most of you are old hands at it, I’ll give a short explanation.

Recognizing passive voice takes attentiveness. The biggest giveaway is some form of the to be verb in a verb phrase. The “to be” verbs are essential in writing. But with overuse, they can also be an enemy of the novelist or short story author.

So let’s first go basic.  In passive voice, the subject receives the action such as: This scarf was made by my grandma. Or…the building was demolished by the storm. Sometimes, in the passive voice, you can’t even tell who is performing an action. For instance: The building was demolished. (By what?)

In active voice, the subject performs an action such as: My grandma knitted this scarf. Or…the storm demolished the building. Or better yet, get some action going:  The scarf twisted under grandma’s knitting needles, growing and stretching like the beanstalk in that old fairy tale.

Phew. That’s done. Now let’s talk about how to use words to activate scenes, characters and descriptions that don’t bore the reader. Active writing isn’t just about the verb. It’s about engaging the reader. So when I talk about active words, I am talking about words that elevate a story from the mundane to the exciting—or at least to the interesting. Choices between boring and exciting can be as basic as what your character is eating or drinking. Words should be painting a picture in your reader’s mind. They should bring taste, smell, and color. When you are writing fiction and have a choice between active and passive verbs think physical. Think “show don’t tell”. It helps to start with the basic sentence and then reevaluate the words.

  • She was drinking apple juice
  • She drank apple cider
  • She sipped hot cider with mulling spices

Okay, there you have the basic. Now, think physical. Think Aloha moment…that which is different will always stand out…

  • She lifted the mug to sip steaming cider, redolent with the heady smell of cinnamon and cloves and hot enough to burn her tongue—badly. That can show rather than tell…another way to show rather than tell.

 

She lifted the mug to sip.  Now give the CIDER a personality – “The amber cider burnt an angry path down her throat like flowing lava.”

The steam, the heat, the smell, the burnt tongue all bring the reader into the moment. It’s about engaging the reader. Active words overhaul a boring story the way exercise shapes and sculpts a flabby body.

Does it have to be verbs that make a story seem to rumble with action? It is certainly better to use verbs that show action instead of the boring passive verbs. However, I have found those can be overdone easily as well.  To augment those words that move, that suffocate, that rejoice, use words that entertain—that DO something to the reader’s experience.

When someone picks up a book, they want to be entertained. They want to be sucked into the story until they become part of it. They want your hero or heroine’s life to become their alternate reality, if only for a short time.

What makes that happen?

Let’s talk people. Fabricate a character readers love, or a character that readers love to hate without making them look in the mirror so often, or have their ex-wife tell about what a jerk they are. Instead, do most of it with—and I’ll repeat it–action!

DESCRIBING YOUR CHARACTER: Description of the character doesn’t have to be dull. A description can be active, and inanimate objects can be given life.

  1. She looked in the mirror and saw freckles, red hair, and her favorite blue shirt– okay, we’re describing the woman…but it’s a bit dull.
  2. Freckles and red hair run in the family – she hated both… a little more active.
  3. Her red hair curled about her face and freckles peppered her nose and cheeks. With an action verb, notice that the freckles have become a living thing? They participate in the story.

If you want more drama, then think more physical. The freckles are alive, but give them something to do.

  1. Freckles didn’t just run in her family – they stampeded through generations of O’Bournes like the running of the bulls in Pamploma.

Character traits: You can describe your character’s personality the same way, but usually it is better to give examples of what the character does to SHOW true character rather than describe it.

  1. Adam is selfish
  2. Adam is a penny pincher – too clicheʼ
  3. More active – Adam pinched pennies until they squealed like piglets.

Or think show don’t tell…

  1. Adam lifted the heart-shaped box and flipped it over to look at the price. Would it take the twenty-dollar box of truffles to make her forgive him? Or could he buy the ten-dollar box of assorted candies and have the clerk gift wrap it free? He took the smaller box off the shelf and handed the clerk his platinum card.

 

LOVE SCENES – of course passion should be active. At least one hopes.

  1. John is passionate about Carrie… informative but boring
  2. John kissed her
  3. John swept her into his arms and kissed her passionately – better

Think physical…think action

  1. In the middle of the sidewalk, John yanked her to him as though saving her from an oncoming bus, then kissed her until traffic stopped.

DESCRIPTION – How about scenic descriptions? They can be active as well.

Tumbleweeds rolled across the dry ground and settled against the fence like waves rolling in from a brown ocean. The clay soil crunched and cracked under Jason’s feet.

Instead of “The sky was cloudy grey ”  anthropomorphize… The wind grew in strength and the oppressive grey clouds trembled like goose-bumpy teens slipping into a haunted house.

FEELINGS AND MENTAL ACTIVITIES are not exempt from action…from page 132 of WRITING the THRILLER by T. Macdonald Skillman…

“…Comprehension swept away denial, eroding her self-control, allowing the fragmented thoughts swirling about her to tumble out.”

Example two – show, don’t tell…from Cherry –

She stood slightly bent, the broken thoughts swirling about her weakened body like the serpent hair of Medusa. She put her hands to her pale face and heard a feral muttering, realizing the sound burbled from her own mouth. The truth will out.

ANTHROPOMORPHIZE: How does the “humanizing” of inanimate objects, the sky, a kitchen table, a random thought or a tumble of nut-brown hair make your writing more exciting and active? Readers spend their days sitting, watching, listening. They yearn for something exciting to do but either haven’t the time, the money or the inclination. The elderly live sedentary lives. The ill are bed-ridden. The activity of words used in extraordinary ways pulls them into the story and gives them an experience. It doesn’t have to be monumental—just different from hum-drum. The story doesn’t have to be outlandish. It just needs to be told in a manner that gives the couch potato a sense of something happening. Let them experience movement and delicious description vicariously.

Colors can be active. The correct color gives personality and mood in a scene. We all know this but seldom think about it.

Which one brings a love scene to life?

Example one: Her billowy dress was low-cut and in his favorite color—a pale, baby’s breath pink (makes you think right away of babies and diapers, doesn’t it?)

Example two: Her billowy dress was low-cut and in his favorite color—a blast of erotic red (red is erotic, aggressive, demanding…

EMOTIONS have color. You may hear “red-hot anger” – you never hear “pink anger”. Any shade of color that would have white added to it, pink, pale lavender, light blue, denote weaker emotions. The primary colors vibrate in your writing. Make sure you use them in ways that are appropriate. Use variations such as crimson for red, ultramarine for blue, etc.

COLORS—especially in a scene: Think about things you like to do and places you like to travel Each one should have a color that comes to mind. We seldom think about that but it part of the way our world works. Morning starts with white bread that becomes brown toast or a blackened charcoal slab fed to the birds.

Color affects mood in our daily life and will do so in the book. A grey drizzly day, a happy sunshine-filled blue sky, etc. Make yourself set the stage. Color can do that in a similar manner of the active verb without having to elaborate. But when you join both together they rock!  A noun that has some latent action will help…

A shimmer of pale-blue draperies –where are we? A bedroom? A B&B?
A blast of Navy-blue – are we at a military parade?
Green –we can’t think green without thinking “nature” and grass OR envy, depending on the scene
A riot of yellow sunflowers – we can almost see them waving in the breeze
How about an explosion of crimson? – we immediately think blood

Colors that sound like food or include food activate two senses—vision and taste—without the reader even realizing it: Nut-brown, candy-apple red, caramel, coffee-colored, creamy white and so on…

Again, let color be active by humanizing the tint or shade and making it DO something…

Black erupted across his vision…
Sea-green rushed in, hammering the beach with wave after wave…

ALOHA!

COLOR SENSE: Excerpts from How Color Affects Our Mood by Rachel Bender
“…
There are several reasons why colors influence how we feel. …There are social or culture levels as well as personal relationships with particular colors,” explains Leslie Harrington, executive director of The Color Association of The United States, which forecasts color trends. …You react to color.”

  • RED – Red is the hot, crazy girl of colors, evoking powerful emotions such as fear, anger and passion. The mood red conveys changes dramatically when you lighten it (sweet and innocent pink) or darken it (sophisticated burgundy).
  • GREEN – associated with the environment, it puts you in a relaxed or refreshed mood
  • YELLOW – Yellow carries both positive and negative connotations — from sunshine, which conveys a joyous, happy mood to jaundice and sickliness
  • BLUE – Psychologically, blue is the opposite of red — it lowers blood pressure. Red picks you up and blue takes you down, but not down to depression level. That may be because if you look to nature, such as the sky and the ocean, blue conveys tranquility. That’s also what you project when wearing the shade. Blue is also associated with trustworthiness, strength and dependability — hence, the blue power suit.
  • ORANGE – Orange evokes action. It is said to stimulate enthusiasm and creativity and symbolize vitality and endurance. It’s a little “edgy”

PASSIVE VERBS –  The forms of the verb “to be”

When? Who? Form Example
Base form   be It can be simple.
Simple Present I am I am here.
You are You are here.
He/She/It is She is here.
We are We are here.
They are They are here.
Simple Past I was I was here.
You were You were here.
He/She/It was She was here.
We were We were here.
They were They were here.
Simple Future I will be I will be here.
You will be You will be here.
He/She/It will be She will be here.
We will be We will be here.
They will be They will be here.
Progressive form   being He is being unusual.
Perfect form   been It has been fun.

Check out the info for the blog tour.

Heroika Skirmishers – Cas Peace and her Character #Fantasy #HistoricalFiction

Author section

  • Name: Cas Peace

Give us a brief synopsis of your story: Britain is a country rich in legends and myths. Any writer seeking inspiration for a story concerning battles, skirmishes, mythical creatures or heroic deeds could do worse than research the many wonders of our misty Isles. For my second Heroika story, “Black Quill”, I did exactly that.

I’m from Hampshire, southern Britain, and soon unearthed the legend of a cockatrice that reportedly lived near a local abbey. When I also discovered that this abbey had connections to Queen Ǽlfrida, mother of Æthelred, called the Unready, I simply had to combine the two stories.

Queen Ǽlfrida became the prioress of the abbey after her husband, King Edgar, died, and she reportedly had Edgar’s son killed so her own son, Æthelred, could inherit the throne. Æthelred, whose nickname ‘the Unready’ is a derivation of ‘unraed’, or poorly-advised, forced his mother to give up her powerful status as queen and become prioress of the abbey as penance. And it seems that tragedy and sly dealings dogged the former queen because before Edgar married her, he sent his best friend, Æthelwold, to check her out. Æthelwold fell for her and married her himself, and Edgar was so furious when he found out that he had Æthelwold killed. What a family!

In my story, “Black Quill”, the life of a disabled farm girl becomes irrevocably entwined with the fates of both the abbess and the cockatrice—producing a denouement that is anything but simple.

What are the challenges in writing historical fiction/fantasy? I find the main challenges revolve around invoking a realistic, visceral atmosphere, enabling the reader to immerse themselves in the story as fully and naturally as possible. In many ways, I find it easier to achieve this with a historical fantasy rather than one which comes purely from the writer’s mind, because there will be readers already familiar with the chosen setting. The hard work comes in the research which, if thoroughly and successfully carried out, enables the writer to surround themselves with ancient sights, sounds and smells, allowing the writing to flow seamlessly, already imbued with the ambience of the time. Solid historical facts play their part too, although in fantasy, of course, facts can be twisted and adapted, providing hours of fun for playful writers and readers alike.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? When I first started writing I was definitely a pantster, mainly because I hadn’t intended to become a writer and certainly didn’t know what I was doing! I was simply filling a few bored hours by writing out a little scenario I’d had in my mind since watching a kids’ TV show in the ’70s. Wow, did that open some floodgates! Before I realized it, I’d written around 300,000 words, and those words eventually became my first Artesans trilogy. The second and third trilogies were written in a similar way; although this time I understood more about my craft. Since that heady, exciting, scary and immersive time, however, I have learned the pleasures of plotting, very necessary seeing as I’m writing a prequel to the events in that first trilogy. But I’ll admit that I still crave that incredible, irresistible feeling of words desperate to be written, rushing through my mind and onto the page.

What did you want to be when you grew up? When I was a kid, I really had no idea what I wanted to do. I was average at most things scholastically: best at English, abysmal at anything to do with numbers (still am!). The exams I took were generic, and I only achieved good passes in English, Biology and Art. I did toy with the idea of going to art college to study fabric design, but throughout my childhood my heart really belonged to horses. My parents couldn’t afford for me to have one and neither could they really afford to send me to college, so I finally found a good school of equitation and enrolled as a working pupil. This meant you had living accommodation and meals provided, and received a clothing allowance for work clothes, but there was no wage and you worked with the horses in return for lessons in equitation and horse care. It was a good arrangement and I had a great group of co-workers around me. I passed my initial exams to become an Assistant Instructor, and remained at the establishment for several years as a wage-earning instructor. Now, I incorporate horses into my writing, as my love for them has never waned.

Character Section

Name: My name is Gytha

Tell us a bit about yourself: I am the daughter of Rathgar, a farmer. I had a twin sister, Larna, who was killed. My father took another wife, Anice, after my mother died and she gave him two more children: Anice cared nothing for me. They call me the cursed girl because I saw great evil but didn’t die like Larna did. They say I caused her death, and that evil is sure to find me again.

How do you come to be on this adventure? My father had to find a place for me because my crippled legs mean I cannot work on the farm. I was useless to him and no one would wed me. But I am quick and clever with my hands and so he sought a place for me at the Benedictine abbey, where I might learn to copy manuscripts and scrolls. The abbess, who once was Queen Ǽlfrida before her son forced her into the abbey, took pity on father’s sorrow over the death of my sister and eventually agreed to take me. That is the reason I was here when the evil finally found me.

Tell us a bit about the society in which you live: Our Anglo-Saxon society is structured and ordered. Our countryside has been formed into areas called hundreds, and shires. We have laws and government. The language we speak is known as Old English. We worship the Christian God and there are many abbeys and monasteries throughout the land. Although there are also kings, the bishops, abbots and priors wield great power. We have been relatively peaceful for many years but recently there has been an increase in Viking raids on England. The Danes are keen to take back the land King Edgar took from them—land they first stole from us. But these are matters for kings and leaders. I come from a line of simple farmers; all we can do is farm and try to survive.

Are you brave? Is it brave to run from a monster? Is it brave to leave your twin sister to a horrific fate? Is it brave to survive being crippled, faced with a useless life? If so, I am very brave, for I have done all these things. Larna’s voice in my mind tells me all will be well, and so I endure for the sake of my sister.

How do others see you? I am called the cursed girl—I am the girl who survived seeing the devil, the girl who should have died instead of her sister. They see my twisted, ruined legs; they never see my nimble, clever fingers. They hear me speak of Larna’s voice in my head and hear madness. They would much rather not see me at all and, in the abbey, they do not have to.

Do you believe in a god? I believe in the Christian God. Most of England believes in the Christian God—the bishops and abbots make sure that we do. Yet we also believe in the ancient evils, and there are some in the countryside who still practice the old rites, the forbidden rites, the druid rites. There are hedgewives and witches still and, of course, there are Danes who refuse to spurn their pagan beliefs.

How do you define a hero? I have never met a hero. I suppose a hero would be a great warrior, someone like King Edgar who subdued the Danes in England. Or maybe a hero would be someone who rescued people from disasters, who gave up his life to save others. I am a simple girl with no life—what do I know of heroes?

Do you love anyone? Do you hate anyone? I adore my twin sister, Larna. I speak to her all the time and she speaks to me, even though she’s dead. She is my only friend. I love my father, even though he gave me to the abbey. It was not his fault; he could not afford to feed a crippled, cursed girl. I don’t really hate anyone, although I don’t like father’s second wife, Anice. Anice only cares for her two young children.

What do you REALLY think of your author? I am not sure why she decided to tell my story above all the others she could have chosen. But I am grateful to her, because she has given my useless life some meaning.

Do you have a moral code? Father taught us to be honest, to be kind to others, and to respect others’ property—especially Seyerd, the farmer who owns land next to ours. He grows delicious fruit and father says we’re not supposed to pick it without permission. But if the branch grows across father’s side of the hedge, why should we not? The abbey where I now live has strict rules, and everyone must obey the abbess.

If you could have three wishes what would they be? The first would be that my sister had not died. The second that I was never crippled. The third that father had never wed Anice.

How do you view yourself? I was a happy, cheerful, helpful child before the monster came. After, I was quiet, because I was shunned by people who thought I was cursed. I became sad, fearful that father would send me away because no one would wed me. At the abbey, I work hard and make no trouble because I need the shelter the abbey provides.

What is your favourite thing? My favorite thing in all the world is to hear Larna’s voice in my head. It is my redemption, my promise that all is not lost, that I will one day be with her again.

Do you think you make a difference in your world? Of course not! What difference could a useless girl like me make to the world?

 

AUTHOR BIO (short)

Amazon UK Bestselling author Cas Peace lives in the lovely county of Hampshire, southern UK. Originally, she trained and qualified as a teacher of equitation. She also learned to carriage-drive. She then spent thirteen years in the British Civil Service before moving to Rome, Italy, where she and her husband Dave lived for three years.

As well as her love of horses, Cas is mad about dogs. She currently owns two rescue lurchers, Milly and Milo. Cas loves country walks, working in stained glass, growing cacti, and folk singing. She is also a songwriter and has written and recorded songs or music for five of her Artesans of Albia fantasy novels. They are available to download free from her website.

As well as being a novelist, Cas is also a freelance editor and proofreader. Details of her Writers’ Services and other information can be found on her website: http://www.caspeace.com.

Heroika 2 1.2 FINAL JPG